Chilmark Project, The - Part III - Foxhunt

by Wylfcynne and Ravenwald

Title: The Chilmark Project - Part III - Foxhunt Authors: Wylfcynne & Ravenwald

DISTRIBUTION: Anywhere; just please ask; that way we'll know where it all goes, so we can visit.

SPOILERS: Does this really matter anymore? This is a post-ep for Demons, carrying on (and on, and on...) into an AU where some of the episodes beyond that happen, and others do not. This is the divergence point from the canon, but some episodes after that are included in our warped little world.

Specifically, Biogenesis, The Sixth Extinction and Amor Fati do NOT happen here! Neither do several other episodes. Basically, we picked and chose what we want to have happened in our universe. Also, we reserve the right to kill off the Fowl One OUR way! And just WAIT till you see what we have planned for Phoebe Green! It's not nice to screw over our Mulder...

RATING: R for adult concepts; chapters with NC-17 segments will be labeled.

CLASSIFICATION: post-ep, MT, MSR, AU,
Crossover (Highlander: The Series, The Sentinel, F/X: The Series)

SUMMARY: Post-Ep for DEMONS; did you ever wonder why Mulder let that quack drill holes in his skull and shoot him full of Ketamine? TWICE? We figured it out, and things started to snowball... The Chilmark Project is a Consortium sideshow, one of the little jobs they had running while everyone's attention was on the Big Show. Six children born in Chilmark, Massachusetts between 1961 and 1966 were the original subjects...

DISCLAIMER: They certainly aren't ours; if they were, they'd be having more fun, and we wouldn't be saving up for new cars! Thank you, Mr. Carter, for creating the show, and thank you, Mr. Duchovny, and you, Miss Anderson, and you, Mr. Pileggi, for creating the people. We're just borrowing Fox, Dana, Walter and the others for some fun and games. We promise we'll bring them back on time and unharmed, and they won't remember a thing.

Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Kim Cook and Walter Skinner belong to Chris Carter, Fox and 1013.

Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg and Simon Banks belong to Pet Fly.

Rollie Tyler and Angie Ramirez belong to Fireworks/Rysher.

Duncan MacLeod, Amanda, Methos/Adam Pierson, Joe Dawson, Anne Lindsey and Matt McCormick belong to Panzer/Davis Productions.

Anyone else belongs to us.

FEEDBACK: Please...? (sad puppy pout) The Wylf howls at the moon for feedback... Ravenwald pouts if she doesn't get it.

XFC-FDBK: Yes!!

AUTHORS' NOTES: at the end.

Part I - Demonology was originally written several years ago and is on Gossamer in a slightly different version. It has since been revised and the revised version is available on Ephemeral or from the authors.

Part II - Mother's Day - is available on Ephemeral or from the authors.

+++

Part III - Foxhunt

FBI headquarters Tuesday May 14, 2000 9:10AM

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

Assistant Director Walter Skinner looked up at the familiar voice. Dana Scully was a quietly beautiful woman, and he almost always looked forward to seeing her. He also knew she had many fine, if less tangible, qualities: she was terrifyingly intelligent, she was a scientist, and absolutely, incorruptibly honest.

"Agent Scully, where is your partner?"

She blinked at him, patently startled. "Sir?"

"Where is Agent Mulder?"

She was still unsettled; he could see it in her eyes.

"I...I don't know, sir," she said finally. "I expected to find him here. He didn't come in?"

Skinner shook his head. "He didn't come in, he's not here. He's not answering his home phone or his cell. Is he working on something on his own time?"

Scully was processing the information he had provided. "Not that I'm aware of, sir. He took Monday off to visit his mother. Perhaps there's been a problem and he has not had a chance to call in."

He hated it when she so calmly came up with such a rational explanation. That annoyance made his voice harsher than he had initially intended.

"Then find him, Agent Scully. I don't want to mark him AWOL."

"Yes, sir." She turned and walked out. He heard her footsteps accelerate in to a run before his office door closed completely.

+++

It was just a few minutes before noon, and Skinner was looking forward to getting down to the gym and pounding the stuffing out of the heavy bag. He usually pictured Cancerman's creased but smug face on the bag, and right now he wanted to pound something bloody.

(*I know I'm only an AD, but I hate being kept in the dark and fed manure!*) he groused privately. (*Cancerman treats me like an errand boy and Scully vacillates between believing whether she can trust me or not. Mulder trusts me, at least a little... wherever the hell he is--!*) Before he could follow that line of reasoning any farther, his phone rang. He glared at it, then grabbed it.

"Skinner."

"Scully here, sir," came the quiet but terrified voice. "I must report that I believe Agent Mulder has been kidnapped."

Skinner's voice betrayed nothing. "Kidnapped, Agent Scully? What evidence do you have to support that theory?"

"His apartment's been trashed, sir, and there are some traces of blood. I've sent them to the lab."

"And you don't think he's just in pursuit of some suspect?"

"His service weapon, his badge and identification, and his car keys are here, sir. His car is here. His sneakers are here. I think he was accosted in the shower; there was an open bottle of shampoo lying on the shower floor. He lost the fight, and was taken out bleeding, naked and wet."

"And no one noticed this?"

"Apparently not, sir," she sighed. "Mulder is an insomniac; sometimes he runs in the middle of the night. He was supposed to go to Greenwich to see his mother; I don't know if he did, and I don't know what time he might have gotten home. If it was three or four in the morning, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that no one we have been able to locate saw anything. The only thing I can positively say is missing from his apartment, besides him, are his handcuffs. I don't like what that implies, sir."

Skinner frowned. "I don't like it, either, Agent Scully. Report the crime to the local police, but make sure they know you're the lead on this. He's one of us--it's our case."

"Yes, sir."

"Keep me informed, Agent Scully. Do you want someone to help? I can assign you someone..." He could not even say 'interim partner.'

"No, sir. I can handle this."

"If you need manpower, tell me."

"I will, sir. Thank you."

+++

That evening, having made no significant headway in the investigation, Scully made a decision. She got into her car, and made a short trip that she had seldom before made without Mulder. She got out of the car and slowly walked up to the door. She hesitated and then raised her hand to knock. The door opened before she finished the motion.

"Agent Scully?"

The facade that she had kept intact under Skinner's penetrating gaze crumpled as she heard the genuine concern in Byers's voice.

"Agent Scully, what's wrong?" The bearded man steered her into the building and got her over to one of the office chairs before she collapsed.

"They've got him." The statement came out low and broken. She had no proof that the Consortium had taken Mulder, but with these men, she did not need any.

Byers immediately understood what she meant. "Frohike, Langly, those bastards have kidnapped Mulder!"

The other two men entered the office quickly and took their places surrounding her.

"How...?"

"When...?"

Langly and Frohike spoke at once.

"Sometime over the weekend. He had yesterday scheduled off. He was supposed to go see his mother over the weekend. When he didn't show up this morning, I went to see what was wrong, to find out what she did to him this time."

She took a deep breath, and deliberately detached, as if this were just another case.

"When I got to the apartment, there was no answer, so I used my key. I entered his living room and there was clothing scattered around, two or three outfits as if he had dumped his suitcase out onto the floor, and then someone had kicked the pile apart. There was a trail of clothing, sweats and his socks leading into the bathroom. The shower was running and there were signs of a struggle. There was a small amount of blood trailing from the shower to the door and then it stopped."

Her composure began to show strain. "They took him naked and dripping wet."

Frohike hunkered down in front of her and took her hands in his. "We'll help you find him, Dana. We won't let these bastards win!"

+++

Scully could not face her empty apartment again, so on Wednesday night, when Skinner told her that she had to go home or he would have her arrested just to make her stop running around town chasing flimsy leads, she went to her mother's.

She let herself in, and stopped dead when she saw the four flower arrangements on the mantle. (Four?! Who...?)

"Mom--!" she called, her already ragged emotions shredding with this additional stress. "Mom!"

"I'm here, Dana!" her mother called from the kitchen. She came out smiling, drying her hands. She frowned when she saw the distress on Dana's face. "Dana, honey, what's wrong?!"

Afraid to say anything for fear of completely losing control, Dana gestured inarticulately at the mantle where the flowers were displayed.

Margaret Scully could see her daughter trembling, and knew that something was horribly wrong. She also knew that her daughter would not talk until she was good and ready. So she glanced up at the flowers and smiled gently.

"Fox brought those on Sunday night. I thought it was very nice of him."

"Mulder was here?!" Scully went on alert. "What time? Did he mention going to Connecticut? When did you see him, Mom?"

Margaret frowned. "Dana, what's wrong?"

"Mulder's been kidnapped, Mom. He was taken right out of the shower in his apartment; we've been looking for him for two days and we can't find him anywhere..."

"Oh, Dana!" Margaret rushed forward and hugged her daughter.

Dana resisted comforting. "Mom! When was he here, and when did he leave? We need a time frame!"

"He arrived on Sunday night, sometime after one in the morning," Margaret did not hesitate: this was important. "He slept for a while on the couch, and he left some time before I woke up at eight-thirty. When I came down, the flowers were there."

Dana Scully stared at her mother. "What was he doing here, Mom? And why would he stay here? Was he looking for me?"

"No, honey. When he pulled up in the driveway he didn't seem to know where he was or how he got here," she said softly. "His mother went out of town without telling him; he drove all the way up to Connecticut for nothing. She didn't even leave him a note!" She let her anger become audible. "He was a little shocky and seemed surprised at where he had ended up, so I invited him in for coffee. We talked, and he slept for a while on the couch. When I woke up in the morning, he was gone, and he had left me the flowers he bought for his own mother."

Dana collapsed in the nearest chair. "Oh, God, Mom... what if it turns out you were the last person to see him alive...?"

"Dana!" Scully looked up and her mother was shocked to see tears in her eyes. (*Oh, Fox... you doubted that she loves you...! If only you could see this...!*) "Dana, when you were missing, after that awful Mr. Barry kidnapped you, Fox never failed to believe that he could find you, that you were alive and that if he tried a little harder, or worked a little more, he could find you and you would be all right. Don't you dare give up on him! If he's being held somewhere, he's waiting for you to find him, Dana! You cannot give up on him! You cannot!!"

And Dana Scully stared into her mother's eyes, wondering at the grief she saw there.

+++

Unknown location Wednesday evening

Mulder woke up slowly. Groggy, he tried to move, and could not. His wrists were cuffed painfully tight behind his back; his ankles were bound together with rough manila rope, and anchored to something immovable. Another loop of that rope was snug around his throat. Something bounced him hard against the bonds, and he gasped in pain.

(What the hell--?) He was tied down inside the trunk of a moving car. (This makes no sense...)

But thinking was difficult, too: he had a splitting, screaming headache that seemed centered across the top of his skull. He felt the car start up again, and the vibration and the jolting quickly pushed him back into unconsciousness.

+++

When he woke up again, the car was not moving. He wondered what had disturbed him out of his half-drugged daze. He tried to focus his eyes in the darkness, but there was nothing to focus on. Then the trunk lid opened. The light was so bright that he cringed in pain and buried his face against his shoulder.

"C'mon, Mulder. Get up. We're there." Mulder squinted into the blinding dazzle and tried to look up. Someone grabbed him by the upper arm and pulled him up and out of the trunk. After hours lashed together, immobile, Mulder's legs were asleep, and he sagged against the car, pulling free of his captor's grasp.

"C'mon! Bring him in here!"

"Yes, sir!"

Mulder tried to look around, but he was grabbed by two thugs the size of gorillas and hustled inside a large building. They dragged him down a long corridor to an elevator, inside and down several levels below ground. Then they unceremoniously shoved him into a cell and left him alone.

Moving slowly, still dizzy and disoriented by whatever-the-hell drug he had been given, Mulder looked around.

(Looks like a hospital cage for an animal,) he grumbled to himself. It was also very cold; he had been grabbed out of the shower, and although he was dry, now, he was still naked. He fought to sit up, annoyed at how difficult it was with his wrists cuffed behind him and his ankles lashed together. He had to worm his way into the corner and use leverage against both walls to manage it. He had just succeeded when the cell door opened. He looked up warily, in time to see another prisoner, naked and bound just as he was, tossed inside. The door slammed.

"Hi, partner."

The other prisoner was Alex Krycek, and he winced at the vicious sarcasm in Mulder's tone.

"Don't--"

"Don't what? After everything you've done to me, you expect me to be polite to you?!" Mulder was getting very angry, and he shoved himself up onto his knees to glare at the renegade agent.

"I'm no better off than you are..." came the feeble offer.

"And that's supposed to make everything all right?!"

Krycek shuddered. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I really am. I never wanted it to be like this..."

"And how did you want it, Krycek?" Mulder spat. He was shocked out of the rage he was cultivating when he saw Krycek shudder from head to foot. The psychological analyst in Mulder's mind suddenly came awake, and he swallowed the next harsh retort trembling on his lips.

Krycek tried to square his shoulders, and could not, so he dropped his gaze to the stainless steel floor between them.

"I...I would've liked..."

Mulder's gaze sharpened; something was seriously disturbing Alex Krycek. "What would you have liked, Alex?" he asked softly, intentionally using his enemy's first name.

Krycek lifted his eyes, and managed, somehow, to meet Mulder's. "How long have we known one another, Mulder?"

Mulder was startled by the sudden change of subject. "What?"

"How long have we known one another?" Mulder's eidetic memory flashed the answer at him. "Since July 31, 1994. Why?"

"Are you sure?"

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "What are you getting at?"

"I...remember you as a kid, Mulder. You and me. And another kid...and three girls."

Mulder refused to react. (*He belongs to the Consortium; they could tell him to say this...*) "So?"

"Why did we all hate your father, Mulder? We all hated our fathers, but yours most of all. I killed him because that was my assignment: to kill him and frame you for the murder. But I enjoyed it. He was a monster, and he didn't deserve the quick death I gave him. But I can't remember why! Tell me why!!"

"I didn't think you'd ever met him, socially." Mulder could not keep all the vicious sarcasm out of his voice.

Krycek's shoulders slumped. "I swear..." Then he cut off whatever it was he had been going to say when the door opened to admit a pair of guards.

"Here. You two've got five minutes to get dressed, or I take you before the Director in your skin."

"'The Director?'" Mulder asked as one guard entered the cell, unlocked his bonds and handed him a set of blue scrubs. Mulder entertained the notion of trying to jump the guard at that moment, but he was still wobbly from whatever drug had been used to capture him, and decided all he would do if he tried was fall on his face. Unwilling to risk that indignity, and knowing that the other guard would likely shoot him if he tried, Mulder leaned on the nearest wall and pulled on the simple cotton pants and shirt. "Yeah." That was Krycek, speaking in a dry, sarcastic voice around the pistol barrel being pressed against his throat. "He's a member of the Board that runs the Consortium. The people that give Cancerman his orders."

"And you yours." Dressed, Mulder turned and faced his guard, trying not to show how hard it was to stand straight without swaying.

"Most of the time," Krycek admitted, with a vicious glare at the man holding him.

"And the rest of the time?"

"The rest of the time I do what I want."

Mulder snorted in disbelief. Annoyed, his guard slammed him up against the wall and pistolwhipped him hard.

Mulder went down hard, limp and in pain, but not quite unconscious. He could feel himself being manhandled, but he could not quite figure out what the guards were doing. Gradually the world faded to gray, and then to black.

It was some indefinable time later that Mulder found himself on his feet, being shoved down a hallway. One guard's hand was on his arm, shoving him ahead. His bare feet stumbled on the cold tile floor. He could not see where he was going; the first thing he realized when awareness filtered back was that he was hooded. The fabric felt like a pillowcase, and it was strongly woven; no light leaked between the threads. He was totally blinded, and the air inside was a little thick and warm from the accumulation of his own exhalations.

He was wearing handcuffs again, possibly even his own set, but this time his wrists were fastened in front of him. He had less range of motion, however, because there was a length of chain belted around his waist that went over the short bit of chain between the cuffs. His hands were held together and snug against his body. Another length of chain connected his wrists to steel shackles around his ankles. His ankles were fastened to each other with a scant foot of chain, forcing him to shuffle. Beside him, another set of chains rattled; a muffled curse told him it was Krycek and that he, too, was probably chained this way.

(*This is how violent felons get taken to court, and to their deaths.*) Mulder's thoughts went bleak. (*I wonder if Scully will ever learn what happened to me?*)

That thought depressed him even more than his own apparently imminent death; the idea that Scully might get swept up in a hopeless quest for him, just as he had been swept along on his quest for his missing sister.

The corridor seemed to be as metallic as the walls in his cell, judging from the echoes. Mulder and Krycek were shoved along until they got into an elevator. Mulder leaned against the wall, as far from Krycek as he could get, and tried to overcome the dizziness he still felt. The elevator went down for a long time; Mulder guessed it was at least ten levels, though there were no cheerful bells announcing the floors, as on a public elevator.

"How appropriate," he rasped.

"What's that?" Krycek asked, puzzled.

"Our destination."

"You don't even know where you are!"

Mulder faked a shrug and heard the chains chime musically. "Into the Underworld. Hades. Land of the dead, home of shadows and wraiths, the antithesis of life and light."

"You read too much at Oxford, Mulder."

The elevator stopped then, and the guards shoved them out into the corridor. This time they only walked a little way. Then the guards pulled them to a halt and Mulder heard him knock.

"Come."

The door opened. The guards shoved him in and deliberately tripped him. Mulder landed on the floor on his knees, and, without a convenient wall, or a helping hand, he had no way to get up, chained and still somewhat disoriented as he was. He settled back, sitting on his ankles, and straightened his back. He squared his shoulders, lifted his chin. If they were going to kill him, so be it. They were not going to cow him. He had faced certain death before. He could do it again. He would do it again.

If there were others in the room, he could not hear them moving their feet or shifting; he wondered if there was anyone there but himself, Krycek and their guards. Then he heard an electronically changed voice come from a speaker somewhere above him.

"Take him." No one touched Mulder. Instead, a jolt of electricity hit him through the chains and he choked off a scream as he collapsed. The electricity continued to flow, and the chains begin to glow red- hot. He gasped, twisting in agony on the floor, as the jolts continued to hit him.

He did not see Krycek flinch, or start to move forward toward the suffering prisoner.

"Mr. Krycek!"

Krycek froze at the sound of that voice.

Mulder choked back a sob as the red-hot chains began to burn the skin on his wrists and ankles.

Alex Krycek could only stand in his chains and watch, paralyzed, horrified, and not understanding his own turmoil; why was it so upsetting, and yet so familiar, to see Fox Mulder being tortured? He never heard the next command, was unaware of his own fate until it struck. Lightning raced through his body, and then the pain was all he knew. He was hardly aware when he hit the floor beside Mulder, who had gone limp, blood seeping out from under his chains.

"Take them both," Krycek heard the Director say. (Take us where?) he wondered as the darkness claimed him. (And why me, too? Why me?)

+++

The intercom buzzed, and Skinner slapped at it impatiently. "What?"

"Sir?" It was Kim's voice, her usual cool tones leavened with excitement. "Agent Kehoe with something on Agent Mulder's disappearance."

"Send him in, Kim."

Agent Kehoe was an average looking man from the Midwest who had distinguished himself by his ability to interface with local police agencies and keep everyone working side-by-side happily and efficiently. He had done well enough to be promoted to Headquarters, where he was the HQ Liaison to the DC police and to every other law enforcement agency in the Capital area for non-terrorist, non-political crime.

Mulder's kidnapping had been his number one priority since the report had been filed.

He came to attention before the Assistant Director's desk.

"Well?"

"Sir, we have identified another kidnapping that matches that of Agent Mulder. It happened within twelve hours of Mulder's kidnapping, but we've only just learned about it."

"Why is that?" Skinner growled.

"Because no one noticed that this guy was missing," Kehoe almost shrugged, and then caught himself. "This guy was new to the neighborhood -- he'd only been in that apartment for three months. No one knew him, no one cared, so no one reported him missing."

"How did you find out?"

"Landlord got complaints that there was no hot water in the building for the other tenants, so he went in to check the place. He found the shower running, and wouldn't have cared, but there was a blood smear on the bathroom floor. I had put Mulder's kidnapping on VICAP at once. When the officer entered this other case into VICAP, it hit on Mulder's case. The officer followed procedures and called us."

"Have you identified the missing man, yet?"

"Yes, sir; I was waiting until we had confirmation to report this."

Skinner glared at him. "Well?!"

"Alex Krycek."

Skinner stared at him. "Krycek? Was living in a dive like this?" He had recognized the address as being in a very shabby section of town.

Kehoe nodded. "For the last three months, anyway. Neighbors describe him as quiet and unassuming, helpful within limits; he generated a certain amount of sympathy for his handicap. They all positively identified him from photos we offered. It was him."

Skinner was thinking hard as he buzzed Kim and asked her to send Scully up to his office. Scully walked in at once. She shrugged at the expression on his face. "Kim called me when Agent Kehoe went in, sir. She knew you'd want me. What's up?"

Skinner gestured, and Kehoe repeated his report.

Scully half-collapsed into a chair. "Krycek? Who would kidnap Mulder and Krycek?"

Skinner leaned back in his chair, gestured Kehoe into a seat, and steepled his fingers as he studied Scully. "You know Mulder better than anyone on the planet, Agent Scully," he said softly. "Can you think of anything they have in common?"

"Quantico," was the immediate first offering. "Krycek was one of us, for a while, anyway."

Kehoe got out his notebook, and started taking notes. "Hobbies in common?" he asked gently.

Scully spared him a disparaging glance, and then faced her commanding officer. "You might want to check some unofficial channels, sir," she said pointedly. "And then close them with extreme prejudice."

"Scully." That was reproving. Then he sighed. "I might want to do that, but it might not be possible."

"Sir, you are a marksman. It's possible."

"I'm not closing any channels until we have Mulder back safely," Skinner said quietly. "I will inquire, but if he has had a hand in this, he won't tell me the truth."

"He will intentionally mislead you, either way, sir," Scully pointed out. "But it will give us direction, even if it is negative direction."

Kehoe interrupted cautiously. "I have to believe the two of you know what you're talking about, but if the same people took an agent and an ex-agent, then there has to be something they have in common. It may not be anything obvious, but it has to be there."

"Quantico is the obvious place to start," Skinner sighed. "See what instructors they may have had in common, and remember that they went through the academy what, six or seven years apart? Make sure that Mulder's classmates are matched against Krycek's instructors. Social contacts are important. Then you can go through all the cases they both worked on: continue after Krycek disappeared, and match up every time Krycek has inserted himself into Mulder's life. Scully, you might want to start with the most recent impact and work backward."

He turned to Kehoe. "Did you search Krycek's apartment?"

"Everything that didn't belong to the landlord is in evidence downstairs. We'll go over it again, of course, but we couldn't find anything overtly suspicious. Only fingerprints in the room were Krycek's and the landlord's."

Scully was discouraged. "Wonderful."

"Agent Scully."

She looked up. "Sir?"

"He never once gave up on you," Skinner said tensely. "Don't you even consider giving up on him."

She glared at him. "Never, sir. Never."

"All right, then."

+++

Unknown place Unknown location

Krycek woke up tied down on an examining table. It took him a few minutes to process all the bizarre information his senses were feeding him. They had taken the cuffs and shackles off him, and removed his prosthesis. He was tied down with soft cotton bonds that criss-crossed his chest, fastened down each ankle and his single wrist. Another strap had been tightened down across his thighs. These straps were fastened with Velcro, which made it almost insulting that he could not get them off. To be chained had been flattering, in a way, but this was the sort of soft binding reserved for mental patients who might hurt themselves if not restrained. He struggled against it for some time before admitting temporary defeat and turning his attention to what else he could learn.

He was naked and uncovered to whoever might enter the room. And it was not just a room. This was plainly a medical laboratory. There were cabinets against one wall with clear glass doors through which he could see an assortment of medical instruments and tools, including one shelf devoted entirely to glass ampules of injectable drugs. It was too far away for him to read the labels on any of the bottles; he could tell that they were drugs, and that was all that mattered.

In each corner of the room, up just under the ceiling, was a video camera.

A low agonized moan pulled his attention to the other side of the room.

"Oh, my God..."

There was another examining table about a yard to his left. Naked and exposed on it, just as he was, lay Fox Mulder. But where he was bound with soft cotton strapping and Velcro, Mulder was still chained. The cotton strapping had been wound around his upper arms and around his thighs to hold him to the table, but the stainless steel handcuffs still kept his wrists together, and the chain belt was still holding his cuff chain snug against his belly. The ankle shackles were still there, connected with about a foot of steel chain. The ankle chain was fastened down with a bit of clothesline. All the metal bonds were
bloodstained, and there were streaks of blood dried on his skin. Krycek could only stare, horrified, fascinated, as Mulder moaned again, and twisted a little, fighting the bonds.

(Even unconscious, in agony, he won't give up!!) The now-familiar thrill of admiration filled Krycek again. "Fight 'em, Mulder," he whispered. "Don't let 'em win..."

A few minutes later, several technicians came into the room. Krycek lay back and just watched. He flushed with embarrassment when they moved on both prisoners and began their activities with the employment of Foley catheters to collect urine in plastic bags slung somewhere underneath the tables upon which they lay.

(*Be glad you're out of it, Mulder. I could've missed this...*)

Then the prisoners were each fastened down even more securely, with a throat strap and a pair of more narrow bands anchoring down the right forearm. Krycek began to fight, desperately, when he saw them bringing in an IV rig and the nearest technician bared the needle at the end of the attached plastic tube.

The tech was disgusted. "Oh, stop it. You can't avoid it. Lie still and take it, or you could be in as much pain as your pal, over there."

Krycek involuntarily glanced at Mulder in time to see the tech on that side open the IV and inject something into the port. Mulder's entire body convulsed as the drug hit his bloodstream. In moments he was screaming. Much to Krycek's shock, he was not just wailing in agony; he was crying out for help.

"Dad!! Dad!! Help me!! Dad, don't let them! Dad! No! Not again!! No!! Anni! Sam! No!! Noooo!!"

The nearest tech negligently slapped Mulder, rocking his face to one side. "Shut up, asshole. Your daddy's not here." Still not really conscious, Mulder subsided a little, moaning more quietly. "Don't take them away...I need... Anni...? Sa-man-tha...? Nickie...? Nickie, don't leave me alone..."

(*Alone? He's been alone for years. This doesn't make sense. And who are Annie and Nickie? The only women we've documented in his life are Phoebe Green, Diana Fowley, and Dana Scully. This doesn't make any sense...*)

Krycek did not see the tech beside his own bed repeat the same actions. All he knew was that suddenly, the world blurred out, all color vanished in a wave of grayness. Suddenly he was utterly alone, isolated in a way he did not know he could ever be. The two technicians in the room vanished from his awareness. His eyes strained to see his companion in pain, but the body on the next table was only a shadow.

"No," he whimpered, unaware that he voiced this grief, this terror. "No! Don't leave me alone! I can't be alone...! Please...!"

But he was alone. He remembered...

He remembered this isolation, at the point of a needle.

He remembered others like himself, sobbing out their loneliness and fear, huddling together in the little patch of woods behind the elementary school, holding each other in silence, no words necessary between the six of them as they trembled with terror at the memories they shared. He
remembered his arm around Samantha Mulder on one side, and, on the other...

"Molly..." he whispered, his eyes staring, unfocused, at memories more than a decade old, memories Alex Krycek had never seen. "Oh, God, Molly..."

From the next examining table, came the words, whispered, as if to keep their captors from hearing. "Nickie... Nickie...you aren't alone... I'm still here... Nickie...?"

And a wall constructed years ago, with drugs and pain and malicious intent, began to crumble. As the artificial persona of Alex Krycek disintegrated into nothingness, Nicolai Lermontov screamed himself back into being.

"Nickie! Nickie, it'll be over, soon... Take it easy..."

Fox Mulder came partly out of his drugged daze at the sound of a familiar voice screaming. He could hear himself saying, "Nickie... Nickie... It's all right, Nickie..."

When he could get his eyes to focus, he saw his fellow prisoner. At first, his vision was not entirely clear, and he could not recognize the other's features. But the voice was familiar enough, especially in this setting; it was Nick. Nickie Lermontov. The bond-sib that he had long ago resigned himself to never seeing again.

"Nick! Nickie, it's me, Fox. You aren't alone... settle down. It' s wearing off, Nickie. Settle down... Can you hear me, Nick? It's Fox..."

"Fox...?"

That single syllable was sobbed, in a tone so utterly desolate that it hurt Mulder to hear it.

"It's me, Nickie," he confirmed. "Take it easy, now. It's just tests. We've been through this before..."

"God, Fox, she's gone..."

"I know, Nick. Anni's gone, too."

"Why are we alive?!" Nick's voice was suddenly a snarl. "This is WRONG!!" Mulder blinked and found his focus returning. Suddenly he gasped. "Oh, my God! Nickie?!"

He was staring at the tear-streaked face of Alex Krycek. His memories of Nickie Lermontov shimmered, and the image of the last time he had seen his bond-sib superimposed itself over Krycek's face.

They matched.

Alex Krycek was his bond-sib and childhood companion Nickie Lermontov.

+++

FBI headquarters AD Skinner's office a month after Mulder's disappearance

"You're crazy!"

"Agent Scully..."

Skinner's voice held a warning, but Dana chose to ignore it.

"This is Mulder's life that you're playing with. What do you think the Consortium's going to do when Mulder's kidnapping airs on national television?"

"Let him go, maybe." Skinner studied the haggard woman in front of him. "There isn't anything else we can do. It's been four weeks and there's no sign of him. I've run out of ideas and options. Do you have a better idea?"

Scully sighed, and her shoulders suddenly slumped. "No," she told him in a small voice. She felt the world closing in on her. "No, I don't. I... I think I'd better tell Frohike and company, or they'll be in here bothering you, Sir."

"Do so." The thought of The Lone Gunmen invading his office made Skinner shudder. "Go now. The producer of the show would like to interview you tomorrow in your office."

She shook her head sadly. "Would you mind if we did it up here? I would rather the world was not exposed to Mulder's obsession. If we do the interview down there, he's just a nutcase who believes in UFOs and who's probably off chasing the last one he saw. Up here, he's a federal agent that's been kidnapped in the line of duty."

"Very well." Skinner wished he dared touch her; she so desperately needed a hug. "We'll find him, Dana. I promise."

She just stared at him, then turned on her heel and left the room.

+++

"I think that it's appropriate that we should ask for help." Frohike did not look at his two friends or Scully as he said this. He knew what their reaction would be.

"You're crazy," Scully said, right on cue. "There isn't anyone we can trust with this! This is Mulder's life! You're as crazy as Skinner is!"

"That's my point. It's Mulder's LIFE. We haven't been able to do anything in all this time..." his voice trailed off. He knew the statistics as well as the others did. If you did not find a kidnap victim within the first 48 hours, the odds of finding him alive became more remote as each day passed. "I have friends I trust with my life. Not many, but a few. And I know that Langly and Byers do, too. It's time to call them. There isn't anything else we can do.

"Skinner was right when he contacted AMERICA'S MOST WANTED, Agent Scully. You haven't found out anything with the entire resources of the FBI at your disposal. You need help." Byers's voice was quiet with conviction. Usually the retiring one of the three, now he stepped forward to take Scully's shoulders in his hands and force her to look up at him. "Mulder needs help. He needs as much help as we can get, wherever we can get it from." He gingerly pulled Scully to him as her tears started to fall. "We'll find him, and when we do, you have to tell him how you feel. He'll never be the first to voice what he feels. You know that."

Defeated, both by her superior and by Mulder's friends, Scully nodded at the three men standing before her. "Okay, who do we contact first?"

+++

852 Prospect Avenue Cascade, Washington Saturday night

Blair sat on the couch cross-legged with a pile of exams on his lap. Sighing, he looked fondly over at Jim who was slouched in the other corner of the couch. He was tempted to slide over and start something, but then he looked down at the piles of exams surrounding him and sighed again.

"What's wrong, Chief?" Jim asked around a mouthful of popcorn.

"I hate the end of the semester. I don't know why we have to have final exams."

"Is there some sort of rule at the university that says you have to have exams?"

"No, but if you don't, you have to assign a major research paper for the upper level classes and that's even more of a pain to correct than the exams are. Well, at least the seminar papers are typed."

"Look, give me the key and the Anthro 101 tests and I'll help you." Jim offered.

Blair looked up with abject and total adoration on his face. "You will?"

Jim laughed and ruffled Blair's curls. "What are friends for? C'mon. I'll help until nine, and then we'll take a break and watch AMERICA'S MOST WANTED." Jim grinned at Blair's reaction. "Hey, come on, think of it as my homework. You never know when something you see on that program is going to help in a case. They really have solved a number of crimes, Blair."

"Yeah, right." Blair retorted, then handed Jim a red pen, the answer key and the largest pile of papers.

"Hey..." It was Blair's turn to grin at his partner. "Jim, you can do each of those exams in under two minutes, these take fifteen to twenty each. Which would you rather have?"

"Never mind, I never said a word."

"Didn't think so," Blair whispered softly to himself and concentrated on deciphering yet another sophomore's handwriting.

+++

"Okay, all done!"

Blair looked up from his work to see his Sentinel grinning.

"Time for a break, Darwin." Jim plucked the red pen from the younger man's hand and set it on the coffee table. Then he took the pile of exams from Blair's lap and put them next to the pen. Slowly, never breaking eye contact with him, Jim pulled Blair into his arms and snuggled his Guide close. "Now, this is the way to watch television. A good show, popcorn and a fully interactive body pillow!"

Ten minutes later, the interactive body pillow ended up on the floor...on his butt.

"No way!" "Jim?" Blair looked up at his friend and was stunned at the look on his face. "Talk to me, Jim."

"Wait!" Blair turned his attention to the television, and listened to John Walsh's narration as a picture plainly taken from a federal ID card flashed on the screen. "Take a good look at this picture. This is Alex Krycek, American born son of Russian refugee parents, raised in Rhode Island.

"He qualified as an FBI agent in 1994. He was a Special Agent for the FBI for less than a year. When he was found to have assisted in the kidnapping of another agent, he disappeared again.

"Since then, it has become apparent to the FBI that Krycek is one seriously sick individual. He is absolutely obsessed with the man who was his partner during his stint with the FBI."

Another photograph flashed on the screen; a slightly older man, smiling faintly. It was another identification card snapshot.

"This is Special Agent Fox Mulder, the Bureau's premier profiler, head of a small department within the Bureau that specializes in cleaning up cases that other police agencies and other departments of the FBI have given up on. Within that department, Special Agent Mulder and his partner, Special Agent Dana Scully, have one of the highest solved- case percentage rates in the Bureau.

"Krycek was assigned to Mulder for his field training. Krycek betrayed his oath and his partner, interfering with Agent Mulder's work to the extent that he prevented Agent Mulder from rescuing Agent Scully, who had been kidnapped.

"Krycek disappeared at the same time. Agent Scully was rescued some time later, but there was no sign of Alex Krycek.

"Since then he has repeatedly reappeared in Agent Mulder's life. He stalked Agent Mulder for months. He murdered Agent Mulder's father. He assaulted Agent Mulder's immediate superior, Assistant Director Walter Skinner, and stole vital evidence from him. He was involved in an attempt to murder Agent Scully, when her sister Melissa was killed, instead.

"There had been no sign of Mr. Krycek for months. Then, five weeks ago, Agent Mulder was
kidnapped right out of his own apartment. He vanished without a trace, and there has been no progress in the investigation whatsoever.

"Because of their history together, Alex Krycek was the prime suspect in Agent Mulder's
disappearance. That lasted for approximately three days, when the DC police turned up evidence that Mr. Krycek had been abducted in the same fashion, at approximately the same time.

"Alex Krycek is wanted for murder, for assaulting one member of the FBI and is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of another. But he is also apparently a victim in this case. He is armed, dangerous, and very unpredictable; don't try to approach him! If you see him, or if you see Agent Mulder, call the local office of the FBI, your local police or 1-800-CRIME-TV."

"Jim?" Blair asked cautiously. Jim was rigid, staring at the screen, gritting his teeth so hard Blair could hear them grating against one another.

"He wouldn't do that!"

"Who wouldn't?"

Jim took a deep breath and turned to face Blair. "I don't know who Alex Krycek is, but I knew that guy in the Army as Nicolai Lermontov. They had tapped him for the Rangers because he spoke Russian fluently. His parents were immigrants. Because of that, and because he was small growing up, he learned to fight early, but he never liked it. There is no way he'd do something like that, Chief. He... he just couldn't." Blair searched Jim's face and wondered what this man had meant to Jim. The older man saw Blair's questioning look and sighed, looking away.

"You loved him." Blair said quietly.

"Yeah... maybe." Jim refused to make a clear statement. "We never became involved because he was under my command and I didn't play that sort of game. If this Alex Krycek is Lermontov, something horrible must have been done to him. We lost touch when I was sent to Peru. He didn't go on the mission because he came down with the galloping god-awfuls the night before we left. When I got back I tried to locate him, but I was informed that he had gone AWOL."

"So, it possibly could be the same person. Think he could have kidnapped this Federal Agent?"

"Yeah, it's possible. God knows he had the training. I just don't think he had the motivation. I'm a lot more comfortable with the idea that someone else grabbed both of them and that the rest of what they said is some sort misunderstanding. Something weird is going on, Chief. I wonder if I can find out?"

"Well, we can't do anything tonight. Tomorrow, why don't you call Jack Kelso? Maybe he could find out about what's going on for you?"

But in the morning, Jim Ellison did not call Jack. He called AMERICA'S MOST WANTED.

+++

Washington DC The next afternoon

"Agent Scully?"

Startled, she looked up from her monitor screen. The Assistant Director was standing the doorway of the X- Files office. "Sir?" "John Walsh called."

She went absolutely still. "What did he say?"

"They got over four hundred calls last night. Some of it is probably a waste, but one call was definitely pay dirt."

She swiveled her chair around to face him squarely. "Tell me."

"He says Alex Krycek is an alias; he knew the man as a US Army Ranger from 1985 to 1988."

"What was his real name?"

"Nicolai Lermontov of Chilmark, Massachusetts."

Scully sank back in her chair, her eyes blank with shock.

+++

The rail car laboratory Actual location and date unknown

Nick was startled when, after what seemed to be weeks tied down to the examination tables, he was suddenly freed. Wobbly on legs that had not supported weight for days, dizzy after so much time horizontal, he was pulled out of the room, down a short corridor, and shoved into a tiny cell.

(Is this the same train car?) he wondered, suddenly frightened. ("Fox! Fox, can you hear me?! Fox?!")

Distantly, weakly, he could feel Fox's presence. Their bond was not really verbal; it never had been. Careful experimentation had shown them that sub-vocalizing the words made the sending clearer. If he concentrated, Nick could feel Fox thinking about him; still groggy from the last test, but conscious and aware, sending reassurance to his companion. Nick's legs gave out on him, and he sank to the floor. (*They want to know how far apart we can sense one another. Should I lie? Can I?*)

He fell asleep trying to decide.

The decision became moot a little later, when he woke up screaming in pain and discovered he was alone. Whatever was causing that horrible pain was being done to Fox and not to him.

("Fox, I'm here. You aren't alone. I'm here. It'll be over soon... hang on...")

But it was not over soon.

+++

Same place. Later

Nick was fed real food, and forced to exercise regularly on a treadmill. He found this return to relative normalcy unnerving, even as he crammed in all the food and exercise he could get, storing up strength for later.

He felt incredibly guilty to be so well treated while his bond-sib was still tied to a table, being used as a lab rat. Fox's screams regularly woke him up. They sobbed together in their shared fear and pain. Nothing was changed except that now they could not talk to or see one another.

Nick desperately wanted to talk to Fox. He could feel Fox's emotional state clearly when his bond-sib was conscious. Those times became less and less frequent, but each time, Nick could feel a dark depression, a sense of overwhelming hopelessness in his companion. Their bond did not allow them to speak to one another; all Nick could send to Fox was the wordless, formless feeling of their connection, their affection, their need for one another's companionship. Sometimes it was enough, and Fox would send him a smile then fall gratefully asleep.

But sometimes it was not enough, and the darkness would seem to nearly swallow the older man. Nick was reduced, on more than one occasion, to kneeling at the wall nearest the laboratory, pounding on it with his fists and screaming the FBI agent's name.

(*Is it any kindness to keep him here with me? Or is it just my own selfishness? I don't want to die alone, here. I want someone to realize my loss and mourn me, and Fox Mulder is the only person on the planet who will care when I'm gone. So I have to keep him sane and alive. God, is that sick, or what?*)

Nick shuddered, but he still could not bring himself to let Fox go.

+++

Same place - Some time later

Nick guessed it had been about ten or eleven days; he had been counting the meals they brought him. Then he was dragged back into the laboratory, and tied down again. Once he was secured, they freed Fox.

Mulder was weak from having been tied down and could not stand without support; he had to be all but carried out of the room. Nick relaxed back with a sigh. He was reasonably sure they had just traded places, and now he would be the target for a couple of weeks while they combined monitoring Mulder's reactions with getting his physical health back.

He was right.

They used drugs and physical torture. Wired and tubed every possible way, Nick had no way to measure time, and the individual incidents began to blur into one another. Desperate for the anchor to comfort that he found in his bond-sib, he yearned desperately for him. Contact was there, and usually supportive. Early on, when he reached for Fox all he got was a nightmare image, but as Fox regained his strength, he regained his need and ability to support his bond-sib as he had been supported.

Nick was unconscious when Mulder was returned to the lab, and was both pleased and dismayed when he awakened.

"Fox?" His voice was only a whisper; he had screamed himself hoarse.

"I'm here. Relax, Nick."

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Holding you here." Mulder turned his head to meet his bond-sib's pain-glazed stare. "It's not your choice, Nick."

"You can't lie to me, Fox."

Mulder chewed his lip. He knew what Nick was talking about, but neither of them wanted their captors to know. "I forgive you, you know. I understand. Am I holding you, too?"

"I think so."

"Figures." They both smiled thinly. Then they were silent for a long, long time.

+++

Interim Status Report

After the first treatment with Compound CP-TPB-6 both Subjects B and C responded, within the limits of measurement, as they had when last tested at ages 15 and 13, respectively. They both began to exhibit expected complaints of loneliness and isolation, both were reduced to terror and then to tears almost at once.

It also became apparent that, despite having known Subject C for several years as Alex Krycek, and to have developed a significant antipathy toward him, when the first treatment began to wear off, Subject B immediately recognized his childhood bond-sib, and they picked up that original relationship as if they had never been separated; as if Alex Krycek had never existed.

This conclusively demonstrates that CP
compounds and SL compounds, such as are most commonly used in the various forms of Semileth, are mutually antagonistic. When the CP drugs were introduced, all effects, long- and short-term, of all their previous exposures to Semileth were apparently negated. This conclusively
demonstrates that Semileth, in all its forms, is no more than a mask. It does not destroy synaptic connections, it simply isolates them.

Subject C regained all knowledge of his childhood identity and history, completely shattering the construct shell persona of Krycek that had been so painstakingly layered on after Subject D's untimely death had left Subject C on the edge of sanity and teetering dangerously.

Certainly the imposition of the shell persona preserved Subject C's sanity. However, this minor step in the re-evaluation has totally bared Subject C and while the data is significant to the Project, it is more subjective than we would prefer.

Subject C has been spending most of his waking hours sobbing, apparently mourning the death of Subject D. Due to the timing of the imposition of the shell persona, Subject C apparently feels her loss as having been recent. Even though Subject A's death was Several months ago, Subjects B and C have done their mourning together.

It is clear that they are each deeply grieved for the other's loss. This shows an emotional empathy that Alex Krycek never exhibited; it was part of Subject C that was sublimated by the shell.

It has been observed that they seldom sleep at the same time. It appears that they are standing guard over one another's dreams. Even when they are asleep they are aware of one another on an emotional level; one's distress will awaken the other, even if the distressed one makes no sound, even if they have both been rendered temporarily deaf with earplugs.

We theorize that, although they communicate through their bond, that this communication is non-verbal. They still speak to one another aloud. When they were children, non-verbal
communication was apparently only possible between members of a pair-bond. When Subjects A and B, for example, were isolated during a testing session at the age of 13, they never spoke aloud. Our observers in town reported that they rarely spoke except to others. When they were alone together, they never spoke aloud, though they exchanged smiles.

Step Two will commence on Day 50 of this re-evaluation.

Interim report, Re-Evaluation, Week Seven. submitted Tuesday 30 June 2000

+++

The rail car laboratory Actual location and exact date unknown

In a windowless laboratory, moving almost constantly along the interstate rail system, the two prisoners had no way to judge the passing of hours or days. Neither had any idea how many days into this captivity it was when one of their captors came in alone.

They eyed him warily. This was no mere technician; this was one of the decision-makers, a doctor they had long ago labeled Mengele's Stepson. They had not seen this particular tormentor for a very long time. Either he preferred to simply observe from outside, or he had been away and had now returned.

He did not speak to them; he never had. He seemed unaware that they were capable of verbal interaction. He simply walked in, with a roll of duct tape over one wrist. He stopped beside Mulder, studied him for a moment, then casually tore off a length of tape and pressed it down over Mulder's eyes. He smoothed the tape down snugly and anchored the ends together at the back of Mulder's head.

Braced for pain, terrified that the tape would be placed over nose and mouth to smother him, Mulder only just managed to get his eyes closed in time. He concentrated on sending a calmness toward Nick, who could not see what was happening. The doctor was between the two prisoners, his back to Nick. It only took a few moments. Once the tape was secure, the doctor left, all without a word.

As soon as he was gone, Mulder relaxed.

"Fox?"

"I'm okay, Nick."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." He faked a shrug. "It doesn't hurt. It just kinda itches."

"But you can't see!"

Mulder shrugged again. "What is there to see in here that I haven't memorized?"

Nick frowned. "Fox, the last time they did this..."

Now it was Mulder's turn to frown as he turned his blinded face toward his companion. "What are you talking about? They didn't do this before..."

"Sure they did, Fox. When we were kids. Don't you remember?"

Mulder's breath caught. His body did not move; Nick had to look closely to see if he was breathing. The blank silver tape masking half his bond-sib's face made his expression impossible to read. "Fox?"

Something deep inside Mulder's mind creaked and moaned and cracked open. Light filtered in and, insatiably curious as ever, he followed it. Blinded, bound to an examination table, helpless, he could only lie where he was and listen to Samantha screaming. She was screaming his name, begging someone to stop, pleading at the top of her lungs for her brother to save her. They had long since given up on being succored by any parent; bond-sibs could only rely on other bond-sibs.

He shivered, cold to his bones. This was familiar; this was the original source of the audio track for his manufactured abduction memories. This was where Samantha had screamed, "Help me, Fox!" And he was tied down, unable to move, to go to her aid, to do anything for her.

"Fox! Fox! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

Gradually he became aware of his sole remaining bond-sib calling him, and turned his head.

"It's okay, Nick," he said. "I'm here."

"Stay with me, Fox," Nick begged. "I've been alone for so long, if you leave me again, it'll kill me."

"I'm okay, Nick," he repeated. "I was just thinking."

"You weren't here, Fox. You didn't answer me for a long time."

"Really? Didn't feel unusual. I was just remembering."

"Flashback, maybe?" Nick suggested, calming down. "Don't leave me here, alone, Fox. Please, don't."

"I'm not going anywhere, Nick. I'm here with you."

But that assurance became thinner and thinner as the days went by. Inevitably, they could not talk all the time; they got tired, they slept. Neither would speak when there was a tech in the room, although they knew that they were always under observation.

+++

The rail car laboratory Actual location and date unknown

Mulder woke up screaming, and then went limp, exhausted.

It had been a long time since Mulder had had the energy to actively resist. Now he had to hoard energy just to stay awake. He was still trying to find a way to escape, but the chains were beyond his ability to defeat, and his eyes remained taped. He was pretty sure that he had been a prisoner here for at least a few weeks. They talked around him as if he was an animal. That was all he was, to them. He was their lab rat. They talked about their plans, but he could not figure out what they thought they were accomplishing by torturing him. This was all too similar to the testing he had undergone as a child, although some of the drugs and several of the guards were orders of magnitude more violent than those he had experienced as a child.

He was still hearing another voice inside his head. He might have fought against that clear symptom of mental illness, except that the voice was familiar. It was Nickie. Sometimes, when he called his name, Nickie answered him.

("Nickie...?")

("Fox...")

Neither had had any luck sending any words other than their names, but he could feel Nickie's worry and pain and wondered if Nickie could feel his. Mulder wasn't sure, but he noticed that almost every time he felt Nickie's presence, Nickie was sobbing.

Mulder had no idea if Nickie was really there. Every other time that he remembered being strapped down and tortured, Nickie or at least one of his other bond-sibs had been there, reassuring him, making certain he knew he was not alone. All those other times were a blur in Mulder's mind. Without sight to give him an anchor to his current reality, Mulder was adrift.

In this strange, dark world, there was no time and no certainty, except that pain would return. When it did, it was always a surprise, and he could rarely tell if it was his companion's pain or his own.

+++

Hegel Place, Alexandria, Virginia two months after Mulder's disappearance

"Mulder!" Dana sat up screaming, instantly awake. The dream image had been horrifying: Mulder blindfolded, strapped to a table, his body convulsing in agony, his face contorted in a scream. She stared around, disoriented.

(Where am I?)

A few glances around showed her that she had just had another nightmare. She burrowed into the pillow, tried to make herself comfortable on the beat-up leather couch upon which Mulder had always slept.

She had not been home in days. Mulder's apartment was dark and comforting. She had acquired temporary power of attorney and she was paying his bills, using his paycheck to keep his life up-to-date, so when he could come home, there would be a home waiting for him. The pay would keep coming as long as he was MIA. She knew that if he was missing long enough, the FBI would start simply crediting him with his pay and benefits. Eventually they would take legal action to have him declared legally deceased, so they could stop paying him. But that, hopefully, was a long way off.

(*Mom and Melissa handled this when I was missing, but Mulder doesn't have anyone but me.*)

Sleep was obviously eluding her; she sat up and wrapped the blanket around her. She curled up on the couch and stared blankly. She could not avoid remembering that horrible image from the dream of Mulder being tortured. She reached for the television remote.

+++

Scully's apartment later that week

Scully had to make the conscious decision to go home to her own place to sleep every night.

(*After all, if he escapes, he won't go home, he'll come to me. I have to be here when he does.*)

She spent most evenings at his place, idly watching videos, taping Yankees games for him. She knew what she was doing: she was working hard at refusing to believe that Mulder was dead. As an experienced law enforcement officer, she was well aware that the statistics said that it was almost impossible for him to still be alive after being missing for nearly two months.

(But they don't understand the details,) she told herself fiercely. She was sitting cross- legged at the end of Mulder's couch, checking through a random selection of videotapes she had found in a box near the desk.

She stopped suddenly, and stared at the videotape in her hand. It was the alien autopsy tape in which she had found the exit code that had made it possible for Mulder to escape the railcar lab out west before the bomb went off.

(*Railcar lab. Consortium. Tests in childhood... Oh, my God!*) She grabbed her cell phone and punched the speed dial code for her supervisor.

"Skinner."

"Scully, sir. We need to check rail lines."

"For what?"

"Laboratory cars. Remember?" She summarized the incident until Skinner interrupted her.

"I recall. Why do you think it's significant, now?"

"Sir, right after his wife died, Mulder shared some newly-recovered childhood memories with me." She explained all she knew.

"How could anyone forget that so thoroughly?" Skinner sounded shaken.

"The Consortium has a drug that destroys memory, sir. They've used it on him at least twice since I've known him: once when he trespassed on Ellens Air Force Base in Idaho, right after I was assigned to the X Files, and once when he broke into Weikamp to rescue one of the Rebels. As I've seen it used, it can cause memory gaps of several hours up to about thirty. I find it very believable that even a more primitive version of the drug, administered after these testing sessions, could have masked the significant time, even if it was days. They apparently used it on him throughout his entire childhood."

Skinner did not understand. "Mulder can't forget."

"Sir, more than almost anything else, Mulder wishes he could control his memory. Given a way to do it, I can imagine him as a child subconsciously refusing to fight the drug, letting it take the memories of the tests, the pain, the loneliness and guilt. If this kidnapping is a renewal of the program he was part of as a child, the other surviving members of his bond-sib group may be with him. They, too, may have been kidnapped. We need to correlate all similar, not necessarily identical, kidnappings nationwide."

"You think you can find Samantha?"

Scully sighed. "At least, we might be able identify where she was. If Mulder was taken to do follow-up on the testing program he was part of as a child, then Samantha may very well be with him."

"Maybe that will make this a little easier for him," Skinner suggested softly. "To have it finally confirmed that she is still alive."

"Maybe," Scully conceded that, but she
remembered what Mulder had told her about how traumatic the tests were and she was not reassured.

+++

the dojo Seacouver, Washington August 22, 2002

"Come at me, Adam," Duncan urged him. "Hard!"

Methos held his katana two-handed, his elbows on one side of his balance line, and the blade on the other at a forty-five degree angle to the floor. With a happy smile, he charged. Duncan beat him back, but Methos was good, and gave little ground. He actually pinked Duncan on his sword arm, and Duncan laughed.

"Very good!" Then he tapped Methos twice, once on each shoulder. Their blades clashed in another exchange. Duncan was fighting one- handed, fencing epee-style with a weapon not suited to it at all, and holding Methos at bay with ease. Duncan saw the opening he wanted, and closed in. He grabbed at Methos's hair with his free hand. One good yank brought Methos to his knees, and Duncan's blade came flat against his throat. "Never forget your opponent has two hands."

"And a sword," Methos panted as he hit Duncan with the back of his blade on the inside of his thigh, where the edge would have severed the femoral artery and dropped even an Immortal in only seconds.

Duncan smiled and let go of Methos's hair; Methos lowered the point of his sword to the floor so Duncan could step back. "Very good. You did pay attention. You're improving every day, Adam."

"You're not even breathing hard--!" Methos mourned as he panted, his hands on his knees.

"I've been in training for four hundred years," he reminded him, "and you just took a couple of centuries off. You've improved with just the couple of months' work we've done. You know that swordplay is like chess; you can always get better."

When Methos had his breath back, Duncan told him to do his kata. He had had to explain the word when they started this training; Methos had never trained in Japan, and did not use the language with the ease and facility that Duncan did.

Methos began it a little hesitantly, unsure of what Duncan would do or say. Four beats into the pattern, Duncan stepped carefully inside Methos's lunge radius and walked around him. He tried to be critical, but he could find little to fault. Methos was light on his feet, strong and confident with his blade, and he knew it to the veriest tip: one of his lunges reached out and tapped Duncan on his chest as he stood studying Methos's form. Methos did not hesitate to judge his reaction; Duncan did not flinch, having confidence in his lover's ability to control his blade.

"Good job," he said as Methos finished with a samurai salute. Duncan lifted his own katana. "Now, do it again." He ignored the expression on Methos's face. When they began, Duncan countered Methos's every move lightly, their swords just kissing one another. The routine was ten minutes long, and when it was done, Methos knew that he had not seen such expertise with a blade as Duncan had just so casually displayed, in a long time. Duncan had been Methos's reflection, mirroring his every movement, almost close enough to touch, but never touching anything but steel.

Methos sheathed and racked his sword, and then dropped to sit against the wall beneath the daisho rack, his head back against the cool bricks, his eyes closed, trying to calm himself down. He had never, in his entire life, been so excited by just the proximity of a male body.

(*Almost touching, yet never touched... *)

He shuddered, trying to keep control as Duncan slid down the wall to sit beside him, laying his own sword on the floor.

"You're good, Adam," Duncan smiled at him. "Getting better all the time."

Methos just smiled, not trusting his voice or his choice of words.

"Good?" Amanda was standing in the doorway, wearing sweats and carrying her own sword. "You two dance like you've been lovers for decades. Would you like to be alone?"

Duncan was saved from having to frame a reply by Methos, who grabbed at the opportunity to escape.

"No, I'm going to take a shower. Duncan, beat her to death for me, will you?" he said with a forced grin. He pushed himself to his feet using the wall, and headed for the elevator.

"Sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose," Duncan grinned as he stood, taking up his sword as he rose. He faced Amanda, and they smiled at one another.

When the door closed, and they were alone, Amanda spoke. "He's getting a lot better, isn't he?"

"Yep." Duncan nodded. "Are you?"

"Come and find out," she invited, falling into her stance, lifting her blade between them.

"En garde!"

+++

An empty factory building near the waterfront Cascade, Washington The same day

A coldness settled over Jim as he faced the other man. He recognized the body language: It was that of a trained killer. He had been one himself in a long-gone life and he felt as if he was looking in a mirror into that past when he gazed at the set features and the cold, emotionless gaze.

This man would kill him without a second thought or a moment's remorse. Jim knew that he was the only thing between Blair and the killer.

Jim had left Blair in the truck but, as usual, his lover had not listened. Instead, he had followed Ellison inside, and had managed to release the hostages. But in the process, he had been captured, himself.

One of the women had children who had already lost their father today. Blair had made sure they did not lose their mother as well. To Blair, this was an acceptable exchange, but to Jim, it was not acceptable at all.

These thoughts flashed through his mind and then were left behind. All that mattered was removing the killer that threatened Blair, his Guide, his friend, his lover, from the live grenade that Danvers had placed in Blair's bound hands.

Blair sat in the corner where Danvers had left him, staring down at the grenade in his hand. The man was arrogant. He had not bothered to tie Blair to anything; he was just handcuffed. After having watched him for over an hour, Blair knew that the other man was as deadly as Jim could be. He just hoped he was not deadlier.

He sighed in relief when Jim finally came into the room, but was repentant at the look of horror and agony that flashed in Jim's eyes when he saw him sitting there.

(*I'll never learn, Big Guy. No matter how many times you tell me.*)

Blair thought sadly of the kids who would be crying tonight as he tried, without success, to ignore the body of their father that lay butchered next to him. It reminded him what would happen to both of them if Jim lost this fight.

Danvers and Jim circled, while Blair watched with a perverted fascination. (*It's a dance. They're performing a dance of death.*)

The anthropologist in Blair could not help but be enthralled by the dynamics of the movements playing out before him. The lover in Blair shuddered for his mate. He began to search for something to take the place of the pin that Danvers had removed from the grenade. Anything he could do to help Jim, he would, even to the extent of risking his own life. This was what friends did.

While Sandburg looked furtively around the floor, Jim and Danvers began the next exchange. Jim rolled away and wiped the blood from his lip; the other man seemed uninjured.

"Come, now, Captain Ellison, you can't have forgotten that much since you left us."

The man was taunting him, and Jim realized that Danvers knew about his past. (*Great, someone else bent on revenge or whatever! Why do I attract all the loon-shits?*)

Jim stepped to one side, attempting to get between the other man and Blair.

Danvers cut him off. "Oh, no. Your pretty little friend will be stay staying here with me. After I've finished with you, he should be entertaining."

Jim heard Blair whispering. "Big Guy, he's trying to push your buttons. Don't let him. Ignore that I'm here. Just get him for what he's done to these people!"

His Guide's voice sounded vicious, and Jim realized that Blair was not scared; he was furious. Jim knew his Guide. (*Shit, he's going to do something stupid if I don't take care of this fast!*)

Knowing he had to end this now, he feinted just slightly to the left and then he started to turn to the right. It threw the other man off his stride when Jim spun back to the left and as he came past Danvers, he locked his arm around the man's throat and pulled him back against him. Danvers, however, was stronger than Jim imagined. He broke the Sentinel's hold easily and turned to grip Jim around the neck, thumbs digging into the artery on the side of his throat.

Blair realized that his Sentinel needed help. As Danvers tightened his hold, Blair made his move and came up off the floor in one, fluid movement.

"Now, Jim, hold him for me," Blair whispered, confident that his Sentinel could hear him.

Jim reached out and grabbed the other man knowing that Blair would continue, no matter what. In a desperate move, Blair pulled back on the other man's belt and slid the grenade into Danvers's shorts, the tightness of the man's jeans insuring that the grenade would not go off. Danvers released his hold on Jim and whirled out of Jim's grasp to backhand the Guide. Jim heard the sickening thud as Blair hit the edge of the desk, heard his partner moan. With a roar of fury, Jim turned on the other man and with a motion too fast to follow, snapped the other's neck.

Letting the body slide to the floor, Jim went over and gathered Blair gently into his arms. "Chief, what am I going to do with you?"

Blair smiled groggily. "Take me home, tape my ribs, take me to bed and love me. The same things you always do when I've done something stupid."

"I'll even throw in a bath beforehand. You are going to be sore tomorrow, Chief."

"I know, I know, but before we get started, I think you'd better retrieve that grenade."

+++

852 Prospect, Cascade - Later that night

Jim sat up abruptly, dislodging Blair from his embrace, and shuddered as the nightmare faded. Blair lay next to him, panting at the pain the sudden movement caused.

"Sorry, Chief."

"Nightmare?" Blair asked.

"Yes." The syllable was snapped out and Blair knew his partner well enough to know that this was not the time to pry. Later, he would be able to get Jim to talk about it, but now, the thing that Jim needed most was to know that he was not alone.

He carefully sat up, took Jim's hand in his and brought his fingers slowly to his mouth. After having his ribs taped this afternoon, he wasn't up to gymnastics, but there were other, gentler things that they could do and when Jim was like this, it was always best to be very gentle.

Jim's hand curved around Blair's chin and brought him down for a kiss. Carefully, he lifted the smaller man to lie full length on him, then, pulled his hand away and brushed back the soft, cascading curls that surrounded his Guide's face. (*What did I do to deserve you, Chief?*) he wondered again as he saw the look of total love on the younger man's face. (What did I do?)

+++

Offices of the Cascade Police Department Major Crimes Unit Captain Simon Banks's Office The next day

Jim walked into Simon's office without knocking, and Simon knew something was wrong. He had not seen his detective since before the encounter with Danvers, but he had read the report Jim had left on his desk afterwards.

"How's Sandburg?"

"He insisted on going into the University today to finish up. The last thing he had to do before he left was turn in the final grade reports for his classes."

"Sounds like him."

"Doesn't it just? Simon, I need some time off."

Jim's pronouncement was flat. Simon did not have to be a Sentinel to hear the underlying tension in the other man's voice. He tried to lighten the mood.

"Can't get over the fact that Sandburg not only gave the guy a wedgie, but stuffed a grenade down his shorts, can you?" Simon said with a grin.

Jim exploded from the chair he had been sitting on. "This is no laughing matter, Simon. Blair could have been killed and it would have been my fault." Jim was shaking. Simon realized that he had totally misread just how upset Jim was and once more damned his two best men for becoming involved with one another. "And your friend MacLeod said that Blair isn't the type to come back." Jim's voice was ragged.

"Jim..."

"No, Simon, don't start. I can't take it today. Blair could have been killed and it would have been my fault. I... I have to take some time off to get my head together. Eleven people died in that warehouse that night, and it could have been thirteen. I don't have anything on my caseload that's urgent. Rafe said he'd take over the Malton case, and Megan's doing clean-up on that jewelry store robbery. I'm taking vacation time; God knows I have enough of it saved up. I'll be back when I'm ready."

"Jim..."

Jim said nothing more, he just turned and left a gaping Simon staring after him.

+++

852 Prospect, Cascade An hour later

Jim went back to the loft and was grateful that Blair was still at school. He did not want Blair to overhear the phone call he was going to make. He looked up a number in his address book and dialed.

"MacLeod."

"Mac, this is Jim Ellison." Jim paused. Now that he had MacLeod on the line, he did not know how to broach the subject. Taking a deep, centering breath, he continued. "I've got a big favor to ask. Are you busy for the next couple of weeks or so? I mean, do you have any plans?"

MacLeod was intrigued. He could tell that The Sentinel was upset about something.

"What's wrong?"

"I almost got Blair killed."

MacLeod, recognizing a guilt trip from having been on far too many of his own, said nothing and waited for the other man to continue. "We were up against yet another rogue covert ops agent. If it hadn't been for Blair's distracting him, we both would have been killed."

MacLeod sighed. (Guilt trip, all right. Big time.) "So, how can I help?"

"I need to practice, Mac. I've realized that my edge is gone. It's been far too long since I practiced with anyone I could go full out against. Anyone that's close to my level. I was wondering..."

"Sure, Jim. I thought you were going to ask for something hard. Why don't you pack the kid up and you can both come to visit. We can leave Blair with Adam and Amanda, so you won't have to worry about him being bored, and we can go out to the island. We can practice there without interruption."

"You have an island?"

"Sort of. It's actually tribal land, but I've had a place there for over a hundred years. The title rests with the tribe, but it's my place for all of that. I'm sort of the tribal..."

"Protector?" Jim laughed at that, his relief a palpable thing. "Been there, done that."

MacLeod smiled to himself. He had heard that sigh and knew he had done the right thing.

"So, when will you get here? If you arrive before three, we can be to the island before dark."

"Not today. Sandburg's at the university finishing up his paperwork for the semester. Do you think that we can safely leave Blair with them, Mac?"

"Afraid of a little competition from Amanda?"

Jim laughed at that. "No, just wondering what those three inventive brains could get up to if we left them together."

That made it Duncan's turn to laugh. "Doesn't bear thinking of, does it?"

"Well, I suppose we can always say they were with us if your local cops come after them."

+++

852 Prospect, Cascade the next morning

"C'mon, Chief! It doesn't matter when you get there, but Mac wants to be out to the island before dark. Hurry up!"

"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying!"

Jim Ellison could, if he wished, hear all the sub-vocalized muttering coming from his lover's office. But he had learned, early in their relationship, that there was nothing to be gained by such eavesdropping, and he did not want to put any more stress on this relationship now. Even after a year together as lovers, they were still working out the dynamics between them.

(And I do need him.) Ellison was not afraid to admit this to himself. (*I literally cannot function in the world without him. If I'd never found him --or vice versa!-- there's a better than fifty-fifty chance I'd be utterly insane by now, if I was even alive. Everything I am, including alive and functional, I owe to Blair Sandburg. Now, if I could just admit it that easily to him...!*)

He knew that he had lost his edge. He was no longer the cold-blooded killer that the army had trained him to be.

(And that could have cost Blair his life,) Jim thought bleakly and suppressed the shudder of horror that had shot through him at the thought of losing his Guide.

(*At least against Mac I know I can go flat out, without using competition rules or pulling any blows. And I trust him not kill me.*) Jim had seen MacLeod practicing and he knew that MacLeod could pull his blows within a hair's-breath.

(*Besides, I could use a really good work out, the way things have been going the last couple of days!*)

Blair came out of his office, the taped ribs interfering with his usual bounce. Jim's heart ached to see him walking so hesitantly. He met Blair halfway and took the larger backpack from him. He nearly dropped it, startled at how heavy it was.

"What the hell do you have in here, Chief?" he asked. "Bricks?"

"No," Blair told him with a grin blossoming on his face, "but Adam has promised to lend me his copy of BRICKWORK by Plumridge and Meulenkamp. It's a history of bricks and their uses in architecture. He told me that he's written in corrections and snide comments, but that the basic text is pretty accurate. The writers did good, solid research." "So, what exactly is in here?" Jim asked as he shouldered it and followed Blair outside, pausing to lock up behind him.

"Books I promised him, mostly. And discs of really cool stuff I downloaded a while back off some sites that are gone, now," Blair told him as they got onto the elevator.

"You couldn't e-mail it? You have to physically carry them?" Jim teased. "How primitive."

Blair just grinned wider and stuck out his tongue at him. They put the backpacks behind the seat beside Jim's duffel and climbed inside, ready to leave.

Blair slid across to nestle against him and steal a kiss. "I love bench seats."

Jim grinned. "Put your seat belt on."

Blair made a face at him, then slid back to obey. "I never get to have any fun." He feigned a pout, then a smile spread slowly across his face. Turning to the center of the seat, he started fishing around for the center lap belt. When he finally found both ends, he turned and sat with his back against Jim's shoulder, legs extended across to the door and ankles crossed. He buckled himself in. Jim reached out to tousle his hair. "Do you really think I can drive like this, Darwin?"

"I have faith in my Blessed Protector. You can do anything."

The absolute trust in Blair's voice shook Jim to his core. He reached out with his arm and hugged Blair to him briefly, then placed a fond kiss in the anthropologist's curls.

"Don't let Amanda lead you and Adam into anything you can't handle. Remember, I get territorial."

"Gee, y'think?" Blair borrowed Angie Dawson's favorite rejoinder: he liked it because it was so cheeky.

"Yes, I think! You're up there to pick Adam's brains, not to party with Amanda." He started the truck and pulled out into the street. He had faith in his partner, but they had been teasing one another about Amanda since they had met her.

"Can I pick her brains about partying?" Blair asked innocently. "For that matter, can I pick Adam's? After all, Jim, he's been having sexual relations with various people, alone and in groups, for thousands of years! He's forgotten more about sex than anyone will ever know!"

"That might be really interesting," Jim admitted. "Not that I'm bored, or anything--!" Then he grinned evilly at his smaller companion. "I can see the monograph now: Sex and Partying: A study of sexual practices through the ages by A. Pierson and Dr. B. Sandburg."

Blair chuckled. "And you think Amanda wouldn't want equal credit?" Suddenly he was not the eager, even boyish researcher, but seemed older as his voice dropped almost an octave. "If you've been bored, it's been with someone else!"

Jim wrapped his right arm around his lover and used his left to control the wheel. They were on the ramp to the interstate when Blair maliciously started sucking on Jim's fingers, one at a time, making an elaborate production out of each one. Jim shivered. "Dammit, I'm trying to drive, here--"

"Want me to stop?" Blair asked sweetly.

"Uh--"

Blair chuckled, laced his fingers with Jim's, and settled their clasped hands on his chest.

Jim could hear and feel the accelerated heartbeat, smell the beginnings of Blair's arousal, and he grinned. "This is no way to start a monastic retreat, Chief."

Blair paused, then tipped his head up to study his friend intently. "Why do you keep harping on this, Jim? Don't you trust me out of your sight?"

Jim flinched, and stole a glance at the younger man. "I'm sorry," he said at once. "I trust you; I swear it. But I'm anticipating significant temptation myself, out there all alone with MacLeod for two weeks. Aren't you at all tempted? Adam's been a pal of yours for a long time, and Amanda..." He let that trail off.

Blair was about to deny everything when he realized that Jim had admitted to feeling tempted. "A little," he admitted, more honestly than he had originally intended to be. "I like Adam a lot. We've been pen- pals for years, and now that we've met in person, I find that he arouses all these atavistic male imperatives in me: I want to cuddle him and make him feel happy and safe. I want to stand between him and his terrors, fight them off and free him."

"Don't go there," Jim drawled. "I think that role's already taken. You want to arm-wrestle Duncan for him?"

"Hell, no!" Blair was startled. "He'd break me in half. He's even scarier than you!"

Jim stole a glance at him. "When were you ever scared of me?"

"When you almost put me through a wall--when we first met!"

Jim snorted. "I didn't intend to hurt you--that was just to impress upon you how intense I was right then."

"It worked." Blair settled more comfortably against Jim and eventually nodded off.

Jim's thoughts, wandered back to Blair's admission of attraction to Adam and his own admission of attraction to MacLeod. He was not usually attracted to men; Blair was the other half of him, and he simply could not imagine needing or wanting intimacy with anyone else. With Blair, gender had simply been irrelevant.

(But MacLeod...)

Knowing that MacLeod was already involved in an intense, bisexual, three-way 'marriage' just made him more fascinating.

(*Amanda loves him, and Adam damn-near
worships him! And it can't all be sex! I think that what it is, is that he's a Paladin.*)

Jim had not thought of the word for a long time, but he remembered Simon's son Daryl had discovered role-playing games in junior high school. One of the non-player character types in Daryl's favorite game had been a Paladin, who was described as a solitary warrior, skilled, noble, who fought for truth, justice and honor, and carried the special blessing of Heaven.

(*He's not Galahad, because he sure as hell is no 'Virgin Knight,' but he is definitely a Paladin. And how can you not trust a Paladin?*)

Jim shook his head at his own silliness and settled down to drive.

+++

the dojo Seacouver Washington noonish

Duncan walked into the dojo and found Methos doing his sword kata. When the turns of the exercise brought him around, the older Immortal smiled at Duncan without missing a beat. Duncan returned the smile. "Want to dance?"

"And get you all hot and sweaty?" Methos grinned. "I thought you were expecting company."

They were standing toe to toe; Duncan gazed down into the changeable hazel eyes and smiled slowly. "I'm game if you are."

Methos stepped back with a smile and an inviting gesture.

Duncan kicked off his boots, pulled off his socks, then went all the way to the wall rack in the office, and took down his favorite practice katana from the daisho rack there.

They faced one another across two
sword's-lengths of the floor, and held their katanas hilt up, each in salute to the other.

"Your choice," Methos said.

Duncan smiled and began it. His smile faded as their eyes locked. The fine steel of their blades rang like bells, hissed like water flowing over rocks, and sang like birds, as their bodies moved through the motions of the dance. Their hazel eyes -- one set brown and the other green -- stayed locked together.

After the first stanza, they were breathing in unison, completely oblivious to everything except one another.

+++

the dojo Seacouver Washington dinnertime

Blair slept almost the entire trip. He woke immediately as they pulled into the alley behind MacLeod's building. He peered out through the windshield at the vicious thunderstorm that was underway.

"Are you guys really planning to canoe to an island in the middle of the Sound in this?"

Jim shrugged. "I hope not. But it wouldn't be the first time I got wet on a canoe trip."

"But, Jim, the Sound will be a nightmare! A canoe?!"

Jim looked down at Blair who had released the seat belt and turned to stare up at him. He saw the Blair's frown and knew that Blair was worried.

"Hey, it's okay. I don't think Mac would let me drown and besides, I don't think he's stupid. Let's go inside and see if he's made alternate plans."

"Right. And get drenched?" Blair shook his head, fished out their cell phone, and dialed the number for MacLeod's loft from memory.

"Talk to me," came a familiar voice.

"I want to cover you in chocolate sauce and watch Adam and Duncan lick it off your body. Slowly."

"Blair!"

"Hi, Amanda." He grinned up at Jim who was shaking in not-so-silent laughter. "Can you come down and let us in the side door? It's raining cats and dogs out here and I don't want to step in any poodles."

"No problem, be down in a second."

Less than five minutes later, the door opened and Amanda motioned them in. "Come on, you really are getting drenched."

Amanda hugged a shivering Blair to her as he passed and she felt him wince. "What happened this time?" she asked.

"Upstairs, okay?" Jim responded, as he hugged her, then kissed her on the cheek.

"Just another crazy, Amanda," Blair told her lightly. "You know how it is. Just another exciting day in the life of a Police Observer." Amanda shook her head and took Blair's larger pack from Jim and pulled the other out of Blair's hands. "Come on upstairs and you can get out of that damp clothing."

Before they could see inside, Jim could hear the ringing of steel. Instantly sobered, he frowned: would Duncan fight a duel in his own dojo? Then he realized that Amanda would not have been so calm if Duncan were fighting. Someone was practicing, and it was a very precise practice if the controlled cadences were anything to go by. Cautiously, Jim walked to the dojo entrance and peered inside.

He stopped short, entranced by what he saw.

Blair noticed his preoccupation, and squirmed between Jim and Amanda to watch, fascinated, along with his partner.

MacLeod and Methos were practicing - no, it was not practice. Jim changed his mind at once. That was not an exercise; it was a dance.

He stared, fascinated. He had seen sword dances before, and he had seen Duncan do his sword kata, but he had never seen a performance like this! The sexual tension being generated between Duncan and Methos was so intense that Jim could feel it out in the hall and was aroused by it, even more so with Amanda draped between him and Blair, a slender arm around each man's waist.

Jim could not bring himself to interrupt the dancers. The three of them stood there and watched, impressed at the skill being displayed, and enjoying the sexual aspect of it. He had always been aware of MacLeod's sexual relationship with Adam, but usually Duncan kept himself under more control than this.

(And they aren't even touching!) Blair marveled. (*Even so, I could sell a video of this to the triple-X market for serious bucks.*)

Several other members of the gym arrived for their workouts, but Jim stopped them from going inside. Once they saw what was happening on the dojo floor, none of the weight lifters argued. They stood back and watched, too.

And then it was over. The two hilts went up in salute, and then the blades swooped back to rest upright along the lowered arm. They stood still for a moment, their eyes still locked.

Jim released Blair and Amanda and started clapping. Belatedly, the others watching joined in.

Duncan and Methos were both startled to see that they had an audience. Jim grinned and started walking inside. The others followed. They split around the couple standing in the middle of the room, carefully not staring.

Blair greeted them with a big smile. "You two could make a fortune selling tickets. How long have you been rehearsing that?"

Duncan and Methos exchanged glances, and their gazes locked. "This was the second time."

Jim lifted one eyebrow, impressed.

Conversation lapsed; everyone in the gym was studiously not staring at the owner and the other man. Even Jim forgot for a moment why he had come to Seacouver.

Duncan looked at Methos and grinned recklessly. "Well, now that you've gotten me all hot and sweaty, let's go do something about it." He slid his arm around Methos's shoulders. Methos's arm went around Duncan's waist. Without letting go of one other, they got into the elevator and disappeared from view.

Jim stared after them, a bit bemused. Then he sighed. "Damn. So much for getting to the island today!"

"Never mind, they won't get too involved, Joe and Angie are upstairs with the twins!" she told him with an infectious grin. "Even Adam won't do anything in front of the kids!"

As soon as the dojo was out of their sight, Methos was in Duncan's arms. When the elevator deposited them at the entrance to the apartment, they stepped out onto the hardwood floor and started shedding clothing. Half-stripped, Duncan slung Methos over his shoulder and carried him toward the bed. He stopped short when he realized that Angie and Joe were sitting on the sofa, watching the show with obvious interest.

"Oh, hi!" Duncan said in embarrassment and let a struggling, laughing Methos slip down to the ground. "What are you doing here?"

+++

MacLeod's loft Seacouver Washington a few minutes later

When the elevator arrived back upstairs, Blair and Jim found Joe and Angie grinning at the chagrined pair of Immortals.

Blair shrugged out of his coat. "Hi, Ange, hi, Joe! How are the kids?"

Jim grabbed it before it hit the floor. Blair went over to the coach and sat down next to Methos who was now sitting there holding Noelle.

"I think we should wait until tomorrow to go out to the island." MacLeod told Jim. "You and Blair can sleep on the couch down in my study. It's pretty comfortable."

"Yeah, great. I wasn't looking forward to paddling through nine-foot waves any more than you were."

Duncan laughed. "Only four-footers, according to the noon report." He paused, turning serious. "If you really wanted to get started, I suppose I could get Brandon to run us out in the launch..."

"Naw, tomorrow's soon enough. Just knowing I'll be doing something about it helps. Besides, Adam would probably kill me if I deprived him of your company tonight."

MacLeod started to reply when Amanda
interrupted. "What are you two planning on doing on the island?"

"Nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about, my dear," Jim told her. Amanda's face hardened. She liked Jim, but took that tone of condescension from no one, especially not a cop. "If you're going off with one of my men, you'll tell me what it's about." The phrase 'or you'll be sorry' hung unspoken in the air between them.

Methos's voice cut across the loft. "Tell her, Jim. You'll never win. Take it from someone who's known her for twelve hundred years, it's easier and much safer to tell her everything."

Jim froze. These were his friends but he hesitated telling them what he and MacLeod were going to be doing. MacLeod took the decision out of his hands.

"Jim needs a practice dummy that won't flinch. He's says he's getting soft in his old age." The grin on MacLeod's face took the sting out of his words and he hoped that Amanda would be satisfied with the answer.

"Well, if that's all it is, why don't we all go to the island? We haven't been there yet. You'll need some help opening up the house."

MacLeod knew that Jim did not want an audience for what they had planned, but he also knew that if he put up a fight, they would never get away from Amanda.

"I had Brandon do that yesterday after Jim called, Amanda. Stocked it and everything."

Amanda knew MacLeod well enough to know that he was telling her to let it rest, and after a moment, she did. "Well, I suppose that's all right then."

She heard Jim's sigh of relief and it piqued her curiosity. She really did hate not knowing the answers. "But we'll have Brandon bring us out for the weekend. We can have a picnic on Saturday."

Jim and MacLeod exchanged glances and
MacLeod shrugged. It was just the way Amanda was. If they fought the idea, it would just get worse.

"Fine," Jim answered snarkily, "and why don't you bring Joe and Angie and the twins and Rollie and Chazz along while you're at it. And don't forget Laddy."

Duncan winced. Jim would never learn.

"You heard him. Party on the island this weekend!"

"Cool!" Blair said from across the room. "I've always wanted to see this place."

Jim glared at Amanda.

Amanda smiled sweetly at Jim.

Joe Dawson sat and laughed at the pair of them.

+++

MacLeod's library Seacouver Washington

midnight

Late that night, Jim and Blair were getting ready for bed. Blair waited until they were snuggled together before he brought up the subject that had been bothering him since Jim's confrontation with Amanda. "You're going out to the island to get MacLeod to spar with you because of Danvers, aren't you? Damn it, Jim, if anyone should be getting self-defense lessons, it's me."

"These aren't going to be lessons, Chief. I'm going out there to practice with Mac because I know I can't kill him. Well, I can, but it won't kill him... You know what I mean!"

"Yes, I do. What I don't understand is why you have to do this, Jim." Blair's voice was soft.

"I've got to get my edge back," Jim told him grimly.

"I don't want you to get your 'edge' back. I like you just the way you are. I don't want to wake up some morning and find myself in bed next to Danvers or anyone like him."

"You won't. But I have to practice against someone that will challenge my reflexes, Blair."

Blair did not answer; he just hugged Jim to him as hard as he could. He let go with a yelp when he stressed his cracked ribs.

"That's why I've got to do it, Chief. I can't stand to see you hurt." Jim's voice broke on the last word, and he carefully gathered Blair to him.

"Jim, this is all my fault. If you want to do something about me getting hurt all the time, figure out a way to chain me in the truck." Blair's voice was soft as he kissed his way up Jim's throat.

The larger man sighed. "That is a thought, but Amanda would probably just teach you how to pick the damned locks. Besides, it sounds a little kinky..."

"You were really stupid this afternoon, you know."

"When?"

"When? When you treated Amanda like a piece of fluff. You are on her shit list now. She is not going to let this drop."

Jim sighed. "Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think I should let you do all the talking for the two of us; you're better with words. But if I did that, nothing else would get done."

"That had nothing to do with vocabulary or vocal facility," Blair growled at him. "That was the most male chauvinist pig comment I've heard from you in a long, long time! And I know you know better!"

Jim sighed. "Yeah, I do. I was trying to brush her off, and Amanda's like a burr or a foxtail; the harder you try to brush 'em off, the tighter they hang on."

"And if you aren't careful, they draw blood," Blair reminded him, completing the simile. "Why didn't you want her out on the island?"

"I didn't want anyone out there but me and Mac," Jim admitted. "You don't like fighting, and I'm pretty sure Mac originally suggested the island because he didn't want to stress Adam by letting him watch. He's improved a lot, but it might still mess him up to see me kill MacLeod."

Blair lay nestled on his partner's chest, remembering the first time they had met the Immortals. He never had nightmares about it, but he could still remember with startling clarity the sensation of being held tightly against Methos's chest with Methos's fingers twisted tightly in his hair and a dagger at his throat. Blair swallowed.

"Yeah, I can see your point." Blair still had a hard time reconciling the fact that 'Adam Pierson, researcher' was really a however-manythousand
-year-old man with PSTD.

Jim felt Blair's slight shiver and cradled his lover and Guide closer, stroking his hair until they both fell asleep.

+++

MacLeod's loft Seacouver, Washington the next morning

Blair came awake slowly, confused by his surroundings. Looking up and seeing the display cases with the swords, he remembered that they were at MacLeod's loft and had slept on the futon couch Mac had there. Stretching, he winced.

(*I don't care if it's the best one on the market, it isn't a substitute for a real bed. I wonder if Adam and Amanda will let me sleep up there with them?*)

"Don't even think it, Chief."

Blair turned his head to find Jim standing fully dressed, his hair wet from the shower.

"Think of what?" Blair inquired, eyes going wide with feigned innocence.

"Whatever devilment you thought of just then. Adam has promised to keep an eye on you." Jim bent down and kissed the younger man on the forehead. "Come on, get up! Breakfast is ready. Mac and I already went for a run. We let the rest of you sleep in."

Blair looked at his watch. "Six-thirty!?" he squeaked. "You call letting us sleep until six-thirty sleeping in?"

"We were up at four and we did five miles this morning."

"That just means that you are both obsessive!" Blair answered as he pulled the blankets back over his head. "I'm on vacation. Come back on Tuesday."

"Well, Mac and I are leaving for the island in two hours," Jim told him. "Aren't you going to see me off?"

Blair's head peeked out of the blankets. "Hmmm. That sounds like a good idea."

"What?" Jim asked suspiciously.

"Seeing you off," he answered with a grin, reaching for the zipper in Jim's jeans.

"We don't have time for this."

"Aw, Jim, there's always time for..." Blair let his voice trail off as he reached inside Jim's boxers.

Jim stepped back out of range. "No..."

Blair followed, actually getting up out of bed to follow his wayward Sentinel.

"Ha! Got you up!" Jim crowed.

"That's okay, I got you up, too." Blair countered, coming into Jim's arms and rubbing his body against Jim's arousal.

"Blair!"

Blair took his Sentinel by the hand and led him into the bathroom at the far end of the floor. "Well, if you come and shower with me it'll save time afterwards."

Jim smiled to himself as his Guide pulled him into the shower stall. (*Well, that was easier than I thought! We actually do have time for this!*)

+++ MacLeod's loft Seacouver, Washington a half-hour later

"Breakfast," Amanda's voice called into the bathroom. "Are you two almost done, or do you need help?"

"Yes! Help!" Blair's voice, laced with laughter, wafted out of the shower stall. "He says he's going to keep me as a sex-slave."

"You mean you aren't already? Jim, I'm ashamed of you. You should have him trained by now!"

"That's the problem with taking on a lover without asking for references. You can't tell if they're going to be recalcitrant or not."

"Hey, you could have gotten a reference from Sam!"

"Yeah, right, I can see myself. 'Sam, I'm thinking of jumping Sandburg's bones. How is he in bed?"

"She wouldn't know that, Jim."

"I thought you said I could get references from her."

"Yeah, but we never did it in a bed. On the 18th hole of the Cascade Country Club, on a pool table, in a pool..."

"Never mind, I get the picture."

"...and once ...."

"I said enough, Chief. Amanda, how do you keep your two in line?"

"Well, Duncan I got young enough to train. I never did succeed in housebreaking Adam." (*Thank God! It's so much fun trying!*)

While they were talking, Amanda walked over to the linen closet that ran the length of the wall and got out three bath towels. "Here," she said, opening the shower door, to find Jim and Blair still entwined. "Like I said, breakfast is ready." She was amazed to see that Jim was actually blushing. "Come on, honey, you ain't got nothing that I haven't seen before. Do you?"

"That doesn't mean that it's for general consumption."

"And here I thought we were friends."

Jim turned suddenly serious. "We are, and I want us to all to remain that way. I don't poach."

"Aw, come on, Jim. I still want to see what happens when you kiss her."

"Jim, it isn't poaching if everyone agrees," Amanda told him softly. "Now, if you truly aren't interested, I'll understand, but if you are and you're doing this under the impression that someone would get upset if anything happened, well, you're wrong there. Rebecca and I taught MacLeod to share very early in his life and Adam, well, let's just say that he was involved with a group for a long time, and their motto was "We share everything."

"Blair," Jim said, shoving his lover gently out into the relatively cold bathroom proper, "get dried off."

Amanda proceeded to dry the anthropologist off carefully, keeping an eye on Jim to make sure he was not getting mad and was encouraged when Jim just looked thoughtful. Then she handed Blair a robe and the extra towel for his hair.

"Here, you'll want this."

Blair reached out an arm to snag the towel and dragged Amanda into his arms. "Hey, Jim, look what I caught. Can I keep it?"

"Only if you can prove she's had her shots, Chief." The faint grin on Jim's face took any sting away from his statement. He shrugged, got out of the shower and allowed Amanda dry him off, too.

"You make a good body slave, yourself, Amanda. I wonder what other skills you've picked up over the years."

Blair looked at Jim, not believing the older man had asked that of Amanda.

"Well, if you're a good boy and bring MacLeod back in one piece, maybe I'll show you."

"Yes!" Blair exclaimed. "Finally..."

"Chief?" Jim got his Guide's attention.

"Uh, yeah, Jim?"

"Get dressed."

"Oh, okay." Blair bounced out the door, leaving Amanda alone with Jim.

"Jim, I'm sorry if I..."

"Amanda, don't. It's all right. This is just something that I've been having a hard time with. Blair is the first man I've ever been with seriously. And then to have you offer to get in the middle... well, it's something I have to work out for myself."

"I wasn't just offering myself, you know. Mac and Adam and I talked about this. Even before the two of you got together."

"What?!"

"I was all set to take you both to bed months ago, when the pair of you made Adam laugh, but Mac said to let it be because the two of you had to work things out for yourselves. I honestly thought that you'd been lovers for quite sometime. I was shocked when Adam told me that Blair had asked him for advice on whether he should try to get you into bed."

Jim was nonplused. "Blair asked Adam?"

"Well, he figured with the amount of experience that Adam has, he probably had run across this situation before. Then too, he wanted Adam's thoughts on the Sentinel-Guide connection, whether it was always sexual, or if it could be platonic without endangering the partnership."

"What did Adam answer?"

"Adam told him that the permanent Sentinel-Guide pairs were always bonded sexually. The ones that didn't bond that way, generally split up and went on to find other partners." Amanda had no intention of telling Jim about the one Sentinel Adam had known who had gone mad when his Guide had bonded to an opposite sex Sentinel. And she was certainly not going to tell him that the Sentinel had ended up killing the other two and then committing suicide.

(*How crazy does a Sentinel have to become before he could kill his own Guide?*) she wondered. (*And how insane would he be after such a deed? Suicide was the poor guy's only remaining option...*) "Do you know how lucky you are to have found a Guide?" Amanda asked him. "In the modern world most Sentinels end up either as drunks or drugged out of their senses after they've been committed."

Jim shivered, remembering what it had been like when his senses had first come back on line.

"That could have been me if he hadn't found me."

Amanda gently laid a hand on Jim's arm. "But it didn't. You and Blair found one another and you bonded. That doesn't mean the two of you can't have a little fun now and again. But only if it's all right with both of you."

"Well, you know Blair, he was brought up by the original hippie."

Amanda grinned. "One of these days, I want to meet Naomi."

"Only if you're prepared to defend your men from her." Jim told her with an answering grin.

Amanda slipped an arm around Jim's waist and pulled herself into his side. "So, it's your call: do we let Blair sleep upstairs with me and Adam and give you carte blanche with Mac, or do we consign him to the sleeper sofa from hell?"

"That would be cruel, wouldn't it?"

"Especially since the beds out on the island are all king sized with really good mattresses."

"Go ahead, make me feel guilty."

Amanda wrapped her other arm and one leg around the Sentinel's still mostly naked body. "I'd rather make you feel other things."

"I thought you said breakfast was ready."

"It can wait..." Amanda responded and kissed him. Five minutes later, Blair walked back into the bathroom to find his Sentinel pinned against the wall by Amanda.

"Yes, she shoots, she scores!"

Amanda broke away from Jim and smiled at Blair. "Not too shabby! Nothing that a little training wouldn't fix!"

Jim, on the other hand just stood there and it finally occurred to Blair that Jim had zoned out on Amanda's kiss.

"Jim, listen to my voice, follow me back... come on, big guy, you can hear me."

Jim shook his head and stared at Blair. "Damn! She's good, Chief!" And Blair and Amanda burst into laughter.

+++

the Dawson home Pimlico Street, Seacouver, Washington the same day

The chime on the computer in the kitchen rang and announced: "Mail's In!"

Angie looked over from where she was changing her daughter. She finished her task and placed Noee into her highchair and gave her a cracker to keep her occupied.

"Maillll..." Ryan announced loudly to anyone who would listen.

"Mommy... maillll..." Noelle repeated along with her brother. "Mailll..."

"Okay. All right, all ready, I'll get it."

The twins giggled.

Angie went over and hit her hot key and a message appeared on her screen:

+++

Date: May 5, 2000
To: WonderAng@fx.org
From: Langly- tlg@TLG.org
Subject: A friend

ANGIE I HOPE THIS ACCOUNT'S STILL ACTIVE BECAUSE NONE OF THE REST OF YOURS
ARE. MEET ME AT MIDNIGHT. WE'VE GOT A
REAL PROBLEM AND CAN USE YOUR HELP.
I'LL CHECK IN EVERY DAY.

Langly
"DIAGONALLY PARKED IN A PARALLEL
UNIVERSE"

+++

Angie swore under her breath. Langly never asked for help unless he was in deep, deep kimchee. "I'd better give him a call." She knew the line would be secure at his end, and to be on the safe side, she went into Joe's office and used the phone in there. She dialed the number waited for the connection.

"The Lone Gunmen."

It was not her friend's voice so she simply said: "Turn off the tape. Let me talk to Langly."

"Who is this?" the voice on the other end asked suspiciously. He did not recognize the woman's voice -- Langly was holding out, the swine- - and the lack of a telephone number on the Caller-ID only made him more suspicious.

"Just tell Langly it's the Wonder Kid."

Angie heard another voice she did not recognize in the background. "Put Langly on," she repeated. "Tell him I got his e-mail."

"Langly, there's some broad on the line for you. She said to tell you it's the Wonder Kid."

Angie heard a mumbled reply in the background and waited a few moments and then another line picked up. "Hello, Angie?"

"I just got the e-mail, Lang. What's going-- Wait a minute..." Langly held on and he heard a muffled, "Just a minute, sweetie... Mommy will be out in a couple minutes. Play nice. Here's another cracker." There was a distinct rustle of sound, and then her voice was louder. "Okay, I'm back."

Langly swallowed hard. "Mommy? Angie, what have you been up to?"

Angie laughed. "Well, you saw me get married! I've had a couple of kids since then. What's going on?"

"Kids?" Langly was shocked. "How...?" he goggled.

"If you don't know, I'm certainly not going to be the one who tells you," she answered with a grin in her voice. "Now tell me what's going on."

Langly's voice turned grim. "You remember Dana Scully? The FBI agent who you met with us out in Las Vegas?"

"Yeah...what about her?"

"Her partner was kidnapped about two months ago and we've been putting out the word to everyone we know. We weren't going to do it, but his boss got the bright idea to put the case on AMERICA'S MOST WANTED. So we decided that contacting trusted friends couldn't hurt. You've heard me mention him before, Angie: Fox Mulder?"

"Sorry to hear about it, but I don't know what I can do, Lang. I don't get around as much as I used to. Hell, I took a job doing episodic TV so I could be give the kids a stable home."

"Ange, like I said, we're putting out the word to everyone we trust. We're pretty sure we know who kidnapped him; we just can't find him!"

"Why hasn't the FBI been able to find him? They have resources we can't match." Angie was worried. She really did not want to get involved in one of Langly's crusades, but she knew that Fox Mulder was one of the few friends that Langly had.

"Because these people that they're up against --Mulder calls 'em The Consortium-- are real evil motherfuckers, Angie. They do experiments on people, on children; they've wiped out entire townships just to hide an experiment. There's no telling what they're doing to Mulder..."

Angie heard Langly's voice break, and was shocked. Emotional involvement was always something Langly had scorned. She knew he had a good working relationship with the other two Lone Gunmen, but that he might really have a close personal friendship with someone seemed out of character with the aggressively hostile but undeniably brilliant geek she had known in high school.

"Look," Langly continued, his voice hoarse with suppressed emotion. "Scully's a real basket case. I swear she hasn't slept since he was taken. We're trying to do all we can to help."

"Look, Lang, I'll try hacking into all the databases and see if I can find any secret labs out here. I'll get some help from a couple of friends out here. I'll call you if we get a hold of him."

"NO!" Langly screamed into the phone. "Look, don't go in after him! DON'T!! Wherever he's being held is going to be a fortress. I can guarantee that. If you find any sign of him, call us before you do anything, and I mean anything! The people that have him are absolutely without conscience or qualms; they consider themselves above the law. Don't take any chances, Ange! None!! We'll keep searching at this end."

"Okay. Look, remind Agent Scully that she's got friends out here that will do all they can to find him for her. Okay?"

"Yeah. Hey, Ange?" "What?"

"Keep in touch. I've missed you."

"Later, Langly." Angie hung up with a shake of her head. She turned when she heard a whisper of sound behind her.

Joe walked over to her and he tipped her head up to look down into her eyes. "And what was that all about?"

"You remember those three weirdos I introduced you to in Las Vegas?" Joe nodded and she continued, "They want me to keep an eye out for a kidnapped friend: the FBI agent that we met there lost her partner almost two months ago to kidnappers, and they're calling in every marker they have for information leading to the rescue of said agent."

Joe shook his head, slowly. "It never rains, but it pours. C'mon, I'll help you get the kids ready. We'll go tell Adam and Amanda of this latest
development."

Angie hugged him hard and kissed him thoroughly. She had never even suspected he would be willing to actually help her with this: she had been willing to settle for mere tolerance.

+++

Project 1961-28 Progress Notes

Subject B is the second child born into the Project. He is a healthy adult male. Documentation attached shows that he and his original bondmate, Subject A, had a true and honest bond that was severed only by severe and irreversible brain damage resulting from an aneurysm suffered by Subject A while undergoing major surgery at age 26.

Subject B maintained his relationship with Subject A until her death, impervious to all attempts by other women to interest him in more than occasional physical encounters. However, since Subject A has died, he appears to have formed a bond with his assigned partner, Subject 38C, that is the equivalent of the bond with his original partner.

There has been some debate as to how true to the Project's goals this successor bond can be. It is indisputable that Subject B is capable of maintaining a relationship well beyond any reasonable limit, as evidenced by his lifelong attachment to, or even obsession with, Subject F. He and Subject F are siblings, separated when Subject B was twelve, and Subject F, eight. Neither has seen the other since, nor had any tangible proof that the other still lives, yet Subject B continues to search for any clue to his sibling's whereabouts or fate.

Researchers who have maintained contact with Subject B in the intervening years state their belief that Subject B chose his career in law enforcement precisely because it would give him access to information and the authority to use it in his hunt for his missing sibling.

Subject B has an IQ that routinely tests so high that some doubt the ability of the test to accurately measure it. He has an eidetic memory. He has a doctorate in Psychology from Oxford; his primary career path has been as a criminal profiler. When he first began this path, he was alone, abandoned, he believed, by his bondmate, Subject A. In profiling, he submerged his own identity into the identity of the targeted individual so completely that his sanity was threatened on several occasions. He and Subject A were reunited, reconciled, and married, and he stabilized psychologically. After the marriage, profiling became relatively easy and non-threatening. He could, and did, function just as well at the task, but he was suddenly capable of leaving it at work. This leads us to believe that true emotional and psychological stability is not easily maintained by a bereft bondmate; this is a weakness in the Project's planning that was unforeseen.

Subject B's psychological stability lasted for the eight months of the marriage, which ended, for all practical purposes, when both subjects were involved in a serious car crash. Subject B suffered several broken bones and other
non-life-threatening injuries, but he did not recover consciousness for eight days.

Subject A was severely injured, with primary damage to internal organs and her spine. She consented to a high-risk surgery, which was successful, but she suffered an aneurysm, and lost all her higher brain functions. In a permanently vegetative state, she was transferred to a longterm care facility. When her body left the building, Subject B regained consciousness.

It is theorized that he was trapped with her in her coma, and when she was removed sufficiently far from him, he could tear himself free of it. It was documented when he was sent to Great Britain at age 16 to attend college that the theorized verbal bond that Subjects A & B shared could not stretch across the ocean; telepathy has physical limits. He knew, from experience, that he could survive such solitude, so he woke up.

The focus of this review of the Project and its subjects is to determine if more time can have resulted in changes in the subjects with respect to the Project's goals.

Subjects B and C have been collected and are currently being held in RL-17984, en route from Washington DC as their current levels of bonding are tested and evaluated.

Subjects E and F are similarly being held in SL-56672. Subject G is currently MIA; no data on his current location is available. Subject H was a product of a side experiment which has since been suspended.

Subjects A D and H are deceased.

+++

Fifth Avenue co-op apartment, NYC Day 54 The trill of the phone was annoying; that was why she had chosen it. She picked it up and restrained herself from growling into it. "Hello."

"Ah, you are at home." The unctuous voice of the Cigarette Smoking Man oozed into her ear. She had heard Mulder refer to CGB that way, once, and she found it rather suited him more than his real name. Assuming, of course, that anyone knew his real name...

"Yes. What can I do for you?" She hated the servile tone she felt compelled to use. It took conscious effort to refrain from calling him, "Sir."

"Old Johannes de Kuiper died last night in Leeuwarden. His grandson Vos inherits."

"Young Vos knows nothing." Her mind churned through the possibilities.

"Correct. We anticipate that the structure Johannes set up to maintain our funding will continue to do so without him. It will take young Vos months, possibly years, to accidentally stumble across it. In the meantime, we are free of Johannes's directive regarding his bloodline.

"She straightened, startled. "Sir?!"

"You had a few extra tests you had proposed for Fox Mulder."

She could visualize the older man's slimy smile. "Yes, I do."

"Feel free to proceed on your own timetable."

She frowned. "Are you sure? Fox is the heir, now; Vos is childless."

"That is not our concern. In fact, if aught befalls Vos and he dies without legitimate heirs, the business would be broken up among the claimants and maintaining our income would be even easier, since we could claim quite a few properties and resources outright. Never mind about that."

"So you don't care if Mulder has some seriously negative reactions to my tests?"

She could almost hear him shrug. "Not at all," was his answer. "Fox Mulder has lost his protector. He is no more than any other Donated test subject, now."

"As you wish..."

"I knew you would be pleased." He hung up the phone.

Diana Fowley sat still for a long moment, considering her options. The train car would be arriving in Bismarck in the morning. If she was quick and lucky, she could meet it. She did not even bother to pack a bag; all she picked up on the way out the door was her briefcase and her coat.

+++

The rail car laboratory Actual location and exact date unknown

Fox and Nickie had both long since decided that their laboratory/prison was a railroad car; sometimes the hum- click- hum- click of the rails was almost audible. Frequently they could feel it. They had no windows, so they had no way of judging where the car might be, but they knew they were traveling.

The rail car, cruising across country in random directions, had been their home for distances and days that neither of them could guess at any longer. The only clues they had about where they might be were random things that the technicians who cared for them might say to one another. Nick was trying to escape. He had figured out how to beat the bonds that held him; that was as simple as filching a scalpel from a careless technician. He had it hidden, but he knew he could not hide it indefinitely. He needed more of a solution. He needed a way to get himself and his bond-sib out of here.

He was determined not to leave Fox behind. As far as either of them knew, they were the only two of the original six bond-sibs still alive. Tearfully, Fox admitted that he had absolutely no proof that either Samantha or Kyle was still alive.

"I just can't let it go at that, Nick. I have to keep looking for her..."

"I know, Fox. I know."

If he was going to take Fox with him, he was going to have to carry him. Fox had not been conscious, coherent or rational since shortly after they had blinded him with the duct tape. He also stopped accepting food. After three days, the staff had installed an NG tube and they were feeding him through it.

He could hear Fox thinking, sometimes. Not in words, of course, but the emotions were plain to him. Mostly commonly he could feel Fox's grief at the loss of Annaliese, and his incoherent and desperate longing for Dana Scully. That longing felt very familiar to Nickie Lermontov.

That was how he longed to be at Molly's side.

Even knowing she was dead, he longed to be with her.

+++

The rail car laboratory

Actual location and date unknown

Fox had not spoken to him for days. Sometimes he moaned about the darkness. Sometimes he fought his bonds mindlessly, screaming for Sam, for Anni, or, most of the time, for Dana Scully. What Nick could feel through their bond assured him that Fox was not faking. For some reason, being rendered sightless had loosened Fox's grip on reality, and he was adrift in time.

"Sammie..." came the almost inaudible whisper. "I need a hug, Sammie..." Nick shuddered. When they were very young, the six of them had frequently hidden from the adults, usually in the woods behind their houses. The only comfort they had had in those terrifying days had been the warmth of their bond-sibs' arms.

He remembered spending hours being held by his bond-sibs as he sobbed out his terror and pain.

"Fox, you're not alone," he called softly. "I'm here..."

"Nickie?"

A thrill of excitement jolted him. "Yeah, Fox. It's me. How you doin' over there?"

Fox moved a little, tugging restlessly at the chains that held him to the table. "Where's Samantha?" he asked, his voice a little fuzzy and disconnected. "I can't feel her or Anni."

Nick swallowed hard. (*He isn't all right, after all. He's still lost.*) "'Sokay, Fox. 'S just another test. Just relax. Sleep it off..."

The lab door slid open and both subjects froze, aware at once that their respite was over.

Nick gasped when Diana Fowley entered the lab with one of the head researchers. She did not look at him at all her attention was riveted on Mulder.

"Is he conscious?" she growled.

The researcher shrugged. "At least partially. He seems to have lost track of exactly when he is. He has been heard calling Samantha, Annaliese and Ms. Scully." Nick saw the vicious twist of her lips, and went cold. (*She's going to do something really evil to Fox...*) She handed the scientist an audio cassette. "Play this for him."

"What is it?" he asked curiously.

"An experiment."

He frowned. "Is this approved?"

"Just do it."

He flinched from the expression on her face, and then just turned away. He put the cassette into a port on the console and hit a key.

"Mulder!"

The voice from the speakers was whipcrack, and Fox visibly flinched. "S-Scully?" he whispered.

Nick frowned. It sounded like Scully, but not...

"Mulder, we've been partners for a long time, but you have ditched me for the last time."

Mulder gasped, desperate to pull air into lungs that craved more.

"I just thought I'd tell you, before I leave, that Blevins never assigned me to the X Files. C.G.B. Spender has always been in charge. Blevins did what he was told. And so did I."

Nick heard a sob from his companion. "No..." he whimpered.

It was Dana Scully's voice, but, watching Fowley's face, Nick knew that the words were hers. This was an altered tape. Scully had never said these things.

"I stuck out this assignment far too long, but Mr. Spender asked me to hang on, so I did. But this is it, Mulder. I'm tired of the games, and the stupid jokes, and the midnight phone calls. I'm tired of chasing you all over the damn country pretending I believe what you're doing. You are such a hopeless wimp, Mulder!

"And gullible--! God! We've been leading you around by your Samantha for years and you never caught on. And you're supposed to be so smart!

"Well, I've had my fill of playing Mrs. Spooky, so this is it, Mulder. So long. I'm going back to Mr. Spender's command, where I came from. At least he appreciates me, and I can smoke there in peace!"

There was the sound of high heels clicking across a hard floor, and then a door opening and then slamming shut. Fowley stared at Mulder.

Nick held his breath. He was thinking at his bond-sib as hard as he could, ("It's a fake, it's a fake, don't believe it!"), but he could not tell if Fox was hearing him.

"NOOOOOOO...!!!" A wild, throat-tearing scream echoed through the lab. As he ran out of breath, Fox went limp.

Nick's contact with his bond-sib vanished.

Fowley smiled coldly, triumphantly. "Interesting. Let me know when he regains consciousness. I want to talk to him."

The scientist was still stunned. "Yes, ma'am..."

Fowley left, her heels clicking on the floor in an eerie echo of the sounds on the tape. She had never so much as glanced at Nick, and he was just as glad.

Nick hardly noticed when she left; he was screaming down the bond, trying to reach the man who had been his friend all his life. ("Fox! Fox! Fox!")

But there was no answer.

+++

the rail car laboratory a few hours later

When the physician's assistant came in to take their daily vitals, Fox could not be awakened. The PA noted this with a frown.

"When did he lose consciousness?"

Nick swallowed hard. They had rarely been addressed directly by the staff.

"When Diana Fowley was here."

The PA looked worried, and scribbled something down. "Thanks."

+++

Over the course of the next few days, the medical staff became more and more concerned about Mulder's level of consciousness. More and more telemetry came into the lab and was hooked up to his insensate body.

Nick was effectively ignored while the techs and doctors spent their days trying to determine what had happened to Mulder, and what was currently happening. He listened desperately, trying to figure it out, himself.

What he heard terrified him. Fox was dying.

(*Bastards! They don't care what they've done to him... they don't care if he goes fucking insane! It's just more data for their Goddamned study! At least he's given up on calling for Anni or Sam. He was only calling for Dana Scully until that bitch Fowley showed up and did this to him! Well, I'm going to get her for him. Or get him to her. Or whatever I can manage.*)

Fox had been comatose for days, and might very well be beyond any help, but Nick refused to face that possibility.

(*They think that he has attached Scully as his new bondmate. Maybe he has. But they really don't have any way to prove that this is the case, so they have to settle for a negative proof, and try to sever the relationship to see what would happen. They have the police reports and FBI records of his trip to Rhode Island to see Dr. Goldstein, and they have that old quack's records.*)

He listened to the scientists arguing with one another. Some of them thought Fox's dramatic response to Annaliese's death was based on his isolation from all his other bond-sibs. Several insisted that Scully's absolute confidence that he could not hurt her, and her ability to get him to agree to anything, even when drugged out of his mind, such as during the Ketamine experiments, demonstrated that he had attached Scully as his new bondmate.

Nick thought that was silly until he heard the answer from the senior experimenter.

"That might be. She's a Project kid, too; she was assigned as his partner in the FBI as an experiment. She and her three siblings were all nulls, so they weren't hopeful. But he has been decomping slowly since the car crash turned A into a vegetable, so this was a semi- desperate attempt to salvage him. I'd say it's worked."

"I'd say so," one of the nurses growled. "But what good is he to anyone now? That damned tape cut the ground out from under him, and nothing we've been able to do has helped. We're going to lose him, and it's not our fault!"

Nick swallowed hard. (*If Molly had ever said anything like that to me, I think I might have keeled over right on the spot. But Molly would've never...

(*Neither would Dana. She's not like that. It was Diana-the-Bitch who did this to Fox. I've got to get him out of here and back to Dana before he dies. He's the last of my bond-sibs; if he dies, it'll kill me, too.*)

Nick wracked his brain for a long time for a solution, and kept coming up with only one last resort.

He prayed.

+++

The rail car laboratory Actual location unknown

Judging by the number of meals he ate, several days had gone by. Nick was freed from the examination table and moved to the exercise room, where he was locked in. He was fed through a sliding door just big enough for his tray and left alone. He saw no one for days. He spent his time exercising, fighting to get his strength back as quickly as possible, to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity for escape.

He was just finishing off another utterly boring meal of tepid oatmeal and equally tepid orange juice when the floor beneath him began to tremble. This was not the familiar vibration of acceleration. The room was soundproof, so he could not hear anything. He stood up, wary, balancing away from the walls as the trembling increased.

With a deafening roar, something slammed into the car, and tumbled it off the tracks. It continued to roll, tumbling Nick around inside the small room like a die in a cup. Nick slammed hard against a bulkhead, and that was all he knew for a while.

+++

The rail car laboratory Actual location unknown Some hours later

Awareness filtered back into Nick's consciousness slowly. He looked up, trying to see through the darkness. The room was dead silent. He could see nothing, so he pushed himself to his feet. Shakily he checked himself over. He was not injured. (Damn! About time I got a little lucky...!)

He took a step forward, and nearly fell; the floor was not level, but seemed, now that he thought about it, angled sharply forward and down: as if the rail car had done a nose-dive down a slope.

(*Maybe it did! I don't know what happened, but if the train's been derailed, we might actually get away in the confusion. Or get rescued by the local SAR.*)

He held his hand out until he found the wall. He felt his way along, hoping the door had been sprung by the considerable force of that impact.

(My God... Prayers never worked before...!)

The door was unlocked. Nick tugged at it, and pulled it open. It opened like a trapdoor and he climbed out into the corridor. It did not take him long to work his way back to the lab where he and Mulder had spent their captivity.

From the outside, the door was easily opened. He went inside and froze.

All the loose equipment had cascaded into a pile of broken things at the lower end of the room. One light flickered uncertainly from the far end of the lab. In that illumination, he found his bond-sib buried in the wreckage, still chained down to the table that had broken loose and crashed.

"Jesus! Fox! Fox, are you all right?" Hurriedly, he dug Mulder free. It took him a while to find a bit of wire long enough to hold but fine enough to fit into the locks on the cuffs, but eventually he had all the chains unlocked, and his bond-sib lay in his arms, limp and unconscious.

Nickie wanted desperately to pull the duct tape off Fox's face, but he was afraid of hurting him, of damaging his eyes.

(*And as long as he's unconscious, it won't matter if he can't see...*)

"Fox? Fox, can you wake up a little? Fox?"

But there was no sign of any awareness; Fox was barely breathing.

Nick shivered, and suddenly realized two things. He and Fox were both stark naked, and the weather outside was cold. Since the crash had
compromised the physical integrity of the rail car, he and Fox were going to be exposed to the weather.

(We need clothes and solid shelter.)

+++

The rail car laboratory on the side of an unknown mountain Two hours later

Nick had found what he needed. He had had to kill the two lab techs and one doctor who had survived the derailment and had tried to interfere with him. They had been easy to kill, but Nick wondered when killing had become so simple, even with one arm.

(Captain Ellison would be proud of me, I think,) he mused.

He had looted clothing from bodies and lockers, and gotten himself and Fox dressed. Now, clothed and armed with a stungun he had found on one of the technicians, and several scalpels from the lab, he was carrying Mulder down the hillside. (*Good thing it isn't winter, or this place would be altogether uninhabitable,*) he mused. He had to watch his feet, because the rockslide that had taken the train off its tracks had left the lower slope covered with loose rocks.

His goal was the two-lane blacktop road he could see running below the level of the railroad tracks. He wanted a car. He would hitchhike if it worked, but he was totally willing to do anything to get a vehicle. He had to get Fox to a safe place where he could call Scully and get her out here.

He looked longingly at the boxes of ZIP discs and notebooks that he was sure held all the Consortium's records of the Project, and knew he could not carry them, too. Carrying Fox would take all his energy and attention. Reluctantly, he left the records behind.

(*It's not like we don't know what they did to us. But those records probably explain all the whys...*)

+++

The mountains outside Seacouver Noon the same day

"Jim? How're you doing over there?"

Jim Ellison closed his eyes and sighed. "Mac, I'm FINE!"

"You didn't let Anne give you any painkillers, did you?"

"Mac, I'm a Sentinel. I don't need painkillers."

MacLeod took his eyes off the road to frown at his companion. "Why not? You can feel the date on a coin, right?"

Ellison nodded. "Yeah. I have voluntary control of it all, Mac. I can choose to feel the date on a coin... or I can choose not to feel anything at all." Mac blinked, startled. "I never thought of that."

"I wouldn't expect you to," Jim grinned. "So, don't worry about me. Just try not to get us killed up here, okay?"

Mac threw him a grin, and then swung his attention back to the twisted mountain road. "You opted for the scenic route. This is actually a lot longer than the regular route, but it's real pretty. It can get a little hairy in the winter, but now, it's just got the beginnings of the turning of the leaves, it's still warm, and the roads are clear..."

They were coming home from the island. The party goers had only stayed for the weekend; on Sunday night they had all piled back into the launch and gone back to the mainland, leaving MacLeod and Ellison alone. They stayed on the island for a month. They only left when Mac, finally pressed a little too hard, accidentally slammed Ellison into the rock wall around the vegetable garden behind the house, breaking his arm.

They both knew enough field medicine to patch him up, but it was his right arm, and he needed it to heal correctly in order to be able to use it, especially for firearms. So they left the island, and went to Powers Memorial, where Anne Lindsey scolded MacLeod for being careless while she fixed Jim's arm.

She had also told Jim that he should take advantage of MacLeod's propensity for
self-inflicted guilt. Jim had grinned, and insisted on the scenic route to Chazz's where everyone had gone for the day.

Mac had not been able to turn him down.

A rumble above them drew their attention up; the Thunderbird convertible had been running with the top down, and there was nothing to obscure their view of a rockslide tumbling down the
mountainside. They both stared at two train cars that had apparently been shoved off the track and down the slope a little earlier. This rockslide slid over the cars and buried them a little more. "Who the hell would leave two passenger cars alone and without an engine on the side of a mountain?" Ellison growled.

"I can't imagine," MacLeod agreed. "But it looks like they were derailed earlier. I don't see any SAR teams up there, and those are passenger cars."

"I suppose they're all done," Ellison agreed. "Could've happened yesterday..."

"But if it did, NTSB and police and the railroad would be all over the place, now," MacLeod sighed. "That means it hasn't been reported."

"And there may be casualties up there."

+++

The rail car laboratory on the side of an unknown mountain A few minutes later

Nick saw the black Thunderbird convertible stop just below him, on the road below the train wreck. He knew at once that this was their chance. He needed to separate the driver and his friend from the vehicle, but then he and Fox were home free. He wracked his brain for a plan, but then found that he did not need one: both men in the convertible were getting out and climbing the hillside toward the wreckage.

This was the best chance he could have hoped to get. Nick moved carefully, lifting Fox's limp form to his shoulder, and picking his way among the loose stones of the talus slope. The two strangers were already above him; Nick was confident he could hot-wire the car and blast out of there before they could climb back down from that height.

Then he remembered how long it had been since he had hot- wired a car, and knew a moment of blistering hatred for everyone who still had two hands. Their captors had taken his prosthesis at once, and he had been bound motionless for so long that he had hardly felt the lack. Now, however, the lack was likely to be the death of them both. He was using his right arm to keep Mulder slung over his shoulder, but that left him with limited ability to balance.

He refused to think about it. He would cope with it because he had to cope with it. They were only yards from the Thunderbird, from freedom and safety, when Fate sneered at him. A loose rock slipped under Nick's foot, and he stumbled. Desperate, he threw his weight back against the slope to keep from falling headlong. Instead, he found himself sliding on his back, feet first, down the steep incline. Terrified, he tried to shield his bond-sib from the accelerating rain of rocks and stones.

He hit bottom hard, and felt his right ankle snap. It did not hurt at once, but it suddenly would not support him, and he collapsed. Focused on protecting Mulder, Nick fell heavily into the swale beside the road.

As all his weight came down on the ankle, it flared into agony. Gasping, trying to breathe through the shockingly intense pain, he realized belatedly that the swale was full of water, and Fox was face down in it. He hauled his bond-sib out, and then sank back himself with Fox's weight against his chest. He was only a dozen yards from the Thunderbird, but he could not force himself to move.

("I'm sorry, Fox. I'm sorry... I'm sorry...")

+++

The mountains outside Seacouver a few minutes later

Jim Ellison turned when his Sentinel hearing picked up the distinctive snap of breaking bone. Much to his bemusement, the familiar black jaguar that was his spirit guide and who always seemed to know better than he did what he should be doing, was sitting placidly on the trunk lid of the Thunderbird. On the slope near him, angry and snarling at the big cat, was a gray fox. (*Normal animals don't see the spirit guides; they aren't physical,*) he realized suddenly. (*That fox is someone else's spirit guide!*)

"Mac. Hold up."

MacLeod turned at once. "What?"

Ellison started walking toward the jaguar. The desperate fox, which appeared to be bigger than any natural such beast, snarled at him, too, backing up reluctantly as it was outnumbered by the Sentinel and the jaguar.

"Jim?"

"There's another Sentinel here..." Ellison responded absently, most of his attention on the fox. He did notice that, despite the fox's visible anger and fear, the jaguar was only curious.

"Where?" MacLeod jumped to the pavement, and Jim winced when he heard both MacLeod's ankles crack. The distinctive sound of accelerated Immortal healing flared for a moment, and then the Scotsman joined him, undamaged.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," Jim commented.

"Why?" MacLeod was curious.

"It sounds like fingernails on chalkboards."

MacLeod shrugged. "Sorry. Another Sentinel?" He was a little worried; he knew that the last Sentinel Jim had encountered had tried to kill Blair and had nearly succeeded.

"Yeah. From the way his spirit animal is acting, I don't think he has a clue what he is. This could be okay..." Senses extended, Jim walked toward the fox. Frowning, wary, MacLeod followed, one step behind and one to the right. "There are two of them," Jim announced after three strides. His Sentinel sight finally found them, half-hidden in the long grass and water of the swale. He swallowed a curse and dashed forward.

They found two men in ill-fitting clothing, both battered and bruised. The dark-haired man's eyes were covered with a strip of duct tape. The other was quietly sobbing, apologizing, oblivious of his surroundings, one arm around his friend, who appeared to be unconscious.

(Amputee,) Jim realized. (*No blood; old injury? Why is he crying? I can't see that his friend is injured...*)

"Hey, buddy." Jim squatted down on the gravel shoulder. "Are you hurt?"

The man flinched violently, but his friend's body just lolled, limp and unaware. "What...?"

Jim's eyes narrowed. He knew that voice. "Nick Lermontov," he said softly.

Nick looked up, frightened and confused. His eyes focused on the taller, older man. "Captain Ellison?!" he gasped in disbelief.

"Lieutenant, now," Jim grinned. "C'mon, Lermontov. Let's get you and your friend out of there." It took MacLeod and Ellison to get Mulder out of the ditch. MacLeod carried him to the car, and Jim leaned down to pull Nick out of the chilly water.

Nick leaned on his old CO. He had never liked responsibility or command, preferring to be the soldier who obeyed. It had been a significant strain to feel himself in charge of keeping Mulder alive and sane throughout their captivity. It was a wonderful relief to surrender all that to a trusted superior officer.

"Lermontov? You okay?" Jim asked softly, holding the younger man gently, feeling him trembling.

Nick shuddered and shook his head. "Ankle's broken," he whispered. "No food or water for a couple of days, I think. Headache... maybe a mild concussion..."

"What about your friend?"

"They've been torturing Fox for weeks," he growled, finding the energy from somewhere. Nick pushed back a little, balancing on his good foot, looking for Mulder. He saw Ellison's companion laying Mulder into the back seat of the Thunderbird, and relaxed a little. "Captain, up there in the lowest rail car, the lab, are all the records of the experiments they were doing on us. ZIP discs, hand-written notebooks. I couldn't carry it all and manage Fox..."

"I'll get it for you," Jim nodded. "C'mon..."

Nick swayed dizzily. "He's dying. Gotta..." His voice trailed off.

Ellison could see Lermontov's consciousness fading. "Lermontov...? Gotta what?"

"Gotta...call...'s partner..." Nick struggled to say it, staving off the darkness. "Call Scully..." That was all he could manage before he went limp in Ellison's arms.

Jim scooped him up and carried him to the car.

"Is he hurt?" MacLeod asked as he approached.

"Broken ankle, maybe a concussion. Borderline starvation. What about that one?"

"He's got a lot of fresh scarring and some still-healing wounds," MacLeod said grimly. "But there's nothing that I can see that would cause long-term unconsciousness except the dozens and dozens of needle tracks on his arms."

"Lermontov reported that his friend was tortured." Jim settled Lermontov's body in the back seat and strapped him in as MacLeod had strapped in the other.

MacLeod nodded grimly. "Definitely. He may just be in a psychological retreat from the pain."

Jim stared at Mulder fixedly for a moment. "Heartbeat's strong, respirations are regular. And he's a Sentinel."

MacLeod looked at him, startled, as he retrieved some blankets from the trunk. "Him?"

Ellison shrugged. "It's not Lermontov. The fox is guarding him." Jim gestured vaguely at the gray fox who was pacing restlessly back and forth across the backs of the seats.

"What fox?" MacLeod looked confused.

"His spirit guide. I think Nick even said the guy's name is Fox." Jim shrugged. "It would follow that a spirit fox would choose him."

MacLeod looked thoughtful. "He's that missing FBI agent, isn't he?"

"Yeah. What should we do with them, Mac?"

"I'd guess taking them to Anne at Powers would be the best thing..."

But Jim was shaking his head. "He's a Sentinel. He needs a Guide, and I don't think Nick is it; there's only one Spirit Guide, here. If we take him to a hospital, the psychic overload will kill him quickly. He's practically defenseless, Mac. He needs solitude and warmth and his Guide."

MacLeod frowned. "How are we going to figure out who his Guide is?"

Ellison gnawed on his lip, uncertain. "Maybe Blair can wake him up. Chances are, he knows who he needs, even if he doesn't understand why."

MacLeod made a decision. "Okay. Chazz hasn't got anyone in residence, right now: she's been too busy with Adam and Rollie. Let's continue there. She can do a quick-and-dirty triage on them, and if she thinks either of them needs to go, we'll take them then. Does that sound okay?"

Ellison looked worried. "Nick's ankle is broken; he's probably going to need x-rays, and to have it set."

"I'll drop you two off, then, and I'll take him to Powers and get him fixed up. That way, if Chazz needs anything from the hospital for him, I can bring it back."

"Sounds workable." Ellison agreed. "Wait for me."

"Where are you going?"

Ellison looked up at the wreckage. "Nick says the records of everything that was done to the two of them are up there; that the rail car is a laboratory of some kind. I want to get them for him."

MacLeod made a face. "You've got a broken arm, remember? I'll go. Stay with your friend and this Sentinel. I'll get it. What am I looking for?"

"ZIP discs and hand-written notebooks. Maybe a lot of them. Whatever electronic storage you can find. Pull hard drives if you find any."

"All right." Ellison had to admit that MacLeod got up there and got back a lot quicker than he could have; just because he had blocked the pain of his broken arm did not mean that the arm was usable.

When MacLeod came back, he was well-laden, and Ellison had to get out to open the trunk for him.

"Damn, that's a lot of records."

MacLeod looked grim. "And there were three men up there who were killed and stripped of their clothing."

Ellison blinked. "He was a trained commando," he replied slowly. "He is very protective of his friend. They were both being tortured up there. If the wreck freed him, I can easily see him taking matters into his own hands in order to free them both. And I can't fault him for it, based on what they look like, now. They've been missing for three months. That's long enough to make you willing to do a lot to get free..."

MacLeod focused on something off in his past that Ellison could not see. "Yeah. And it's long enough to make his choices understandable." MacLeod shook himself like a wet dog. "Let's get moving."

MacLeod put the roof up; he did not want to expose the two unconscious men in the back to mountain winds, nor to the prying gaze of any passing sheriff's deputy or highway patrol officer. With the top up, the two in the back just looked asleep.

Just before MacLeod started the engine, Jim heard a wailing song from a distance. He looked back and, in a bald spot on a mountainside, so far away that only his Sentinel sight could resolve the image, was a beautiful bright red vixen. As he watched, she lifted her face to the darkening sky and wailed her heartbreak again.

The Thunderbird's engine roar drowned out her distant mourning, but Jim could still hear it in his heart, and he shuddered.

"Jim?"

"His Guide is looking for him," Jim replied very quietly. "I can hear her calling him. But he hasn't answered her for a long time, I think, and she's losing hope."

MacLeod took out his cell phone and started making calls. He called Chazz, first, and then Angie. Then he called Washington, DC.

+++

AD Skinner's office FBI headquarters Washington DC a few hours later

Kim touched the intercom button.

"Sir? There's a Special Agent Matthew McCormick out here to see you."

Assistant Director Walter S Skinner frowned absently at the intercom speaker.

"VCS out of Quantico?" Kim glanced up at the waiting agent, who nodded. "Yes, sir." She took a deep breath. "He says he has some new
information regarding Agent Mulder, sir."

Skinner stiffened. Mulder had been MIA for three months, and there had been no news, other than the flurry of useless but well-meaning calls from AMERICA'S MOST WANTED viewers, in weeks. "Send him in."

"Yes, sir." She looked up at the agent. "Go on in, Agent McCormick."

"Thank you." McCormick pushed the door open and stepped inside warily. It felt rather like entering a lion's den, but he really did not have any choice in this.

"Sit." Skinner barked, impatient. When McCormick had obeyed, Skinner barked again. "Well?"

"Sir, Agent Mulder has been located and rescued, and he is safe in a hospital in Washington State."

Skinner fought the urge to wilt in relief. He growled, instead. "And how did you come upon this information, Agent McCormick? You weren't assigned to the kidnapping..."

McCormick shrugged and smiled a little. "Is there any more major crime than the kidnapping of a fellow agent?"

Skinner leaned back in his chair, tapping a pencil on his desk blotter. His control was back in place, all his shields up. "Explain."

"Sir, I have a friend who is a captain on the City of Cascade Police Department in Washington State. One of his lieutenants was on vacation out of town with friends and they came upon Mulder and a fellow prisoner making their escape from a wrecked railroad car. They took both men to a friend's private medical facility for treatment."

"And why hasn't this medical facility called?"

"Because my friends asked them not to."

"Why? I'm not going to pry this out of you a step at a time, McCormick! I want everything!"

"Yes, sir. Because Simon believed this matter should be handled delicately, sir. Mulder is in no condition to face the media, and the facility would prefer to remain as private as it can. And, there is no reason to trumpet to his captors where he is or what his current condition is. He might be recaptured; the facility is not a hardened site."

Skinner nodded slowly. "All right; I can see that. What is Agent Mulder's condition?"

McCormick took a deep breath. "Sir, he was brutally tortured throughout his captivity." He saw the Assistant Director go a little pale, and plowed on. "The current diagnosis is complete catatonic withdrawal. His vitals are dropping steadily; without significant intervention he is not likely to survive to the weekend."

He waited, giving the Assistant Director time to assimilate the information. Then he went on. "The doctor recommended that Agent Scully fly out at once, sir."

"So she can be there at the end?" Skinner growled, fighting his own grief. "How considerate!"

"No, sir. The psychiatrist believes that Agent Scully's presence might be enough to help him recover from this."

"How?"

McCormick sighed. "Do you know what a Sentinel is, sir?"

"I'm familiar with the meaning of the word, Agent McCormick."

"In this context, a Sentinel is a specific individual with hypertrophied senses and a built-in mandate to protect the area he considers his personal territory, while nurturing the people who live there. Lieutenant Ellison of the Cascade PD is a Sentinel; the city is his territory." Skinner's skepticism was apparent in his walled-off expression.

McCormick went on. "He has conscious control over the acuteness of all five senses." He struggled to recall the examples MacLeod had given him. "He can read license plates blocks away. He can eavesdrop on a particular conversation inside a building from his car a block away. He can date coins by touch, he can taste and identify chemical residues better than anything in a forensics lab, and he can do it instantly."

"Why isn't he insane?" Skinner asked flatly.

"Most Sentinels in this century are," McCormick agreed. "But Ellison has the traditional assistant, called a Guide. He's a partner who helps him fine-tune each sense, and keeps him from zoning out on the input."

"What's this got to do with Mulder?"

"Lieutenant Ellison reports that Mulder is a Sentinel, too, sir. The reason that he is dying, now, they theorize, is that his captors suspected him of being a Sentinel, and they were conducting experiments to define his abilities and weaknesses. The Guide is a necessity, but is also a weakness. They are essential to the sanity and functionality of their Sentinels. Without one..." McCormick shrugged helplessly.

"How do you know all this?"

"When they were rescued from the lab, all the researchers' notes were salvaged, too. What's not encrypted is being read, and this is the short version of what they've learned, so far. Although the researchers did not use the terminology of Sentinel and Guide--they called the pairs 'bondmates.'"

Skinner was dumbfounded. That was the
terminology that Mulder had used when he had explained his relationship with his deceased wife. Suddenly everything McCormick said started to sound practical and rational; the Consortium had been tampering with Mulder's life since before he was born, and this was just the latest chapter. Skinner steepled his fingers. "And you think--or they think--that Agent Scully can be a Guide for Agent Mulder?" "They think she always has been, sir."

Skinner blinked. "Always?"

"Yes, sir. Alone, Mulder is an excellent agent, but since being partnered with Scully, he has been unstoppable. When Scully was abducted, he crumbled."

"He was a mess until we got her back," Skinner agreed.

McCormick nodded. "Yes, sir. I recall."

Skinner recalled that the only work he had really gotten out of Mulder in that three month period had been in Los Angeles when he went after the trio of 'vampires' during fire season. He had almost gotten himself killed several times during that investigation, and the suspects had been killed, despite all Mulder's efforts.

"Put Agent Scully in danger, as, for example, when she was given cancer, and he focused on nothing else until she was cured."

Skinner looked thoughtful. That was true, too. "Maybe they're just really close...?"

McCormick shook his head. "They think it's more than that. When Mulder was removed, Scully coped, although she worked to find and rescue him. She's not dependent on him, but he's dependent on her."

"And they really think Agent Scully can pull him out of this?"

McCormick nodded. "Among the records were several audio taped sessions. In one of them, after they blindfolded him with duct tape, they played a recording of Agent Scully's voice. He heard her tell him that she had been planted on him by someone named Spender, that they were done with him, now, and that he was such a hopeless loser that she never wanted to see him again. There was the sound of footsteps leaving, and a door slamming. Then Mulder screamed."
McCormick shuddered. "Sir, according to the records as reported to me, no matter what else they did to him, he had never screamed like that. The other guy couldn't describe the incident without crying, himself."

"Then what happened?"

"Then Mulder collapsed, and they spent most of the last month trying to force him back to ordinary consciousness. They tried stimulants, they tried hallucinogens, they tried pain. Nothing worked. He's determined to die, sir, and only Agent Scully has any chance of pulling him out of this."

Skinner considered. He could imagine this scenario, even without the added weirdness of this Sentinel business. If Scully had ever turned on Mulder, suicide would have been a reasonable expectation. But to die of catatonic withdrawal?

"Sounds pretty far-fetched to me," was all he said.

"I believe them, sir. And all you have to do to test it is send Agent Scully out there. If you don't, he'll be dead in a few days, and it won't matter. Your orders, sir?"

"Don't try to out-bastard me, Agent McCormick," Skinner growled quietly. "I've had a bit more practice than you."

"Sir." McCormick did not correct the Assistant Director; he had no intention of telling Skinner that he had centuries of practice.

"You should be glad you don't report to me, Agent McCormick."

McCormick hid a smile. "Agent Mulder spoke highly of you the last time he and I spoke. I think we would do well together, sir, if the opportunity arose."

"When did you last speak to Agent Mulder?" Skinner was startled. "Last year. I consulted with him, unofficially, on a serial rapist we were after. He's still the best profiler in the Bureau, sir, possibly in the world. We played basketball and I picked his brains. We caught the guy."

"Mulder won the basketball game, too, didn't he?" Skinner did not smile, but his expression lightened a little.

"Yes, sir, he did." McCormick took a deep breath. "Just send Agent Scully to him, sir. Please. These are the instructions for finding him." He handed Skinner a sealed envelope. "The people guarding him now are civilians, but they are even more paranoid than some of Mulder's weirder friends. I trust them, but they will be very cautious with anyone they don't know."

Skinner nodded slowly. "Thank you, Agent McCormick."

That was clearly a dismissal, but as he was stepping out the door, he heard Skinner on the phone to his secretary.

"Kim, get me two seats on the next flight out of Dulles to Seacouver, Washington. And call Agent Scully up here. I need to talk to her."

McCormick waited until the intercom clicked off, then smiled at Kim. "So, are you free for dinner, tonight?"

+++

The Lariat Rental car parking lot Seacouver airport The same day, about 10pm PDT

Special Agent Dana Scully was fuming. She was not certain why she was so angry. (*Shouldn't I be happy? Mulder's alive, in the hands of friends! But--*)

But he was also in a declining catatonic retreat, his body dying as his mind abandoned physical reality, too wounded by what had been perceived to survive the injury.

(*I cannot believe Mulder would accept any allegation that I could be an agent for Cancerman! Not after all we've done and been and seen!*) She looked out the window. (*Face it, Dana. You can't believe Mulder would ever quit like this.*) She shuddered, and Skinner looked up.

"He'll be okay, Scully. Don't give up on him."

"He's apparently given up on me," she snarled back.

"Hey." His voice was very low, even. "Give the man a break, Scully. He'd already been tortured for months and he was blinded. He had to have been losing touch with reality even before they played that tape for him. I called Johns Hopkins, and I talked to a Doctor Rafael Gold. He specializes in photographic memory and similar savant talents. He says that most people with photographic memory depend on it completely. As a result, anything perceived solely by the other senses, but not seen, is comparatively vague, fuzzy, and often easily forgotten."

Scully lit up. "And Mulder was blindfolded when they played that betrayal tape for him!"

"Right," he nodded. "Chances are, he won't remember it at all. You need to be able to put it behind you."

The hours in the air had been difficult, but they had managed, forcing their impatience under control. Their rental car was waiting for them, as Kim had arranged, and Skinner took the wheel without even offering Scully the chance to decline the offer. She did not mind; she was beginning to tremble. To disguise it all, she settled into the passenger seat and opened the package of documents that Agent McCormick had given Skinner.

He glanced at her. "You going to read all that stuff again?" "Why not?"

"It's dark; help me find the lead car--we're supposed to follow a black '65 Thunderbird convertible out of the airport. I don't see it anywhere. Do you?"

Scully looked around. "There it is."

Skinner flashed his headlights; the Thunderbird did the same. It pulled out, and Skinner sent their rented Taurus after it.

The driver of the Thunderbird kept their attention focused forward so efficiently that neither of them ever noticed that they were being followed until the 1969 Ford F-series pickup truck pulled into the driveway behind them.

Scully read the shingle hanging on the front lawn.

Karuna Residential Psychiatric Treatment Center C. R. Dolan, M.D., Ph.D.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Animal Assisted Therapy

Below that, hanging from it from two short chains, was a smaller shingle.

Karuna Tibetan Spaniels
AKC * UKC * TDI
Stud Service
Puppies Occasionally

(This is too weird,) she decided. (*Dogs? Mulder doesn't like dogs...*)

A bar of golden light fell out across the driveway as the door opened. Scully looked up and saw a woman silhouetted in the light.

"Mr. Skinner? Agent Scully?"

"Yes," Skinner replied as he got out of the car. "Doctor Dolan?"

"Yes. Call me Chazz." She looked past his shoulder. "Duncan, Jim; thank you. Would you put the cars in the barn? It's supposed to rain tonight. And would you tell Rollie to keep Laddy K at his house, tonight? It's going to be crowded enough, as it is."

"Sure, Chazz," Jim grinned. He walked up toward Skinner and offered his hand. "Jim Ellison, Lieutenant, Cascade PD. Nice to meet you. Keys?"

Skinner shook his hand and gave him the keys. "I take it you know who we are?"

"Oh, yeah."

Scully turned when the other man --the one Dr. Dolan had called Duncan --chuckled.

"I just want to see Mulder. Doctor Dolan?"

Chazz smiled, and glanced knowingly at Jim. "See, Jim? Does she act like Blair, or what?"

"Yeah. But he's cuter."

"You're biased."

"Y' think?"

Skinner blinked, and then recognized the names from the briefing materials. "You're the Sentinel?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Oh, damn. Let me guess; Blair sent the short form of his dissertation along for your enjoyment and edification?"

"There was an article about Sentinels in general, and a cover letter explaining Dr. Sandburg's point of view on the concept."

Scully was getting impatient. "C'mon. I want to see Mulder!"

Chazz chuckled. "Come in, Agent Scully, Mr. Skinner." She stepped back from the door and they came in, only to stop dead when confronted by ninety pounds of tense, wary, growling mahogany collie. "Stand still," Chazz instructed calmly as both her guests froze. "Laddie. They're guests."

The collie stalked forward and sniffed them each, in turn. Then he turned to look at Chazz.

"Okay?" She smiled at the dog, who wagged his tail. She flipped her hand at the collie, who turned away and went back upstairs at a pace just too quick to be dignified. Chazz chuckled. "He's adopted your partner, Agent Scully. I can hardly pry him away."

"Mulder doesn't like dogs." Scully stated flatly, remembering Mulder's reaction to Queequeg, but she watched the collie push his way into one of the rooms upstairs; she could see the door through the railings on the balcony.

"Laddie didn't ask. He just moved in." Then she turned to face them, her hands on her hips. "This is a psychiatric hospital. No one goes past this entryway armed. Leave your firearms in the lockbox, there."

They both looked where she indicated, and saw a steel cabinet built into the wall of the atrium. It had a trompe l'oeil paint job that made it match the woodgrain of the closet door, but the deadbolt lock was obvious. Chazz brought out a set of keys and opened it for them.

Scully did not hesitate, pulling her Sig Sauer and its clip holster from the small of her back and setting it in the cabinet. Skinner stared at Chazz for a long, tense moment before he reached under his coat and pulled out his .45 Colt.

Jim grinned. "A traditionalist! I love those old Colts! May I?"

Skinner studied him for a split second and handed the automatic over.

Jim handled the weapon expertly, dropping the clip out and racking the slide to eject the round in the chamber.

"Nice piece."

"Thanks. It belonged to my father."

Jim loaded the weapon again, replaced the clip, and politely handed it back, letting Skinner put it in the lockbox, himself.

Scully waited impatiently as Chazz locked the cabinet again. Chazz smiled at her. "Thank you. Go on up. Your partner has not improved, Agent Scully, but as long as Blair stays with him, the decline stops." Scully did not even hear that last part of the sentence. She was going up the stairs so fast one would have thought the ground floor was flooding, the overnighter slung over her shoulder bouncing against her hip. Skinner shook his head, understanding; she had almost certainly forgotten that the bag was still on her shoulder. "Blair is Dr. Sandburg? Lieutenant Ellison's Guide?"

Chazz nodded. "It seems any Guide is better than no Guide. Blair hasn't left his side since we realized that Mulder's heart rate stayed level as long as he was in the room."

+++

Karuna RPTC upstairs

Scully pushed open the bedroom door, heard a heart monitor chirping and knew it was too slow. What she saw made her sway, and she grabbed at the doorframe to keep from falling.

Mulder lay, pale and motionless, flat on a narrow hospital bed. An oxygen cannula lay across his upper lip. There was a band of visibly damaged skin where the duct tape had lain across his eyes, and there was an odd greenish color to the tears dried on his face.

(Antibiotic eye drops,) she realized. (*His eyes were taped shut, in unsanitary and almost anaerobic conditions, for more than a few days. It would be a surprise if he didn't have some kind of eye infection.*)

The other usual support equipment was in place, but all she really cared about was that heart and respiration monitor.

(*Heartbeat 58, respiration 8. God, he's barely here...*)

A heartbeat of sixty was a goal that a lot of extreme athletes sought; she knew for a fact that Mulder had never been that dedicated to anything but his quest to find his sister. Mulder was usually in good to excellent shape, but he had never had a healthy resting heart rate lower than 70.

Blair saw her go white, and swallowed hard. "Hey, Dana?" he called softly. "Come here." He had to call her several times before she could turn her attention from Mulder's face to look at the young man sitting cross-legged on the mattress between Mulder's feet.

"Dana? I'm Blair. Come on up here--" He slid off the bed, leaving the scant spare space on the bed for her.

She did not react.

"Dana. He needs physical contact with you. Touch will penetrate more easily than any other sense. C'mon..."

But she could not do that. Instead, she pulled a chair over beside the bed, settled into it. She took Mulder's hand in both of hers, lacing their fingers together, and lifted it to her own face.

He did not react.

She closed her eyes, fighting not to cry. "Dana. Look at the monitor."

She looked.

Heartbeat 61, respiration 9. As she watched, the heartbeat went up to 63.

"Oh, my God," she whispered, stunned at the instantaneous response. "It's working...!" Scully tore her eyes from Mulder to stare at Blair. "Does this prove...?"

Blair smiled. "That he's a Sentinel and that you're his Guide? I think so. Chazz and Angie, Duncan, Amanda, Adam... everyone's been through here, trying to reach him. No one got any reaction from him except me, and all I could do was keep him from sinking further. He's been steady at 58 and 8 since yesterday, when I got here. I'm not his Guide and he knows it."

"How does he know?" she demanded. "He's in a coma!"

65 and 10.

Blair shook his head. "No, he isn't. This isn't a coma, Dana. This is a zone-out. He's focused all his awareness on the concept that his Guide betrayed and abandoned him. That tape opened up a bottomless pit beneath his feet, Dana. He's falling."

She shivered, and tightened her hold on Mulder's hand.

"That's where he is, now," Blair explained. "He was separated from you for weeks, which made him fragile and vulnerable. Then they played that tape--" He stifled a curse; after hearing that tape, Jim had had nightmares all night long, echoing the same terror of abandonment. "It's... "

Dana held up her hand. "I read the report."

Blair nodded, understanding that she did not want to dwell on that. "He's willing himself to death, Dana. He's a Sentinel, and he cannot live without his Guide."

She glanced at the monitor.

68 and 11.

She shivered again. "He's going to wake up hating me, isn't he?"

Blair could hear the terror and grief in her voice. "No, he won't, Dana. He can't hate you. It's a spiritual impossibility. He needs you beside him like he needs air to breathe. He can't do anything or say anything that would drive you away: it would be suicide, and there is a level where he knows that."

"He thinks I betrayed him." She fought back a sob. "He's trying to die."

"He will forgive you anything, Dana. He will believe you when you explain that it wasn't you speaking on that tape. I dreamed about the two of you, you know." She stared at him, distracted from her distress. "You what?"

Blair shrugged. "Being a Guide is a job for a shaman. I visit the spirit planes in dreams a lot. Jim doesn't even have to be asleep; he can see our spirit guides on this plane. It was Jim's spirit guide, this utterly magnificent black jaguar, that led him to Mulder."

"What did you dream?" She was so upset that it never occurred to her to question the man's story.

He grinned. "Remember that I dreamed this the night before Jim and Duncan found him... and I have witnesses!"

"All right. What?"

"I dreamed of two foxes, one gray, male, big, tough, at the top of his game, courting a little red vixen. She was a tease, but she liked him, and they played across a moonlit meadow. Finally she let him catch her, and they snuggled close, sides rubbing, nuzzling... and then suddenly, without a sound, the vixen opened her jaws and attacked the dog fox savagely. She tore him up really badly, and he just let her do it. When he finally collapsed, she just turned and sauntered away. He dragged himself away, found a hole, and crawled inside to die, whimpering with confusion more than pain."

Dana swallowed hard. The symbolism of this dream was blatant; even she could see the meaning, here. But Blair went on.

"Once the vixen was out of the dog fox's line of sight, she wiggled out of her fox disguise. That's when I realized that she was a weasel, and she ran away."

"A weasel? Disguised as me?"

Blair nodded. "Yep. Once he's conscious, we can explain it to him. Now, touch and hearing are telling him that you're here, and that you care about him."

"Can this really work?" Scully was frightened, again, by all the strangeness.

70 and 11.

"It has to work," Blair said simply. "You can live without him-- Incacha told me once that a good Guide can partner a succession of Sentinels. But he can't live without you. If the Guide dies, the Sentinel dies."

She found the energy to smile tremulously. "So when he's ditched me all these times, trying to keep me safe, it's been like the giant in the fairy tale? The one who kept his heart in a box for safekeeping?"

Blair grinned. "I think that a Sentinel/Guide relationship may have been the inspiration for that story. Tell me about him, Dana. What's Mulder like? I know he's not a physical Sentinel; he'd be insane, or you'd have figured out how to keep him grounded. What senses does he have that are extendable?"

72 and 12.

Dana blinked. "Can Jim really do what you described in the article?" she counter-questioned. "Fine-tune his senses like that?"

"Oh, yeah. Like, he doesn't need anesthetics--he just dials down his tactile sense until it doesn't hurt. He's doing it now--he's got a broken arm. He broke it yesterday morning sparring with Duncan."

"Yesterday? And he drove behind us all that way from the airport? How?"

Blair smiled proudly. "Because he's tougher than Chinese algebra, and his natural, untuned pain threshold is so high that I've seen him almost faint from loss of blood before he's really conscious of being that badly hurt."

"That's not good--!"

"That's why he needs me," Blair pointed out. "I notice those things for him, so he can use all his focus on the task at hand."

74 and 12.

Dana shuddered. "Mulder focuses like that when he's profiling. He just immerses himself in everything he can find out about the UNSUB, and fits himself inside, behind the perpetrator's eyes. He gets so into it that he'll forget to eat or drink. Once he fell asleep in a room wallpapered with crime scene photographs and dreamed of the next killing. It turned out that his dream was simultaneous, within the limitations of measurement, with that killing." Blair stared at her. "He's an empath! My God, he's an empath!" he whispered. "I thought they were just science fiction...! What else does he do?"

Scully frowned, but answered him. "He's got a photographic memory- -he only keeps records as a courtesy to others. Everything he's ever seen, from earliest childhood, is permanently stored behind those... eyes..." She fought not to cry, remembering how desperately she missed those lambent hazel eyes watching her so intensely.

"Damn. Instant data retrieval?"

She nodded and swallowed hard. "Unless he's sick or drugged. That'll slow him down. If he's drugged enough, it can make data retrieval impossible, at least until he recovers. But the data is always there."

"Wow..." Blair was awestruck. "I wish I had permanent data storage like that!"

"There are things he's seen he wishes he could forget," she pointed out. "And he's constantly analyzing what he's seen. He can mentally superimpose photos and pick out discrepancies. He never misses a detail, and he makes intuitive leaps right over entire chains of deductive reasoning that take me hours or days to construct to support him."

74 and 13.

Blair swallowed. "My advisor asked me if I thought a Sentinel could function with abilities other than the five senses. I had to say I didn't know. Both of the Sentinels I've worked with are pure sensory-inputmodifiers. Does he get headaches from sensory
input overload?"

"He gets headaches from cramming," Scully admitted. "If he loads more than a hundred pages of data at a time, he gets migraines, but they go away if he closes his eyes in the dark for half an hour, so I've never believed that they were real migraines. I think they are psychosomatic."

"That would make sense--an organic stress response to the mental effort he puts forth to take in that much data. Does he read it when he's going through the pages, or does he just look at them, and read them later, from inside?"

"Later. If he glances at a page, he's got it."

"Wow! Oh, I am so jealous!" Blair bounced excitedly. "I can think of about eighty-seven tests I want to run on him!"

"Tests?" Scully was suddenly nervous. "What kind of tests?" She remembered the disastrous aftermath of Annaliese's death, and Mulder's grim description of his childhood as a managed experiment for the Consortium. She glanced at the still motionless body, and fought off her grief. The notes she had gotten had come from a rail car laboratory, just like the one in which she had been tested.

(He's like this because of their damned tests...!)

Oblivious, Blair grinned at her. "Jim gets so annoyed at me when I ask him to try things. But that's how we discovered that he really can focus his hearing enough to pick out a particular conversation out of all the people talking in an entire apartment building. He can track me across town by scent, even if I take the bus. He hates diesel fumes, but he can do it."

+++

Mulder was not sure what had changed. He had been falling. Now, he was not. Now he had hold of Scully's hand, and she was hauling his ass out of whatever it was that was trying to swallow him up. (That's my partner--always here for me...) The nightmare was already fading, but when he thought of it, he shuddered as emotion welled up.

(It almost ate me, but she saved me...) Scully felt him move, and immediately lost all interest in what Blair was saying. "Mulder?!"

He blinked at her, tears running down his face, and then curled up around her hand, crying silently.

She wrapped her free arm around his shaking shoulders and hugged him. She laid her cheek against his forehead and stroked the ragged haircut that had resulted from the removal of the duct tape blindfold.

"It's all right, Mulder--it was just a nightmare...it wasn't real..."

Blair left the room. Neither of them noticed.

Mulder was too weak to support that much emotion for long; it was only a few minutes before he went limp against her hold.

"Mulder?"

"God, Scully..."

"Just relax. Tell me how you feel."

"Exhausted." He looked around the room a little, and frowned. "Where are we?"

"Seacouver, Washington."

"How did we get here?"

"How much do you remember, Mulder?"

He moved to lay flat on his back again, but kept his tight grip on her hand. He closed his eyes for a moment, then stared up at the ceiling.

"Do you remember anything about your captivity?" she asked when he did not speak. He took a deep breath. "How long did they have me?"

"Just over three months."

He glanced over at her, disturbed by the echo of her abduction. "I don't remember that much."

She shrugged without letting go of his hand. "Neither do I. What do you remember?"

"Pain."

He lifted both wrists--she released his hand when she realized his intent--and she gasped in horror at the barely-healed burns that ringed both wrists.

"I remember being chained and shackled like a violent felon... but the metal was electrified, and when I tried to fight, they'd flip the switch. At first it was just electric shock; if I kept on fighting, the chains got hot."

"Can you sit up? I want to examine you."

He let his hands drop against his body, then reached for her hand, again. "Not now, Scully. Please."

She picked up his hand, and she could see that he was exhausted. He could hardly keep his eyes open. "Want me to take out the Foley?" she asked softly.

There was no answer; he was asleep. She took a deep breath and pulled the covers off him.

His body was covered with bruises, new scars, lash marks and just- healed burns that marred the silken beauty of his skin. There were burn scars on his thighs and around his waist that showed the shape of the chains he had worn very clearly; there were some smaller burns on his throat that she suspected might have been caused by a cattle prod. There were rings of healing burns around his ankles that matched the wounds on his wrists. Both arms showed the ladder tracks of repeated needle sticks.

Dr. Dolan had been careful of his dignity, and, although there was a Foley catheter in place, capturing urine, he was wearing a pair of soft, grey flannel boxer shorts. Gently, Scully removed the catheter and set it aside. She kicked off her shoes, stripped, and pulled her pajamas out of the overnighter. She had a suitcase full of clothes in the trunk of the car, but her medical pack, her cosmetics, her nightwear and a change of underclothes was always with her.

These were the same oversized blue silk pajamas she usually wore when they were on the road together. They reminded her of all the time she had spent on the far side of a wall, knowing that her partner was only a few steps away, but unable to cross that gulf.

(Now everything's different.)

She slid into the bed beside him and took him into her arms, snuggling close, relishing the feel of him, the smell of him, the weight of his body against hers.

(*Three months... now I know how you felt, Mulder, when I was abducted. God, I don't know how I survived... I don't know how you did. All I can imagine is that there is some superior reason why we are both still alive and together again. Right now I don't care. I have you back, and I'm not letting you go, ever again.*)

Chazz, sitting in her office watching, turned off the monitor, satisfied that her patient was going to recover.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Mulder stirred. At first, he was just confused. The lights were dimmed, but not off, and he was sharing this supremely comfortable bed with someone else. Someone female, too. Scent was his first clue. His other senses kicked in quickly, and he gasped in shock. (My God, it's Scully-!)

This was just too confusing. His strongest memories had been of pain, fear, captivity. Then he remembered the last time he had heard her voice. (*She's a liar, a traitor... she's Cancerman's...*) He shuddered, and pushed away from her. The pain in his chest was sharp, and he found himself fighting back tears. ("Scully...")

She stirred, looked up to face him, blinked back sleep to focus on him. "Mulder..." she smiled.

Her voice was a caress, and he shuddered again. "Why are you here, Scully?"

"Where else would I be, Mulder?"

"You... you said you didn't want to hang around a loser like me any more..."

"I never said that!"

"I heard you."

"It was a fake, Mulder. It was a tape." She reached for him, but he flinched from her touch. She studied him in the dim light, and decided that he did not look right. "Mulder. I've felt like an amputee all the time you've been missing..." Mulder felt his breathing falter. The pain in his chest was getting worse.

"Mulder! What's the matter?" She was frightened, now: he was pale and his lips were blue.

"You said-"

"I didn't say it!" she spoke softly, firmly. "You were drugged and in pain, Mulder. It was not my voice. Mulder, I have been looking for you for months, and I am never ever going to leave you!" She did not wait for any response from him; she just leaned forward and kissed him hard.

He did not react.

Gently, firmly, insistently, she pushed him onto his back, holding the kiss, her hands stroking his hair back, framing his face, her thumbs brushing gently across his eyes, across his cheekbones. She straddled him, and pressed herself against him.

Finally, he sobbed into the kiss, and she let him go so he could breathe. She backed away to study his face, leaned her elbows on his chest, and waited for him to regain his self-control.

He closed his eyes; he could not say this to her face. "I need you, Dana. Without you, I'm blind, and the darkness swallows me up..."

"Open your eyes. Look at me." She waited until he obeyed. "I'm here, and I'll never leave you. I love you. I will never leave you alone. I promise."

And the pain went away.

He was still crying, softly, quietly, all his shields gone. "I've loved you for so long, and then I believed... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."

She kissed him again, to silence him. She was still sitting astride his body, and now she lay down on top of him, letting him feel her body against his, although she did not rest all her weight on him. "I need you at least as much as you need me, Mulder. Without you, I'm just a machine: logical, precise, scientific. You are my dreams, my heart, my soul. You're my humanity, Mulder. Please believe me."

He stared at her for a long, stretched-out moment. Then, slowly, giving her all the time possible to evade him, he reached up with both hands and cradled her face.

His thumbs brushed her tears off her cheekbones. Even more slowly, hesitantly, with infinite gentleness, he pulled her back down against him. She let him, making sure he felt no resistance in her, while she was careful not to let herself fall against him.

The kiss was slow and tentative to start, but then he gasped into her mouth and pulled her tightly against his body.

"I love you," she whispered again, wrapping her arms around him.

"You're insane."

Scully grinned. "Probably. What's your point?"

He looked away. "I'm so messed up...you should be running for your life."

"Mulder." She waited until his eyes met hers. "You are my life."

He shuddered, and then winced.

"Mulder?"

"I hurt," he admitted in a low voice. "That's all."

"Bad? Want something for it?"

He hesitated. "Not now."

She relaxed. "Okay." She ran her hand up his body from hipbones to shoulder blades.

He flinched from the contact.

"I'm sorry..."

He tried to sit up and she slid off to sit beside him. He braced himself as he swayed dizzily for a moment.

"Mulder? Are you all right? How do you feel?"

He shivered, looking off into a distance she could not see. "Like I've been through hell."

She draped a blanket over his shoulders and helped him wrap it snugly around his bared body. "You have."

He glanced at her quickly. "Scully, how long as it been?"

"Three months."

"How did you find me?"

Scully grinned, and sat beside him, nestled close. "You just up and vanished. We looked. Every police agency in the world was alerted. Every doctor and medical facility in North America was alerted. All your friends contacted all their friends..."

"You mean you called Frohike?"

She fought back a surge of rage at his familiar selfdeprecation, and rested her head on his shoulder.
"And Frohike and Langly and Byers published the alert in TLG, and they called everyone they knew, posted it all over the Web..."

He stared at her. "You're kidding, right?"

His tone was empty. Scully frowned. "I am totally serious, Mulder. Your kidnapping has been featured on AMERICA'S MOST WANTED four
times."

"I've been on AMW? I want to see the tape."

Scully chewed on her lip; his tone was still very flat. "Byers taped them all," she assured him. "When you get home, you'll get to see them."

He blinked and looked down at her. "Every police agency in the WORLD?" he asked.

She shrugged, smiling a little at the incredulous tone that was beginning to become audible through his exhaustion and pain.

"You're an agent for the Federal government, and Skinner and I both knew the Consortium were our prime suspects. They're worldwide, so the manhunt had to be."

"So, how did you find me?"

"The lab where you were being held was in a rail car."

"I know."

She looked puzzled, and he gestured impatiently. "I could feel the motion, feel the wheels clicking over the rails."

She nodded, and went on. "Okay. They were trying to get through the Cascades, and a rockslide took the train down the mountainside. You were found near the wreckage by an off- duty police lieutenant and his friend. Turned out they were very good friends of one of Langly's friends, so they recognized your name. Being excessively paranoid, they wouldn't just call the Hoover Building; they called an agent they knew personally: Matt McCormick."

Mulder nodded. "VCS. Good man."

She smiled. "And he passed the news on to Skinner, who called me, and here we are."

Mulder looked around, and then just seemed to wilt. Scully caught him and eased him back down onto the bed. "You've been through hell, Mulder. Take it easy."

"There's one aspect of your abduction," he whispered, "that I wish was paralleled in mine."

"What's that?"

"I wish I couldn't remember..."

She heard his voice break and expected him to face away, to try to hide his emotions from her. But he did no such thing. He rolled toward her. She reached for him, and he smothered his sobs against her body. Slowly, he relaxed, and she realized he had cried himself to sleep.

Carefully, she laid him flat, then pulled up the blankets around them both. He nestled closer without awakening, and she settled down. As she fell asleep, she wondered if this disturbingly submissive behavior on his part was real and true, or if it was just an aspect of his captivity that would fade with time.

+++

Karuna RPTC the next morning

The night passed uneventfully, which was refreshingly rare for both of them. Neither of them dreamed, and that was momentous.

It was bright sunlight streaming through the window that awakened her.

"Morning, Sunshine," came a very soft voice.

She turned her head to see Mulder lying beside her, watching her. She smiled. "Good morning. What time is it?"

His eyes never left her face; there was not so much as a flicker of an eyelid. He shrugged, and flinched as the motion awakened slumbering pain.

She frowned, and sat up. "Mulder...?"

He moved carefully to lie flat on his back, his hands each almost a foot away from his body, his feet shoulder-width apart. His eyes kept trying to close.

"You're in pain." She realized belatedly that the position into which he had been bound for weeks would be the most comfortable. She did not need a verbal response from him. She rolled off the bed and went to the desk across the room where her Gladstone bag rested. "I've got some of the good stuff, here, Mulder," she spoke carelessly over her shoulder. She was loading the syringe as she turned.

She froze.

He was staring at her with absolute terror showing clearly in his widely-dilated eyes. He was sweating, but he did not move, other than to helplessly clench and unclench his fists. His breathing was accelerating as she watched.

She set the ampule and syringe down, went empty-handed back to the bed. She picked up his hand, and found it ice cold. She began to rub the hand with both of hers until it warmed. He did not move.

"Mulder? What's wrong?"

After several beats of utter tension, he shuddered, visibly throwing off most of the fear. He swallowed hard. "S-Sorry," he spoke hesitantly.

"What happened?"

"Flashback." He shuddered again. "No needles, Scully. Please."

Mentally, she kicked herself. His arms were both laddered with IV and injection sites. He had been drugged repeatedly for months. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I wasn't thinking."

He managed a shaky smile. "'S okay. Caught me by surprise, too."

"That kind of thing is going to happen, Mulder," she reminded him hesitantly. "You had PTSS before this happened."

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Not quite up to 'Disorder' yet, but getting there. "I know," he sighed.

"Are you hungry?"

He blinked in surprise. "I don't know." He could not recall the last time he had had anything to eat.

"You should be," she smiled at him. "It's been at least six weeks since you ate anything."

"Six weeks?"

"Since you were blindfolded, they had to use an NG tube to feed you."

"Why do you know more about this than I do?" he frowned.

"Because I've started reading the records they kept of their work. And don't bother entertaining any thoughts of revenge, Mulder. Every lab tech, nurse and doctor who worked on that train is dead. It was a bad wreck."

Wide-eyed, he managed to sit up, defeating the sensation of still being helplessly bound. "Any idea what caused it?"

"Rock slide swept the train off the tracks." She frowned, worried; she had told him this. (*Maybe he forgot during the flashback? I'll have to talk to Chazz about this.*)

"And I was the only survivor?" That plainly puzzled him. Scully bit her lip.

"No. The other prisoner survived. In fact, he rescued you from the wreckage."

"Other...?" Mulder's voice trailed off as his eyes unfocused. "Nickie?" he asked incredulously, turning to face her squarely. "Nickie was really there?!"

"There was another man there with you," she admitted. "He identified himself as Nick Lermontov."

"I thought I was hallucinating him..." He looked around, suddenly. "He's not here. Where is he?"

"He suffered a broken ankle and a concussion in the wreck," Scully explained. "He's in the hospital."

"I need to see him! I " He swung his legs out of bed and started to stand up. He swayed dizzily and sat down again, hard.

"Take it easy," Scully said softly. "You're in no condition to go traipsing off like that. We're way out in the country, here. He's miles and miles away, in Seacouver. But he's being released today, and I was assured that they will bring him back here. He wants to be with you, too, Mulder; he's been calling almost every hour to find out if you were awake, yet."

Mulder scrubbed at his face. "Okay," he conceded. He shuddered once, and then
straightened. "Did you mention food?"

Scully grinned. "I think you're going to be limited to broth and Jell-O for a while, but I think I can scare something up for you. Can you stand?"

He demonstrated. "Yeah. I just moved too fast." "Okay." She got out of bed and rummaged around in the closet where she had unpacked her clothing. She put on a well-worn and familiar pink and white velour robe, and smiled at him. "You need a shower; there're clothes in here for you, and the bathroom's there: use the seat... don't try to stand up the entire time. I'll go down and see if our hostess has anything down there to eat."

He blinked, and then looked around. "This is someone's house, isn't it? Whose?"

"Her name's Chazz Dolan; she's a clinical psy- "

"Chazz Dolan??" he repeated, amazed. "Am I that bad?"

"How do you know her?"

"Professional journals, Scully. She's done more for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress than any other researcher. Some of her most recent papers, based on survivors of long-term captives of sexual sadists, have revolutionized the way we address the recovery plans of such victims." He stiffened, suddenly. "I'm not a goddamned victim, Scully..."

"Hey, hey...you're not her patient!" Scully hastened to assure him. "But you know you're going to have some readjustment to do; they had you for a long time."

"How long?"

"Three months, one week, three days."

"But who's counting?" he asked softly.

"Eleven hours..." She ducked, suddenly shy, and changed the subject. "Go take a shower, Mulder. I'll get breakfast." She left, walking quickly.

He pushed himself to his feet, and followed her.

+++

Karuna RPTC downstairs

"Dana! Good morning!" Chazz was brushing out one of the little red dogs.

Scully smiled at her. "Good morning. He's awake, he's hungry."

Chazz's voice dropped, though her smile did not falter. "He's watching us," she breathed. Scully did not look.

"He followed me?"

"Looks like. Stopped at the top of the stairs, though. He's sitting up there, watching us through the railing."

"I think he just needs to be sure I'm not leaving," Scully smiled. "Got any chicken broth and Jell-O? He hasn't eaten anything in weeks."

Chazz nodded. "Chicken soup is on the stove, simmering. Jell-O's in the frig, setting. It'll be ready soon."

"You're good."

Chazz grinned. "I know."

Further conversation was curtailed when two big dogs came running through the living room: a big Standard Poodle, ice-white and neatly trimmed in a sensible working clip that included poufy ears and topknot and tailtip, and a mahogany collie that was even bigger. The poodle dashed to Chazz and stood up on his hind feet and danced for her attention.

The collie, on the other hand, paused in the middle of the living room, looked around, and dashed up the stairs. The dog walked right up to Mulder and began licking his face industriously, tail wagging furiously. When Mulder lifted a hand to fend the dog off, the collie happily licked his hands.

"Laddie!" Chazz called up the stairs. "Don't dance on the guests!"

The dog backed away a little, but his attention stayed fixed on Mulder, and his tail continued to wag just as happily.

"I think I've been assaulted." Mulder's voice was a little muffled as he tried to wipe off his face with the back of his hand.

Chazz grinned. "That's just Laddie, Mulder. He adopted you when you arrived; he's so happy you're awake. You'll be much more fun this way!"

Scully laughed softly. "I think so, too! Go take your shower, Mulder. Food will be ready when you are."

"Okay." He pulled himself to his feet and turned toward the bedroom door.

+++

Karuna RPTC Mulder's room

Really clean for the first time in longer than he could recall, Mulder dressed in the new set of forest green sweats he found in the closet, pulled on thick socks he found beside the flannel boxers in the dresser. Exhilarated by the unaccustomed softness and warmth, as well as by the feeling of security at being clothed after weeks of naked exposure, he turned and headed for the stairs. At the top of the stairs he hesitated.

He had been socially isolated for months, his only companion his childhood bond-sib. Their captors had dehumanized them, manipulated their bodies as if they were nothing more than laboratory animals, and had ignored their minds altogether. He did not recall any of their captors ever speaking to them; they had spoken to one another over the prisoners as if the prisoners were not even there.

Out of practice for so long, he feared all his social skills were gone. He could not move. Down on the ground floor, he could see Scully and the other woman happily chatting as they moved around the kitchen. There was a stereo playing soft music of a type he could not identify. There were dogs everywhere: the big white poodle reclining royally on the couch, a group of about a dozen little furry dogs playing a game that seemed to involve taking turns piling on one another, wiggling out and being chased, and the big collie lying across the base of the stairs.

The other woman superficially resembled Scully: she was short and had red hair. But while Scully's hair was a shoulder-length swath of swirling flame, the other woman wore her hair in two thick braids that were so long that she had to take care not to sit on them.

(That must be Chazz Dolan.)

Slowly, he started to drop, to sit on the floor and peer out through the balusters under the railing. He just wanted to watch them; he could not force himself to join them down there. He felt tongue-tied already, just thinking about having to make conversation with Dr. Dolan. (*She's too good. She'll unscrew my head in a heartbeat...*) That was a terrifying thought; he did not want to see what was in his head, and he certainly did not want to show it to Scully, or to anyone else! But just as his knees began to bend, as he began to surrender to his own fears, Scully looked up at him.

Her eyes caught his and he froze, paralyzed.

She smiled, and the chill in his soul started to recede.

"Mulder!" Her voice was happy. "Lunch is ready. C'mon!" He could no more have ignored her call than he could have tried to fly. He padded carefully down the carpeted stairs, aware of nothing but her eyes on him, pulling him toward her.

Scully met him a few steps from the base of the stairs, and so tight was her focus on her partner that she never noticed when the collie got up and got out of her way. She walked right into Mulder's arms and hugged him.

"Feeling better?" she asked as she looked up at his face.

"Yeah." His voice felt rusty with disuse, and he wondered that he had not noticed this earlier.

Scully stood on tiptoe and tugged him down so she could kiss him. He was too stunned to participate; he felt overloaded, already, drowning in stimulation. He swayed, and closed his eyes, trying to find a balance point between input rate and processing speed. He was unaware that he had dropped both his hands to Scully's shoulders, that he was using her for physical balance.

Scully stood still, back straight, her hands resting lightly on his hips, waiting for him to settle down. After a few minutes, he warily opened his eyes again, locking his attention on her.

"Okay?" Scully asked gently.

"Better, anyway," he agreed.

"What was that?"

"Sensory overload. That lab car was effectively a sensory deprivation chamber. There's too much color, here, too much scent, too much
movement..." His voice trailed off; he swayed and closed his eyes again.

"Come here and sit down." He kept his eyes closed as she guided him to the dining room table. Moving like the newly- blind, he fumbled a little, found the chair and sank into it. He kept his eyes closed; Scully moved her hands to his wrists.

"I've put all the dogs outside." Another woman's voice intruded on his concentration; that had to be Chazz Dolan. "Agent Mulder? Open your eyes."

Warily, he obeyed. At first all he could see was Scully. Then, with growing confidence, he looked around. Dr. Dolan was sitting beside him. Scully was in front of him.

"Hi," Dr. Dolan smiled at him. "I'm Chazz Dolan. You can call me Chazz; everyone does. And I know better than to call you Fox."

He grinned back, relieved to find that he could handle this. "Hi. I'm familiar with your work, Dr. Dolan. Very impressive."

She blushed faintly. "I lucked out," she shrugged it off. "I got some patients who had been through absolute Hell, and I had some luck in being able to help them."

"I don't recall seeing much happenstance in those articles," he shook his head. His glance flickered to Scully and then back to Dolan. "Maybe I should sign in..."

Chazz tipped her head to one side. "You can stay if you like. If you think I can help you deal with what happened to you."

He shuddered. "I was first diagnosed with delayed onset Post Traumatic Stress ten years ago, Dr. Dolan. Things have been fairly interesting since then, and this can only make things more so."

Chazz smiled. "You have quite a support group around you, so don't feel that you have to depend solely on me. Also, I got a call a half- hour ago: Mr. Lermontov has been released from Powers Memorial he was held overnight for observation. He'll be here, soon; Mac went to pick him up."

Mulder visibly brightened. "Nickie's coming here?"

Chazz and Scully traded smiles. "Yes," Chazz told him. "He insisted. He's been told you're awake, and that you're pretty much okay."

"Pretty much," Mulder agreed. His eyes unfocused as he stretched out his awareness, seeking... seeking...

Finding.

("Nickie!")

("Fox!")

Scully felt a ripple of... of something indefinable run up her spine. It was not unpleasant, but it was very strange. She saw Mulder smile, saw some of the tension lift off his shoulders, out of his expression.

Mulder focused on her and smiled. "He's okay."

Chazz frowned. "I just said that."

Mulder shook his head. "He just said that."

Scully frowned. "Mulder, he isn't here."

Mulder let his eyes unfocus and savored the contact again. "No, he's not. But he's not too far away, either." He glanced at Scully. "He's my bond-sib, Scully. I can feel him. That's why I thought I was hallucinating his presence: while I was blinded I hallucinated a lot. I remember thinking that Nick and sometimes Samantha were nearby. But Anni never was, and neither were you."

"You knew Anni couldn't be there," she said softly. "And you knew I wasn't. But this guy says he's Nick Lermontov."

"He is."

Scully blinked at Mulder's absolute certainty.

Chazz spoke up. "Mulder? Are you claiming some kind of...what? Telepathic contact? With Mr. Lermontov?"

He shook his head. "We can't talk. Anni and I could talk, and I can hear Scully thinking sometimes. Nick and I can't send any words but our names. We can send emotions. I know he's excited and that his ankle is killing him because he wouldn't take the painkiller. We've had enough drugs for a while, right?" That last sentence seemed aimed at Nick.

"That could just be projection."

Mulder blinked at her. "I'm surrounded by skeptical redheads," he grinned. "Here's proof: I was blind when I was rescued, right?"

"Yes. Duct tape over your eyes."

"Who removed it? And when?"

"I did," Chazz said. "As soon as we got you settled, upstairs."

"Have I seen anyone here but you and Scully?"

Chazz shook her head. "You were dying. No."

"Nick's in the back seat of a black convertible with white leather upholstery. It's old; sixties, I think. Driver's a big guy with long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail."

Chazz sank back in her chair. "How could you know that?"

"Nick sent me the image. He's got his injured leg up on the seat, and the top's down; he's getting windblown. He loves it. After three months in a box, wind and sky are wonderful things."

Scully swallowed hard. He had never tried to prove the bond-sib attachment to her; there had been no methodology open to them. All his bond-sibs were dead or missing. But how else could he have known about that car, and the driver she had seen so briefly the night before?

Chazz stood up suddenly. "C'mon. Soup's on."

Relieved at the change of subject, they tacitly shelved the entire discussion, and sat down to eat. Mulder asked for the soup in a mug. He did not feel very steady, and he could use both hands to hold the mug.

The soup was excellent. He finished the mug of broth without a problem, then used a spoon to scrape up the scant shreds of chicken stranded at the bottom of the cup.

Scully was working on her second bowl when Mulder suddenly straightened, his face breaking into a wide grin.

"He's here!"

Scully smiled; it was so refreshing to see Mulder happy! "Ask him if he's hungry," she suggested.

"He is." The answer came back almost
instantaneously.

Scully stood up. "I'll set him a place."

Mulder was on his feet, heading slowly for the door.

In the kitchen, Scully heard Mulder shout, "Nickie!" as the door opened. She heard MacLeod's chuckle, and a third voice yelped, "Fox!" She picked up a bowl, filled it with soup from the pot still simmering on the stove, and carefully walked back toward the table.

A glance across the room showed Mulder and another man almost his own height hugging as hard as two people possibly could. She smiled indulgently and went back to setting a place at the table for her partner's friend. She could hear them talking excitedly, Mulder quizzing his friend about his injury, and his friend responding with incredulous commentary on how good Mulder looked, considering.

("Well, he DOES look good...!") Scully decided privately.

"I heard that, Scully."

The voices had been approaching, and she had been aware that Mulder was bringing his bond-sib over to introduce him formally; she felt a thrill of irrational fear (*God, this is like facing my boyfriend's parents for the first time...*). Familiar fingers touched the nape of her neck and slid, feather-light, down her spine to rest over her tattoo. She turned to her left with a smile; without consciously thinking about it, she knew that Mulder always used his right hand for that move, and that meant he would be standing at her left shoulder.

She froze for a moment as the too-familiar features of--

"Nick Lermontov." Mulder's voice was firm; he knew exactly what had flashed through her mind when she turned. "My bond-sib, Scully."

+++

the Thunderbird a little earlier

MacLeod had driven Skinner back to the city early that morning; he and Captain Banks were going to have a meeting at the Seacouver PD's offices. Skinner wanted that train wreck searched and treated as a crime scene, since one of his agents had been held against his will on board for three months. Captain Powell and Lieutenant Bennett were going to be involved, too, as well as the FBI's regional office.

(Amazing how far they've both come,) MacLeod mused as he headed for the hospital. Powell had been assigned to Juvenile when they had first butted heads over Richie; Powell had wanted to prosecute Richie for burglarizing MacLeod's antique store.

(But I couldn't allow that...) Powell had never quite understood, but he had been a good person, as well as a good cop; when he had seen that his association with MacLeod had straightened Richie out, he had told them both how proud he was to have been proven wrong.

Bennett, on the other hand, was still inclined to think about MacLeod as simply the most clever murderer he had ever encountered. He had never been able to figure out how several of the murders he had wanted to pin on MacLeod had been accomplished, and he had never had enough evidence to even bring MacLeod in for questioning.

MacLeod was still musing as he pulled up into a no parking zone at the front of the hospital. (*I hope Bennett doesn't vent at Skinner about me... the man has enough to think about. I think that Sentinels and Guides are going to be enough for the man to cope with for a while.*)

Finding Nick at the hospital proved easy enough; he had given MacLeod his room number. With a minimum of delay -- the paperwork had been signed when the doctor made his morning rounds -- Nick was in a wheelchair being pushed through the hospital corridors by an orderly. MacLeod carried the discharge paperwork and the single crutch that the hospital had supplied. Lermontov's ankle was encased in a steel- and-Velcro brace, elevated on the wheelchair's foot rest.

MacLeod had parked the Thunderbird in the pickup zone right by the front doors. Nick grinned appreciatively as the automatic doors opened and the breeze hit him.

"Oh, man, you have no idea how badly I want to be away from sterile environments and antiseptic air fresheners!"

MacLeod grinned. "C'mon, then."

Nick stood up out of the wheelchair, and MacLeod handed him the crutch. He managed the crutch very well; he could put some weight on his ankle, but not for long. He was glad the Thunderbird was right there. Once he was happily settled in the back seat, with his ankle elevated, MacLeod moved to put the top down. It was midday, the sun was hot, the sky was clear, and the young man looked like he had just been released from prison.

When the roof peeled back and let the sun hit him, Nick closed his eyes and luxuriated in the brightness and the warmth. (*After being locked in that damned rail car for three months, this is ecstasy...!*)

There was little conversation; Nick was satisfied with silence, and MacLeod was comfortable with it.

When they arrived at Chazz's, MacLeod had to help Nick up. He was so eager to get inside, he was clumsy. "Take it easy, man!" MacLeod finally laughed.

Nick grinned back at him. "Fox is awake! I need to talk to him!"

"Well, go on, then!" MacLeod pointed him toward the porch, and watched him go. He planned to stay outside while Scully dealt with her partner's lifelong friend. As he stood there, he had to chuckle appreciatively as the pack of Tibetan Spaniels all stood on the inside of the fenced-in kennel yard with their forepaws braced on the wire, barking at him. They seemed to be demanding their freedom, or, at least, his participation in their play.

A few minutes later, Jim's truck pulled into the driveway, and the dogs deserted him to run to that corner of their yard. Jim and Blair were laughing uproariously as the truck's engine was turned off. Blair did not get out on his own side. Instead, he scooted across the bench seat and managed to hook two fingers in the back of Ellison's belt, jerking him to a halt.

"Come back here, you! I'm not done, yet!"

Jim turned, still laughing, grabbed Blair by that wrist, pulled him out of the truck and up, over his shoulder. Without the least hesitation, he walked over and dumped Blair over the fence into the kennel yard.

The Tibbie pack attacked. No exposed bit of Blair's skin went un- licked, and he was laughing so hard he could not dislodge the dozen or so little dogs that were dancing on him, tails wagging furiously, each demanding his undivided attention, and barking at him when they failed to get it.

Jim just leaned on the fence and watched, calling unnecessary advice to individual dogs. Chuckling, MacLeod joined him. "Where's Nick?" Jim asked idly.

"Inside," MacLeod gestured vaguely. "I think Mr Mulder will need a little privacy to mediate between Nick and Miss Scully."

"Why would you think that?" Jim was curious.

"Because Nick seems to have some kind of supernatural bond to Mr Mulder, himself," MacLeod explained uncomfortably. "He knew that Mr Mulder was awake. It wasn't just a guess: he was totally confident. He practically ran into the house, and I heard Mr Mulder greet him, so he was right." He took a deep breath. "Can one Sentinel have two Guides?"

Jim blinked. "Yes. I did, for a while. But not together; Incacha was my Guide in the jungle, Blair is here. Even when Incacha came here, he wasn't my Guide. He was my shaman, he was Blair's teacher, but he wasn't my Guide and he didn't try to be. He knew I'd moved on."

MacLeod looked even more uncomfortable. "Mr. Lermontov didn't say much in the car, Jim, but what little he did say was pretty clear: he expects to spend the rest of his life as close to Mr Mulder as he can manage. And he never mentioned Miss Scully at all."

+++

the dining room a few moments later

Scully took a step back to lean against Mulder, creating a little distance between herself and the other man. She swallowed hard, forcing down her instinctive response.

"Scully?"

"I knew," she admitted. "But it's still a shock."

Mulder slid both arms around her from behind, bent to rub his chin against her cheek. "How did you know?" he asked. "I didn't until we woke up together in the lab."

Scully explained Jim Ellison's phone call to AMERICA'S MOST WANTED.

Nickie swallowed hard. They were both staring at him, and he could feel their presence in his mind. Trembling, he managed to stumble over to the couch before his knees gave out and he dropped.

"Nickie?"

"You never said she was one of us!"

Mulder frowned. Nick was shaking, and as Mulder straightened, Nick twisted to huddle against the end of the couch, his face buried under his arm, his back to them.

"Mulder? What's he talking about?" Scully frowned. "Fox?" Nick whimpered, but he did not move.

Mulder dropped to his knees in front of Nick. "Nick, what's the matter? You're in pain!"

Scully turned, unnerved by the whimper she could hear in his tone. "Mulder, what's going on?" She noticed that all Mulder's attention was riveted on the man she still could not help but think of as Alex Krycek, and felt a jolt of vicious jealousy.

Nick flinched and cowered. A shudder went down Mulder from head to foot, and he nearly collapsed. He caught himself with on his hands on Nick's knees. ("Nick?")

("Fox?")

Nick very cautiously looked up at Scully's face. "Scully?"

"What?"

"Those were my fingers on your back."

She wrapped her arms around her body, and looked away.

"You thought they were his."

She pressed her lips together, and still refused to look at him.

"Bond-sibs touch like that," Nick went on very slowly, choosing his words with extreme care. "Molly did some research, and decided that it had something to do with chakras. I never quite understood that; too much mysticism. But you had the Circle of Eternity tattooed on the spot like a target for Fox's hand. Even that long ago, you were becoming part of us. Close your eyes, Scully. Feel me here beside you. Feel Fox. You're one of us..."

She turned. "Mulder...!"she protested. "Scully, please." His voice was low, broken. "I can't stand this, and neither can he! I only have the two of you in the whole world. You don't have to love him, but you can't hate him! Please!"

Scully moved to stand in front of Mulder, who was on his knees looking up at her. Her hands went to his face, and she stroked his hair back, trying to calm herself. But it did not work. "I will not share you!" she hissed. She bent and kissed him hard. ("MINE!")

Mulder's eyes closed and he leaned against her, his hands limp at his sides. He made no effort to argue or respond in any way, but simply submitted to her claim. This was everything he had wanted since the day he had met her...

Scully ended the kiss gently, and he sagged against her, breathless, his face buried against her belly. She stroked his hair lightly until he looked up, his eyes shining at this confirmation of their relationship.

("Now what?") he wondered. He had no earthly idea how to handle this.

She turned to look at Nick, who had straightened to look at them, but had not otherwise moved. When her eyes met his, he looked away.

"Look at me."

Slowly, reluctantly, as if he was being forced, Nick obeyed.

"I know you as Alex Krycek. He knows you as someone else. Explain this to me."

Nick swallowed, but he could not tear his eyes away from Scully's blazing gaze.

"I'm Nick Lermontov. I was born in Chilmark, and I've known Fox all my life. He's told you what our childhood was like."

Scully nodded. "Go on."

"After Molly d-died, I joined the Army to get killed. I couldn't commit suicide; I think we were conditioned against it very young. I was a Ranger. Just before a covert assignment to Peru, I got sick. The night before the squad was shipped out, I was kidnapped out of my bunk in sick bay. I woke up in one of the rail car labs." He shuddered, but Scully's eyes still held his, and he could not break away. "I don't know how they did what they did to me, but when I walked out I was Alex Krycek. I didn't remember Chilmark, I didn't remember anything about Nick Lermontov."

"You killed my sister."

He shuddered. "No. The assignment was to kill you. I couldn't do that... I didn't know why, but I knew I couldn't. So I let Cardinale handle it. And I was so relieved when it wasn't you..." He shuddered again. "Now I understand."

Scully shelved that question. "You killed Bill Mulder."

He squared his shoulders and stared at her coolly. "Yeah, I did. And I enjoyed it, too!"

He could tell that Scully was confused by his response, and he went on to explain. "I hated Bill Mulder. We all hated our fathers, but we hated Bill Mulder the most. Bill Mulder was in charge! It was his idea! He didn't deserve a quick death! I've wanted to chain him down in one of his labs and do to him what he ordered done to us! To treat him the way he treated his own children! We knew every time he kicked Fox into a corner because he was there and Sammie wasn't. You have no idea how much hate a kid can accumulate. You can't understand how much we hated him, Scully. You can't!"

But she could feel Mulder trembling beside her, torn between filial affection and absolute agreement with Nick's sentiments, and she did understand. "Why should I believe you?" she demanded defensively. Nick shivered. "I can't lie to you. Within the circle, there can be no falsehood. You'd know if I was lying."

Scully tasted his words, and wondered. "Say something that I know is patently untrue."

Nick smiled faintly. "An experiment? Umm..." His smile faded, and he spoke carefully. "We're all back in DC, and this is a drugged dream you're having in the hospital."

She made a face. "Yuck. Now tell me what happened to Alex Krycek."

He relaxed a little. "They called him a shell persona. I think the shell started to crack when they assigned me to Mulder as a partner. His memories had been masked, same as mine, and neither of us was capable of thinking about bond-sibs. But we could feel each other. He hated being separated from you, and he resented liking me, because I was your replacement. And the shell kept cracking, slowly but surely."

Scully cocked her head to one side. "So, who's in charge, now? Nick or Alex?"

"I'm Nick Lermontov. Alex is just some fragments of memory, Scully, I swear it. They did something to me, probably some of the drugs they pumped into us, that shattered it completely. Alex Krycek is dead. As if he never really lived..."

"Wow..."

That extraneous voice was an interruption that startled all three of them. They turned to look, and saw two men: a tall, cut, balding man and a hippie almost a foot shorter. It was the hippie who had spoken. His attention was on Scully. When they were all staring at him, he grinned widely. "Talk about an alpha bitch!"

"Blair!" Chazz and Ellison exclaimed in the same breath.

"What? You think she isn't in charge? Look at the three of them. They're just about groveling at her feet!"

"Still, Blair, you could have phrased that more appropriately," Chazz scolded.

Blair grinned at her, unrepentant, and then turned to face the trio on the floor. "I take it that Nickie's told you about what happened to him after he and Fox were separated."

"Mulder!" Scully snapped, annoyed at everything because it was the only way she could deal with her confusion and uncertainty.

If anything, Blair's grin got wider. "Sure. Fine. Whatever."

"Stop it, both of you!" Chazz finally snapped. "Nick, come into the kitchen with me. I'm sure you're hungry for food better than the sludge they fed you at the hospital." Nick leaned on the couch and carefully stood up, just as glad to break up the confrontation. "Sure. What's cooking?" he asked, balancing with his weight on his good foot.

"Chicken soup."

Jim brightened. "Home made noodles?" he asked, lust plain in his voice.

Chazz grinned. "Of course."

"Hot damn!" Blair added, pushing past Ellison's much larger body to get to the kitchen ahead of him.

Chazz turned back to Nick. "C'mon; there's plenty, even with the way these guys can eat." She offered him his crutch, and he smiled gratefully as he took it from her. He motioned for her to go first and she led him away.

+++

the dining room a little later

After everyone had indulged themselves in the delight of Chazz's favorite soup, she suggested that MacLeod take Nick next door.

"I suspect that Mulder and Dana have some patching to do on their relationship; they don't need witnesses or supervision for that."

Mulder opened his mouth to protest that: he did not want to lose Nick again! But he glanced at Scully, and found he could not argue when she looked at him like that. He was not at all sure what that look meant, but it paralyzed him.

When Nick stood up to follow the Scot, he noticed two boxes sitting by the door. A moment's inspection of it was all he needed. He turned to face Jim Ellison. "You brought the files! Thank you! I had no idea!"

Jim shrugged. "MacLeod brought 'em down the mountain. You said they were important, but then you passed out. So we loaded 'em in the car. We figured you'd explain it all eventually."

Nick looked longingly at the boxes, but with one arm, and that needed for the crutch so he could walk, there was no way he could carry that treasure chest.

Mulder suddenly realized what they were discussing. "Those are the records from the lab?!"

Nick grinned at him triumphantly. "Yep. Hard drives, hard copy and ZIP files, maybe handwritten notes. Hopefully most if not everything they've done to us all our lives and why."

Mulder was visibly torn: he clearly wanted to dive into those boxes, but to do that he would have to leave Scully's side.

MacLeod made the decision for all of them. He picked up the boxes and, with a gesture with his chin and shoulder, indicated that Nick should precede him. "You can start your research tonight, and brief Fox and Dana over breakfast," he smiled. "Jim and Blair have to talk to Fox and Dana."

Nick looked puzzled. "About what?"

"Sentinels and Guides," Blair said. "They can explain that stuff to you at breakfast."

Scully looked from one to the other. "Why do I feel like I'm being managed?"

Chazz moved around the table, drying her hands on a dish towel. "Because you are. Dana, a lot has happened to you and to Fox in a very short period of time. Neither of you has had time to really deal with it. In order for you to understand it all, you need more information. There's a lot, obviously. So let Nick read the lab records while Jim and Blair brief you. The three of you can share it all day tomorrow, since neither of these guys is in any shape to do much more than lie around and nap."

Mulder, sitting beside his partner at the table, set both his elbows on the table for support and scrubbed wearily at his face with both hands. It was all catching up with him. Scully glanced at him and reached out to touch his arm. In unison, they turned to look at Nick.

He shrugged. "Sounds like a plan. See you for breakfast?"

"Okay. Nick, if you... if you find--"

"If they know where Samantha is, I'll find out."

MacLeod led Nick out of the room, then.

Scully stood up. "C'mon, Mulder. You're exhausted."

He decided that she was right when he realized that the prospect of climbing the stairs back to the room they had shared was more than a little daunting. He followed her silently.

+++

Blair and Jim came upstairs a few minutes later. Blair knocked quietly on the door. "Dana? Fox? We need to talk."

Dana Scully was frowning a little when she opened the door; Blair had used Mulder's first name, despite being instructed not to do so. She made no objection. If Mulder wanted to correct Blair's usage, he would.

But Mulder said nothing. He was sitting on the loveseat, and she rejoined him there, letting their guests follow her into the little suite. She settled in beside her partner, who had not moved. His feet were braced on a soft hassock, and a pillow cushioned his bruised and battered body against the firmness of the arm of the loveseat. He still looked exhausted, and underweight, but he was awake and alert.

Blair sat in the easy chair across from the couch. Jim Ellison sat down on the floor and leaned back against Blair's knees.

"Dana," Blair started. "Did you tell Fox about us?"

"We haven't had time to talk about other people."

They knew that was true. Blair nodded. "Okay. This is important."

Jim explained how he had found Fox and Nick. "And the jaguar led me to you."

Mulder looked puzzled. "A jaguar? In Washington State?"

Blair sighed. "It's not a physical jaguar. It's Jim's spirit guide."

Scully and Mulder glanced at one another. "Spirit Guide?" Mulder asked, his tone still a little subdued.

"Yeah. Every Sentinel has one. So does every Guide. Your spirit guides were there, too."

"Our spirit guides?" Scully said skeptically.

Jim nodded. "There was a big grey fox guarding you, Mulder, angry and scared." He turned to look at Scully. "And up on the hill, as we pulled away, was a red vixen, sobbing out loneliness and grief to the empty sky."

Scully leaned on Mulder, who put his arm around her.

"My spirit guide led me to you, Mulder. You're a Sentinel, just like I am. Dana's your Guide."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Mulder's voice was a low growl.

Jim scrubbed at his face with both hands for a moment, then looked up at Mulder. "A
Sentinel/Guide pairing is an amazing thing. And it's necessary to our survival."

"You're a Sentinel?" Mulder asked. "What does it mean to you?"

"It means I have some special abilities, and that when I'm in control of them, I can do a VERY good job of protecting the people in my jurisdiction."

"And when you aren't in control? Then what happens?" Scully inquired. "I zone out," Ellison shrugged. "Or it all goes away, and I'm just ordinary. But with my Guide, here, I do good stuff."

"You do AMAZING stuff," Blair grinned.

"Down, boy. Down!" Jim looked up at him, grinning up over his shoulder.

"What kind of special abilities?" Mulder's curiosity was surfacing, and Scully was happy for that sign of recovery. He had been far too quiet for her peace of mind.

"I have conscious, voluntary control over all five senses," Jim said casually. "I can see as well as you can with a hundred power 'scope. I can track by scent as well as any bloodhound-- "

"--better," Blair interrupted him.

"You're biased," Jim grinned. Then he turned his attention back to the agents. "I use taste and scent to do chemical analyses in the field. I can eavesdrop on a particular conversation in a hotel room from my car parked on the street outside."

"You're telling us we can run, but we can't hide." Mulder's tone was level, even and cool.

Jim met Mulder's steady hazel stare without flinching. "You have nothing to fear from me. Right now, the only danger to you is your estrangement from her."

Mulder tightened his grip on Scully. "Do we look estranged?"

"Time out," Scully spoke up. "Neither Mulder nor I can do these things. Why do you think any of this has anything to do with us?"

Blair spread his hands. "The Spirit Guides say so." He turned toward Mulder. "When you were rescued, you were trapped in a zone-out so intense that you were dying. You plateaued when you got here, because I'm a Guide, and I sat with you. But I couldn't wake you up, because I'm not YOUR Guide. When Dana got here, you woke up ten minutes after she touched you."

"She's my partner," he said, feigning carelessness. "She's my best friend."

Blair grinned. "Of course she is. But she's more than that. And you are more than you appear. Do you remember why you zoned out?"

"I don't know what that is."

"What's the last thing you remember about your captivity?"

Scully felt Mulder start to tremble. Her hand reached out for his, and he settled down, pulling her more snugly against him.

"Pain," was all he said.

"According to Nick, they tortured you physically and chemically for three or four weeks, Mulder, just trying to wake you up. Nothing worked. They tried electric shock, they used scalpels, they used a rubber truncheon. They used drugs Nick couldn't name except to curse."

"Blair, be quiet." Jim's voice was very soft.

Blair stopped.

Jim came up off the floor and knelt in front of Mulder, put his hands on their joined hands. "Steady," he said very quietly. "It's over. You're free. And you're an awakened Sentinel, now. They aren't likely to get their hands on you again."

Mulder shuddered, and Scully hugged him hard. He buried his face against her neck while he fought to get himself back under control. Jim sank back to sit on his heels, dropping his hands to rest on his thighs. "What did I say?"

"Nick and I've been taken to labs like that periodically all our lives," Mulder explained flatly, letting go of Scully and looking up. "It's not going to stop until I burn the whole Project to the ground."

Jim Ellison stared straight into those intense hazel eyes, and shivered. "I'll help you," he promised. "Tell me what I can do."

"Off topic," Blair ruled. "We'll discuss active strategy later. Right now we're just explaining Sentinels and Guides. Mulder, when you met Dana, what was your first impression?"

Scully smiled up at Mulder reminiscently. "He thought I was a spy."

Mulder shook off his unease. "You were a spy," he smiled back at her. Then his smile disappeared. "But I felt as if you were the sun finally deigning to shine on me." His voice went soft. "For the first time since the accident, I was happy. For the first time since the accident, I felt alive and part of the world."

"Oh, I know that feeling..." Jim was using exactly the same tone as Mulder. "And when she's lost to you, the world is darkness and all you want to do is howl your grief to the sky, then sink into the ground and die..."

Jim and Mulder were staring into one another's eyes, entranced. Scully put her hand on Mulder's and broke the spell.

Mulder shook his head. "Damn..."

"Yeah."

The agents looked at Jim, whose face was tipped straight up. Blair had put his hands under Jim's chin, and his forearms were snug against the sides of Jim's head. Blair had moved to look straight down into Jim's eyes. There was a moment of bone-cracking intensity between them. Then Blair dipped his head and kissed Jim on the end of his nose. They both chuckled, and the moment was over.

Blair looked up at the agents again, though his hands stayed on Jim's throat, lightly caressing. Jim's eyes were half-closed, and Scully thought he looked rather like a big, dangerous but very happy cat, and almost expected him to start purring.

"While we were waiting for you to surface," Blair resumed, "Dana and Mr Skinner told me about some of the things that you can do, Fox. Things like superimpose photos in your head, and have clairvoyant dreams."

Mulder shuddered and looked away. "That only happened once, I think."

"Because you had no conscious control, and you had no Guide." Blair stated. "Jim's a sensory input modifier. You're an empath. Fox, think about being able to profile better than ever before but being totally in control. No nightmares, no aftereffects, no loss of appetite or inability to eat..."

Mulder looked thoughtful. "It was easier after Anni and I got married; I could leave it at work. I just had the occasional revelatory dream. But after the accident, it got worse. I was afraid I was going insane. That's why I bailed and transferred to the X Files."

Blair leaned forward, excited. "Who's Anni? What accident?"

Mulder did not respond; Scully tightened her grip on him. "Childhood sweetheart, bondmate, wife. She was in a persistent vegetative state for over eight years after a car crash. When she did die I almost lost him; he went a little crazy and nearly got himself killed."

"'Bondmate?'" Blair's voice nearly cracked with excitement. "Nick's told us about bondmates. He thinks you've attached Dana to fill the empty place that your wife's death left in your life."

Mulder shuddered. "Hard to argue with that."

"Anni must have been your Guide, then. Even in that state, her presence and the bond between you still held. How long did you two overlap in his life?"

"Four years."

"His bond to Anni was always there while the two of you were establishing your relationship. Once you were locked, and functioning fairly well, she died."

"No." Scully was shaking her head. "I was dying of cancer at the time."

"I wasn't going to be all right," Mulder agreed with her, his voice hollow. "It felt like the world was collapsing all around me." His hold on her tightened. She nestled a little closer, trying to reassure him.

Jim studied Scully. "Spontaneous remission?"

Scully shook her head, glanced up at Mulder and smiled. "He found the cure for me."

Both Jim and Blair stared. "You found a cure for cancer??"

The agents traded grim expressions, and explained how that had all worked out.

When it was all told, Blair sighed. "Man, that is even weirder than what we know about Adam's life! Damn!"

Mulder was hanging onto Scully's hand tightly, and his eyes were closed. It was Scully who spoke up.

"You don't know the half of it," she said cryptically. "And we aren't going to tell you. When you started this, you implied that there was some very vital reason for this discussion of Sentinels and Guides. Do you plan on getting to the point any time soon?"

"First you have to accept the fact that you are his Guide, and that he is a Sentinel."

Scully shrugged. "For the sake of discussion..."

"No. You have to know that this is a lifetime commitment for him, Dana." Jim's voice was harsh. "Once the bond is made -- and yours is all but cemented -- if you leave him, he will die. You saw what he was like when you got here. The only reason he was still alive was that you were desperately searching for him, that you wanted to find him; that he was mistaken about the deception and abandonment. If you ever do walk away, you won't find him alive when you come back."

Mulder looked interested, not dismayed. "Would you die if Blair left you?"

Jim shrugged. "I don't think so. I might kill myself. I'd be insane; I'd certainly end up in a straitjacket in a rubber room. I'd rather be dead, but I don't need him to breathe. I need him to see, to hear, to think. You're an empath; you need her to breathe."

Mulder cocked his head to one side but did not say anything.

Jim grinned faintly. "Empath means you feel the emotions and attitudes, what others feel. Blair helps me to see, hear, touch, taste and smell with control: he gives me the ability to isolate my senses from all the input, and focus it where it's needed, control it so it doesn't overwhelm me. She gives you the ability to differentiate between what you feel, what she feels, and what everyone around you is feeling. When you get some practice it won't be so scary; you'll be able to handle being apart for a while. But right, now, while you're still in the shakedown phase?" Jim shook his head. "Lose her and die."

"Like that's new," Mulder drawled.

Scully threw a scared look at him, but Blair was smiling.

"See; your Sentinel instincts are there. You know what it means to lose your Guide. That truth is part of your consciousness, even if you didn't understand why."

"You mean if I die, he dies?" Scully asked, her tone betraying her dismay.

Both Jim and Blair nodded. "Yes," Blair nodded.

"And if he dies, I do?"

"No," Jim said flatly. "A responsible Guide can take care of a succession of Sentinels. But the Sentinel only has one true Guide: once the bond is made, that's it. My Sentinel awareness was awakened in Peru by the shaman of the tribe that saved me. Incacha turned my senses on, taught me how to be a Sentinel, and acted as my Guide until I was rescued. When he was sure I was leaving the jungle, leaving the village to go back to my own people, he turned me off. It all seemed like a long, detailed dream, until years later, when it all started coming back on line by itself when Blair turned his attention to the question of the existence of Sentinels."

"I found him," Blair picked it up, "and we bonded. It became clear that our bond was good. Incacha came to Cascade on tribal business, and approved our bond. He passed on to me all his power as he died..." Blair's voice became very soft. "Even though Jim and I had been bonded for months, when Incacha died, Jim almost lost his mind. It took every ounce of control I had over him to keep him sane."

Jim shuddered. "I still miss him."

Blair looked sad. "So do I. He gave me his power, but there wasn't time for him to give me much actual knowledge. We've had to figure a lot of this out on our own."

Scully sighed. "You're delusional. Mulder has, apparently, let me fill in where Annaliese's loss left a space. But the rest of this...?"

Jim opened his mouth to reply, but Blair put his hand on the Sentinel's shoulder. Jim fell silent as the black jaguar materialized in front of him. Eyes locked to feline eyes, Jim leaned forward, and the jaguar licked his face. The touch was not physical, since the jaguar was not, but it was affection and approval, and Jim smiled.

"Show 'em, Big Guy," Jim whispered to the cat.

Tail tip dancing, the jaguar's big head turned to regard the two agents. Slowly, he circled the loveseat where they were sitting. He growled once, while behind them, and was answered by a happy woof from the timber wolf that was Blair's guide as he sauntered in, greeted his human with a happy nuzzle and settled down in front of the cold fireplace.

Scully could not hide the fact that she was fairly unnerved. "Where did they come from?" she whispered to Mulder. "How did they get in?"

"They aren't physical animals, Dana," Blair explained. A flicker of fur by the window drew his attention. "Neither are they."

On the back of the wing chair, silhouetted against the uncurtained window, were two foxes. The larger of the pair, the grey, lay full length as if along a tree branch, his right legs dangling on one side, left legs on the other. His chin was resting on the back of the chair, and he was studying his Sentinel intently with lambent hazel eyes. Mulder stared, fascinated, into his own eyes, and did not move. By the grey fox's head sat a much smaller red female. The vixen was sitting very erect, all four feet together, her hugely fluffy white-tipped tail wrapped around. She was staring at Scully with eyes of a hot amber color. Scully stared back.

Jim whispered to Blair. "They're blinking in unison."

"Damn..."

The dog fox yawned, showing an impressive array of sharp white teeth and a long pink curling tongue. Then he settled down again, plainly tired. The vixen did not break eye contact with Dana when she bent her head to bathe the dog fox's face. Her gentle touch across his eyes made him shudder once, from nose to tailtip. Then he was asleep. The vixen settled down beside him, rested her chin on the back of his neck. Slowly, very slowly, they faded from view, the vixen's eyes still locked on Dana's.

Jim and Blair waited in silence for Mulder and Scully to recover. They knew how intense one's first contact with the spirit world could be.

"Wow..." Mulder breathed finally.

Scully swallowed hard and pulled her gaze away from the chair.

"Believe us now?" Jim asked very softly. "Because there's more."

Mulder dragged his attention away from the place where the foxes had been. "Does Nick have a spirit guide?"

Jim shook his head. "No. All I saw were the two foxes, even on the mountainside, where the grey was trying to guard you, and the red one was crying her heart out four mountains to the east."

Scully shuddered, remembering how many nights she had cried herself to sleep over missing Mulder, worrying about him, and frightened by the desolation his absence left in her. Mulder's hand reached up and stroked her hair soothingly; she leaned fractionally into the contact. Blair frowned. "You three are connected; that shows pretty clearly on the astral. But he's not a Sentinel or a Guide. I think Sentinel-ness and bondmate-ness are simply coincidental in your case."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "And it's just coincidence that assigned us together as partners?"

Blair grinned. "Probably. When he needed a Guide, he would have either found you or died. But the Spirit Guides probably would have arranged for you to encounter one another one way or another."

"And it wouldn't have been difficult, Scully," Mulder spoke up. "We would have encountered one another on a consult eventually. Then I would have requested your reassignment."

But she still looked troubled. "How did you and Jim meet?" she asked.

Jim chuckled. "He impersonated a doctor at the hospital where I went for help when my senses started spiking. He referred me to his real self and ran. After we met at his office, I walked outside and zoned on a flying Frisbee. He tackled me, saved me from being crushed by a garbage truck. He was so excited to have found a real, actual Sentinel that he was talking so fast I could hardly understand him."

Scully frowned. "How did he know you even existed?"

"I got a tip from one of my research assistants who worked at the hospital," Blair explained. "He was presenting all the symptoms I speculated that a typical Sentinel would if he was alone and out of control. I just wanted to study him, and I suggested a couple of experiments that I thought were self-evident. I guess they weren't, because he'd never thought of 'em. They worked, and he began to achieve some control."

"'Some control,'" Mulder repeated. "You intimated earlier that being out of control could be fatal. Do you have total control, now? Is total control possible?"

Jim and Blair traded glances. "Total control is possible," Blair said slowly, "but only after the bond is total."

Mulder stared at Jim, who nodded slowly, his eyes locked unflinchingly on Mulder's.

"I'd never considered such a relationship before," he confirmed. "I'd had a few experiences, mostly in the military, and when I first got my detective's shield, I worked in Vice, including a certain amount of undercover work in the gay community. I didn't object, exactly. I just hadn't thought it very likely; same sex relationships are not welcomed in most police departments, and ours is no exception. But we were so focused on one another that no other choice was possible."

"How long had you been alone?"

Jim shrugged. "My wife had left me a couple of years before. We were actually considering a reconciliation when my senses started spiking. I made a scene in a restaurant when taste and smell spiked together and I accused the manager of trying to poison me. Carolyn decided I was too crazy for her, and she left town again soon afterwards."

"So you were accustomed to solitude."

Scully froze as some of the layers of implication in that statement became clear to her.

"Yeah," Jim shrugged. "Not happy, but..."

"The cool side of contentment," Mulder suggested.

Scully shivered, remembering when Mulder had used that phrase before.

Jim nodded slowly. "Yeah. But then I discovered that the idea of Blair being touched by anyone but me infuriated me. So..."

"We succumbed to the inevitable," Blair finished the sentence. "We were startled when our bond became suddenly even more intense." He ran his bare foot lightly up Jim's side.

"Blair, stop."

Blair dropped his foot at once. "Sorry."

"'Sokay. You know I can't think when you do that."

Blair shrugged. "So I'm drunk with the power I have over you?"

"Sit on it for a while," Jim requested. "This is important."

"You're right," Blair nodded. He turned his attention to the agents again. "This is going to require both of you to make radical changes in your lives," he said quietly. "This bond goes through all levels. Neither of you will want to be separated more than absolutely necessary. Whatever protective instincts you've ever felt toward one another are intensified."

"So he's going to be more annoying than before?" Scully smiled.

"But I can't imagine ditching you again," he assured her.

She threw him a grin. "Dear Diary: today Agent Mulder..."

"You have an infinite capacity to hurt one another," Blair said sharply. "Dana, he can't leave you without committing suicide. That means he has to do whatever it takes to convince you to allow him to be with you. You OWN him. Lifetime slavery, if that's what you make the relationship into. He has no escape. The only way he could be free of his bond to you is to die. That's a tremendous responsibility on you. For the rest of his life, he is dependent on you. If he walks away, it's suicide. If you do, it's murder."

"Don't we have any choice in this?" she asked, her voice low and troubled.

Mulder looked away, his expression blank but his mouth open as he panted.

Blair bit his lip.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" Jim whispered.

Mulder shuddered. "Yeah." He swallowed, and very deliberately separated himself from Scully. He started to get up, and Jim was there to help him. He took three steps away from the loveseat and collapsed into Jim's arms.

Blair planted himself in front of Scully, blocking her view. "You're the Guide," he said firmly. "You're the dominant partner. You're in charge. You can walk away. If you can't handle this, it would be best for you to sever the relationship now."

"You said it would kill him if I left."

"It will," Blair shrugged. "We can just blame his death on his kidnappers, probably a combination of the physical and emotional abuse they inflicted on him."

"Get out of my way."

"Dana!" Blair grabbed her and held her. "Do you accept your role as his Guide?"

"He's mine!" she snapped. She grabbed Blair by his shirt front, slid one ankle behind him, and shoved, deftly tripping him. Blair let go of her as he fell, and she went over him to dash to Mulder's side.

Mulder was conscious, lying in Jim's arms. His face was grey, his lips were blue, and he was doubled up around the pain in his chest.

Heedless of anything, Scully shoved Jim out of her way.

"Mulder? Mulder, look at me." She could feel a ripple of pain race through her own body as she grabbed his head and forced him to face her. Her voice dropped. "Mulder. Look at me."

He obeyed her, but he was still resisting. "You don't have to, Scully." He forced the words out past teeth gritted against agony. "If you don't want me, leave now."

"Mulder!"

"'T'were best done quickly'," he quoted. "You don't have to do this for me. You're just assigned. You can transfer..."

"You don't have anyone else, Mulder."

He wilted a little more. "That doesn't... obligate... you..." he panted. "If you... if this isn't... more than... than just duty to you..." He looked over her shoulder, focusing on the far wall. "Walk away now, Scully," he whispered. "Don't drag it out..."

She knelt in front of him, and pulled him out of Jim's arms and into her own. He had no strength to resist her any further; all his barely replenished energy was gone.

"You're mine," she whispered into his ear, pulling him close. "You're mine, and I'm never, ever, letting go of you."

He sagged against her, utterly limp.

Once his breathing had settled down and Scully was sure he was all right, she looked up at Jim and Blair, who had not moved. Mulder was sprawled across Scully's lap, trapping her. Jim grinned, picked Mulder up and put him back in the bed. Scully fussed, but Mulder did not seem to notice. He seemed to be asleep, but if Scully got more than five or six feet away he stirred restlessly and murmured her name. Only her touch could calm him. He lay on his side in a loose curl, finally resting.

Blair watched her settle down to sit on the bed beside him, cross- legged, the line of her thigh pressed against his back, her hand on his shoulder, stroking gently.

"That was pretty tame," he commented. "Jim did a lot more screaming when we were confronted with the necessity of a lifelong bond."

Scully shrugged. "We were tacitly committed to one another, already," she said softly. "We just never said it aloud, never actually faced it."

"It'll get easier," he told her. "Once you're both feeling secure in the bond, you will be able to be apart. After a few months, we could even be in other states for a day or so at a time as long as we had parted on good terms, and we called each other a lot." Blair chewed on his lip a little. "He said he was telepathically bonded to his wife," he started. "Can the two of you talk like that?"

She smiled faintly. "I'm supposed to be a skeptic about that kind of thing," she said softly. "But we've always had an almost supernatural connection. When we go into field situations, we always know what the other will do. He always knows where I'll be; I almost always know what he's planning. We can always tell where the other's head is. Back at the Hoover Building they call him Spooky Mulder because he can figure things out that no one else can. But, when they aren't calling me the Ice Queen and tossing money into pools on when we will finally kiss, they're calling me Missus Spooky. Because, as much as he's always confused them, the pair of us has always confused, puzzled and scared them more."

Blair nodded slowly. "Yeah; Jim and I know that feeling. There aren't very many people who know what he can do, but our relationship is an anomaly in a fairly strait-laced sub-culture. But what I was getting at was, if you two do develop a verbal telepathic connection, you'll never be out of touch, and you'll be able to pretty much disregard the physical limitations he's clutching at, now."

Scully chewed on her lip a little. "He's been pulling thoughts out of my head a lot. You say we've always been Sentinel and Guide?"

Blair nodded. "Yes."

"Then why was this conscious acceptance so important today?"

Blair swallowed. He had seen how close to death Mulder had pushed himself. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "His Sentinel awareness has been muffled all his life; just a potential. Something happened to him during his captivity that woke it up. Remember what you said he complained about at lunch time? That the lab car was a lot like a sensory deprivation chamber? Isolation of some kind, for some significant amount of time, seems to be the necessary ordeal that awakens the latent talent. Jim was isolated in the Peruvian jungles, lost and alone in the wrong area, so he didn't speak the language, he wasn't sure where he was, and he was wounded. He had to bury the other members of his unit all by himself, and then find a way to survive. We did encounter another Sentinel once before- she was a criminal. She told me she'd awakened her awareness in solitary confinement in prison."

"So his captivity led to this."

Blair nodded. "That's my guess. So, now there's only one step further that you two have to take together." He stood up. "I'll leave you to it."

"Now?" She desperately hoped she was not blushing.

Blair grinned, came over to her, and hugged her lightly. "Not this minute. Maybe not today or even this week: he's pretty wrecked. But he'll recover faster after you consummate the bond, so don't wait too long."

Scully watched him walk out, her mind buzzing. When the door closed behind him, she was startled by a soft voice.

"Scully..."

She looked down. "You were listening."

He blinked at her sleepily. "Yeah. God, Scully, I'm so tired..."

"So, go to sleep."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because you're thinking at ninety miles an hour, and it's making me dizzy."

Scully could only stare at him. "You can hear me thinking?"

He flopped over onto his back, letting one arm drop across her lap. He bent his elbow and let his fingertips graze across her throat.

"I can't hear exactly what you're thinking, although I seem to dominate the topic range," he grinned at her wanly. "I think if I could concentrate I could hear the words-slash-concepts better. But I'm just too wrecked, right now."

"Would it help if I went downstairs?" she offered hesitantly. But she knew the answer at once when a flicker of fear raced across his expression. "How about if I lay down here with you and we take a nap?" she suggested. "I don't think I've had a good night's sleep in an awfully long time..."

"Gotta sleep debt?" he yawned.

"Big time," she nodded.

He pulled the blankets aside to invite her inside. "C'mon, then."

"Wait a sec." She stood up and kicked her sneakers off, went across the room to the dresser and found a nightgown in one of the drawers. Pajamas were just not appropriate anymore... She glanced at the bed; he was lying still with his eyes closed. Moving quickly, she shed her jeans and tee shirt, stripping off the undergarments with the outer. She dropped the nightgown over her head and turned back toward the bed.

Without moving or opening his eyes, his voice was level. "Were you really worried that I'd peek?"

She slid into the bed and settled close to him. "Not really. But peeking bothers me more than touching, and I don't know why."

His eyes stayed closed, but his hand moved, unerringly, to brush across her cheek, down her throat, across her collarbone. "We've always been comfortable with touching..."

She knew what he wanted, and she rolled over so he could spoon up behind her. He was warm and he smelled so good she could not stifle the sigh of contentment. He draped his arm over her body. ("Sleep now. Think later.")

That sounded like good advice to Scully, so she followed it.

+++

Next door an hour or so before

Across the yard, in the house next door, Nick Lermontov was shown to a bedroom off the living room and warned not to use the attached bathroom since it was not yet hooked up to the water or sewage lines. The functional bath on this floor was the one off the kitchen. Duncan showed him that one, too.

"You can make free with the fridge and the pantry," MacLeod told him with a smile. "Rollie never knows what's in there, anyway, so he'll never miss what you use."

Nick looked uncomfortable. "Where is Rollie? Who is Rollie for that matter?" He hesitated on the name. "Does he even know I'm here?"

"He's gone to town; his daughter had an appointment at the pediatrician's, and she gets carsick in the van, so he drove in early and spent the morning with his sister and brother-in-law and their kids. He'll be back tomorrow unless the kids tease him into taking them to the zoo or the science center or something."

"And he won't be upset to find a stranger in his guest room?"

"I'll call him and warn him. In the meantime, know that you aren't alone here; there are three other men living upstairs. They are Elton and Sean, Rollie's employees, and Laddy K. We call him that to separate him from Chazz's dog in conversation. Laddy's a college student staying here until the autumn term starts. Rollie's brother-in- law and Laddy's godmother were best friends many years ago."

"So, you're all just one gigantic happy family, with Dr Chazz, and Lt Ellison and you and everyone else?"

Duncan nodded. "Large, anyway. Usually happy."

"Like an old Scottish clan, do you think? Not everyone's related by blood, but there's an undeniable relationship between everyone; they're all tied together by a network of affection, obligation, adoption and marriage, as well as blood?"

Duncan stopped still. "You know," he spoke slowly as the concept percolated down through his mind. "That might be it, exactly." Suddenly weary as the day's excitement caught up with him, Nick sat down on the edge of the bed. Duncan put the box of files beside the bed so Nick could reach them from there then stood up and placed the box of hard drives and other computer media on the desk.

"You take it easy, or Chazz will become insufferable," he advised the younger man. "We'll come and get you for breakfast over there."

"Okay. And Mr MacLeod? Thank you. A lot. For everything."

MacLeod smiled. "You're welcome. And you can call me Duncan if you like."

As soon as MacLeod had left, Nick started pulling items out of the box. Regular diskettes, a thicker sort about the same size that were labeled "ZIP" and even a box of compact discs that had not fit in the other box were on top. The real treasure trove was under the electronic storage media: ten large and heavy metal three-ring binders with metal piano-style hinged covers. The labels on the spines told the story:

Chilmark Project Subject B "Fox Mulder" vol.1: 1961-1966 Chilmark Project Subject B "Fox Mulder" vol.2: 1967-1974 Chilmark Project Subject B "Fox Mulder" vol.3: 1979-1985 Chilmark Project Subject B "Fox Mulder" vol.4: 1986-1996 Chilmark Project Subject B "Fox Mulder" vol.5: 1996-

Chilmark Project Subject C "Nicholas Lermontov" vol.1: 1964-1969 Chilmark Project Subject C "Nicholas Lermontov" vol.2: 1970-1976 Chilmark Project Subject C "Nicholas Lermontov" vol.3: 1977-1980 Chilmark Project Subject C "Nicholas Lermontov" vol.4: 1981-1984 Chilmark Project Subject C "Nicholas Lermontov" vol.5: 1985-

These were the charts where both he and Fox had watched the techs recording data throughout their captivity.

+++

Karuna RPTC upstairs several hours later

Scully woke up feeling as if something had changed. It took her a moment to realize that she was alone in bed, and that was what had changed. Nervous, she sat up, looking around the dark and shadowy room.

"Mulder?"

"Right here." He was standing at the open windows, wrapped in the bedspread against the night chill.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." He let the silence accumulate for a minute. "Just reconnecting with the world a little. Getting used to seeing, again; to seeing stars, and trees, and sky..."

Scully sat up in bed, wrapping the blanket around herself. "I can't imagine how awful it must have been to be blinded like that."

"It wasn't that awful," he said quietly. "Nick was pretty freaked out by it at the time, but I already had the room memorized. There was nothing to see, and we were chained down; there was nothing to do. So I didn't let it bother me too much."

Scully just sat where she was, watching him watch the moonlight limn the landscape. After a long but ultimately comfortable silence, he sighed. "Penny for your thoughts."

She chuckled softly, unwilling to ruin the mood. "Can't you tell what I'm thinking?"

"Not all the time." He turned to grin at her. "Emotion makes thoughts louder. Right now you're a distant murmur, like ocean breakers out of sight behind the dunes."

She rather liked that image.

He chuckled.

She bit her lip, and reflected that she had been doing that a lot, lately.

He frowned when he felt her mood darken. "What's wrong?"

"Privacy issues just came to mind," she shrugged.

He wrapped his arms around himself tightly. "Scully, I don't have much control over this. So let me apologize in advance; I'm going to pick up stuff you'd wish I didn't." He looked away.

She did not need telepathy to read the last unspoken sentence in that paragraph. She threw off the sheet and padded quietly across the room. She slid deftly into the space between him and the window, and she stood in front of him, looking up into his face. She saw the glint of moonlight on tear tracks down his cheeks.

She wrapped her arms around him, laid her cheek against his body and hugged him hard. "I am not going to reconsider, Mulder. You are well and truly stuck with me."

He made no effort to reciprocate the hug. "I never want to hurt you," he whispered. "But I have, and I will again. That's wrong, Scully."

"That's life, Mulder. That's all; it's just life. If there were no bad times, and bad things, we would never appreciate the good times, and the good things." She shifted a little, arched her back so she could look up into his face. "Mulder. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. Ever."

He shuddered. "Scully, that means your life has sucked, big time."

"There have been some serious low points," she agreed, holding on when he tried to pull away. "But the high points make up for it." "Name one," he whispered.

"Falling asleep in your arms."

"When?"

"Most recently, a few hours ago, right here."

Finally his gaze dropped to meet hers. "Scully, if you really had free choice...?"

"I'd be right here, Mulder. I AM here by my free choice."

He sighed, finally convinced, and folded her in his arms. "Thank you, Scully," he whispered. "I need to hear that from you. Out loud."

"Want witnesses? I'll say it again, whenever you want..."

His hands moved up her back until he was stroking her hair away from her face. "No," he whispered. "No one has to know but you and me..."

She walked her fingertips up his back, then gently scraped down with her nails.

He bent down and kissed her lightly.

She saw the light brightening in his eyes, and smiled up at him. "Come back to bed, Mulder."

She felt a thrill of tension ripple through him.

"Hey. No pressure; you need sleep and gentle exercise and more than a few good meals to get your strength and your muscle tone back. I just want to fall asleep in your arms again."

He grinned ruefully. "Okay; I know I can handle that..." So they walked back to the bed with their arms around one another, and climbed into the bed without surrendering any more of the contact than necessary. Once they were both horizontal, Scully turned to face him, nestled close against him, and threw her arm across his chest. His arms came around her to cradle her close. She shifted to lay her head on his shoulder.

She frowned; he was trembling, his heart racing. "Mulder? What's wrong?"

He deliberately removed her arm and moved away from her.

She did not like that cold distance between them, but when she moved closer again, he flinched away and got out of bed.

"Mulder?"

"I... I can't..."

Even his voice was trembling. He stood with his back to her and she could see him shaking. She pitched her voice very low.

"What's the matter, Mulder?"

"I... I can't do this."

She stood up, pulled the bedspread off the bed and approached him warily. He did not move, so she stood on tiptoe and draped it over his shoulders.

He grabbed at the fabric, but as he clutched at the chenille and wrapped himself in it, he contrived to move several steps farther away from her. Scully started to follow. Abruptly, Mulder collapsed.

Scully gasped in horror and dashed to his side. "Mulder?! Mulder! What's wrong?! Mulder!"

He was huddled under the bedspread in a miserable ball, sobbing, rocking convulsively back and forth Scully was irresistibly reminded of his response to Annaliese's death.

(*But no one's died... This doesn't make any sense...*) "Mulder, what's wrong? Talk to me. Please, Mulder!"

He pulled away from her touch. "I can't..."

"What can't you do?"

"T- Touch you. N Not like th- that."

Scully's hands fell to her sides, and she swallowed hard. "Why not?"

"I can't. I w- won't!"

"Don't you love me?" The words that escaped her shocked her with their callousness.

He flinched as if she had struck him. "I love you."

"But you won't touch me? I don't understand."

"What's to understand?" His voice betrayed the strain under which he was laboring. "I can't t- touch you. That's all."

She moved around to get in front of him, tried to see his face. "Mulder, please... Why, suddenly, can't you touch me?"

"I love you," he choked the words out, fighting not to cry.

"I love you, too, Mulder," she said softly. "I'm tired of pretending I don't. Did I do something wrong?"

"Oh, God, no!" he whimpered.

+++

the Tyler house at the same time

Much as he had been tempted to reach for his own files, he knew that could wait.

It had seemed pretty clear to him that Fox had installed Dana into the place in his life where Anni had once held sole charge. Fox had even agreed that he had done so. But Nick knew, from the overtones and subliminal flavors in their telepathic bond, that Fox and Dana had not made a total commitment to the relationship. He suspected that they had not consummated their bond.

(*If Fox and Dana had already taken that step, then that tape that Fowley brought would never have destroyed him like that. He would have known that those words could not be Dana's because no bond- mate could say such things. It would be a murder-suicide.

(*I remember one of the techs saying that Dana was assigned to Fox as an experiment, that she's a Project kid, too. She's not from Chilmark, and that means we don't know how many Project kids there are or were. There has to be something about that in here... there has to be!*)

Inevitably, he could not help but hope that if Dana could really take Anni's place in Fox's life, then there might be another woman, born of the Project, who might take Molly's place in his own.

He turned back the pages in volume 4 of Mulder's chart until he came to the notations documenting the car crash. He skipped over the listing of Mulder's physical injuries; those were unimportant; it was his reactions to Anni's injuries that counted.

"Oh, my God. She was pregnant." That was just too much of a nightmare. He deliberately skipped ahead a random number of pages, looking for Dana's name.

He was startled to find her name cropping up in the minutes of a case review conference as early as 1989, more than three years before she was assigned to the X Files. But the reasons were there in the notes: Mulder was slowly coming apart. He was still working for Bill Patterson, and the profiling was damaging him more and more each time. Each case wore him down physically a little more, exhausted him mentally a little more.

Surveillance of his home showed that he rarely ate or slept at home. They even documented that he lost interest in masturbation. He sat or lay on his couch and channel surfed for hours, until he faded out for a few hours of restless sleep almost always interrupted by screaming nightmares.

Finally, there it was: dated at the end of June 1989.

"Therefore, the alternatives are these: 1] allow SubB's disintegration to continue until it inevitably kills him. Current est: 36 months 2] subject him to re-organization under a Shell Persona. This demonstrably would work (see CP SubC), but would entail disappearing SubB from his current life and career. There is reason to believe that A] SubB has too high a profile in the
UFO/Conspiracy sub-culture to be disappeared without a public outcry that would draw too much attention to him and his life's history, thereby putting the Project and the Greater Plan all at significant risk of discovery B] SubB is obsessed with the need to locate and rescue CP SubF. This obsession has survived all previous efforts to mask it or eradicate it 3] find him a new bondmate to fill the void left by the loss of CP SubA

"Unfortunately, SubB's patron would not allow either [1] or [2]; to ignore his orders would have resulted in a cessation of our funding and might have turned the Gentleman from the Netherlands against the Consortium. He would be a very powerful enemy, and this risk was unacceptable. Therefore, alternative [3] has been our focus."

What followed was an analysis of several female candidates. Nick was shocked to find that Dana had not been their first choice. Of five initial candidates initially proposed, the first had been Diana Fowley.

"No... She couldn't be..."

She was not, and he could not stifle a sigh of relief. Diana Fowley had not been born into the Project; she was actually five years older than Mulder. She had been the seven-year-old granddaughter of a high- ranking member of the Consortium's Board of Directors, and had been volunteered into a side project with a group of six other children similarly connected. The mission was to see if older children could be changed by the treatments that had made the children from Chilmark what they were.

That part of the question was still undecided. None of the original seven had proved fully functional, as the Chilmark group undeniably was. But they had assigned her to Fox anyway.

"What the hell were they thinking?!"

Diana Fowley had stayed with Fox for a year, spent the entire year trying to get into his bed or lure him into hers. She failed. He had been polite, cordial and willing to work with her. But there had always been a barrier that she could not cross.

Her reports contained reams of speculation about what he needed and what she might do, and many of her suggestions were approved. None of them worked. There had always been that barrier that she could not breach.

Nick could only stare at that last entry. "They still don't realize what it is! They aren't stupid... how could they be so blind?"

He scanned hurriedly down to read about their decision to replace Diana.

"Okay, this is more like it! Project family from Phase Two: no overt testing, parents unaware of participation. Children followed via military: all these families are active-duty military. No matter where they go, they can be tracked, and medical records are easily intercepted. They probably enlisted the base doctors without telling them anything remotely resembling the truth."

William and Margaret Scully already had an infant son when they were selected for inclusion in the Project. They were Catholic, so there would not likely be any attempts at birth control. Captain Scully was on the fast track to his own battleship, so he was unlikely to resign or retire early, which would have made tracking his children more difficult.

The Scullys produced three children for the Project, and their firstborn was included in the sidebar study where Fowley had been. Regrettably, all four children were apparently nulls. No tests they could devise could detect any measurable level of telepathic activity in any of them.

The deciding factor was a very subjective one. In the course of an investigation the year before, Fox had gone to Quantico to observe an autopsy. Dana had been assisting the chief pathologist conducting that autopsy. From the moment Fox entered the room, Dana's concentration had been broken. It had not been enough to really interfere with her work, but it had been noticeable. The Project observer also noted that Mulder had been unusually polite to everyone, his usually razor-sharp sarcasm blunted, as his concentration was broken, as well. He had no occasion to actually speak to her, but he had watched her with such intensity that his partner at the time, a junior agent on temporary assignment named Colton, had harassed him about it for days.

Neither of them had returned to their usual high level of functionality until the next day.

Nick leaned back with a sigh. "There it is," he whispered. "Proof positive. Now I just have to convince Fox." He was sitting cross-legged on the bed, considering his options, when the thread of tension from Fox that he had grown accustomed to feeling suddenly flared. Nick sat bolt upright as the tension morphed into disgust and self-hate and grief-stricken rejection, all in a heartbeat. Then it all dissolved into black depression and tears.

Nick was on his feet and running without ever making a conscious decision to move. He slammed out of the house and ran across the yard, hoping Chazz's house was not locked up.

It was not, but Lad and Francois leaped to their feet when he crashed in the front door. Neither dog did anything else but watch as he ran across the living room and hit the stairs, taking them on his hand and knees because he could no longer ignore the pain in his ankle.

+++

Karuna RPTC upstairs

Dana reached for him, laid one hand against his cheek. He recoiled as if the caress had been a lash.

"Don't touch me!" Fox's voice held a ragged note of hysteria.

Scully flinched back. "I'm not touching you, Mulder. But please talk to me! I need to understand."

Shuddering, he inched away from her, leaned sideways against the wall, still on his knees.

"Mulder?"

"Go away, Scully." His voice was flat and lifeless; the hysteria gone as quickly as it had appeared.

In the light from the window she could see that he was breathing shallowly, and he had the same sick pallor now that he had had earlier when he had collapsed in Jim's arms. She had seen his previous incident as a mild cardiac episode until it had vanished so quickly when she had hugged him. He had been desperate for her touch, then...

"I told you I'm not leaving you, Mulder."

"That guy said if we don't have a sexual relationship, this Sentinel thing will kill me. So I'm going to die; soon, I guess. I'd rather be alone."

"You've been alone all your life, Mulder. You don't have to be alone, now. I'm here."

"I've been alone since Annaliese died. I should've died then. Everything since then has been false. I don't have any right to be alive when Anni's dead..."

He was weakening visibly before her, and Scully was frightened. "Mulder, what's suddenly so wrong?" She fought back the tears that threatened. "I've felt like an amputee these past months without you. Now you're telling me that our partnership and our relationship hasn't meant anything to you? I'm sorry, Mulder. I don't believe you."

He sagged sideways against the wall and began to curl up. He did not answer her.

"Mulder, talk to me."

"Leave me alone."

"Not a chance. I'm never letting you go, Mulder. Now, talk to me dammit!" Her tone was sharp as she fought not to sob her own grief.

He did not move, but slowly words became audible. "I... I can't d-do this, Scully. Not with y- you. It would k-kill me. Either way, I'm d- dead, an-and this w-way I w-won't hurt y-you."

"Your death will hurt me beyond endurance, Mulder," she said very softly.

He began to cry quietly. "I-I d-don't want t-to leave y-you," he admitted. "I d-don't. B-But there's n-no way out..."

She moved closer, sat beside him, put her arm around him. He tried to flinch away, but she would not allow it. Defeated, he let himself collapse into her lap.

Her hands were gentle in his hair, and he tried to stop crying.

"We've loved one another for a long time," she said softly. "Why is taking our relationship over that last barricade so impossible?"

He did not even try to answer her. He buried his face against her belly and sobbed.

"Mulder! Mulder, please!" She was crying, too, unable to control the wave of grief, guilt and pain sweeping over her.

+++

Nick could feel Fox sobbing in darkness and Dana, terrified, was trying to reach him. He wrenched open the bedroom door and skidded, on his knees, to a halt beside them.

Fox did not react, but Dana did, looking up startled.

"Nick! Thank God...! Nick, what's happening?! He can't tell me, and he can't touch me..."

"He's an idiot, Dana." Nick found the energy to smile wanly at her. Then he focused on Mulder. ("Fox!")

There was no answer, no apparent reaction. Mulder was withdrawing from them both, curling up on the floor with his arms wrapped around his head.

"Nick?" Scully's voice was a bit more calm, but he could feel the panic and grief she was suppressing. "What's happening?"

Nick looked up at her. "He's laboring under a misapprehension."

Scully shuddered. "Don't play games with us, Nick."

"You propositioned him, didn't you?"

She could only stare at him. "He's in no condition for that, Nick."

"He refused you because sex without the ultimate intimacy of telepathic connection is a lot more like bestiality than lovemaking."

Scully could only stare at him in horror.

Nick laid a hand on Mulder's shoulder, hoping for a response. He got none, but he left his hand there as he continued.

"He hasn't made love to anyone since the accident that took Anni from him, Dana. He does love you, and he wants and needs to love you. But he can only actually do it with a bondmate. Anything else is sickening perversion."

Scully stared at him. "Never?" she whispered.

"Never."

Desperate, she turned to anger, turned on him. "Have you had sex since Molly died?" she snapped, her tone derisive.

"Yes," he said readily. "I used a few females for my relief. I have not made love to anyone since Molly died. I can't. The very idea is difficult to entertain. And I won't just fuck around with any person I respect. That's perversion, too: to reduce that person to a mindless speechless animal and then mount her like an animal, rutting like an animal with something I can't talk to...?" He shuddered. "No. I won't, and Fox can't treat you like that."

"Blair told us Mulder's a Sentinel and I'm his Guide," she explained hurriedly. "If we don't consummate this relationship, he says Mulder will die. And Mulder says he'd rather die than love me!" She heard the wail in her voice and clamped down on it, trying the regain her control.

"The last time I tried was five or six years ago," Nick said quietly. "But it was still the same. I almost killed her."

"How?" Scully could only whisper.

"What started out as straight consensual sex turned into sexual assault. I couldn't climax without that last bit of shared communication from her. I just kept pounding into her, listening for a mind-touch I couldn't get. I never heard her start to whimper and then to sob, and finally to scream. It wasn't until she hit me with the phone that I realized what I was doing to her." He stopped, looked away, obviously still disturbed by the incident. "I apologized, I called an ambulance for her. She was bleeding. I didn't realize until just now why it happened."

Scully's shoulders slumped. "Then Mulder's right," she said numbly. "He's going to die and there's nothing we can do about it."

Lermontov watched her cover her face with her hands and belatedly realized she was, finally, allowing herself to cry. Moving slowly, hampered by not having a prosthetic, he shifted the dead weight that was Mulder and laid the limp form in her lap.

Her hands moved of their own volition, taking his weight off Nick's arm and settling her partner comfortably against her breast. His eyes were closed, his jaw slack. He was barely breathing, and his pulse was not detectable. She tightened her hold on him, buried her face in his chocolate silk hair. Lermontov moved to cradle her, held her as she was holding Mulder, tears running down his own face. ("Oh, Fox, Fox,") he moaned. ("I just got you back... Don't leave me alone, again...")

"He's dying, Nick," she whispered, unaware of how her words lacerated Lermontov's soul. "Mulder... I'm so sorry...! Sorry I can't be what you need... Sorry... Sorry I ever pushed you this far..."

She gave up trying to talk, even to herself, and just cried, mourning him already as she felt his respirations slowing.

"Dana?"

She looked up, and he resisted the urge to wipe her tears away. "Yes?"

He smiled at her. "Don't quit on him now. He's wrong."

Scully felt a surge of hope. "Wrong?"

"Wrong. You are his bondmate, Dana. You were born into the Project just like we were."

Her hands went still. "No, that's not possible. We were never taken for testing like you were. My parents would never have consented..."

Nick shook his head. "Your parents were never consulted, Dana. The Scullys were part of Phase Two. Families of career military officers were selected because they could be tracked through the military dependents' medical system. I found several sets of minutes from case status review conferences they did of Fox. They knew he needed a replacement for Anni; he was
disintegrating psychologically. First they sent him Diana Fowley..."

Scully stiffened.

Nick grinned. "Don't worry. She was from a side-project; she didn't get any of the treatments until she was seven, and it was a complete failure. Her attempts to create a relationship with him were a complete failure, too. By that time he had even given up masturbation, and was just existing. His only focus was work, and finding Samantha. Other than that, at a very real level, Fox Mulder did not exist. After a year, they reassigned her, went back to the drawing board, and sent you."

She shivered, suddenly chilled. "Why me?" she asked faintly.

He told her about the incident in the morgue at Quantico.

Scully had no recollection of it.

He shrugged. "They were watching; they recorded it. And they used it to decide that you and he would make a good pair of bondmates."

"That's... That's ridiculous!"

Nick studied her. "Do you want him, or not?"

That question was so stunning that she could not find words with which to respond. She could only stare at him.

"So tell him so."

Her emotions all morphed into rage. "You think I haven't?!"

Nick lifted one hand to forestall her. "Dana. You can't use your mouth. Voiced words are meaningless in this context. The point of this is that you have to accept the telepathic contact. You've accepted that he can pull thoughts out of your mind. You have to accept that the contact goes both ways. Talk to him, Dana. Nothing can bring him out of this but mind-to-mind bondmate linkage."

She could still only stare at him. It was so obvious, she was annoyed that she had not figured it out for herself. Deliberately she turned away from Nick and focused on her partner.

("Mulder?") Scully tried to think loudly. ("Can you hear me?") Her eyes closed as she concentrated, and she flinched, startled, when fingers brushed her cheek. Her eyes opened, and she saw Mulder's eyes opening to focus on her. ("Can you hear me?") she said it again. ("Am I doing this right?")

("Scully...?!") His eyes were shining. ("Scully, how...?")

She was smiling through tears of relief. ("I don't know. It doesn't matter. You can hear me, can't you? I'm not making this up?")

("I can hear you. Really. Truly. My God, Scully... I'd given up hope of ever having this again...")

They were lost in one another's eyes, seeing grief yield to dawning wonder. Grinning proudly, Nick extricated himself, pulled away infinitesimally.

In mirror concert, Mulder and Scully turned to face him. "Nick, don't go!" They even spoke in unison.

Lermontov forced a grin. "You're just proving my point. We'll talk later. You two have some making up to do. I won't go far; I'm bunked in the house next door. If you need me, just holler."

("LIKE THIS?") Scully shouted experimentally.

Lermontov nodded. "That'll work."

"Did you hear her words?" Mulder asked, intrigued.

Lermontov shook his head. "No. But she was thinking really loud."

Scully grinned, but before she could respond, Mulder slid both arms around her and pulled her close. ("Did you mean it?")

She turned to face him and lost herself in his eyes again. She never noticed when Nick let himself out and closed the door behind him.

"Did I mean what?"

("Talk like this. Did you mean it when you said that you loved me?")

("How many times do I have to say it before you'll believe me?") She bit her lip and tried to look away.

He would not allow that. His palms cradled her face, and his hazel eyes had shifted to a green she had never seen before.

("Mulder?")

("Yeah?")

("Are you making me feel like this? Or is it me feeling like this?")

He cocked his head to one side. ("I don't know; how do you feel?")

("Like I'm going to die if you don't kiss me?")

He did not answer with words or thoughts. He just bent down and kissed her.

("Ohhh... Oh, my God, Mulder...")

("Don't talk. Just feel.")

His hands were warm and gentle as they stroked her. Her attention was riveted on the kiss, so she was startled when his palms rubbed gently against her breasts. He stroked slowly down her body, found the hem of her nightgown, and swept it up with his hands as they stroked slowly up her body again. He pulled away from the kiss only long enough to remove the garment. Then his hands framed her face again, and he kissed her again. Slowly, his kisses moved along her jaw to her ear, where he licked at the delicate shell and then blew gently on the spot.

The tiny chill made her shiver. His mouth moved on, tracing the line of the pulse in her throat. His teeth caressed her collarbones lightly. She tensed in anticipation, but he did not proceed at once to her breasts. He kissed her mouth again, long and languorously, until they were both breathless. Then he planted an open- mouthed kiss over her heart. His big, long- fingered hands moved up to the sides of her breasts, gently pushed them against his face, where the fine stubble of his beard rubbed deliciously against the baby-smooth skin there. His thumbs rubbed her nipples.

She laced her fingers into his hair and forced herself to just rub his scalp, when she wanted to shove his face to one side and stuff her breast into his mouth. She let her head fall back, closed her eyes and concentrated on physical sensation.

He rolled his head to the left and rubbed his cheek against her hardened nipple.

She shuddered. ("My God...")

("Just me...") He repeated the move on the other side and she gasped. Her body rocked against his.

("You like that?")he inquired, unnecessarily.

("Ohhh... yesss...")

("How about this?") As he spoke he sucked her breast into his mouth, then slowly backed off, scraping gently with his teeth until they caught on the crinkled aureole.

Scully could only moan as his tongue danced against her skin, against her nipple... Her hands moved from his hair to his shoulders, clutching, stroking, trying to keep from clawing at him to bring him closer. When his mouth went from one breast to the other, the momentary break made her whimper.

("I'm here,") he soothed her with hands and voice.

("Don't leave me... ever...")

("Never!") His hair brushed her as his kisses drifted south. His tongue found her navel, and she arched up into his touch as his hands went underneath her and he tipped her pelvis just so. Her legs fell open.

She felt as much as heard him purring in pleasure as he buried his face between her legs. Then his tongue opened her, and she cried out.

The sending from Mulder was unmistakably Mulder-flavored; she could not have explained that. But she knew when he wondered, wordlessly, if she liked his touch, if she wanted him to stop...

Panting, she could hardly articulate, herself, and resorted to lacing her fingers into his hair and holding him there. She had to force herself to be gentle. ("More...") she managed. ("More...")

As the tension began to build, her hands slipped out of his hair, stroked down his neck to his shoulders. Finally, provoked beyond endurance by his insistent tonguing, she raked his shoulders as she sobbed for air.

Chuckling, he backed off and she almost screamed. This time he was not gentle but he was very thorough, and he pushed her to the brink and over it so fast she could hardly draw breath before she exploded beneath him.

She heard someone shriek.

He moved back up to cuddle her against his chest. He buried his face in her hair, hummed contentedly into her ear as he felt her breathing and heart rate slowly settle back down to normal.

Eventually she rolled over to hug him. She was still trembling a little.

("Was that okay?")

She opened her mouth to make a joke, but then realized that his tone held no amusement; he was actually holding his breath waiting for her evaluation.

Deliberately, she nestled closer, rubbing against him. ("'Way better than just 'okay,'") she assured him. She knew she had guessed right when he began, only then, to relax beneath her. She wiggled and squirmed up on top of him, looked down into his eyes. Then, slowly, tantalizingly, she came down closer and closer until their lips met.

She rubbed her mouth against his, licked at him, then gently sucked his lower lip into her mouth, where she teased it with teeth and tongue. His hands came up to rub her breasts, and he kissed her languorously.

She did not want languor from him. She moaned into his mouth and began to rock her body against his as she shifted her weight back onto her knees, straddled on either side of his narrow hips. Her tongue plunged deeply into his mouth and her hands stroked the hard planes of his chest.

He kissed her back and his hands massaged her breasts as his thigh came up between her legs. That made her moan again, and she let him move her body.

She was so small and so light that he could roll them onto their sides and slide one leg under her while he pressed the other rhythmically against her. His hands drifted slowly down her body until they cradled her, pulling her tightly against him while he held the kiss.

With his arms holding her close, she felt very secure, and she concentrated on the kiss.

One of his hands slid over her bottom and slipped so easily between her legs, probing her slick heat. She gasped, and sucked his tongue farther into her mouth. He reacted by plunging two fingers deeply inside her. He curved those fingers just so, and she felt the touch like an electric shock.

He did not relent; he started to pump those fingers in and out, and every time they went in they touched that one magical place inside her and she thought she would lose her mind. Her body began to vibrate like a tuning fork. She had to break the kiss because she needed to throw back her head and gasp for air.

A third finger joined the plunge, and she began to sob and claw at him. A small part of her was amazed at her own lack of control.

His movements accelerated slowly until all she could do was wail in time to his rhythm... and then she exploded, clamping herself tightly around his hand, her arms locked around him. Eventually, panting desperately, she fell limp against him. He tucked her in beside him, pulled the blankets, ignored until then, up around them both.

Exhausted, she let herself settle against him for a moment. Then she frowned, and leaned up on one elbow to look at him. She leaned in to kiss him.

"That was so good," she purred. "But isn't it your turn, now? Fair's fair; what do you want?"

He avoided her eyes. "I'm okay. As long as you're happy."

Suspicion flared in her eyes, her hand went seeking verification... and found it. His mind was in the game; his body was not.

She looked up quickly, then moved back up to kiss him again, gently but thoroughly and unhurriedly. He closed his eyes as she approached and kept his eyes closed as he kissed her back.

("It's all right, Mulder. Really.")

He snorted.

("I hardly expect you to be superhuman, my love,") she told him gently. ("You're just beginning to recover from three months of deprivation and torture. I'm amazed that you're conscious and sane. This would have just been a bonus.")

("I'm sorry.")

His voice was so low she could hardly hear him.

("Don't be sorry; you have nothing to be sorry for. I promise.")

Slowly, as if expecting a rebuff, he folded her in his arms and hugged her hard, tucking her under his chin where she could not see his face. She could feel him fighting back tears, and she nestled against him.

("C'mon. I'm exhausted, you're exhausted. Let's just sleep.")

("Stay with me?")

She did not like the timidity in his tone. ("Wild horses could not drag me from this bed, Mulder.")

Slowly, hesitantly, he rolled them onto their sides and spooned up behind her, draped an arm over her body.

("Sleep. Tomorrow's another day.")

("Okay, Scarlett.")

That was a flash of her old, pre-abduction Mulder peeking out. Scully smiled and settled down. ("You even smell good,") she murmured.

He did not respond to that except to settle in a bit and sigh deeply. In moments his breathing deep, slow and regular told her he was asleep. She concentrated on it till she fell asleep.

+++

Across the yard, in the house next door, Nick Lermontov slowly let himself relax.

("Fox?") he whispered. ("Dana?")

There was no answer and he relaxed a little more, moving slowly to lie flat on his bed. He was as sore and as achy as Mulder, for much the same reasons. But he was not as weakened as the other man: the creamy smear on his hand and belly were proof of that.

He was reasonably sure that Mulder had not noticed his presence in their bond. He suspected that Scully had, but she had mistaken the unfamiliar sensations as being from Mulder. Much of what she had felt had been from her partner, but Nick knew that he was the reason that she had been so surprised when Mulder had proved unable to perform. Nick shivered. (*Poor Fox. He's wanted her for so long, and now, when he can have her, when he must have her, he can't do it. But at least that foreplay was enough to satisfy that weird Sentinel bond: he's not ill or experiencing cardiac symptoms anymore. So it's all good, so far...*)

Tired -- it had been a long day -- he rolled off the bed and staggered into the bathroom. He debated another shower, but decided it would take too long and he was just too tired. He settled for a washcloth.

Cleaned up, he stumbled back to the bed and climbed in. He rolled over onto his side and settled down, falling asleep almost at once, without realizing that he was lying in exactly the same position as Mulder, despite the fact that it required him to lie on his arm. This was a position he would ordinarily never use, for if his arm fell asleep, he would be helpless.

+++

Scully woke up with sunlight streaming in the windows and Mulder's body wrapped around her. He was soddenly asleep, and did not stir even when she gently extricated herself from his hold and got out of bed.

She stretched luxuriously and went to stand by the window. The cool green of a well-kept lawn was gentle on her eyes. In the distance she could see the darker green of forest, and above them all, a clean, clear blue sky adorned with high fluffy clouds. She could hear birds singing and dogs barking.

She opened the window farther, and inhaled deeply. The air was fresh and clean, scented with fresh-cut grass. The breeze felt refreshing on her naked skin. She stretched again, and glanced over her shoulder at Mulder. He had not moved in the least.

She tried to run her fingers through her hair, but her fingers snagged on snarls.

"Damn." She sighed and decided she needed a shower. She left the door ajar, explored a cabinet inside for supplies, and was delighted to find a set of Bath and Body Shop shampoo, conditioner and bath gel all in Warm Vanilla Sugar. There was a stack of thick soft towels on the shelf underneath. The shelf above held an assortment of men's toiletries.

(I guess Chazz likes to be prepared.)

The one item missing was a hair dryer. There were no razors, but there was an electric shaver on the men's shelf. It was battery operated. (*That makes some sense, I suppose. Some of her patients might be too creative with sharp and/or hot things.*)

The shower was wonderful. She stayed under the pounding torrent until she started wondering how long it had been. There was no sign that the hot water was going to run out, but she started to feel guilty about leaving her partner alone. She turned off the water, toweled off and combed her hair. There was a pair of thick terry robes hanging on the back of the door, so she put on the shorter of the two and went back out into the bedroom.

Mulder was still asleep, and she frowned slightly. He was breathing, he was in no distress... but he was solidly asleep. She did not want to leave him alone without letting him know where she would be.

(*I suppose he needs the sleep. But he needs food, too...*) She stood watching him, indecisive, until she realized how happy it made her to be able to watch him, to see him, to be with him.

(*He's back. He's back, he's safe again, and he's mine.*)

He smiled faintly, and shifted a little under the blanket, though he did not awaken.

Scully shivered. She had not thought about all this new weirdness, which was how she was thinking about all the almost- but- not- quite- unbelievable information she had had shoved at her over the last few days.

(*And I wouldn't believe a word of it, but Mulder's involuntary reactions supported it so neatly...*) she shivered, thinking of how terrifying it had been to see him push himself to the brink of death just to clarify their relationship.

Mulder whimpered in his sleep, stirred restlessly.

Moving without conscious decision, Scully sat down on the bed beside him, her hand going to his head, to smooth back his shaggy hair. Her fingers stroked his cheek, trailed along his jawline.

He moved like a cat, seeking the contact, rubbing lazily against her... all without awakening. After a few moments he calmed, and went still, deeply asleep again.

(This is so weird...!)

But she could not deny how happy it made her to know, right down to her bones, that he needed her, wanted her and could not live without her.

(Although I wish that wasn't so literal...!) But the selfish part of her that she tried to suppress snickered at her. It was a sharp boost to her ego to know that he literally could not live without her. Her conscience, however, was terrified of the depth of that responsibility: knowing that a word said in anger would cause him physical pain, that rejection could stop his heart. That was terrifying.

(*Blair called this slavery, meaning that I could make Mulder my slave if I wished, since I hold the power of life and death over him. But I can't hurt him intentionally... so who is really the slave? I can kill him, but he can emotionally manipulate me because we both know I can punish or kill so easily, but I hate that power...*)

Vaguely she realized that their lives, always complicated, had just added another layer of complexity.

(*I guess it'll take a while for us to learn how to live like this. And, in the meantime, I can touch him, and he can touch me... That tension, at least, is being resolved. Or it will be, when we get him back into some kind of shape...*)

Mulder's hand moved across the empty expanses of bed beside him, and he stirred. (*...???...*)

That wordless query sang in her mind; it had no volume and might have been her own thought, except it was unmistakably Mulder- flavored.

("I'm right here, love.")

He pulled himself out of the depths of sleep with visible effort. He cast around for her blindly.

Scully shivered. ("Open your eyes. I'm right here.")

He blinked, a little dazzled by the light in the room, a little surprised by the presence of vision. ("Scully...?")

("I'm right here, Mulder.") She put her fingertips under his chin and turned his head so he could see her.

He smiled tiredly and let his eyes close again, leaning his chin onto her hand.

"You don't have to wake up," she smiled tenderly. "I'm going downstairs looking for food. What would you like me to bring you?" She could feel his thought process fumbling: he really was not awake. He fixed on the word with the strongest emotional charge.

("'Going'?!") he repeated, adrenaline pushing the fog of exhaustion back. ("'Going'?!") He reached for her.

"Ssh... It's all right. I'm not leaving the house. I'm just going down to the kitchen for breakfast. Do you want something to eat? Are you hungry?"

He was waking up in stages. Finally he sat up and crossed his legs. He scrubbed at his face with both hands. "I feel like I've been beaten with sticks," he rasped, his voice thick and scratchy.

"Why don't you go take a shower?" she suggested. "I'll get us something to eat and come right back." She let herself relax a little when he nodded.

"Okay. What's on the agenda today?"

"Eating, napping, desultory conversation, a little cuddling," she smiled.

He grinned wanly. "I think I can handle most of that."

She leaned over and kissed him. "Whatever. You know, Skinner's here. He might want to start debriefing you."

Mulder shuddered, hugging himself. "I can't. I can't talk about it. Not yet, anyway. Please, Scully."

She kissed him again. "I'll make sure he knows. Maybe Nick will be willing to talk for a while. You don't have to say a word till you're ready."

Mulder brightened when she mentioned their bond-sib. "Where is Nick, anyway?"

"I don't know " Scully fell silent when she 'heard' Mulder 'shout' down their link.

("NICK!")

("?!?!?!") They both heard his answer, and it was only a moment or two before something crashed into their bedroom door. A moment later it was flung open, and their bond-sib came stumbling into the room.

"Nick!" Scully was startled; he looked disheveled, and he was rubbing one side of his face. "Are you all right?"

He came over and dropped to sit on the bed beside Mulder, who reached out to hug him.

"I'm fine," he was still panting. "I'm out of shape, though. And I..." He shut his mouth hurriedly.

But Mulder picked it up and relayed it to Scully. She looked thoughtful. "You guys stay here. I'm going to go get some food." She studied her partner. ("Will you be okay?")

("Yes. But don't be long.")

She grinned; he was sending her his impression of hunger pangs. Then she turned to the other man. "How about you, Nick? Did you eat?"

He shook his head. "Nope. But Chazz is making omelets."

"You want to eat up here with us?"

His expression was eloquent: a combination of delight and awe that she would allow such intimacy.

Scully was embarrassed; Nick's presence unnerved her still but she was not afraid of him. Intellectually she did believe that he was no longer Alex Krycek. It was her involuntary response to the sight of Alex Krycek sitting companionably beside her partner that bothered her.

"Keep an eye on him for me, will you, Nick? He's still a wreck."

"Sure."

She tightened the belt on the robe she was wearing, and slipped her feet into the slippers she saw by the door. Then she slipped out of the room, and shut the door behind her.

Chazz looked up when she heard footsteps on the stairs, and smiled a welcome. "Good morning. How are you two?"

Scully blinked. "A little shaky," she admitted warily. "A little confused."

"Information overload," Chazz nodded calmly without looking up. "Can I help?"

Scully shook her head. "I don't think so."

Chazz was beating eggs in a bowl with a fork. "You're sure?"

"Our problems aren't psychiatric, Dr Dolan," Scully said evenly. "They're political."

It was Chazz's turn to be puzzled. "All right," she conceded the point. "But you've both been through quite an ordeal, Dana. Don't minimize that."

"Not likely, when every time I say a cross word, he has a cardiac spasm!"

Chazz put down the bowl of eggs and faced her. "Do you love him?"

Scully threw up her hands in disgust. "Why does everyone keep asking me that?! Yes, I love him! That doesn't mean that I'm never going to growl at him! I've loved him for years and, hell, I shot him once!"

"How is he right now?" Chazz was her usual imperturbable self.

Scully glanced up at the bedroom door and shrugged. "He's fine. Nick's up there with him."

"He doesn't need Nick. He needs you."

"I. KNOW. THAT." Scully ground the words out between set teeth. "Do you like onions and peppers in your eggs?"

Scully blinked, dizzied by the sudden change of subject. "What?"

"I'm making dirty eggs. Do you want peppers and onions? Mushrooms? Cheese? Ham? Italian sausage?"

"Yes. Anything." Scully blinked. "No, wait. No meat, please."

Chazz nodded. "I'm poaching eggs for Fox and Nick. Neither of them needs to dash headlong into regular food."

"We're going to eat up in the room, if you don't mind," Scully found herself relaxing. "Mulder isn't really in any shape for anything more strenuous than napping. Considering how hard he found it to wake up this morning, I don't want him on the stairs again until he's really awake and functional. It was hard enough to get him back up there yesterday!"

Chazz nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense."

At the other end of the counter, toast popped up. Chazz looked down at the vegetables she was sauteing and then up at Scully.

"Would you butter the toast?"

"Sure."

Scully was not at all sure how it had happened, but suddenly she and Chazz were chatting like old friends about mundane things like the price of butter and the comparative merits of Silverstone over Teflon.

When the meal was ready, Chazz helped her carry it all upstairs. Feeling experimental, Scully pictured herself coming toward the door with both hands full, and sent the image upstairs. She heard both Mulder and Nick acknowledge her, and was not surprised when Nick opened the door for her. "That smells awfully good," he remarked.

Scully set the tray with the three plates, covered and stacked as if coming from room service at a fancy hotel, and the silverware down on the table beside the door. Chazz waited in the doorway until Scully could turn and take the pitcher of apple juice and teapot on their tray.

"Thanks, Chazz."

"You're welcome. Later!" Chazz went back downstairs. She very rarely entered patients' rooms unless there was a crisis. So many had had so many personal boundaries destroyed, and so many had been hospitalized before arriving, that they needed privacy and personal space. Others might violate that space, but Chazz would not.

Scully looked around the room. "Where's Mulder?"

"In the shower," Nick shrugged.

"How long has he been in there?"

"Not long."

His reassurance was inadequate; she had to know for herself. ("Mulder?")

His response was slow in coming, groggy and non-verbal.

("Are you done in the shower, yet? Breakfast's here.")

("...Okay...")

Without being asked, Nick went in to check. He found Mulder sitting exhaustedly on the floor of the walk-in shower, luxuriating in the hot water, but not moving. His eyes were closed.

"Fox!" Nick hissed, dropping to kneel in front of him. "Did you fall?! Are you all right?!"

Mulder managed to open his eyes a bit. "No... kinda slid," he murmured.

"Can you get up?"

"No."

"Dana's gonna freak if you can't walk out of here."

With Nick's help, Mulder got to his feet and managed to stand up. He leaned against the wall with both hands while Nick hurriedly toweled him off, and clumsily helped Nick put the waiting robe on him. Then they walked out together. Mulder made it as far as the bed, but then collapsed onto it with a sigh of relief that was almost a sob.

"Mulder?!" Scully was at his side in a moment.

("I'm okay... really...")

Touch made that clear to her, and she relaxed. "Your breakfast's here."

("Can't. Lemme sleep...") Even his thoughts were slurring, and he was asleep a moment later, slumped against her thigh.

Nick shrugged at Scully and scraped Mulder's egg onto his plate.

+++

Karuna RPTC several days later

That set a pattern for the next several days. Mulder managed to stay awake for longer and longer periods of time, and he began eating ravenously of the light meals that Chazz prepared for them. When he slept, he slept hard and dreamlessly; lying beside him, sometimes Scully would wake up and check his vital signs to make sure he was still alive.

There was no discussion of advancing their relationship; the three bond- sibs kept their waking hours occupied with learning what they could do as three with their connection. Sometimes Nick would try to remember being Alex Krycek, prompted with stories that Mulder and Scully told.

They found he had a vivid image of Cancerman; although he did not know him as CGB Spender, he was aware of that name as one of the man's aliases. Nick knew several other names for the Smoking Bastard, which was the name he used privately.

Mulder and Scully were amused at that. "We called him the Smoking Man till we had a name for him."

Mulder cocked his head to one side. "Nick? Do you remember where you left your PDA?"

Nick frowned, and looked at him. "My what?"

"A PDA. Personal Digital Assistant. Little handheld computer; a Palm or Handspring...?"

Nick shook his head, slowly. "Noo... I don't remember owning one."

"Damn."

"What's so important about it?"

Mulder spread his hands eloquently. "Skinner's been infected with nanocytes; whoever has that PDA can kill him miserably with the touch of a button. I want to find it and give it to him. We need him free to act."

Nick sat back and closed his eyes, thinking hard. "I... I can't even picture it. Nanocytes? You mean little atomic-sized robots?"

Scully shook her head. "Even more sophisticated than that. Carbon atoms with the ability to reproduce when ordered to do so by a command, apparently from that PDA. They dam up his circulatory system and he dies. It's happened twice, but each time Krycek relented and let him live. I'd hate to risk it happening again."

Nick's eyes were wide with horror. "I'll try to remember," he promised, his tone hushed.

There was a long moment of silence, and then Scully stood up and yawned. "I'm calling it a night, guys. What about you two?"

They chuckled. "As if there would be a discussion on that," Nick teased. He got up and picked up their glasses. "You guys go on; I'm going next door."

He got up and, when he bent to pick up their glasses his balance wavered slightly. Only a quick move of his single hand to grab the table instead of the glasses saved him from falling.

"I hate this!" he grumbled as he stood up straight. "I feel lopsided, and I don't know why! And I hate that I can't remember how I lost the arm!"

That startled Mulder. "You don't remember?"

"No! And you know how startled I was when I woke up in that lab car to find myself an amputee!"

"I was there," Mulder offered quietly.

Nick stared at him. "You ... you saw?"

Mulder shook his head. "No. But I was in the area, and it almost happened to me, too. The truck driver's wife stopped him when she decided she'd rather help me get to St Petersburg. I offered to bring them out with me, since I didn't have any money to pay my way."

Scully eyed him. "I'm interested in this story, too, Mulder. You never did explain where you were and what you were doing while I was serving time for contempt of Congress."

"My partner, the jailbird," he teased. "Relax. I was in prison, too. But it wasn't a Club Fed like where you were. This was a backwoods gulag near Tunguska. The prisoners were slave miners."

"Mining what?"

"The black oil. They called it the black cancer. It came from deep beneath the ground, in the remnant bits of the 1906 impact."

Scully's eyes had gone hard when he mentioned cancer. "And?"

"And we escaped. Well, I escaped. Krycek tried to stop me, and we got separated out in the wilderness. The locals routinely amputated left arms from all their men and male children. If you had no left arm, you couldn't be used for the tests."

"Tests?" Nick was staring at him, his eyes wide with horror.

"They'd fasten you down to a horizontal board with chicken wire, and then a pipe above you would open and the black oil would drop onto your face. It would crawl into your eyes and up your nose..." Mulder could not hide a shudder.

Scully grabbed him by the ears and made him look at her. "They did that to you?!"

Under any other circumstances he might have tried to prevaricate. Face to face, her blazing eyes piercing his soul, he could not even imagine lying to her. "Yeah."

"Why didn't it kill you? It killed Dr. Sacks!"

He shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, Scully. One of the other prisoners liked me, or felt sorry for me, and he said that it did kill you, eventually, but that it took dozens and dozens of exposures. Then he helped me escape. I don't know if he even tried; he seemed rather resigned to his fate. But I got out because of him."

Mulder looked up at Nick, who was standing, frozen, staring at him. "Krycek tried to stop me from getting away, but he fell off the truck and took off into the trees before I lost control of it and crashed it. The truck's owner found me hiding in the woods and took me home. I didn't see Krycek again for months. I haven't any idea how he got out, except that he ran afoul of the locals, first, because they took his arm. But that's all I know."

Nick moved slowly, using his hand to rub at a stump that suddenly ached fiercely. "I sometimes have nightmares of camping with a bunch of guys, being rather content if a little wary, and then suddenly being jumped, pinned down and held by a bunch of them, while one man uses a machete heated in the fire to cut off my arm. I wake up screaming from the pain."

Mulder blinked. Scully gasped. "Mulder, you had that same dream! The night after Annaliese's funeral!"

Mulder nodded thoughtfully. "I'll bet, if you could remember where you were that night, you weren't far away," he told his friend. "We've always been able to share dreams, but we have to be in relatively close proximity."

Nick nodded, and then grinned at him. "Yep. Remember..." His voice trailed off.

Scully frowned. She could tell they were sharing something, but she could not tell what. "What was that?"

The guys shared a rueful grin. "A memory from a really long time ago," Mulder told her.

"A REALLY long time ago," Nick added, avoiding her eyes.

Scully suspected that Nick was blushing, but she could not be sure. "All right," she sighed. "I'm going to bed. Really. Good night, Nick."

"Good night, Dana."

She stopped abruptly, when she realized that he had called her by her first name, and that she did not mind in the least. She almost turned, but realized that she had heard the outer door open and close. Nick was gone.

Mulder studied her. "You okay?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I'm all right, Mulder. Really."

"We were remembering the mutual nightmares we all had when he stayed up all night with his grandfather watching horror movies on television. He dreamed about all the monsters coming for him... and he shared the nightmares with the entire bond group. Nobody got any sleep. He was... six, I think."

"What fun."

"Yeah. The grandfather just about got run out of town on a rail by our parents, who couldn't handle another night of all six of us hysterical and screaming."

"Good for them. Letting a kid that little watch horror movies is irresponsible."

"Scully," his tone was dry, "compared to our lives, they were pretty damn tame."

That brought down the mood again. He turned down the bed while she went into the bathroom to change, and then he took his turn. When he came out she was sitting in the bed, with the blankets up over her knees, looking pensive.

"Scully?"

"Hmm?"

He climbed into the bed beside her, but he lay down beside her, his head on his pillow, his hand reaching to cover hers where they were clasped in her lap. "You okay?"

"I think so." She looked up at him then, and he could see that she had been suppressing tears. "If I think too much about the hell that you all went through as kids, it upsets me... mostly because there's so little we can do about it now."

"There's nothing we can do about it now, " he said firmly, "except survive. Like I told Jim, I'm going to burn the Project to the ground. I don't care how and I don't care how long it takes me. I'm going to make them pay for all the pain they've caused and I'm going to stop them from hurting more kids."

She dashed aside the tears that were starting to overflow. "Do you think they're still doing this to families, Mulder?"

"Why should they stop?" he asked reasonably. "I'd be willing to bet Gibson Praise is a Project kid. Look at the crap they did to him. And he's only, what, nine years old? The Project is still operational, Scully."

Scully leaned out of the bed far enough to turn off the light. Then she snuggled down under the blanket, facing him. "Well, we can't do it tonight. Go to sleep, Mulder."

He grinned, and pulled her close enough to kiss. "Good night, Scully." There was a certain amount of shifting about, and finally she rolled over so he could spoon up against her back.

"Good?" he asked.

"Hmmm...yeah..."

There was a moment of comfortable silence.

"Go to sleep, Mulder," she admonished him.

"Sweet dreams," he whispered into her ear.

+++

She did not know how long she slept, but when she woke up, she was still on her side, but Mulder was kissing her ear, her jaw, humming very low in his throat.

She did not think anything, she simply bent her head forward just a little, baring the nape of her neck to him.

He kissed her there, just by the little scar.

She hummed a little, just so he would know she liked it.

He trailed kisses down her spine, maneuvering so he could reach. He stopped between her shoulder blades and moved his hands to cup her breasts from behind.

She sighed and rubbed her breasts against his palms. The sheer fabric of the nightgown slid between them.

"Scully?" he breathed in her ear.

"'Ready when you are, C.B.,'" she quoted. She smiled when she heard him chuckle. "No cameras." Kiss. "No film." Kiss. "No video." Kiss. "No witnesses." Kisses traveled down her neck and he pushed the nightgown aside to lay a row of kisses along her collarbone. "Just you." Kiss. "And me..."

His hands moved down her body, and she felt him tugging on the hem of the nightgown. She lifted herself up off the mattress so he could remove it. His hands stroked up her ribs and pushed the garment over her head. He tossed it aside.

Scully rolled onto her back so she could smile at him. "You're overdressed," she commented.

He grinned and sat up, pulling off his tee shirt and tossing it into the same corner where he had just tossed her nightgown. Then he stood up, dropped the boxers, and kicked them aside.

Scully licked her lips. She had seen his unclothed body on several occasions, but she had never before seen him aroused. (*Oh, my... How does he hide that in dress slacks?? How does he fit into jeans??*)

He slid into the bed beside her, and they faced one another, both suddenly very nervous.

He reached out to brush a stray strand of hair away from her eyes. "You have no idea how long I've dreamed and fantasized about this..."

Her eyes widened, and she grinned. "Ooh, there's potential in that..." she breathed.

He made a face that was a question.

"Dueling fantasies," she explained, feigning nonchalance.

"Ohh..."

Mulder moved closer, until their bodies were lying side by side, skin against skin from breast to knee. Her hand crept up his shoulder, his neck, to lace her fingers through his hair and pull his face close enough to kiss.

He obliged her. His tongue slid along hers, drinking deep, tasting, mimicking the thrust and give of another penetration they were anticipating. Eyes unfocused as his concentration went elsewhere, one hand slid down her body. His thumb stayed to brush against the now- damp curls, while his fingers slid gently into the slickness beyond.

He broke the kiss and started tasting the skin on her jaw, moved down her neck.

She rocked against him, purring deep in her throat. The way her skin vibrated under his tongue made him shiver.

His hands rubbed at her breasts as he moved over her, and she felt his erection against her thigh. She shuddered all over.

"Ready?"

"Are you?"

He rocked his hips, rubbing her with his sex. He was above her, leaning on his elbows, most of his weight on his knees. He ran a line of kisses down the center line of her body, from the little hollow at the base of her throat to her navel, where he paused briefly, then on down to her mons. Rather than tonguing her as he had before, he just rubbed her with his chin, putting a little pressure on her clitoris from either side, but not touching it directly.

Her pelvis rocked up and her knees fell open. "Mulderrr..."

Grinning, he kissed his way back up to her mouth. "Now?"

"Now!" He positioned himself and began to slowly push inside her.

Her body locked up and she flinched away from him with a cry of panic.

Startled, Mulder rolled off her. She was suddenly pale, trembling... and still backing away from him.

(What the hell...?) "Scully...?"

She was at the edge of the bed, now, sitting up, huddled against the headboard. As he watched, she snatched up the heretofore-ignored blanket and wrapped it around herself, covering her nakedness.

(Defensiveness. She's scared!) He stayed where he was, rose no higher than to lean on one elbow. He moved no closer.

"Scully? What just happened?"

Shockingly, she started to cry.

Moving slowly, watching her carefully so as not to frighten her further, Mulder moved to sit beside her, to enfold her in his arms, resting his chin lightly on top of her head.

"Sshh... S'okay...sshh..."

She calmed a little as his chaste touch warmed her. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I didn't realize... I thought I could do it..."

A lance of pain went through his chest, but he ignored it. "Could do what?" he asked softly. "Love me? You love me with every breath and every thought, just as I love you."

"But Blair and Jim both say we have to..." She stopped and swallowed hard, looked up into his eyes. Her hand went to his throat. "Are you all right?" "I'm fine."

Their code phrase did nothing to reassure her. "We have to... to consummate this relationship. And I... I don't seem to be able to...."

"Don't you want to?" He hated the accusation in the question. "That's not what I meant..." He tried to apologize at once.

She leaned on him. "I want to. I've wanted to for a long time. But... but I've never... and now I've ruined it all..." She buried her face against his chest and started to cry. "I'm going to kill you... and it's going to kill me..."

"Wait a minute. Scully, what do you mean you've never?" He was shocked. "You're thirty- five years old! What do you mean you've never?!"

"I'm not a virgin, Mulder." That came out in the familiar dry tones of Dr. Scully, and he was momentarily reassured. But then her tears began again. "But I still haven't ever..."

He hugged her close again. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with the real Dana Scully? She's never said anything that self- contradictory in her entire life."

They were silent together for a few minutes, and she realized that she was going to have to explain herself. He was all right, now, but she was sure it wouldn't last. She remembered the brief cardiac episodes he had had earlier, when he had, for however brief a time, believed that she had abandoned him.

And she knew what Blair and Jim had told her: regardless of sexual preference or anything else, the bond between Guide and Sentinel had to be consummated to be cemented. That was why Jim had never totally bonded to Incacha; that was why he had survived his evacuation out of the jungle and back to the United States. If he and Incacha had consummated their bond, he would have fought and killed to stay in the jungle with his Guide, or he would have insisted on Incacha coming with him. Neither had happened: he had simply gone with the soldiers, and forgotten what he had become.

"You going to tell me what's going on underneath all this fiery hair?" Mulder asked softly as he laced his fingers through it. He made no effort to move, satisfied to hold her. He knew he was trembling with the tension between them, and he knew she could feel it. But he refused to hurry her. He felt only the mildest discomfort; this was stressing their bond, but it was nowhere near threatening his health, yet.

"I'm... I'm trying to figure out how to explain this to you," she admitted, her tone slightly muffled because she was still snuggled close against his chest.

"Start at the beginning, and then just keep going," he suggested. "I've got no place more important to be, and we've got all the time in the world."

"If that were true, I'd never have to tell this story..."

"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to," he said softly, tightening his arms around her.

"Yes, I do. God, this is embarrassing..." she whispered.

"I promise I won't mock. I won't promise not to laugh if any part of this is funny," he said honestly. "But it doesn't sound terribly amusing, so far. No matter what, you know I'll still love you..."

"You have to love me," she snapped back. "You don't have any choice."

"I never did," he agreed, unperturbed. "Doesn't mean it isn't true. C'mon. Tell."

She sighed, and nestled closer; she had no intention of looking at him while she told this.

"I was fifteen, and my boyfriend Jeremy was seventeen. He was varsity quarterback and the high school home run record holder..."

"The man of your adolescent dreams..." Mulder accepted the description.

"Yeah. And tall, dark, with hazel eyes and a forelock that just would NOT stay out of his face..."

"Damn, you're consistent."

"Shut up, Mulder. I'm talking."

"Yes, ma'am." He snuggled her closer, and she cooperated.

"He was the man of every girl's dreams, and I'd just come to that school; as a Navy family, we moved just about every year. I never expected him to even notice me, much less actually date me. But he did. And we were in intense like, bordering on virginal lust, almost at once. I think I was the one in a hurry," she admitted. "I was terrified that we'd move away before Jeremy and I could get close enough to take that one final step."

She gave Mulder a moment to comment, but he refrained.

"So there we were, in the back seat of his Camaro, both of us naked, having the time of our lives. He was almost as inexperienced as I was, and when he entered me, it really hurt. Neither of us was prepared for that. I was crying, and he was desperate to stop me, and didn't have any idea what do."

She stopped, and Mulder did not know what to do or say. So he just held her.

Eventually she started talking again, but now her voice was dull and flat. "And then he was gone. I tried to see through the tears, because I could hear him yelling..." She shuddered, and Mulder tightened his hold on her. "It was Bill. Beating the snot out of Jeremy, screaming at him for defiling his sister, about hell and damnation and fornication..." Her voice trailed off, and when she spoke again, it was artificially bright. "Bill almost became a priest, you know? He might've, except Tara got pregnant and he had to marry her. Dad wouldn't let him back out of that. And she miscarried at the reception. I always figured that was Bill's punishment, although I was sorry for Tara and the baby."

She shuddered again.

"So, what did you do?" Mulder asked, his voice so soft and low she almost felt it more than heard it.

"I attacked Bill, screaming, naked...and he decked me. I woke up in my own bed, with my sister sitting beside me. As soon as she saw I was awake, she gave me a big hug and an 'Attagirl,' and ran to get our parents."

"So you got seriously traumatized by your parents, too?" Mulder was incredulous; he had never met Captain Scully, but Maggie Scully, in his experience, had always been the soul of compassion and forgiveness.

"Big time," she nodded. "For taking sides against my brother, for betraying their trust, for the actual sin of fornication, for tossing away my virginity as if it meant nothing, for ruining my life..."

"Did Bill get anything?"

"He got the car for the weekend for 'saving' me," she spat. "Melissa and I spray-painted everything in his room with Rustoleum(TM) while he was out carousing. Charlie helped us by keeping look out. There was some justice," she concluded, her voice showing a bit of real amusement. "He got his first DWI that weekend, and he totaled Dad's car."

"So, your dad was an autocrat, and your mom supported him because fear of your father was what kept the four of you in line while he was at sea and she was alone with you. Melissa took off, to get away, as soon as she was old enough to do so. You stayed home and spent a long, long time trying to get back into Ahab's good graces," Mulder said softly, a lot of her behavior and attitudes suddenly coming clear. "You stopped dating, didn't you?"

She nodded. "I was scared to, and Jeremy certainly wouldn't look at me, anymore."

"Bet he never told his friends what happened, though," Mulder guessed.

"I don't think he did," she agreed. "I never heard a whisper about the actual events, although the gossip mongers all decided I was an idiot to dump him."

"Not an idiot, just too immature and inexperienced to deal with a major trauma like that," he said kindly. "I imagine he was messed up, too."

"He got over it," she murmured. "He was dating Veronica Kelsey within two weeks, and never looked back."

"Bet she didn't have any brothers."

Scully paused for a moment. "No; she was an only child."

"I would venture to suppose that he has never willingly dated a woman with brothers. Traumas like that stay with you."

She shuddered.

Mulder tightened his grip on her. "Scully. You're telling me that you gave up dating and tried really really hard to be the Starbuck that your dad wanted you to be. When did you start dating, again?"

"March 6, 1992," was her whispered answer.

He froze. That was the date they had met.

There was a long pause. Then he took a deep breath.

"Okay... I have to ask a couple questions, here. Okay?"

"Sure."

"Jack Willis?"

"I was celibate; he was impotent due to complications from poorly controlled diabetes. If we appeared to be dating each other, other people left us both alone, mostly."

He nodded. "Okay; I understand that. That's why I wore Anni's wedding ring for more than three years after the accident; it kept most people from hitting on me, especially when I wasn't in any shape to fend them off."

"I know the next question."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Ed Jerse."

He inhaled raggedly. "Yeah."

"I told you nothing happened. I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to flirt and live a little dangerously. And I wanted you to think I was sleeping with him. I was trying to make you jealous."

"You made me insane." He decided, but did not say, that her behavior confirmed that she was not a Project null, after all.

"It worked, then," she smiled a little. "Ed wasn't scary. He was so unhappy that he was a lot more interested in a sympathetic ear than anything else."

"Then how did the tattoo happen?" Mulder asked, honestly curious.

"It was a dare," she shrugged.

"His was on his shoulder, Scully," Mulder grinned. "Yours is in a much more... suggestive place..."

"I said I wanted to flirt."

"Damn, woman, you don't kid around," Mulder said admiringly.

She shocked him by choking back a sob. "It's all pretense, Mulder. It's a front. I'm a doctor, for God's sake! I know a ton about human sexuality... and none of it matters, because I've never done this! Not really. It was a really long time before I saw myself as having sufficiently atoned to my parents, and by then, I was in my twenties, and in med school; I had no time to develop a
relationship. I had taken enough psych to know that I would have to have a really understanding man to get me past this, and that it could take a long time..."

"Has it been long enough, do you think?" he asked very softly.

"Obviously not," she said bitterly. "Or we'd be asleep wrapped around one another by now."

"Scully, you underestimate me!" Mulder teased. Then his smile faded, and he pushed her far enough away so he could look her in the eyes. "Do you want to do this tonight? We don't have to... we can wait." "Can we?" she asked. "How do you feel?"

"Worried about you," he answered. "Nervous. But I'm not ill, and I'm not in any physical distress. I think the fact that we both want and intend to do this is enough, for now."

"It won't be enough for long," she predicted.

"No, probably not," he agreed. "Not if Blair is telling the truth. But I think it means that we can take our time, and make sure you're comfortable with every step of the way. If it takes a week, or two, or longer, I don't think it'll be a problem."

She blinked back tears as she stared up at him. "God... what did I ever do to deserve you?"

"I have no idea, Scully. Maybe you were Lizzie Borden, or something, in your last life."

"Goof!" She hugged him hard around the neck.

He chuckled, and hugged her back. Then he kissed the nearest part of her; it happened to be the back of her neck, near the tiny scar that marked the insertion point of the tiny microchip that was keeping her alive.

"God, Mulder...I don't know what to do...!"

"Don't do anything," he murmured against her throat. "Tell me if you don't like something I try... tell me if you do..." He lifted his head to face her again. "I've had a little more experience in this than you have; let me lead?"

"You don't mind...?" He frowned; he was not accustomed to seeing meekness from her, and he did not like it at all.

"Scully, how could I dare mind? I've been trapping you and maneuvering you into dangerous and unpleasant situations for years. Now you're being shanghaied into a sexual relationship against your own will... How can I justifiably feel anything but the most intense gratitude that you're willing to do this just so I can keep breathing? Makes my willingness to kill or die for you seem almost infantile."

She went rigid in his arms. "Fox Mulder, don't you EVER think I'm doing this unwillingly! I've got too much time invested in you and this relationship to let anything as minor as an old teenage trauma of mine affect us!"

He hugged her hard. "Attagirl." Then he took a deep breath. "You know, you aren't alone in the stage fright department," he admitted very quietly.

She snuggled under his chin. "How long has it been for you?!"

He paused to count the months. "Five and a half years."

She was shocked. "Anyone I know?" she inquired.

He shuddered.

She glanced up at him, disturbed. "Mulder...?"

"No."

She could hear the pain in his voice. "Tell me, Mulder."

"You don't want..."

"You owe me a confession. Tell me."

He shuddered, and his hold on her tightened. "It was while you were missing. I went back to Skyland Mountain after Duane Barry was killed, and... I don't know. Maybe I just hoped they would come back and take me, too. But nothing happened. So I went back to DC in the morning and tried a traditional investigation. Nothing. No clues, no hints, no nothing. Your mom went out and bought you a headstone. God, that hurt..." he whispered.

She hugged him. "Hey. I'm here. It's over."

He shuddered. "Finally, Skinner got tired of having me haunting the Hoover Building for three and four day stretches. He got a report that the vampire killers had surfaced again, this time in California, and he ordered me out on it.

"I had never tried to turn down an assignment before; I really didn't know how to do it. That was one of my last open cases from VCS, and I wanted to close it. But I didn't want to leave DC."

"But Skinner made you go."

"Yeah."

"I remember reading the file," she told him. "What was her name...?"

"Kristen. The vampires had been chasing her for months. She didn't believe I could save her, but I think she thought they might take me instead of her, and give her a chance to run to yet another city."

"Are you sure she wasn't just a stalking horse for the vampires?" Scully asked. "You met her in a Goth bar, for heaven's sake. She liked vampire-style sex games."

Mulder let go of her, tried to get up.

She refused to let him go. "Mulder, please. You aren't going to offend me. Just tell me."

"Tell you what?" he asked harshly. "I tried to keep her safe, and I failed. She died."

"Did she seduce you?" Scully asked quietly.

He broke. He tried to choke back a sob, and failed. "I was dead. I felt dead. Without you I was just a shell of a man. I thought, when she kissed me, that sex might convince me I was still alive, that afterwards I might be able to sleep."

"Did it work?" Her voice was very soft.

"No. She wasn't you. I couldn't feel her. It was just exercise." He shuddered again. "Like Nick said, it was more like bestiality than intercourse. It was awful."

Scully frowned. "Why? I don't understand."

He shivered once, turned his face up to the heavens. Then he faced her, cradled her skull in his palms, set his thumbs against her cheekbones, spread his fingers through her hair and setting his fingertips against her scalp. His eyes met hers and locked there.

("I couldn't hear her.")

Scully flinched under his touch, but could not tear her eyes away from his.

("You can hear me. I can hear you. This is what it means to be a bondmate.")

She shuddered, but made no attempt to escape. "What are you doing? What --?"

Mulder slid one of his hands out of her hair and set one finger on her lips. ("You don't need to speak to talk to me.") His hand fell away to smooth her hair again.

("What...?")

("See?")

Her hands came up to her face of their own volition as her surprise widened her eyes and dropped her jaw.

Mulder smiled faintly and bent to kiss her gently. ("See?") he repeated while he kissed her. ("This is what I missed. This is what I needed. This is what I can only get from you.")

Just as if she considered it, and put her fingertips on her carotid, she could hear and feel her own heartbeat, she could feel his life pulsing in her mind. She closed her eyes, and could feel his love like the warmth of a fire, washing out to her, surrounding her in comfort.

("Oh, my God...")

He let her pull away, knowing that she was overloading on new knowledge. He just watched her.

("Mulder...?")

("Yes?")

("Why couldn't we do this years ago? Why only now?")

He gathered her close, and she made herself comfortable against him.

("I don't know. I've always been able to sense strong emotion from you: I could tell when you were angry, happy, scared or annoyed, especially if the emotion revolved around me. After Anni died, sometimes I could pick up words and phrases. Now...")

She nestled closer. ("Why didn't you ever say anything?")

("You wouldn't have believed me,") he grinned. ("This is part of what has kept us together all these years. It might be as simple as the last of the memory blocks that kept me from remembering the significant events of my childhood and Nick's place in it were destroyed during this captivity. I remembered Nick, he remembered me... and you and I are finally free to be what we were both born to be.")

("I... I hate to think that we don't have any choice but our biological destiny...")

Mulder hugged her more tightly. ("I refuse to look that closely at it,") he told her. ("Yes, you were born to a Project family, and assigned to be my partner. But they couldn't have known who you were, or who I am, well enough to make us fit together this well. This isn't just our biological destiny. I refuse to believe that. What we are makes us bondmates. Who we are is what makes me love you.")

("I wonder if they will count us as a failure or a success,") she wondered.

He tipped her face up so he could look her in the eyes. ("This is success beyond my wildest dreams; don't ever doubt that,") he said intensely.

She stretched up to kiss him lightly. ("I read the report you wrote on Kristen and the vampires, you know.") She did not want to think about his parents duping hers, or any organization that planned for generations, as the Consortium seemed to do.

He shuddered. ("I almost died there,") he admitted. ("I was useless. I couldn't think. The queen vampire smashed the sunroof of the car and dragged me up and out of it. Kristen hit her with the car and accidentally staked her. Then she went back inside and set the house on fire to kill the others, and she stayed inside with them.")

("She died in the fire,") Scully said softly. ("You must have been very upset.")

"No," he said harshly, speaking aloud. "I wasn't. I couldn't feel anything. I wrote it up at the local office and came back to DC. Three days later you materialized at the hospital, and suddenly I could breathe again."

Scully swallowed hard. She had read his report on the case in the course of catching up when she had returned to work after her abduction. The report had not sounded like Mulder's work. He was an excellent writer, and some of his case reports were poetry. That report was flat and cold and clinical; it was exact and precise but totally without the occasional sarcastic comment and with absolutely no speculation in it. It had totally lacked any sympathy, empathy or compassion; it had been simply a dry recitation of the facts.

It had included a recounting of an "interview" with Kristen in which she had detailed the various unusual sexual practices that her group used. She knew now what that "interview" had entailed, and the waves of guilt and shame he was putting out were intense. She reached for him, again, pulled him close, feeling the chill of his skin, the trembling that he could not control.

She deliberately used the new-found bond. ("Sshh... it's all right. It was a long time ago...")

"It felt like I was cheating on you," he admitted out loud, still resisting her efforts to comfort him.

She framed his face between her palms and forced him to meet her eyes. "I understand that. That's why I went out with Ed Jerse: to see if it felt like cheating on you."

He blinked at her. "Did it?"

"Yes. That's why Ed slept on the couch that night."

Mulder looked away again.

She knew that expression, could feel his shame. "Mulder. Your emotions were ruling you, and I was gone. I was consciously conducting an experiment; I had not lost you. Of course I stayed in control. Of course you could not have."

"I was trying to die, Scully."

She shook her head. "No, I don't buy that. If you'd wanted to be dead, you'd have used a bullet; you don't have any religious scruples to make you hesitate to take that step. You weren't actively suicidal, you just stopped actively living. That's not suicidal behavior, Mulder, and you know it. It's a post-traumatic stress response: emotional numbness, flat affect, lack of interest in life, clinical depression... That's PTSD, and you've got every reason to be entitled to that diagnosis!"

"It was my fault you were taken."

"You didn't arrange it or allow it to happen, Mulder. It happened despite everything we could do. I'm a trained agent, and Duane Barry managed to subdue me without much trouble. That still makes me mad; I should have been able to kill the bastard myself."

He was still trembling. "If I'd been home when you called..."

"You still couldn't have done anything. We weren't expecting that kind of trouble, or we'd have stayed together!"

"I didn't care if I lived or died."

"I understand that," she agreed. "That's how I felt when you were talking to me from that boxcar and suddenly you were gone. What kept going through my head, over and over again, was, 'If he's dead, how can I live?'"

He turned, finally, to look at her again. His eyes were wide. "Did you feel that way in Dead Horse?"

She hid a smile at the return of his curiosity. "Oh, yeah; big time! I charged in there and trampled over an entire Army ER staff and made them do it my way. They were NOT happy with me. If you had died, the major in command assured me that they would have me up on charges, including murder, criminally negligent homicide and medical malpractice."

He was shocked. "You never told me that!"

She shrugged and grinned. "You lived. By the time you regained consciousness, no one had mentioned anything but Nobel Prizes for several days. You were recovering. It was moot." He grinned back at her. "We are a matched pair, aren't we?"

She nodded. "We were both so afraid of being wrong that we almost lost each other."

"It's not going to happen again."

"I should think not!"

"It's not," he shook his head. "Because I'm claiming you. Right here, right now. You're mine, and I'm never, ever giving you up."

She opened her mouth to say something mildly sarcastic, and he kissed her hard, pushing the words back down her throat with his tongue. Deliberately he got up on his hands and knees and moved over her. She let him maneuver her body with his hands, and in a few moments he was on all fours above her, still kissing her.

She was drowning in his eyes, which had gone black, dilated with passion.

He dragged his mouth away from hers, across her cheek, down her throat, to her breasts. She arched, throwing her head back with a low cry of delight. Lips and tongue and teeth tantalized and caressed first one breast and then the other, gentle and then firm, wet and soft, then sharp-edged and demanding. Scully moaned, and he bit her gently.

Her whole body reacted, and she clutched at him. They kissed again, long and deeply, as if there was no other thing to do. But when they fell away from one another, gasping, Mulder had pinned her to the mattress with his body. His fingers were laced between hers, but his wrists pinned hers down on either side of her head. She spread her knees to cradle his weight on her pelvis.

He bent to kiss her again, and she offered him her throat.

"Good so far?" he rumbled as his tongue tested her racing pulse.

She whimpered, and her body flexed against him. She could feel his excitement and it fed her own. He growled and she felt his teeth again, gentle but sharp on her earlobe.

Suddenly she focused on him, grinned, and reached up to kiss his neck. "I've never been this far before!" she whispered in his ear.

He sagged against her, burying his face in her hair, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

She smiled, running her hands along his ribs, getting herself used to the idea that she was allowed to touch him. "Well, once..."

Still chuckling, he pushed himself up on his elbows and studied her face. "Was I going too fast?"

"A little," she admitted. "It was good, but I felt...out of control."

"You're SUPPOSED to feel out of control."

She bit her lip and averted her eyes.

"Hey. Don't bite that lip," he rumbled. "Only I get to bite that lip..." He kissed her and made a point of using his teeth. Then he headed south, kissing, nipping and licking his way down her throat, pausing at her breasts for some significant amount of time and then tracing the centerline of her body down to her navel with his tongue.

Her body rose to meet him, and she gasped.

"Just lie back and... "

"...and think of England?"

Laughter weakened him briefly again. "God, I love you!" he wheezed, trying to catch his breath. "No, silly: lie back and enjoy it!" She did not say anything else; she just grinned.

He kissed his way across her bikini line and then sighed luxuriantly and buried his nose in sweet-smelling curly auburn hair. "Hmm...a natural redhead," he commented with a grin. But then he busied his tongue other ways, and conversation languished. Silence was banished, however, by her gasps and cries.

"Oh, my God..." And then she lost even that much capacity for speech.

She bent her knees, planted her feet on the mattress, and rocked strongly up against him. He put his hands on her thighs and pushed them apart; she just moaned, needing that skillful stroking to continue.

"Mulder...don't stop..."

He did not stop, and it was when he took hold of that most sensitive part of her with his teeth and tugged carefully that she screamed. Her body convulsed, and he held on hard, licking and sucking to slow her descent, to draw out the experience as long as he possibly could.

Eventually, she collapsed, panting.

He kissed his way up to her mouth again. "How was that?"

She focused on him with difficulty. "It never feels like that when I masturbate!"

He grinned and gave a little shrug. "That was so the next step doesn't hurt."

Her eyes widened. "You're telling me you consider that FOREPLAY? That you just did it for lubrication??"

He shrugged again. "I did it because you liked it so much the last time I did it. I've wanted to do that for years. You smell so good I just had to taste you again... And you taste WONDERFUL."

He realized, as her brow knitted, that she was starting to think. He kissed her hard. ("Hey. No thinking. Just feel. Feel my kiss.") He kissed her again. ("Feel my hands.") He stroked his hands up her body. ("Feel my love...")

A wave of emotion swept over her, drowning out rational thought. It could not be described in words, but she recognized it. It was him.

She clung to him longingly, her mouth hungry. She could feel his body testing hers for readiness, and she tensed.

("Relax,") he whispered. ("If it hurts, say so. I'll stop. I promise. I never want to hurt you, Scully.")

("I know...")

("May I?")

("Yesss...")

Slowly, carefully, he entered her, pushed inside until he felt her freeze. He stopped, and backed most of the way out. Then he gently tried again.

"Oh, my God..." she breathed. He stopped. ("You okay?")

"Don't stop!" she gasped.

("Is that one sentence or two?")

"One. Keep going..." she whispered.

He kissed her hard, and as his tongue plunged into her mouth, diverting some of her attention, their bodies merged.

He held still, letting her accustom herself to the sensations she was feeling. Moving slowly, he kissed her shoulder, moved slowly across her collarbones. ("Okay?")

She moved a little, testing the sensations, and moaned, throwing her head back. "Oh, my God..."

("What?")

Her eyes were closed, and he could tell that she was concentrating totally on physical sensation.

("...feels as if I'm...splitting apart...")

("Nope.") Slowly, carefully, he began to move.

As her universe began to rock, she clutched at him desperately, seeking anchorage. She kept her eyes closed and her mouth open as she fought to breathe. It took her a little time to match her movements and her breathing to Mulder's slow, patient rhythm. Suddenly they were synchronized, and she made a wordless little sound of triumph.

Mulder grinned, and started to move more quickly, plunge more deeply.

She whimpered. He had been bracing himself a little above her by leaning on his forearms. Now he shifted a little to his left to free his right hand, and the change of angle made Scully gasp in amazement. He decided that he really liked that sound, and he slid his right hand down between them to make sure she was experiencing
everything possible.

She moaned as her body reacted. Conscious thought was battling fruitlessly against the nearly overwhelming tide of sensation she was riding. Vaguely, she remembered something she had learned about alternative uses for Kegel exercises, and she tried one.

Mulder moaned and bit her on the shoulder gently. ("Oh, that's good...do that more...")

She did, fascinated by the way his entire body reacted to that simple movement.

("God, don't stop...")

("My line,") she protested faintly.

("Oh, my God, Scully...")

He pulled back; she clutched at him. He plunged deep, and she arched, opening to him. Faster and faster, until there was no time to breathe, and she exploded suddenly in a totally unexpected orgasm. Her climax triggered his, and he thrust against her roughly, raggedly, a few more times, until he arched up above her and cried out his fulfillment. Then he slumped down on top of her, exhausted.

For a while they just lay there. She could feel him still buried deep within her, and his face was buried against her neck. His mouth was open as he panted; his breath was hot against her skin. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel his fear subsiding as the bond between them hardened into a solid, textured thing. She knew when he relaxed, reassured by her clear presence, and fell asleep.

Yet, when she moved under him, wanting him to move just a little, to shift his weight off her, he did so at once. He withdrew from her, then pulled her close, again, tucking her under his chin. Exhausted, in mind and body, she was happy to settle against him and surrender to sleep.

+++

Karuna RPTC the next morning

Scully eased into wakefulness slowly. She was comfortable, content, warm and happy. This was all so unusual that she started, suddenly.

("Mulder!")

"Hmmm..."

The sleepy mumble in her ear settled her down as she remembered where she was and what had happened.

(He's here. He's safe. He's okay. He's MINE!) A lascivious grin appeared. (*And he's
MAGNIFICENT!*)

Mulder's body was wrapped around her, keeping her warm, shielding her from the harsh reality of the world outside. She nestled closer, feeling his chin pressed against the top of her head, his arms around her, his body pressed against her.

She smiled as she felt his body salute her and wiggled back. He moaned and his hands tightened on her. She began to rub herself against him slowly. His fingers splayed out against her ribs, and his lips began to move down her hairline, lazily progressing toward her mouth.

She turned her head to meet his kiss and his assault on her senses was startlingly intense. She had not been able to detect the moment in which he had awakened. His hands rolled her onto her back and pressed her wrists into the mattress on either side of her head. His knees pushed hers apart. She felt him slip into that cradle, between her legs, above her, and lifted her body to meet his as she moaned longingly into the kiss.

He impaled her smoothly, slowly sinking himself into her as her thighs lifted to press against his ribs and her back arched to pull him more deeply inside.

The kiss broke as he backed and thrust into her, setting up a pattern of three slow, deep strokes and two fast jabs. As her excitement built he worked to prolong her ascent, shifting to four and two, then five and three, until she was sobbing and clawing at him. Neither had said a word throughout, and now they were beyond speech. Yet words swirled between them.

("Hold me... hold me...")

("God... more...")

("You're here... you're here...")

Her ankles crossed at the small of his back, her legs holding him tightly, pulling him close, hampering his retreats. He put more strength into his efforts, overpowering her. He could not feel the scratches on his back and shoulders except as stimulus to get more deeply inside her, to make her hold him yet more tightly.

("Angel...")

("Fox... Fox... Fox...")

("Stay with me... stay with me...")

("Fox... Fox... Fox...")

("Mine! Mine! Mine!")

("Mine!")

All coherence dissolved into fireworks. Someone screamed.

Gradually Scully became aware that Mulder had collapsed on top of her. She moved her hands down his ribs with an appreciative purr. She did not want him to move: his weight was comfortably centered on her pelvis, and she had never felt so desired, so loved. She purred again and flexed beneath him, wanting some reaction any reaction. She had not yet opened her eyes.

("You're going to kill me...but what a way to go...")

She smiled, but kept her eyes closed,
concentrating on other senses. ("God, you feel so alive...")

Slowly, he moved to brace himself on his elbows above her. ("Am I too heavy?")

("Never.") She could feel his desire to stay where he was, and flattened her palms on his shoulder blades, tightened her thighs against his ribs. ("Stay with me?")

("Always. Forever. You are my life,") he told her. His kiss was soft, warm, wet and interminable. ("Without you I die.")

She could not answer that; it was the simple truth, and it frightened her to think about it. He made an unhappy sound and nuzzled under her chin sleepily.

("Stop that. I love you. We're together. That's all I meant,") he mumbled as he settled down on top of her, possessive, intent on keeping her close.

("Promise?") she whispered as she settled against him.

He moved his weight off her without surrendering any contact, and pulled her against him, reclaiming the position in which she had awakened. ("'Course...")

He was asleep, his face buried in her hair, his arms and legs wrapped around her, holding her close, surrounding her with his warmth and his scent. Slowly, she relaxed.

(*He's here, he's mine. We'll work on the details later,*) she decided. She nestled close against him, and closed her eyes. She realized that, as she relaxed, in a weird echoing way, she could feel how he felt: the still-present physical pain from his injuries, his fear of losing her that was being kept at bay by her presence in his arms, in his mind.

("I love you.") He shifted slightly to make her more comfortable.

("I love you, too, Fox.")

She felt his drowsy amusement; she could think his first name, but her mouth had been too well-trained to use it aloud.

("You can call me Fox. I just prefer to keep it out of conversations with strangers, because most men have to make some kind of pejorative comment about it, and a lot of women will start calling me Foxy. And I HATE Jimi Hendrix.")

Suddenly she understood. ("You spent four years in high school listening to people humming 'Foxy Lady' behind you in the halls, didn't you?")

("Yep.")

("Was your sexual orientation challenged?")

("Repeatedly.")

She moved against him, not to arouse, but to reminisce. ("Send all inquiries to me,") she grinned. ("I'll testify to your heterosexuality.") He nuzzled her throat. ("Goof. Like I care now what those sadists think...")

+++

They slept through breakfast. Chazz used her monitors to check on them, saw the way they were sleeping together, and turned off the camera with a pleased smile.

The sounds of several people talking below woke them finally.

("Dana?")

("Fox?")

They smiled at one another.

("Only like this,") Scully suggested, kissing him lightly. ("Aloud, we're still Mulder and Scully. Deal?")

("Deal. Never thought you'd have a pet name like Dana did you? ") he grinned.

("Never thought about pet names, at all,") she admitted.

He rolled onto his back, pulling her with him, to lie with her on top of him. Her knees fell naturally to either side of his slim body.

("Dana. Darling. Honey.")

She leaned down to kiss him languorously. The litany of endearments continued. ("Sweetheart. Angel.")

She slid forward and his tongue worked magic on her exposed body; when he had sent her soaring alone, and she had floated back to find herself still sitting astride her lover, his body ready to receive her, she slid backwards, leaving a trail of her arousal on his body. ("Beloved.")

He reached up and grabbed the headboard, gritting his teeth with the effort to restrain himself from simply grabbing her and tumbling her beneath him.

She could feel his need, physically as a nudge and psychically as an odd overlay. He was not really moving; he was giving her a turn at the dominant position, at being the active partner. But if she unfocussed her eyes just a little, she could see the powerful image from him of his body pounding into hers, of her knees up granting him entrance, her ankles crossed at the small of his back to give her purchase, her head back and her hands clawing at his back.

She shivered.

He whimpered very softly; the waiting was becoming a strain. The sound was a plea, but not a surrender.

She bit her lip, unsure of exactly what to do.

Instantly the image from Mulder changed, and he showed her.

("I'm afraid I'll hurt you if I move too much...")

He chuckled. ("Arousal transforms small amounts of pain, Dana. But if it does hurt, you'll know. You'll feel it. We're connected.")

Slowly, she moved, maneuvered hesitantly until she felt the wet tip of his erection touch her own wetness. She closed her eyes and just
concentrated on that for a moment, moving back and forth just a little...

Mulder moved, thrusting up into her with strength that startled her: she had not noticed when he bent his knees and planted his feet flat on the mattress. His movement was smooth and just strong enough: he did not want to buck her off. He simply completed their joining, then let himself fall back to the bed.

She was so startled that she fell back with him and that pushed him deeply into her. She climaxed abruptly, her back arching and her head going back as she cried out in surprise. Then she went limp against him, flopping down onto his chest.

He caught her while trying to catch his breath. Then he brought his knees up and pushed her up to rest against them. His hands were on her breasts, rubbing gently.

("You're not done, are you?") he teased. ("'Cause I'm not...")

("Mother of God, let me breathe,") she protested.

("You must be out of shape,") he grinned. ("What have you been doing for the last...how long did you say it was?")

She settled strong against him and leaned down to kiss him. ("Three months. Looking for you. Dreaming of this...")

Slowly, eyes locked on her face, he thrust up into her again.

Her body tightened around him, and her head went back as she gasped. ("Oh, my God!")

Again.

"Ohhh..." she moaned aloud, her eyes closed.

Again. He let go of her breasts and took hold of her wrists, pulled her down so he could kiss her. He thrust into her again, still holding her down.

She sobbed, tearing at his forearms with clawed hands.

("Incoherent already?") He was panting. He thrust up into her again. "You..."

Again.

"...feel..."

Again, harder.

"Ohh..."

Again. "Ohh..."

Again. ("I feel what?") She leaned back against his knees, and laced their fingers together, holding on and pushing down into his next thrust.

"You feel like a freight train..." she moaned.

He stopped.

She opened her eyes to glare at him, but her expression softened when she saw the fear in his eyes, when she felt his fear flare between them and finally recognized what it was.

("Are you all right?") he asked worriedly. ("I should have felt it if I was hurting her... ohmigod...")

She heard his uneasy thoughts fading back into the private parts of his mind, where she could not see.

"Hey." She spoke aloud deliberately, pulling him out of introspection. She rocked against him. ("You're not hurting me. I love it. I love you. C'mon, Fox...")

There could be no falsehood within this bond, and he relaxed. Then he grinned at her suddenly. ("Freight train, huh? One passenger. All aboard...") She groaned. ("I'm going to kill you. Later.")

("You brought trains into this.")

"STOP TALKING AND MOVE!" she nearly
shrieked.

He was unperturbed. ("Tickets?") Thrust. She leaned down, kissed him hard and then bit his lip. ("Punched.")

Again. ("I thought I... ") Again. (" ...was the conductor.")

("Wrong again.")

Again. ("When am I...") Again. ("...ever wrong?") That question went unanswered as the needs of their bodies overwhelmed them. They did not notice when all the conversation on the ground floor of the building ceased as the unique and unmistakable scream of a climaxing woman was heard, along with the distinct male counterpoint. The two voices together drowned out everything else.

+++

They showered separately, mostly because the shower was too small for them both. Mulder stayed in even longer than Scully; he found the sensation almost as exhilarating as what had suddenly blossomed between himself and Scully.

(*Is she my bondmate? Can she be? And this Sentinel/Guide stuff is, well... for lack of a better word, spooky! But it makes sense...I think...*)

He wrestled with it while he scrubbed. He stood under the hot water for a long time, letting it parboil him enough to loosen muscles stressed by unaccustomed activity.

He grinned to himself as he rinsed his hair yet again. (*'Unaccustomed activity.' As if that's all it was. But I FEEL like I rolled down a mountain; some of these bruises have to be from that. And the burns are healing, but they are still there...*)

He had investigated his entire body, and found himself battered and bruised, sore and aching everywhere, but, all in all, in pretty good shape. (*Except for the burns, not much worse than after Antarctica... and this had a MUCH happier ending! Not only do I have Nickie back, but I actually HAVE Scully, suddenly.

(And she has me.)

"Mulder, hurry up! I'm starved!"

He grinned. ("I'm coming, I'm coming!") he sent loudly, mostly as a test.

"Not without me, you aren't!" she growled. He pushed the shower curtain open and saw her glaring at him but fighting to hide a smile.

"Take a break, Scully," he grinned. "I'm only a man. I need recovery time."

She freed her smile then, and it warmed him more than the hot water had. "I know. And you need to eat. I want you to keep up your strength."

He scrubbed at his hair with a towel. "God, we've created a monster..."

But Doctor Scully began checking him over, then: while he dried his hair, the rest of him was plainly exposed and brightly illuminated in the fluorescent light.

"Mulder, are you all right? Are you still in pain, at all?"

He lowered the towel, and it blocked her view of his injuries. "What brought that on? I'm fine, Scully..." "You're a mess, Mulder; have you looked at yourself, lately?"

He shrugged. "I'm okay. They're just bruises, Scully. Minor stuff. Nothing significant. They'll all heal or fade in time."

"You're sure?"

He draped the towel across his shoulders and advanced on her, took her in his arms. "What?" he murmured into her ear. "I wasn't convincing enough...?"

"What I felt was convincing," she assured him. "But what I see still upsets me, and I ache for what you endured..."

"Now you know how I felt when you were returned," he said gently. "And you have to convince yourself that there's nothing you could've done to prevent any of it, Dana."

"I wish I could've found you, rescued you... I wanted to be your knight in shining armor," she admitted, smiling ruefully.

He chuckled. "Was it my turn to be the damsel in distress?" he asked. "I've lost track."

She hugged him tightly. ("I don't ever want to lose you again...")

He cradled her face in his hands and kissed her gently. ("You won't. We're attached. We're bonded forever.")

Scully buried her face against his chest. ("Blair said you'd die if the bond was broken, but that I'd survive. That's so unfair...!")

("That's life,") he shrugged. ("How much of what has happened to either of us is fair, Dana? We just have to keep on doing what we have to do...")

She looked up at him, her eyes suddenly sparkling. "I have to feed you," she grinned.

He could feel her remembering their lovemaking, and laughed softly. ("Are you always this insatiable?")

That stopped her short. She stared up at him. ("I don't know,") she murmured.

He hugged her, framed her face in his hands, and kissed her. ("I've got a question.")

("Shoot.")

("Will you marry me?")

She blinked, startled. ("Of course. The idea of anyone else ever touching you infuriates me, and the thought of anyone but you touching me is nauseating. But what brought that on?")

("One, I love you. Two, it's a legal bond, so the FBI can't separate us by transferring us to different cities. Three, I love you. Four...")

Scully laughed. ("That's enough! Yes, I'll marry you!)

He grinned. ("C'mon. Let's get dressed and eat. Then I want to go outside.")

They went downstairs together, hand-in-hand, with Laddie frisking happily around their feet. "Hi," Chazz greeted them cheerfully. "Sleep well? Sleep often? Sleep at all?"

Scully stopped dead, staring at her. ("How...?!")

("You're a screamer, Dana. You didn't realize...?")

Scully blushed furiously.

Chazz stepped forward and hugged her. "Hey. You have a right to be happy, Dana. Don't let anyone make you ashamed of it. The two of you have been through hell. You deserve a vacation. Relax and take it here."

Slowly Scully let herself relax. "I suppose..."

"Hey, Scully?"

She turned at once. "Yes?"

Mulder was sitting on the couch with a happy collie in his lap. He was petting the dog, but his expression was pensive.

"Mulder?"

"Did you tell anyone you found me?"

"No one knows but my friends here," Chazz answered. "There's a Special Agent McCormick in DC who was our contact. No one else knows."

Mulder shifted his attention back to Scully. "Skinner?"

Again, it was Chazz who answered. "He spent the first night next door at Rollie's, but he went into town that next morning to meet with Jim's C.O., Captain Banks. I think it was for a quick and dirty briefing on the care and feeding of Sentinels and Guides. He stayed in town since; I don't think he's gone back to DC."

Mulder grinned, but it faded quickly. "I'm not like Jim. I can't do what he says he can do."

"You're different," Chazz agreed. "But you and Dana can do things no one else can do, Mulder. Don't sell yourself short."

Scully realized belatedly that he was staring at the phone on the coffee table. "Who do you want to call, Mulder?"

"I should call my mom..."

But she could feel his reluctance, and understood it. He had just relived a childhood nightmare to which he had been subjected with his parents' cooperation and approval. He was going to have to confront her about it. Scully went to him, sat down beside him, slid her arms around him.

("Hold off on that until we can face her together. You two have a lot to discuss... you need to be face to face for that. Her phone's probably tapped, in case someone updates her on the search for you.")

("Yeah...now that I remember EVERYTHING, it's not going to be a short conversation...") His eyes were not focused.

Scully gasped suddenly. "Oh, my God! It's been a week and I never called Mom!"

Mulder tossed her the phone. She dialed hurriedly as she walked to the couch and dropped to sit beside him. He put his arm around her and she snuggled close.

"Mom? It's me. I'm in Washington State. Guess who we found!" She passed the phone back.

Mulder made a face at her, but schooled his voice carefully. "Mrs. Scully?"

He heard a gasp. "Fox?!"

"Yeah. Hi."

But she did not answer.

"Mrs. Scully?" Dana saw him bite his lip and look unhappy. Then he handed her the phone. "What's the matter?"

"She's crying." He pulled away, stood up.

("Hey ")

He did not try to speak, and she realized he was fighting tears. She let him distance himself.

"Mom. Calm down. He's fine, I promise. He was a prisoner, held in a lab the whole time. He discovered a lot of buried memories of his childhood, he found a childhood pal in the same lab. He's pretty much okay, now, but he still needs recovery time. The lab was a sensory deprivation environment: when he first came downstairs he had trouble dealing with all the colors and scents in Chazz's living room. He's adjusting, but he's still very attached to me."

"Darling, he's always been very attached to you."

"More so, now, Mom."

"Dana?"

"Yes?"

"How much more?"

Dana's attention went to him; he was staring out the window, watching the little Tibetan Spaniels chasing each other around their yard. His arms were wrapped tightly around his body.

"Hang on a minute, Mom." She did not wait for an answer, but put the phone down and went to him. ("You okay?")

He shivered. ("Yeah. I just can't stand it when she cries. Or when you do.")

She came around to stand in front of him, saw that his own face was wet.

("They were happy tears...")

("...this time.")

("She loves you. She has since you held each other up for the duration of my abduction.")

("I know. I love her, too. That's why I hate making her cry.")

("She's very happy that you're all right. That's all.")

He wrapped his arms around her, and she held on tightly.

("It's okay, Fox. It's okay...")

He shivered under her hands. ("I'm okay, really. I just can't stand that...") He drew on her serenity, and settled himself down quickly.

She kissed him lightly. ("Better?")

("Yeah. Thanks.)

("Can I tell her?")

("Tell her what?")

("That you proposed and I accepted.")

("Sure.")

("Are you sure?")

He managed to smile at her. ("Will it make her happy?")

("Yes!")

("Then tell her, by all means.") He came back to the sofa with her, sat down beside her. She nestled up against his body, and he put his arm back around her.

Scully picked up the phone, again. "Mom?"

"Yes, dear? What is it?"

"We're engaged."

"Engaged in what?"

"Snuggling, at the moment," Scully grinned. "When I hang up, heavy petting leading to heavy breathing and, eventually, screams of ecstasy. Damn it, Mom, we've agreed to get married! React, would you, please?"

"I'm too old to squeal with delight," Margaret pointed out dryly. "All I can say is, it's about damn time! Put him back on the phone."

Mulder accepted it. "Yes?"

"Now you have to call me Mom," she laughed gently. "You're my newest son, Fox, and I couldn't be happier."

He swallowed hard. "I'm glad, Mrs. Scully "

"Mom."

"Mom."

"Get better, Fox," Margaret advised. "And take good care of Dana for me, would you?"

"Always, Mom. Always. Thanks. Here's Dana again." "Hi, Mom."

"Took you long enough. He sounds tired, Dana; is he getting enough sleep?"

"Yes, Mom; after all, he was in a coma for a month. He's all caught up on his rest!"

"Dana!"

"Mom, relax. Yes, he had a rough time, and he isn't recovered, yet. But he's okay, there's no permanent damage, and he's getting better every day."

"Well, you feed him up and get him well again, Dana. I want you two back here as quickly as possible."

"Okay, Mom. I'll call you when we're ready to leave here. But I warn you, it is going to be a while. I want him to rest up and he'll never do that back in DC."

"All right. Hug him for me, Dana."

"I will, Mom," she grinned. Dana hung up the phone, then. "Now I'm going to finish getting your lunch together. You should call the Gunmen. They worked their tails off helping me look for you, and I didn't even tell them I was coming out here!"

He grinned at her. "That'll be fun." Mulder's eidetic memory gave him the number and he dialed it confidently.

"The Lone Gunmen," came the familiar voice.

"Turn off the tape," he said casually. "Hi, Langly."

There was dead silence at the far end of the line. Then, in a shocked whisper, he heard, "MMulder... ?!" "Yeah. It's me."

There was just a clatter as the phone was dropped. He could hear other voices, and he waited patiently until someone else picked up the phone.

It was Frohike. "Who the hell is this?!"

"It's me, Mulder. I'm okay, Frohike. Thanks, in part, to you and the guys, I'm told." Another moment of shocked silence, and then he heard Byers ask the inevitable question.

"It's Mulder," Frohike answered. "He's okay."

Mulder was shocked at the dazed tone of Frohike's voice. At least as surprising was the emotional, "Oh, thank God! Thank God!" from Byers.

"Frohike?" he said cautiously.

"Huh? Yeah! Yeah, Mulder. I'm here. Where are you, man?? Should we call Scully? Do you need any help...?"

"Hey! Settle down," Mulder spoke softly, touched. "I'm fine, I'm free. I'm not hurt. Scully's here. But I owe you guys: it was a friend of a friend of Langly's who rescued me."

"You're kidding. That's great! Where are you?"

"Nearest city is Seacouver, Washington, I'm told. But I'm way out in the country."

"When are you coming back?"

"Y'know, I don't think it'll be real soon," Mulder admitted. "I need some time to reconnect with the world and with Scully."

"So you were being held prisoner all this time?"

"Oh, yeah. In a laboratory, being used for tests. Probably a lot like what happened to Scully, allowing for gender differences."

Frohike gasped in horror. "How can you possibly be all right, Mulder?"

"I learned a lot during these past three months. I learned that a lot of detail about my childhood had been chemically masked. I learned that Alex Krycek killed my father, and that Samantha and I, and Annaliese, and three other kids from Chilmark, were all experimental subjects. Nothing they did to me during these three months was new, Frohike; I'd been through it all before, as a kid, repeatedly."

"Was Krycek there?"

Mulder shuddered. "Krycek's dead," he muttered. His composure was beginning to fray, again.

Scully looked up, worried. (*Hey. I'm here. Take it easy...it's all over. You're safe...*)

"Krycek's dead?!" Frohike exclaimed excitedly.

"Yeah..."

"Good riddance. Did you know he was grabbed the same way you were, the same day?"

"Yeah..." Mulder suddenly lowered the phone, overwhelmed by memories slamming into his awareness too quickly to process. The phone fell from his grip as he lifted his hands to scrub at his face, fighting for control.

Scully's hands were on his trembling shoulders, rubbing soothingly.

("It's okay... I'm here...") She soothed him expertly. ("Ride it out, Fox. You aren't alone, here. You're never going to be alone, again... Sshh...")

She moved to sit beside him, and he dropped to huddle in her lap. She could feel all the turmoil roaring through him, but was loathe to interrupt him. He had to learn to cope with this himself. She crooned wordlessly, kept the mental link open, and petted him slowly with one hand. She hunted for the phone with the other, and finally found it.

"Frohike?"

The panic at the far end of the connection stopped. "Scully? Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me."

"Is he really all right?" he asked anxiously.

Scully sighed. "Physically, he's about 80%. Mentally, he's 100%. But emotionally he's only about 50 or 60%. Three months of torture in a sensory deprivation environment. But he's going to be fine. I promise."

"You're sure?"

"Frohike, I'm a medical doctor, and I am the world's foremost expert on Fox Mulder. Trust me. He's going to be fine, and he'll be back to work before you know it."

"Thank God," he breathed.

"I have to go feed him lunch, now, Frohike. So I'm going to hang up. But I'll call you back with regular updates."

"And you will call us if there's anything --absolutely anything!-- we can do to help, right?" Scully frowned thoughtfully. "Y'know, there might be something. Have you guys been keeping up with your kung fu?"

Frohike's response was eager. "Of course! What do you need?"

"I'm going to overnight you a box of hard drives, diskettes and zip discs. They're the records from the laboratory where they were keeping Mulder. Since he's been an experimental subject all his life, chances are the records go back to 1961. But they are encrypted. He wants to know all the dirty details, Frohike. Especially about the parts he can't remember."

Frohike understood that, but it was Byers's voice that she heard, and she realized that they had put her on the speaker.

"If Mulder's right, and Samantha's disappearance was part of the project, those records may contain real information on where they took her. If they kept track of Mulder, maybe they kept track of Samantha, too, and the records would say where we could find her."

Under her hands, Scully felt Mulder stir as he surfaced out of the darkness at the sound of his sister's name.

"Just keep it all confidential, guys. He's been through enough; he doesn't need the entirety of his personal life headlined in your zine."

"Understood," came Byers's prompt reply. "I'll keep these two yahoos in line, Agent Scully."

"I'll be counting on you for that, John."

There was the muffled sound of a conversation going on out of reach of the speaker. Then Frohike's voice became audible. "Agent Scully? We would really prefer it if you didn't trust this stuff to anyone, not even a bonded courier service. Could we come out and pick them up?"

She grinned. "And see for yourself that he's okay?"

"Well..."

"Hang on while I inquire of our hostess."

Scully turned to locate Chazz. "Do you mind if I give out your address?"

Chazz shrugged. "Are they friends of yours?"

"Yes."

"Are they trustworthy?"

"Yes."

"Go ahead. I'll make two pans of lasagna."

Scully went back to the phone and gave Frohike the directions.

"Thanks, Agent Scully. We'll be there in three or four days; Langly still won't fly anywhere. Okay?"

"Okay. We're looking forward to seeing you guys."

"You tell Mulder we're glad he's okay and we look forward to seeing him again."

"Okay. Oh, one more thing "

"Yes?"

"He asked me to marry him." She could feel Mulder forcing himself not to make any sound at all, though he desperately wanted to shout THAT news from the housetops! ("Wait for it,") she warned him.

He sent her an image of himself rolling on the floor, laughing so hard he had to wrap his arms around his body. She giggled.

"How did you respond?" Byers asked cautiously.

"I said yes, of course!" she grinned down at Mulder, who was lying on his back, now, with his head in her lap, looking up at her. "Do you think I hunted for him for three months like this to risk losing him? Are you NUTS??"

There was so much cheering going on at their end that Mulder did not think they had heard much of that oh-so-interesting statement of hers, and he said so. Scully thanked the Gunmen and hung up the phone. Then she turned all her attention back to her partner.

("You think that's bad? Wait till I call Kim and tell her the winning date.")

("What date?") he asked, puzzled.

("The date we consummated all these years of teasing each other.")

("Why would Kim care about the date?")

("She ended up running the office pool when the Director's secretary retired.")

He stared at her. ("There's an office pool on when we'll finally sleep together?!")

She grinned down at him and smoothed his hair back. ("Didn't you know? Oh, of course not! You only came out of the basement to pick up 302s or to get yelled at.")

("And for cafeteria chili,") he added. ("It was so awful it was good.")

Scully giggled, leaned down and kissed him. ("Last I heard the pool was up to about ten grand. I hope Colton doesn't win it!")

He was shocked. ("Ten grand?? Ten thousand dollars?? That's insane! Don't these people have lives??")

("Apparently not.")

("Is it too late for us to put a few bucks down?")

The dogs, still outside, set up a cacophony of welcome just then. Startled by the noise, Scully straightened, and Mulder sat up, both wary, each wishing for a gun.

("Who could find us out here?")

The door opened and a tall man with a curly mane of dark, shaggy hair sauntered confidently into the house.

"Hi, honey!" he sing-songed. "I'm ho-ome!"

The agents watched him enfold their hostess in his arms and kiss her soundly. She kissed back briefly, then blushed and pushed him back a bit.

"Rollie, I have guests...!"

He turned to look, and grinned. "Hi. Nice place, innit?"

Mulder grinned as the name Chazz used confirmed that he had recognized the man. He stood up and put out his hand. "Snake Plissken! I thought you were dead! I'm Fox Mulder, and I am honored to meet the man who built the Vindicator!"

Rollie shook the hand mindlessly, trying to catch up.

Scully was just confused. She was vaguely aware that the opening line Mulder had used had been a quote from a film that he had made her watch late one night, but that was all.

Mulder felt her confusion and pulled her closer, snuggling her against his side. "You remember the Vindicator, Scully: that pickup with the huge lift kit and monster mudder tires that avenges injustice and occasionally doesn't kill the bad guy? There's four or five of those movies..."

"Oh, it's a movie," she realized only then. "I thought it was an X- File."

She felt the adrenaline surge in her partner.

"Now, there's an idea!" he laughed.

"What's an X-File?" Rollie asked.

"Rollie, this is my partner in all conceivable ways! Dana Scully. We're FBI agents, and we've got some closed cases that you'd have a field day with!"

"What sort of cases?" Rollie could not help but be curious as he pulled an easy chair closer to the couch where they were sitting, still holding onto one another.

"Monster hunts," Fox began gleefully. "Beast Woman in the Pine Barrens. Moth Men in Florida. Werewolves in Montana. Flukeman in New Jersey. Alien spacecraft in Antarctica..."

Rollie leaned back and chuckled. "You find Jimmy Hoffa in New Jersey?"

Mulder grinned back. "Nope. Everybody knows he's buried in the concrete foundations of the Giants' football stadium. Under the home end zone, I understand."

Rollie laughed. "Yeah. So, Mr FBI Agent, why did YOU think I was dead?"

"I saw footage of your funeral on ET and E!TV, and your obituary with stills in CINEFANTASTIQUE. Why'd you fake it? Who's hunting you?"

Rollie blinked, unaccustomed to being left in the dust. "You're good," he commented, stalling.

Mulder shrugged. "We're law enforcement. It's the only logical reason someone as visible as you would go this far underground. So, who is it?"

"Victor Loubar," Rollie said quietly, watching the feds. He expected blank expressions.

But Mulder knew that name, and as his eidetic memory opened the mental file on Loubar, Scully gasped at the fragments she could make out.

"Damn," was Mulder's comment. "When you pick an enemy, you don't kid around! How'd you get him that angry?"

"Ruined three of his assignments."

"Three?!" That shocked Mulder. "THREE?! Why aren't you really dead!?"

Rollie shrugged. "Believe me, he tried! I was minding my own business, making movies and providing a little tech support to the NYPD when they needed it. Loubar decided to use my face to sell some of his nastier toys. After that, we just kept bumping into one another. The second time was an accident: a friend asked me to help get someone out of England. It just happened that Loubar had already killed the courier and taken his place. The third time, though, he did it out of spite. He kidnapped me and raped my partner, Angie, while he was wearing my face, so she'd think it was me! Altogether, I'm of the opinion that he deserves anything that happens to him, and I'll be glad to help arrange it!"

Mulder leaned back in his seat. "Like I said, you don't kid around!"

Rollie chewed on his lip. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't report this. Loubar's like a bad penny; he keeps turning up. And I have a lot of friends around me now; friends I'd rather not see put at risk trying to protect me from him if he comes out again."

Mulder nodded. "Not a word. I swear. Maybe we can even help." Rollie's eyes flicked to Scully, who had said so little.

"I promise, Mr. Tyler," Scully said quietly. "We're sworn to protect and serve; we'd hardly be doing that if we broke your cover."

Rollie grinned wanly. "Well, I'm not so worried about myself. It's more Angie, my daughter Teddi and Chazz. He'd use them to get to me and Angie's got a family to think of, now. And I don't know what I'd do if I lost Chazz or Teddi."

Chazz came up behind him and slid her hands down his chest as she bent down to kiss him on the cheek. "You aren't going to lose any of us, Rollie. Eventually, someone is going to find Loubar and take care of the problem."

"And until then, I'm stuck out here in the woods." There was an unmistakable trace of bitterness in Rollie's words.

Mulder and Scully traded glances, each suddenly reminded that they were not the only people on the planet with problems.

+++

Karuna RPTC four days later

The afternoon was hot and quiet. Chazz's home had air conditioning, but she rarely used it, preferring to open her windows to the cooler, pine-scented breezes from the surrounding woods. The dogs were all outside in their yard, sleeping in shady damp places where the grass was long and lank.

Inside, the stereo played quietly, primarily Celtic harp music that Methos had endorsed as being quite accurate. He had gotten drunk a few times with Turlough O'Carolan and many of his predecessors, and he admitted to recalling the origins of several of the selections on the album.

Chazz was on the veranda, her feet up on the windowsill, her laptop balanced on her thighs, trying to work on her next article. She kept glancing into the house through the window, and the distraction was making it impossible for her to work.

Through the window, she could see into the living room. Mulder was asleep on the couch, sprawled with careless ease on his back, his head pillowed on Scully's thigh, one hand dangling off the edge of the cushion nearly to the floor.

Scully was drowsing, content, her hand moving slowly, lazily, through Mulder's shaggy hair. She was snuggled comfortably into the corner of the couch. On the floor in front of the couch, sprawled on his back, asleep, lay Nick. He was close enough to the couch that Mulder's hand dangled down to rest against his body. Nick's head lay against the side of Scully's foot.

They had discovered today, after experimenting a little, that no one had nightmares if they were touching. Nick had spent two nights next door at Rollie's house, and he had had nightmares both nights. His distress had awakened Mulder, and Mulder's distress had awakened Scully. A few moment's of conscious contact through their bond was enough to quiet anyone's fears.

But when they fell asleep touching, however lightly, here on Chazz's couch, the nightmare was squelched in the bond much earlier, and no one woke up, or was unduly disturbed.

Within the bond, they were learning to be a trio. Chazz watched, fascinated, as Scully consciously tried to treat Nick appropriately, even though she had confided to Chazz that she had a great deal of trouble forgetting that he had once been, and might still be, Alex Krycek.

But the trio's dynamic was very wolflike, by Chazz's estimation. Fox and Dana were the alpha pair, and Dana was alpha to Fox because she was his Guide. Nick was visibly submissive to them both, witness his current position on the floor beside them. He was especially solicitous of Dana's favor, because he understood her hostility.

(*I wonder if, without that hostility, what would happen between the three of them,*) Chazz mused. (*If Dana would permit it, she could have them both as lovers. Fox, I think, would deny her nothing, and Nick would die for her smile. He's been alone so long, and he has almost no hope for any relationship in the future.*)

Her ruminations were interrupted by the sound of a car engine. Coming up the road was a beat-up old van wearing Virginia plates. Smiling, she set the laptop aside and stood up.

The van pulled in and parked in her driveway, and a trio of very distinctive men got out. Chazz could identify them all very easily from the descriptions Scully had given her.

"The Lone Gunmen," she smiled. "Let's
see...you're John Byers, you're Melvin Frohike, and you're Ringo Langly. Right?"

She was correct. Byers smiled tightly. "And you are Chastity Rhiannon Dolan, PhD and MD, University of Washington at Seacouver, licensed psychiatrist, specializing in PTSD. You got a speeding ticket on your way to class when you were 22, and more than half your current practice is cops. Your sister Prudence and her children live over the hill, there, and Kimi was the number three Junior Handler in the Northwest last year, showing a Tibetan Spaniel with the unlikely name of Karuna's Char Aznable."

Chazz grinned, though it was costing her to maintain her outer facade of calm; these men knew more about her than anyone she knew and it frightened her. "It's pronounced 'shah ahzh-nah-bull,'" she explained. "But we call him Comet."

"Bet he's red," Langly smirked.

"No, actually he's black," Chazz faced him. "But he's a killer. At five months, when I was filling out the registration paperwork, he killed a mole and two field mice. The chipmunk got away, but was wounded."

"That fits," Langly nodded.

"Where's Mulder and Scully?" Frohike demanded, a little truculent because he did not recognize the reference to the old Mobile Suit Gundam anime series that Langly and Chazz were talking about.

"Inside. Please be quiet; Dana's finally gotten Fox to sleep. He's been through three kinds of hell, and he still needs the rest. The box you came for is just inside the door if you want to load it now. You are staying for at least the night, aren't you? I hate to think of you having to drive back just after you got here," she offered solicitously.

The trio blinked in surprise, and almost in unison.

"We'd love to," Byers answered promptly. "Thank you, Dr. Dolan."

"Just call me Chazz," she grinned. "Everyone does. Hang on a minute while I deactivate the security system."

They expected her to go to the wall and reveal a control panel, or flourish a PDA. Instead, she snapped her fingers. Laddie came to her side and went to heel. He had been behind the Gunmen all along. His eyes stayed on them. The Gunmen realized nervously that they had been outflanked, and they had not even realized it.

Chazz turned to the door. Lad followed the Gunmen as they followed her into the house.

"Lad adopted Fox when he first arrived; he's usually with him," Chazz spoke in a quiet but normal tone. She stepped down into the living room. "Dana? Are you awake? Your friends are here."

Scully blinked at them, half-dazed from immersion in Mulder's dreams. She smiled at them lazily. "Hi, guys. You made good time."

The Gunmen stood frozen, torn between being pleased that the partners were reunited, that Mulder was safe, and the utter horror of the torture that still showed on his body. It was too hot for much clothing; Scully was wearing an emerald green halter top and matching Daisy Duke shorts. Mulder was wearing nothing but a pair of denim cutoffs. The scars and healing wounds on his bared body terrified his friends.

"Oh, my God." Frohike choked on the words. "Is he all right, Agent Scully? Really?"

Scully looked down at her lover, who was still soundly asleep. "He will be. There's nothing wrong with him that a little R-and-R won't cure." Her hand went through his hair again. ("Mulder? The Gunmen are here.")

("??")

("Are you going to wake up?")

("Not now,") he muttered. He nestled closer and fell back into oblivion.

She smiled indulgently, smoothed his hair back tenderly. Then she looked up at the boys. "Let's let him sleep, shall we? C'mon in, guys. Sit down."

They settled down warily.

Chazz looked around. "Where's Nick?"

"Bathroom," Scully replied. ("Nick?")

What she got from him was the impression of a smile and the sound of a zipper being closed.

"He'll be out in a moment."

"Coffee?"

"Iced tea?"

"Good idea." Chazz headed into the kitchen.

("Dana?") That was Nick, and he sounded nervous.

Scully realized that he did not know who these people were. "C'mon out, Nick. These are friends of ours."

Hesitantly, Nick emerged. Without seeming to hurry, he was suddenly at Scully's feet, on his knees, watching the strangers. He was wearing shorts, too, but to hide the ugly stump of his amputated arm, he was wearing a short-sleeved cotton shirt, left unbuttoned to bare his body to whatever coolness might be found. The Gunmen were on their feet.

"Wait a minute!" Langly growled. "Mulder said he was dead!"

Scully felt Mulder stirring; Nick's nervousness was getting through. Nick relaxed a little as Mulder's hand came down on his head, and he turned to rub his chin against Mulder's thumb.

"Jeez, Nick, didn't you shave this morning?" Mulder's voice was very low. He moved to lie on his side, his head still pillowed on Scully's thigh. His hand turned Nick's face toward him.

"No. Still hurts a little," Nick grinned. His face was as bruised and scraped as the rest of him, from the tumble down the mountainside.

"I hear that," Mulder grinned back at him. He had not shaved, either, for much the same reason.

("Well, I'll be glad when you can shave again,") Scully stroked Mulder's hair back, and he moved to lie on his back so he could see her. They stared deep into one another's eyes, and Nick just watched, happy to be allowed as close as he was, but feeling very much like a recovered alcoholic at a beer blast: he could look but not touch.

("Soon, my love...soon. And I've been being careful, haven't I?")

She grinned and leaned down to kiss him. ("Yes, you have,") she admitted. ("And I appreciate it.") Then conversation, even as effortless as telepathy, was too much.

Mulder moved decisively, pulling her down on top of him without breaking the kiss. The connection between the three bond-sibs was so intimate at that moment that when Scully's balance wavered, Nick was there to catch her, and keep her on the couch. The kiss continued.

Still on the floor, Nick closed his eyes to concentrate on the bond, letting himself slump against the front of the couch.

"All right, all right, break it up, you three." That was Chazz, coming in with a large jug of iced tea and a tray with glasses, sugar and lemon. The Gunmen traded frightened glances, the same thought on all their minds: what could have caused such a dramatic change in their friends?

The kiss finally broke.

("Wow.")

("Yeah. Wow.")

Scully got down carefully to stand beside the couch. ("You all right?")

("Nothing wrong with me that a cold shower won't cure,") he admitted with a rakish grin. ("Or, better, a little private time with you...")

Scully cocked her head thoughtfully. He was already learning to recognize that expression; that was Experimenter!Scully and she was about to test their bond in some new way.

A cold drench went through him, and he flinched. Then he shivered. ("Enough!") he yelped when it was.

It stopped. He sat up, not quite cold enough to shiver, but all arousal thoroughly quenched. ("Damn...!")

"Now, that was really very interesting," Scully said thoughtfully. "Who would've suspected that..."

"Agent Scully!" Byers could not contain himself another moment. "What the HELL is going on?!"

Mulder looked away from Dana for the first time.

"Hi, guys! When'd you get in?"

"A few minutes ago," Langly growled. "When did you start lying to us, Mulder?"

He frowned, puzzled. "About what? I haven't lied to you "

"You said Alex Krycek was dead!" Mulder blinked, then glanced at his bond-sibs.

"He is, guys. This is Nick Lermontov. We grew up together."

It took Mulder and Scully quite a while to explain everything to their friends. Nick filled in details when they paused. They went through three jugs of iced tea and two plates of sandwiches.

"And you're mutually telepathic, now?" Frohike asked incredulously.

Mulder and Scully glanced at one another. "Usually, only if we're touching," Scully said hurriedly. Then she blushed.

"Oh, man...!" Frohike gasped at the concept that had just crashed through his consciousness. "You mean when you're..." He could not say it.

Mulder grinned lazily. "Or not." ("Dana.")

"Yes?"

("Let go and back away. Let's see how far apart we can get and still talk ")

She stood up and took a step away. ("Hear me now?")

("Loud and clear. What happens if you walk across the room?")

("Walking. Two, four, six, Cincinnati sixty-six...")

("Still clear.")

She was in the kitchen. He was on the couch. She headed for the door.

("Testing, testing. Seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen...")

He echoed the words to her. She got to fifty-one before she could no longer hear him. She could still feel his presence, could feel him breathing faster, nervous because she was out of sight, standing at the end of the driveway, about a hundred feet away, but the words had faded away. She stepped back one stride. ("Hear me now?")

(" Dana! Dana!")

("I'm here!") she 'shouted.'

His relief was a flood of emotion. ("Sorry,") he said finally. ("How far out did you get?")

("I could hear you till 51. When did you lose me?")

("52. How far away are you?")

("Take a look.")

He got up and went to the door. She waved and started walking back. After a few strides she was running. She threw herself into his arms and he held her fiercely.

The Gunmen watched, awestruck.

+++

Dinner was hot dogs and burgers cooked outside on the grill, German potato salad, radishes, carrots and celery sticks, deviled eggs, and lemonade. There was watermelon for dessert, and Mulder taught Scully target spitting with the seeds.

Skinner was supposed to be there for dinner, but he did not arrive until well after dark. The party had settled down to quiet conversations and comfortable silences. Mulder was asleep on a blanket near the fire Rollie had built at dusk, and Scully was sitting beside him, using his body, half-curled around her, as a bolster. Laddie was sprawled in the grass beside them, his chin pillowed on Mulder's ankle. The Gunmen, Scully, Jim, Blair, Chazz, Rollie, MacLeod, Methos and Amanda were talking quietly. Nick was drowsing, leaning up against a tree close to his bond-sibs.

Jim and Blair were explaining Sentinels and Guides to the Gunmen. Nick was trying to listen, but kept falling asleep. The little startled jerk of his head when he woke himself up finally wore through Scully's patience.

"Nick, come here." Her hands made her meaning clear, and in a moment he was lying on the blanket back to back with Mulder. They were not touching, but she could reach him. "Go to sleep, Nick. You're at least as wrecked as he is."

"Thanks, Dana," he mumbled as he settled himself down.

"You're welcome."

The conversation did not resume because everyone heard a car approaching. A glance up the road told Scully who it was.

"So Skinner finally tore himself away from the local office," she grinned.

"Who's Skinner?" Amanda inquired.

"Our supervisor. Assistant Director Walter Skinner. I wonder what was so interesting about the Seacouver field office that he couldn't tear himself away for over a week."

Jim and Blair traded worried glances, but neither ventured any suggestion.

When the car pulled into the drive and stopped, Lad got up, shook his coat into place, and stepped forward to stand between the approaching stranger and the people he cared about. Jim stood up, too, unable to remain at leisure when someone who was so obviously a commanding officer approached.

Chazz went to greet him. "Hello, Mr. Skinner. We saved you some dinner."

Skinner looked harried and overworked. "Thank you, Dr. Dolan. I missed lunch today..."

Scully and the others sat on their curiosity until he had methodically made his way through two microwaved cheeseburgers and half a plateful of potato salad. When he pushed back from the table with a sigh, Chazz handed him a cold bottle of beer; a local microbrew called Orca Ale. He hesitated.

"There's most of a case left. Adam's being polite tonight. Drink all you want. We have room; you can spend the night."

Skinner twisted off the top, raised the bottle in salute to her, and drained it in one long pull. Chazz said nothing, but took the empty and replaced it in his hand with a full one.

Skinner drank about half the second bottle and leaned back in his chair. "Thank you, Dr. Dolan. That was just what I needed."

"Chazz, or I'll bill you."

He grinned at her. "Chazz, then. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"So, sir, what's kept you so busy in town all week?" That was Scully, as insatiably curious as her partner.

Skinner studied her for a moment, then dropped his gaze to study her partner. "How is he?" he asked instead of answering.

"Healing up nicely," was the response. A wicked part of her mind wanted to sing, 'He's fantastic!' (But that's so inappropriate...!)

("And immature.")

("Hush. You're supposed to be asleep.")

("So stop thinking so loud.")

("Sorry.")

Her hand dropped to smooth back his hair; he moved fractionally into the caress.

"Agent Scully?"

She tore her attention away. "Sir?"

"When will he be fit to return to duty?"

A jolt of adrenaline went through both of them.

"You're joking," Scully growled.

("Dana... ")

("QUIET!")

He flinched, but kept still. Her hands apologized, but her attention was locked on Skinner.

Mulder could feel her straining to read their supervisor the way she could read him and Nick.

Skinner looked uncomfortable. "I wouldn't ask, but..."

"...there's no one else?" Scully growled. "If he's so damned irreplaceable, why does he get treated like J. Edgar's bastard stepchild so consistently?"

"You know the answer to that one, Agent Scully," Skinner said heavily. "What kept me busy in town all week, with SAC Steve Fetter and Inspector Powell of Seacouver PD's Homicide unit, is a serial killer. We've got six dead, and he's still out there."

"You're not serious!"

Skinner shrugged helplessly. "We have lots of forensic psychologists, Scully, and some of them are working on this. But true profiling is a gift, Scully; it can't be taught. Few have it in the abundance that he has it, and you know it. He has you here to support him, to keep him from falling too far into it..."

"Me, too," came a very quiet, hesitant voice. "I'll help, too, Dana..."

Skinner blinked in shock.

Scully saw Skinner's expression change, and realized that he had recognized Nick as Krycek.

"AD Skinner, meet Mulder's lifelong friend and bond-sib Nicolai Lermontov. They were both subjects of the Project; Nick rescued Mulder from the lab when the avalanche knocked the rail car off the track."

Skinner swallowed hard. He remembered Jim Ellison's call to AMW, but faced with the actual fact, it was hard to grasp. There was his nemesis, half-naked and rather battered, looking up at him with absolutely no recognition in his eyes, offering to help with a multiple murder investigation!

She shook her head. "Nope. This is the real man. Alex Krycek was a..."

"...shell persona," Nick supplied helpfully when she hesitated. "Can I help?"

"Just having you here will be a help, Nick," Scully said gently.

Skinner just stared at her, shocked. "Agent Scully!"

She shrugged helplessly. "I resisted it, too, sir. But I have a telepathic connection to him, as well as to Mulder. The bond with Mulder is deeper and wider, but Nick and I can call one another, and send images, and project some visual cues. What we cannot do is lie; falsehood shows up in the bond as dramatically as the scent cloud around a road-killed skunk. He's not Alex Krycek, although I am willing to concede that he was."

MacLeod's cellphone chose that moment to chirp insistently. He reached for it, already tense: the only people who knew that number who were not already present were the Dawsons and Anne Lindsey.

"Yes?"

"Mac." It was Joe Dawson. "Miklaus is here."

MacLeod froze. "At your house??" That was terrifying.

"No; we're safe, all buttoned up. But Laddy saw him in town, today. Saw him, and ran straight to the bar. We don't know if he was followed. He hasn't felt anyone close by, but he took no precautions. He panicked."

"Stay safe," MacLeod instructed. "I'll call you back in a few minutes."

He ended the call and found his lovers staring at him.

"Who is it?" Adam asked.

"Miklaus."

Adam shuddered. Amanda hugged him
reassuringly. Chazz moved to sit in the chair against which Adam was leaning where he sat crosslegged on the floor.

"He was a student of Caspian's," Adam said faintly. "In some ways, he's worse."

"Duncan, why is he here?" Amanda was frightened.

"To kill," MacLeod shrugged. "That's what he does. Excuse me; I've got to call Matt." He stood up, walked away from the group. The group waited, silent, until he returned.

MacLeod faced Skinner first. "Agent McCormick says to tell you that he's on his way out here. He believes that a serial killer he's been hunting for years: Miklaus the Cannibal, is out here, now."

Skinner paled. "Oh, damn..."

Mulder, disturbed by all the tension, gave up on trying to go back to sleep and sat up, rubbing at his eyes. "Every time we think its safe to close that file, the bastard turns up again."

Skinner turned to face him. "You're familiar with the case, Agent Mulder?"

He nodded. "Yes, sir. Matt McCormick and I met while working on it, when I was still in BSU. It was our case, sir."

Scully frowned. "Not a chance. You aren't going to be a hero this time, Mulder."

He frowned at her. "Scully, this man specializes in killing off entire families. When they're all dead, and he takes his time about that, he butchers and eats the youngest child. He picks families that have kids under seven. How would you feel if the last victim was Matthew?"

"That's a low blow, Mulder," Skinner growled. "You may be able to assist; the locals certainly need a profiler on the Rysher Creek Killer case. But you are on limited duty, Mulder: no field work! Do I make myself clear?"

"Thank you, sir!" Scully made no effort to hide her relief.

"I need to see crime scenes," Mulder reminded him.

"Only with an escort," Skinner barely conceded.

Amanda and MacLeod looked at one another. They both had the same thought: if these people went up against Miklaus without all the significant information that he was an Immortal, people would die.

+++

To: all sworn personnel
From: Office of the Director
Subject: S.A. Fox Mulder

20 August 2001

I am pleased to announce to the Bureau that Special Agent Fox Mulder, kidnapped from his home in Alexandria VA on or about 11 May 2001, has escaped his captors and will be returning to his duties at JEH when he is medically ready.

The kidnapping itself remains open for
investigation, since his captors have not been apprehended, but the BOLO on Agent Mulder, and the accompanying one on fellow victim Alex Krycek, are hereby rescinded.

Agent Mulder reports that Mr. Krycek and he were being held together, and that Mr. Krycek died in captivity.

Agent Mulder is currently on restricted duty, assisting the Seacouver office with a multiple murder case. His partner, Special Agent Dana Scully, MD, is with him, also assisting in the investigation.

I wish to thank all those who participated for their dedication to the investigation, and hope that Agent Mulder will be back in his office here shortly.

All SACs, please notify your local police departments that the search for Agent Mulder has been completed and thank them for their cooperation.

Sincerely,

S. J. Farrar Director, FBI

(To be continued in The Chilmark Project Part IV - Clan Seacouver)


Authors' notes:

This story would not have been nearly this good without the terrific beta we got from our betagoddess Frohike51: thank you very, very, very very much! And for our other Beta who looked this through for continuity in X-Files and the other shows, (specifically: Highlander: The Series, The Sentinel & F/X: The Series) S'dani and to all the others we've subjected this to. <eg>

Comfort of Friends is a massive MegaNovel purporting to show the highlights of the Life and Times of Methos, the 5000 year old man from HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES. We mixed in F/X: THE SERIES and SENTINEL, and now we're
adding the X-FILES. Only X-Files-focused segments will be posted here in X-PHILE LAND; when we have a site of our own, it will all go up. It doesn't show any sign of ending, mind you!

Methos likes watching Mulder and Ellison work serial killers together, and Dana and Blair are becoming good friends while they study everything left out of the Kama Sutra with Amanda! Duncan keeps racking up the head count. Connor tries not to be a party-pooper, but he really can't help it. (In our universe, Highlander: Endgame did not occur!) In the meantime, if you plead nicely, we might be possibly persuaded to send you some of the other parts.

"Parts is Parts!"

(Authors' together:) "Shut up, Methos!!"


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Wylfcynne and Ravenwald