Trouble With The Truth

By Jeannine Ackerson

 

10/25/97

Rating: R for language and sexual situations.

Disclaimer: The X-Files & the characters portrayed therein are property of C.C., FOX, 1013 Prod., etc. The song passages are all from Patty Loveless' "The Trouble With The Truth".

Spoiler Warning: For everything up to the end of season 4.

Relationship: Lots of Angst, UST and MSR.

Summary: The paths that Mulder and Scully have taken in their lives take them to the final barrier to the truth and their happiness: themselves.

Hi all! Well, this is my attempt at what has been 'referred' to as an "ultimate" MSR, which, in my infinite wisdom, I'm tackling along with the challenge of resolving Gethsemane. (And I thought taking on this story *before* was going to be hard. Ha, little did I know.) Anyway, on to the show. . .

 

Part 1 - Lies And Burdens

"Oh the trouble with the truth

Is its' always the same old thing

So hard to forget

So impossible for me to change

Every time I try to fight it

I know I'll be left to blame

Oh, the trouble with the truth

Is its' always the same old thing"

Had it had all been smoke and mirrors?

There had been really no advancement in the search since he began, he realized, and the fact that he'd gotten nowhere made it even more of a defeat. And now. . . now he'd been told that his search was for a lie. That there would never be any resolution to his quest. . . because there was nothing to find.

But there was still a part of what made him Fox Mulder that couldn't accept that answer.

There had to be *something*. There had to be a chance, slim though it might be that he could find that *one* piece of evidence he needed. That shard of truth in the overwhelming amounts of lies and betrayals. Something to allow him to gain that one, final elusive justice.

For himself. For Samantha. For Scully. For everyone he had ever known who had suffered or died because of their lies.

Except that he didn't know where to go from here.

His mind pondered the question. He didn't know how to fight them without becoming a player in the game. He had tried to be a Boy Scout in a field of assassins, and had nearly lost everything and more in his attempts to remain above it all; clean and untouched by the stain of conspiracy and denials. Except his own soul felt as if it was just as dark as any of his self-confessed enemies.

His concentration was abruptly disrupted by the ringing of his cel phone and he scrambled to pick it up.

"Mulder," he answered, his voice choked with the remnants of the tears he'd shed.

"Agent Mulder," Assistant Director Skinner said over the phone. At the tone of Skinner's voice, Mulder knew he wasn't going to like what he had to say. Not one bit. Not like he cared about much at this point in time. How the hell was he supposed to care about anything when his life had just been exposed as a lie and his memory as a fraud?

And that his belief in the extreme was the reason his partner was dying slowly before his eyes.

"Yes Sir?" he said dispassionately.

"I have. . . some information for you. In light of the. . . events of the last day or so. If you could meet me?"

The hairs along the back of Mulder's neck bristled. After he'd learned of Skinner's betrayal, his falling into league with the dark forces that fought to keep him from the truth, he'd been dreading each call from his boss. And the long pause that had preceded his comment about information concerned him.

"Nothing you have to say would be of any interest to me anymore," Mulder mumbled, reaching to turn off the television set. He couldn't stand to watch the scientists and intellectuals debate about extraterrestrial life anymore. Not now.

"It's very important. It has to do with Scully. . . and your sister."

God, Mulder thought, Skinner knew *exactly* what buttons to push. The two places where his guilt was thickest. The things he couldn't ignore even if he wanted nothing more than to just shoot himself and put himself out of his misery.

Scully's words to him in the warehouse earlier had made him consider it. Seriously consider it.

Hell, his gun was right there, laying on the table where he'd placed it. . .

"Where?" he said roughly, feeling that he was giving up on the hard way out. Wasn't living and believing easier than dying and finding out the truth?

"1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In an hour. As for Agent Scully. . . "

The White House, Mulder wondered. Something was seriously up.

"I don't know where she is at the moment, but if you want me to. . . " Mulder started, then realized from the stilted silence on the other end of the line that Skinner wasn't expecting Scully to join them, let alone Mulder being able to reach her. "Ok, I'll be there as soon as I can."

Mulder sighed as he heard the dial tone on the other end of the line and then hung up his phone. He was falling in league with the devil and his associates it seemed. And without the benefit of his partner.

The thought of Scully brought a pain to his chest. Nowadays it seemed that they were farther apart than ever. Even if she still was willing to come to his rescue when he needed it, she was still drifting away from him. And he from her.

The rift had never been bigger between them. Not even in the days following Comity. Her cancer had thrown the first wedge between them. She'd let her guard down once, in the hospital in Allentown. But after that, she'd stubbornly rebuffed any concern he had for her and refused his offers of consolement.

Then they'd taken that case in Virginia. . . where the dead were seeing the dead. God, that had been a fucking disaster. Not only had she seen the first real hard evidence to paranormal manifestation first hand, she'd denied him the knowledge to ease her own belief system.

So they'd been at odds. Nothing new. Except that not more than a week later he'd lost his mind. Literally.

He'd held a gun on her, and not because someone else was making him. No, this time he couldn't even blame it on some crazy man's psychic powers like before. It was all him and his inner demons this time.

And now, God now she'd dropped that Department of Defense goon into his lap to refute the physical evidence he'd seen to the existence of extraterrestrial life. Had confessed to him that she believed because they admitted to killing her slowly, with this cancer eating away at her just to make *him* believe.

So their partnership had finally come to the end, or so it looked to him. If anyone asked, he wasn't sure why, even if deep down in his soul he knew the real reason.

They were distancing themselves. She had begun the process of leaving him; spiritually, physically and emotionally. Breaking the bonds that tied them together. Getting ready for the inevitable.

Her death.

Mulder let his head fall forward into his hands as the realization of that truth hit him.

God, how the *hell* had they ended up like this?

Dana Scully had planned to start home after seeing Mulder's face drop in the warehouse where the faked alien had been. Where he'd been shown the depth of his responsibility for her condition. She'd waited long enough to know that he was gone before she took a last look around the warehouse, her mind imaging Mulder's elation at the first tangible proof of E.B.E's. Then her plans were derailed without her consent. She didn't even notice the cigarette smoke until he was nearly next to her.

"Good evening Agent Scully," the deep voice of her worst nightmares spoke. "How are you feeling?"

She spun around on her heel, anger blazing from her blue eyes. Of all the things that she could tolerate, this *thing's* feigned pity wasn't one of them. For all she knew, he was personally responsible for this mass of mutating cells in her skull. The fact that he'd been present all those years ago when she'd been assigned to Mulder and the X-Files made her sure that he was very involved in the deception that had been played on her and Mulder for so long.

"What do you want?" she said coldly, her hands clenching at her sides.

"To give you something."

There was an atmosphere of darkness, physical evil in the room at that moment, and Scully recoiled from the man. Somehow she knew that whatever he had for her, she didn't want to know about it.

"You don't have anything I want," she replied mater of factly.

He let the silence reign for a long minute before he walked past her, towards the tank with the body of the doctor in it. Then he turned to stare at her, his smoldering cigarette dangling from his fingers. And he smiled. The sight of that grin chilled Scully to her marrow. It was like the grin of a predatory animal catching sight of its prey.

"Even a cure?" he asked, his voice raising with the last word, trying to tempt her.

Even though she'd expected something like this from them, her jaw dropped ever so slightly. These damn men and their agendas within agendas. They'd given her this cancer just so they could cure her?

There had to be something more to it. . .

"We can deliver you to a doctor who can successfully treat your cancer. For a price," he said, bringing the still burning cigarette to his lips.

She said nothing, standing defiant against him, even as her mind whirled and her body shook. What did he want from her in exchange? What price would they extract from her? What did she have left to sacrifice?

"It's a simple matter, really Agent Scully. All you need to do is finish what you started," the Cancerman said, noting her determined look and walking closer to her. He leaned in close as she locked her jaw to keep herself from flinching at his proximity. "You just need to destroy the validity of the X-Files. To crucify your partner."

A surprised gasp hissed through her lips and she turned towards him. How could *they* even think that she would turn against Mulder after all this time just to cure her illness? They were beyond stupid if they thought that she would sell her soul, and Mulder's trust in her for a cure.

"Never," she said low and defiantly. "I'll *never* turn against him. I won't destroy his cause or credibility."

There was a long pause, and she looked at him, her eyes piercing his nonchalant ones. There was a fierceness there that he was in awe of, as she continued.

"I'm *no* one's Judas. Not even for my own life."

He stood there, a nonplussed look on his face, as if he'd expected her answer. No doubt he probably had.

"But if Agent Mulder's reputation, his *future* was no longer an issue? What then Agent Scully?" the smoking man's breath came close to her, the wisps of smoke choking her. "Would your life be worth a ghost's veneration?"

She stared at him, her face stone and her eyes ablaze. He simply shrugged and walked away, leaving her behind to ponder his words.

Then she unexpectedly felt a wet trickle run down her lip and automatically reached up to her nose, pressing it and covering her fingers with the warm, sticky red liquid. She drew them down and stared at them with a sudden heaviness of her heart as she asked herself the question.

What *was* her life worth?

"I decided to call Scully, but I couldn't reach her," Mulder said as he saw Skinner's form at the edge of the wrought iron fence that surrounded the White House grounds.

"I didn't think you would," Skinner said in a low tone that frankly scared the shit out of Mulder. "Actually, I had rather hoped you wouldn't. That sort of confirms what I've heard."

Mulder looked at his boss questioningly, then cautiously glanced around them. It was late, at least 11:30 at night. Few people were about, and anyone would be able to tell easily if they hung around too long. But even though Skinner was playing both sides of the fence now, he was willing to take a chance and risk being out in the 'open'. The only thing he was hedging on was whether or not he should believe anything his boss had to tell him.

"It's come to my attention," Skinner informed Mulder, walking away from him again, "that Agent Scully was to contacted this evening and offered a deal that she would never take unless certain events occurred. She will more than likely decline the offer, only to receive a call tomorrow morning to identify a body. One that will help her make up her mind."

"What body? What deal?" Mulder asked with surprise.

"Your body Mulder. And with you dead, she will accept the deal. . . to put into doubt the necessity of the X-Files and denounce the validity of your work in exchange for her life. For you see, if she knew you were alive, she'd never go through with it. She cares too much about what happens to you. Like you do her."

Mulder didn't have an answer to Skinner's announcement. There were too many questions running through his mind about how and why this was happening and how he could save her this time.

"Agent Mulder," Skinner said suddenly and Mulder turned quickly to regard him. "She *needs* this deal. I can't see any other way to cure her. My deal with the cigarette smoking man has gone nowhere, and she's informed me that her cancer has advanced, requiring her to limit her travelling."

At Skinner's words, Mulder felt a blow to his chest that was almost physical. He'd thought she didn't believe in him, in them anymore when she'd refused to go with him to Canada. He'd seen it as a breach in their trust for one another. A betrayal of their partnership. But in reality, she *couldn't* go with him, and she hadn't been willing to add to his pain by telling him the truth as to why. So she'd lied.

And the lie had been worse than the truth would have been.

Within a split second, all the anger and resentment he'd been unconsciously holding towards her melted. She hadn't betrayed him. She'd been trying to protect him from the truth. At that understanding his heart ached for the chance to let her know how much he valued her and her devotion.

"What now? How can it be my body unless they kill me?"

"They had hoped that you might have killed yourself after receiving their 'truth'. But if she hasn't accepted the deal or done as they've asked her to by the 10 a.m. deadline, they may be inclined to take whatever steps necessary to achieve their goals without curing Scully."

"So what's the answer? Scully can't die because of me. And I will not allow those bastards the pleasure of my death, self inflicted or otherwise. The Conspiracy needs to be uncovered. Aliens or not," Mulder growled deep in his throat.

The fact that he'd begun to accept the *possibility* that the whole alien abduction phenomena was a lie to cover the worse truth was beginning to take a heavy toll on him. But right now he couldn't deal with that. He had to find a solution to this new puzzle. A way to have everything.

"They don't care so much about your death more than Scully's betrayal of you to the Bureau," Skinner informed him darkly. "I have a plan, if you're willing to *trust* me."

He looked into his superior's eyes and knew that at this point he didn't have a choice. Either Scully would find him 'dead' tomorrow, or she would find him alive and she would be dead in a matter of months. Or days. . .

A sacrifice had to be made. And there really wasn't any question as to who's it had to be.

Scully realized with a surge of sadness that she'd just endured the worst day of her life. She had only hours ago looked down on the body of her partner, her heart breaking in her chest. Then she had forced herself to commit what felt within her soul was the ultimate betrayal: she had denied him before the board of review. Had denounced his work and quest. Portrayed him as an obsessed man, pushed by forces that had nothing to do with the truth or justice.

And as she had walked out of the conference room, she had ended up having to sit down in one of the chairs in the hallway. Partially from weakness from the cancer, but more from the weight of the burden she was now to carry. That she had denied the man she admired and cared for most in the world for her own sake.

Dear God, she thought, I've sold myself. As surely as Mulder's dead, I helped put him and his cause into the ground.

Her hands opened, palms facing up towards her, and as they came closer to her face, her head fell into them, sobs wracking her body. She wept for herself, for Mulder, for their sisters and mothers. Everyone that had been touched by their quest, long before this day when it finally had all come apart.

Blevins had been merciful. In a way. He hadn't "killed" the X-Files. Just shut them down while the board "reviewed" this information that she'd handed them. Not like it mattered. Without Mulder, there was no soul there. It would just be a job to her.

Mulder had made it worthwhile. Had made her strive for something more than just being a good agent.

She had been her best because of him.

And now. . .

Her cel phone rang, startling her out of her reverie. With one hand she wiped away the evidence of her sorrow while the other fished for the phone. It rang once more before she pulled it up to her ear and spoke.

"Scully," she said, her voice hoarse.

"Congratulations on a job well done Agent Scully," came a voice that sent chills through her body. "Please meet the car that will arrive at your apartment this evening at 6 p.m. The driver will take you to the appointed destination for the conclusion of the deal."

Scully's heart thudded in her chest. Did she trust the Cancerman? Could she? Yet, she knew that she didn't have much choice. Either she would live, cured by her duplicitous act, or she would die - by their hands or at the speeding pace of the cancer. Either way they controlled her fate. They would kill her or save her. It was her choice which way she would let them control her life.

"Alright," she nearly whispered, the word barely a breath of acknowledgement of the path she'd been pushed to chose.

The other end disconnected and she sat there, staring at the phone, trying to decide what to do. In the end, she jabbed a finger at the memory buttons and heard the line on the other end ring. The voice of the Assistant Director's secretary came on the line, and Scully told the woman she needed to talk to A.D. Skinner. It took another minute before she heard her boss' voice rumble through her cel phone's receiver.

"Agent Scully?" he said with a tone that conveyed concern. "What can I do for you?"

What did she want from him, she wondered now. His assurance that everything was going to be fine? A guarantee that she wouldn't be condemned as Mulder's victim or murderer? That should she survive whatever these shadow men had in store for her, that the Bureau would want her back?

"I'm. . . " she began, then faltered. "Due to the events of the day, I'd like to take some leave time. Starting now."

There wasn't even a second of hesitation in her boss' words.

"I've already had the paperwork drawn up. I'll sign them on your behalf. Just let me know when. . . "

Now there was silence, and it struck her to her core.

Of course I'll let you know if I ever feel well enough to come back to work Sir, she thought bitterly. I mean, you don't have a clue that I'm supposed to be healed in payment for my services. You expect me to be dead soon.

Just like Mulder is.

"Thank you Sir," she stated, then shut off the phone.

Shoving the device in her pocket, she pushed herself up from her seat and turned to head down the hallway, her eyes fixed on a point in space but seeing nothing.

For there wasn't anything to see anymore, was there?

Defeatedly she made her way home, the car seemingly knowing the route better than she did at the moment. When she finally arrived, she nearly stumbled into her apartment. Slamming the door shut, she went to the bathroom and ran some cold water, shoving her hands under the stream and bringing them up to her face. The first two handfuls felt good, yet the third succeeded in chilling her to the bone as she saw the blood from her nose mixing with the water in her hands.

She shook them under the flow of water and dried them hurriedly so she could press some toilet paper to the crimson droplets staining her lip.

It wasn't long before she could pull the drenched paper away from her nostril, the flow of liquid stopped. For now.

She sighed and walked into her bedroom, looking for something else to wear besides the suit she had on. As it was, she thought she might burn it. There was no way she could ever in good conscience wear it again. With difficulty she chose, putting on a pair of dark slacks and a white shirt, and she tucked her gun back into its usual place before she wandered into the kitchen. She started up some tea while she waited with trepidation for the car to arrive.

The hours passed slowly, yet she never seemed to be aware of the exact minute, even as she checked her watch constantly.

There was a heavy engine sound outside her window, and she got up from the couch to look. Parked before her building was a black sedan with tinted windows and government plates. Without further question, she knew that this was her 'ride'.

Walking to the door, she picked up her identification and keys, then shut the door behind her. Slowly she walked out to the car, her focus locked on the handle of the back door. She laid a hand on it, then pushed her thumb on the latch, and it swung open.

She took a ragged breath and let her head fall backwards, her closed eyes facing the deepening night sky. Without opening them, she felt her way into the car and shut the door behind her. She didn't want to see where she was going, didn't want to remember what she was doing.

She just wanted it over. One way or another.

If she had opened her eyes, looked around her, she might have seen the car parked across from her building. The one with the two men inside. Ones with binoculars pointed at her and watching every move.

And if she had looked closely, she would have recognized the form of both her boss and that of her dead partner, watching solemnly as the sedan pulled away.

After the first day of her "cure", Scully had constantly been in and out of consciousness, the mixture of chemicals running through her bloodstream keeping her disoriented throughout the days that followed.

She had been lucid several times since being 'transferred' to the 'normal' hospital that she was now in. She had even spoken with the nurses and doctors, but had not been told where exactly she was or what was going on. Or at least she didn't remember them telling her.

But what she could remember was that she had been having a hard time keeping track of time, and making out what was illusion and what was real. She had asked about it and had been told that it was 'temporary'. At least until her body rid itself of the waste products of whatever they'd done to her. And that seemed to be taking forever in her limited estimation of it all.

The thing that had assured her of that fact was that Mulder was sitting at her bedside, holding her hand.

"You're dead," she mumbled, not sure if she was speaking aloud to the hallucination or not. Not like it mattered. Hallucinations could respond to her thoughts too. They had in the past, so she fully expected them to now.

His trademark lopsided grin greeted her drooping eyes, and she wondered how it was that she was still seeing dead people even after she'd been diagnosed as being in full remission. The tumor was gone as of the first day, the chemicals the only things lingering.

Of course, she'd been seeing people she cared about for days. Her mom, her brothers, even A.D. Skinner. But Mulder had been a very 'frequent' hallucination. Except this time she felt more aware than before. . .

"Not just yet Scully. I sort of had to play dead," Mulder's voice replied, cutting through the haze of her brain.

It was just enough to bring her back to lucidity. She blinked several times, trying to clear her vision. After the last, she stared at him, her emotions and mind in a turmoil.

"Mulder?" she asked, with a quiet, disbelieving voice, which cracked on the last syllable.

He looked at her, realizing that for the first time since the Consortium had kept up their end of the deal they'd made with her that she could truly see him. He'd sat vigil at her side for most of her time there, her chemical induced haze keeping her unaware of his presence.

In the beginning he'd thought that the Consortium might be furious when they found that he still lived. Except, he realized, that the point of the exercise wasn't his death more than his vilification, the soon-to-be closure of the X-Files and Scully's estrangement from him. By the second day after his faked death, he was certain that they knew he was alive and kicking, but they hadn't made any move against him or Scully and for that he was grateful.

But the truth was that it wouldn't have mattered if they had been vengeful at his still being alive. He would have done anything to keep her safe, yet be at her side. Nothing could have kept him from being there with her.

Not now. . . not *ever*.

"Yeah, it's me Scully," he said softly, his hand gently touching her cheek. He marveled for the thousandth time at the softness of her skin. He didn't think he'd ever stop being amazed by the feel of her. The depths of her eyes, her fiery hair and temper. . . all of her.

Scully lay there and looked *at* him, seeing him, taking in his appearance.

He was alive, she realized. Worse for wear, but alive.

And she was. . .

"I thought you'd killed yourself," she replied thickly, her voice full of recrimination and sudden tears. The emotions coursing through her nearly choked her. "I told them. . . "

Mulder watched helplessly as the woman he had depended on, been strengthen by for four years splintered apart before him. Her emotions swept her along with them, and as weakened by the treatment as she was, she couldn't fight the silent streams of tears that broke from her lashes. Not caring about the consequences of his actions, he pulled her up into his embrace, her head resting against his shoulder.

"I know. It's ok. I *know*," he assured her, and in doing so he realized that he was reassuring himself. "You wouldn't have done it otherwise."

Her eyes widened as she fuzzily comprehended what he was telling her. He'd. . .

Even the strength of her will and her desire to know the truth wasn't enough to keep her awake, and her eyes drifted shut again. Once he was sure she was asleep, he brushed the drying dampness of her tears from her cheeks and simply looked at her.

Mulder somehow felt better about everything as he gazed on her face. Knowing that she realized he was alive, and that she was well made all the difference in the world to him. He had needed desperately to see the understanding in her eyes. To know that she realized that he was there for her, that everything was going to be alright.

More than alright, he thought hopefully as he held her hand in his, his finger grazing her knuckles. When they finally let her loose in the morning, he was hoping that she would be willing to follow him again. And if she was, they were going to walk the fine edge of the law to follow up on the rest of the information Skinner had given him.

To finally maybe find the truth.

Find Samantha.

And the answers to her own questions as well.

Ten days later, Mulder drove along the highway towards the Massachusetts state line. He and Scully were still 'officially' dead and on leave of absence, respectively, but there was the second part of Skinner's lead that Mulder had to know about. So once she was released from the hospital and feeling better, he'd asked her to come with him to North Tisbury. To find the answers with him.

Now, as Mulder looked across the car towards the passenger seat, he felt his heart soar with the sight of Scully by his side, feeling her presence as well as seeing her there.

"Mulder," she said simply, pulling him from his reverie and making him whip his gaze back to the road to avoid hers.

She sighed silently at his demeanor. He was hiding from her, trying to protect her as much as he could. Even from himself.

Part of the reason, she was sure, was that she wasn't a hundred percent yet. The after-effects of the medication she'd received from the Consortium's 'physician' were still causing her problems. But the cancer was gone. The goal was achieved. Even if she'd had to go over a week thinking that Mulder was dead.

He'd let everyone, let *her* believe that he was dead. For eight days. 192 hours. 11,520 minutes. 691,200 seconds.

Forever.

For her.

She couldn't believe the depths of feeling that his actions stirred in her soul. The hatred matched the fondness.

He turned his head and looked at her, then quickly threw his gaze back on the road. She'd had that vulnerable look in her eyes. The same one that he'd seen that night in Allentown. In the hospital corridor. The one that had nearly broken his heart. The one he couldn't look into because it caused him and his emotions to come up short. Like a deer caught in headlights.

"What Scully?" he asked nonchalantly.

She was silent.

"I. . . "

The emotions swirling in Mulder's eyes as he looked back at her gave him away. The thought of her refusing to destroy him, to throw away her chance to live for his sake. . .

The fact that he knew that he loved her didn't help matters any. He would never deserve to have her love him back.

"I never thanked you. . . for everything. . . " she said softly, her emotions threatening to overwhelm her.

In his chest, Mulder felt his heart pound painfully fast and hard. She meant every word. God, he couldn't believe it. He was partially responsible for her having had the cancer in the first place, and all he'd done was make some minor sacrifices to make sure she got well, and she was *thanking* him!

"Scully. . . Dana, it was the least I could do. You know I. . . " he began, the words of self-blame ready to fall from his mouth when she reached a hand across the car, pressing her fingers lightly to his lips.

"You weren't to blame Mulder. *They* are. But not *you*," she admonished him.

The feel of his lips under her fingers was almost her undoing. She felt them, soft and warm against her skin. As soon as he began to move them again, she whipped her hand away, stuffing it in her lap again.

The line between them was blurred. It had started to a long time ago, but Scully and Mulder could feel it more keenly now. Her brush with death and his own faked one had brought the emotions so far to the front that they couldn't not notice them.

So, to try and ignore the glaring truth, their eyes retreated and settled back on the long road ahead of them, and off of each other.

They walked through the cemetery towards their goal. It was a gravesite, marked with a name and date - Amanda Patterson November 27, 1975. Nothing more.

Scully looked at the date and mentally calculated the years. If this body *was* Samantha Mulder, she had lived two years after her abduction. Two years.

And Mulder had been searching for twenty-four.

The end to his biggest question could be here. And if it was. . . she didn't know if he could live with the fact that she was here, kept away from him for two years, then led to believe that she was alive for the rest. That he'd searched for a corpse all this time.

Alongside the grave, the backhoe sat, the operator looking with trepidation at the grave. Obviously he'd never performed an exhumation. He was no doubt uneasy about digging up the dead.

She could empathize. She remembered the feeling from the first time. . .

Unbidden, the memory of standing in that cemetery in Oregon over four years ago with Mulder came back to her. The smells. The wind. The sight of the coffin being removed from its resting place. And then the straps breaking and the casket falling to the ground, splitting open.

It had shocked her then but now, it seemed like an omen. A warning that only death would come with the X-Files.

Like with her sister, and Mulder's father. . . and then almost with her own.

The backhoe operator finally got underway, shoving the controls around with thick hands as the metal teeth of the shovel-like claw cut into the dirt. As he pulled up the first scoop of earth, Scully glanced over at Mulder.

His hand clutched the warrant for the exhumation. Where he'd gotten a judge to approve it was beyond her. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that Skinner had helped him. Just like he'd done for her. Part of her was still angry for his meddling, but she couldn't deny that she would probably be dead if he and Mulder hadn't given her the 'out' she needed. And for that she was grudgingly grateful.

She watched as Mulder twisted the warrant until she was afraid that there would be nothing left of the document but crumpled paper and ink smudges on his hand. The muscle in his jaw was working furiously as he looked straight ahead, not acknowledging the backhoe, his gaze fixed on the words on the tombstone.

It took longer than Scully remembered. The constant grinding of the gears of the backhoe grated on her nerves, and each shovel full of dirt that came up from the ground felt like a knife in her heart.

Soon, they could have the answers that Mulder had been searching for so long to find. It hurt her to watch him like this, but even as much as she wanted it to be over for him, she prayed that the girl in the casket wasn't Samantha. Because if it really *was* Samantha in there, she didn't know if it would worsen his guilt, or help him heal. And she was scared to have to find out.

It seemed like forever until the wood top of the casket peeked above the hole now marring the earth before them. There was another series of creaks and grinding as the backhoe pulled it totally out of the earth and set it onto the ground beside the excavated site.

Slowly they both came to their senses, and approached the coffin. Mulder ran a hand over the wood grain, and seemed lost in thought. Scully gave him a quick glance, then went about finding the seals. After a few minutes, she had loosened them all, waiting only for Mulder to make the next move. To proceed with this, or turn and run from the sight.

There was a pause, as if he was considering just that. But finally he gave her a blank look and then reached for the lid.

As they opened the casket, the air rushed out, and they both automatically turned away. The body. . . well, being twenty two years in the ground, it had decayed. Enough that there were no features to distinguish it.

The sight of the small body within twisted Mulder's insides, and the result was a blinding fear and need to know for sure if this was his missing sister. With an irrational thought, he remembered how he might be able to do that right then and there. He fished a hand in his pocket and he voiced his request to Scully.

"Cut it," Mulder said with a tightly controlled demand, his hand appearing before her brandishing a Swiss army knife, the blade extended towards her.

Scully looked at him wide-eyed shock. He wanted her to. . .

"Mulder, not here. We can take the body back to the morgue in Boston. . ."

"Now!" he growled, flashing his eyes at her.

She knew exactly what he was looking for. The crack in the clavicle. The last time they hadn't found it. But if it was here. . .

"Not here. . . Please, Mulder, give her that much dignity. . . "

He didn't care at this point about dignity or morality. He wanted the *truth*. His usual reluctance to touch a body fled, and he leaned into the casket, ripping away the remaining shreds of clothing on the body. Faded white floral print with lace came away in his hands. Then he took the knife and slashed at the embalmed skin, peeling way the layers between him and his goal. And beneath, he looked down onto the fine line of a formerly cracked clavicle on the body under his hands.

There was a sudden feeling of ice that ran up Scully's back and infused her entire body as she watched his shoulders fall marginally. The feeling was unlike anything else she'd ever felt in her life. And as Mulder let the remnants of the cloth fall back onto the body and turned and walked away from the site, she finally realized what it was.

He'd accepted this as truth. *A* truth. That this *was* his sister's body.

She felt an ache in her heart and didn't know if it was her own pain at seeing him like this, or his own, penetrating her fully for the first time.

All she did know was that she was just witness to what was probably the final loss of faith in the man she knew as Fox Mulder.

Part 2 - Needs and Wants

"And the trouble with the truth

Is its' just what I need to hear

Ringing so right, deep down inside my ear

And its' everything I want

And its' everything I fear

Oh the trouble with the truth

Is its' just what I need to hear"

It had been at Skinner's insistence that they had returned to the Bureau after finding Samantha's body. Neither of them knew what awaited them there, and the idea of coming back to what was left of their jobs, their lives as they were now was almost aberrant.

Mulder had resisted the call at first, still reeling from the truths that he was finding, but he knew that he had to go back. The FBI was the last place for him to go. He couldn't just turn away from the work, even if he was beginning to doubt the methods that he'd used. It was still too important. There was still too much to know.

Scully wondered as well just what was in store for her. As far as anyone in the Bureau was concerned, she was damaged goods and a turncoat agent. The cancer was gone, but she still had to explain that miracle. Plus there were the answers that she had still to find for herself, time that she needed to account for.

And on top of that was the fact that the X-Files themselves were in serious jeopardy of being shut down for a final time.

All of these things would have been reasons that would have kept most people away.

But they had come back.

The trip back to D.C. was made in companionable silence for the most part, but it was still silence. The drive that had been long before was even longer with the overwhelming emotions that were still effecting them after the unearthing of Samantha's body. Scully had tried more than a few times to get Mulder to talk to her while they had been in Boston, verifying Samantha Mulder's remains. But he'd refused to talk to her about it. He'd sat in her company, taking refuge in her presence, but had shared none of his thoughts about the turn of events.

So when they arrived together at the Hoover Building in downtown D.C., they both realized that it was like taking a step towards making things better. Getting them back on track.

Except for the fact that the truth was staring them both in the face. And it wasn't a particularly pleasant truth altogether.

Walking into the building, the first thing that both of them were aware of were the stares. Then it was the shocked faces and stifled gasps when the pair of agents walked through the lobby. Mulder figured that none of them had ever seen a man back from the dead before, then reminded himself humorously that this was his second time at it, in a way.

Scully walked beside him, just a half step ahead of him. He had to consciously fight to keep from putting his hand to her back as they walked through the corridors. But then, he knew that she could feel the heat of his hand where it nearly touched her as they went through the elevator doors. It was the ghost of his hand there, on her.

The fact that they were gravitating towards each other so much more than they ever had before was startling to both of them. It seemed that in the wake of the 'suicide', her cure and the discovery of Samantha's body, they'd needed each other more. It was almost parasitic in its utter necessity. The only problem was that they hadn't spoken of the "why's" of it all.

The two agents continued down the halls until they arrived at the door to their boss's office. With a sure knock from Mulder that was anything but, they announced their presence.

"Come in," called a heavy voice from the other side of the door.

With a push, Mulder swung the door open in front of Scully, their eyes watching carefully before proceeding over the doorframe.

The man known to Mulder and Scully as the Cancerman stood defiantly in front of Skinner's desk. His eyes glowed darkly as he looked at Scully and Mulder walk in the door. The anger built in him as Mulder gave him a smug grin as he escorted Scully through Skinner's doorway.

"You played me for a fool," he snapped, first staring at Mulder, then turning the accusation at Skinner.

The former Marine looked at the chain smoking villain without an ounce of fear.

"You set up the circumstances, I, we only worked within the rules and regulations of your own game," Skinner said simply, but with a defiant edge to his voice.

The old game player stared at Mulder again as he regarded the two agents and their even more apparent bond.

"She's not free you know," the Cancerman said menacingly. "The 'scars' are permanent. She might be alive for now, for a while, but she. . . you both have paid the price for your interference."

Mulder placed a protective hand on Scully's shoulder, his stance becoming rigid as he braced himself like a brick wall behind her. Images of the frozen vials of ovum flickered across his mind as the cigarette smoking man spoke. There was no way in hell that Mulder was going to let this man intimidate him or hurt Scully anymore than he already had. Not as long as he had a breath left in him.

With Mulder's hand on her shoulder, Scully took in the strength that he was giving her and set her chin up high and proud. The steely look in her eyes as she looked at the bastard that was more than likely responsible for her original abduction, and for many more atrocities to both Mulder and their families penetrated the soul of the man before her. There was a waver in his stance and a shake to his hand as he drew his cigarette from his mouth.

Watching the events unfolded before him, Walter Skinner realized for the first time just how deeply his two agents cared for one another. And he also could tell that this wasn't new. It had always been there, hiding just behind their eyes. But now it was like a neon sign had been turned on. And in seeing it, he was staggered by the power of it.

They'd survived so much, he thought with a sudden pang of guilt and remorse, the least he could do was give them a chance to live. . .

"You'll do no such thing. Get out!" Skinner growled, standing up behind his desk and propping his hands on the flat, wood surface. Mulder and Scully turned their heads in his direction at his words, ready to leave. Then they realized that the comment was directed for their enemy, not them.

It took the Cancerman a few moments to realize that Skinner was addressing him. With shock, he turned to look at the old dog that now had seemed to have grown new fangs. The former marine was attempting to buck his new masters, and seemed uncaring about the potential consequences to himself.

"I'd seriously suggest you reconsider the actions you're taking Mr. Skinner," the cigarette smoking man drawled with a venomous undertone.

"You may have bought my assistance, but I didn't sell you my soul," Skinner spat lowly.

There was a moment of fierce contact between the men's eyes before the Cancerman drew his cigarette from his lips and flicked the ash into Skinner's coffee. Then he turned for the door.

Before leaving, he turned and pinned his gaze on Scully and Mulder.

"This isn't over yet. You can't win, you understand. No one will *let* you."

At that, Scully shrugged Mulder's hand from her shoulder and walked closer to the man who had offered her the cure for her cancer for betraying Mulder's cause. Their eyes locked for a moment, Scully looking up at the man responsible for so much evil that she doubted she'd ever begin to fully grasp the magnitude of it all. And somewhere down deep insider her, something snapped.

With the speed of a lightning strike, she slapped him across the face, startling not only him, but Mulder and Skinner as well.

"You have no power over us anymore old man," she said in a low, dangerous tone. One that made the smoking man before her widen his eyes. "I won't let you control me or us ever again."

"You'll regret choosing this path Agent Scully."

"I already do," she said in a whisper so quiet, no one besides herself could hear it.

With a scowl, the Cancerman disappeared out the door, she turned to face the stunned reactions of her partner and her boss as they stood there. Without another word, she headed straight for her chair and sat, awaiting the briefing that had been the reason for the summons. Once Mulder had joined her, the briefing began.

"I don't have any news about the status of the X-Files. When I do, I'll let you know immediately. In light of your "resurrection" Agent Mulder, there probably is going to be a more involved inquiry. But for now, I have something else you'll want to follow up on. I told you that I had information about Agent Scully and your sister. This is the rest of the information I had promised you," Skinner announced, passing them a pair of case folders.

Scully looked at Mulder with a mixture of shock and concern on her face. He'd never said anything about where he'd gotten the information about Samantha's burial plot. But from Skinner's own words to them and to the cigarette smoking man, it seemed obvious that their boss had taken a very active role in their lives. More active than she'd been aware of.

Beside her, Mulder felt a wave of numbing shock run through his body as he began to glance at the folders. This was it. The truth about Scully's abduction - the tests, all of it would be at this site. He *knew* it.

"What you're looking at is probably either the main testing site for human subjects abducted under the pretext of alien abduction or a centralized processing center. I have a general location, but no specifics. If something was done to Agent Scully when she was kidnapped, this place would either have been the facility that she was kept at, or the information saying where she was would be there, in their files possibly."

"How did you come by this information Sir?" Scully asked with fear cloaked in skepticism. Her mistrust had reached a new high since Mulder's faked death, and she had less reason to trust Skinner since hearing his words minutes before, verbalizing his role in the campaign of disinformation.

"You'd be surprised at what kind of secrets you can unearth in Hell when you're a frequent visitor Agent Scully," he said with bitterness that both Scully and Mulder could feel.

With that, Scully simply nodded and turned to Mulder. At a slight nod of his head, they gathered up the folders and headed out to find the truth.

They'd ended up going back to the beginning.

The site that Skinner had given them was close. Too close. It was just west over the mountains that Duane Berry had kidnapped Scully to all those years ago. And now, thinking back, it all made sense. It was under an hour helicopter ride from Skyland Mountain to this place. And the site was still partially under government influence. Enough so that a small group of government types coming in and out wouldn't be questioned.

So Mulder and Scully had spent two days; two unfruitful days of searching Fort Defiance, Virginia for the men responsible or the proof regarding the abductee testing and for Scully's own abduction. But as Special Agent Dana Scully walked into her room at the Sand Dollar Inn that second evening, still with no answers, she thought hard about the whole situation. Thought about everything that the X-Files stood for.

How could they ever solve the puzzles and crimes they had to investigate? Where were they supposed to find the evidence of these conspiracies? Was there any truth out there for them to find?

There just never seemed to be enough evidence. Not just this time out, but every time. No matter what information they gained, what tips they were handed in their investigations into the Consortium, it seemed that they could *never* win. Part of her was just about ready to throw her hands up in the air in exasperation and give up.

Hell, it had gotten to the point where she was willing to accept any crazy theory of Mulder's, just to have some 'reason' to hold onto.

With a thud, she sat heavily on the stiff motel room bed, kicking off her shoes. The thought of Mulder being the one with the answers truly scared her. But in truth she knew that he was as confused as she was. Latching onto the most bizarre theory in the hopes of making sense out of the senseless.

Yet the idea of him continuing to fight, plugging away at the lies that seemed to surround them pained her. It was like they were chipping away at a brick wall several feet thick with a tack hammer and a knitting needle. Making no progress and only becoming more frustrated and worn down.

There had to be a limit to what they could take, what they could survive, and she was worried that they were both coming dangerously close to it.

And she didn't know what would happen when they reached that limit and went past it. . .

The time to speak the words had come. She couldn't not ask him, say them anymore. They had to talk about it. She needed to have him understand how the last four years of searching and finding nothing had worn on her.

With a shove, Scully shoved herself off her bed and looked around for her shoes. Once she had them, she threw them on and went out into the hall, walking the few feet to Mulder's room.

She stood in front of the wood doorway and asked herself again if this was the right thing to do. Yet even as she questioned herself, her motives, she found her hand already closing in on itself, and her knuckles rapping on the door.

At the sound of a knock on the door, Mulder turned from where he was sitting on his bed, watching the local news. Getting up in a single movement, he went to answer it. When the door swung open to reveal his partner, he was both surprised and prepared for the sight all at once.

"Are you going to let me come in Mulder?" she asked with a forlorn voice as they simply stood there, eyes locked on one another.

He nodded, letting her come past him and he locked the door behind her. Turning, he found her sitting on the edge of his bed, watching him with haunted eyes.

It wasn't until that moment that he realized just what the last few years had done to her. She wasn't the vibrant, youthful woman who'd walked into his basement office all those years ago. This Dana Scully was troubled, worn and needing more than she had.

She was him. And that recognition humbled him in a split second.

"Scully. . . ?" Mulder began, heading to sit beside her on the bed, and she turned to face him. To look at him. Through him.

She dropped her head on a heavy sigh. She knew what she wanted from him. An assurance that they would succeed. But he couldn't give her that. No one could.

But she wanted to share with him. For once in their partnership she wanted him to understand. To talk with her. To help each other find the pathway that they were destined to walk.

"Do you ever wonder if what we're doing is the right thing Mulder?" she asked out of the blue, taking him by surprise.

"What?"

She looked up, catching his eyes with her own. There was a part of her that wanted to communicate her total frustration, her loss of self, of purpose to him through her eyes. Or at least let him see the depth of her concerns.

And she was unsure if he could see it. So she tried to put it in words.

"This job, the cases, the conspiracies, the lies. . . " she said with a rough tone he'd never heard before. "Where does it end? Does it? There's only so much that we can take before this breaks us Mulder."

There was a truth in her words that found their way to his soul. They had been through so much. Lost and never gained. It had been a continual process of acceptance of defeat.

And it seemed that both of them were to the point where they needed something to change.

"We do have a choice Scully. Or at least you do," he explained, pulling his leg up and tucking it beneath him. "You could ask Skinner for a new assignment. Take the next offer that came along. Whatever comes first. Just get out."

"And you?"

That was the crux of the situation, he knew. To break the cycle, he'd have to leave the past behind him. That was the deal. The past or his sanity. Guilt over failing Samantha had been eating at him since he'd seen her body in that coffin. Accepted it as the truth. And he knew that he had to make peace with that knowledge before he could have any hope of a future.

"I don't know if I can put it behind me," he told her softly.

Scully was compelled by a need to connect with him, and she reached her hand out and cupped his cheek. At her touch, he closed his eyes. Her heart thudded in her chest as she struggled to get the words past her lips.

"Even to have a life Mulder?"

His eyes snapped open at her words as his world felt like it had come to a sudden halt.

"We have a life, don't we Scully?" he said humorously, then turned deadly serious. "Besides, there *is* going to be a resolution here. I know it. I can *feel* it."

The grip on her chest eased up suddenly at his impassioned belief in them finding the answers. There was a truth to his words that she'd never felt before. Somehow, she knew that he was right. There *were* answers for them this time. For her especially.

And from the answers, maybe they could find their *own* truths.

She nodded her head and pulled her hands from his skin, leaving him feeling lost. She then stood up and headed for the door, his eyes following her. She turned briefly back towards him as she opened the door, preparing to put the distance back between them.

"I do to Mulder. I'll see you in the morning," she said with what he was sure was a sad little smile, and then she left, closing the door behind her and leaving Mulder to his thoughts.

After days of looking, Mulder had finally decided that there was something more to the fort that had been shut down. Today, he'd decided that they were going to check the place out from top to bottom. And if anyone got in their way. . . well, he had FBI credentials and a gun. What more deterrent could he ask for?

Slowly the pair walked along the corridors of the old fort, until Mulder spotted something that puzzled him. What seemed to be a patched spot in the smooth concrete walls. As he laid a hand on it, he found that it felt thin. Hurriedly he reached behind him for his gun and took the butt to the wall, breaking the plaster and revealing metal plating. As Scully joined him, they soon uncovered a door. Seeing that there was a lock, Mulder hunted through his jacket for his lock picks and then proceeded to unlatch the mechanism.

Minutes later, he had the door unlocked and they pushed the door backwards, opening up into a dark room and they made their way inside. Scully ran one hand along the interior wall, searching for a light switch. With a flick of her wrist, she engulfed the room with bright light, illuminating the room.

The memories assaulted her the moment she looked at the lit room. There wasn't any question left in her mind. Because there wasn't anything left to question. There was no more missing time anymore. It was all back in the stroke of a clock hand.

The stark white of the lab hit them both hard, and Mulder gave Scully a sidelong glance. If he hadn't, he'd have missed the fact that she'd closed her eyes and was standing on unsteady feet.

Facing the truth was never an easy thing for Dana Scully. She'd learned to control her emotions. Control her situation. Control her life. But she couldn't control the low moan of recognition that broke from her lips as she inwardly realized exactly where they were and what had happened here.

Her hand propped against the wall as she turned toward it, struggling to keep her composure as the images, the snippets of memory melded and formed a cohesive timeline. The blanks filled in, the words became clearer, the meaning of it all rushed in.

Dana Scully finally had her answers.

She knew who, where, when and why.

And the revelation was more than her mind, body and soul could take.

She pressed herself up against the wall, her forehead brushing the coarse textured paint. Her equilibrium felt askewed. Then all the strength was gone from her body and she slid along the flat expanse to the floor.

"Scully!"

Mulder was beside her in a heartbeat, pulling her away from the wall and into his embrace. One arm cradled her unresponsive body while he searched for injuries with his other hand. Finding none, he let the hand rest against her cheek, waiting for her to come back of her own accord.

Mentally he cursed himself for the words he'd told her in the hallway of the Allentown hospital. The truth hadn't set her free. It had just brought her closer to the edge.

For the longest minutes since he'd sat at her side in the hospital in Georgetown after her disappearance, expecting her to die at any minute, Mulder held Scully in his arms and waited. There was nothing else he could do. It was all dependant on her and what had *really* happened to her and if her mind could handle it.

Come on Scully, he silently called to her. You can do it. You're stronger than this. Stronger than anyone or anything that they could do to you.

"You still have the strength of my beliefs," he said softly, almost a plea.

The room fell silent again, and the sound of their breathing was the only noise to be heard. Finally, after what Mulder was sure was an eternity, her eyes opened and looked at him. But within their blue, he saw something that scared him. A depth of understanding that only held one answer for it. And her words would confirm it.

"I remember."

And in that moment, Mulder pulled her to him, holding her tight. There, on the floor of the room she'd been held in, Scully let go of and embraced at once three months of hell and fear.

It had only been a matter of time, she realized, once she knew the truth that she'd be having to face herself. Scully sat in her apartment, staring at the walls. Since her memory had returned in that room in Fort Defiance several days before, they had found the answers to many of the questions they both had been searching for.

It had been there, in sealed files and on computer hard drives that no one had expected anyone to ever find again until it was safe to resume the work again that they'd found the answers. When they'd returned to D.C., Mulder had recruited the Lone Gunmen to analyze the files still encrypted on the drives, not trusting anyone from the Bureau to do it. He had spent the last few days looking over the hard copies, trying to find the clues that would lead them to the men responsible for this violation.

And Scully. . . she'd been doing her best to deal with the memories and the realizations that she'd gained in those ten minutes on the floor of the room that she'd been held in for so many days.

They were walking a fine line now, Scully knew. In all the time that she'd been striving with Mulder to find the truth, she'd never considered what would happened if they ever found it. She had never considered what would be left for her once Mulder had his justice, or once she had hers.

There had been that moment in her sister's hospital room when she'd told him that she had seen the truth, and now she wanted the answers.

God, how stupid she had been.

The answers were their destruction. Her end. Their end.

The thoughts kept buzzing through her head as she sat on her couch and again tried to focus on the report in front of her. The one that outlined in detail what they'd finally accomplished. What she'd been through. . .

She had watched Mulder search for something until he was so consumed by it, he never realized that it had *become* him. And she'd fallen in along beside him. Just like she always did. Anything that someone gave her, she would do. She was a woman of deep commitment. But never her own.

Ahab wanted her to do medical school. So she did it. Then she fought against that control. Had veered somehow to the Bureau. Some misguided concept of greater good and patriotism she supposed. A place to prove to herself and everyone she knew that she was good enough. That she could be equal to any man.

But the truth was she was just hiding. Wasn't it?

Never an original commitment, huh Dana Katherine, she asked herself with venom of years of dismissal and compromise.

Mulder's mission had been the easiest, hadn't it? An elusive goal. Like the holy grail. Something never to be achieved. An endless line that guaranteed you wouldn't have to make any decisions.

But that got ripped out of your control, didn't it? After looking into that shallow grave, into that white room, the truth and the search and the safety disappeared in a puff of smoke.

And then there was the fact that she was going to get her justice after all this time. She was going to see the men who'd taken her led off in handcuffs.

Somehow, she knew that her returned memory would provide them with the key that they had needed to find the members of the conspiracy and bring them to justice. That was something she could understand and deal with.

The only thing she questioned was whether or not she could come to terms with the other things those memories provided her.

The truth and the lies.

Ten days later Scully and Mulder sat in the courtroom, watching the preliminary proceedings for the trials of many of the Cancerman's associates. Ones that hadn't been deported to their homelands, there possibly to stand trial for crimes against their own countries. But that didn't matter to her. She wanted to focus her attentions on the ones here, before her, within her jurisdiction.

Mulder hadn't wanted her to go today. As it was, she'd had to lean on Mulder to get out of the Capitol building and down to their car when they'd arrested the first batch of government officials days earlier. But she had insisted. She had told him in no uncertain terms that she was going, and he could either go with her or stay behind. Not willing to let her go alone, he had informed her that he would pick her up in time to go.

Watching them, sitting in the chairs up at the front, Scully suppressed a shiver that threatened to shake her composure. She sat there beside Mulder, listening to their lame excuses of 'protecting the country' and 'the betterment of society'. Of course, none of these 'defenders' of the right were willing to face the news media that had swarmed on the federal courthouse. Most had deftly covered their faces with suit jackets and handcuffed hands. Yet they still proclaimed their innocence. It had almost made her sick.

And so Mulder sat there with Scully almost the whole day, watching as the judge, a man who had volunteered for the job as he had no family to kidnap or secrets that they could blackmail him with sent each and every conspirator to jail to await their trial date.

They were finally getting what they deserved, Scully realized with a sudden shock as the last one, the man that she had met at Bill Mulder's funeral, was lead away to await his chance to prove his innocence.

There was finally going to be justice.

For Melissa.

For Bill Mulder.

For Mark Pendrell.

For herself.

And this time she knew it wouldn't matter if they hung themselves in jail or if they never 'really' made it to trial. Because she had the satisfaction of seeing them there, pleading for their lives and freedom with the judge.

She had her justice.

Now she just had to learn how to live with it.

They were getting closer.

How that was possible was beyond Mulder, but he wasn't willing to ignore the fact anymore.

Actually, Mulder knew better. He had been clinging to Scully like a shipwrecked man to driftwood since before the cancer had been diagnosed. The inner turmoil of his soul had sent him looking for any stability, and Scully had been that for him.

And now, after the end of one of the conspiracies, after finding Samantha and finding out what had happened to Scully, it seemed that he had nothing to live for anymore. As he fought for the stability of the X-Files' future, he felt like there was nothing keeping him grounded anymore. He found himself grasping for the only thing left to him - Scully. Even if he didn't deserve her, even if he shouldn't want her like this, he *needed* her. More than he ever though he would need someone in his life.

So in a sudden, desperate desire, he got in his car and drove through the scorching temperatures of D.C. in an late heat wave to her apartment to see her. There were so many things that he hadn't said, that they hadn't said. And for some reason he couldn't explain, he had to see her now and talk with her.

When he arrived, he headed straight for the door and knocked. It seemed loud to his ears, even though it was simply quiet in the still hallway, but he didn't have to raise his hand again. Scully opened the door and stood there with an angelic appearance. Or at least it seemed that way to him. Of course, even if she'd been wearing a suit of armor, she'd still would have looked good to him.

"Hi Mulder. Come in."

She looked him over once, her eyes catching on his haggard appearance and ushered him inside. Once he had slipped into the apartment, she shut the door, closing out the heat. As usual, she offered him a seat on the couch, but he waved her off, staying standing. So she ended up sitting down on the couch as the air conditioning went full blast inside her place, making it livable. While she sat, trying to figure out what was going on, Scully watched Mulder pace the room as he tried to decide what to say to her.

He hadn't said anything since he'd arrived, and she wasn't sure if he knew why he was there in the first place. Except that he wanted to be in the same room with her she thought for a moment.

They'd been gravitating closer to one another since she'd woken up from the cancer treatments to find him at her bedside. She had realized it almost as if it was a bygone conclusion that he belonged there, by her side and vice versa. And from the moment that she'd come to understand just how intertwined their lives were, they hadn't left the other's side.

Or at least emotionally they hadn't.

The line was blurring fast. They both could feel it. It was as if they didn't have control of it anymore. The restraint was gone, shattered as if it never had been. They'd been through too much, she realized foggily as Mulder began to walk towards the couch, to keep their feelings closed off anymore.

He sat beside her, and her mind involuntarily flashed back to the last time he'd sat on her couch with her, like this. But it hadn't been Mulder then.

But it was him now.

His hand came up and touched her cheek gingerly, almost afraid that she wasn't real. When she didn't move, he let his palm lay on her cheek, then moved it upwards along her skin. All the while, Scully couldn't tear her eyes away from Mulder's gaze. The feel of his hand running along her skin sent sparks along her nerve endings.

His fingers curled around her ear and he pulled her slowly, gently towards him. Then he let his lips caress hers like he'd imagined doing for years. In that moment, they lost themselves in each other.

There was no question in Scully's mind that the feel of his lips on hers made her head swim. As it was, she was having a hard time remembering to breathe. But she couldn't let this happen. Not now.

"Mulder, please," Scully murmured against his lips, pushing herself painstakingly away from him, her hands on his chest. With difficulty, she got up and walked to the kitchen wall, her back turned to him. "We can't do this."

"Why not Scully? Don't you want *this*?" he asked as he stood, his words harsh as the pain that he'd just lost at the sensation of pressing his lips to hers threatened to envelop him again.

She turned haunted eyes at him, ones that spoke volumes yet said nothing all at once.

"God, you know I do," she answered, her voice catching on the words. "But we can't right now. We're not ready. . . "

He looked at her with a questioning stare. He didn't understand what she was trying to say to him.

"We need to think about this, our relationship. Put it in perspective Mulder. *Before* we cross that line. There's a lot of things we need to work through, both of us, before we jump into this."

"What's to jump into Scully?" he asked, getting concerned. "We've wanted each other, cared for each other for years. What's happened to us in the last couple of weeks to change that? I think it's only served to strengthen us. The way we feel. . . "

She sighed heavily as the force of his words hit her, the emotions she felt for him taking up residence in her chest like dead weight. How could he be so sure? She believed that she loved him, but she wasn't sure if hey could survive being together like *this*. Dependant. Intertwined. Inseparable.

"Mulder," she said, and turned to meet his upset stare. "Have you ever wondered if what we've gone through together *made* us dependant on each other? That our weaknesses and strengths complimented each other so well that we didn't ever try to overcome them?"

Her words threw him for a loop, and she saw the anger drain from his eyes, only to be replaced with pain. The pain that she was so familiar with now. After Samantha, after the truth. . . he'd been a different man. Searching still, but in a way, more lost than before. Even though he'd solved his one quest, found that measure of understanding, the truth wasn't what he'd expected it to be. It wasn't what he'd wanted. And he didn't know where to go now.

"Are you saying that you think that the only reason that I'm in love with you is because. . . " he roughly said, then trailed off as he realized what he'd said in his impassioned declaration.

She drew in a sharp little breath at the realization that he'd said the word aloud. Love. It was the thing that they'd been dancing around since that first day. But was it true? Were they wanting it to be love so badly that they were making it that, when it wasn't? So she answered him the only way she could. . .

"Because we were so close. We were the *only* people we could reach out to. The only ones that we could *trust*."

As Mulder looked at her, the words she'd just uttered penetrating his skull. He'd poured everything into the quest and because she was there, he'd become totally involved in her and her life. He knew that it had been easy to fall in love with her. Now she was making him question whether or not it had been too easy.

He let his head drop forward with the acknowledgement of that uncomfortable possibility. Then guilt and the recrimination came back to him with full force. And this time he didn't even stop and consider not speaking them.

"That's right, what was I thinking? I'm too screwed up to have a relationship. And I sure as hell don't deserve you Scully. Not after everything I've put you through in my quest to make you as fucked up as me," he said with thick sarcasm and loathing.

She felt like she'd been slapped. A punishment she almost was willing to accept. But since the cancer had been eradicated, since the truth had been revealed, she'd found a need to acknowledge herself. Even though it scared her more than she could admit, she had to say what was on her mind and in her heart.

"No, I don't think that Mulder," she said seriously, coming back to his side, and laying a hand on his arm and his eyes locked on hers again. "But I do think that we need to heal to be good for each other."

"But. . ." he began, puzzled.

"We both need to get our heads on straight. You have to accept that you deserve happiness in this lifetime and that everything is not your fault," she said seriously, lovingly, then her eyes swung away from him as her own pain attempted to choke her. "And *I* have to admit to myself that I need you more than I should. Followed you without question too often. And until we do, we will *never* work."

His eyes turned on her as if seeing her for the first time. He'd never realized that she saw herself that way. As a follower. As needing him to lead her. For him to be an authority figure for her to focus her life, her energy, her soul on.

"Scully, I never. . . You never just followed me. Half the time you led me."

When she didn't meet his eyes, he reached a hand up and caught her chin, turning her face to his. In her eyes he could see the tears that his stubborn Scully would fight to the end to deny.

"It's not just that Mulder," she said softly, almost too faint for him to hear. "I've been hiding from myself, from my emotions. Because I've been too afraid to let anyone in. I want to be able to tell you what's really wrong with me, and not just say 'I'm fine'. I need to learn to let my guard down."

His heart caught in his throat at her words. The *enigmatic* Dr. Scully was talking about not being detached, about letting him see everything she was. With nothing held back. And it shook him to the marrow.

"How do we fix 'us' then?" he asked quietly, blinking back the emotions that his words had started in him.

She frowned. It was an expression that Mulder decided immediately that did not belong on her face. Ever.

"I think. . . Mulder, we need to find ourselves. Stop playing the roles we assigned ourselves. Stop being afraid of living, being afraid of ourselves or of each other. We need to start talking and telling the truth," she said with a catch in her voice, her hand coming up to cover part of her face as she lowered it. Then she fought back a shudder and looked at him again. "We have to be ourselves first, before we can be anything more to each other."

Mulder backed up, walking away from her as his mind thought on her words. The space that fell between them was now a chasm that seem insurmountable. Mostly because he didn't know where he was supposed to go now. He'd spent all this time searching for the truth, for Samantha that he didn't know what to do for himself. He didn't know who Fox Mulder was *without* his quest.

"I don't know who I am anymore Dana," he said quietly. "I've been so focused on finding Samantha, and uncovering the secrets of the government that I've lost sight of who I am and who I was."

"Like I know who I am either?" she pressed, moving to him and resting her hand on his upper arm. "But we have to find out before you and I can really happen."

"I want us to be together Dana," he said simply. "I want us to add this final dimension to our relationship, but I'll take you however I can get you."

Her throat closed as she tried to swallow several times and her body shook a little at his words, the tone of his voice. She knew that there was no way that he would be content to have her just by his side now. That one kiss had fueled a desire in him that wouldn't go away or diminish in his waiting. Just as it had in her. And that fact scared her.

"What you want," she mumbled out, her body turning from his sight as she told herself that she could let herself cry, but her own stubborn walls held her in check. "I can't give you now. You want me to open up, give you all of me. . ."

He turned her back to him, holding her tightly and running a hand through her hair. "Yes, I do want that. But not until you can give it to me."

"Mulder, if I let you in, all the way inside of me, I'm afraid I'll lose myself in it. What will this do to us if we can't make it work. . . if it isn't real," she whispered into his chest, just audibly enough for him to catch.

"There's only one thing that I *do* believe in totally Scully, and that's us," Mulder said quietly, and then wrapped her tighter into his embrace. She followed suit, bringing him closer to her; heart and mind, body and soul.

"Then I guess we'll have to take it a step at a time," she replied, leaning back to look into his eyes.

As they looked at one another, they saw all the possibilities lying there, waiting to be explored. And they smiled.

Part 3 - Recovery and Reflection

"It has ruined the taste of the sweetest lies

Burned through my best alibis

Every sin that I deny

Keeps hangin' round my door

Oh the trouble with the truth

Is it always begs for more"

Days after Mulder's unexpected visit to her apartment, Scully found herself sitting in front of a review board hearing by his side, half listening to the panel discuss the merits of the X-Files. Their boss, A.D. Skinner sat at the front table facing the committee, answering question after question about the quality of work that his agents had performed in the last three years.

And while that debate raged before her, another one was going on within herself.

There had never been a question that Scully loved the FBI. It was the choice that was hers to more degrees than any other. The thought of being in law enforcement, protecting people had called to her, and she'd answered.

But she had finally realized that she needed to understand the reasons why she had taken the paths she had taken. And in doing so, she hoped that she would find her *own* motivation again.

Sitting and talking with Mulder in her apartment only a few days before had been the real catalyst. She had known for weeks, months even that she had been 'wrong'. The first glimmer of that had come when she'd sat talking in the therapists office, when her cancer had been discovered, and having Karen point out how important Mulder seemed to be in her life. But it had taken the truth and their near acknowledgement of their attraction to make her *need* to make those changes.

As the hearing went on Scully caught Mulder giving her a sideways glance and she couldn't deny that it made her heart beat faster. She loved him. It was something she was beginning to accept as the truth. But she needed them both to sort out their feelings about it. She knew, deep down that he couldn't accept what she wanted to give him. He didn't feel worthy of it. But he needed her in his life so badly, he was willing to forgo the actual process of forgiving himself to find happiness. His liaisons in the past spoke of that very clearly. And if she was going to let herself be with him, like they both wanted, they both had to be willing to accept and believe.

So that evening that he'd come to her apartment, she'd gently pushed him a step away. Told him that they both needed to fix themselves. She couldn't look for him to save her anymore. To shield her and push her. If she was going to do it, she had to do it for herself. Not for him or her father.

And now she had decided that she was going to start doing things on her own. Forging her own path. Not for Mulder, not to keep the X-Files going. . . but for herself.

She knew she was poised on the path of fire. There was no doubt that she was going to get a little singed but she was certain that she would emerge whole. Especially if she had Mulder at her side through it all.

She'd decided that if they got the X-Files back that she would start taking on more responsibility in finding cases. She was going to become more involved in the actual process of it: doing the searches through the incoming case reports and wire services and turning in case requests. She wasn't going to just be Mulder's "assistant" or his partner in name only. They were going to be a team in all aspects.

Then there was personally. They needed to see each other outside the office to be sure that the relationship would survive even if they didn't get the X-Files back. They had to become a couple, just like any other. So they'd made a deal when they'd talked on the phone the night before the hearing. No matter what the outcome was, they'd see each other socially. Learn about one another outside of work, outside of the X-Files.

They would work out their problems together and separately, and they would "date" at the same time. All that seemed left, she resolved was to find out where their careers stood.

"Agents Mulder and Scully," spoke up Blevins at the front of the room, indicating that they should move forward and come join Skinner at the table.

With a tentative sigh, Scully started to get up, when Mulder reached over and lightly squeezed her hand. Her eyes flashed to his and a surge of strength and love flowed between blue-green and hazel. Fighting the smile that tried to creep across her face, she stood along with Mulder and they walked to their spots beside their supervisor and friend.

"I've been informed by Assistant Director Skinner of the work that the X-Files has accomplished in the last few years under his direction. We've also read both of your accounts on the reasons leading up to the hearing on the validity of the X-Files future, and were especially concerned with your situation Agent Scully," Blevins said in a serious sounding voice that had her worried. Even if the X-Files re-opened, there was no guarantee that she'd be re-assigned to them after she'd given her 'biased' opinion at the last hearing.

"What Bureau Chief Blevins is trying to get at is that the X-Files seem to have a reason for existing beyond the original guidelines that Agent Mulder has tried to establish. There are things going on in this country, in this government that no one is aware of. Things that need to be brought to light and it seems that the X-Files has achieved that in some respects," announced Bradley Hindy, the special liaison for Louis Freeh, the Director of the FBI. "So, there is still a need for the X-Files. There's a need for you."

There was silence again while the occupants of the room absorbed the information. They had the blessing of the Director of the FBI to keep the X-Files open. What more could they have asked for?

They glanced at each other, both wanting to do nothing but jump into one another's arms and shout at the top of their lungs that they were back in business again. Yet that would defeat the purpose of all their hard work. There would be no doubt that there was a closer relationship between the two agents then there should be and could be viewed as a hindrance in their continued work together. So they weren't about to show that to anyone. At least not now.

"Well Scully," Mulder said with one of his famous lopsided grins, "I guess I'll see you in the office on Monday."

She smiled back at him and they turned for the door, walking back into a part of their lives they'd thought lost. One that neither of them knew exactly how to approach anymore, but now they had the chance before them to find out.

Mulder walked into his Alexandria apartment and let the door slam shut noisily behind him. It had been a long day. One stack of paperwork after another re-establishing the X-Files and trying to report for the last two weeks of their lives.

And it had been a Monday on top of that.

But there was one bright spot to his day. . . he'd gotten to spend eight hours straight with Scully.

Of course, if things were like they used to be, or like they could be, he might have enjoyed those eight hours more than he had. As it was, the tension was almost unbearable. To be there, with her but not. . . it was unnerving. And it was slowly driving him insane. Except he didn't know why.

That's not true, he admonished himself with more than a little venom to his thoughts. You know *exactly* why you feel conflicted.

He sighed as he tossed his suit jacket over the arm of the couch and headed to the kitchen. It seemed like it was the first time in ages that he'd been in his place and not ready to race off to catch any bad guys or chase any aliens. With that thought, he began to re-run the recent weeks events in his head, wandering through his apartment aimlessly, giving things only the slightest cursory regard.

As he walked around, he let himself analyze the situation he was in again. His mind using the skills that he'd found in Oxford and honed in the Behavioral Sciences Unit to find the truths behind his behavior, his beliefs. To psychoanalyze himself. . .

He'd finally admitted to himself that he'd spent a good portion of his life tilting at windmills. Looked at life with tunnel vision. I guess I never looked at the big picture, he thought with a sense of regret that he'd never felt before. The truth was that he'd never thought about what would happen afterward. Saw where he fit in to the scheme of things. Seen exactly where his quest and his search for the answers to the questions only he was posing fell into the structure of reality.

He'd been living and searching and killing people for his personal little alien hunt to assuage the guilt and fear he'd had since he was twelve.

Well, he thought sourly as he sat on the couch, feeling the leather cushions give beneath him, I guess I fucked up. How many people have had to suffer because of my little crusade? Had to die? Hell, I almost sent Scully to her grave for my obsessions.

"Goddamnit!"

Mulder jumped up and hurled himself at the opposite wall, slamming his fist into the wall, drawing blood and breaking the plaster. Great! Let's try and destroy something else while you're at it, he thought bitterly.

Hell, how was I supposed to see that she was blindly following the blind, he attempted to rationalize inside his head as he paced. I couldn't see further than the next conspiracy. Couldn't think of anyone but myself and finding Sam. I didn't consider anyone or anything in my quest.

Quest. Now that was a polite word for it. Most Psychiatrists would call it obsessive-compulsive tendencies or behavior. How else would you classify a man who couldn't see farther than the next conspiracy or his sister's abduction?

Crazy, his subconscious whispered to him. Stark raving mad. He'd been made into this though. If his sister hadn't been taken, he'd have had a normal life. Or as normal a life as he could have had in the Mulder household. But still, the seeds were sown that night in a flash of light and the sound of his name being screamed by his sister as she disappeared.

Except he was now to believe that the past was a lie. That the thing that had created him was a creation itself. That someone had *made* him into this pathetic, obsessed man that couldn't believe the lie for his disbelief in the truth. His sister might or might not have been abducted by aliens all those years ago, but the truth of the matter wasn't in outer space, but in a gravesite in North Tisbury. She'd been back long enough to die and be buried. By whom, he didn't know. His father probably knew, but he was dead too. Another victim in the game.

But the question he had to ask himself now was if the truth that he believed was a lie, what was left for him? The truth was that he didn't know what he was going to do now. . .

But there were several things that he *wanted*.

Mulder had a list that had begun at age twelve and had been added to up to the very moment that he contemplated it now. He knew what he wanted. Even knew how to get some of them. Yet somehow he had always been denied them.

He'd wanted to find his sister, and after twenty-four years, he finally gotten that. Except that what he'd found was a corpse in a grave.

He wanted the truth, but he was finding that the truth wasn't what he thought it was. He'd spent the last five years slaving away in the basement of the Hoover building trying to bring to light the truths that he knew were out there. And all it had gained him was disdain, animosity, reprimand, and the blood of both the guilty and the innocent on his hands and his conscience.

But lastly, he wanted Scully. Wanted her in every way possible for one being to have another. And that last desire, he knew, was contingent on his own actions.

He was going to have to make hard choices. Ones that would determine his future. The question was if he could make the ones necessary to live with himself and with Scully? Make the repairs that he had to make to be capable of giving to her, and able to receive.

And the thing he knew he'd have to accept was that the truth might not be as black and white as he wanted it to be. It was complicated. Just like everything else in their lives. His truth wasn't what *the* truth was. It was all perception. He had perceived it as dark and light; good and evil; aliens and humans. But it wasn't that easy.

So the question really came down to what was the truth. . . ?

Now, thinking on the last five years, Mulder wondered if perhaps he'd been chasing a dream for a reason, beyond just the search for Samantha. This had become like the Holy Grail. An unattainable goal that he had to keep striving for. No matter what the cost was. No matter the pain or suffering or death. . .

In a moment of crystal realization, the answer came to him. He understood exactly what he had been doing.

He'd been courting death.

For more years than he could count. He'd become addicted to the hunt. The *search* for the truth. And now that he had to chose it or life, he didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to live like everyone else. He didn't know how to devote himself to anything else.

But the truth was staring him in the face - there were no more elusive truths to find.

There're no more white whales to harpoon Ahab, he told himself silently.

He was going to have to find another search or he was going to have to accept the normalcy of real life. With the Consortium in shambles and the truth just a vague thing that no one could grasp, let alone attain, he had to find some real goals within the parameters of the job he'd chosen. Ones that were achievable.

And he didn't know how to do that. It had always been one fantastic idea or another. And with the X-Files, he'd been chasing the figments of his own and other people's imaginations. Looking for shadows behind every corner.

But if he didn't make some changes, he'd go crazy. Literally.

And he needed to do this to bring some closure to his life. He needed to make peace with Sam's memory. Had to make peace with himself. Forgive himself.

From the moment that Scully had told him that they *both* needed to find themselves, he'd realized that he'd been hiding from himself just as much as she had been. Finally, he'd seen his truth for what it really was: an unobtainable quest for something he could never have.

There had been closure though. He had looked on the dead body of the girl in Massachusetts, and "accepted" that it was his sister's. He had stood by Scully as they watched as the men who had been responsible for her sister's and his father's deaths and her own abduction were arrested and sent to prison to await their hearings.

But what had troubled him most were the things he'd learned. About the *truth*, about his job, about his life, about himself.

Tragic. That was the word they used to describe the anti-heroes in those dark romance novels. The plays that delved into the psyche. Men who were driven to something because of a dark need or desire to achieve. Ones that were scarred, flawed and drawn to the women that could heal them.

That was him. . . to a tee.

Except that with everything that had happened to him, to Scully, he'd decided he couldn't live like that anymore.

He had to *live*.

If he wanted to survive, he realized, he had to put away the quests that were still unfinished. Searches for things he didn't know if he could *ever* solve. So he had to make a choice. Did he want to live, or did he want to exist?

If he only existed, he'd never have the peace of mind he so dearly craved. He'd never have a sense of completion. He'd never have the depth of love that he needed. And he'd never have Scully.

But if he lived. . . the possibilities were endless.

What a joke, Mulder thought with a sudden, rough laugh. The extreme possibilities weren't "out there", but within. The ability to connect with another living soul like he and Scully had. *That* was the paranormal. *That* was unbelievable.

All the years he'd looked for it in the sky and it had been there, on earth with him for four long years.

But to grasp his future, he had to let go of the past. That was *his* truth, and it was something that he didn't know if he could do.

The trouble with the truth, he realized with a flash of clarity, was that it was painful, and it wasn't what he'd thought it would be. It didn't matter if there really were aliens and government conspiracies. Finding proof of those things wouldn't solve his problem. It all came down to him needing something, especially a focus. His life had been filled with pain and self-loathing because of the choices he'd made and the ones that had been made for him. He'd lost so much because of his blindness to everything but his elusive truth.

But there wasn't any "universal" truth for him. Only "inner" truth.

He had to understand himself better before he could ask Scully to give him anything. He had to be able to return to her what she could give him.

He knew that he had to let go of the guilt that ate at him. Find some measure of peace in the knowledge that he'd found his sister and found some of the men who had taken Scully.

That was all he could do.

And as Mulder finally stopped pacing and headed to the front door, he could only hope that what he was about to do would be enough.

Scully walked into the office Tuesday morning to find Mulder asleep at his desk. She couldn't tell how long he'd been there, but it wasn't a surprise to her that his desk was in disarray.

What did surprise her was the open file cabinets and the folders scattered about the room.

And the full waste basket by his desk.

It was like someone trying to clean their memories up by physically removing the reminders of those memories. She listened to Mulder snore, his head resting on his arms as she approached the desk. Kneeling beside the waste basket, she pulled out several files, but two caught her attention - hers and Samantha's were in the bin. She pulled them out and stared at them.

He was trying to close the past.

He was trying to forget.

Trying to move on.

She swallowed hard as she realized what he had to have been thinking, what he wanted to accomplish by this. The past was one of the things that stood between them. As long as he held those ghosts to him like a lover, he could never bring her closer than an arms length to him.

But if they were gone. . .

Oh Mulder, she thought with a slight heartfelt pang. I never wanted you to lose your faith. I just needed you to be grounded. To stop blaming yourself for what you couldn't control. To stop hurting yourself.

But this. . .

Scully's head dropped a bit as her eyes closed at the intensity of the emotions rolling through her. He was *trying*. Maybe trying too hard to put the past behind them so he could have a future. Like she'd questioned him about not a month before in the hotel room when they'd been looking for the Consortium. And he had sworn then and there that 'they' were going to have a future. She just hadn't realized that he was serious enough about it that he was going to try and dump his life in such a wholesale fashion to accomplish it.

And it scared the hell out of her.

Of all the things she loved and admired about Fox Mulder, it was his dedication to his beliefs. But this. . . disregard for the past, this desire to destroy his searching had to have come from somewhere. And that place had to be where he believed.

He *believed* that this was right. That he had to do this.

It was up to her to make him understand that he didn't.

Slowly she walked over to where Mulder was sleeping at his desk, his head almost cradled on his arms. His light snoring filled her heart, but she needed to wake him. They had to talk.

"Mulder," she said softly, putting a hand to his shoulder and shaking him gently.

"Hmmmwhaaat?" Mulder murmured, startled into wakefulness. His eyes blinked several times till the image of Dana Scully came into view. A little smile tugged at the edges of his lips at the sight of her. But the look on her face derailed any more pleasant thoughts.

"What's going on here Mulder?" she asked, backing up a bit so he could sit up and orient himself better.

At her words, Mulder was instantly awake and aware. He took in the sight around him and the folders in Scully's hand. At that, his face clouded over. This was not going to be pretty, he could tell by the look on her face; the tight expression, the pursed lips, the wide eyes. Scully was ready to tell him what she thought of his "idea".

With a mental shrug, he eased himself into a sitting position in his chair and reached towards her and the files with a tentative hand. She stopped him mid-way, pulling the files from his reach and catching his hand with her free one.

"I found Samantha's file in the wastebasket Mulder. Along with mine. What are they doing there. For that matter, what are *any* of them doing there? These aren't your personal property. They belong to the Bureau. They need to be kept for future reference," Scully admonished him, holding the files up to show him the FBI numbers emblazoned across the covers of the red and white striped case folders.

"You're joking, right?" Mulder got out with a bitter laugh as he pulled his hand loose from Scully's grasp and got up to walk to the door to the office and shut it. Then he turned to regard her again, this time with a serious look on his face.

"No one gives a damn about those case files Scully. They never have. Even *yours*," he spat out with bitterness and some old pain. "They're part of the "Spooky" agenda. No one will ever care that Samantha might have been abducted by someone or something ten years from now. When you leave the Bureau, no one will care that you ever disappeared for three months, or that your partner went crazy trying to find you. These files are worthless to anyone except me."

Scully's eyes narrowed at his words. How could he say those things to her, especially since she'd lived them for the last four years?

"Don't you *dare* say that Fox Mulder!" she nearly screamed, her rage at the belittling of their work engulfing her. "Don't you *dare* say that everything I sacrificed for these files, for the truth was for *nothing*!"

His jaw nearly dropped at the anger, the pure venom in her voice. He'd never imagined her capable of such fury. Yet here it was, directed at him and he was in awe of it.

"Scully. . . "

"No. Don't say it Mulder," she informed him, her anger dying down somewhat. "You can't just wholesale ditch your past to make your future. You have to deal with it, not bury it. I need you whole, yes, but I want the Mulder I know and love, not this half-hearted facsimile of him."

He shook his head ever so slightly. Leave it to Scully to cut through to the heart of the matter. Because he'd been so concerned over losing her he'd gone and tried to destroy the thing that had made him who he was. Made him the person she loved.

It was then that he understood that he was going to have to deal with the past within himself, not outwardly. Only then was he going to make any changes.

"I thought," he began, and then realized just how inadequate his explanation was going to be. "I guess it doesn't matter, does it? Let's clean this place up."

Nodding in approval, she handed to him the files she had in her hand and turned to begin the work of returning the office to its original form. And from there, anything was possible.

It had taken them the rest of the week to get the files back in order, but by Friday the basement was again the headquarters for the X-Files' investigative team.

And a team they truly were, it seemed.

Mulder looked over the case file that Scully had handed him with interest. The fact that she was trying to find X-Files for them to investigate was. . . disconcerting to say the least. He'd always relied on her trying to dissuade him from following up on leads. Now it was him trying to decide what had merit, and that new role was making him think more before they passed their case requests on to Skinner. Truthfully though, what he really missed were the cracks Scully used to make about him finding their cases in the National Inquirer or the Sun News.

But he had to admit that the file material he had in his hands about a probable serial killer with ties to the occult and maybe even mystical properties to his attacks was a lot more 'real' than what he usually ended up settling on.

She had facts, data and witness accounts to several of the events. It didn't take a rocket scientist or a FBI psychologist to figure out part of what was fueling her search. The truth was that she was attempting to make the X-Files a viable department again. No more begging for funding or being concerned about being shut down. The cases and work Scully was taking them in the direction of was legitimate - or as close to it as it could get considering they were still investigating strange disappearances and homicides.

Of course what was more unsettling was his life outside of work. Because tonight he was taking his partner out on a date.

The fact that they were 'dating' was. . . bizarre. Not so much for them actually saying that they were socially spending time together, but for the fact that they were professionally together while they were doing it. It felt like they were sneaking around, but in truth, there was no one looking over their shoulders or following them except their own fears.

It had taken them so long for them to get to this point, Mulder mused. But finally, after four years of being partners and longing for one another, they *were* going to go on an official date. They had talked for hours on end - either at his place or hers, or on the phone before they'd made plans to do this. And they had used that time wisely by opening up and saying what they felt rather than passing off platitudes and innuendo as conversation.

And now that was going to pay off for them. They were going to start behaving like the couple that they were growing closer to becoming. And it was all starting with a movie.

They'd talked the night before and mutually chose a movie that they could both enjoy. There hadn't even been a discussion about skipping the sci-fi movie and the romance flicks, as neither of the genres seemed appropriate to start off with. So they'd settled on a comedy, feeling that the least they could do was inject a little humor in their lives, what with the darkness that seemed to follow them.

As the day went on, they stole glances at each other and tried to talk strictly about work when their minds were on the events to come that evening. So when quitting time finally arrived, there was no question of working overtime.

Scully was up first from her desk, shrugging on her suit jacket before she headed to the door. There didn't seem to be a reason except for protocol for her to wear it, especially with the still warm weather in D.C., put she took the time to slowly put it on, her back to Mulder.

It wasn't until a pair of hands settled on her shoulders, stopping her short that she realized that Mulder had gotten up and was ready to leave as well. The weight of his hands held her motionless as he then reached to settle the collar of the jacket in place.

"I'll see you in about two hours," Mulder said in a low, breathy tone that she remembered from a few of their phone conversations since they'd begun to 'talk'.

"I'll be waiting."

And then he let his hands lift from her shoulders and she made her way to the door, pausing long enough to glance at him before she slipped out and headed for her car and for her apartment. It was going to be soon enough for them both to be together again, but not in their official capacity as FBI agents either. Just as a man and a woman who were in love with each other.

Both Mulder and Scully found that the time between leaving the office and his arrival at her apartment was both short and long all at once. Scully had been concerned that Mulder would be late, but as she heard the knock at the door, she knew he had arrived. As she opened the door, she couldn't keep the smile off her face as she thought to herself that he was there on time for once, and Scully was more than a little impressed. He stood at the door, a sheepish look on his face as if he'd been caught peeking in her windows.

"A little anxious Mulder?" Scully joked lightly as she ushered him in with a wave of her hand.

"Nah, not really. Just made all the lights from Alexandria to here. Just lucky I guess," he offered as an excuse. He turned in the living room, looking back at where she now stood at the doorway, stock still as her gaze bored into him. She seemed a bit. . . anxious, he decided. And nervous.

Hell, so was he, he realized in a sudden bout of panic. They were actually on the verge of doing what they'd told themselves they could never do. To see each other like this, as more than partners or friends. This was the beginning of something much more than just a romance. It was the union of like souls. Souls that were on their way to their first, official date. And it was scaring the hell out of them both.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" he asked, concerned because she hadn't made another move since he'd walked in. Her hands still rested against the door, and her eyes seemed caught by something beyond him, fixed in a way that frightened him.

His words shook her out of her reverie and she found his hazel eyes locked solidly onto her and had to bolster herself to match him. Now was not the time to fall apart or give in. There were good reasons for what they were doing. By going slowly as they rebuilt themselves.

But at the moment, as she took in his jean and T-shirt clad body standing before her, his unruly hair and blazing eyes, she couldn't remember what those reasons were.

All she could feel was the raw terror of being out of control. For she knew that by being with Mulder, being *in* love with him meant sacrifice. Not so much in her personal life, or even her career, but in the way she was. Every old fear she had was fodder to be dredged up and hung out to dry because of the relationship she had with this man before her.

There were only two ways to go: forward into the unknown or back to what was comfortable and safe. Either way, she was in for what was going to be a rough ride. She knew that just by the way Mulder was looking at her from across the room. It was a fearful yet expectant look. One that showed how much he wanted everything from her, no holds barred. And the thought frightened her more than she could or would ever admit.

Hell, she thought, I'm the Ice Queen, remember. No one ever gets too close or stays too long.

Mulder had watched the turmoil run across Scully's features as she stared past him into the apartment.

"Scully?" he asked cautiously as he came to her side, a hand reaching for her shoulder.

At that she blinked once and re-focused her gaze onto him. Behind her eyes, Mulder could swear he could hear her thoughts, see them, but it was the action that surprised him the most.

Because this time, it was she who reached out to him, pulling his head down to hers and kissed him tenderly. Then she pulled back, meeting his vision again.

Brief thought the kiss might have been, it was the answer to both of their questions. The spark that they'd felt all that time ago, when Mulder had shown up unannounced hadn't been a fluke or sexual tension. There was something deeper and more powerful at work between them, and they were just starting to feel it. To experience it.

"No, I'm ready to go. Let me get my things," she said quickly and nearly sprinted into the living room to pick up her purse as Mulder stood there, recovering from the shock at Scully's actions.

When she returned, he gave her a light smile and escorted her out the door, hearing the bolt latch behind them as the door shut and they headed off into the future.

The movie was a humorous one, but neither of them had paid much attention to it. The fact that they were together, socially, without fear or shame was a new feeling. And it was one that they had gotten caught up in. Especially after the kiss that they'd shared in Scully's apartment before they'd left.

Mulder had though that their first kiss had been something, but the second had nearly knocked him off his feet. Yet, somehow he'd found the willpower to pull back and to reign in the emotions that were flooding him.

The only consolation he had was in the fact that Scully seemed to be as disconcerted by their kiss as he had been. Perhaps more, since he'd expected her to put him off, say that they weren't ready to take another step forward, except that she'd been the one who had kissed him.

As Mulder escorted them out of the movie theater, his hand unconsciously found its way to her back, where it so often sat. It was one of his rare, secret pleasures that he could indulge in. A way to touch Scully and not have her think that he was coming onto her. Even though in a way, he was. It had always been a way for him to feel more connected with her. To close the physical gap that their souls never seemed to know.

And now, he didn't have to pretend why he was doing it.

When Mulder settled his hand more firmly against her back, Scully took notice. She'd felt the touch before, but never like this. This time Scully could feel the proprietary touch of his fingers, the protective feel of his arm and body hovering behind and beside her. It was a revelation. All those years that he'd done this, he'd always reserved himself from going *this* far with it. To showing possession. From being possessive and protective. From doing it with tenderness and love like he was now.

And for the first time, she understood and accepted the gesture for what it was. His attempt to show her and everyone around them what she was to him. Her eyes darted up and met his for a moment before his flickered away towards the parking lot before them.

While they continued their walk to the car, Scully found herself thinking back on the times when she'd been so driven to prove herself in the man's world of the FBI. In those years, she'd given up little pieces of her femininity. Trade-offs for her job. The ability to run with the big boys necessitated the ability to be one of them. And dresses, make up, feelings and weakness went by the wayside to do that.

But Mulder had always seen past that. True, he'd often gone overboard when he tried to protect her, except it wasn't done because she was a woman. The truth of the matter was that he protected her because she was *Scully*. No less, no more. And he'd lost her and not been there for her too many times for her to be hurt because of him again.

At the car, she turned and looked at him seriously. How could she ever explain to him that she finally understood the reasoning behind what he'd done for her, because of her over the years? What it meant to *her*? She couldn't and she knew it.

So she let her eyes and her body speak for her, as she took his hand tightly in her own and smiled at him, her eyes connecting with his.

The communication that had always been there, and had grown exponentially over the course of their partnership instantly bridged them, and Mulder couldn't help but give her a wane smile back in response.

Taking his hand from her, he unlocked the car door and let her slip in. She gave him a look that told him to get in, and he left her side of the car for his own. She slammed the door shut just as he was getting in himself. After he'd closed his door as well, he shoved the key into the ignition and turned the engine over. Moments later, they were on the road.

An announcement interrupted the music on the radio in Mulder's car as they were driving from the movie theater to the pizza place that they had decided to try. Annoyed by the pre-empting, Mulder had reached for the dial, planning on changing it, when Scully caught his hand.

"What?" he questioned with surprise in his voice.

Scully could only shake her head. There was something about the announcement. . .

And as they listened longer, they soon heard that Assistant Director of the FBI Walter Skinner had announced that he would be turning State's evidence. Then, added to the announcement was the news that a man high up in the political structure had committed suicide rather than face a public airing of his misdeeds. And even though he wasn't named, Mulder and Scully had no doubts that the man in question was probably the mysterious cigarette smoking man that had been their main nemesis for the last four years.

Mulder looked suddenly to Scully and found her widened eyes staring back at him. Their boss had done it. He'd gone and put himself on the line for them. For the truth.

Yet the nightmare was far from over, Mulder realized. The players might be falling, but there were always new ones to take their places.

But was he going to pursue them? And would he and Scully continue to be *able* to pursue them, with Skinner possibly out of a job, their department passed back to Blevins or another Bureau chief?

He didn't know, and by the look in Scully's eyes, she didn't know either.

Part 4 - Living and Loving

"And the trouble with the truth

Is it just won't let me rest

I run and hide

But there's always another test

And I know that it won't let me be

'Til I've given it my best

The trouble with the truth

Is it just won't let me rest"

Mulder had dropped Scully off reluctantly at her apartment the night they heard of Skinner's actions. There had been a moment in the car when they could have gone on to dinner like they'd planned, go one more step, but it just didn't seem the right time. There were too many questions to be answered for them to pursue anything else at the moment.

Over the phone that weekend they discussed the situation several times, trying to guess just what the repercussions would be. It was still hard to imagine that their boss and friend had taken on the responsibility of turning State's evidence against the men who the two of them believed were responsible for the tests that were done to Scully and to the other women, like those in the Allentown MUFON group. Somehow they knew that they would get those answers when they'd walked into the Hoover building the following Monday. But they were far from what they'd expected them to be.

They arrived at the office, expecting to be called straight off up to the A.D.'s office, but there was nothing. So they settled in for the day, waiting for word, expecting a call any moment. But it was Skinner that met them at their office, rather than them coming to his.

As their boss looked at them from the door, the two agents oblivious of his presence as they looked over a series of photos by the light table, Skinner realized just why he'd done what he'd done.

It was because of them, the two agents who stood across from him that he knew, yet didn't know.

They weren't the people he'd known all these years. Certainly, their outward appearance hadn't changed much, but there was something in the way they carried themselves nowadays that made it clear to him that they were finding something more than vampires and aliens in their search now.

They were finding themselves.

He knew that since Mulder had found his sister's body that he'd come to question his direction. Scully had found that dealing with the truth and knowing the truth were two different things. It had been hard gained ground for both of them since they'd solved so many of Mulder's "quests". And a simple job and its dangers weren't enough to fix them. Or detract from them.

The focus, he realized was still there, but the manic, obsessive drive was gone. There had been a restless peace that had settled on Mulder now, and Skinner was questioning its source. Whether or not the X-Files would continue as they had before, he couldn't say for sure, but his two agents would never be the same. Actually, the truth was that from Skinner's point of view, Mulder and Scully's partnership had gone through the proverbial ringer. But they'd only gotten stronger because of it. After all the times that they had been at odds, the fact that personally they were getting closer, that they were working through their problems had almost made their work secondary. And to some degree, it probably was.

Secretly he had wondered how long these two agents of his could hold out, keeping their emotions above water, so to speak. There had been so many losses for them over the years. Fathers buried, a sister killed, time lost and frustrations multiplied. Somehow it was surprising that neither of them had broken entirely. He'd watched as Mulder fell apart after Scully had been abducted, and if she hadn't come out of her coma, he was sure that he would have mentally broken. Then when Mulder was presumed dead back when Scully and he had run off to New Mexico, he'd seen her discouraged and nearly defeated. Hell, he thought fondly, she'd pointed a gun at him. He could reasonably say that her mental stability was far from the norm.

He realized that it all came down to how interconnected these two agents were. And now how these changes that they were making in their lives now were affecting their work.

Skinner knew that he was probably the only one who had noticed it. Their solve rate wasn't down, and they were still the most functional investigating field team he had. They were good at what they did. If they weren't, the section chief would have known about the changes going on in the basement, as well as himself. But the truth of the matter was that unless they knew who Scully and Mulder were, and what they were about, no one would notice. The changes were subtle. If he had to pinpoint something specific that had alerted him to their growth, he would have to say that it was the fact that they were. . . contented, somehow.

The relationship that he'd seen between them nearly three and a half years ago had grown. They were talking, keeping no more secrets from each other. The truth had set them free, just like in promising his testimony against the Consortium members in prison, he would be set free as well.

Deciding that the time had come, Skinner knocked loudly on the open door, startling the two agents within. As they turned, Skinner remembered exactly what he saw in the agents that had become more than associates and more like friends.

It was the magnetism that they had. A feeling that drew you to them and their cause. Like when you were a kid and you wanted to be included in the cool kids club meetings. Together they attracted people to them that could help their cause. Just like they had him, Deep Throat, X and so many others.

Ones that has sacrificed lives and honor to help them succeed.

Like he had.

"Sir," Mulder spoke up, stepping away from Scully as if to try and put some distance between them as a way to hide the new connection between them.

"It's all right Agent Mulder. This is an informal visit. I just," Skinner began, coming in and closing the door behind him as he came closer to where Scully and Mulder stood, "I wanted you both to know what's going to be happening in the next few months. I assume you heard the news?"

Scully glanced quickly towards Mulder's position, wondering how they were supposed to answer that. In return, he shrugged nearly invisibly and sent her a silent signal that the reply was up to her to give.

"The media announced that you were going to turn State's evidence against the conspirators in the Consortium case. Is that what you mean Sir?" Scully remarked with questioning in her tone.

"Exactly. The State Department says that they'll keep me under surveillance, and if I need it, put me in protective custody till the hearings finish. But I made it clear that I'm still a federal agent of the FBI and that I intend to continue in my chosen position - that of Assistant Director. And as the supervisor of the X-Files division."

There was a brief moment when both Scully and Mulder thought about questioning the reasoning of their boss for his determination in both testifying and continuing to support and defend their division, even at the risk to his own life. But Mulder knew the reasons why. In the conversations he'd had with their boss in the past, he'd learned how much Skinner believed in the project, believed in the importance of what Mulder and Scully were trying to do: find answers for the questions no one else had the courage to ask, let alone seek explanations for.

That would have been enough for him to accept Skinner's motives, but there were still other players in the game that had to be accounted for. Ones that had opposed the search for the truth.

"Sir, the news also mentioned a suicide of a high ranking Consortium collaborator. We were thinking that it might be. . . " Mulder started, then paused, trying to figure out how to continue, his hand running through his hair.

"You want to know if the man was the one you knew as the cigarette smoking man. That's who the police seem to believe it was, but I don't know. The body disappeared from Georgetown Medical Center early Saturday morning, and the photos of the scene were accidentally overexposed in the lab. So it's possible that the black lunged son of a bitch is still out there."

Within her chest, Scully felt a cold hand clutch at her heart. It just didn't seem like they could ever really win against them, she thought, averting her eyes to gaze at a spot on the far wall, even as she felt both Mulder and Skinner look her direction. It wasn't over, he'd said. They'd never be free. Now she knew what the bastard had meant.

"Scully?" Mulder murmured, his hand beginning to reach for her, but stopping when he realized that they weren't alone.

Suddenly she shook her head, as if shooing away a fly and brought her attention back to Mulder. There was a concern in his eyes that she couldn't help but acknowledge, and she placed a hand on his arm, sending her assurance that she was fine to him through her touch.

Watching the whole thing in silence, Skinner found that he could say nothing. The power of the bond between them now was mesmerizing.

"I'm sorry," Scully finally got out, remembering that Skinner was there. "I was just thinking on what Cancerman said to us before he left your office all those weeks ago."

With her words, Skinner and Mulder both realized what she was thinking. Perhaps the Consortium was dead for the moment, but if the cigarette smoking man hadn't killed himself, if he was alive and free. . .

"It really doesn't matter Scully," said Skinner in a no-nonsense voice that made her wonder why he'd ever left the Marine Corps. "Yes, the X-Files will still be around to keep tabs on things like conspiracies and the like. But they won't attack you openly now. They've learned their lesson, I think."

There were blank stares as Skinner told them this.

"You *beat* them. In the end, you two survived, stronger than before and they're the ones facing jail and worse. Who here are the invincible ones?" Skinner remarked.

As the partners grasped the meaning of their supervisor's words, Skinner inclined his head and turned and exited the room, closing the door behind him.

Once the door was closed, Mulder and Scully looked at the door and then back towards each other as the realization of their situation sank in. They were the survivors, the winners in this round. But since they'd decided to continue their work, the question was would they win next time?

Of all the things Dana Scully disliked, hauling her groceries in from the farthest parking space in the lot of her apartment building after a hard day of work on top of a long week had to rank right on the top of the list with being attacked by liver eating mutants or fetishists.

She stood at the door, fumbling with the keys. Inside, she heard the sound of the ring of the telephone, and she rushed to get the tumblers thrown and the door open. The phone had rung twice more before Scully had run in the door, arms full of groceries. She dropped the bags heavily on the kitchen table as she sprung for the handset, yanking it off the table.

"Scully," she said automatically, even though she'd been telling herself for weeks that she had to stop answering her home phone like that, but it was a habit that she'd found hard to break.

"Hi Scully, it's me," came the gravel voice of the man she cared for most in the world.

There was a long moment when silence prevailed on the phone lines. And within the lull, hearts spoke to one another of things that they had known for years, but had only been allowed to express recently. A soft sigh on her end and a sharp intake of breath at his punctuated the importance of the words unspoken between them.

"Hi yourself. What's up Mulder?" she asked finally in a tone that could be only called 'seductive'.

"Nothing. Just calling you," he tossed back lightly, his voice taking on the timbre that could rob most women of coherent thought.

Again the silence fell, and Scully wondered what he was up to really. Something was on his mind. She could feel it. It was like he was telegraphing his intentions over the line with his words and his silences.

Finally Mulder spoke again.

"Could I take you out to dinner?"

That prospect brought her up short. She'd been expecting another "I've got a pizza. . . can I come over?" offer like he'd done in the last few weeks of their 'relationship'. But this. . . "dinner", was something she wasn't prepared for. It sounded like he wanted to take her. . .

Get over it Dana, she admonished herself quickly. If she had learned anything about Mulder in the last four years, it was that he was unpredictable and impulsive.

"Sure," she replied, becoming more serious as her mind refused to silence her imagination.

Dinner.

With Mulder.

"When?" she asked, thinking about how much she still had to do, and that she wanted to change before he got there...

Mulder smiled on the other end of the line, nearly hearing the gears in Dana's head turning as she tried to figure out what he was up to. Then he looked at his watch, to answer her last question.

"In fifteen minutes?" he replied with a mischievous smirk in his voice.

"What? Where are you?" she chokingly got out, her own smile now appearing on her face. She moved with the cordless phone to the window, peering out to check and see if he was there yet. It would be just like him to be sitting outside her apartment. Once she was sure he wasn't there yet, she let loose a little sigh. Somehow, this trick of his, calling en route to her apartment had never sunk in with her. Yet it was his spontaneity that was part of what made her love him.

"I'm about halfway there.," he remarked casually, pleased with his ability to send the normally stoic Dana Scully into a panic. "And Scully. . . I'd suggest you ditch the suit and find a dress. I know you have at least *one* in your closet."

At that the phone line went dead and she stood there looking at it incredulously. How was it that he could do this to her? Make her feel anxious and happy with just a phone call?

Of all the men she'd known in her life, Mulder was far and away the one she would never have expected to be a romantic or the one that would make her feel like a romantic too. As she'd let her emotions free in regards to the relationship, she'd found that even though it was hard, it was worth it to be open and honest with him. Even if he wasn't perfect, thought they hurt one another on occasion, the feeling she had because she loved him and she knew he loved her was the best thing she'd ever experienced.

And she wasn't about to give up that feeling for anything.

Suddenly she remembered that she had probably fifteen minutes or so before he was at her door, and she had to both get dressed and put away her groceries by the time he got there. In a whirlwind that could only be described as frantic, she hurriedly sorted through the food she'd bought, shoving the items into their proper places as she mentally tried to think of what dresses she had in her closet that would be appropriate for a "date" with Mulder.

Finally, after a quick shower and a change of clothes, she stood in front of the mirror in her bathroom, checking her appearance.

Who would have thought, she told herself silently, that we'd ever be at this point?

Her train of thought was broken by the knock at her door, signaling that she'd timed it just right. Tossing on a pair of heels, she headed for the front room to let Mulder in.

She opened the door to find him dressed as if he was planning on escorting her to an interview of a federal witness rather than a pizza parlor. Pressed dark suit; dress shirt and a terribly tacky tie. She smiled.

The image was more than just appealing because of the clothes though. He looked good. Better than she'd ever seen him. Of course, the fact that he was making his peace with his demons made the difference. The darkness would always be a part of him, she knew, but it no longer ruled his life. He was in the process of doing what he needed to: come to terms with his life, his past and his future.

And it made the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes all the more handsome to her.

Crossing her arms lightly over her chest, she leaned back ever so slightly in a gesture that Mulder hadn't seen before. But if he took the look in her eyes as being approval, he had to say that he was being given the once over. Plus he was sure that she was questioning his actions and motives by now as well.

On any other occasion, he might have been concerned, but tonight he didn't care because before him stood the beauteous Dana Scully, dressed in a stunning black cocktail dress as if she was heading to the theatre. In all the times he'd seen her, he was sure that she'd never looked as lovely or as absolutely happy. The last few months had changed her so much, yet she was still the same Scully he'd always loved.

As he looked at her, he wondered again how he could have almost let his life slip away from him. How he could have been so afraid of living and loving. Willingly letting the guilt eat at his soul. And how this one woman had made such a difference in his life.

Love casts out fear, doesn't it Mulder, a quiet voice in his head asked him.

It does, he decided. He loved Dana Scully with everything he was and everything he had. It was something he believed in without reservation. And that love had replaced his fear with courage.

"You ready to go?" he asked in a sensuous tone that had Scully's heart rate soaring. That and the obvious approval of her attire was enough to make her forget the question.

"Hmmm? Oh, yeah, let me just get my purse and a coat," she murmured and moved away from him and to the coffee table, bending over to pick up the purse and jacket she'd set out. Turning back, she looked at Mulder again as he stood there, waiting for her.

And somewhere in her heart she felt the last of her reservations fade in the powerful glow of the bond they had. What more could she ask for than to love a man who loved her more than himself? And how could she keep from giving him all that she was?

Nothing of value was ever achieved without someone taking a chance, she remembered someone saying once. She'd tested the relationship. She'd spent long days and weeks talking and feeling, making sure that she was right, that this was real. And she knew in her heart that it was. That the best they could be, they would find together.

Now it was up to her to show that acceptance to Mulder. To be herself with him.

As a feeling of peace settled over her as she accepted her decision, she walked back to where Mulder had been watching her. Stopping in front of him, she looked up into his face and smiled. The answering grin assured her that what she was giving up; solitude and comfort for the unknown and love was more than worth it.

Leaning up, she kissed him lightly on the lips and then pulled back. His expression was one of warmth and feeling and it rocked her to her soul.

"How about that dinner now?" he said pleasantly, as he lead her out the door.

After what Scully had to admit was a wonderful dinner, they sat looking at one another across the dinner table in the half light of the dim restaurant. The atmosphere seemed charged, and it all seemed surreal to Mulder. Here he was, ready to take that last step, prove that he was doing what he needed, they needed him to do, and all he could think of was what she looked like in the candlelight and how good it felt to touch her.

Finally, he took in a deep breath and decided that it was time to say what he had on his mind and in his heart.

"Scully, I've made some decisions in the last couple of months that I know you didn't approve of," Mulder began, running his fingers along the glass of barely touched wine. "I tried to give up my beliefs, walk away from the things I've searched for my whole life, stop acting like a martyr and sometimes the way I did it was wrong. It was covering up the truth of the matter by getting rid of the symptoms. But I've learned what I need to really do."

She looked at him, wide eyed across the table. There were so many times that she'd wanted nothing more than to just lift every burden he had off his chest, ease his life. But in trying to, she'd only added to his load. She'd become a focus of his guilt, even if she hadn't intended to.

"Mulder. . ."

"No, please, let me say this," he said, reaching over to cover her hand with his. "I've never chosen the easiest path. I've never put my 'quest' in perspective. Until now."

His head dipped for a long moment, almost too long for Scully's taste. She could only imagine what he was thinking. Then when his head came back up and his eyes met hers, she could see the depth of emotion there and swallowed hard.

She saw the truth.

"I've finally accepted that the truth might not be what I always thought it was; that I might never find it," he began, his body nearly trembling with the emotions coursing through him. "I'm not going to stop looking for it Scully. But I am going to keep it in perspective. I. . . I spent three months when you were missing realizing that this search, this quest of mine was secondary to finding you, having you back. And now, now that you and I are here, together, I've come to remember that again. And this time I'm not going to forget it."

She let her eyes slip from his gaze, the lids shutting as the words washed over her. Then his hand left hers and caressed her cheek, causing her to open her eyes and look up again.

"I finally accepted that everything that's happened in my life hasn't always been my fault Dana," Mulder told her in a low, remorseful tone. "My father was responsible for what happened to Samantha. Duane Berry and the men who took you were responsible for what happened to you. Yes, I'll always feel pain because of it, but I'm not going to let it destroy the future I could have. With you."

It was what she never thought she'd hear. Mulder letting go of the guilt that had eaten away at him. And looking back at the last few weeks, she could see how he'd been slowly letting himself do that.

"I finally know who I am Scully," he said deliberately, "I'm Fox Mulder."

They sat there in silence for a long time, fully understanding what had happened and what was still happening between them.

"Take me home," Scully said finally, and Mulder nodded, getting up from his seat and leading her out of the restaurant and to the car.

It was a quiet ride back to Scully's apartment. The air was too thick with emotion for either of them to dare say a word. They were so close now, there was no question in either of their minds that the right word spoken could ignite the smoldering fire between them, and they'd never make it to her place.

When they finally stood at her door, Scully turned and fumbled for her keys as Mulder settled himself behind her, holding her lightly by her waist. They hadn't spoken of what was going to happen tonight once he brought her home, but they both were having a hard time thinking that far ahead while their bodies were so close to one another.

When she got the locks open, she let the door swing open as she slowly turned in his grasp, facing him. They both knew that this was the defining moment that would decide their path. To postpone what seemed now to be the inevitable, or to explore it.

Mulder was the one who broke the stalemate.

"Scully, Dana," he said quietly, holding his breath as he made the last move he had as she looked at him, "is it too late for me to let you call me Fox?"

Brought up short by his sudden question, Scully couldn't help but feel her heart expand in her chest. She blinked rapidly, feeling the wetness of sudden tears filling her eyes.

How long had she waited for him to trust her *this* much? It seemed like forever. And now that trust was hers. And she had to return it. One hundred percent.

"It's never too late," she said with a lump in her throat and tears in her voice as they broke from her eyes. "Didn't you know that it would *never* have been too late?"

He looked at her tear filled eyes and couldn't help but feeling afraid. He'd seen her cry so rarely. There was the time when he'd rescued her from Pfaster, when he'd pointed a gun at her when Modell had control of his actions, in the hospital in Allentown when Penny Northern had died and then just recently when she'd found out that he was really alive. She had always kept up the front of her strength.

But now it seemed to him that she was letting him see past that front. And as he understood finally, his heart caught in his throat.

She was letting him in.

"Don't you know how much I trust you? How much I love you?" she nearly whispered.

At her words, he decided that it was time to accept and admit the truth they both knew.

"I know," he said softly as he leaned towards her. "As much as I love and trust you."

His face came nearer, and then he let his lips brush hers, testing the waters. They'd kissed before but this was something that was deeper. It was the beginnings of really exploring the depths of their commitment to each other. Their love and passion for each other.

But would she allow it? Were they finally ready to go where they had always been headed, his mind questioned as her soft lips pressed against his.

Her hands moved to his chest, and Mulder felt a momentary twinge of regret fill his soul as he thought she was going to push him away.

Then slowly he felt her hands wrap around his neck and pull him closer, and the ache in his heart changed from pain to passion in a second.

The kiss intensified, fueling their desire and obliterating everything and anything that might have deterred them from their path. Tongues met and entangled as their lips moved together. It wasn't a conscious decision for them to deepen the kiss, or for Mulder to tightly pull Scully to him as she drew him closer as well. It just was what they knew they wanted.

As one, they eased up and withdrew from the kiss, their eyes searching one another's for regret or apprehension. But it wasn't there. All that either of them could see was desire and love.

Yet Mulder was still concerned that even though all of Scully was there with him: heart, mind, body and soul, that they shouldn't pursue this yet. A little part of him still was in shock that happiness was so close at hand that he could feel it, and was worried that it was only seconds away from falling apart around him.

So it was Scully that reached out to Mulder, backing away out of his arms and into her apartment. She held her hands out to him, offering and asking at the same time.

"Come in?" she said with a velvet tone that made Mulder's heart and head swim.

"Are you sure we. . . that you. . . " he barely got out. He wanted to be sure before they went too far and damaged what they had.

She smiled at him. A smile that he remembered seeing glimpses of in the past. One that lightened her face and showed her heart. Consciously or unconsciously her tongue wet her lips before she opened them to speak.

"I've made my peace with my fears Mulder," she informed him, coming back to stand at the doorway. He looked at her, trying to decide if he should be upset at her use of his last name after telling her that she could use his first. She caught the look in his eyes and realized his concern.

"You'll always be Mulder to me Fox. It was Mulder that I fell in love with and Mulder that loves me. It means the world to me that you would let me call you Fox, but it seems strange to me to call you that. Just like I think it would be hard for you to call me Dana all the time."

When she explained it to him like that, he realized that she was right. He had offered to her the use of his name to prove that he trusted her with himself. That he was willing to let himself be happy, and that the past wasn't going to hurt him anymore. But they were Mulder and Scully. That was who they were, and they were the ones in love with each other.

"You're right Scully. But still. . . " he rambled, trying to figure out how to ask her what he needed to know.

"Do I want to do this? Do I want you to stay? To kiss me? Hold me? Make love to me?" she recited, taking both of his hands in one of hers as the other cupped his cheek. "I want that more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. I want to *share* myself with you. Not just what's on the outside, but what's on the inside. No holds barred. No fears and no doubts."

At that she placed his clasped hands against her chest, punctuating her words. But it was the certainty in her eyes and her voice that made Mulder realize that she meant exactly what she was saying.

That she wanted him inside of her. Was willing to let him into her body and soul and mind. As to her heart. . . he knew that he'd been there all along.

"Then I'd like to come in," he replied sincerely and with more emotion than he'd expected.

She backed up, letting him slip one of his hands free so he could shut the door behind him and lock it. There was no more talking, no more questions left to ask, nothing left to say. Together they made their way to the back bedroom of her apartment, trading kisses as Mulder lost his jacket and tie on the way.

Inside they found themselves in new territory. Mulder reached behind Scully and found the zipper pull of her dress. Her hands twisted behind her and urged him to lower the metal tab. Slowly he undid the metal teeth, and then eased the material forward, then down and off her body, revealing her to his sight.

Then Scully reached for the shirt buttons and carefully undid them until she reached his waistband. Tugging up, she freed the shirt, finishing off the last buttons at the bottom and at his wrists and slid the shirt down his arms and to the floor. Next she attacked the belt at his waist, popping the pin out of the leather and prying it apart.

When her hands went for the zipper of his pants, he stopped her. She looked up quickly, afraid that she'd gone to far. Instead of finding disapproval, she found an arousal in his eyes that dashed any fears she'd had.

Before she could continue, his mouth was on hers and they'd fumbled back to the bed. Her knees hit the edge and she fell backwards onto the mattress, Mulder following her as he reached for her lips with his again as his hands found their way to her hair.

Clothes were discarded in passionate order, tossed aside as they longed to get closer, to feel skin against skin. Once that was accomplished, hands and mouths explored sights they'd always wanted to see and feel. When their bodies finally achieved the union they'd craved for so long, it was almost spiritual union rather than a physical one. Their bodies strove together to reach a culmination of passions that their hearts and souls already knew. And in the final moments of that fusion, they found themselves immersed in an experience they had never known before separately, but had achieved together. Just like they'd known in their hearts that it would be.

Afterwards as they lay their in each other's embrace, knowing where they were, they listened to the silence and realized where they had been and where they were going.

There were still battles to fight and pain to suffer through, but they now knew *their* truth. That love and faith were enough to survive. That they could change for the better, to be what they deserved to be.

And for now, and for the rest of their lives, that was all that mattered.

-End-

Acknowledgements: To several fanfic writers, including Dawson Rambo, Antony Ferruci, and Paula Graves for inspiration for this.

Thanks to the beta-readers who got the piece-meal version of this: Deb, Christina, Wendy and Hindy. Special thanks to Gil for suggesting I "play God", and backing me up as I did this.

Author's Notes: This story came from a discussion at the SOCAL con about what *really* would have to happen in the show or a fanfic that would get M&S together in a healthy way and the answer was self-actualization. I know that this is far from that dream, but I hope that this was at least a good shot at it.

 

 

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