Flight 3020
American Airlines
En Route to Washington D.C.

Mulder sat on the plane, his eyes fixed on the clouds outside his window seat. They'd been in the air less than 20 minutes and he was already restless. Beside him, Scully sat next to him in the center seat, while Skinner, who'd used his leverage as their boss had the aisle. He groaned inwardly as he watched his boss stretch his legs into the walkway.

Of course, the accommodations on the plane were better than where he'd been over the last week, not counting the emergency room that Scully had insisted on him visiting after everything had cooled down in San Francisco before they got a flight back to D.C. For the first time in his life, he'd actually been at ease in an ER. Of course, how he'd been living the last week or so had made the sanitized white, air conditioned ER seem heavenly.

"So, have I thanked you today for rescuing my ass from the Consortium, Scully?" he asked humorously, leaning over to interrupt her reading of what seemed to be the most fascinating two month old magazine article.

Slowly she let it the magazine slide to her lap, and she turned to face him.

"Considering that it all happened at less than six hours ago, and you thanked me there, while we were at the hospital, and again before we got on the plane, I think so."

Mulder stared at her, then focused his attention on his boss, who seemed to be doing his best to ignore the conversation going on right next to him. Then from out of the blue, Skinner reached up and punched the attendant call button. A few minutes later, one of the airline attendants showed up, and Skinner had a quiet discussion with her. As she left, Skinner turned to his agents and gave them a once-over before he spoke.

"I checked with the airline and they said that since there's room on the flight that I could move seats. I'm going to check on Kwan, see how he's doing. If I don't come back, I'll see you when we land," he explained quickly, then got up and left them alone.

Both of them watched Skinner's retreating form as he headed to the back of the cabin. Now, in the mostly empty plane, they had a small area around them to themselves.

"He did that on purpose," Scully quickly said, folding her magazine open as she tried to retreat into the articles within.

"Yeah. But I think he did it out of the kindness of his heart, Scully. That and I don't think he wanted to intrude," Mulder began as he wiggled his way past Scully's legs and sat down in the seat on the aisle, stretching out his legs. He almost sighed at the relief of the movement. But instead he turned to scrutinize his partner.

She continued to re-read the same page for another five minutes before she sighed loudly and gave up, shoving the magazine in the pouch in the seat in front of her. Turning her head, she found Mulder still staring at her, almost as if he was drinking in the sight of her.

"What?" she asked suddenly, startling him out of whatever trance he'd been in.

"I just," he started, then faltered. "I can't help thinking about how relieved I was to see you tonight. I mean, when I first woke up in that warehouse, all I could remember was them shooting you, and I was terrified that they'd killed you. I thought I'd never see you again. And then, after they moved me, I knew that it had to be you looking for me. I spent those last two days holding onto that thought. That you were coming to find me."

Scully sat there in silence. He had no idea just how much she'd tried to hold onto the hope that Mulder would have faith in her. That he'd trust her to save him. And that she'd been scared out of her mind that she'd fail.

"I know. I was afraid that I'd never find you. Or that when I did. . . " she said, and she found her emotions starting to get the better of her as she almost choked on the last word.

"Hey," he roughly said, "I'm here and I'm ok. A little banged up, but ok."

She couldn't help but smile at that.

"Hell Mulder, when *don't* you get banged up?" she countered.

He had to shrug at that. It was too close to the truth to deny it. But considering the situation, he wasn't quite ready to let Scully have the last word.

"Sure Scully, rub it in why don't you," he whined in his sarcastic tone. "Next time, I'll let you shoot the guys before they drag me into the car, ok?"

"Sounds like a plan to me Mulder," she remarked, feeling better. "Oh, by the way, I have something that belongs to you."

At that she reached under her cuff and unbuckled Mulder's watch from its place on her wrist. She held it out to him, and he took it and her hand in his grasp for a second, then pulled the plastic watch from her grasp.

"Thanks."

He settled it back on his wrist and gave her a smile. Everything was where it was supposed to be. They settled back into their seats, Scully finding herself leaning into Mulder's side as they relaxed into their comfortable roles of partners and friends again, on their way home to their lives in D.C.

And for now, that was enough.

Scully's apartment
3170 W. 53 Rd.
Annapolis, VA
1 week later

Over the last week, Scully had found herself having to relearn how to conform to civilization, which was proving more difficult than she'd expected it to be.

First had been the meeting with the OPR panel in regards to her conduct in the recovery of Agent Mulder, as well as A.D. Skinner's involvement in the matter. They questioned her at length about her association with the DiMerra crime family in New Jersey. What had surprised her was the lack of questioning on the subject of the dead bodies that had ended up littering several locations across the San Francisco Bay Area. The only thing she could figure was that either Carmine and Anthony or the factions of the Consortium that had helped or hindered her had "cleaned up" after them.

The final nail in her coffin, she was sure would be her week long absence from the Bureau without requesting the time off or calling in. The fact that Skinner was her boss, and he'd been with her the whole time, so she didn't need to let him know where she was almost came out of her mouth. She barely stopped herself, reminding herself that Skinner didn't need her to help get him in trouble.

But they never mentioned the missed work hours. Only later, when she'd had the time to speak with her boss did she find out that he'd had his assistant draw up the proper forms before they left and signed them. She'd allowed her self the impulse of kissing him on the cheek in gratitude.

As Scully had sat there, listening to the board members recite proper conduct policy and procedures, heard them pronounce her one week suspension without pay and found herself imagining pulling out her pistol and emptying a clip into the lot of them. And it was an almost overwhelming temptation that she had gripped her hands tightly in her lap to keep them from itching at the thought.

If that hadn't been proof that she'd come back with less self control, more willing to act on impulse, she'd found herself swearing like a sailor when she'd been talking with her mother over lunch. Not that the language was of any shock to Maggie Scully, Navy wife and all, but Dana considered the lack of mental censoring of the colorful terms in her vocabulary meant that she really had allowed herself to change radically, if not even fundamentally.

Then there was the Kwan issue. Now, looking back at the past ten days, she wondered again what the hell she'd been on at the time to have *trusted* the assassin with not just her life, but Mulder's as well.

Yet he'd been there for her. Had helped her rescue Mulder, put himself between her and harms way, provided her with a sounding board and support until the very end. It still surprised her when she knew that he could have simply just walked away from everything.

Instead he had followed her back to D.C., stopped in more than a few times to talk, see how things were. He had spent a lot of the time discussing family, his and hers. It seemed that he had family in Chicago that had immigrated to the US years ago and he thought that maybe it would be good to go there and start over. Leave everything else behind, since he really didn't have anything left in Hong Kong for him. She'd supported that idea. After everything he'd been through, had done for her, Kwan deserved whatever happiness he could find.

When the discussion turned to her, she'd found herself answering questions about Mulder more often than her mother or brothers. Sometimes she felt like he was almost confirming one more time that her relationship with Mulder was something sacred, serious.

She had to admit to an initial attraction to the handsome Asian, and was sure she'd felt his eyes on her longer than was polite more than once. But he'd never said a word, and she knew it was because he knew that she was already involved.

With Mulder.

Since Mulder had been kidnapped, she had begun to realize that he had never been out of her mind for more than a minute. While he was gone, everything had centered on him. Getting him back. Finding him alive and ok. Getting the First Elder to trade for him. Threatening gunmen to find out his whereabouts. Worrying, fearing, crying, missing, loving this man who was out of reach.

But once she had him in her arms, safe and real, she'd found that the frequency of thinking of him hadn't changed. Only her thoughts about him had. Thoughts of touching, kissing, holding, making love to him seeped through her brain without her consciously calling on the images. At times, she found an overwhelming need just to get on the phone and talk to him, invite him or herself over to see him.

Most of all, she'd found that the walls around her emotions were still down. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, she wasn't sure. But her emotions hadn't been closed back up, like she'd worried they might. At the same time, she was scared by the vulnerability she felt. Of the unspoken truth about how she felt, the one that she was sure Mulder had to have seen in her eyes by now.

Yet Mulder had still not done anything in the week since he'd been rescued that convinced her that he knew things had changed. Had done nothing that he hadn't done before the abduction. For all intents and purposes, they were exactly the way they had always been. Partners and friends. Nothing more.

She found herself fearing that in doing whatever it took to get back what she wanted so desperately, she'd lost her chance to have him. That he was troubled by what he'd seen in her, what she'd become, and had chosen to avoid their feelings, and decided to simply stay her partner.

And the notion of that scenario scared her more than she could say.

J. Edgar Hoover building
FBI Headquarters
Washington D.C.
2 weeks later

Mulder sat at his desk, enjoying the feeling of being back. Of course, the comfortable chairs helped to. He almost smiled, but stopped when he felt the slight ache at the side of his mouth at the movement.

He might be back, but the toll of his ordeal was still fading. The bruises and cuts that had been all over his body were either totally healed or almost gone by now.

Not all the damage was on the outside, he reminded himself sharply as he looked across the desk to where Scully was absent mindedly pushing papers around on her desk. She'd been doing that for the last 2 hours.

He'd learned from Skinner and Kwan exactly what Scully had done to get him back, and he could even read between the lines when the two of them had talked about it as well. Once a person went through something that fundamentally changed them or challenged their morals to the degree that Scully had been through, he knew it was hard to deal with, let alone accept that change as a part of them.

Especially someone like Scully.

He shivered inwardly as he recalled specifically what Skinner had told him of her ruthless behavior in her search for him. The intentional shooting of an unarmed, vulnerable prisoner, her language, her single minded pursuit of Mulder's return, no matter what scum she had to associate with, her double fisted shooting and fiery vengeance.

Of course, he'd seen some of it himself. At the park in San Francisco when the trade had gone south and exploded into insanity and gunfire. He'd had her snatch him up from the ground and haul him to safety, then watched her wade back into the fray, guns blazing like an actor in a John Woo flick, blowing away the Consortium goons who had been holding him.

But more importantly, in the days following his rescue, he and Scully had begun to touch on the feelings that they seemed to share. Both good and bad. But most significant were the ones that he'd always been afraid of acknowledging; the ones he didn't think that she shared. Except that now he knew differently. Between the flight back from San Francisco, and the time they'd had to talk because she'd been suspended and his forced sick leave, they'd ended up spending a lot of time together. They'd talked more than they had in the last year, saying a lot of the things that they'd neglected to say before the whole thing had happened.

And sometimes letting their emotions get the better of them.

Yet during all that time, they were never truly alone. While Skinner's Mafia 'friends' had left directly from San Francisco back to New Jersey, Skinner had still been in the picture; on the flight back, getting them squared away with the Bureau, and making a point to see both of them on a formal and informal basis.

But probably the most difficult for Mulder to deal with was Kwan.

Over the last week and a half, the man whom he'd learned had been sent to assassinate his partner had nearly been at her beck and call. Like a forlorn, lost puppy. He could see the fondness that the other man had for Scully. Not only was it written on his face whenever he talked to her, but he'd found out the truth about Kwan's feelings for his partner almost word for word from the man.

Thinking back, Mulder recalled the conversation he'd had with Kwan less than two days ago.

He'd shown up at Scully's apartment, and Mulder had let him in. Scully had left hours earlier to go to a meeting at the Bureau before she returned from her suspension and she'd asked Mulder to stay and wait for a package from her brother. So when Kwan had shown up, looking for Scully, Mulder had suggested he come in and wait for her to get back, and offered him a beer.

Kwan had almost declined and left, but Mulder had verbally and maybe even physically persuaded the man to stay. Besides, Mulder had yet to talk privately with the man that Skinner had said had been crucial in securing his release. And had made himself indispensable with Scully. His gut reaction to that had been almost murderous. That Kwan was trying something with Scully. . . So he wanted the chance to straighten things out with him, and if need be, kick the guy's teeth in.

After finishing off a six pack in under two hours, the men had come to a slightly inebriated understanding. Mulder had found out that while Kwan did care for Scully, he knew he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell with her. When Mulder had asked why, the assassin had looked at him like he'd missed seeing an elephant walk into the room.

'She's in love with you. You know that, don't you?' Kwan had said.

Looking back now, Mulder didn't remember choking on the beer, just having Kwan slap him on the back as he started to find the air that he usually breathed without problem had disappeared. When he'd gotten his breath back and turned to Kwan, he saw the surprise and thoughts of recrimination for how stupid he was clearly on the man's face.

It reminded him of his conversation with Skinner, which had started this fact-finding mission about Scully's affections in the first place.

The two of them had been sitting alone waiting for the plane for San Francisco to be announced while Scully had searched for a pay phone to call her mom. He'd sat there and in no uncertain terms been given the obvious approval of their boss to get 'jiggy' with his partner.

Actually, the incident had been more like 'What do you mean you and she aren't. . .' after Skinner had explained what she'd done to get him back, as well as the emotions that he'd witnessed first hand at each failure to rescue him, and their final success. He'd finally just asked outright what was going on between his agents, and Mulder's answer had caused his eyebrows to shoot up, and a look of indescribable shock to appear on Skinner's face.

After that, he'd all but been told he was an idiot, and that if he cared for Dana at all like Skinner was certain she cared for him, if he didn't do something about it, he'd make sure that Mulder would be working shit cases for the next twenty years.

He'd almost said something to her on the plane, and then when he'd come over the night after they'd returned, he had found Kwan already there, sitting on her couch. . . So he'd hesitated, unsure of how his partner *really* felt about him. Except Kwan had finally put him straight about where Dana Scully's heart lay - directly with him.

Skinner was back to being their boss, sending them on assignment and chewing out their asses while Kwan had taken the red eye out that morning to see some of his family in Chicago. Finally though, they were alone again, partners again. Yet there was potential for so much more. . .

He'd thought about it almost every minute since Kwan and Skinner had confirmed his suspicions. Of course, the truth was that he'd been pondering their relationship for longer than that. Mulder had sworn to himself while he'd been imprisoned that if ever the day came that he knew Scully could be in love with him, he'd make his move. Because the truth was that they'd both been used against each other so many times without their ever being 'intimately' involved made the fear of reprisal based on such a change to their relationship just crumble under the weight of the facts.

They'd forced themselves to repress what they both wanted for the last five years out of some misguided fear of reprisal, and he'd decided he deserved, no, *they* deserved the benefits of a more intimate relationship if they were going to suffer the disadvantages of one. They loved each other for God's sake!

Yet he hadn't heard Scully say the words. And he wanted, *needed* to hear them. Except right now, they were in the office, and he had to be business-like, be her partner. And he still needed to help Scully resolve all the aspects of herself that she was struggling with before they could take their next step. One that he so desperately wanted to take.

Nothing like taking on a simple problem or two, he thought almost bitterly.

He was just about to open his mouth and ask her how she was, hoping that he'd get an honest answer and not 'I'm fine', when the phone rang. Quickly he scooped it up and had it to his ear.

"Mulder."

The sound of his voice brought Scully up short, and her eyes left her desk to watch him as he 'yes' and 'no'd his way through the call. She couldn't help staring at him, her mind still having problems wrapping around the fact that just 2 weeks ago she'd been on the other side of the country looking for him. And that she'd found out just how far she was willing to go to get him back.

Hanging up, Mulder was surprised to find a pair of brilliant blue eyes staring at him, and he couldn't suppress the somewhat lopsided grin that lit his face.

"Skinner?" Scully asked, her voice a mixture of keen interest and dread.

"Yeah. He just wanted to make sure that now that we're back that we keep up with the accounting paperwork. He also mentioned something about possibly having something later in the week that we might need to look into, but no assignments just yet," he explained simply.

"Oh, ok."

She turned away from him again, and Mulder felt the strangest feeling of being cut off from his partner. Something he hadn't felt since that time in Comity. And while he could feel, almost see some of the emotions that she was feeling, the fact that she was so withdrawn at the moment really concerned him.

"Scully," he finally said, breaking through the silence that had descended into the room again. Her head slowly came up, and he swore he saw guilt and pain in her eyes. "What happened in San Francisco, what you did, what you *had* to do. . . You know that I don't think any less of you because of it, don't you?"

His words cut through her like a sword. Of course he'd know how she was feeling. He did have a damn degree in Psychology after all. And it wasn't like she'd been dealing well with the whole thing. Actually, she was more surprised that it had taken him this long to discuss it this directly with her.

Especially since, besides how much she wanted Mulder, it was all she could think about.

In the last two weeks, it was almost all she had been able to think about. What she'd done, what she'd become. How she'd been able to associate so easily, on such a base level with these people: Kwan the assassin and the Consortium; the mobsters Carmine and Anthony; even the military commando mentality of Skinner and Reggie.

She'd delved deeply into her own psyche after rescuing Mulder, as she'd found herself struggling to come to terms with who she was now, how much she had allowed herself to change in her search for Mulder, and whether or not she'd ever be able to go back to the way she was before. She'd been trying, and even though she'd succeeded to some degree, the knowledge that all those emotions, those impulses were just under the surface, ready to come out at a moments notice terrified her.

And at the root of all her fears about what she'd done, had become in her pursuit of Mulder, she'd been worried about how he felt about it, how it would *change* them.

"I. . . Mulder, you have to understand something," she said, her voice hesitant as she pressed her hands onto her thighs to keep them from trembling, her gaze wavering and then dropping. "I found a part of me that's capable of being as cold blooded and calculating as the men who took you are. It's not something that's easy to live with, and I've been trying to handle it on a day to day basis since we got back. But to know what you're capable of, not just from thinking that you could be if pressed, but to truly know it. . . part of me wishes that I didn't."

Mulder let the words just hang there for a minute. They'd skirted around the issue for weeks now, and while his Psychology education had trained him to expect her to feel something like this, to actually hear the words from Dana Scully: his partner, his *strength*, the woman he. . . well, it shook him more than he'd imagined it would. In a heartbeat he had gotten up from his chair and moved to her side. Turning her in her seat, he tenderly lifted her face to his, catching her eyes and let her read them.

"I wish I could give you back what you've lost too Scully: the innocence to not know what you're capable of; the knowledge that this is a part of you, no matter what you do," he said softly, his eyes speaking volumes in unspoken emotion. "But I also understand what led you to delve into the part of you that you would have rather kept locked away. . . me."

At his words, she wanted to stop him, try and explain herself better. But the look in his eyes told her that he wasn't finished.

"You never gave up on me Scully. And I'll always be grateful for that. I want you to know that I'd never judge you for what you've done. All I want to do is just be here for you, be with you while you deal with this. Whatever the price is that I have to pay to help you accept all the parts of yourself, I'll pay it. Just please, *please* don't shut me out," he finally said, his hands now clutching hers as he waited breathlessly for a word, a sign that she understood what he was saying. How he felt.

Scully let out a tremulous sigh, and she felt tears start to well up in her eyes. The final fear she'd had was gone and it was like a weight had lifted from her shoulders. He didn't hate, didn't fear what she'd had to do to save him. Instead he was willing to stand by her as she sorted out all those issues of her psyche.

"I've never wanted to shut you out Mulder. I was just. . . afraid that you wouldn't understand," she started.

"But I do Scully. And I can't say that it going to be easy, but I've always known you had it in you," he said, lightening the mood, then he put his hand over his shoulder where he proudly carried a bullet scar. "Hell, you've kicked my ass enough times to know."

She couldn't help but smile at that, and nodded her head. He smiled back, and she knew everything was going to be ok.

Continue to Part Nine