Blind Justice

  Blind Justice

 

Blind Justice

Author:  Janie

E-mail:  Janie375@yahoo.com

Rating:  R, for language

Category:  Angst

Spoilers:  Takes a hard right a few months after Tithonius and veers into AU

Summary:  The consequences of a devastating mistake

Many thanks to truthwebothknow1 for her beta work, advice, and support!

Notes at end

 

Introduction

June 10, 1999   

The summons from Kersh’s Administrative Assistant was the perfect end to a perfect day.  Hoping to clear the effects of hours of computer scutt work from her brain, Scully took one last sip of coffee and headed out of the bullpen.  It was an exercise in futility to try and guess what sin she was being called on the carpet for now.  The directives from Kersh were becoming increasingly arbitrary, making her feel like she was playing a game with no rules against a stacked deck.  

Mulder, of course, was still Mulder, taking every opportunity to sniff out and follow leads, and basically thumb his nose at bureaucracy.  Never sure if she found this endearing or frustrating, she had settled on the sensible course.  Scully hoped that if she kissed enough ass and toed the line long enough, they might someday be released from this purgatory.  This assumed, of course, that whatever grace she managed to earn would also, by extension, be granted to Mulder.  

Kersh’s office was undoubtedly the plushest interrogation room she had ever seen.  Everything was designed to make the visitor feel uncomfortable.  His imposing desk was situated so that light from the window was coming from behind him, allowing him to see but almost blinding the unfortunate sitting in the visitor’s stiff chair.  And prominently displayed on the desk, as if anyone had any doubts, was a large brass plaque proclaiming him ‘Assistant Director’.   

Mulder had once joked with her,  “One word, Scully.  Compensation.  Some guys need a sports car, Kersh has his nameplate.”   She didn’t ask if this was armchair psychoanalysis or locker room gossip.  There were some things one just didn’t want to know about one’s boss.  

Kersh tossed a case file unto the desk, and Scully almost laughed at the image.  Throwing down the gauntlet, Alfred?  

“I’ll keep this short and simple, Agent Scully.  After the unfortunate . . . incident with Agent Ritter, some in the bureau feel we owe you a second chance, your last one if I have anything to say about it.   Redeem your career, Agent Scully.  Consider that an order.”  

Scully’s gaze remained fixed on the big man’s face.  “May I ask the nature of the case, sir? 

“The details are all in there.  You’ll head this one up yourself, I’m naming you Agent in Charge.  You’ll have a team of five working for you.”  Kersh’s expression was almost predatory. “ Do you have a problem with Agent Mulder’s involvement?  I can arrange for him to be occupied elsewhere if you feel he would be a hindrance to the investigation.” 

Bastard.  “There is no one else I’d rather have watch my back.” 

Kersh narrowed his eyes at the direct hit, his glare boring into her.  More resigned than intimidated, Scully stared back, unflinching.  “Will that be all, sir?” 

The DD turned his attention to a document on his desk, ignoring and dismissing her without a word.   

Walking back to the elevator, she glanced through the file she had been given.  Yippee.  Apparently, someone in the fine state of Michigan had been sending threats to his legislator.  No one had taken it terribly seriously until a small bomb had destroyed the mailbox and some expensive landscaping at the politician’s home in Bloomfield Hills.  

Scully sighed.  Where were flukeman and Big Blue when you needed them?   This case had the potential to blow up in the bureau’s face, no pun intended, and she’d be at the epicenter.  Puffing at a stray wisp of hair that had slipped across her face, she headed to Mulder’s desk to give him the good news. 

 

Chapter One

July 14, 1999 

 

Skinner climbed the steps of the well kept home and rang the bell.  Scully had been staying with her mother since her release from the hospital and flight back home, yesterday, so he’d made the long drive to Baltimore to see her.  Maggie Scully came to the door. 

“Mrs. Scully”, he reached out and shook her hand,  “I’m Assistant Director Walter Skinner with the FBI.  I’d like to speak with your daughter.” 

“Yes, I remember you.”  She clearly did not look happy to see him.  “I’m sorry you had to drive all the way over here for nothing, but my daughter is resting now.” 

He was insistent  “I understand, Mrs. Scully, but this is important, and I won’t take long.” 

Maggie hesitated, but finally sighed and opened the door wider to allow him in.  “She’s out on the back patio.  Follow me.” 

Skinner found Scully lounging on a chaise, a book lying across her lap.  He briefly wondered if she was asleep until he saw her reach for a glass of iced tea. 

“Agent Scully?” 

Scully startled, then turned to look at him  “Sir?”  

Pulling up a patio chair, Skinner sat and appraised his agent.  She looked well, better than he had expected.  There was color in her face, and she seemed relaxed and rested.  

“How are you feeling, Agent?” 

“Better, thank you.”  She smiled.  “It’s amazing how wonderful a little pampering and TLC can make you feel.  My mother has been outdoing herself.”

“It shows.” 

“Can I offer you something to drink?  Iced tea, soda?” 

 “No, no thanks.  I just wanted to see how you were doing, fill you in on a few things.   I’m not trying to rush you, Scully, but have the doctors told you when you will be fit to return to work? 

“They said I would probably be able to come back on limited duty in another week or so.” 

Skinner considered this.  “Well, take your time, Agent Scully.  You should probably know that the OPR hearing will begin shortly, but they can wait for your testimony until you’re able to appear in person.” 

Scully sat up and faced him.  “I didn’t realize there was an investigation going on.” 

What the hell?    Stunned, Skinner fumbled for words.   “Do you . . . um, remember the case you were working?  I mean, the raid that you were injured on?” 

Licking her lips, she thought for a moment.  “Yes, most of it, anyway.  We were moving in to arrest Jake Freeman.  There was a small explosion, I’m not sure where, the details are pretty fuzzy.   I have no idea what happened after that.  Really, the next thing I remember was waking in the hospital.” 

God, she had no idea.  How could this have happened?  Fuck, fuck, fuck.   

“Scully, have you read any of the reports on the raid?  Didn’t anyone from the bureau visit or interview you while you were in the hospital?” 

She seemed genuinely puzzled.  “No, I haven’t spoken with anyone.  I was pretty out of it most of the time, and visitors were limited to family only.  Bill told me that Mulder was sent back to D.C. soon after the case was closed.  I’ve been worried about him, that’s not like Mulder to just disappear.” 

She drifted in thought a moment before continuing.   “I’m afraid I don’t understand, sir.  I know I was injured, but Bill and Mom assured me everyone . . . everything was ok.  I assumed the other agents mopped up, case closed.  Why the OPR?” 

Reaching for her hand, his voice was gentle, pained.  “Agent Scully, six people died in that explosion.    Agent Mulder lost his sight.” 

All color drained from Scully’s face.  Skinner could see the horror in her eyes, the fear and dread that left her mouth cotton dry and her heart racing.  

Her words came out as a sob.  “Oh, God, no.” 

He pulled her to his chest, held her awkwardly.  “I’m so sorry, Scully.” 

“How could this have happened?  Why wasn’t I told?” 

That was a question he dearly wanted answered, also, but remained quiet.  Eventually, she pulled back, wiping the tears from her eyes and cheeks.   “I’m sorry, sir.” 

Skinner wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for, his soaked suit jacket or the deaths of six people, so said nothing.  This whole situation seemed almost surreal to him.   What he really would have liked was five minutes alone with her mother, but was unsure he could contain his anger that long and remain civil. 

“I should be going, Agent Scully.  You’ll let us know when your doctor signs you off?” 

“Of course.  I have a follow up appointment next week, so I’ll know more then.”  She hesitated, touched his arm briefly, “Thank you, sir.” 

He nodded, rose from his chair and made his way out through the side yard.   No risk in running into Mother Maggie that way. 

Scully watched the AD leave and sank back into her chair.   She covered her eyes with her arms, blocking out the now unwelcome sun.  Had her family known about this?   They must have, it had undoubtedly been all over the news.  What in God’s name made them think they had the right to shelter her?  Bill had always been overprotective and overbearing, but her mother?  Sobs rose up, until she felt her mother’s arms encircle her.  

She jerked away, anger and shame and anguish in her voice  “How could you?” 

Maggie drew a deep breath.  “We’re your family, Dana.  We love you and didn’t want to see you hurt, not while you were still fighting for your own life.” 

“You had no right.” 

Maggie Scully flinched, her own tone now sharp.  “No right to protect you?    When would you have liked us to tell you about what happened, while you were hooked up to every machine imaginable in ICU?  While you fought your way back from injuries so severe they doubted you’d ever regain consciousness?   While you recovered from your second surgery in as many weeks?” 

Scully had a sudden flash of insight.  “You didn’t let Mulder visit me, did you? “ 

 “No, we didn’t.”   She offered no explanation or apology.

 

Chapter Two

July 16, 1999

 

Mulder adjusted his tie and tapped his fingers in rhythm to a tune only he could hear.  He would have stood and paced, but protocol deemed he sit patiently and wait his turn.  Finally, after what seemed like hours, Skinner stepped into the waiting room. 

“They’re ready for you now, Agent Mulder.”   The clipped words had an underlying softness that he was not accustomed to hearing from his AD.  

Mulder stood and was led into the conference room.  Taking his chair, he mentally prepared himself for the hearing.   He had been told the OPR board would be headed by Joanna Cassidy and that Skinner and three other Assistant Directors would be in attendance.  Noticeably missing would be AD Kersh.  

The first question was predictable.  “Tell us about the events leading up to the raid on Jake Freeman’s house.” 

Mulder shrugged.  “I think I’ve given you everything in my report.  What else would you like me to add?” 

“Agent Mulder, this review has been ordered by the Director himself.  We need to have your testimony on record before we can proceed.” 

Mulder couldn’t suppress a derisive snort.  “Why don’t we just cut to the chase?  What do you want to hear, that this whole thing was preventable?  That a chain of decisions, all based on solid evidence, should be second guessed in light of what we now know, even though strict procedure was followed?” 

Agent Cassidy spoke.  “But that’s not entirely true, is it?  We’ve read the reports of Agents Chavez, Kessler and Wright.  Each of them has testified that you warned Agent Scully, on more than one occasion, that Jake Freeman would most likely not go down quietly. 

 “In fact, your exact words were,” Cassidy shuffled several papers, finally pulling up the one she was looking for.   “And I quote,  ‘If confronted directly, Jake Freeman will not allow himself to be taken alive.  He sees himself as a martyr and his family as victims of a failed system.  He will not hesitate to sacrifice himself and his family, and take as many representatives of the government he so hates down with him.’” 

Cassidy paused, waiting for his response.  

Fucking shit, having the words of his own profile thrown back at him. “Freeman was a ticking bomb and Agent Scully had legitimate concerns about the welfare of his wife and children.”  

“None the less, Agent Scully ignored the input of her profiler.  Do you know of any reason why she would have done so?” 

“Agent Scully did not feel there was compelling evidence to support my theories.  She believed Jake Freeman would not willingly take the lives of his family.  If you’re looking for a scapegoat, I’m as good a candidate as any.  It was my job to present the AIC with concrete evidence backing up the suppositions in my profile.  I failed to do that.” 

Skinner cut in.  “Agent Mulder, we appreciate your loyalty to your partner.  We understand that the situation was volatile, and decisions had to be made on the fly.  But this review board needs to understand what happened.  Lives were lost, two agents were seriously injured.” 

 “With all due respect,” Mulder bit out, “that is complete bullshit.  This is a witch-hunt, pure and simple.  I worked as a profiler full time for three years before transferring to the X-files and I can’t tell you how many times my profiles were scorned, ignored, or circular filed.“  

Not being able to see people’s faces, to judge their reactions to his words, was a difficult adjustment for Mulder.  As a psychologist, and as a profiler, he had honed this skill and relied on it.  Now he could only hope his words wore getting through.  

“A profile is only one small piece of the puzzle.  It may or may not be detailed enough to be of much help in an investigation.  I believe Agent Scully considered all the options, and made a decision based on the hard facts at hand.” 

There was silence for a few seconds, broken only by the rustle of papers being sorted.  Finally, Agent Cassidy spoke.  “If there are no more questions, then I believe Agent Mulder can be excused.” 

Mulder rose from his chair, waiting for Skinner to come to his side.  Eventually, he felt a hand on his arm directing him to the door.  Once outside, Mulder turned to his boss.  

“Sir, please . . . please don’t let them do this to Scully.” 

“I’m sorry, Mulder.  I may not have a choice.  There is a need for accountability in a case like this.  One suspect, three innocent children and their mother are dead.  One of our own was killed.” 

“Then tell me.  Would you have handled the arrest any differently?” 

Skinner grimaced, shook his head.  “Damned if I know, Mulder.  Any one of us could have made that decision.  It was a risk, one Agent Scully must have felt was justified.   But it all went to hell, a publicity nightmare the press is comparing to Ruby Ridge, and I’m not sure I can help her.” 

“She was set up, you know that, don’t you?  Kersh handed this to her, atonement for the Ritter fiasco, he said.  Put her in charge of agents more experienced and qualified than she was and waited for her to fail.” 

Skinner gave an exasperated sigh.  “Mulder, your paranoia knows no bounds.  There was no conspiracy involved, here.  It was not Kersh’s decision to hand this case to her, in fact, he argued against the idea.  In truth, many of us felt Agent Scully deserved a chance to prove her leadership capabilities.  She’s a fine agent.” 

What he didn’t add was the fact that they had also badly miscalculated.  This was supposed to be a cupcake, in and out, catch the kook and come home the hero.  Instead, it had blown wide open, catching them all by surprise.   Mulder wasn’t the only one with the bitter taste of guilt eating at him. 

Mulder turned away, his words barely audible.  “How will this go down?” 

“We haven’t called Agent Scully in yet, so I can’t be sure.  My best guess?   She will be reassigned, probably to some field office where they need a pathologist.  Worst case scenario . . .” 

Mulder cut him off with a wave.  He didn’t need it spelled out for him.  

Skinner’s voice was gentle.  “Have you seen her yet, Mulder?  Spoken with her?” 

Frustration warred with anguish.  “I’ve tried.  She doesn’t return my calls.  Her family has circled the wagons and won’t let me near her.” 

They had been on separate floors in the hospital, and it might as well have been on the other side of the world.  When someone finally offered to help him to her room, Scully’s mother had met him outside and sent him away.  Family only, she’d said.  

Because his injuries had been less extensive, he’d been released before her and brought back to D.C., straight into a rehab facility.  Although he’d harassed the staff with phone calls checking on her condition, no amount of arguing or pleading had gotten him through to her room.  

“Did you know that she was unaware of the outcome of the raid until she was released?” 

Mulder was shocked.  “Jesus, who told her?” 

“I did, I wanted to check up on her, and of course, I needed to inform her of the impending OPR hearing . . . I had no idea.”  

Both men were quiet for a minute, until finally Skinner took Mulder’s elbow.  “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”

    ~

BB and AB, that’s how Mulder now thought of his life.  ‘Before blindness and after blindness.’  Amazing how one decision, one small thing can change your whole world.  He had assured Skinner that he was ok, just drop him at the curb and he could find his way up to his apartment.  Truth of the matter was, everything was a challenge to him these days. 

Social workers and therapists had been working with him almost non-stop, setting up his apartment, teaching him the ropes of the sightless world, so to speak.  Amazing, the adaptive devices that now existed, the wonders of modern technology.  His computer, alarm clock, even his kitchen appliances were now updated and user friendly.  Too bad no one could give him the one thing that mattered.  

Mulder flopped down on his sofa, grabbed the remote and found a baseball game on ESPN.  Sports were still pretty easy to follow, and if nothing else, provided the white noise he needed.  Too much time on his hands lately, too few distractions from the guilt and anger, and if he were truthful, the depression that threatened to move in and set up house. 

It had been almost four weeks since Jake Freeman’s trailer had blown up in their faces, literally, and Mulder still wondered what more he could have said to convince Scully of the danger.   He knew she needed proof, hell, that was Scully’s mantra.  And he had been unable to give that to her.  Now she was being set up to take the fall.  Shit.  

A knock on his door pulled him out of his thoughts.  He didn’t bother to get up, calling, “It’s open” as he muted the TV. 

“Mulder, has someone done a brain wipe on you?   Since when do you leave the door unlocked?”  Frohike entered, followed closely by Byers and Langly, arms full of grocery bags. 

“Yeah, Mulder.   Statistically, you’re pretty high risk for a break-in, what with all the publicity surrounding this case,” Langly chided.   “Ambulance chasers and obituary readers make a good living preying on victims . . .”  Frohike’s angry throat slashing gesture pulled him up short.  Oh, yeah, bad choice of words. 

Byers rolled his eyes and began putting away the food.  “What’ll it be tonight, Mulder?  Frohike’s five alarm chili or leftover meatloaf?” 

“What, no cheesesteaks?”   The three-man rotation on the cooking detail was beginning to wear a little thin, not that he didn’t appreciate their efforts.  Mulder reached for the phone. “How ‘bout I treat tonight, guys, pizza and beer on me.” 

“Hey, if you insist.”  Langly had logged onto the computer, installing yet another layer of security on a computer that was already as impenetrable as Scully’s third grade teacher, Sister Mary Francis.  “Just none of that weasel piss ale of yours, though.” 

“Or anchovies on the pizza.”  Frohike swept aside a pile of dirty clothes on the sofa and sat down, waiting for Mulder to finish ordering.  “So, any news on the hearing?” 

“Well, if you think my testimony today saved Scully’s pretty ass, you’re sadly mistaken.  My appearance was merely a formality.  They’ve already found her guilty, even Skinner, whose chimes ring every time she enters the room.” 

 “Haven’t those guys ever heard of ‘due process’? “  Frohike hesitated, unsure of his footing in this conversation.  “Mulder, I can’t help thinking that this may be tough to fight, I mean . . .” 

“Don’t go there, I don’t want to hear it.  We were a team of six agents on this case, a team.”   Mulder’s voice rose in frustration. “We all bear some responsibility for the outcome.” 

Hearing the angry words, Byers emerged from the kitchen.  They were all treading lightly with Mulder these days.  His mood swings were unpredictable and conversations were often carried out with the same finesse one used to walk through a minefield.  He shot a questioning look at Frohike, who shrugged. 

Mulder leaned his head back against the couch, arms folded behind his neck.  Weariness and resignation tinged his voice.  “I’m so tired of the politics and the bureaucracy.  They don’t give a shit about anything but their own asses.  Skinner swears this wasn’t a setup, but I’m not sure . . . it’s hard to believe they’ve finally succeeded in taking us down, after all this time, through a case like this.” 

“Do you trust Skinner?” 

“Yeah, I think I do, Fro.  I didn’t sense that he was keeping anything from me.  Usually I can tell, you know . . . I don’t get the feeling . . .” 

“That he’s lying?” 

“Yeah.”  Mulder turned his face to the window.  He could feel the warmth of the sun streaming through and tried to picture its brightness.  “They offered me a job.” 

Now this was news.  Frohike glanced over at Langly, who looked up from the computer.  “No shit.” 

“Yup.  Apparently the powers-that-be are willing to overlook the fact that Spooky spent the last seven years chasing little gray men.  Come back to the fold, crank out profiles, run a few seminars, and all is forgiven, I guess.   I wouldn’t be a field agent, there’d be some adaptations and I’d work out of Quantico.” 

Byers pulled up a chair.  “Are you considering it?” 

“I don’t know . . . yeah, maybe.  It’s not like I have a lot of offers on the table right now.  I could probably teach . . . clinical was never my thing, so a practice is out of the question.  The agency called about a guide dog.” 

Byers tried to keep up with the abrupt shift.  “That’s great.  When do you start training?” 

“September.  And if I buy into all the platitudes, this is supposed to help me,” he inserted air quotation marks, “regain my independence.”   Mulder hated being helpless, struggled with the feeling that he was being smothered by others’ kindness.   Not being able to just hop in his car and drive was killing him.  

Frohike shrugged.  “Well, if nothing else, Mulder, I heard that babes are attracted to guys walking dogs.  Think about the possibilities.” 

“Yeah, I’m sure women will be falling all over me now that I’m blind.” 

“Who says they ever did?  God, Mulder, you can be such an ass.” 

Mulder’s voice was quiet, cold.  “Then leave.  I don’t need a fucking babysitter.  I don’t need any of this shit.” 

Frohike looked at the other two gunmen for help, both just shook their heads.  He’d tripped the wire, it was up to him to clean up the mess.   He chose to answer the easy one. 

“You’ll have to take my word on this, Mulder, but you’re still better looking than any bastard has the right to be.  I don’t think that’s going to be the issue.  Now, your attitude, on the other hand . . .” 

“’Still needs improvement’, as my teachers used to say.” 

“Yeah, well, at least that much hasn’t changed.” 

Byers looked at him, smiled.  “Don’t listen to him, Mulder, you’re doing fine.  Frohike’s just jealous , his last date . . .” 

Langley interrupted.  “Let’s just say she was a double bagger.”  At everyone’s puzzled looks, he added, “you know, his last date was soooo ugly . . .” 

Mulder and Byers came in together, “how ugly was she?” 

“She was so ugly they had to put two bags over her head to hide her face.” 

Fortunately, Mulder couldn’t see Frohike’s reply.

Chapter Three

July 20, 1999

 

“Dana, I really wish you’d reconsider.” 

“Mom, I need to do this, it’s time for me to get back.  I know you’re concerned, but I’ll be fine.” 

Maggie frowned at her daughter’s choice of words.  “At least wait until Bill makes it in.  I’m picking him up at the airport tonight.” 

Scully sighed.  A confrontation with Bill was the last thing she wanted or needed at this point.  Didn’t her mother realize this?   If she left now, perhaps she could work through her feelings towards him, come to some understanding and acceptance of his actions.  

“No, Mom.  I’m all packed and I’ve arranged for a ride.” 

“I could drive you.  I’m not thrilled about you leaving, and I’m sure Bill’s not going to be happy, but if you’re determined . . .” 

“I am.  And it’s ok, really.  Byers should be here any minute.”

Maggie poured the remains of her now cold tea into the sink and rinsed the cup.  There was so much left unsaid, walls had been built by both of them.  She spoke hesitantly.  “Dana, I hope you know how much I love you.  Nothing I did was ever meant to hurt you.” 

“I know that, Mom.  I just need time.  I have so much . . . so many things I need to think about right now.” 

“Will everything be alright?  With your job, I mean.” 

Scully moved to stare out of her mother’s kitchen window.  A hummingbird was hovering by the feeder hung from a large oak tree in the back yard.  She watched it for a moment, considering the loaded question.  “No, this is probably not going to turn out well.  I need to start thinking about my options.” 

“Oh, Dana, I’m so sorry.” 

Scully slipped by her mother’s outstretched hand, not wanting her pity, shunning her embrace.  If she let her guard down now, it would release a tidal wave of grief and pain and anger that would consume her.  

The ring of the doorbell saved her from any further conversation.  She grabbed her things and answered the door.  

Byers stood there, hands shoved awkwardly in pockets.  “Ready, Agent Scully?” 

“Yes, thanks for doing this, Byers.”  Byers nodded and grabbed her bag, loading it in the trunk.  

 She gave her mother a quick hug.  “Mom, I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I have one more favor to ask please don’t let Bill call or come over to my apartment “ 

Maggie started to object, but stopped at the look on her daughter’s face.  She nodded, not really understanding, but recognizing the futility of an argument at this point. 

Walking towards the car, Scully turned and paused before getting in. “I love you, too, Mom.”  

 

“How are you feeling, Agent Scully?” 

“Fine.  I’m doing well, actually.”  Scully smiled inwardly.  She’d chosen wisely.  At least Byers had a few social skills, something Mulder’s other weird friends definitely lacked. 

Neither felt the need for small talk, so Scully gazed out the window at the passing cars.  Rush hour was just beginning, people heading home from work to spouses, kids, bills, Little League, all the trappings of a normal life.  She wondered how it had all passed her by.  

Scully finally broke the silence.  “Have you seen Mulder?” 

God, what kind of friends did she think they were?  “Yes, we’ve been trying to help him adjust, cook meals, give him rides, drive him crazy.” 

She quirked a smile.  Yeah, she could picture that.  “How is he?” 

“He’s ok, Scully.  Coping, I guess.  He was frantic with worry, you know that don’t you?” 

She turned back to the window, didn’t answer.  

“We could stop by on the way to your apartment.  He’s home now.” 

Lost in thought, Scully didn’t respond right away.  “What?” 

“Would you like to see him?” 

“I’m, um, not sure.  Does he want me to?” 

Byers frowned.  “Agent Scully, why wouldn’t he?  He’s been trying to get in touch with you for weeks now.” 

“It’s . . . I don’t know . . . it’s complicated.” 

“I don’t think I understand.” 

 “I’m not sure I can face him right now.”  She thought a moment, asked hesitantly, “Does he blame me?” 

Byers gripped the wheel a little tighter, shook his head.  “No, he blames himself, of course.” 

“That figures.  Did you know that he warned me about Freeman?” 

Byers merely nodded.  

“I didn’t listen.  I, um, didn’t believe him.” 

“Mulder feels like he failed to give you enough evidence.  Everyone knows that you faced tough choices, Agent Scully.” 

“I don’t think you’ll find many at the bureau who agree with your assessment.” 

Byers did not want to discuss bureau politics at the moment.  His voice was concerned, soft.  “You have to face him sooner or later, Scully.  Don’t let your guilt become a barrier between the two of you.  He needs you now, and I think you need him.” 

~

 

Scully followed Byers into the rickety elevator and punched the button for the fourth floor.   She knew there was no real reason for her apprehension, this was Mulder, for God’s sake.  But her rational mind could not calm the sick feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. 

Byers knocked once on the door of apartment 42, then pulled out a key and unlocked it.  “Mulder?” 

 “In here, Byers.  I’m trying to . . .” A loud crash and several thumps interrupted his words.  “God damn it.” 

Byers hurried into the kitchen, almost slipping in the rapidly spreading puddle of soup on the floor.  Mulder was shaking his hand in pain as he searched for a roll of paper towels.  So much for dinner. 

“Let me take a look at your hand.” 

Mulder froze.  “Scully?” 

Gingerly making her way across the room, Scully touched his arm.  “Looks like you’ve managed to get a pretty nasty burn.” 

Pulling his hand away, Mulder found her shoulders and pulled her into a hug.  “Who says there’s never a doctor around when you need one.” 

Scully gave a choked laugh.  “I thought that was ‘cop’, Mulder.”  

“Well what do you know?  Two for the price of one.” 

Scully caught a glimpse of Byers quietly leaving.  Her voice was thick with tears.  “I’m so sorry, Mulder. I didn’t know, I swear, I didn’t know.” 

“Shhh . . . it’s ok.”  He reached down and cupped her face.  “How are you?  I’ve been so worried.” 

“I’m healing, I’ll be fine, really.  No one told me, Mulder.  All this time . . . I had no idea.” 

 “I know.  I tried to visit you but got turned away.  The nurses refused to connect me to your room.  I felt so powerless, so frustrated.“ 

A renewed surge of anger and resentment swept over Scully.  If the road to hell is, indeed, paved with good intentions, Maggie and Bill Scully had just built the mother of all highways.  She sniffed back tears.  “I wish I could change the last few weeks, go back, undo . . .” 

“Stop, don’t say it.  It won’t help or change anything.  You’re here now.” 

She nodded, sank into his embrace for a minute before pulling away. “I need to put something on this burn, Mulder.” 

“Just give me some ice, it hurts like hell.” 

Scully opened the freezer, grabbed a tray and popped out several cubes   “Here you go.  Let’s get you out of here and I’ll clean up this mess.”  She reached for his uninjured hand and guided him around the slick puddle. 

Returning to the kitchen, she found the towels and began mopping up.  God, what a mess.  It hit her suddenly as she scrubbed, the pain taking her breath away and stilling her hands. Mulder is blind.  Oh, sweet Jesus, Mulder will never see again.  She gasped, the sobs shaking her whole body. 

“Scully, don’t.” 

She made several more aimless swipes with the towel before his hand grabbed her wrist, helping her up.  

“Leave it, Scully.  We need to talk.” 

He nudged her towards the living room, pulling her down on the couch with him.  

Fighting to control her tears, she looked away.  It was painful to see his once expressive eyes so dull and lifeless.  “I can’t believe this has happened.  I’m so sorry, and I don’t know what to do, what to say.  I wish I had trusted you . . .” 

“Scully, listen to me.  You didn’t cause this.”  Mulder gestured at his eyes.  “Jake Freeman built that bomb and set it off.  He deliberately took the lives of his wife and kids, had probably planned this for months.  Even if we had approached him differently, there are no guarantees that the end result wouldn’t have been the same.  He was determined to go down as a martyr.” 

Scully looked at him, finally, the pain almost choking her.  “Those kids, Mulder, three innocent children, gone.  And your life will never be the same.” 

No, it won’t, and neither will yours or anyone else involved in this case.  It was a horrible tragedy, but don’t confuse grief with guilt.  Freeman, and to some extent his wife, made choices we had no control over.  We all wanted this to end peaceably, for the children to be safe, but that was never Jake Freeman’s goal.”  

Mulder chose his words carefully. “Scully, we all mourn the losses suffered, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but we cannot assume that we bear responsibility for them.” 

Scully took his injured hand, turning it over and gazing absently at the burn.  “I appreciate what you’re trying to say, but that doesn’t absolve me from the mistakes I made.” 

“We all made mistakes on this case, and it’s easy to pass judgment now with our perfect hindsight.  But I want you to remember that no matter what the bureau says or decides, those mistakes did not take the lives of the children and Agent Kotopoulis.  Jake Freeman did that.” 

Only the sounds of the fish tank and Scully’s sniffles broke the silence for a while.  Finally, Mulder fumbled through the laundry piled on the floor, eventually snagging what he hoped was a relatively clean t-shirt.  “Here, use this.  Manly men don’t buy tissues.” 

Scully couldn’t suppress a bubble of laughter.  “Manly men? “ 

“Whatever.  I assume you’re pointing that eyebrow at me now?” 

“It’s locked and loaded.” 

Mulder laughed.  “Hungry?” 

“Starved.  But I think your soup is beyond salvaging.” 

“No problem.  I’ve got the number of every decent take-out joint in the area programmed into my phone.” 

“Impressive.” 

“No, more like self defense.  Have you ever eaten Frohicke’s chili?” 

~

 

Feeling Scully stir, Mulder woke and stretched, working the kinks out of his neck and back.  It had been a stressful day for both of them, and neither had managed to summon the energy to move from the couch.  

“Mulder?”  Scully sat up groggily.  “What time is it?” 

Mulder opened the face of his watch and checked the time.  “Late, it’s after two.  You don’t want to drive home at this point, do you?  You can have my bed.” 

“I’d better head out, but can I borrow your car?  Byers just dropped me off and left.” 

Mulder yawned. “Go ahead, it’s not like I’ll be needing it.  Keys are on the desk, I think.  What’s going on?” 

“I’ve got an appointment with an attorney friend tomorrow, make that today.   I need to get ready for the OPR hearing this week.” 

“They’re pushing you too fast.  The doctors haven’t even cleared you yet.” 

Scully rolled her neck. “Doesn’t matter.  I’d rather face it now, putting if off won’t help.  And my doctor did ok limited desk duty.” 

“When, yesterday?  I’m surprised the ink had time to dry before Skinner called.” 

Moving to the kitchen, Scully rummaged through the fridge.  “Wow, Mulder.  The guys bought juice?” 

“That would be Byers.  And don’t change the subject.” 

Scully took her time, filling a glass and sipping it down before answering.  “I don’t feel like talking about this now, I’m only half awake, and really, there’s nothing to discuss.  It’s not like I have any choice.  They’re going to hang me out to dry, and you know it.” 

 “You can’t just give up, now, Scully, you’ve got to fight this.” 

 “Why, Mulder?  Even if by some miracle they don’t let me go, we’re through.  The X-files will be closed, you’ll be at Quantico, and I’ll be God knows where.” 

Mulder reached out for her. “You fight because your career and reputation are worth saving.  Because they’re making you their scapegoat, and that is pure bureaucratic bullshit.”  

Scully pulled away.  “I don’t think I can do it, this time, Mulder.  This isn’t about conspiracies and shadow governments, it’s just typical cover your ass politics.”   She moved around him and found his keys.  “I’ll call you tomorrow, let you know what my attorney says.” 

She had reached the door and had her hand on the knob when a loud knock startled her.  Wishing she were carrying her gun, she set the chain and cautiously opened the door a crack. 

“Bill?” 

“Dana, thank God.  I was worried about you.  You haven’t been home and I’ve been trying your cell all evening.” 

Scully unlatched and opened the door.  “I turned it off.  How did you find me?” 

Bill made a face.  “Lucky guess?” 

Sure, fine, whatever.   “Didn’t Mom give you my message?” 

“Yeah, she told me you needed some time, but I’m only in town a few days.  I wanted to see how you were.” 

Scully knew she sounded bitchy, but didn’t care. “I’m fine, Bill.  Stop hovering.” 

Bill glanced at Mulder, then turned back, dismissing him. “I didn’t realize that caring enough to check up on you would cramp your style.” 

“Stop it, Bill.  I’m too tired for this shit.” 

Ignoring her tone, Bill moved to confront his sister. “What are you doing here, Dana.  I don’t get it.  From what I hear, “ he gestured at Mulder, “this albatross is finally off your neck and you can . . .” 

“Get out, now.  Leave before I say something we’ll both regret.” 

Bill clenched his fists.  “Why?  You may not admit it, but we both know this is the best thing that’s happened to you since you were assigned to this nutcase.  You’re free now, you can move on with your life and your career.” 

White-hot rage burned through her, but before she could reply, Mulder stepped between the two.  “Now isn’t the time, Bill, we’re all tired.  Scully was just leaving, anyway.” 

The crack of a fist meeting a jaw was the only sound Scully heard as she was thrown backwards, the weight of Mulder falling into her taking them both down.  

Bill loomed over them.  “Stay out of this, Mr. Mulder.  My sister doesn’t need you to answer for her.” 

Disoriented and in pain, Mulder ignored him and worked to untangle himself. “Does this look as compromising as it feels, Scully?  Because I’m pretty sure that isn’t your shoulder I’m grabbing.” 

Scully gave up and snickered.  “Let me help you up, then we can call this in and file charges against the asshole.”   

Bill was livid.  “Yeah, you go ahead and do that, Dana.  You’re not going to be happy until you’ve destroyed the entire family, are you?  Think about Mom¾your name’s been all over the papers . .  .” 

Mulder launched himself in the direction of Bill’s voice, his momentum carrying both of them to the floor.  “You self absorbed son of a bitch.”  Actually managing to land a punch somewhere in the vicinity of Bill’s face, he tried to roll away before Bill could do any more damage. 

Both men stopped and gasped as a wave of cold water washed over their faces.  Looking up, Bill saw Scully standing there, empty pitcher in hand.  

“Are you guys finished?  You’re lucky I don’t have my weapon.” 

Off balance, Mulder struggled to stand.  “Jesus, Scully, I feel like a stray dog that got hosed for doing the nasty.” 

Scully sighed and helped him to his feet.  “Mulder, I’ve had to deal with Bill and his attitude my entire life, I don’t need you to defend my honor.  Next time, stay out of the way and I’ll kick his ass myself.” 

“Duly noted.” 

Moving to stand in front of Bill, Scully crossed her arms over her chest.  “If I were you, I’d leave before the police arrive.  I’m sure the neighbors heard the ruckus.  And Bill . . . stay out of my life.” 

“Dana, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean . . .” 

“Don’t bother, I’m not interested in your excuses.  And in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m no longer your pig-tailed kid sister, I don’t need your protection and I definitely don’t have to put up with your sanctimonious bullshit and meddling.” 

Bill stood silently a moment, staring at his sister, finally nodded and left. 

Shaking her head, she turned back to Mulder.  “What am I going to do with you?”  Scully pushed him down on the couch and examined his swollen and bruised face.  “You really have a way with people, you know that?” 

“Hey, I was the innocent one in this little foray, remember?  I was just trying to make nice.” 

Scully snorted.  “Well, if tackling and punching my brother is your way of showing you care . . .” 

“Hey, I did manage to tag him didn’t I?  Did I land a good one?” 

“God save me from men and their egos.”  She rolled her eyes, smiled.  “Yeah, you got him, Mulder.  I’m sure he’s going to have a tough time explaining that shiner to Mom.” 

Mulder pumped his fist in the air. “Oh, yeah.” 

“Come on, let’s get some ice on your jaw, Rocky.” 

Mulder’s answer was cut off by the sounds of sirens approaching.  He groaned. “Oh, God, Mrs. Lebowski called the cops again.” 

“Why am I not surprised?  They’re probably on a first name basis by now.” 

Mulder smirked.  “Too bad your brother left, now it’s going to look like a lover’s quarrel.”  He leaned in and whispered,  “I’ll tell them you’ve got a mean left hook.” 

Scully smacked his arm.  “Watch it, Mulder.  I could always call Bully . . . I mean Billy back.  He’d love to finish what you started.” 

Rapid knocking on the door signaled the arrival of Alexandria’s finest.  Mulder sighed.  “I think it’s your turn to do the ‘splaining’, Lucy, but make it good.  I want to come out of this with my manly image still intact.” 

Shooting him a glare, she headed for the door.  “You’re going to owe me big time, Mulder.”

 

Chapter Four

July 23, 1999   

 

Frohike grabbed the phone, answering before it could wake the others.  “Yeah?” 

“Good morning to you, too, sunshine.” 

“God, Mulder, hasn’t anyone ever told you not to call before noon?  And don’t sound so damned chipper, that’s too weird, even for me.” 

“Sorry, Frohike.  I was calling to see if I could grab a ride from one of you guys.” 

Sitting up and putting on his glasses, Frohike checked a paper tacked to the wall.  “I’ve got your schedule here, and there’s no appointments this morning.  Everything ok?” 

Mulder was quiet a second before answering. 

“Mulder?” 

“I’d like to go over to the Hoover, Scully goes before the board today.  I think this is really going to be rough on her.” 

“Are you sure you’re up to it?” 

Mulder hesitated.  No, he really wasn’t sure.  The only other time he’d been back in the office, Skinner had met him and helped him up to the conference room.  And even then, he’d felt the other agents’ stares as they’d passed, their pity almost palpable.  

 “No, but I’ve got to be there, Melvin.  She’s my partner.” 

“Well, anything for the lovely Agent Scully.  I’ll be there in a few.” 

Mulder hung up and started to get ready.  His clothes had been marked so he could identify colors, and he figured any choice of tie would be no worse than the outrageous combinations he’d always been known for.  Finally finding his badge, he called Skinner.  Best not to show up unannounced. 

By the time his ride was there, Mulder had thought of at least six reasons why this was a very bad idea.  Grabbing his sunglasses and cane, he reluctantly piled into the hippie-mobile. 

“Ready?” 

“Yeah, as I’ll ever be, I guess.  Do I look ok?” 

“Mulder, you’re asking the wrong guy.  If you wanted fashion advice, you should have called Byers.” 

“Right.” 

“Sorry.  You match, and your tie’s ok, I guess.  That what you wanted to hear?” 

“I guess.” 

As Frohike drove, he took a good look at his friend.  He’d never seen Mulder so nervous, so obviously uncomfortable.  “Are you sure about this?” 

“God, no, but keep driving.  Scully deserves better than this.  The least I can do is be there.” 

“Do you think you can find you way ok?  I mean, I could help you, I guess …” 

Mulder grinned at the image of Frohike wandering the halls of the Bureau.  Too bizarre to even think about, he decided.  But he knew how much it took for the paranoid geek to offer, post offices were about the upper limit of his comfort level with the Federal government.  

“No, that’s all right, I’ve got it.” 

Riding with any of the gunmen at the wheel was always a white-knuckle adventure, but traffic was light, making the commute mercifully short.  Despite warnings about tow-away zones and DC cops, Frohike double-parked and helped Mulder to the door. 

“Thanks, Fro.  I’ll call you later.” 

“No problemo, and give my best to the ever delicious Agent Scully.” 

Mulder stepped inside, the familiar buzz of sound meeting his ears, muted fragments of conversations, the tap of heels on tile floors, the underlying hum of air being circulated.  He stood, paralyzed.  How the hell did he think he was going to manage this? 

“Come on, Agent, we’ve only got fifteen minutes.” 

Mulder sighed in relief at the welcome sound of Skinner’s deep baritone.  He had been unsure if the AD had gotten his message. “Let’s go, then.” 

The call from Mulder had not surprised Skinner.  That’s what partners do, watch each other’s back.  And these were two of his best.  He felt the familiar twinge of regret for his agents, for their partnership, their careers.  Neither of their lives would ever be the same.  

They slowly made their way through the maze of crowded hallways, Skinner studiously ignoring the reactions of the other agents.  He wished he could speak up, tell them all to move on, get over it, but that was Mulder’s battle to fight.  

As they exited the elevator, Skinner steered Mulder into a reception area.  “Wait here, Agent.  Scully should be up soon.” 

Finding a chair, Mulder sat and tried to look comfortable.  He didn’t even have the distraction of flipping through outdated magazines.  Fortunately, it wasn’t long until he heard the unmistakable rhythm of Scully’s three-inch heels.  “Scully?” 

She had never been so happy to see him.  Strong, supportive, more than just a friend, he was the anchor she needed right now.  Scully sat beside him, gave him a kiss on his forehead.  To hell with protocol.  Fuck the bureaucrats and their tittering little spies. 

“Thank you for coming, Mulder.  It means a lot to me . . .” 

“Wouldn’t be anywhere else.  Are you ok?” 

“I guess so.”  She smiled.  “Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, I’ve had a little experience with OPR hearings.” 

“You’ll be great, Scully.  Just tell them the truth, it’s all we’ve got, all we’ve ever had.” 

Skinner appeared, motioned to Scully that they were ready. 

“I’ve got to go, Mulder.  Wait for me?” 

“Always.” 

                                             ~ 

Scully strode into the conference room, head held high.  She was probably being lead to the slaughter, but by God, she’d go with dignity.  She looked each of the OPR board members in the eye. 

AD Cassidy spoke first.  “It’s good to see you looking well, Agent Scully.” 

 “Thank you.” 

“Agent, your medical report was not clear on a few things.  Have you suffered any memory loss from your injuries?” 

“I, um, I remember events up to the day we moved in to apprehend the suspect, but have some gaps from a few hours before the arrest until I regained consciousness in the hospital.” 

Cassidy made several notes, then looked back up.  “You’re aware of the outcome of this case?” 

Scully flushed.  Word had spread.  “Yes, I am.” 

Skinner flipped through a file and briefly scanned it  “Agent Scully, our investigation into the Jake Freeman case has left us with a few questions.  As the AIC, perhaps you can shed some light on this.”  At Scully’s nod, he continued. “When was the decision made to approach the suspect in his home?” 

“We held a meeting the morning of June twenty-first and received word from the Flint P.D. that Freeman had been spotted in his trailer.  I ordered the team to move on that information immediately.” 

“Were you aware at the time that Freeman’s wife and children were also in that trailer?” 

Scully swallowed painfully, looked aside for a moment before answering softly.  “Yes.” 

“In your report you stated that you were concerned about the welfare of the children.  What caused you to come to that conclusion?” 

 “Jake Freeman had been described by neighbors and co-workers as a loner and a political fanatic, and evidence suggested he was capable of violence.  Neighbors had reported hearing numerous loud fights, though the police were never involved.”  

The room was silent while Scully collected her thoughts.  “The children were home schooled by their mother, and on the few occasions that they had been seen in public, were described as almost . . . um . . . pathologically withdrawn.  Although it had never been reported, Agent Mulder believed there was a strong possibility that the children had been victims of physical abuse.” 

Cassidy glanced at Skinner, an obvious signal to move on.  Scully almost flinched.  It was obvious the gloves had been removed. 

 “Agent Scully, were you aware of Agent Mulder’s assessment of Jake Freeman’s mental state?” 

“Yes, sir, I was.” 

“Can you tell us why you chose to disregard that?” 

Scully knew nothing she could say now would save her.  She had suspected it would come down to this one detail, the only one she could not defend.  How can you explain gut feelings, especially when they turn out to be so tragically wrong.  She had listened to Mulder’s theories, but some instinct, something about Jake Freeman, had told her he was basically a good man, disturbed, definitely, but not the type of person who would trigger such carnage.  

“I didn’t feel . . . I never believed that Freeman would kill himself and his family.  We knew that he was becoming increasingly unstable and I was concerned that the pressure would send him over the edge, but not like this.” 

Scully struggled to keep her tone level and professional.  

“While I respect Agent Mulder, as you know, profiling is not an exact science.  With little evidence in support of his theories, I chose to move in to prevent what I considered to be the more imminent and likely threat.” 

Cassidy’s voice was cool.  “Thank you, Agent Scully.  I believe you have given us the information we need.  DD Kersh will notify you when the review board has reached its decision.” 

Scully left the room quietly, and as the door closed behind her, Cassidy spoke up.  “I think this is pretty clear cut.  We need to take immediate action.  Does anyone see any reason why Agent Scully should not be dismissed?  

Skinner stared at the chair Scully had just vacated.  “She made a mistake, a bad one, obviously, but I think, to some extent, we all share in the blame.  This was not a case for a new AIC to test their wings on.” 

Cassidy wasn’t buying it.  “Agent Scully isn’t a rookie,, she’s been with the bureau for over seven years, six of them as a field agent.   I would expect her to know how to run an investigation.” 

 “I agree. But she’s had very little experience in managing people.” 

AD Bradfield spoke up.  “Could Mulder’s involvement have been a factor?”  Skinner started to answer, but he interrupted.  “No, hear me out, Walt.  She’s worked with him as a partner for a long time.  Then, suddenly, she’s his superior.  Could there have been problems with that?” 

“None of the other agents reported any friction.  Other than their disagreement about how to approach the suspect, I think the team worked well together.” 

 Bradfield wasn’t finished.  “Perhaps she was reluctant to listen to Agent Mulder because she’s had very little experience with him as a profiler.  She might not have respected him in that role.” 

Skinner shook his head.  “Agent Scully is well aware of Mulder’s reputation.  Their partnership was not the issue.  I believe her decision to ignore his profile was based primarily on the level of confidence she had in her own logic and instincts.” 

Cassidy fiddled with her pen.  “Well, I don’t believe that this speculation is going to help us reach a decision.  The fact remains, Agent Scully exhibited a clear and fatal lack of judgment.  I see no future for her in the bureau.” 

“Scully’s expertise has always been as a pathologist.  She’s first and foremost a scientist.”  Skinner absently rearranged the files in front of him.  “Her talents may not have served her well in this leadership position, but it would be a waste of bureau resources to dismiss her.” 

“What are you proposing, Walter?” 

Skinner took a deep breath.  He’d gone out a limb more than once for Mulder and Scully, but he wasn’t sure his influence would be enough this time.  “Agent Scully could be reassigned to Quantico, work full time as a pathologist.  God knows, they could use her.” 

Cassidy tried to gauge the reactions of the other ADs.  “If I take this to the Director, he’s going to think we’re protecting Agent Scully.  And he’s going to wonder why.” 

“The Director only cares about damage control at this point.  If the AIC is suspended and permanently removed from field status, that should appease the wolves baying at his door.  Of course, we have no assurances that Agent Scully will accept this offer.”   Skinner was certain he wouldn’t. 

Cassidy paused, considering the suggestion.  “Frankly, gentlemen, I’m not sure we would be doing Agent Scully any favors.  But if no one has any objections, I’m willing to give her the benefit of doubt and take this upstairs.” 

Chapter Five

July 28, 1999 

“What are we doing here, Mulder?”  

“It’s called a vacation, Scully.  A break from the stresses of normal life . . .” 

“I know what a vacation is, I’m just trying to figure out the appeal of deep fried Twinkies.  Why anyone would take junk food and dunk it in hot oil is beyond me.“ 

“Come on, live a little.   You’ve got to admit, they’re good.” 

Scully was actually grateful Mulder couldn’t see her licking her fingers. “Uh huh.  If you say so.”  

The beach was crowed with tourists, blankets spread across the sand, children running back and forth between the cold water and their parents hovering on the shore.  Mulder and Scully strolled, her arm around his waist, his draped over her shoulder, enjoying the sun and ocean breezes. 

“So, have you thought about their offer?” 

He remained quiet a moment, wishing they could just enjoy the day.  “Yeah, how about you?” 

 “I’m not sure, I think I need to know more about it.”  Scully slowed her pace, stopped to gaze at a child building a sand castle.  “If there was still the possibility of teaching, of promotions, I might be interested.” 

“We’d both be back at Quantico.  Full circle.  Skinner told me something interesting before we left.” 

Scully waited him out. 

“He said he would try and keep the X-Files open.  New agents, of course, but he saw no reason why I couldn’t act as a consultant on occasion.” 

Scully turned to face him.  “That’s wonderful, Mulder, better than either of us had hoped.” 

He nodded.  “He also mentioned that although you’d be assigned full time to the pathology department, he was certain you would have valuable input for those intrepid truth seekers.” 

Raising an eyebrow, she smiled.  “Those were his exact words?” 

“Well, he might not have called them exactly that, but you get my point.” 

Placing her arm back around him, they resumed walking.  “So, you’re tempted then?” 

“Yeah, I am.  Of course, it would sweeten the pot if I knew you’d be there, too.” 

Scully said nothing, and Mulder sensed an uncomfortable truth.  “I’m sorry, Scully.  I didn’t mean to pressure you.  I understand that you need to do whatever is best for you.” 

“That’s ok.  I’m just not sure right now what I want.  When I first joined the bureau, I thought I could make a difference, change the world.”  She gave a small laugh.  “Pretty naïve, huh?” 

He smiled.  “No, a little idealistic maybe . . .” 

“To quote someone near and dear to me, ‘potayto, potahto.’“ 

“And we both know that person is a very wise man.” 

“Yeah, Billy always was the brightest bulb in the pack.” 

Mulder almost choked.  “Bill?” 

Laughing, Scully put her free hand on his chest.  “What, you thought I meant you, Mulder?” 

“You’re a mean woman, Agent Scully.” 

“So I’ve been told.”  She paused a moment before continuing.  “Mulder, there’s nothing I’d like more than to work with you, but I have to consider all my options.  If I’m the bureau pariah . . .” 

“No one thinks of you that way.  Hell, you worked with Spooky for six years¾if that didn’t tarnish your reputation, nothing will.”  

“Well, rumor has it that in certain circles, I have become known as ‘Mrs. Spooky’, so your point may not be well taken.” 

“Really?  I think I’m flattered.  But seriously, Scully, you know that the science geeks live in a completely separate world within the bureau.  They don’t give a rat’s ass what happens out in the field.” 

Scully couldn’t suppress a small snort.  “Well, I’ll try not to take offense at that one.” 

“None intended.  But you know what I mean.  They’re on a separate track for promotions, and just between you and me,” he leaned a little closer, “they’re, um, how to say this politely . . . they’re kind of isolated socially.” 

“If I handed you a shovel, do you think you could dig a deeper hole?” 

“Probably.  I’ll be quiet, now.” 

“Wise choice.”  

They walked a few more minutes, until finally, Mulder slowed down.  “Ready to head back?  I know a great Chinese place where we could grab dinner.” 

“I might be interested, if I ever come out of this sugar coma.”  Scully gently directed him towards the parking lot.  “Mulder, I hope this works out, you deserve so much better than what’s happened to you.” 

“As do you, but whatever happens, we’ll be fine.” 

Searching for the car, she finally spotted it and unlocked the doors.  “You think so?” 

“Yup.”  He slipped into the passenger seat and put on his belt.  “We’re survivors, Scully.  This isn’t the first shitty hand we’ve been dealt.  And look at us, we’re still standing.” 

“Don’t you ever get tired, though, Mulder?  Don’t you ever feel like just giving up?” 

“All the time.  But that’s when I turn to you, draw on your strength.” 

Scully pulled out unto the highway and headed for West Tisbury.  “We are quite a team, aren’t we?” 

Empty cartons of Chinese take out and dirty dishes littered the table.  Grabbing another bottle of iced tea from the fridge, Mulder made his way onto the front porch.  “Join me, Scully?” 

“Be right there.”  She finished cleaning up and went out to sit on the porch swing with him.  Fireflies lit up the yard, reminding her of summers spent at her Grandmother’s home when she was a child.  

“It’s beautiful, here, Mulder.  We usually lived in base housing, which wasn’t bad for an officer’s family, but it was nothing compared to this.” 

“Actually, this was just my Dad’s house,  I split my time between here and Greenwich.  Home was Chilmark, that’s where most of my memories are.  But the Vineyard is beautiful.  Sometimes I think I might like to come back” 

This was a side of Mulder she had rarely seen.  His childhood had been such a train wreck, she seldom heard him reminisce.  But there had obviously been many happy memories, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he thought about returning home someday. 

“You’ve never sold his house . . .” 

“No, and I still have the summer place in Rhode Island.  Drives my lawyer nuts.”  He grinned at her. 

“I’ll bet.”  

Scully stalled a minute, trying to gather up her courage.  She wasn’t at all sure how to bring the subject up, or even if she should.  Both of them had trouble being open and honest with each other about their feelings “Mulder, I’ve been thinking . . .” 

“Why does that phrase always strike terror in my heart?” 

She smiled.  “Shut up, Mulder.  You’re not making this easy.” 

Growing serious, he waited for her to continue.  

“I know this sounds, um, kind of sudden, and maybe I’m out of line, here.” 

“Just say it, Scully.” 

“I was thinking that it would be nice if you moved in with me.  I mean, why pay for two apartments, and transportation is an issue right now."" . .” 

He put two fingers on her lips.  “Stop.” 

Misunderstanding, she flushed, tried to figure a way to salvage the situation.  God, could she have misread him that badly? 

He took her face in his hands. “You know I love you, right?” 

She nodded. 

“And you know there is nothing I’d like more than to spend my life with you?” 

She was quiet, sensing what he was going to say next. 

“But right now, Scully, my life is so fucked up. I need to know that I can go it alone, be independent, before I can commit to anyone.  If I don’t do that, I’m going to forever feel like I’m a burden.  That you took me in out of pity.” 

“That’s not why I’m suggesting this, Mulder, you know how I feel about you.  I was just hoping that the time had come when we’d finally be able to take the next step.  We don’t have to worry about the bureau anymore, I’m sure they no longer care about our relationship.”  

She paused a moment.  “You know, Bill may have been right about one thing.”

“I find that hard to believe.” 

She laughed.  “Well, he can be a real ass, but when he was at your apartment, he said I was finally free.  He meant of you, of course, and he couldn’t have been more wrong about that.  But in a way, I do feel free.”  

At his frown, she took his hands.  “No, let me finish.   What I feel is free to live our lives without the constant scrutiny of those who want to take us down.  Free to choose our own path.” 

He thought about her words before answering.  “You know I can’t give up on the conspiracy, don’t you?  I may not have the X-Files, but I’ll never be able to just let this go.” 

“I know, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.   When we do continue this investigation, though, it will be done informally, outside of the bureau mainstream.  That will be different, easier in some ways, I think.” 

Mulder chewed on his lip, thinking.  “This may be the most difficult thing I’ve ever said, Scully, but I think I need time before we take such a big step.  I want this, I really do, but I need . . .  I need to feel like a whole person before I have anything left to give to you, to anyone.” 

Unfortunately, she understood all too well.  Needing independence and time to heal were certainly feelings she could relate to.  “I’m sorry for pushing you.  I just thought . ..” 

Please, don’t apologize.  Just promise me we’ll have this conversation again in a few months.” 

Smiling, she leaned her head on his shoulder.  “Bet on it.”

 

The End

 

 

Notes:  

Mulder’s guilt is a common thread in fan fiction, but I’ve read very little about how Scully might react to similar feelings.  I decided I wanted to explore that premise. Several episodes of the series implied that Scully may not always have been the best judge of character, so I took that and ran with it.  This was not intended in any way to be Scully bashing. I realize  Mulder and Scully are both flawed characters, which is why I love them so much.  My apologies to the Maggie Scully fans, I realize my take on her is very different than many of yours. 

I know I’m asking you to suspend your disbelief on a few issues, so work with me here.  <g>  And last, but certainly not least, I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes in this, so please bear with me.  I would have really preferred to have written this as two separate stories, one from each perspective, but I’m just not that talented.  I have enough trouble with exposition as it is. <BG>

 

Janie