Back From The Dead


The large brown envelope had been stuffed under his door while he was at work. There was no address on it – nothing at all to show where it might have come from, or who might have sent it. Skinner hesitated, felt the package carefully with blunt fingertips, then finally, deciding that it held nothing more dangerous than papers, he tore a finger under the flap and emptied the contents out onto his table.


There were two photographs of a man he dimly remembered, and a cryptic note containing only one word, neatly typed:Lazarus. It was followed by the name of a town.


Skinner picked up the photographs and examined them more closely, then exhaled forcefully as  memories came flooding back. He poured himself a drink and sat down on his couch, taking the photographs with him. His hand absently brushed against an old scar on his stomach and he picked up the note again, his mind working through the ramifications of what this could mean.


Finally, he returned to the office, and pulled up a file, looked through it for the information he was seeking, then drew out the photographs again. There was no doubt about who it was, or what this meant. He thought for several long hours, turning over the facts. Photographs could be manipulated, and traps could be set. The truth, as he had discovered so many times before, was so deeply hidden as to be almost unidentifiable, and he was through with being a pawn in someone else’s game. He knew that he was being manipulated, and besides, bitter experience had taught him that revenge could be an unsatisfying dish that left a nasty taste in the mouth, and rested uneasily in the gut. Skinner returned the photographs and note to their envelope, and placed them in his desk drawer.




Scully got dressed in her habitual black trousers and knotted tunic, over a white tee shirt. When did I start wearing all this black? She asked herself, picking up her coat. As she slung it over one arm, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that stopped her in her tracks – she didn’t recognise the woman standing there. Scully stood rooted to the spot for a moment, taking in the diminutive figure. She saw a brisk, no-nonsense FBI agent, gun nestled under one arm, cool metal against warm flesh; red hair and blue eyes, immaculately made-up lips, in a subtle coral shade and a pale face. Her freckles were covered by a light layer of foundation and powder that also served to disguise the dark shadows caused by a sleepless night. Scully gazed at herself absently in the mirror. Yes, but where am I…? a voice inside whispered. Who am I? Scully shivered visibly as a cold tendril of doubt inched along her spine. She picked up the brown envelope that had been pushed under her door the previous evening, and placed it in her briefcase. With one final look at the unfamiliar woman in the mirror, she left her apartment.


“Agent Mulder? Can I speak to Agent Scully.” It was Skinner’s voice. Mulder nestled the phone between his cheek and shoulder, and carried on skimming through the file he was holding.


“Sorry, sir. Last time I saw her she was on her way to the firing range.”


“The firing range?”


“Yeah, I was surprised too. She seemed to feel she needed some practice.” Mulder glanced around the untidy office. He had piled all the files and papers he needed for his latest case onto the floor, where they formed several overflowing stacks. Scully had walked in this morning, taken one look at the debris, and walked right out again. “Sir, did you give her some special assignment? She seemed kind of distracted.”


“No, I didn’t give her an assignment.”


Mulder heard a slight catch in Skinner’s voice and wondered what that was all about. He was about to say something else when the phone was slammed down abruptly at the other end. Mulder made a face at it.


“Don’t mention it, any time…” he murmured.


Scully fired off a round of ammunition into the black and white ringed target. The cool metal of the gun felt good in her hand – hard and unyielding. The dimly heard noise thrummed in time to her beating heart and she pulled the trigger hard, over and over again, feeling the heat and need for revenge surging through her like a tide. There was just her, and her unknown target, alone in the dark.


Scully paused to reload then started again. She wasn’t sure how many hours she had stood here but she knew that at some point she had reached a decision. Maybe she had known what she would do the moment she opened that envelope the previous evening. Scully took off the safety glasses and gazed at her reflection absently, reflected back at her through the lenses. Who are you? The voice asked again. She had no answer. Looking up, she saw that she had scored well – the tiny holes in the target clustered around the heart area. “If someone is dangerous enough to shoot, then you must shoot to kill or don’t shoot at all. A wounded assailant can still kill. A dead one can’t.” The blunt words of her instructor at Quantico reverberated in her mind.


“Not bad.” A voice rang out, startling her, intruding on something private. A tall figure plucked at the paper target and examined her shooting. “It’s easy against an unmoving opponent though, isn’t it? And easier still when your target isn’t flesh and blood – when he isn’t living and breathing – maybe even talking, trying to save his own life.” Scully held her ground as her boss moved in close, his dark eyes hard behind the glasses.


“I’ve shot moving targets before,” she replied, her blue eyes as cold as ice. “I can do it again.”


“And will you?” His brown eyes were searching, unrelenting. Scully met his gaze and held it, returning the stare with one that was equally determined.


“Yes.” She replied firmly.


He studied her intently for a moment, then crumpled the paper target in one large fist and threw it down on the ground.


“Try again.” He ordered, standing behind her. Without saying a word, Scully put the safety glasses back on, slammed another magazine into the weapon, and raised it. She fired off a volley of shots, then felt his hand close over her wrist. “Hold it steady – you’re pulling to the right. And squeeze, don’t jerk.”


His body was large and solid behind her, and she could smell his cologne. The crisp fabric of his shirt brushed against the side of her face, and she could feel the warm body beneath the cool cotton. She closed her eyes and focused on her enemy, then opened them, aimed, and lightly squeezed the trigger. Skinner’s hand was still firm around her wrist and she noticed that she pulled less to the right on that shot.


“Good. Squeeze, stroke – don’t jerk. Make the gun a part of yourself,” he spoke in a low voice, releasing her wrist and taking a step back. She nodded, and centered herself, found a calm place deep inside, felt the gun warm up in her hand, and became one with it, as he had advised. The next volley of shots were smooth, and sure. She was so focused that when the gun was emptied, it felt like a loss. She wanted to continue, to shoot down the whole goddamn world if need be to claim her vengeance.


“Better,” he grunted, pulling the target down again, and examining the holes. “Good – but not good enough. Do it again.”


Her blue eyes flashed cold icy sparks at the comment but she was so preoccupied that she barely spared him a glance. She repeated the exercise over and over again, for several minutes. When she finished, she looked at him – seeking what? An opinion? Approval? She got neither.


“How did I do?” She prompted.


He shrugged. “Do it until you see targets in your sleep. Practice loading and re-loading – under duress, whilst moving, not just standing still and taking aim. Try a variety of different weapons so that you’re familiar with all of them – you never know when you might find yourself using someone else’s gun. You’re fit?” His question startled her. She nodded.


“Get fitter. Be sure of yourself mentally as well as physically. If you have any doubts – walk away. Now. While you still can.”


Their eyes met again. What was unspoken hung between them.


“Guns are one thing – what about unarmed combat?” He continued. “When was the last time you did any formal offensive hand to hand training? Or self-defense, for that matter?” She looked at him in surprise. “To fight an assassin, you need the skills of an assassin,” he whispered in a low, intense tone.


Her eyes widened and she held his dark gaze for a long time. What she saw there startled her.


He knew.


He knew and he saw something in her that he had not found in himself.


“Lazarus,” he murmured. “Back from the dead. I got it too.”


She stiffened, nodded, understanding – and felt a surge of anger. “He’s mine,” she snapped, knowing that Skinner’s case for revenge was almost as strong as her own.


“You can have him,” he replied.


Her head jerked up and their eyes locked again.


“Unarmed combat.” He repeated with a shrug. “When did you last practise that?” It was clear that while he neither condemned nor condoned her actions, he wanted to give her the best fighting chance he could.


“It’s…been a while,” she admitted.


“I’ll see you in the gym this evening then,” he told her. She nodded and turned to go. “Scully.” She paused, not turning back. “Don’t do this,” he said. She stiffened, and the voice inside laughed at her, mockingly.


“I have to,” she replied.


He exhaled sharply, and she could feel his dark eyes fixed on her back as she left the firing range.


Scully made her way to the restroom and filled a basin with cold water. She buried her hands in it, cooling the veins in her wrists, willing the thud of her heart to be silent. Then she scooped up the  water and splashed it onto her face. She looked up, into the mirror, and found an unfamiliar face staring back at her. Cool blue eyes assessed her, like a target. She reached for her gun, but the stranger got there first. She replaced the gun in its holster, and laid her head against the shiny surface of the mirror, red hair against reflected red hair. She wasn’t sure when she had lost herself, and she wasn’t sure that she would find herself again by doing this, she just knew that it was something she had to do.


Scully pulled back and looked at herself again. “If you have any doubts – walk away.” Skinner’s words echoed in her mind. She stared at her reflection, not seeing herself, but her sister; her hair was a long, wavy, titian waterfall, tumbling and vibrant. Scully smiled, hearing the shouts of the children they had been as they played together, and later, when they grew up, Melissa’s laughing voice as she talked Dana through her hopes, fears and dreams, her aspirations and desires.


“Melissa?” She whispered, touching the glass. “I miss you.”


“If you have any doubts, walk away.” Melissa’s mouth opened and closed, but it was Skinner’s voice Scully heard.


“I don’t have any doubts.” Scully snapped, and Melissa vanished from the mirror, to be replaced by the stranger, with her bobbed red hair, and pale flesh. So cool, so perfect, nobody would guess who she was underneath. Nobody knows, not even me.


She straightened up, adjusted her damp collar, and wiped the water from her face. Then she carefully rearranged the mask that Agent Dana Scully presented to the world, and exited the restroom with a purposeful stride.


The gym was almost empty when Scully arrived later that evening. Skinner was already there, wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and a white tee shirt, and minus his glasses as he stretched and did some practice rolls on the mat. Scully watched him for a moment, unseen, before venturing into the gym. He looked different without the wire-rims, without his suit and tie, and the trappings of his office. She had seen him like this before, in the hospital, when he had been wounded. Did he also have a mask he hid behind? What lay beneath it? She pushed open the door, feeling as if she were walking in a dream, wondering when she would wake up and what reality would be like. He didn’t smile, just looked up and waited for her to come over.


She was wearing a standard black FBI issue tee shirt, and black leggings. She went through her own set of stretches, aware that he was watching her, those dark eyes as unfathomable as ever. When she was ready they ran through a series of moves, most of which she was familiar with.


Then they progressed onto their first combat session. She paced the edge of the mat, warily, fighting down the urge to kick and hurt. She wanted to bury her fingers in flesh, to feel the heat of her anger and allow it to flow. She wanted to take out all the grief, anger and pain of her recently re-opened wound on someone else’s body – to hurt someone, as much as she had been hurt. She could feel her breathing coming in harsh gasps, and she no longer saw Skinner, with his wide expanse of head, his long legs and broad chest. Another face danced in front of her vision instead; brown hair, slim build, the callous, evil eyes of a killer. Scully’s self-control snapped and she lunged forward swiftly, met solid flesh, kicked, hit out, felt her blow connect and then found herself on her back, one large arm pressed against her windpipe.


“If you can’t lose the anger then keep it controlled,” Skinner hissed into her ear. “Make it work for you.” He released the pressure and she got up fast, furious with herself.


She danced the edges of the mat again. He feinted left and moved right – fast, too fast for one so big. She misjudged the direction and ran straight into him, swung her elbow back into his ribs as he kicked her legs from under her and flattened his arm across the front of her shoulders again, pinning her to the mat, like a butterfly on a board.


“You’re small but you’re fast – use that to your advantage. I’m not naturally quick – I’ve had to work hard on my speed. Your opponent won’t be as big as me – but he might be faster. He is faster.” Skinner revised his assessment, his eyes meeting hers. “Most of all – keep your wits about you. You’re undoubtedly smarter than he is. Use that to your advantage.” He didn’t move his arm from across her neck throughout this speech, and she lay there, unmoving, like a rat caught in a trap. He seemed to sense what she was thinking. “You can be the hunter, or you can be prey. It’s all down to what’s going on up here.” He removed his arm, and placed his finger against her head to illustrate his point. She gritted her teeth, angered by her performance.


“Okay. Let me up,” she growled, hating the feeling of being this helpless, this useless against so strong and overwhelming an opponent.


He moved back and she got up and danced around a bit, shaking her legs and arms, and rolling her neck, watching him surreptitiously out of the corner of one eye. Then she made her move. This time she went in low, caught a foot to the back of his left calf and used her forward momentum and a blow to his midriff to push him off balance. He rolled sideways, and she lunged, keeping him down, feeling his solid flesh hit the ground hard, following through, aiming for his windpipe as he had done with her, and then she yelped and fell back, examining her arm. There was a set of bite marks on it where his teeth had closed on the flesh, and some broken skin. She looked at him in astonishment. He shrugged, and got up.


“He’s not going to play by any rules, and neither should you,” he told her tersely. “Use your teeth and nails – any weapon you have at your disposal – and go for his eyes or his groin. Most of all, don’t hesitate – he won’t.”


Skinner came over to examine her arm but she shook him away, still feeling angry. He took hold of her shoulders and swung her around until she looked into those insistent dark eyes again.


“Use me to practise with. Don’t hold back. I’m not holding back with you. I’ll throw you every time if you don’t defend yourself well enough – I’m not here to pander to your ego. Fight me, Scully. Really fight me – no rules, just you and me, you and him.” He nodded at her, his eyes serious, and she felt her blood surge and pound. He meant it. He’d rather she tested her fighting skills to the full here, where she was safe, than out there in the heat of battle.


“All right. Come on then, damn you,” she snarled, kicking out. He deflected her leg with his arm and jumped sideways.


Scully felt liberated by his words, her focus narrowing so that it was just her and him, and she could hurt him, could do whatever she wanted, whatever the insistent thrumming of her vengeful heart desired. She wasn’t Scully any more, she was a wild lioness, hunting to kill. She stalked her prey around that mat, seeing only a blur of gray and white, an enemy to be hunted into the ground and slain for what he had done to her and her family.


Scully kicked high, her foot catching her opponent’s jaw, enjoyed the “oomph” of his surprised pain, then darted out of his way, regained her balance, slammed her foot into the small of his back, aiming for his kidneys, and rolled back again, out of his reach. The enemy was slow, lumbering, like a bear. She was small, fast, energised and full of power. He came in close, hard, but she ducked and easily evaded him, throwing in a punch to his solar plexus for good measure. He moved in again, his breathing fast, and this time his sheer height and weight were too much for her, and he floored her. She landed on the mat and felt the breath leave her body in a grunt, but twisted before he got an arm to her windpipe, scratched her nails across the side of his face, leaving a streak of blood, and got in a blow under his ribs. Her clinical doctor’s eye knew where to hit, where to hurt to cause the most damage. She became a lightning ball of energy, without conscience, without mercy. She recovered her balance quickly, and swung her foot hard into his jaw so that he went down, then landed on top of him, one hand going for his eyes…and found her wrist grasped in a grip of iron.


Scully froze, sitting astride him, one arm poised to gouge his eyes out, held fast by his unyielding steel grip, her other hand clamped flat across his throat. She could smell the blood and sweat, smell the scent of him as he lay beneath her. It was a raw, earthy smell. She could feel his body, the movement of his chest as it rose and fell under her thighs, and the battleground was transformed into an arena of intimacy. She was only aware of the feel of his golden skin under her hand, the beginnings of stubble on his jaw, the scent of his breath, and the sweep of his dark eyelashes. She had an impulse to lick the droplets of blood from his flesh, to claim her prey and devour him with her own body, swallow him deep inside her in a sexual heat as old as humankind.


His breathing slowed, synchronising unconsciously with her own, and he remained paralysed, his fingers still fastened tight – too tight – around her wrist, hurting her. She could feel the outline of his ribcage under her leg, could see an expanse of bare midriff where his tee shirt had been pushed up, and a line of dark hair leading down to his sweatpants. She looked into his wary eyes and saw that she was a threat. She could hurt him, and he didn’t underestimate her power for a second. The words to a song rose unbidden into her mind, breaking the spell. “The female of the species is more deadly than the male…” she heard herself humming it, silently and incongruously, and that jolted her back to reality, almost making her laugh at herself. She wasn’t sure how long the moment had lasted, but suddenly the pain in her wrist flooded into her consciousness, and her body relaxed.


“It’s okay. You can let go,” she murmured, and she felt his body respond beneath hers, his fingers gently easing their grasp, allowing the blood to flow freely again. Her skin bore the white imprint of his fingertips around her wrist where he had been holding her, and it ached as the blood rushed back in.


“Very good.” He grinned, white teeth shocking her from inside his tanned face. The gym swam back into focus, and she saw the sweat on his forehead and the blood running down the side of his face.


“Shit. I’m sorry.” She shook her head, wondering at herself and what she had just done.


“Don’t apologise,” he told her, “that’s what I wanted to see.”


She shifted off his chest, allowing him up, and he rolled his shoulders back and forth, then turned to her.


“Stretches to warm down. I’ll see you here again tomorrow morning at 7.30.”


“Yes.” She nodded. It felt comforting that he knew she wasn’t ready yet, that he wouldn’t let her go until she was…and also that she knew he couldn’t stop her if she decided to go anyway.


Her dreams that night were full of shadows. She caught a glimpse of the man she was hunting and chased him through a nightmare landscape of dark trees and looming buildings, across deep, inky, icy rivers and through fields and shifting sands. When she finally caught up with him she fired, over and over again, every last bullet going through a black and white ringed target where his heart should have been, and yet he would not die. She tried a hundred different guns, thousands, until finally he went down, and she tiptoed close, her weapon still raised, ready to fire again. She reached his body, and turned him over with her foot, then backed away in horror, finding her own pale face beneath her shoe, her own dead blue eyes staring back at her, and her mouth opened wide in a scream of terror. There were scratch marks along the side of her face.


“You were too slow. You aren’t fit enough. Concentrate!” A voice said, and she looked up into Skinner’s angry features. “Come on!” He snapped. “Give me your gun!” She did as he commanded, and then stopped in shock as he pointed it at her heart and fired. As she fell, she saw his features morph into those of her enemy, his eyes cruel and evil as he smiled…


Scully woke with a hoarse shout – her sweaty pajamas sticking to her skin. She took a shower, her fingers finding bruises on her flesh from her fight with Skinner, her whole body aching from yesterday’s exertion. She remembered the smell of blood, Skinner’s blood, and the feel of his hard body beneath her own.


She thought of Mulder, sitting amid a veritable sea of papers, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, a benignly distracted smile on his face as he glanced at her, teased her, like a little sister. What would he say if he knew? Would Skinner tell him? She didn’t think he would. Would Skinner be surprised that she hadn’t told Mulder? Probably. Yet she couldn’t. This was about her; so deeply, completely about her own soul that she couldn’t share it willingly, not even with Mulder. And he would want to come too of course. Scully’s lips settled into a hard line. She wouldn’t tell him, she wouldn’t risk him on this quest of hers. It was enough that she risked her own life – why risk his too? She was aware, even as she thought it, that she wasn’t being honest with herself.


Scully went back to her bedroom and pulled out a box from under her bed. She sat down and sorted through the contents. A picture of her sister, the piece of velvet brocade that Melissa often used to wear around her neck, with a small silver pendant attached, a large silver ring in the shape of an “M”; small fragments of someone’s life, and fragments were all that were left. Scully ran the brocade over her lips, caressing the velvet.


“I haven’t forgotten you,” she whispered to the photograph. Melissa’s expression was frozen unfaltering in time as she smiled at her sister, captured forever as she had looked in the last year of her life. Scully returned all the mementoes to the box, and then searched in her briefcase for the envelope. She placed a different photograph on the bed this time, one of an enemy she had once believed dead. She stared at it for a long time, winding a strand of red hair in her fingers, her mind elsewhere.


The following morning Skinner greeted her in the gym holding an exercise plan that should have made her cry with exhaustion just reading it. Instead she nodded, and began her warm up. Skinner drove her into the ground on that first morning, as if testing her resolve. She lifted weights, cycled, kayaked, and rowed, and almost gave up when he programmed her treadmill for a fast run.


“It’s late…” she glanced at the clock. It was nearly 9. “I should really be…”


“Your first meeting isn’t until 10. You have time,” he told her. Scully glared at him for a moment, wondering how he’d found out about her schedule. “Unless you’d prefer to give up?” He murmured, gazing at her intently. She ground her jaw shut, knowing that he’d like nothing better than that.


“No, sir!” She snapped, getting on the treadmill. He set the pace to a fast run and soon her numb legs would hardly obey her, and she could feel the sweat running down the side of her face, and splattering onto the machine. She faltered, missing a beat, and felt herself falling. She rolled off the machine and crouched there for a second, catching her breath, too tired to even examine the elbow she had bruised in the fall. He stopped his treadmill and held out a hand.


“Get back on. He might not give you the luxury of a rest.” Scully clenched her fists, wanting to back down, but something in his dark gaze spurred her on. She brushed his hand aside angrily and got to her feet, jumping back onto the treadmill and resuming her run.


She was pleased with herself for just getting through that first day’s exercises without giving up, but dismayed when she found he’d upped her workout programme on the second day. He gave it to her like a challenge, testing her resolve once more, and as before it was a challenge that she found herself accepting without demur, aware of his eyes watching her, searching for any sign of weakness. By the end of the third morning’s work-out session she was sure that she would die from exhaustion. Her arms ached from the weights she’d lifted and she was sticky with sweat.


“Four more.” Skinner told her as she paused between lifts.


“Goddamn it, you lift the fucking things.” She snapped, wilting under the unrelenting pressure he was piling one her.


“After you.” He didn’t so much as smile to break the tension.


“No, fuck it…” she got up from the bench, and walked away, slamming her fist into the wall. He followed her, silently handing her a towel.


“Giving up?” He asked, and this time it wasn’t a challenge, just an inquiry.


“No, dammit, I am not damn well giving up!” She roared, snatching the towel off him.


“Four more then.”


She looked at him for a moment, with a deadly fury in her ice blue eyes, but he didn’t move, or waver.


“Where did you learn to be such a goddamn slave driver?” She fumed. His hand flew out, landing on the wall above her shoulder, and staying there, his body looming over her.


“Listen to me, Agent Scully. I’d rather push you so damn hard that you hate my guts, than have to identify your body in the morgue. Now you can swear and curse at me all you damn well like, but you either do this my way, or you give this thing up – then we can both go home and forget all about it. What’s it to be?”


“It might be easy. I might be able to get there, do what I have to, and get out fast without needing to be strong enough and fit enough to run up and down five fucking mountains.” She yelled. “Hell, he might not even damn well be there. It might be a hoax!”


“That was 5 ‘mights’.” He pointed out. “Do you want to risk your life on a ‘might’ or a ‘maybe’? The truth is that you don’t know what the hell is waiting for you out there and I’m not damn well letting you go until you’re as prepared as you can be.”


She clenched her fists knowing that he was right. Finally she stomped back to the weights and did four more repetitions.


“Well done.” He gave her a half smile when she’d finished, and his praise was like a balm to her soul. He alternated between being a demanding taskmaster, goading her into pushing her body as far as it would go, and praising her when she succeeded. It was a combination that worked and Scully was aware of reaching a new level of fitness that she had never known before.


She spent the next two weeks in this way. Her body ached all the time from the relentless punishment she put it through but her reflexes grew quicker with each passing day, and now she actually won some of her encounters with Skinner, which pleased him, although it was never quite enough for her. She knew that he outclassed her as an opponent – he was bigger, stronger, older, more experienced but still she wanted to beat him.


Some small part of her wondered why she had so easily accepted Skinner’s help, but she needed someone to prepare her for this battle. She knew a little of his history – that he had been a marine, that he had been in Vietnam, and she had heard on the office grapevine that he still boxed regularly. It was clear that he knew what he was talking about. Who better to get her body fit and her mind ready for the fight ahead? Mulder? She almost laughed out loud at the idea. Skinner was a warrior in a way that Mulder never was, or could be, a fighter to the depths of his soul. She knew he was the right person to pitch herself against, to coach her and unleash her full potential. She also knew that she was growing addicted to these sessions, to the roar of the blood in her veins, and the battle cry in her heart. She had come to enjoy the feel of his body beneath her, the scent of him and the way he moved, gracefully, sinuously, like a panther, big and strong, able to swat her down with one idle swipe of his paw. She liked the way his large hands covered her flesh, intimacy transformed into combat, as they stepped their way through an age-old dance between man and woman, subverted and sublimated into a deadly and intense battlefield.


Scully soon collected an array of bruises – she could even see the entire outline of a thumbprint on her upper arm from one occasion where he’d gripped her tight, and held on, trying to pull her down, while she’d struggled and kicked at him to free herself. These battle scars fascinated her, and she found herself tracing them dreamily each evening in her bath, remembering the fall, the kick or punch that had delivered each bruise or scratch. Skinner’s scars intrigued her as well. She had caught glimpses of them here and there; a long jagged scar to the back of his right calf, the smudged line of several old bullet wounds ringing his left shoulder and upper arm, and a single scar to his lower midriff that was much more recent.


After two weeks Scully knew that she couldn’t wait any longer. She was as ready as she’d ever be. Her mind was focused on the task ahead, and she was as fast and powerful, as accurate with her gun, as she’d ever been in her life before.


She smiled at Mulder, and patted his head as he sat on the floor, sorting through the papers on the case he was still working on. He looked up and smiled back, absently.


“I’m leaving now. Bye.” She drank in the sight of his laughing hazel eyes one last time, and wanted to tell him what she was planning to do but had no words.


“See ya, Scully.” He grinned, and she walked to the door. “Any plans for the weekend?” He called. She paused, hesitated, turned back, but his eyes had already returned to his papers, as he listened to her reply with half an ear.


“Not really,” she murmured, hating the lie and herself for telling it.


She ran up the several flights of stairs easily, strode along the corridor to Skinner’s office, and laid the envelope on his desk.


“What’s this?” He glanced up, his work mask firmly in place, manufactured from white cotton, and dark tie, from the wire-rims and the gun nestled by his side. His dark eyes flashed behind the glasses, providing her with the smallest glimpse of the man she’d come to know in the past two weeks. A hard taskmaster, and a formidable opponent. A friend who had pushed her to the limits of her endurance in the hopes of keeping her alive.


“My letter of resignation.” She inclined her head. He did not touch it.


“So it’s time?” His dark eyes burned away all pretence.


“Yes. It’s time.” She glanced out of the window, impatient to be gone but he gestured her to be seated and she complied reluctantly.


“You’re sure you’re ready?” He asked.


“Aren’t you?” She countered. He shrugged.


“What I think isn’t important. Only you know whether you can do this.”


“I’m ready. If I leave it any longer, I’ll delay forever,” she replied.


“That might not be a bad thing,” he murmured, one finger absently rubbing the side of his jaw.


“No.” The word was final and irrevocable.


“You don’t need to do this.” He pointed at the letter of resignation. “A leave of absence would suffice.”


“Not if I get caught…or…” She didn’t complete that thought. “This way the Bureau isn’t implicated – and neither are you or Mulder.” She added.


He drew in his breath, sharply. “Mulder. Does he…?”


“No.” She shook her head. “If he knew he’d insist on coming with me.”


“Also, not a bad thing.” Skinner said, his eyes boring holes into her soul.


“No. This is something I have to do alone. You do understand that, don’t you?” She implored and he hesitated, clearly understanding that she was asking him not only to stall Mulder but also to refrain from following her himself.


“Yes.” He sighed at last. “I do. I won’t put this letter on file though, Dana. I’ll keep it here until…after. When you come back we’ll talk again.”


If I come back,” she murmured and was startled when his fist slammed onto the desk.


“Talk like a loser and that’s what you’ll be,” he hissed. She bit on her lip, then nodded. “Don’t handicap yourself like that, he told her, his words reminding her of their long sessions in the gym after work where he talked like this frequently. The words belonged to that man, in that place, and seemed strangely at odds with the bureaucrat sitting behind his desk in suit and tie. “You have the element of surprise. Use it.” He snapped.


“If nobody’s told him.” She shrugged.


“I don’t think that’s likely.”


She glanced at him sharply.


“I told you – you weren’t the only one they contacted, whoever they are.” Skinner said, as if reading her thoughts. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out an envelope. She recognised it instantly.


“Why did they send this to both of us?” She placed the contents of the envelope neatly on his desk.


“My guess is that they sent it to anyone with a grudge against him. They want him dead, and they don’t want to have to do their own dirty work.” Skinner said with a grunt. “They’re hoping that one of us will oblige. We’ve both suffered at his hands, directly or indirectly.” His fingers brushed absently over his stomach, and she remembered seeing him in the hospital, his face pale and gaunt, recovering from a gunshot wound to the gut that had nearly claimed his life.


“Luis Cardinal.” Scully spat the name out, fingering the photographs. “You said he was dead,” she stated accusingly.


“That’s what I was told.” Skinner sighed. “Presumably these people Cardinal works for, whoever they are, faked his death in order to get their henchman back. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve pulled a stunt like this, and from everything I’ve learned they have the resources to do it.”


“It could be a trap.” Scully already knew every last detail from the photographs. One showed Cardinal in a boat, his thinning hair blowing in the breeze. In the other he was snapped leaving a drugstore.


“Yes, it could.” Skinner leaned forward. “Which is why I decided not to pursue it. You could do the same, Scully. It isn’t too late.”


“No.” She told him. “I said once that I wanted justice. I still do.”


“You won’t get it,” he said softly, leaning back in his chair. “You’ll get revenge, and that’s something else entirely. I know the old adage runs that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, but trust me, in my experience it’s a dish best not eaten at all.”


“Melissa deserves more than for him to be free to just walk around, having a life that she was denied.” Scully told him hotly, her eyes flashing fire.


“I do understand. In your place I might do the same thing,” he remarked gently. “I just don’t want to have to tell your mother that the same man killed both her daughters.”


“That won’t happen.” Scully snapped, knowing all too well that it could.


“Then why not take back up? Mulder, me, both of us. Hell, you can have as many agents as you want. I’ll assign them myself.”


“To search for someone who’s already dead?” She asked him. “Tell me, sir, how do you bring a dead man to justice because I can think of only one way, and don’t tell me that the FBI has started sanctioning assassinations.”


“No, but we have enough legitimate…”


“No.” She snapped. “I want him. I don’t want to share this with you, or anyone else. This is something I want to do for me. Alone. I can’t explain it. It’s just something I have to do. Can’t you understand that?”


He looked at her searchingly for several long minutes, and she saw in his eyes that he understood all too well.


“Yes.” He nodded finally, perhaps accepting the futility of argument.


“Will you…tell Mulder,” she asked him. “When he asks, because he will ask, and you know what Mulder’s like, he won’t drop this until he uncovers the truth. He won’t understand that I have to do this alone.”


“Don’t worry about Mulder, I’ll deal with him.” Skinner said, and she had no doubt that he would. “One thing, Scully. Don’t be proud. If you need help, ask for it. Take your cell phone, here’s a special number where you can reach me, day or night.” He pushed a piece of paper to her across the desk, and she pocketed it then got to her feet. “And remember to control your anger, or you’ll make mistakes,” he said. She gave a half smile, remembering when he had given her the same piece of advice from his hospital bed, and nodded again. “Would it make any difference at all if I gave you an express order not to do this?” He asked, in one final, last ditch effort. She shook her head and he sighed. “I thought not. Take care, Agent Scully,” he instructed softly. She looked at him one last time, nodded again, and then she left.




Scully slung a small bag into the back of her car and began to drive East. Cardinal had supposedly been spotted in a small coastal town and she had booked herself into a motel there, using  an alias, of course. It was late when she arrived, and she forced herself to go straight to bed, even though she was so keyed up that she doubted whether she would sleep. A number of scenarios played through her mind, but the only one she was afraid of was that the information would prove false. Maybe this was all some wild goose chase to drag her out here, leaving Mulder exposed…to what? She was quite sure that Mulder could take care of himself, and in any case she knew that Skinner would be keeping a careful eye on him. Other than that she could have been lured out here to be killed but if that was the case, why had Skinner also been sent the details of Cardinal’s whereabouts? No, the worst thing that could happen would be that Cardinal had already left, but a feeling in her gut convinced her that he was still here. “Listen to your instincts…” she could hear Skinner bark out the advice, as they circled each other on the mat. Only this wasn’t training any more – this was the real thing. Scully double-locked the door and placed her gun under the pillow before going to bed.


She worked her way slowly but efficiently around the town for the next few days. It would have been easier if she could just show Cardinal’s photo around, but she had no desire to draw attention to herself, or to alert him to her presence, and without her FBI badge she felt exposed and vulnerable. Instead she started at the dock – Cardinal had been pictured on a boat. At first her discreet inquiries didn’t yield a result, but three days after she arrived she found herself walking past the very man she’d been looking for. Her step faltered, but she forced herself to carry on walking. “Kill or be killed…”Skinner’s voice echoed in her mind. If Cardinal knew she was here, then her days would be numbered.


She rounded a corner, then stopped, her heart thumping in her chest. She emerged a few seconds later and jogged back along the path until she reached a crossroads, then stopped, cursing her luck. He could have gone in either direction. With a wry shrug she made a choice, and began walking. There was no sign of him after ten minutes and Scully was resigned to the fact that she had lost him. With a sigh she trotted back up the path and went in the opposite direction. A few hundred yards along, she came to a small harbour, with some boats bobbing on the tide. A man’s head popped out of one of them, a paint pot in his hand. He smiled at her and she smiled back – and then froze.


It was him.


He seemed to realize something was wrong at the same time she did. The paint pot fell from his fingers and she found that her gun had appeared in her hand as if by magic. She opened her mouth, the words: “Federal Agent…” rising to her tongue only to fade, as she remembered this wasn’t an official mission. This was just about revenge. Pure and simple. This was about her, coming here with the single intention of doing just one thing: killing.


Scully felt the world freeze into slow motion as she aimed her weapon. He was a moving target but she could have taken him, she could so easily have placed a bullet in his head, but something stopped her. Supposing it wasn’t really him? Supposing she’d made a mistake? Supposing she killed someone innocent? Even if it was him, could she really kill someone unarmed, in cold blood. Scully froze. She heard Skinner again, in her head. “If you have any doubts…” and then it was too late. Cardinal had found his gun and she heard a shot ring out. She ducked for cover behind some trees, and tracked him as he jumped off the boat, and ran.


He was fast…but so was she. Scully pursued him along the path and down a track. He had an advantage – he knew the terrain and she didn’t. This soon became all too clear when he disappeared into a disused, badly dilapidated warehouse. Scully paused for a moment on the threshold, looking around. She knew that she shouldn’t go in. She could almost hear Skinner telling her to fall back, to find another way, but it was too late for that. He knew she was here. If she left now he could be out of town within minutes, and she might never find him again. And she needed to find him. She needed…something. Her own doubts gnawed at her. What would she do when she found him? She’d already had a clear shot at him and had failed to pull the trigger. Scully fought down her doubts, and cautiously entered the warehouse.


It was empty, save for a few old pieces of timber, and some empty crates. There was barely any cover in the main section of the warehouse, although there were some rickety old stairs and several rooms leading off from the empty floor. Scully knew she had to run fast to reach the comparative safety of the rooms to the side and she set off at a pace, covering half the distance before the first shot ran out. She heard it ping past her and she was almost there when the second bullet found her thigh. She skidded to a stop behind one of the crates, panting hard, and blinking the sweat out of her eyes as the pain kicked in. She looked down to see blood pouring from the wound, and closed her eyes for a second, trying to think what she should do next.


“Gotcha!” A triumphant voice rang out. “Gotcha, sweetheart.”


She stayed quite still, playing dead, as he continued to taunt her for the next few minutes. She gripped her gun in her hand, holding on tight, waiting for him to make the next move. He did so, a few minutes later, puzzled by her lack of response and intent on finding out if his shot had killed her. She remained motionless behind the crate, until she caught a glimpse of movement. He was lurking in the shadows, clearly trying to decide whether it was worth the risk of coming out into the open – but he’d have to if he wanted to leave the warehouse. There was only one exit.


Finally, after several long minutes, he emerged, cautiously, gun in hand. She took aim, making no noise. This was different to before. This time she was wounded, and he had a gun. It was self-defense. She waited until she had a good clear shot of him, and it was at that point, when he was most exposed, that he began to run. She had to hurry the shot and squeezed the trigger, hearing a satisfying yelp. He faltered, then veered off towards the stairs. She shot again, but he was too far away this time – leaving a trail of blood behind him. She wasn’t sure where she’d hit him – somewhere in the chest. Shoot to kill. Hunter – or prey. That’s what Skinner had said. You have to be sure what you are in your head in order to win.Which are you? She asked herself. Do you have the stomach to finish this, or do you run back to DC with your tail between your legs and a gunshot wound for your pains? If you get that far…a small uncertain voice inside her whispered, the doctor in her assessing the seriousness of her leg wound, and how much blood she was losing


Scully lay still for a moment, getting her breath back. Her leg hurt, but she knew she had to find better cover than these crates. She was close to one of the side rooms – she was sure she could make it. She moved slightly, and let out an involuntary whimper as the pain kicked in. If he was still able to hold a gun, and take aim then she was going to be too slow to cross the remaining distance without getting killed. She gritted her teeth and glanced down at the wound, fumbled in her pocket for a handkerchief and pulled it out. She tied it tightly around her thigh, quenching the flow of blood as much as she could, and then laid her head back on the crates, exhausted by her efforts.


“Hey, FBI woman…” His voice rang out across the abandoned warehouse. “You’re hurt. If you want, I’ll let you go. Just stand up and hobble on out of here.”


“I don’t trust you.” She shouted back.


“Look – I’m hurt, you’re hurt. If you won’t go – then let me. Just close your eyes and let me walk out of here.”


“No way!” She yelled. “I came here to do a job, and I intend to finish it.”


“I’m already dead.” His tone was mocking. “You can’t arrest a dead man.”


“I didn’t come here to arrest you,” she told him.


There was silence for a while, and then he gave a low, rasping laugh, as the implications of that statement sank in. Scully pulled the makeshift bandage even tighter and shifted her weight so that she could get a clear view of the stairwell where she could just make out his dark shadow. Her leg hurt so much…she knew she had to stay alert, to stay awake, but the blood loss was making her dizzy.


“You won’t kill me, FBI. You don’t have the guts.” He taunted. “Just let me go, then we can both get medical help.”


“The only place you’re going is to hell.” She replied through gritted teeth.


“I’ll take you with me then.” He yelled.


“Probably.” She muttered under her breath.


There was another long silence, and then he spoke again.


“I remember you. I remember your sister. She was the one with the long, red hair – pretty lady –  yes?”


“Don’t fucking talk about her.” Scully growled, fighting the tide of anger rising inside her. Skinner had warned her about her anger. When it was roused, all she wanted to do was kick out, and that wouldn’t do her much good in this situation.


“I’ll talk about her – she was hot. We didn’t want her – we came for you. How does it feel that she’s dead in your place?”


She clenched her fists, knowing that he was goading her into making a move, and coming out into the open so that he could get a clear shot at her. “Make your anger work for you,” Skinner had said. That’s all very well, but how the hell do you do that, sir? she wondered.


“What are you doing here?” Cardinal called again. “How did you find me? And where’s your spooky amigo? Are you expecting him to rescue you?”


She didn’t reply. Nobody was going to rescue her, it was too late. She was already dead and had been for a long, long time. Oh, she moved – she walked, and talked, and breathed – she even laughed on occasions, but she wasn’t there inside. Scully tried to think back to when it had happened, but she had no answer. It had been so gradual. She had lost her identity piece by piece, and didn’t even know it until now, holed up in an empty warehouse with just an old enemy for company.


“D’you want to die?” He called. “Is that what you want? To die out here?”


“No,” she whispered, her gun hanging loosely in her hand. She thought of her mother, imagined Skinner knocking on her mother’s door, giving her the bad news. No, I don’t want to die.


“What do you want, bitch?” He shouted. “Do you even fucking know?”


Scully looked down at her hands, so pale – like a ghost. That was what she had become, a ghost. What had happened to everything she had wanted to do and be? When had she become like this? Scully’s fingers began to shake. She knew it was a symptom of the blood loss and willed it to stop. She needed to be able to hold a gun. She needed to be strong. She thought of Mulder, closed her eyes and saw his face. If she died, he’d never forgive himself – or her. He’d be better off without her, though, she saw that more clearly than she’d ever seen it before. How much use had she been to him recently? When had disagreeing with him on principle become second nature to her? Why was she so quick to throw her science in his face without even giving him a chance to disprove it? After all she had seen, why did she continue to doubt? She closed her eyes, fighting the answer. I resent him…


“Are you still there, bitch? Tell me, do you have a boyfriend?”


No. No.




“Pretty lady like you, could have any guy she wanted,” he continued. She shook her head wryly at that. If he only knew.Loneliness is a choice…she’d said that to someone once. Who was it? She needed to clear her head. She needed to be able to think. She wished her leg didn’t hurt so much.


“Me? I chose this life – on the run, the killing…hell, I enjoy it, but you’re not like me. You’re not a hunter. Why are you out here? You could be back home with your husband, couple of kids…”


Not kids…




She tried to see herself and Mulder holding hands, going to the movies, being a regular couple. Her mind wandered over the near misses, the times when she thought they’d kiss, when she thought they’d somehow consummate this platonic friendship, and turn it into something else, but it hadn’t happened. Not that she hadn’t wanted him – at first at least. Somehow, though, along the way, that had changed, and as much as she knew she loved him, she suddenly knew that he wasn’t what she wanted. She wasn’t in love with him, and she knew it was the same for him. They had both stopped themselves taking steps they knew in their hearts were not right for either of them.


“Let me go, and you can live.” Cardinal called. “I’ll let you live. I’ll disappear again, and you can go home.”


“No!” She yelled, the anger surging again. “I don’t make deals with murdering bastards like you.”


“Suit yourself. I’ll kill you then, like I killed your pretty sister with the long red hair. I’ll kill you, and enjoy it.”


Was this really how she’d die? What did she have to show for herself, for her life? She closed her eyes and saw her father standing there, asking her that question. She had always tried so hard to make him proud. She didn’t want to die here, not before she’d achieved what she wanted…damn! When had she become so passive? Following Mulder around, becoming involved in his quest, caught up in the whirlwind of his life? What about her own hopes and dreams? There had been so much she’d wanted to do. As a scientist, as a doctor, as an FBI agent…as a woman. When had all that been put on hold? Was that why she resented Mulder so much? Why she fought him each step of the way, even against her own common sense and good judgement? He deserves better than that…I deserve better than that… She could see it now, lying here, in pain. Ironic that you have to be this close to death to see life so clearly.


“Still there, bitch? Still think you can kill me? People have tried. Why the hell do you think you’ll be able to succeed where they failed? You’re nothing but a little whore with a badge and a gun.”


I don’t want to die. Not out here, alone…”Loneliness is a choice…” Damn! Who had she said that to? Scully pressed her hand against her wounded leg, trying desperately to stem the flow of blood.




“Look, this is a classic stand-off situation. Don’t you know the fucking rules?” He sounded angry now.


Ah, the author – that guy living next door to Mulder. Padgett. He’d scared her. She’d read his book and it freaked her out. How could somebody who didn’t know her at all, see inside her soul like that? How could he know her better than she knew herself?




“Nobody wins. We’re both down, we can both live, if you let me leave.” He yelled.


“Or we can both die,” she shouted back, trying to shut out the thoughts that churned around inside her head. “I don’t mind doing that, if I take you with me. Nobody’s going to come and rescue you. There’s just you and me. Which one of us will lose the most blood first? How bad is your wound? How bad do you think mine is? Are you any good at poker, Cardinal? Do you feel lucky?”


A muted curse was the only reply. Scully gave a tight, thin-lipped smile.


Loneliness is a choice…




Padgett had said something – something she hadn’t understood. What was it? Agent Scully is already in love… She had searched her heart, because he had been right about so many other things but she had found nothing. She assumed he was referring to Mulder – he had seen them together and had put two and two together and jumped to the wrong conclusion. A lot of people did that. Hell, her own mother thought it was just a matter of time before there was a ring on her finger and she answered to the name Mrs. Fox Mulder. It’s not going to happen.


Scully watched her life-blood seeping away and knew that she had to do something. She could either act now, or die, passively, slipping away like the ghost she had become. That was never your style, Starbuck, her father’s voice whispered and she nodded. It was only here, in the cold and dark, that she recognised a bitter truth: in finding Mulder she had lost herself. She wanted to find herself again and if not now, on the brink of death, then when?


Who are you? the voice inside mocked, and she found herself moving across the room, ignoring the painful protest of her leg, and the sound of gunfire echoing around her. She was almost there, close enough to see the whites of his eyes, when she slipped on the trail of blood oozing from his body. She slid along the floor, towards his prone form, surprising him by this method of assault almost as much as she surprised herself. Her foot thudded into him as he broke her fall, and she rolled over, turning, bringing her gun up, and…it was knocked out of her grasp by his blow, and went spiraling across the warehouse. She saw her life go with it, saw Skinner arriving at her mother’s house to deliver the news, saw Mulder, the tears running down his face, and from somewhere found the strength, stamina, and sheer willpower to kick her wounded leg up against Cardinal’s wrist, dislodging his gun. She lunged forward and plucked it from mid-air as it fell, and then she was facing him, his unfamiliar gun in her hand, pointed at his head, a prayer of thanks to Skinner for his relentless insistence on fitness and combat practice echoing in her head.


Cardinal was a mess. There was blood pouring from the wound in his chest, which explained his lousy shooting.


“Go ahead.” He coughed, and the sound gurgled unhealthily in his lungs. “Shoot me.” He spread his arms. “It’s what you came here for, isn’t it?”


She froze, holding the gun in shaking fingers.


“Ah…” He smiled, a feral smile. “You’ve never done this before have you, bitch? Oh, you’ve shot people, maybe even killed…but you haven’t done it like this. Execution style.” He laid his head back against the wall, still smiling. “You won’t do it. You can’t do it. It’s not what you are.”


“I want revenge,” she murmured.


“So take it.” He spread his arms again, gesturing to illustrate the point. “I’m all yours, bitch. Do it.” His smile faded, and his teeth gleamed an ugly yellow in the half-light. Scully felt as though time had slowed to a halt. There was just her, and him…and her conscience.


“I want justice,” she whispered. “I could…I could take you back with me. I could explain that your death was faked…”


“Gracias! You do that, babe. Maybe they’d even buy that. Then, when I’m safely locked up, my friends will get me out again. There is no justice, bitch. There’s just the gun. That’s all. Now pull the trigger and get it over with, or let me go.”


“She was a real person.” Scully crouched down in front of him. “I loved her.”


“She’s dead. Get over it.” He smirked.


“Her name was Melissa. Did you know that?” She asked him.


He shrugged. “What the fuck do I care? Pull the trigger, FBI bitch. Kill me, or let me go. Do it, then you can go running back to Spooky, and I can get on with my life.”


“You took her life. How many people have you killed? Do you even know?” She stared into his eyes, trying to understand him.


“No. I’m a killer. It’s what I do.” He shrugged. “And you’re not, so drop the pretense. You won’t do it.”


Scully sat down, resting her injured leg, feeling dizzy. She kept the gun pointed at his head, and leaned her shoulders back against the wall.


“You’re just going to sit here, trying to decide?” He mocked.


“Maybe.” She longed to reach into her pocket, to pull out the cellphone and call…not Mulder. Skinner. She knew what he’d do. He’d come down here and put a bullet through Cardinal’s head for her, without a second thought. He’d do it, and then she wouldn’t have to…No. This was her decision. Her choice. It was about time she made a choice – she had been frozen for too long. Blindly following Mulder, blindly arguing a scientific viewpoint she barely believed in, struggling to hold onto some part of herself she had abandoned a long time ago and becoming a parody of that woman in the process. The path Mulder walked was not her own, yet she had followed him so far down it that she almost feared turning back. She had to make a decision, and soon. She could feel her strength ebbing away with her life, as the blood continued to seep from her wounded thigh.


“If I let you go, you’ll just continue doing what you do best – killing people.” She stated.


“Yep.” He grinned.


“And If I take you back, they’ll find a way to set you free again.”


“Yeah! It pays to have friends in the right places.” He grinned again.


“So I should kill you.”


“Yeah, but we both know you won’t.” He laughed out loud.


Loneliness is a choice… She had made a choice, once before, acting on instinct, when she’d dragged Skinner into an embrace in an elevator. She remembered the feeling of his lips pressed against her own in a too brief kiss, disguised as gratitude for a kind act, and realization flooded through her. How could she have been so blind to herself for so long? Padgett had been right: Agent Scully was already in love, but not with Mulder. She was so much a stranger to her own feelings that it took this moment of truth, here in this warehouse, to uncover so many other truths about herself.


I can’t change the past…but I can change the future…


“Maybe I know myself better than you do,” she said, squeezing the trigger and blowing his brains out. She saw his eyes widen in a split second of surprise, and then his face fell apart.


She sat there for a long time, feeling nothing. No elation, no guilt. Just a gut-wrenching emptiness. The tears fell down her cheeks, and all she could think was that Skinner was right. Revenge wasn’t worth it. In the end, it meant nothing. Melissa was still dead and she wasn’t sure what part of herself she had killed when she pulled that trigger but she knew that she had lost something.


Congratulations, Dana, you killed a dead man…she laughed at herself. You killed someone in cold blood, for vengeance…she wondered what Mulder would say, wondered what he would have done – if it had been Krycek, the man who had murdered his father, but she didn’t know the answer. Finally, she fumbled in her pocket and pulled out the cellphone, held it between bloody fingers and pressed the speed dial.


“Scully? Is it done?” Skinner’s voice was hard and urgent, sounding surreal echoing against her ear in this place.


“It’s done,” she murmured.


“Where are you?”


She told him, as clearly as she could remember. “I’m wounded.”


“How bad? I’ll send paramedics…” he began.


“No.” She interrupted him. “There’s a body. Too much explaining to do.”


“If you’re badly hurt…”


“I can survive until you get here,” she told him. “Just come quickly.”


“I’m on my way.”


She drifted in and out of consciousness, alone in the dark with that corpse, its warm blood pooling and cooling around her feet, pieces of brain splattered against the wall and over the floor. Scully felt cold. She could see the moon through a broken skylight and watched as it moved across the night sky, and then she heard a voice.


“Scully.” Someone big was looming over her. She felt hands probing her wound and gasped.


“All right. Hold still.” Her blood-soaked handkerchief was discarded, to be replaced by a bandage, and a tight tourniquet was tied around her thigh. She bit down on her lip, almost passing out from the pain. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” He asked and she shook her head. He turned, and his flashlight revealed Cardinal’s corpse in all its gory detail. Scully winced at the sight. Skinner unfolded a plastic body bag, and quickly and efficiently stowed the corpse inside. He left it lying there, then turned back to her.


“Can you walk?” He asked. She shook her head.


“All right. I’ll carry you.” He lifted her into a standing position, and she swung dizzily against his shoulder as the blood ran away from her head. Then he swung her up into his arms and carried her out to his waiting car, deposited her in the front seat, and fastened the seat belt around her. He disappeared back inside the warehouse, then returned carrying the body bag, which he stowed in the trunk.


“I want to get you to the hospital,” he said, climbing back into the car a few seconds later.


“No. I want him gone first,” she said firmly.


“You need urgent medical treatment,” he argued.


“After we get rid of the body,” she insisted. “Do you know a place?”


“Yes. I know a place,” he replied with a sigh. “Then we get you to the hospital.”


“There might be questions…about my wound…”


“I’m sure we can come up with something convincing.” Skinner shrugged.


She glanced at him in the darkness. She had never seen him in jeans and a sweater before – it made him seem younger, more like Mulder. The arms of his sweater were pushed up, revealing an expensive watch and strong forearms, darkened with streaks of blood. There was something so solid and reassuring about him. She closed her eyes, knowing that with him beside her she was safe.


She either slept, or lost consciousness, because next thing she knew he had pulled up somewhere and was getting out of the car. She watched him sling the body bag over his shoulder, and then he disappeared into a building. She saw a plume of smoke billowing out of a chimney into the cold night air and settled back in her seat, satisfied.


“You’ve done this before,” she murmured when he returned to the car.


“Yes.” It was a statement of fact.




He turned to look at her, an unreadable expression on his face.


“To help a friend.”


“And did it?” She wasn’t sure that she cared. She was too tired to care about anything any more.


“No.” He shrugged.


“Who was he? The friend?” She could hear her voice from a long way away. She felt complicit with him in this. He had disposed of a body once before to help a friend, and now he had helped her. They were friends. That felt good.


She was an agent under my command. I did as I was instructed in order to save her life. I’m not proud of it.” There was something odd about his tone of voice.


“And did you save her life?” She asked, intrigued.


“Well, she’s still alive.” He smiled softly. “But that’s not down to me. I think, in the end, that what I did was worthless.”


“I’m sure she appreciated it though,” Scully murmured.


“She doesn’t know.” He backed up the car, then sped them both away.




She woke up in a hospital room, and found herself looking into her mother’s anxious face.


“Dana.” Maggie Scully squeezed her hand. “I was so worried about you.”


“I know. I’m sorry. I won’t ever worry you again. I promise.” She gave a weak smile. Her mother shook her head.


“In your line of work I think that’s unlikely. I’ve lost count of the hospital vigils, Dana, what with Melissa, and you. So many times with you.”


“Not any more.” Scully said firmly. Maggie Scully kissed her forehead, and stroked some red hair out of her eyes.


“There’s someone here to see you,” she told her daughter.


Scully nodded. “Mulder,” she murmured.


He breezed in a few seconds later, carrying the latest copy of Conspiracy magazine, and three home made videotapes. She raised an eyebrow.


“Not your normal viewing tastes I hope?”


He grinned. “With your mom here? I don’t think so! This one’s a documentary about Babe Ruth, and these two are some of the baseball games you missed while you were out…hunting.”


“Mulder you are positively evangelical in your quest to turn me into a baseball junkie. It is so not going to happen.” She smiled at him happily, pleased to see him.


“That doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying.” He grinned back. “Are you going to tell me what all this was about? Skinner had me running about all over the place while you were away. I barely had a chance to ask him any questions about where you’d gone and the next thing I know he says you’re in the hospital. Since when did he become your best friend?”


“You’re my best friend, Mulder, everyone knows that,” she murmured, and his expression softened.


“Are you going to tell me about it?” He asked.


“No. I’m going to tell you something else. Something I should have told you a long time ago.” She patted the bed next to her, and he sat down. She reached up and gently touched the side of his face, hating herself for what she was going to say next, but knowing that it needed to be said.


Telling Mulder wasn’t easy, but he took it better than she expected.


“I suppose I’ve known for a long while that your heart isn’t really in it.” He said with a shrug.


“I’ve been holding you back.” She’d said it before, but this time he accepted it, and its implications, as he had not been ready to do before.


“When you were gone…” He hesitated. “I got into an argument with Skinner. A bad one.” He looked up, an apologetic expression in his hazel eyes. “I found out where you were, Scully. No matter how hard he tried to distract me, I needed to know where you were. So I did some digging.”


“Mulder…” she began, but he held up his hand.


“I didn’t follow you. I was going to, but Skinner…he said this was something you had to do alone.”


“It was. I would have hated you if you’d come after me, Mulder.”


“I’m trying to understand that.” He smiled. “I was angry that Skinner knew and I didn’t. I threw a few things in his face…including, uh, the fact that I love you.” He glanced down at his fingers, flushing slightly. “I was all set to follow you, Scully when he said…he said that if I really did love you, I had to let you go. I do love you, Scully, and I can let you go.”


“Thank you, Mulder. I love you too.” She pulled him forward and held him for a long time, rocking him against her breast.


Skinner brought her a bunch of flowers, a novel – Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong – and a couple of scientific journals.


“How do you feel?” He looked ill at ease in the hospital, standing stiffly by her bed.


“I’ve felt better but I’ll mend.” She shrugged. “Thanks.”


“Oh, well, I thought it was the kind of novel you’d enjoy,” he replied with an embarrassed shrug.


“No, not for the gifts, although thanks for those too. For what you did.”


He shrugged again. “Was it worth it?” He asked.


She thought about it for a moment. “If you’re asking me would I do it again, then the answer is yes, but was it worth it? No. I don’t think so.”


He nodded, understanding the conflicting emotions, understanding her all too well. Suddenly Scully felt relieved to be able to talk to someone who did understand her, someone with whom she didn’t have to pretend. “Do you have time? Can you stay for a while?” She asked. He looked surprised, then gave that shy half smile she had glimpsed on rare occasions before.


“Yes. I have time.” He sat down in the armchair beside the bed.


“I made some decisions out there, while I was wounded, waiting for you to arrive,” she told him.


“Yes?” He leaned forward, removing his long coat. Underneath he was wearing a dark suit and tie. He looked so different to the last time she had seen him, clad in jeans and a sweater. He looked older now but as solid and reassuring as always. She was glad he was here, and she knew that she wanted him to stay, for as long as possible.


“You come to know yourself pretty well when you’re alone, facing death,” she murmured.


“Yes.” He nodded, and she saw in his eyes that he knew exactly what she meant.


“You’ve been there too.” It was a statement, not a question.


“Yes, but we’re talking about you now.” His dark eyes searched her face intently. One day, she wanted to find out all about him, and hear all the untold stories she saw reflected in those eyes.


“There’s something I need you to agree to,” she said. “I need to go somewhere, and I can’t manage alone.”


So it was that a few days later he took her out to Melissa’s grave, and she leaned heavily on his arm  as she limped forward with her bunch of flowers, and laid them by the headstone.


“Melissa wouldn’t have wanted me to go after Cardinal,” she told Skinner.


He shrugged, and glanced at the overcast sky. “This wasn’t really about what anyone else wanted though, was it?” He murmured.


“No. I still haven’t told my mother, and I just don’t have the words to confess this to the Priest. I used to tell Melissa everything. I miss her more than I ever realised.”


“Is it finished now, Dana?” He asked gently. “You seem different…did you find what you were looking for?”


“Yes.” She looked up at him. “And maybe I lost something as well, along the way. You were right.”


“About what?” He gave a quizzical half-smile.


“About revenge. About justice. About controlling my anger. Hell, about everything.” She looked into his eyes, and returned his smile. It started to rain, and he opened his umbrella and held it over her head as he helped her back to the car.




Scully made her way along to Skinner’s office towards the end of her first day back at work, still feeling stiff. He got up when she entered the room, and gestured her to a chair.


“Agent Scully, it’s good to have you back.”


“It’s good to be back, although I won’t be here for much longer. My transfer to the research laboratory at Quantico has been approved.”


“Oh.” He sat back in his chair, his expression regretful. “Well, I for one will be sorry to see you leave us, Scully. You’ve been an outstanding agent. I’ve said as much in your file.”


“Thank you, sir.” She felt a surge of pride at his praise.


“Agent Mulder will miss you.” He stated.


She shook her head. “No. Now he can find someone who believes in the work as much as he does. I was holding him back.”


“I’m sure he won’t see it that way.” Skinner commented wryly.


“He will – in time.” Scully stated confidently. “I don’t belong on the X Files any more, sir. I want to get back to research – it’s my first love. There are so many ideas I want to explore. I want to work with other scientists – I miss that, and besides, I think I’ve done enough monster-hunting for one lifetime.”


“Maybe.” He chuckled. “But I mean it. I’ll miss seeing you around.”


“Well, we can still see each other, can’t we?” She looked at him closely, and he glanced up in surprise.


“Well…yes. I suppose so.” He smiled uncertainly.


“I’ve come to view you as more than a boss.” She returned the smile. “You’re also a friend. Talking of which, I have a favor to ask you.”


He raised an eyebrow and she continued, plunging in, taking the initiative, pursuing what she wanted, now that she knew how badly she wanted it.


“I’m still stiff but I’d like to get back into shape. I was wondering if you were free to put me through my paces in the gym this evening?”


“There’s no need any more…” he began, then stopped. “I was badly injured in Vietnam. When I came back I did some crazy things, jumping out of planes, white water rafting – just to make sure I still could. I think after you’ve been wounded you have a need to test your body, to make sure it won’t let you down.”


“That’s how I feel.” She nodded, flushing slightly because although he was partly right, she did have an ulterior motive.


“All right – tonight then.” He nodded.




Scully felt good about herself for the first time in ages as she got changed for their workout. She glanced in the mirror and took in red hair, and blue eyes, pale skin and a new sense of peace behind the smile that she flashed at herself. Slowly, piece by piece, she was re-discovering herself.


She paused for a moment outside the gym, watching Skinner go through his stretches. She had seen him in so many guises now: boss, mentor, co-conspirator, friend. She hoped that she would be able to add another role to that list soon. Something she had read in what they had recovered of Padgett’s novel after his death repeated over and over again in her head. “She had been trying to get his attention, but didn’t know it.” She wondered if she’d done enough to get his attention this time.


She pushed open the door to the gym and his welcoming smile took her breath away. She had never seen him smile like that before, and a part of her hoped that he didn’t smile that way for anyone else, just for her. His white teeth gleamed in his lightly tanned face, and his dark eyes lit up when he saw her.


She ran through her own stretches, side by side with him in an easy familiarity, then took her place on the mat.


“When I was holed up in that place – with him – so many of the things you said came back to me. I don’t think I ever told you what a good instructor you are,” she told him.


He flushed slightly. “I don’t recall you thinking that at the time,” he replied, circling the edge of the mat. “I seem to remember the sort of cussing I haven’t heard since my days in the marines.”


She laughed out loud, and feinted left, testing how well her injured leg stood up. He side-stepped the lunge easily.


“Well, I’m not saying that I didn’t hate you at the time.” She grinned. “But I sure as hell appreciated how hard you were on me when I needed to draw on the last ounce of my stamina to stay alive.”


She darted forward and tried, and failed, to hook his leg from under him with her own. He swung her down easily on the mat, sliding his arm across her windpipe and holding her shoulders down. His neck was tantalisingly close to her mouth, and she could hear his breathing, smell his scent. She took a deep breath – it was intoxicating, and she didn’t realize how much she’d missed it. Some devil in her took over as she stared at the enticing, smoothly golden skin of his neck, so close to her mouth. She moved her lips, felt his flesh under her tongue…and bit.


“Ow!” He pulled up sharp, and placed a hand over the wound on his neck. She saw one tiny droplet of blood. Taking advantage of his momentary loss of concentration, she swung up, and pushed him down beneath her, pinning his large shoulders onto the mat, and sitting astride his chest.


“Teeth, nails…I’m just following your advice…” she told him innocently.


He stared at her, outraged, for a moment and then, much to her surprise, broke into a low, deep roar of laughter. She could feel his whole body shaking beneath her own and she grinned down at him. The drop of blood she had drawn slid down the side of his neck and she leaned in without thinking, and caught it on her tongue. He laid still, his big arms still captured beneath her hands, pressed down on the mat above his head. Finishing with his neck, she looked down into his bemused eyes and saw something that he had always kept hidden before. In that instant she put together the pieces of a puzzle that had been rumbling around in her subconscious for the past few weeks.


“That agent you helped before…the one whose life you were trying to save…she…” Scully fumbled for the truth. “She was me, wasn’t she?”


“Yes,” he replied, his eyes never leaving hers. “I made a deal with the cigarette man to buy a cure for your cancer. It didn’t work.”


“You did that for me? Sold your soul to that bastard?” She shook her head. “Why?”


“You don’t really need an answer to that question, do you?” The expression in his eyes was answer enough. She wondered how she had never seen it before, how she could have been so blind both to his feelings and her own.


“No.” She moved her face down, and captured his lips with her mouth, startled by how soft and welcoming they were, how willingly they opened beneath her caress, how sweet he tasted.


“You know, I think…” he murmured when she finally released his mouth, “that we might want to take this someplace else.” He glanced sideways. The gym wasn’t exactly full, but even so, bearing in mind what she wanted to do to him, he did have a point.


“I was going to ask you to come back to my place for dinner,” she told him, still sitting on his chest, relishing the rise and fall of his body beneath her thighs. “But I’m kind of tempted to skip dinner and go straight to dessert.”


“You won’t get any arguments from me.” He removed his arms from where they had been held captive under her hands and placed them briefly on her bottom, drawing her in for another kiss, before standing up with her body still on top of him, catching her up in his arms and placing her on the floor. “I’m kind of hungry,” he said with a grin. She noticed that he didn’t remove his arm from around her waist as they left the gym, and ran down the stairs to the parking garage, and she loved it. She snuggled in close, enjoying the feeling of being happy for the first time in what seemed like forever.


They barely got through the door of her apartment before she began ripping his clothes off him. The white tee shirt was first to go, and she ran gentle fingers across the long line of bullet wounds on his shoulder.


“It’s okay. That was a long time ago.” He picked up her hand and kissed her fingers, then placed them in his mouth, sucking each one, his dark eyes not leaving her face.


“I want to know all about you, Walter. There’s so much I don’t know,” she whispered, standing on tiptoe to claim a kiss. He lifted her up, so that her face was level with his, and obliged, his tongue thrusting deep inside her, and his hips moving rhythmically against her own. She held onto his shoulders, and wrapped her legs around his body, drawing him even closer. When they parted he was smiling, that smile she knew was meant for her and her alone.


“I’ll tell you everything you want to know,” he said. “We have time. Don’t we?” A trace of anxiety crossed his face.


“Oh yes. All the time in the world.” She replied, her eyes telling him all he needed to know, her fingers running over his hairless scalp, savoring the feel of his smooth flesh.


“Um…bedroom?” He asked throatily.


“Thattaway.” She jerked her head, and he carried her there, kissing her over and over again as they went.


He laid her on the bed, then sat down beside her, tugging her tee shirt over her head. She reached around and undid her bra, and he peeled it slowly away from her skin. His large hands covered one of her breasts, stroking softly, then caressing a nipple and she groaned, and reached for him, pulling him down on top of her. She wanted to smell him, touch him, bury herself in him in a passionate frenzy. He seemed to understand, his mouth roving across her body, sucking, and kissing. He quickly disposed of her sweatpants and panties, and drew her lithe body against his own in a rough explosion of passion, exploring her body, pressing his own against her.


His lips roamed everywhere, then touched gently against the newly healed wound on her thigh and their eyes met in wordless understanding. She rolled him over, and sat astride him, losing her fingers in his chest hair, kissing him endlessly – long deep kisses that just left her wanting more of him. His hands played with her breasts, then moved down to the folds of flesh between her legs, parting them, his fingers slipping inside, making her moan. After several long minutes, she forced herself to pull away from this delicious embrace, and disposed of his sweatpants and underwear, finding his cock ready and waiting. She caressed his penis with mouth and fingers, then found herself lifted up in his arms, her back pressed against the headboard of her bed, and his mouth urgently devouring hers again.


He was kneeling on the bed, holding her up, and she wrapped her legs around his hips and helped to guide his hard cock into her waiting body, swallowing him within her as she had wanted to do weeks ago, her hands holding his face, tracing the outline of features that had become so dear to her. He dipped his head and nuzzled at her breasts, and she bent and kissed his scalp, crying out as he thrust deep inside her, his large body covering hers. She had a fleeting image of them both, her flesh pale but deeply, vividly alive, and his dark, and warm and vibrant. She threw her arms around him as her orgasm burst inside her, pulling him close, capturing him against her body, and holding him there as waves of pleasure exploded within.


They stayed there for a long time, he on his knees, she pinned against the wall, getting their breath back. His face was buried in her breasts, and her cheek rested on his shoulder, her legs still gripping him tightly. Then she moved, and he found her lips with his own, kissing her softly. He withdrew gently, and she flopped down on the bed, pulling him close, her head on his chest, feeling sweaty, sticky, sated…and alive. Wonderfully, gloriously alive. It was as if a fog had cleared, ice had broken, and water had come tumbling out. The nagging, empty fear that had gnawed away at her soul for so long had vanished, disappearing completely during the course of one frenzied coupling with a man she knew she had loved for a long time. That was when she started to laugh. He looked at her, bemused.


“What?” he smiled, both hands covering her bottom, holding her tight.


“I’m alive,” she told him, her fingers finding his face, and tracing the outlines of his hard, smooth flesh again, committing every part of him to memory.


“Yeah. I kind of figured that out just now.” He grinned, kissing her hair.


“I’ve been dead inside for so long, that it was a shock to come back to life that’s all,” she told him seriously. He nodded, understanding, and pressed his lips against her forehead. “Cardinal wasn’t the only one to come back from the dead,” she murmured, taking his face between her hands and kissing his eyelids, his nose, his cheekbones, his lips, wanting to taste and feel every part of him, to make up for lost time. “I’m just sorry it took so long for me to see the truth,” she continued, and his finger stopped her lips.


“No regrets.” He told her, kissing her firmly.


“No.” She smiled, looking forward to the future for the first time in years, relishing her new job, her new love, her new life. Her future. One she had chosen, and full of promise. “No regrets.”








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