Beach Blanket Bingo VII thru XI

by ScullyFu

Title: Beach Blanket Bingo VII thru XI
Author: ScullyFu
Feedback to: X-File_Addict@msn.com
Author's Website: http://scullyfu.populli.net/
Date Archived: 04/12/02
Category: X-File or Casefile  
Pairing: Scully/Other Female      
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers:
Permission to Archive:
Series or Sequel/Prequel: Contains Insomnia, She Wants You, Moments of Doubt, Promises, Promises and Pop Goes the Weasel
Notes:
Warnings:
Disclaimer:
Summary: The Continuing Saga of Dana and Melanie


Title: Insomnia
Author: ScullyFu
E-Mail: X-File_Addict@msn.com
Posted: 5/18/01
Archives: Spookies, Gossamer, Ephemeral are okay. Others, please ask. Spoilers: There are a couple of minor mentions in passing. Rating: NC-17
Classification: ScullySlash. Mel's POV. Vignette. Disclaimer: They're not mine. CC, 1013 and Fox have the sole rights to their existence. Dammit! Summary: Dana is late getting home; Mel starts worrying. Thanks to Rochel who has provided me with invaluable assistance with so many aspects of this story. And thanks to Alicia K. for a quick final read through. Note: This is the seventh in the series and falls between "The Truth Comes Out" and the start of the "Beach Blanket Bingo" trilogy. At this point in the series, I think it is necessary for you to have some background information from the other stories set in the Beach Blanket Bingo Universe. But, if you only have time for one, I'd suggest "First Contact" to get you up to speed. But all the stories are relatively short, so if you want to read them to get caught up, please, be my guest. Go here: http://scullyfu.populli.net/


i won't sleep,
i can't breathe,
until you're resting here with me.
---Dido

Shit! That damned clock hasn't moved but five minutes in what seems like the last three hours. I must have looked at it at least ninety times and it's still only five minutes past the last time I checked. She's usually home by now.

Ever since I moved down, we've alternated a few nights at Dana's and then a few here, so she and I have been together every night. I think it's safe to say we've both never been happier. The arrangement has worked out quite nicely. Beyond the wonderful feeling of being together and having someone waiting for us at the end of the day, one of us gets to pamper the other with homemade meals. I don't think I've eaten this well for a long time. When it's just me I tend not to cook, but when Dana's here, I'm forced to make meals. Oh, I don't mean that to sound as if it's a chore, I love doing things for her. And don't let her size fool you, the girl can really pack it away.

Speaking of cooking, Dana is a splendid cook. Not a gourmet type, but just plain old everyday food. She says her mother taught all the kids to cook as a survival skill; she also taught them how to do laundry, iron, and clean house. Smart woman. Not only looking out for her children, but also cutting back on the actual amount of work she had to do as well.

I've yet to meet her, but one day soon, I hope. It all depends on Dana and when she decides it's time to reveal our relationship to her family. Truthfully, I don't think it will be too much longer. Dana's feeling secure about us and she's been dropping hints, like asking me how I told my mother, what was her reaction, how did we deal with it, things like that.

Anyway, we've been together every night except for when she's had to work, like this last week. Seems the X-Files caseload was pretty slow, so Walter assigned Dana and Mulder to a division with a name longer than some binary combinations. On top of which the damned acronym is so forgettable that I...well, I forgot it.

I hate it when she has to do these surveillance things. Ever since I was a child and saw some creepy movie about whackos attacking people at night, I've been apprehensive about being out alone after dark. I know she isn't alone. Mulder's there and I know he's watching her back. Just the same, it bothers me thinking about someone coming after her; there'd be less likelihood she could see the attacker in the dark.

Even at that, she'd probably kick his ass. She's quite the dynamo, my Dana is. I sure as hell wouldn't want to try to overpower her. Pound for pound I don't think there's too many people who could take her, even if it was a sneak attack. For starters, she's pretty wiry; she can squirm away pretty well. The times we've been horsing around and I've tried to pin her down she always manages to flip me, then smiles triumphantly from above. The girl is very competitive.

Guess it stands to reason since she grew up with two brothers and a sister. Being an only child, I never had to vie with anyone for my mother's attention. Nor did I have to try to keep a toy from being snatched away while I momentarily let my guard down. Or fight someone for the last cookie on the plate. Add the fact that Dana is by anyone's standards quite petite. If she weighs one-ten soaking wet, I'd be surprised.

I've seen pictures of the Scully kids as children and each of them towered over her. I presume even at a young age Dana knew her best defense was to outsmart them, since it was apparent she wasn't going to out physical them. It makes me smile to think of her voraciously devouring book after book, filing away information into that steel trap mind of hers, and then popping up with all sorts of tidbits to make herself appear smarter than the others. Her competitive spirit was developed at an early age.

Of course, the prize she garnered most was more attention from her parents, but from what I've been able to piece together, it was mostly her father she wished to impress. She was probably quite the charmer with those big baby blues and sweet little smile, her baby teeth all straight, and those barely detectable freckles. Hell, she's still got it. Lord knows she worked her magic on me the moment I saw her.

Damn. Where is she? She's never been this late before. In fact, she's so late the fire has gone out. Dana adores the bedroom fireplace, the shadows it casts, the warm lighting it provides. She loves for us to lie in front of it on lazy Sunday mornings, sip coffee, read the paper, and make slow, sweet love.

Dana? I thought I heard her. Wrong again. I really need to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another training day, which means lots of questions about why this won't work, what does this mean, blah, blah, blah. Thank goodness I know this stuff inside out; I can pretty much fly on automatic pilot and still do the job. But this will make the fourth night in a row I've gotten virtually no sleep, or at least any good sleep. When Dana leaves I toss and turn until I hear her key in the door.

Fucking clock! It must be broken. It's been hours and the stupid thing still hasn't moved but another ten minutes. Jesus, where the hell is she? If she doesn't get home soon, I'm going to pound this pillow till the feathers fly out.

Okay, keep your mind on something else. She'll be home soon. Slow deep breaths. In through the nose, count to ten, out through the mouth. Repeat a few times. Just relax. She'll be home any minute. She's fine. Mulder's with her, he won't let anything happen. She trusts him with her life. I only hope he's worthy of that trust.

Besides, she's got her gun and I dare say she's a bit of a sharpshooter. I was totally amazed when she told me about how she shot Mulder. First off that she'd actually do it and then, under all the pressure, was able to hit her intended target perfectly. She has nerves of steel and when she sets her mind on something you better believe it's a done deal.

I told her I'd like to learn to shoot, so she's been giving me lessons. We've been to the range a couple times. Not the one the FBI uses, but an out of town one. We try to keep ourselves away from where people who might know us can see us together. Dana is still worried she is being watched and could be compromised. For her it has the potential to put an end to her career. Well, at least, that's her fear. I suppose she could be right. I have to trust her instincts. I mean, she knows these people and what they're capable of much better than I possibly could.

Hell, we're so discreet we don't meet for lunch at the Bureau cafeteria but once a week. God forbid we walk in together; it has to look like an accidental meeting. One of us has to already be sitting at a table and eating, usually me, then the other gets her food and nonchalantly approaches the table, making a show of asking if the seat is taken. Honestly, this subterfuge is getting to be a pain in the ass. Occasionally, though, it has its moments.

Last week, she was looking particularly fine dressed in her navy suit, silk blouse, and those killer three inch heels she insists on wearing. Not wanting to stare, I had watched covertly as Dana approached the table. The top of her breasts bounced a bit with each stride; I love push-up bras. We went through our regular ritual for anyone who may be watching. She asked if the seat was taken; I told her 'no' and invited her to join me; she took the seat directly opposite me. We exchanged warm smiles and pleasantries, but I was distracted. I couldn't get my mind off her breasts. They are my favorite part of her anatomy; so soft and round, they fit perfectly in either my hand or mouth. The responses I receive from her when I touch them gives me the greatest pleasure.

She was talking about something or another when she noticed I wasn't really paying attention. "Hello?" she said. "Mel?"

The sound of my name brought me back. Blinking to refocus my attentions, I said, "Oh, sorry."

"Where were you just now?"

"Thinking about your breasts," I confessed in a low whisper.

She put down her fork, picked up her water and took a small sip. I decided to continue. "About how beautiful they are. How much I love watching them gently bounce when you walk. The feel of them against my skin." Her breathing became quicker; I was having fun. "The way your chest rises and falls when you get turned on." I paused. "Like now." Her eyes were dilating and taking on a cloudy appearance. "Is something wrong, Dana?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, her voice a bit raw. This time she took a good-sized gulp of water.

"I mean, there's steam rising off your upper lip and you look a bit flushed."

"Stop it, please. This is neither the time or place," she protested. But I was having fun watching her squirm, I was just wishing she was squirming on my face.

"Not the time or place?" I asked, feigning ignorance of her situation.

"To be talking like this," she stated flatly, although her voice was raspy.

"But you're not talking. As far as I can tell, this is a one-way conversation."

"Stop grinning at me."

"Dana, you want people to think we're having a pleasant lunch, don't you?"

"Of course. But--"

"Well, then, I shall continue." I was grinning so damned hard I thought my cheeks would burst. "You know, I'd venture a bet your upper lip isn't the only part of your body that is pretty moist right about now." I thought I heard her moan. "I would love nothing better than to put you on this table, rip off your nylons and panties, and eat you for lunch. You're much tastier. In fact, you're my very own Happy Meal." She turned beet red. "And did I mention how much I love your secret sauce?" She was breathing so rapidly I thought she was going to hyperventilate and pass out.

Just then, Walter appeared. "Agent Scully, are you all right?" he asked, his voice deep and concerned. He nodded in my direction.

Agent Scully was definitely not all right. She needed air and lots of it; a cold shower probably wouldn't have hurt either. It took her a couple beats to gather herself together. Clearing her throat, she answered, "Sir? Yes, I'm fine. Thank you."

"You look a little hot. Can I get you anything? More water?" Walter really is the sweetest man. The look on his face was priceless. He's been through a lot with Dana over the years and it's apparent that he truly cares for her.

The wheels were turning in Dana's head; I could see it in her eyes, right behind the panic, but she recovered nicely. "Oh, I ate a jalapeno that was extremely hot. It just took my breath away momentarily. More water would be nice," she said as I shoved my own glass towards her. She took a swallow and choked on it. Walter went to get her a refill and when he returned Agent Scully had as well.

"Thank you, Sir." She gave him a hint of a smile and a nod of the head. She was dismissing him, informing him to take his leave. He obviously knew what the signal meant.

"Well, if you're sure, Agent." He searched her face, perhaps trying to assure himself she was truly all right. After a moment he added, "Enjoy the rest of your lunch, ladies."

Dana was fit to be tied. With a smile on her face in case of onlookers, and her voice kept low, she read me the riot act. I didn't care; it was worth it. Besides, I barely heard a word; I was too busy smiling, reliving the last ten minutes.

We were staying over at Dana's that night and when I drove up her car was already parked. I remember thinking she must have left work early. Letting myself into the apartment, I found her standing stark naked, except for her high heels, her elbows supported by the backside of the couch, her legs spread seductively. She slowly twisted her head around, her face partially hidden by her hair, but her eyes were ablaze, hungry, almost feral. With her ass pushed up at me she looked like a cat in heat. I approached and stood as close as possible without actually touching her. She smelled like lust, scented heat rolling off her in waves.

Our breath vying for air, I let my hands hover, caressing the empty space surrounding her breasts while she groaned with desire. Thrusting her vibrator back towards me, she growled, "Fuck me." I did. "More," she demanded. I complied. "Again, please," she purred. I threw the vibrator aside. With my hands on her hips, I spun her around and dove down. Like a kitten with a warm bowl of milk, my tongue lapped at her before my mouth devoured her hot pussy. "I love you," she murmured.

God, I hate this waiting. Not knowing. I almost wished I smoked. Ha! I'd be quite the picture, looking like a nervous husband pacing the waiting room while his wife is doing all the work popping out junior.

When I found out I had the computer-consulting job at the FBI, I wanted nothing more than to move in with Dana and I truly think she expected me to. But we were very new then and even though we cared about each other, I didn't think it was such a good idea to put us in that sort of pressurized situation. If we didn't continue to be a couple, it would have meant a whole other set of problems with living arrangements. As it turned out, we are very much in love and it probably would have worked. Hell, we may as well be living together now. But, just the same, I think it's good I have my own space, if nothing more than for appearance sake. It would have been difficult to possibly avoid discovery if I was living at her place.

But, I love my temporary home; it's very cozy and Dana enjoys it too. She delights in coming here a few nights a week, it's kind of like a mini-vacation from her regular routine. God, I love her. She is so sweet and loving. I'd do anything for her. I honestly didn't think I'd ever fall so deeply in love again, but Dana just grabbed my heart the minute I saw her at the conference in Seattle. I want us to go back there for our anniversary. I won't go so far as to say it was the place we fell in love, but it was the place we met and therefore deserving of an annual visit.

I think I first realized I was in love with her when she came to my home in Boston. She was so frightened and nervous, but nonetheless, very courageous. She had never been with a woman before and she was shaking like the proverbial leaf, but she didn't permit her fears to stop her. When she allowed me to make love to her, it was a tremendous act of faith on her part, that I would take care of her, that I would not hurt her or take advantage of that faith. Right then. That very moment when she entrusted herself to me is when I fell in love with her. Completely, hopelessly, and with all my heart.

I knew I'd found someone I could open up to, confide in, and give myself to entirely without apprehension. I instinctively knew she was a person who would not treat my love lightly. She wouldn't take advantage of me or ever use my feelings against me.

Oh, it was hard for a while. I was carrying buried and some not so buried baggage from another relationship and I started seeing Dana doing things my ex used to do. It was all on my side, I was projecting those things onto her out of my fear of rejection and being hurt again. But we got through it and came out the other side. Dana loves me. Of that, I'm sure. She tells me all the time. If not in words, then in actions. Although she knows how much I need to hear those 'three little words' and she does use them freely, she also lets me know with the thousand and one special things she does for me.

The way she wakes me with a kiss and a smile every morning. She cooks my favorite food at least once a week, homemade macaroni and cheese. She uses a recipe that's been passed down through the Scully family for generations. Sometimes I think Dana regrets she'll have no one to pass it on to. Or she'll bring home fresh flowers to make the house smell like spring, just because. Or the way she makes love to me. God, where is she? She is a tender and generous lover. Focus, Mel. When I'm working late on the computer she'll quietly make me a cup of tea and deliver it with a kiss on my cheek or a stroke of my hair. Often, she comes up behind me and wraps her arms around me, just letting me feel her love.

I check the clock again. Sonofabitching thing. I send it flying across the room. Good thing I left my watch on the dresser or it'd be keeping that worthless piece of ticking crap company.

Wait. Did I hear the front door? I sit as still as a statue and listen intently. I recognize the sound of her footsteps on the stairs. She's trying to be quiet. She's home. She's safe. Now I can relax.

"Honey?" I call.

"Did I wake you?" she asks, speaking softly as she pushes open the door and enters the room.

I have the nightlight on. Lying in the dark waiting for her to come home somehow seemed more pathetic.

"No."

Kicking off her shoes, she shrinks about three inches.

"It's very late. What are you still doing up?"

Her sleep cycle is all mixed up with these crazy hours; even in the dim light I see dark circles under her eyes. She throws her jacket over the back of the chair and starts to pull her turtleneck over her head. When she emerges, her hair is all tousled. Even it looks tired.

"Thinking," I answer, fighting unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. Actually, I heard somewhere that yawning is less about sleep and more to do with trying to take in oxygen. It makes sense because I've been holding my breath for quite a while, but now with her home I can resume my normal oxygen intake.

She's nearly nude. It's at these times I'm reminded of just how tiny she is. When she's dressed for work she takes on a different persona, becoming nearly larger than life. But here, when we're alone, her suit of armor stripped away, Dana is at her most vulnerable.

"About what?" she asks lifting her face to me.

"You are so beautiful."

She lets out a laugh. "That's what you're thinking about? At this hour?"

"At every hour."

She walks over to me and takes my hand. Giving it a kiss, she says, "I love you." She starts to turn away, but I refuse to release her.

"Sweetie, I want to get cleaned up."

Now that she's here, I want nothing more than to hold her and feel her near. "Come to bed."

"Just let me grab a quick shower and brush my teeth."

I release her hand. There's no sense trying to convince her. I'll just have to wait.

"Don't be long," I plead.

"Five minutes, I promise." She smiles at me as she turns towards the bathroom. "Hey, what's the clock doing on the floor?"

I shrug. "Long story."

She giggles as she bends over to pick it up, tosses it back onto the bed, and then disappears behind the bathroom door.

I have no option but to wait. The clock moves just as slowly now that she's home. Whoever said that time stood still was a genius. I fluff the pillows, shake the bed sheets and comforter. And even though I'm convinced the clock is broken, I set the alarm.

The shower stops and she emerges in a matter of a minute wrapped in her towel. Oh, God, I love it when she drops the towel by the bed and presents herself to me, all fresh and clean. It's always worth the wait. Like an angel from above, she's smiling down at me.

"Dana?"

"Yes?"

"You are beautiful."

"Oh, no. Not tonight, it's too late and you have to get up in a few hours."

"That's not what I was implying."

"It wasn't?" She asks, pouting and feigning hurt feelings before breaking out in a broad grin that illuminates her face.

"Okay, it was," I confess, smiling, "but you're right." I pause. "Please just come lie close to me."

"I'd like nothing better."

I lift the covers and she drops the towel. I gasp openly. Her soft pale skin is slightly flushed from the hot shower, reminding me of how it looks after we've made love. Her breasts are firm and the sudden change in air temperature has her nipples erect. She smiles at my audible appreciation and skooches close to me. I breathe the fragrance lingering on her body from the scented soap. We wrap our arms around each other and kiss slowly, her breasts pushed against mine, our legs entwined. Jesus, I know I agreed to some much-needed sleep, but dear God, how much self-control is one person expected to exhibit?

I stroke her hair and discover the ends are damp where they crept out from under the protection of the shower cap. "Baby, do you realize that if something," I pause momentarily, "anything, were to happen to you no one would even give a thought to notifying me?"

She's silent for a moment. "No, I guess they wouldn't." She sounds sad. I wonder if she's thinking it'd be her fault for not just telling her family about us, or at least letting Mulder in on the news. It's likely he would be the first to know if something were to happen to her.

"Next time you're going to be late, call and wake me up. Just to touch base. I'd rather that then to not know what's going on. Please?" I don't dare tell her I don't sleep a wink when she's gone.

She hesitates. "It's not always possible."

"Just promise me you'll try to find an opportunity?"

"I'm sorry you were worried, sweetie."

Why is she avoiding the issue? I've seen her do this before, she thinks that if she avoids something, files it into the dark recesses of her mind, it doesn't exist and she doesn't have to deal with it.

"Promise me," I insist, looking directly into her eyes, willing her to agree.

"I promise."

"Thank you." After reaching over to shut off the nightlight, I kiss her again and we settle into our sleep positions. "Sweet dreams."

"I love you so much, Mel," she says, her warm lips vibrating against my throat.

A snippet of a childhood prayer comes streaming back into my consciousness. "If I should die before I wake..." Please, God, let it be just like this, here with her.

"I love you, too, baby."

THE END



Title: She Wants You
Author: ScullyFu
E-Mail: X-File_Addict@msn.com
Posted: 7/1/01
Archives: Spookies, Gossamer, Ephemeral are okay. Others, please ask. Spoilers: Not a one.
Rating: PG for subject matter.
Classification: ScullySlash. Scully's POV. Vignette. Disclaimer: They're not mine. CC, 1013 and Fox have the sole rights to their existence. Dammit! Summary: There's someone new in the mix. Thanks to Rochel who continues to stick with me. Hugs. Note: This is the eighth story in the series and take place after 'Insomnia'. At this point in the series, I think it is necessary for you to have some background information from the other stories set in the Beach Blanket Bingo Universe. All the stories are relatively short, so if you want to read them to get caught up, please, be my guest. Go here: http://scullyfu.populli.net/

"She wants you."

Her voice sounds slightly excited, but I'm not really tuned in. We're following our near nightly ritual of watching Jeopardy and I assume she's providing an answer, although not in the form of a question. We'd both be disqualified if we were on the real show; we usually just blurt out the answers and never bother about making them into questions.

There was a bit of a chill in the air when we got in tonight, and rather than turning up the thermostat, we started a fire. Even though it's just now eight, we're both in our pajamas, content to just relax in the comfort of my apartment for the rest of the evening. It's my first night off since Mulder and I were temporarily re-assigned. Mel is sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me. I'm above her, perched on the edge of the couch cushion, brushing her freshly washed hair. My legs surround her shoulders and my bare feet rest on her thighs.

"Did you hear me?" she asks while keeping her eyes focused straight ahead, watching Alex shake hands with the winner.

"Yes, but I wasn't really paying attention. Sorry. Did you get the final answer right?" I've been concentrating on silently counting the number of times I've run the brush through her hair. "Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! There sweetie, all done." I place a kiss on top of her head to punctuate my statement.

Turning around to face me, she supports her elbows on my knees while her behind is propped against her heels. "She wants you."

"Was that an answer?" I'm quickly becoming confused and also wondering what I'm missing about the importance of a single Jeopardy question.

"No," she says. "That woman."

"What woman?"

She rolls her eyes at my obtuseness. "Today."

"Mel, please stop being so damned cryptic. I obviously have no idea what you're talking about, so can we please drop the twenty questions?"

She looks slightly annoyed, but takes a calming breath and begins again. "I'm talking about that Reyes chick who was in the cafeteria today." She pauses before repeating the now familiar mantra. "She wants you."

"Reyes chick?" I try not to laugh out loud, but am only halfway successful. "Where did that come from?"

"Come on." Her eyes twinkle mischievously. "You had to notice the way she was looking at you. Those intense smoldering eyes boring into yours."

I counter with logic. "Eye contact is a good communication technique. You should know that."

"Well, there's eye contact and then there's eye contact." She forces her eyes to open wide. "Know what I mean?"

"For goodness sake, Mel. You're reading way too much into a casual conversation. She stopped at our table only to be polite and acknowledge that she saw me."

"I know what I saw, Dana. She's definitely got the hots for you."

"You're not serious?" I laugh.

She skooches up to her knees and gently pushes me, pinning me against the back of the couch, her hands on either side of me. Our faces are just far enough apart that our eyes don't cross. "Okay," she smirks, "then how do you explain the body language?"

"What body language?" This really is too much. If it weren't so ridiculous, it'd be pitiful.

"The way she stood facing you, the way she reached out and touched your arm, the smiles. Jesus, the smiles; I thought her face was going to crack."

A sobering thought strikes me. "You don't think she knows, do you?"

She groans and drops her head momentarily. "Not again. No. I don't think she knows. No one knows, Dana."

"I don't know, you seem to think she's interested. Maybe she's found out somehow."

"She doesn't know squat. Relax."

"But, she feels things."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? She feels things."

"I mean, she has these feelings about things and people. Maybe she picked up something between us."

"You mean by gaydar?"

"What?"

"Gaydar, Dana, gaydar." My stupefied demeanor must have given me away because she goes on to explain. "Gaydar is like radar only it has to do with being able to pick out other gays. Gaydar. Get it?" She looks hopeful.

The light in my head flips on. "Oh," I say, my brain suddenly illuminated with the new information, "gaydar. Okay, I get it now." She looks relieved. "Sorry, I'm new here, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah, but I love you anyway." She gives me a sweet, reassuring kiss.

"Maybe she's seen us together before."

"Dana, I've never seen her before. You had to introduce us, remember?"

"But she could have seen us and never come over before."

"Look. Anything is possible. But I don't think it's probable. We don't even eat together at work except maybe once a week. And I believe you said she works out of New Orleans. Right?" I nod to indicate she's correct in her memories. "So, it's doubtful she would have even had the opportunity to see us. Right?" There's that hopeful look again.

"You're right. I'm just being paranoid."

"You've got to try to relax, honey. You're seeing things that aren't there."

"Me? You're the one who said she has the hots for me."

"She does." It's my turn to roll my eyes. "She never took her eyes off you, Dana."

"Yes she did. When I introduced you."

"Yeah, for as long as it took to give me a cursory smile and a nod. Beyond that, she was all about you, baby."

I decide to go on the offensive. "Don't tell me you're jealous of someone I see at work occasionally?"

She seems taken aback at the suggestion; her face reflects her surprise. "Jeal-ous?" She pronounces it as though it's two words and rocks back on her heels. "I'm just making an observation."

"Uh huh," I tease. "I think you are a bit jealous."

"Why would I be?"

"Well, you're the one--"

"Who brought it up. I know." She rises and sits next to me. "Hey, I just call 'em like I see 'em."

I adjust my position so I am sitting up straight. "Me, too."

Casually, she throws her arm over my shoulder and cocks her head in my direction. Her voice betrays her; she sounds a bit unsure. "Do I have a reason to be jealous?"

I turn my head to meet her gaze. What I see scares me. I've caused her to doubt me, which is the last thing in the world I would ever want to do. "Of course not," I assure her. "Sweetie, I'm so in love with you, I wouldn't know someone was hitting on me if they used a baseball bat."

She releases a nervous chuckle, but never breaks our visual connection. When she speaks, her voice is barely above a whisper. "If I kiss you, will you kiss be back?"

Without hesitation, the tone of my voice matching hers, I answer, "Kiss me and find out." And then, as though the moment has been choreographed, we each move slowly forward. The small sheet of air between us surges electric. Her warm breath washes over mine. With a seductive smile, she nuzzles my nose with Eskimo kisses. "She wants you."

"I'm already taken."

We are so close it's hard to focus. My eyes shut and I feel each millimeter erased; finally, our lips meet. Softly, gently they caress; pull and press, tug and nibble. Like new lovers, they flirt and tease. And like the kindling struck by the match, we ignite.

THE END



Title: Moments of Doubt
Author: ScullyFu
E-Mail: X-File_Addict@msn.com
Posted: 9/02/01
Archives: Spookies, Gossamer, Ephemeral are okay. Others, please ask. Spoilers: There are a couple of minor mentions in passing. Rating: NC-17
Classification: ScullySlash. Mel's POV. Disclaimer: They're not mine. CC, 1013 and Fox have the sole rights to their existence. Dammit! Summary: Dana is hurting, but can she share her pain? Thanks once again to Rochel. Her dedicated attention to grammar and her insights into character motivation were of immeasurable importance. Any boo-boos are mine and mine alone. Note: This is the ninth in the series and falls between "She Wants You" and the start of the "Beach Blanket Bingo" trilogy. At this point in the series, I think it is necessary for you to have some background information on the Beach Blanket Bingo Universe. All the stories are relatively short, so if you want to read them to get caught up, please, be my guest. Go here: http://scullyfu.populli.net/

The jangling phone startles me from my near comatose state. I'd just begun to drift off again; I sleep in fits and starts when Dana's on night duty. My mind is fuzzy. Instinctively, I reach for her. Then I look at the clock. Shit! Three o'clock. This has to be her.

"Dana?" My voice sounds a little frantic, even to myself.

"Sorry to wake you."

"No, no, it's fine. I'm glad you called. I'd be more worried if you didn't call to tell me everything's okay."

This is the first time she's had to call since we made our agreement. I made her promise that if she were going to be later than her normal time, usually around two, she'd try to call.

She hesitates.

"Dana? What's wrong?" I think I'm starting to hyperventilate. "You're all right, aren't you? God, tell me you're all right."

"I'm fine."

"Thank God," I blurt out, followed by a questioning, "Really?"

"It's just-"

"What? Tell me. Where are you?" I'm speaking really fast and gulping for air at the same time.

"At the hospital."

"Which one?" I ask hurriedly.

"Saint Luke's."

"I'll be right there."

"No, you don't need to. Mulder will-"

"I said I'd be there in fifteen minutes." Hanging up the phone, I go to the dresser and grab a pair of sweats, throw a sweatshirt on over my pajama top and quickly pull my hair back without brushing it. I'm no sooner out the door then the cold cement porch reminds me I don't have any shoes on. Shit. Running back upstairs, I stick my feet into a pair of tennis shoes, sans socks.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I swipe the car keys off the foyer key holder. I think it's cold out, I can see my breath. But I'm feeling numb right now. Until I see with my own eyes that she's safe, I won't feel anything. I knew this would happen one day. Why the hell do lights turn red at fucking three in the morning? I do a cursory look around and then run it. I check my rearview mirror and see no flashing blue lights. That's all I'd need right now, some stupid cop pulling me over.


"Did you see that red light, lady?" he says, momentarily shining his flashlight in my eyes.

"Yes, you waddling advertisement for a donut shop," I fire back.

"So you saw it?" he says, taking my license and registration.

"Isn't that what I just said, Krispy Kreme Boy?" I respond, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Then why did you run it?" he asks, pounding his nightstick into the palm of his left hand and nearly destroying my documents.

"Well, let's see. It's three o'clock in the freaking morning and my girlfriend just called me from the hospital; she's been hurt by some stupid criminal lowlife, who, by the way, you should be out trying to find and I've got to get there and see for myself that she's all right. I mean, if that meets with your approval, Officer Eclair!"


Yeah, that'd be just great; on top of her traumatic night, Dana would have to come bail my sorry ass out of jail.

Okay, now to find a parking space. I wonder if I qualify as an Emergency Vehicle? Better not. Shit. Who the hell do all these cars belong to anyway? Why'd they bring her to this dump? It looks like some sort of gangbanger hospital. I can just see those slime balls driving up dumping bodies at the emergency door and peeling off with squealing tires. Here's a spot. Turning off the engine, I rush inside. At least I try to, my sleeve gets caught in the door and I'm unceremoniously yanked back. Crap. Okay, I'm free, now to get inside before I get shot or something.

"Dana Scully. FBI agent. She called me." I'm experiencing a shortness of breath. The receptionist looks at me as though she sees this sort of behavior all the time.

"Yes, she's fine. Try to calm down. I'll find her and tell her you're here. Your name, please."

I didn't hear a word she said. I've been frantically looking around trying to find Dana. "Nevermind," I say as I race towards her.

I'm just about to grab her when I realize Mulder is still here with her. Oh, hell. Does it get any better? I haven't seen him for a while, I wonder if he even remembers me. This is not good, I thought Dana would have told him to leave when she knew I was coming after her.

I notice the distress on her face and realize it's not totally from an injury. Seems my presence has already been duly noted. I guess I haven't been exactly low-key. She's looking at Mulder and he's looking at her. His synapses are working overtime. He's putting two and two together. He's not stupid by any stretch of the imagination. It's obvious that he understands why I'm here, why Dana called me in the middle of the night.

She clears her throat and re-introduces us, all the while keeping her eyes averted from either of us.

"Yes. I certainly remember you, Mel," he says.

We shake hands. I doubt either of us is in the mood for small talk. "Likewise. Well, thanks for staying with her, Mulder. I'll get her home."

He tries to smile, but doesn't do a very good job of it. He nods and says, "Scully," as he walks briskly out the door, his long coat flapping in his wake.

I hold her at arm's length and check her out, two arms, and two legs; yes, everything seems to be in place. I clutch her to me and feel her tense up. Damn, I'm hurting her, so I let up a bit and feel her relax; hell, so do I.

"What happened?" I ask.

"I want to go home."

Typical Dana reaction to something she doesn't want to deal with. 'Evade' could easily be her middle name. But I guess I really need to cut her some major slack here, she's obviously one hurting puppy.

I take her elbow and guide her outside. With a few grimaces, she slowly lowers herself into the car. I make sure she's buckled up and then go around to the driver's side. I think I slammed the door a little too forcefully, she probably thinks I'm angry. Well, in a way I am. Angry that one day I may be getting a call from Mulder and not her. Angry that she risks her life on a daily basis. Angry that I can't persuade her to leave the Bureau and come to work with me.

"We're outta here. Tell Skinner or whoever that you're taking two weeks off, I'm getting you away from this madness."

She starts to protest, give me her usual 'I'm fine' line. Well, I'm not Mulder and I don't buy it.

"It's not going to work this time. I know you love your job, Dana, but it's just plain nuts to put yourself on the line every single day. You deserve a break and I can use one, too. These past weeks have been hell for me with you gone most every night." Shit, I don't want to go there, but I can't seem to help myself. I'm a bundle of nerves and the words seem to have taken on a life of their own, flowing out rapidly and without censure.

"I sit up and wait for you to come home, all the while dreading the call. My muscles seize up from the time you leave till I hear your key in the door." I look at her and take her hand as we wait for the light to change; I'm not running any lights with her in the car. "I'll be damned if I'm going to lose you this way." I smile to let her know I'm not angry, just terribly afraid for her, for us.

She squeezes my hand in return. Without words, she tells me she understands perfectly what I'm saying. God, I don't recall ever feeling so much fear or love. If anything were to happen...well, I don't even want to allow those thoughts into my consciousness. Nothing is going to happen. She's going to live to a ripe old age and I'm going to be right there with her. I don't want to, but I have to let go of her hand to turn into the driveway.

She must be hurting; she never waits for me to open the car door for her. I stand patiently in the cold night air as she unbuckles her seat belt and then take her elbow to help her out. She seems a little stiff, like it hurts her to move.

"Dana?" I say with obvious concern in my voice.

"I'm fine." She sees me frown and stops moving. "Really. I'm just a little sore."

"It's cold out here. Come on."

We walk slowly to the front door. She leans heavily against me as I fumble with the key, finally getting it in the hole and opening the door. I sped out so quickly before I left the hall light on so the front of the house is lit. I flip off the porch light and carefully remove her coat, hanging it up on the rack. I'm struck again by how tiny she is. How can her body take all this abuse and still keep going?

"Do you want me to make up the couch?"

"No," she whispers, her voice strained. "I want to sleep with you."

With each step up the stairs I notice her wincing, like breathing is difficult. In the bedroom I help her undress and I'm glad she's wearing a blouse rather than a turtleneck; I'd hate to have her lift her arms that high, I'd probably just cut it off. There are some nasty bruises and swelling on her arms, but the thing that sends me into a fresh panic is the sight of her ribs wrapped tightly with an elastic ace bandage.

"Jesus, Dana, what the hell happened?"

"I got knocked over."

"And?"

With a huge strained expulsion of air, she sits down on the bed.

"Don't try to protect me, Dana. I want to know what the hell is going on with you. Do you have any broken bones?"

"No. Just what you see." It's like she's reading my mind as she starts listing off the litany of her injuries. "No internal injuries or bleeding. Just some soreness and contusions, the doctor gave me a painkiller."

"Baby, I'm so sorry." I kneel down beside her placing my hands on her thighs. "Would you like a warm bath?"

"That would be nice."

I pull the comforter up to keep her from getting a chill, then I give her a gentle kiss before leaving. Turning on the water, I check it often to make sure it's not too hot. I dribble in some of her favorite scented bath oils. When the tub is almost three-quarters full I shut off the water.

As I'm heading out of the bathroom, I start talking, "Okay, honey, your bath's ready."

But when I get into the bedroom she's asleep sitting straight up. Oh, my heart is aching for her. I walk over and cautiously lift her up while I throw back the covers. For someone so small, she's a dead weight when she's out. Bad choice of words, Mel. She groans as I lower her down to her pillow. Dammit. This is not fair. She's only doing her job and she has to put up with this abuse. I'm so angry I could spit! But anger is not going to help Dana, so I have to keep that in check.

Lifting her bare legs onto the bed, I cover her with the blankets. Even with the painkiller she winces when she tries to move. How does she do it? I've never met anyone as brave. She's been hurt too much on this job and I doubt I know even the half of it. Somehow, I've got to convince her to leave the Bureau and come to work for me. I can't stand to have her beat up like this. And, more to the point, I don't know how much more she can stand.

I walk back into the bathroom and drain the tub. I fill up a glass with water in case she wakes up thirsty during the night and set it on her nightstand. Going back downstairs, I check her coat pockets for the pain pills she mentioned. There they are in a small vial. I turn the label around and read the prescription. Jesus. That's some major league pain suppressor. With all her hospital visits I bet she could s tart her own damned pharmacy.

My initial adrenaline rush has worn off and now that I know Dana is safe, it's my turn to feel whoosie. My mouth is filling with saliva; my head is spinning; I feel like I may faint. Leaning against the stair banister, I wait for the queasiness to pass. In the morning I'll call and tell Mulder that she won't be in, although I'm sure he can figure it out on his own. Then I'll call the IT Department and tell them I've had a family emergency and I'll need a couple of weeks off. Jeez, it's already nearly five. Hell, it's so close to being time to go into work, I may as well call now. I'll just leave a message on the IT voice mail. If they don't like it, screw 'em. Mulder I'll call whenever we get up.

The call made, I go into the kitchen and scramble around some drawers until I find a bendable straw left over from some long ago root beer float night. I head back upstairs. So as not to jostle the bed, I climb in very deliberately. I lay perfectly still for a moment, not wanting to move for fear of disturbing her. But I can't sleep like this, all stiff. I shut off the nightlight. No doubt she'll sleep all night or what's left of it anyway. I turn on my side so I can watch over her in case she needs anything. Cautiously, I stroke her hair and arm to let her know she's not alone.

Shit! I must've fallen asleep and forgot to turn off the alarm and it's clanging like a fucking cowbell. I reach back quickly and pound the off button. Dana stirs and moans. Dammit. I was lying so close to her I must've brushed against her and woken her. Okay, I'll lie still for a few minutes; maybe she'll go back to sleep.

"Mel?" Her voice sounds small.

"Shhh. Go back to sleep," I whisper tenderly.

"Work," she says keeping her eyes shut.

What the hell is she talking about? She was so sore last night she could barely breathe and she's planning on going to work? She must still be feeling the effects of the painkiller.

"No work." I stroke her hair repeatedly, attempting to mesmerize her back to sleep.

"Have to get up." She starts to move, but her face shows her discomfort and she's forced to suck in air to fight off the pain.

I lay a hand on her shoulder. "Just be still. You're not going to work today. Bed rest all day."

"Mel?"

"Yes?"

"I love you."

"I love you, too, baby. Do you want a sip of water before you go back to sleep?"

"Ummm."

"Do you want another painkiller?"

"Ummm."

If she wants another pill she's probably really hurting. Dammit. I get up and walk over to her side of the bed, retrieving the water and pill from the nightstand. I place my hand behind her head and help her to raise up a bit. "Open your mouth a little." She does.

Placing the pill on her tongue, I guide the straw between her lips and tell her to suck. She takes a small sip, then another. I know from personal experience those painkillers can give you a bad case of cottonmouth. After a couple more sips, she pushes the straw out with her tongue, a little water dribbling down her chin. I wipe it off. She gives me a sleepy smile.

"Night, Sleeping Beauty." I place a soft kiss on her moistened lips.

"Hey," she says dreamily.

"What, baby?"

"That's how you're supposed to wake me up."

I can't help but smile. "Shhh, silly. I'm going to go downstairs so you can go back to sleep, but I'll be checking on you and I'll be right here when you wake up."

"You. Work. Mul--" she slurs.

"I'm not going to work today. I'll call Mulder. We'll talk when you get up. Right now, I want you to sleep."

She manages a slight upturn of the corners of her mouth and says, "Love you."

"And I love you, too. Now stop talking and sleep." I tuck the blankets tightly around her and kiss her forehead.

Back downstairs, I decide against grinding up coffee beans in case it would wake her, although I doubt it; so instead I grab the instant and put on the kettle. While the water boils I retrieve the paper from the front porch. I'll give it another few minutes before I call to speak directly with my contact at the Bureau and inform him that I'll need the next week or two off. I'll tell him I'll be calling one of my associates in Boston to come down to keep the training on schedule. Then I'll call Rick and tell him to hightail it down here for the next couple of weeks. We can meet later today so I can give him my notes and get him up to speed.

Mulder. I need to call him. This is going to be a bit sticky. I'm sure he's experiencing a bit of shock. Oh well, he had to find out sooner or later; I just wish Dana had been able to do it on more of her own terms. Then again, she did have the chance to get rid of him before I got there. But, maybe not. If Mulder is the kind of man, partner, I think he is, he wouldn't have left no matter how much Dana pressed him. Picking up the phone, I place the call.

"Mulder."

"Good morning, Mulder, it's Mel."

"Morning." His voice sounds a bit strained; no, maybe disappointed is more accurate, he was probably hoping it was Dana. He clears his throat. "How's Scully?"

"She's sleeping. I just gave her another painkiller. God, Mulder, what the hell happened? She looks like someone took a tire iron to her." I can hear my voice wavering and struggle to get it back in control.

"What did Scully tell you?" he asks noncommittally.

"She was in no shape to talk last night. Why don't you tell me?" Take it easy, Mel, you don't want to alienate him. It's highly probable we'll be seeing each other periodically and I'd like us to stay on good terms.

"We were on surveillance and Scully was walking the neighborhood perimeter when some punks jumped her."

"Why didn't you stop them?" I'm nervous; the pitch of my voice is getting higher. I take a deep breath before continuing. "I'm sorry, Mulder, I certainly didn't mean to sound accusatory. I know you wouldn't let anything happen to Dana if you could have stopped it."

When he resumes speaking, his voice sounds less defensive. "She was out of visual contact; we were keeping in touch by wireless radio. It was a couple of minutes before we figured out she was in trouble. We flooded the area and found her in an alley."

"Oh, God, Mulder. Did they rape-"

"No," he says emphatically. "They didn't."

"Thank God." I'm happy he's being so open with me. "But why, Mulder? Why did they attack Dana?"

"Who knows why these scumbags do the shit they do, Mel. Anyway, we called an ambulance and got her to hospital right away."

"Did you catch them?" I ask hopefully.

"No."

"Will you?"

"Probably not." He doesn't sound surprised by the fact.

"How many were there?"

"Two."

"But she didn't have anything worth taking, did she?"

"It doesn't matter to those sick fucks."

I'm frustrated at the futility of it all. "So what did the doctor say?"

"That beyond the bruises, she was all right. There were no broken bones, internal injuries or bleeding."

"Why are her arms so bruised and swollen?"

"She had them over her head in a defensive position."

I hear myself groan at the vision of her being kicked in the head. "Why is she bound up?"

"Just for support, to help avoid more pain when she moves."

"When does she have to go back to the doctor's?"

"In a couple weeks, unless there are complications."

"Complications?" The mere mention of the word sets my nerves on edge anew.

"If she's not feeling better in a day or two or if she has continuing headaches, that sort of thing."

"Thank you for filling me in, Mulder." I pause momentarily. "I guess this is unnecessary to say, but Dana won't be coming into work today. In fact, I want to take her away for a while. She needs to heal and I think some fresh air and sun would do her a world of good. We'll be gone for at least a week, maybe ten days."

"I think that's a good idea," he says. "Scully always comes back to work too soon."

"Can you talk to Skinner or whoever and see what you can do about getting her some time off, please?"

"That shouldn't be a problem. They know how bad off she is and would expect her to take some time, although she rarely does. I'll get in touch with Skinner and get back to you."

"Mulder?"

"Yes?"

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"For not shutting me out, for telling me about what happened to Dana."

We share a moment of silence; both of us contemplating our own private thoughts about her.

"Mulder?"

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry you had to find out about Dana and me like that. I know she would've preferred to tell you under different circumstances."

"It's fine." There's that word again. These two have denial down to an art form.

"I do love her."

"I'm glad," he says, "she deserves some happiness." He pauses. "Look, Mel, I won't lie, it was a shock seeing you. But people love whomever they love." He pauses again.

It seems as though he wants to say something, but he's not sure if he should. "Mulder?"

"Look, last night after I walked out, I stopped to watch you through the glass doors and from what I observed it was apparent to me that you love her." He hesitates. "And she loves you."

"Dana's right when she says you are a wonderful person. I'm not sure I could be as generous."

"I just want Scully to be happy." He seems genuinely sincere.

"Do you think she is?"

He pauses. "Yes, I think finally she is."

I'm smiling, but tears are streaming down my face. "Do you want to come by and see her?" I ask.

"I think I'll give it a couple of days."

"Well, I'll wait for your call then. Oh, let me give you my number. It's five, five, five, eleven-thirteen."

"Give Scully my regards and tell her to take her time getting back."

"I will."


Hanging up, I feel relieved beyond words. He could have been a real hard ass, but after what must have been the initial shock of hearing from me, I think it went well. I need to give some serious thought to getting to know him better. He's a big part of Dana's life and well, I think I could like him, too.

Between phone calls to Mulder and my FBI consulting liaison, I check on Dana a couple times and have some more coffee. Next I call the office in Boston to arrange the logistics of getting Rick down here. He'll be catching the afternoon flight and will come directly here for a briefing. Reaching for the coffee jar, I decide to have some orange juice instead. Now that all the phone calls are done, I'll run back up and check on Dana. If she's awake, I'll come back and fix us some breakfast.

I tiptoe into the room to get a closer look at her. She's still sleeping peacefully. Thank God for drugs. This time I can't help myself. Previously I've just peeked at her from the door, but now I feel compelled to touch her. I sit down on the floor next to her and place the back of my hand lightly on her cheek. She's warm, but not feverish. Breathing deeply, her cool exhaled air rhythmically blows across my fingers. Now that I know she's safe, I can't deny my own emotions any more. Tears trickle down my face, my mind races with images of her being senselessly attacked, outnumbered and alone, in pain, fearing for her life. Did she call out for me or was it Mulder's name on her lips? Stop it. This isn't doing any good.

Suddenly, I feel her stir. She smacks her lips, like she's thirsty. I see her try to swallow; her throat must be dry. Slowly, she lifts a hand from under the blankets and reaches out to me. Grasping it, I bring it to my lips.

"What time is it?" she asks.

It isn't till she asks that I realize how long I've been sitting here watching over her. "Close to noon."

"You okay?"

Me? She's worried about me? "Yes."

She nods when I ask if she wants a drink of water, so I repeat my actions of last night, or early this morning, lifting her head and placing the straw in her mouth. She takes a few deep pulls on the straw and manages not to dribble on herself this time.

"You were really upset last night," she says.

"Well, I don't have any experience with someone I love getting the living shit kicked out of her. It's something I could have lived without."

She tries to laugh, but has to stop, apparently it irritates her ribs. "I'll live."

"Dana, don't try to make light of this. You could have been killed before anyone got to you."

"But I wasn't."

"No. By some grace of God you were spared."

"I don't want to fight over this," she whispers.

"Me either. But, honey, when you're feeling better we do need to talk about the dangerous life you lead."

She doesn't respond to my veiled request for her to change jobs, so I decide to change the subject.

"Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?"

"I'd like a bath."

"Hey, you had your chance last night."

She opens her eyes for the first time and her pupils are still slightly dilated from the drugs. She smiles somewhat sadly.

"Oh, okay, I'll draw you another one," I tease.

As I'm getting up, she murmurs, "Kiss me?"

She doesn't need to ask twice. Leaning over, I place a kiss on her forehead, then move to her eyelids, down to the tip of her nose, the side of her mouth and finally to her lips. They're already dry, so I run my tongue over them. She moans. Instinctively, I pull back.

Instantly aware of my body placement, I ask, "Did I hurt you?" I can't imagine how I could have. Lord, are her lips bruised too?

"No. I just felt so good to have you touch me."

"I love you so much, baby. I'm sorry if I sound angry, I don't mean to; I'm just so scared for you."

"I know. And I love you for that," she pauses, "and for so many other things."

We kiss again, briefly, and I tell her to stay put while I go draw her a bath.

"Okay, all set," I say, returning to the bedroom.

Somehow or another while I've been out of the room, she's managed to sit up. Damn that stubborn Irish streak of hers.

"Dana, I told you to stay put. I don't want you hurting yourself any more than you already are." I pause. "Come on, let me help you into the bathroom."

"I can do it myself."

"Yes. I'm sure you can, but please let me do something for you? I need to feel useful, too, you know."

She says nothing, but extends her hand to me. I smile and help her to her feet, slowly. It takes a minute or two, but we eventually reach the bathroom.

I raise the toilet lid for her, help her sit down and then leave for a couple minutes. Rapping on the door, I ask if I can come back in.

"Yes," she answers.

"Here, let me get you out of that damn straight jacket," I say, unclamping the pronged ends of the fasteners securing the bandage.

As I unwind the elastic from around her body, I see indentations on her skin from the edges of the bandage; the creases remind me of welts. Although the swelling has subsided, her arms are even more discolored now than they were last night and my mind flashes back to her huddled on the pavement trying to protect her head from the thugs' shoes. I force myself to shake the thought and get back to the matter at hand.

"Aaaah," she breathes. "Those bandages always seem to tighten up more after they're on. The air feels good."

I take a chance and blow on her skin. She manages a smile. She looks better this morning. Her color is returning to normal. The creases will go away once her skin has an opportunity to relax.

"Okay, let's get you in this tub. I'm sure you'll feel a hundred percent better after you bathe and get some food in you."

"Yes, Doctor Mel," she chuckles, or tries to, stopping short and wincing again.

"Okay, real slow now. That's it, I've got you; I'm not going to let you fall."

She lifts a leg and gets it up over the edge of the tub, the other one follows. I ease her down as best I can without applying too much pressure to her ribcage area. Thank God she's so light.

I grab the loofa sponge and stream warm water over her shoulders, watching as it trickles down her back, front, and arms. I repeat the motion over again a few times before sudsing the sponge up and washing her. I take extra care when I get close to any bruises, which is quite a feat in itself since a good portion of her body resembles one large massive hematoma.

"That feels so good," she says with her eyes closed and obviously enjoying the cleansing of the warm water.

I wash her face and neck. She has a routine she religiously follows for her skin and it does not include this sort of substance on her face, but today she doesn't bother to protest.

"Almost done, baby," I say as I run the sponge between her legs and then down to her feet. "There, all done."

"Thank you."

"You don't need to thank me. I love you, Dana; I want to take care of you."

She looks at me with tear-filled eyes, but somehow she doesn't crack. How does she do that? I blink back the moisture from my eyes that's threatening to spill over.

"Want to sit for a while?" I ask.

"Yes. Stay with me?"

"Of course." I pick up the sponge again and dribble water over her to keep her warm.

I tell her about how I've arranged for Rick to come down and take over the training sessions for a couple of weeks.

"Why so long?" she asks.

"Because we're going to take ourselves a little R&R." She looks surprised. "Remember I told you last night? Well, I spoke with Mulder this morning and he's going to talk to Walter and get it all arranged."

I expect her to go off on a tirade about interfering in her work. I'm surprised as hell when instead of ripping me a new one, she quietly asks, "You spoke with Mulder?"

"This morning. Had ourselves quite a chat."

"How is he?"

"He sends his regards and says he'll see you in a day or two when you're feeling better."

"What else did he say?"

I know what she's hinting at. She wants to know if he said anything about us, us as a couple.

"He was extremely kind to me and answered all my questions about what happened to you." She knows I know what she's asking; I can see it in her eyes. "He also said he only wants to see you happy; which, by the way, he thinks you are now and he also thought when he saw us together last night we were very much in love."

She blushes at hearing this news. "Mulder said all that?"

"Yes." I pause. "I like him, Dana. It's clear he cares deeply for you and wants what's best for you. I hope he and I can be friends."

"I'd like that," she says, smiling.

"Okay, come on, let's get you out before you turn into a prune."

Once we get her out of the tub, I carefully towel her off and help her slip into a comfy flannel nightgown and slippers. The nightgown took a while; I didn't want her to make any awkward or sudden movements. But it wasn't so bad; I was able to get it over her head without her having to lift her arms too high. Slow is the operative word for the next couple of days.

Preparing her toothbrush, I hold on to her hips to support her while she does a quick cleaning of her teeth. When she's finished, I brush her hair for her.

"There, now you're fresh as a daisy." I kiss her softly just below her ear, one of her favorite spots, and mine as well. "You smell good."

She smiles at me through the mirror, but her eyes are still a little cloudy.

"Let's get you back in bed and I'll go fix us some breakfast."

As we approach the bed, she says, "Mel, there's no need to fuss. I can go downstairs." But her body language says otherwise.

"Absolutely not. You are going to stay in bed all day and rest. I would hope I wouldn't have to stand guard, but if it means bringing Rick up here for our meeting this afternoon, I will."

"Rick is coming over?" she asks, sounding as though this is the first she's heard of it.

She was groggy and still a little fuzzy around the edges when we were talking earlier; I guess she didn't absorb all the information about the plans for the day, so I fill her in again on what I've been doing while she slept.

"I can't go away now, Mel. The surveillance still isn't complete. I have to-"

"Dana. Stop for just a second, will you? No one is expecting you to show up for work tonight. In fact, they aren't going expecting to see you for a couple weeks. Mulder is going to inform them you need some recuperating time. He doesn't foresee any problems with you taking some time off. So, tomorrow, I'm going to call my travel agent and get us hooked up to somewhere warm and sunny for a week or so."

"What do you mean Mulder is informing them I need time to recuperate?"

"Just what I said."

"And just where did he get that idea?"

"I told him."

"Why?"

"Are you kidding?" I can't help but chuckle at the absurdity of the question. "Look at yourself, Dana. You're beat up, swollen and bruised. Of course you need some time off."

I best her at her own game, logic. She frowns and tries a different tactic. "You can't just take off, either, Mel."

"Nice try, honey, but that's why Rick is flying down. He's going to take over the reigns while we're gone. He's fully prepared to do the training; he just needs to be brought up to speed about where I am in the schedule and a few other details."

"But-"

"It's settled."

"No, it's not." Oh God, here it comes. She's using that clipped, controlled way she has when she's irritated. "You just can't go around making work arrangements for me."

Damn. What's got her back up all of a sudden? "Don't you want to go away for a while?"

"That's not the point. Of course I'd love to spend some time away with you."

"Then what's the problem?"

"The problem is that I'm an adult, I don't need people deciding things for me. I say when I will or won't return to work. No one else. Ever."

"Great. Relax, Dana. I didn't think you'd mind. Jesus H.," I say, abruptly rising and going to stand by the window, my back to her. "I was just trying to do something for you. I'm sorry."

The air in the room is so highly charged, if a match were to spark the room would ignite. The electrons in my head are spinning at the speed of light. I've never seen Dana so mad, and never has her anger been directed at me. There's a long silence, a cooling down period. I hear the bed sheets rustle and in a moment she's standing next to me. When she speaks, her voice is calmer.

"Mel, just please, don't interfere in my work. I know what I'm capable of and what I need." She touches my arm. "And, I know you were just trying to be helpful. But when it comes to my work, please don't get involved."

I turn to face her. "Don't get involved? What kind of bullshit is that, Dana? You can't possibly expect me to compartmentalize my feelings and concerns for you. Because if you do, I'm here to tell you right now, it isn't going to happen, Dana. I can't do that."

"I think you're missing my point, Mel."

"Am I? I think I hear you loud and clear. If you want me out of your life, Dana, just say so."

"Dammit, I didn't say that and you know it."

Again, silence and electricity, only this time there are dark clouds forming on our horizon.

"Mel, I've taken care of myself for over thirty-five years now. I think I should know by now what's best for me."

"You'd think," I mumble.

She sighs. "Can we just agree to disagree on this?"

"I meant it, Dana, I'm not a faucet. I just can't turn my feelings on and off." I pause and stride towards the door. "I can't breathe; I need some fresh air."

I have to leave for a while; try to clear my head. With the car top down, I get on the freeway and hit the gas, hard. I didn't bother to put on my baseball cap and my hair is flying every which way; I have to keep pushing it away from my face. I've got the CD player cranked up so loud I'm probably going to blow out the speakers.

What is going on with her? I can't believe she's so fucking angry about me speaking to Mulder on her behalf. I mean, I guess I can understand that she felt I was meddling, but I was only trying to help take care of her. Maybe this relationship was a bad idea. Well, at least we can be spared the whole drama of me having to move out of her apartment. Not moving in with her was the best idea I had. What the fuck am I saying? I love her. I want to be with her. This is just a big misunderstanding. All the painkillers aren't allowing her to think clearly. Aw, shit! I left her all by herself. She's in no shape to be left alone. Stupid.

When I get back, we'll sit down calmly and discuss this rationally. She's not the only one who flew off the handle. I over-reacted, too. At the next exit, I slow the car down and get off the freeway. Turning at the signal, I head back in the other direction. Home. Home to Dana. The woman I love.

I check my watch and see that I've been gone for about forty minutes. My hair is a tangled mess and apparently I've been crying without knowing it. The wind must have dried my tears as they hit my cheeks because I've got raccoon eyes. I moisten my thumb and run it under my eyes, stretching the tender skin, trying to get rid of the black smudges.

As I head upstairs, I'm going over in my head what I want to say to her. "Dana?" I call as I hit the second floor landing. Opening the bedroom door, I expect to find her in bed. She's not there, probably in the bathroom. I rap on the door, no response. I call her name again. Nothing. I charged upstairs so quickly, I must have missed her downstairs. That'd be just like her to go down to fix herself a cup of tea even though she should be resting.

I do a quick sweep of the kitchen, the front room and then fling open the sliding glass door leading to the back yard. She's nowhere. Jesus. I tear back up the stairs. Then I notice what I missed before. The closet doors and dresser drawers are thrown open and her clothes are gone. Racing into the bathroom, I see all her toiletries missing. Shitshitshit! Dammit all to hell! She's left. She must have called a cab after I left. Goddammit! What's wrong with her? She should be in bed, not riding in a damned dirty cab. This whole thing is my fault. If I hadn't left in the first place, she wouldn't be riding around in some filthy cab. Dammit, Mel!

Flying down the stairs, I grab the keys from the table in the foyer. I pull the door closed behind me, not worrying if I locked it or not. Running, I leap over the car door, buckle my seat belt and back up so quickly the tires must be spinning in two directions at once. They squeal in protest as I speed away. I wonder how long she's been gone. If she called a cab, she had to wait and I might even have a chance of catching up with her. But what if she didn't call a cab? What if she called Mulder? He'd drop everything and go get her. And what if she didn't go home? I've got no idea where Mulder lives or for that matter, her mother.

Don't start setting up roadblocks, Mel. She called a cab and she's going home. She's in no shape to go anywhere else. I don't think she'd want to get Mulder involved in this; hell, he just found out about us, I doubt she wants him to know we're fighting. Sonofabitch!

As I pull up to her apartment, I see her headed for the door. She didn't even take time to change clothes. She's still in her nightgown with her coat thrown over it. Maybe she needed help. And I wasn't there. Dammit. I've fucked up everything. The cabbie is helping her to the building door with her stuff. I'd forgotten she didn't have any luggage at my house, so she's thrown all her things in black trash bags. There's no place close to pull in, so I double park on the cab. The driver sees what I'm doing and starts yelling at me to move. I rush past him, ignoring his verbal assaults hurled at me in a totally foreign language.

Dana hears him screaming and turns just as I reach the door of her building. "What do you think you're doing?" I ask gruffly while latching onto her arm.

"Let go of me!" she replies pulling her arm from my grasp. A groan of discomfort escapes as she twists away.

"Dana. This is ridiculous. If we just sit down calmly, we can work this out."

"You seem to forget you were the one who left first." Her eyes are shards of pure blue ice. I can practically feel them ripping through my skin and stabbing my heart.

"I guess I deserve that. But I came back. Doesn't that count for anything?" She just stands looking at me. "Please, Dana. Let me come in." When she doesn't say no, I pick up the trash bags and start inside.

"You need to move your car," she says, her voice totally devoid of emotion.

It's then that I notice the cab driver is on a cell phone. He's giving Dana's address to someone. He said 'officer'. Shit! He's called the cops on me to get me towed. I grab the phone from him and punch the off button. "No need for that, I'm moving. See? I'm going to my car now and I'm moving." He doesn't look too happy, but at least he's not hitting 'redial'. "I'm sorry." I race to the car to get my purse. Taking out my wallet, I push a twenty at him. He stands mute. I push another twenty into his hand. "I'm really sorry."

He stares me down for another long minute before telling me to move my fucking car out of his fucking way and to hurry the fuck up. Seems he does know some English. I move to let him out and then take the spot. Dana has gone ahead to her apartment, but has left the bags on the landing. Nice little touch of unspoken anger there, Dana.

When I get to her door, it's shut. Dammit. Rather than putting down the bags, I kick the door to let her know I'm there. From the other side, I hear, "It's open." She knows my hands are full, but she's not going to cut me any slack. Whatever. I put down one bag, turn the knob, push open the door and throw the make believe luggage inside. I follow the bags and shut the door behind me. Looking around, I don't see Dana. She must be in the bedroom.

I hear her voice; she must be on the phone. "That's what I said, Mulder. No, I assure you I'm fine. I will see you tomorrow."

She looks up to see me. I think I make out a slight up turning of her lips. She doesn't waste any time making her point; that's for sure.

"You're doing this to spite me, aren't you? Trying to teach me a lesson."

"No. I'm going back to work because I'm fine."

"Dammit, Dana. Stop playing this idiotic juvenile game."

"I'm not playing any game. I'm simply ready to go back to work. And that's what I'm going to do."

"Look. I get the point. You want me to stay out of your work decisions. Fine. I will. Do what you want. I have a feeling you always do."

After all the angry words, the silence returns. I can't think of anything else to say, so I turn to go.

"Don't leave. Not like this. Please."

Stopping, but without turning around, I say, "I can't stay. We've both become accustomed to living our lives the way we want. And that's okay. But it doesn't look like we can live them together. Goodbye, Dana." By the time I say her name, I'm choking on the words. "I do love you," I whisper as I walk dejectedly out of the room.

Before I reach the front door, Dana is at my side. "Mel. Please," she says her voice barely above a whisper. "Don't go. I'm sorry. You're right. I was behaving badly." She takes my hand. "I love you so much. Please don't leave."

Her touch makes all my anger disappear. The woman I love is asking me to stay. How can I possibly leave? "Do you think we can discuss this quietly?" She shakes her head in agreement. "Because I think we need to work through this if we're going to have any chance at staying together."

She looks faint. Her eyes are rolling into the back of her head. Jesus. "Dana!" I catch her just as she collapses. I can't lift her completely, but I do manage to get her onto the couch. Walking swiftly into the bathroom, I wet a face cloth to place on her forehead. As I repeat her name softly, she eventually comes around.

"What happened?" she asks.

"You fainted. How do you feel?"

"Tired."

"You've over-taxed yourself with all your running around. You need to rest for a while. I'll fix you a cup of tea." As an afterthought, I add, "You stay here." Before heading to the kitchen, I grab a blanket from the closet and throw it over her. She smiles weakly.

When I return with a cup of tea for each of us, she's asleep. Her eyes are twitching underneath their lids' thin skin; I hope she's not in any pain. I wonder if she brought her painkillers with her. I shouldn't have left, if she's injured herself further, I'll never forgive myself.

An hour passes before she awakes. I've had plenty of time to think about our fight while I put her clothes away. It had to kill her to cram all her good suits into a trash bag, but they were in there such a short time they weren't wrinkled.

"Hi, baby, feel better?" I smile and kiss her forehead.

"Yes." She squeezes my hand.

We both speak at the same time. "I'm sorry," we say over each other. Then we each laugh nervously. I go and get her a fresh cup of tea.

Setting the tea on the table, I tell her, "Dana, I'm sorry. I over-reacted. And, you're right. I shouldn't have assumed I could make plans for you when work is involved. I won't do it again." I help her to an upright position and then sit next to her.

"This is such an unsettled time for me, Mel. Not only struggling with telling Mulder and my family about us, but also about work in general." She gestures for me to hand her the tea, taking a sip before continuing. "Since we've been together I've come to realize that I don't necessarily want to be the one who's always in control, making all the decisions. It feels good to relinquish control once in a while." She gives me a small smile. "My work has been all I've had for so long, and well, it seems like the last part of my life that I do have some control over." She's fighting back her tears. "It's hard."

Stroking her hair, I coo, "It's all right, baby. Take your time. It's just that I want so much to spend the rest of my life with you, Dana."

"I want that, too."

"But when I see you risking your life nearly every day, it's hard for me. I guess my mothering instincts just kicked in and I wanted to protect you from any more harms. I had time to cool down and think while you were asleep and I realized that when it comes to work, I have to step back and let you do what you think best."

"Thank you." She kisses me while our separate tears meet and blend. I take her in a careful embrace and wipe her tears away. We gaze at each other for a few moments, our eyes expressing our apologies and our love.

I break the silence with, "Let's get some food in you." I can't help smiling broadly as I leave the room.


"All done?" I ask.

"Uh huh. That tasted so good. I hadn't eaten since dinner last night. You fix the best scrambled eggs."

I smile my thanks. "Honey, I'm going to let you get some sleep."

"I'm not tired."

"You must be exhausted, baby."

"We should go back to your house."

"Why? You can rest just as well here."

"But I seem to recall you mentioning Rick was coming in this afternoon."

"Shit, I forgot all about that." I pause, "Well, he can just as easily come here. I'll phone him with your address."

"No, you've got all your work over there." She must read the concern on my face. "I'll be fine. It's a short trip. I promise to rest when we get there. Okay?"

"But-"

Trying to sound in charge, she says, "No need trying to talk me out of this; it is going to happen."

"You are so damned headstrong."

"Look who's calling the kettle black," she says while flashing me a smile as bright as the Moroccan midday sun.

Back at the house, I tell Dana to wait while I take her suitcase inside. And, as I thought, the door is unlocked. Lucky for me this is a good neighborhood. Going back to the car, I help her out and take her inside.

"Can you make it upstairs to bed?"

"Yes. Can I lean on you a little?"

"Always." So we start up slowly and eventually reach the landing. "Okay?"

"Hmm." I've learned that in Danaspeak that translates to not so good.

Entering the bedroom, I say, "How about a little stroll to the bathroom before I leave? Should I put the bandage back on you? Do you need any aspirin or a pain pill?"

"Okay. No. And yes." Her eyes are clearer now and her playfulness is returning, even in her discomfort. I think a lot of pent-up emotion was released with our fight.

I have to stop a moment to recall what I asked her. I accompany her to the bathroom and leave her while I straighten up the covers and fluff the pillows. When she calls, I help her back to bed. She's moving better now, not quite as slow. We both know she could be doing these things on her own, but she's lovingly granting me the privilege of being at her beck and call.

"Comfy? Warm enough?"

"Yes. Thanks."

"Want a magazine or maybe the TV on?"

"I might watch a bit of TV."

Retrieving the remote, I place it on the bed by her hand.

"I'm going to go downstairs now. Rick will be arriving shortly and I want to have all my notes ready. And, of course, I need to make a fresh pot of coffee for him; I don't think I've ever known anyone who can gulp down as much. If you need anything, just holler. I'll leave the door ajar."

She tells me to sit down on the bed for a moment. Taking my hand, she says, "Thank you for taking care of me."

"You're quite welcome, baby."

Leaning into her, I bring our lips together to meet and linger in what I can only describe as the sweetest, most tender kiss I've ever shared with anyone. It sends a feeling of well being swirling through by body and helps put me at ease. I move closer and carefully, very carefully, take her in my arms and pull her to me, wrapping her in the warmth of my body.

"Dana?"

"Hmm?"

I hesitate. "Nothing," I answer, deciding to refrain from saying how much I hate that she's in this condition. Harping at her about her job is not going to serve any purpose.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, honey, really. Forget it. Just get some rest." I get up off the bed, place a kiss on the top of her head and walk to the door. Turning back in her direction, I tell her, "I adore you, Dana."

She gives me one of those brilliant smiles that causes my heart to beat double time.

As I partially close the door, she clicks on the TV.


"About ready for dinner?" I ask, walking into the bedroom.

She's got her head back against the pillows; her jaw is slackened in total relaxation, she's breathing through her mouth. I take the remote from the bed and turn the volume down on the TV. I don't want to shut it off completely, it's good background noise and has apparently helped to lull her to sleep. I wonder how long she's been out. Hopefully, she's comfortable. I know when I fall asleep sitting up in that position I usually wake up with a kink in my neck. Well, I can always give her a neck rub.

Her foot is sticking out from under the covers, but I don't dare adjust her blankets for fear of waking her. She's got the sweetest little feet. She likes it when I massage them with peppermint lotion, especially after she's had a long day in the autopsy bay. I've never seen her at work, but I bet she's cute as a button in those hospital scrubs. She looks good in blues and greens. I can just imagine her with those goggles and mask with her red hair creeping out from under a hair cap. She is gorgeous in anything.

Her toes wiggle. God, those ten delicious digits, how I love sucking on them. One by one wrapping my mouth around them, seducing them with my tongue, biting them, and pulling them deeper into my mouth until she squeals with delight. I feel a sudden rush of heat between my legs. We haven't made love since she started this assignment. When I get home, she's just about out the door; we're lucky to get a quick kiss and hug. Then when she gets home we're both dog-tired and are content to just fall asleep in each other's arms. When I get up for work, she's still sleeping and the cycle starts all over again. I miss making love with her. Touching her and being touched by her makes me feel whole.

She stirs. I watch, afraid to move. Hoping if I just stand still long enough, she'll go back to sleep. Her eyes flutter and she swipes at her nose, missing it completely, and her hand flops unceremoniously down onto the bed. The jolt wakes her; her eyes look scared.

"Huh? What?" she says to no one in particular.

"Shhh. You're safe. I'm right here."

She catches me in her vision and appears to process what I've just told her. Letting out a deep breath, she seems to relax. "My neck hurts," she whimpers, grimacing and reaching to grasp it.

"Here, let me," I say as I sit down next to her, working my hands into position between her and the pillows; I gently squeeze and prod her neck and shoulders. "Your neck was all bent out of shape. How long have you been asleep?"

"I don't know. Hmm, that feels good."

"Let me know if I squeeze too hard." I continue the massage for a few more minutes. As I stop, I press a kiss against her neck. "Better?"

"Uh huh. Thanks."

I reposition myself so that I'm looking at her. "You okay?"

"Yes. Why?"

"You looked a little scared when you first woke up."

Her face conveys annoyance. "I was just disoriented for a minute."

"I'm only trying to make sure you're all right."

"I am. So, please take off the kid gloves. I'm not made of porcelain; I don't break that easily. I'll be fine." She takes a breath and when she continues her voice is softer. "I am fine. I've been in more dire situations, honey. This looks bad, but believe me, I've been worse. I'll heal in no time. Really."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?" I sense my face about to betray me, so I hide it behind my hand. I thought I'd gotten all the tears out of my system this afternoon with Rick, but I can feel them threatening to re-surface.

She's tugging at my fingers. I don't want her to see me upset about this, she doesn't need to be taking care of me. Getting up abruptly, I say, "I hear the teakettle." Leaving the room I hear her call after me, but I don't go back.

I'm standing at the kitchen sink, staring off into nowhere, thinking about nothing, when I hear her voice, "I'm sorry."

"Dana?" I say, turning around. "Why are you down here? You should be in bed. Are you all right? You didn't hurt yourself coming downstairs, did you?"

"I'm fine. But I'm worried about you."

She looks a bit shaky, so I go to her. "Come on, let's get you back to bed."

"No. I'm down here, I may as well stay for a while."

"Okay, then let's sit down in the front room." She lets me take her elbow and lead her to the sofa. I grab the throw from the back of it and wrap it around her. Standing over her, I say, "You are incorrigible. I guess its true, doctors make the worst patients."

She looks up at me. "Sweetie, I didn't mean to upset you. What I said, well, it came out wrong. I get frustrated when I have to give in to these injuries. I love it that you're concerned for me," she pauses, "but it's a bit stifling at the same time." Despite the words, her eyes are full of sympathy for my situation.

"I'm not trying to stifle you, Dana; I don't think I could even if I tried. I just don't really know what else to do except love you and take care of you the best way I know how." I blink back a tear. "I feel so useless."

"Honey, come here." She holds out her arms for me and I let her envelop me. "You are doing great. I've never felt so loved or cared for."

"Who's taken care of you before when you were hurt?"

"Well, let's see," she says while pressing a kiss on my forehead. "If I wasn't hospitalized, I've taken care of myself mostly. On the couple of occasions it was necessary for someone to assist me, it was either Mulder or my mother."

"I don't see how you could take care of yourself if you've been worse than this."

"I managed."

"Don't you ever just want to stop? Aren't you ever afraid?"

"Oh, God, yes. There have been lots of times when I've been extremely frightened."

"So why didn't you stop, go back to medicine or something?"

"I couldn't," she answers as she gently runs her hand over my back.

"Why not?"

She hesitates. "Mulder."

"What about Mulder?"

"I couldn't leave him to go on alone."

"He could get another partner, couldn't he?"

She smiles. "It's hard to adequately describe the relationship Mulder and I have. It's unique, I think. We've worked together for so long we have our own rhythm of doing things; our own shorthand for communicating; sometimes, I think we're both psychic," she chuckles.

"And you think he couldn't have that with another partner?"

"I think," she pauses, "if I left, Mulder would too. And, vice versa. The truth is, I think we both could have left a couple years ago and felt relatively satisfied about accomplishing what we set out to do. But I can't see myself paired up with anyone but Mulder. He was my first partner and I doubt I'd ever find the same passion about another assignment."

"You do love him, don't you, Dana?"

She thinks about that for a moment. "Yes, I do. He's taught me so much, Mel. And, I think at one time, I could have fallen in love with him." She grins somewhat bashfully at having disclosed something so personal. "Honestly, I think I've always been a bit smitten. But somewhere over the years, on some level I realized Mulder was not what I needed, no matter how much I love him."

"Do you think he feels the same way? I mean, is he in love with you?"

"God, honey, don't be jealous. Believe me, you've got nothing to be worried about."

"I'm not. I'm very secure about your love for me. I'm just curious as to what you think." I wrap my arm around her waist, and carefully lie my head against her shoulder. She doesn't exhibit any indication of discomfort, so I let my head relax totally.

"That's nice." She raises her hand and smoothes my hair. "I think he feels the same about me. In many ways, we're like brother and sister. We care deeply about each other, but we get exasperated and cranky, not to mention downright pissy sometimes."

I slide my hand from her waist to her hip, applying a little pressure.

"Are you examining me?" she asks with a sly smile.

"What?"

"To see where you can touch without hurting me?"

"Not consciously, but I guess maybe. I don't want to hurt you."

"You aren't."

"Do you need anything? Aspirin or a pain pill or how about some dinner?"

"Only you," she whispers, turning to kiss me.

Her tongue presses through my lips. Oh, God, it feels good to have her want me. I know it hasn't even been a day since this all started, but so much has happened. It's good she's taking the initiative, I don't know if I would have; at least, not right now. I need her to guide me to where I can touch her and with how much pressure. Her tongue is doing wonderful things. A line from an old song rushes back, reminding me of what is going on in my mouth, "over, under, sideways, down, backward, forward, square, and round. When will it end?" Never, I hope.

I groan with relief and desire. I want her something fierce, but I know this isn't possible tonight, maybe tomorrow or the next day. She's still too bruised and sore for much more than this.

"Dana," I say breathlessly.

"Hmmm," she responds, her lips sliding down to my neck where she sucks gently.

"We need to stop."

"Why?"

"You're not ready for this tonight." God, please make her stop it now. My body is tingling from her touch, warm blood surges through me.

"Yes, I am."

I reluctantly push away from her. "Okay, then I'm not ready."

"What's wrong?" she asks as her brows furrow slightly.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't." She reaches out for me.

"I can't take that chance. Besides, there's no rush."

"I want you now," she says, her voice low and oozing desire.

"I don't think it's a good idea."

"Mel, I know what my body is capable of." She pauses momentarily. "It's because of the way I look, isn't it?"

I'm shocked at the suggestion. "Never. Don't even think that. I love you no matter what. Jesus, Dana, I want you, too. But, I just can't tonight. I'm having difficulty getting past the idea I'm going to hurt you more." I take her hand. "That's all that's holding me back. Believe me. It's got absolutely nothing to do with the way you look." I hesitate. "Please, just humor me on this, baby. I really need to see that you're better before we make love."

She looks hurt. I've upset her. "Okay," she mumbles and pulls the blanket tightly around her shoulders.

"I do love you, Dana, don't ever doubt that."

We sit in silence for a bit, each of us contemplating our own private thoughts; and, no doubt, trying to figure out the other's thoughts.

Just when it seems we're going to never speak again, she breaks the ice. "What are we having for dinner?"

Tentatively, I suggest, "How about a tuna casserole and salad?"

"That sounds good, I'll help." She makes moves as though she's going to get up, but then slumps back into the sofa.

"You stay right there. I'll just be in the kitchen for maybe twenty minutes or so. Then we'll eat in about an hour. Sound okay?"

"Uh huh. Can I at least get a kiss before you go?"

"You betcha."


After dinner, I help her upstairs and ask if she wants to sit up in the chair for a bit. She declines saying she thinks she'd better lay down for a while. That doesn't sound good. Without making a big deal out of it, I get her a fresh glass of water and hand it to her along with the bottle of aspirin and her painkillers, letting her make the choice. She chooses the painkiller. She must be hurting, to let me see her needing a pill.

She sits on the bed, I lift her legs in for her and she gets situated with a few grimaces. "Would you come to bed with me?"

"Okay, but no hanky panky, missy," I say in a teasing tone.

"I promise." She yawns. All that excitement and running around today certainly didn't do her any good. The last trip downstairs was more taxing on her than she's ready to admit.

Undressing quickly, I throw on my pajamas and climb in. "Closer," she whispers. I obey, scooting as close as possible. Turning on my side, I prop up on my elbow and push her hair back, exposing her face completely.

"How you doing, honey? Really."

She hesitates. "Not so well."

"Tell me." I slip my finger under her chin, pull her face towards me, and see the excess moisture in her eyes.

"I'm frightened, Mel. For the first time in a long time, I feel truly frightened." She shivers as though she's cold. "I." She stops and I notice her neck muscles tighten. "I don't want to die. God, I don't want to leave you."

"That's not going to happen." I lay a kiss on her quivering lips. "I won't let it." We both know how vacant that promise is, there's no way I can control her work environment. But I think it makes us both feel better anyway. We lie quietly for a bit, then she stirs in my arms.

"I don't know if I want to leave the Bureau completely." Well, that was certainly out of left field. She must have felt I was going to approach this again and decided to beat me to the punch.

She's actually considering leaving the X-Files? I don't want to bring up the job offer. "What would you do, go back to teaching at Quantico?"

"Possibly. It really seems to be my only option unless I want to partner up with someone new, which I don't; or, if I want a desk job, which I also don't want."

"Are those really your only options if you want to stay?"

"I don't even know if I'm going to change jobs. Mostly I'm just thinking out loud. I can talk to Skinner off the record and see what he suggests." She yawns again, a combination of too much activity, emotional upset, and her medicine kicking in.

"You need to rest. You've had a busy day. We can talk more tomorrow."

I kiss her, then do it again before I lean over and shut off her nightlight. Before I can shut off mine, she's fast asleep.


I've been up for a while now; my shuffling around the bedroom, even my shower has not caused her to wake. She looks peaceful enough now, but when she's awake, I can see the stress. The cumulative effect of all the damage to her body over the years has to be making the healing process longer each time. But physically she'll bounce back; it's her mental state that has me concerned. If she's having doubts about wanting to be in the field again, and yet goes back, just how effective will she be? Will she be able to protect herself, and Mulder, if she's not there one hundred percent?

I'm halfway down the stairs when the phone decides to ring. Crap! I take the rest of them two at a time, trying to get to it before it wakes Dana. I stab at the handle just before it rings a fourth time.

"Hello?"

"Mel?"

"Yes." I glance at my watch to find it's past ten. I recognize the voice, but I'm not totally focused yet.

"It's Mulder."

"Yes, of course, good morning. I rushed to pick up the phone before it woke Dana and I wasn't tuned in. Sorry."

"How is she doing?"

"Well, she's not the best patient." He chuckles in empathy. "Last night she came downstairs on her own steam. So I think she overdid it."

"Sounds like Scully. She never wants to be seen as less than capable. When she didn't show up for work this morning I figured something was up. You really need to convince her to take some time off, Mel. Although you've got your work cut out, I know how stubborn Scully can be about some things."

God, if he only knew about the fallout from my meddling yesterday, he wouldn't suggest me trying to tell her anything about work. Seven years have given him insight into her motives and behaviors I'm just now getting a glimpse of.

"Don't worry too much, Mel. She'll be on her feet in no time. She's a trooper. Don't underestimate her or let her size fool you. There's not much that can keep Scully down for long."

The initial awkwardness of yesterday's phone call is gone. Today we're chatting like people who have nothing but a friend's health in mind. It's nice. I'm beginning to feel camaraderie with Mulder.

"I spoke with Skinner yesterday afternoon. He says Scully's to take off as long as she likes and not to come back until she's one hundred percent. To tell you the truth, Mel, Skinner's always had a soft spot for Scully. I don't think there is anything he wouldn't do for her."

"Well, she is pretty damned loveable," I say, but immediately wish I hadn't. I don't want Mulder to think I'm flaunting our relationship.

"That she is," he agrees.

"Mulder, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be insensitive to your feelings about Dana and me."

"Like I said yesterday, Mel, I'm happy Scully has someone in her life. Whatever concerns I have over your relationship are purely professional ones."

"You mean the possibility someone may try to use it against her? Dana's mentioned that as well." God, either they're both paranoid or there's real reason for concern. "We've taken precautions about being seen together, especially at work."

"Don't I know it. I haven't seen you since you were making a presentation, before the other night, that is. I knew Scully had been seeing someone, but I would've never guessed it was you."

"Or any woman, I imagine."

"Well, no."

The awkwardness has returned.

"Look, Mel, I guess I never thought of Scully being with a woman. But, if that's what makes her happy, then so be it. All I want is the best for her. And, if you're the one to give her what she needs, then who am I to stand in judgement?"

"Thanks, Mulder. It hasn't been easy for Dana. She's been working up to telling her family, and that includes you. She thinks the world of you. Your opinion is important to her. So, for you to be so accepting is really going to help her."

There is a moment of silence. "Well, I've got to go. I just wanted to call with the news from Skinner. And try to talk her into some time off."

"Okay, I'll try. Thanks for calling."

"Give Scully my regards please."

"Definitely. Bye."

I hope the phone didn't wake her. I don't hear her, I'd better check. I go back up the stairs, one at a time. I pause at the door. Looking in, I see her curled up in bed. She looks like she's still asleep, but she must sense my presence.

"Mel?"

"Yes, honey, it's me." I walk into the room and over to the bed.

"Who was on the phone?"

"Mulder." I sit next to her on my side the bed. Her warm hand comes out from under the cover and clutches mine. "He called to find out why you weren't at work this morning. When I told him you were still asleep, he seemed relieved. He also said he'd spoken with Walter and he insists you're to take off as long as you need. He said you're not to come back until you're fully recovered."

She turns over onto her back and places her arms on the outside of the blanket. The discoloring has changed; the bruises are now a shade of reddish-purple. I stroke them tenderly.

"Are they sore?" I ask softly.

"Not so much. It's mainly my ribs that hurt. Any sort of twisting or turning is painful, I think there may be some muscle or tendon damage."

"Will it heal?"

"Eventually. But it will take a bit of time."

"Do you think a week in the sunshine would help?"

"Sunshine?"

"Yes, remember I mentioned I wanted us to go someplace warm, a vacation of sorts? I think a week in the sun, at the beach, should help a good deal, don't you?"

She brightens at the prospect. She's often told me how much she loves the water. "Yes, I do."

"Good. Do you think with a few more days of rest here at home you'd be up to travel?"

"Uh huh." She pulls me down to her and kisses me. "I love you so much."

We hold each other for a long moment. "I'll call my travel agent today and get the ball rolling, if that's all right with you."

"Yes, I'd like for you to handle it," she says smiling warmly.

I can't help smiling back at her obvious attempt to give up some control. "Anywhere in particular you'd like to go?"

"Anywhere you are will be just fine. But these bruises are disgusting. I don't know that I want to wear a bathing suit."

"Don't worry. The place I have in mind is very secluded. You won't even have to wear a suit if you don't want to. Besides, they'll be fading in a few days. Right?"

"Right. If you're sure there's not going to be a lot of people, then I agree."

"Nope. I want you all to myself, no distractions." I smile. "It's settled then. I'll get it all arranged. You just focus on getting better."

"Is Mulder coming over?" she asks.

"No, I don't think so, but I expect him to call you. I think he wanted to speak with you this time, but you were still snoozing."

"I'd like to speak with him before I go back to work." She pauses. "To straighten things out."

"What do you mean?" I turn and position myself so I can hold her in my arms.

"About us."

"What's to straighten out? He knows we're together, he seems fine with it."

"I know. I'd just like to explain to him why I didn't tell him sooner." She looks up at me. "You don't know Mulder, Mel. I'm sure he came across as being okay, but he broods. He probably thinks I didn't trust him enough to tell him."

"So, do you want to call him back now?"

"No, I'll wait a while. Honey, after I get cleaned up I want to go downstairs, maybe sit out back in the sunlight."

"Sure. Do you need some aspirin or something?" I'm hoping she'll switch to aspirin rather than relying on the painkillers.

"No, I think I can get by without anything just now."

"Okay, first things first. Do you want a bath?"

"I think I'll have a shower so I can wash my hair." Good choice; it definitely needs it, she's got bed head in triplicate.

"Are you able to do it yourself, or do you want me to?"

"I think I may need your help, if you don't mind." I help her up from bed and walk with her to the bathroom. She's doing better. My arm around her waist isn't really necessary, but it feels good to touch her and it sends the unspoken message of my support for her. While she uses the toilet, I gather a fresh set of clothes for her. Dana brushes her hair and then her teeth, and I start warming up the water.

She's able to lift her arms high enough to get out of her nightgown without much difficulty. I pull up the lever in the tub and the shower springs to life. Helping Dana step in, I pull the shower curtain after her. I get out of my clothes and join her.

"Want to do your hair first?"

"Sure." She seems in decidedly better spirits today.

I guide her under the water and wet her hair thoroughly. "Too hot?" I ask.

"Just right." She responds. "Mmmm, that feels so good."

"Okay, here we go." She clamps her eyes shut tight.

Squeezing a smidgen of shampoo into the palm of my hand, I apply it to her hair and set off working it into a pile of suds on top of her head. After I've given her a brief head massage, I guide her back under the pulsating water and rinse out the shampoo, then apply her conditioner. While it's doing it's untangling magic, I soap up the loofa and hand it to her.

"Would you do it, please?" she asks sweetly.

Sure, no problem. Turning her away from me, I start at the back of her neck. As I move to her shoulders, she drops her chin to her chest. Taking her silent suggestion, I stop there to give her a little massage to loosen up some tightened muscles. As I get ready to move on, I lay a kiss on the shiny skin of her scar. I ease my way down to the middle of her back, then on to the small of it, where her waist curves shyly into her buttocks. Crouching down, those sweet mounds of flesh are right in front of me. Steady, Mel. I glide the loofa over the back of her legs, from her hamstrings down to her Achilles. She's humming with pleasure.

Turning her around, I start the process in reverse. I shift my weight to my heels. Her little muff is dripping wet, and directly at eye level. My breathing turns ragged. I slide the loofa in circular motions up over her flat stomach, pushing it up underneath her breasts, causing them to lift up. Rising up onto my knees, they are right at mouth level. I drop the sponge and start to run my hands over her slick and silky body. Oh God. I don't think I can restrain myself much longer. Her body is all sorts of strange colors: fading purples, with greens and yellows, both separate and mixed together. Wherever I've touched her, she hasn't shown any signs of discomfort; maybe this is the right time. A week without sex is a helluva long time when you're used to getting it every night.

We must be on the same wavelength. She takes my head in her hands and guides me to her breast. My mouth drops open, I'm in absolute awe. "Beautiful," I say allowing myself the pleasure of nuzzling it. Its softness reminds me of my pillow. My tongue swirling over her nipple causes it to harden. She moans and squeezes me tighter to her. Without conscious thought, like a newborn I cradle her nipple in the fold of my tongue and start sucking, pulling her deeper and deeper into my mouth. She backs up against the shower wall, forcing me to crawl across the hard porcelain on my knees to stay with her. I don't mind. The warm water beats down steadily on the back of my neck.

After God knows how long, Dana moves my head to her other breast. Again, as I begin to suck, she moans, causing all my blood to pool in my vagina, the building pressure nearly unbearable. Running my hands over her legs, I note they need shaving. I can do that for her tomorrow if she isn't able to do it for herself yet. I love doing things for her, anything. Like now. She's wanted me to make love to her, but I've been afraid of hurting her. Not now though. She seems totally relaxed in a highly sexed up sort of way. There's apparently no doubt in her mind that I won't hurt her. I never would, intentionally. Her confidence inspires me. As I slide my hand slowly up between her legs she releases a guttural sound somewhere between relief and desire.

While my thumb greets and reacquaints itself with her clit, I kiss my way down her stomach. Reaching her navel, I stop briefly, but my mind is set on a much different destination. My fingers are sliding around her labia, softly massaging her. Dana loves me to touch her this way, she says the sensations are amazing. She's undeniably slick and more than ready. I sit down at her feet and spread her legs. She gasps in anticipation. Her hands tangle in my hair. Slowly, I make my way to her. As my hands clutch her hips, she shakes with need. My thumbs spread her apart and I have to stop to thank God for her. I watch as she slides down the wall a bit, stopping in a modified sitting position; her legs bent at the knees and her pelvis thrust forward, inviting me to take her. My eager tongue brushes over her throbbing clit while I insert two fingers into her dark recesses. Immediately, her muscles clench. I take a moment to look up to see the woman I love, her head rolling from side to side against the shower wall, lost in pure unadulterated joy.

Removing my fingers, I replace them with my tongue. She is at once sweet and pungent, like a perfectly steeped orange zest tea. This is so right. Dana is love personified for me. With a tug at my head and a long moan she wastes no time in giving herself to me. She tastes so good and her moans urge me to continue. I never tire or get enough of hearing her love-soaked voice call my name. Her quads tighten as a second wave of ecstasy washes over her, the moans now louder and longer. She draws me up, continuing to emit sounds of pleasure as we kiss.

Eventually we break apart, both of us gasping for some much-needed oxygen. She smiles at me. "Thank you," she whispers. "Jesus, I've missed you."

"Oh, baby. I was afraid I'd hurt you."

"But, you didn't. You made me feel wonderful. After the attack the other night, I needed some of your love to counteract the hate."

"I'm sorry, honey. If I'd realized--"

"Doesn't matter now," she says and hungrily kisses me again.

Her lips are amazing. They are filled with love and tenderness; her demanding kisses the most erotic I've ever had. If we never did more than just kiss, I think I could feel fulfilled. My heart is racing. I want her again; want her to know that I want her.

"Are you feeling all right?" I ask.

"God, yes." She's absolutely beaming.

I lick her neck. "Want some more?"

"Yes."

I place open-mouth kisses on her throat; I love the little ring of creases that encircle her neck. "Good." I smile at her. "Turn around, baby," I lovingly command.

She returns my smile and then complies with my request; this is one of our favorite positions. I can make full contact with her body and she can usually achieve orgasm at least twice quite easily. Snaking my arms around her, I cup her soft breasts, heavy and swollen from excitement, in my hands as she leans back against my shoulder. Turning her head, we kiss while I massage her nipples. I'm very gentle, not wanting to remind her of any pain.

"Oh, Jesus!" I gasp.

I wasn't expecting her to reach back between my legs and touch me. I shiver as her delicate fingers begin to stroke and teasingly probe, encouraging me to catch up with her. My clit is heavy with pressure and feels as though it will explode any second now. "Keep doing that," I plead.

Moving one hand down her stomach, I finger my way through her tuft of hair. Her tongue darts into my mouth. I rub my hand over her clit and tease at her entrance. She manipulates her other hand up behind my neck and pulls me deeper into the kiss. This is good; bending ever so slightly down towards her, my arm shifts allowing my middle finger to go in a bit further with each pass until it is buried deep inside her. Carefully maneuvering us around, my back is against the shower wall and I'm able to accept her full weight. I bend my knees slightly to accommodate our height difference. Running kisses up the back of her neck, she presses into me; we grind into each other's hand, first slowly, then more quickly as we're about to come. Around us, the steamy air traps the swirling crescendo of our passion's cries.

She slumps as I remove my hand from between her legs. "Tired?"

"A little."

I turn her towards me and hold her close. "Too much, um, activity?"

"No such thing." She looks up at me with a contented grin. "Not with you."

"You sweet talker." I bend into her as we kiss. "Want to get out now?" She nods. "Can you stand on your own or do I need to prop you up against the wall?"

"Don't get too carried away with yourself," she says laughing.

"You know that isn't what I meant, silly. I just don't want you fainting from the heat in here. In case no one's ever told you, you're a ton of bricks when you're out cold."

"I'm fine."

I shut off the water and grab the towels, handing her one. I wrap mine around me like a sarong before I cautiously dry her off and help steady her as she steps out of the tub.

"There, all done," I say.

I grab us each a towel for our wet hair. Rubbing lotion on her body, I take a closer look at her bruises. The swelling has gone down considerably and the discoloring is fading. Give her a few more days and she should be nearly back to normal.

"I grabbed your jammies. Is that okay?"

"Uh huh." I guide her backwards to sit on the closed toilet seat. She lifts her feet and I guide the pajama legs up; while she stands I pull the bottoms up the rest of the way. Mission accomplished; we tackle the top. "I can do the buttons," she announces.

I back off; she needs to feel some sense of accomplishment and empowerment. When she's done, she's beaming. "Told you."

"Never a doubt, honey. I just like doing things for you." After I dress, she allows me to brush out her hair. She looks gorgeous in her lavender satin jammies, her hair freshly washed and starting to show its natural wave. God, how I love her; I can't even begin to describe what she does for my soul.

"You know, Dana, I've always heard about love's healing properties."

"Yes?"

"Well, its obvious, isn't it?"

I think she senses a setup. "What is?" she asks hesitantly.

"I mean, you seem like a completely different person now: happy, relaxed, rejuvenated."

I pause to let her stew a bit trying to figure out where I'm going with this. I can almost see the wheels turning. "And?" she asks cautiously.

"Come on, honey, surely you see it." I look at her quizzically as though I can't understand how she hasn't reached the same conclusion. One thing I've discovered about Dana, she hates to have her intelligence challenged. She arches her eyebrow, but remains silent, so I forge ahead. "I guess I have no option but to force myself to make love to you more often."

She slaps me on the arm and laughs. "Force yourself?"

I sigh dramatically, as though I'm resigned to an unwelcome task. "If I must, I must."

"You rat!" Her face is brightly animated as she slaps at my arm again; this time I grab her wrist before her hand reaches its mark.

"No need to thank me. I'm willing to make the sacrifice."

Laughing so hard that we stumble and almost fall onto the bed, I wrap her up in my arms, all my fears of hurting her erased from my mind.

"Let's go downstairs," she says. "I'm starving."


Hanging up the phone, I announce, "Okay, its all set. We leave in two days for a fun-filled seven days, six nights at the secluded beachfront resort where the support staff is the closest we'll get to seeing other people."

"You sound like a brochure," she says grinning.

"Well, actually, it's nearly word for word. Here, look." I plop down next to her and hand over the brochures my travel agent delivered by messenger yesterday while Dana was sleeping. "Doesn't it look glorious?"

"Yes. Very lovely." She smiles at me, her blue eyes bright again. "Can we afford it?"

"Of course we can. Besides, it's my treat."

She's about to speak, and from the look on her face, she's ready to protest. Taking her hand, I say, "Dana, I want to do this. I love you so much. Please, let me do this for us. Please?"

"But, sweetie, it looks awfully expensive. Please, let me pay half."

"No, baby. It was my idea, remember? I want to take you away. We've never had any time away together, just the two of us, without work. So, please, just let me have my fun."

She sits quietly, considering my plea. She seems to be taking forever. Then, finally, she looks into my eyes. "Thank you. I'd love to go as your guest."

"Lover."

"Pardon me?"

"You're going as my lover, not my guest."

She blushes. "Come here." She adorns me with kisses. "You are the best lover I could ever hope for."

"I've been so happy since I met you," I confess.

"Me, too." Tossing the brochures to the floor, she pulls me closer until I'm resting against her. We stay here, in silence, for at least a half an hour. She has such a calming effect on me; I think I may have fallen asleep for a bit.

Suddenly, I'm aware of her voice softly vibrating against my ear. "I need to go home and pack."

"Now?"

"Well, not this very minute; either this evening or tomorrow for sure."

"Okay. But I don't think we'll need to pack too much. Just a few shorts and tops, our bathing suits, something to wear if we want to dine at the restaurant, and toiletries. I think we can survive for a week on one suitcase each."

"I usually travel pretty light."

"Well, if you get cramped for space, you can leave your bathing suit home."

She squeezes me tighter as she laughs into my hair. "What am I going to do with you?"

Looking up at her, I say, "I may have a couple of ideas."

She grins from ear to ear, her twinkling eyes granting me approval to continue. I reposition my body so I'm able to whisper my ideas to her, each suggestion punctuated by my tongue winding its way inside her tiny seashell ear. By the time I'm finished, she's squirming and giggling.

She manages to get out a strangled "Okay". Pulling me over her, she kisses me ferociously.

I nuzzle her neck and fondle her breasts through her pajama top. "Look down," I say. Her vision drops to her chest; she looks up at me from under heavy lids. "Your headlights are on." I smile at her.

"High beams it would seem," she says, her breaths warm on my lips.

"The feel of satin sliding over your skin really excites me." I run the palms of my hands against her, pressing in when the heels make contact with her nipples and squeezing when my thumbs and fingers brush over her.

"Me, too," she agrees leaning her head back against a pillow. I place short little licks up and down her throat. Stopping at the hollow where her breastbones meet, I take note of how sexy the protruding bones are and how they electrify me.

Catching her gaze, I tell her, "I love to feel your nipples get hard when I touch them."

Unbuttoning the top of her pajamas gives me just a peek at the swell of her breasts. I can't help it; involuntarily, I whimper at the sight of them. "God, you're beautiful." Squeezing them together, I continue to run my thumbs over the satin. Her breathing turns ragged.

"I love to be touched by you," she says, her voice low and husky.

Lying my face against her, I kiss the warm exposed skin. She moans as I run my tongue into the valley between her breasts. Moving slowly, my mouth covers the fabric; grasping a nipple, I suck gently; her heat emanates through the thin material. My tongue swirls with delirious abandon and when I release her there's a dark circle of wetness turning the lavender satin a deep purplish color.

Taking her face in my hands, I whisper, "I adore you."

She runs her hands over my arms. "The feeling is mutual."

"Are you comfortable?"

"Yes," she says, drawing out the 's'. Damn, that's sexy.

"Warm enough?"

"Quite," she says dreamily.

"Good, because right now I just want to lie here and touch you."

She smiles lovingly at me; I yawn.

"Why don't you take a nap?" she asks.

"I'm fine." Somewhere along the line I've started using Dana's favorite phrase.

"Honey, you haven't had a solid night's sleep for a week now. You told me you didn't get a lot of sleep while I was on surveillance; and then, you've been taking care of me night and day. It's no wonder you're tired." She strokes my hair. "Rest. Just a little while. For me?"

I let her convince me and close my eyes, laying my head against her. I don't know how long I've been dozing, but at some point I wake up and notice that her pajama top has dried. Under her rhythmic breathing, I fall back asleep. I'm aware of her moving under me. She's trying to get up without disturbing me. In the distance I hear a man's voice. Rising, she tucks a pillow under my head; it's a poor substitute for the soft cushion of her body.

Her bare feet pad across the carpet and then on to the kitchen floor. She captures the phone as the man's voice drones on. I'm awake now and can't help listening. She's being quiet, but the house is quieter.

"Mulder, it's me," she says. "Yes, thanks, I'm fine." Her voice has a friendly, yet vaguely distant quality to it. There she goes again, using her patented 'don't ask too much' line.

"I want to talk to you before I come back to work." She pauses. "No, tonight isn't good. No, we're leaving tomorrow. Yes, it looks like we'll have to do it after we get back." I wonder if she realizes she just acknowledged us as a couple. "Okay, we will." She chuckles at something he says. "Yes, I'll use plenty of sun block." The chuckle turns into a full-blown laugh. "No, I will not bring you back an island girl."

That laugh. When she allows herself to relax she laughs a lot, over silly things, inconsequential things. I love that laugh; it's infectious. I'm smiling when she returns.

Her eyes and the tilt of her head ask the unspoken question.

"Your laugh. It's so earthy and full of life. It fills me with joy."

She lowers her eyes for a moment and smiles demurely. I reach out my hand and she sits down, her lap replacing the pillow; she cups my face and strokes it with her thumb.

"So, you're getting together with him after we get back?" I ask.

"Yes. There's just no time before we leave."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it was the first time you've spoken to him since he found out about us."

"Oh."

Our eyes meet in the long afternoon shadows of the room. "Do you know how proud I am of you?"

"Why is that?" she asks.

"You said we're leaving tomorrow. 'We', as in you and me, a couple."

"You're right. I didn't even notice. It just seemed so natural."

And with that, she bends over and kisses me. "Come on, let's run over to my place so I can pack."

THE END



Title: Promises, Promises
Author: ScullyFu
E-Mail: X-File_Addict@msn.com
Posted: 10/21/01
Archives: Spookies, Gossamer, Ephemeral are okay. Others, please ask. Spoilers: Nope.
Rating: NC-17. Vignette. PWP
Classification: ScullySlash. Mel's POV. Disclaimer: They're not mine. CC, 1013 and Fox have the sole rights to their existence. Dammit! Summary: Mel has difficulty getting to sleep. Thanks to Rochel. This little smut biscuit is for you. Note: This is the tenth story in the series and brings us back to current time. The prequels are over. Dana and Melanie have returned from their trip. Although all stories work as standalones, you may want some background information from the other stories in the Beach Blanket Bingo Universe. All of them are relatively short, so if you want to read them to get caught up, please, be my guest. Go here: http://scullyfu.populli.net/

"Dana," I whisper, not for the first time. She stirs slightly before rolling onto her side, facing away from me. Rubbing our feet together, I try again. "Dana, are you awake?" Instinctively, she pulls her knees up, relinquishing the space to escape the intrusion. When she turns over she takes the greater portion of the sheet with her and I'm left with only the blanket.

Most nights when she's this tired, I can control myself; but there are times like these, when I simply have to have her, need to feel her touch. I don't know why tonight exactly, maybe it's because of earlier.

"Baby, wake up," I coo, laying kisses on her lightly freckled shoulder peeking out from under the sheet. Scooting over and placing my lips directly next to her ear, I try again. "Honey, please, can't you wake up?" She swats her hand at me as though I'm a pesky mosquito buzzing around her head.

"No."

Well, at least she's talking. That's a start. "Dana, I need you to wake up. Just for a little while. Please?"

"I can't."

I put my hand under the sheet and begin stroking her sleepy, warm body, trying to coax her to alertness. "But, I really need you to wake up, baby," I whine.

She sighs. She's going to do it. I know it. She turns towards me. Keeping her eyes closed, she asks, "What time is it?"

I take a quick peek at the clock. "Almost two."

She groans. "What is so important?"

My hand continues it travels on her body. Deliberately, I stop to massage her breast. "Can't you guess?"

"Mel, I'm beat."

"Jesus, baby, I want you."

"In the morning."

"Da-"

"I promise." And with that declaration, she turns over again, sticks one hand under her pillow and settles back into slumber.

Shit. What the hell am I supposed to do now? I can't sleep while I'm so damned wound up. I could get up, watch some TV, I suppose. I wonder what's on this time of night. Probably some public-access pseudo-porn show. I've seen the girl who sits around topless, admiring her tits in the soft filtered light. I think she's a bit off. Always talking about her digital camera, the pictures she takes, and how she supports herself as a nude model. Yikes. Personally, I don't think she's all that attractive. But then, there's no accounting for taste.

Besides, TV is what got me so worked up in the first place. We were watching 'Farscape' on the Sci-Fi Channel, catching up on the earlier episodes and both admiring the strength of the main female character, Aeryn Sun.

"You know, you and she sort of resemble each other," she announced between handfuls of unbuttered popcorn.

"You think?" I asked. The comparison made me extremely happy since I think Aeryn is one damn sexy woman. She has that strong, silent thing going on, not to mention her great arms, the girl is buff. And really, who can resist a woman in black leather, especially one that carries a gun? Hmmm. Now that I think about it, maybe that's part of Dana's attraction.

"Uh huh," she continued. "Look at the bone structure," she says, cupping my chin and turning my head to either side. "You both have great profiles, high cheekbones, strong chins."

"Go on," I urged, turning my body fully in her direction.

Taking a swig of her beer, she smiled. "Okay. You both appear to be about the same height; your hair length and skin coloring about the same," she said, putting the popcorn bowl down on the coffee table. "You both have dark eyes." Pulling me into her arms, she whispered, "And you both look absolutely edible in tight leather pants." Her ensuing kisses sent me reeling towards my own outer limits.

Her hands traveled up and down my body, doing a fair bit of space exploration to parts already well known to her. "Dana," I whispered with my head tilted back and her kissing my throat.

"Hmm?" She murmured, using the tip of her tongue to lick my neck all the way up to my ear.

I managed to choke out, "Let's go to bed now."

"Why?" She laughed. "Aren't you enjoying yourself right here?"

She had to know I was. I think I made a kind of grunting response while she nibbled on my ear.

"That's what I thought." She broke physical contact and told me to stretch out on the sofa.

One by one she freed the buttons of my blouse and laid it open. Blowing a warm stream of air over my chest, she said, "You both have great breasts, so full and firm." She proceeded to bend down, her hair wisping over and tickling me, and placed butterfly kisses on my fevered skin.

Damn her. She teased me no end and then left me high and dry. Well, not so dry actually. I've been wet all evening, thinking about her touch and promises not fulfilled. So now I'm frustrated as hell and she's not cooperating any more than she was earlier tonight. "Dana, baby, can you at least hold me?"

Silently, with eyes closed, she opens her arms and I settle into them. I try kissing her lips lightly. "Mel," she warns. "Good night."

This is almost worse than before, if that's possible. Now I can feel her sweet breath on my face; her bare leg draped over mine; her slender fingers burning me through my pajama top. She leaves me no option. If she won't touch me, I'll have to take care of matters myself. I'm about to try asking her once more when I hear her gentle snoring; that settles it.

Sliding my hand off her hip, I place it between us, easing it toward my lower abdomen; the thrill of what I'm about to do titillating. Swirling my hand lower, teasing, I finally allow myself to reach between my legs and immediately shiver at the contact. I catch myself before a moan can escape. Dana is still in dreamland. Even through my pajamas I can feel the dampness. I'm so sexed up. If I don't get some release, I'll never get any sleep. Slowly, I start to rub myself. God, that feels good. Mmmmm. Jesus. My breath increases rapidly. My hand is cupped over my swollen vulva, pressing gently, making myself want more.

I've never done this with Dana holding me. I've never done this with Dana at all. The thought gets me hotter. If she'd only wake up. We've talked about watching each other masturbate, but so far that's all it's been, talk. She's a bit shy in that regard. Although with all the things we've done and experimented with, why she should be hesitant is beyond me. But I respect her and her reasons, whatever they may be. Besides, I think she'll eventually come around. I hope so. I can't think of too many things more erotic than watching her get herself off. Oh God, just the thought of her bringing herself to orgasm makes me groan. This time I can't stifle the sound. Dana doesn't even stir. Dammit!

I'm aching; I can't take it anymore; I've got to get this over with. Moving my hand back up my stomach, I slide it inside my pajamas and panties and down to my clit. Ooh. I think of Dana while I stroke myself; how she touches me softly, building up my need, plunging her fingers inside me, deeper and deeper. I can feel her eyes burning into me, lips full of smoldering kisses, hot breath urging me on. Jesus. Ohohohoh. I can't hold off anymore.

Clamping my eyes shut, my orgasm is imminent. My body is feverish, lights kalidescoping in my brain, my fingers bringing me to climax. I can hear myself whimpering with desire, or is it all in my head? Wait. Something's different. Oh Jesus! Dana is awake. Her hand is gripped over mine, our fingers intertwined, guiding us together inside myself. As the realization hits me, I come hard.

From somewhere her sweet voice calls to me, "Baby, you are so beautiful." She kisses me, her tongue slowly caressing mine, sending fresh shivers through me. Opening my eyes, they quickly adjust to the dark and I watch transfixed as her hand appears. She runs her fingers over her lips, then slowly, one at a time, sucks them into her mouth, tasting me. She's smiling. Oh, God, let me die now.

Leaning down, she kisses the side of my mouth before burying her head in my neck, sucking gently as she mumbles something I can't make out. My body is humming, oxygen continuing to rapidly pump through my veins.

"Dana," I moan over and over as she pushes my top up. Her mouth is moving lower. Her warm lips tug at my breast while her tongue flicks over my hardened nipple. I can feel myself starting to build up to another orgasm. "Jesus," I cry out as she rakes her teeth gently over me. Her hands are moving at a leisurely pace, touching me with love; this time the promises will be fulfilled. No words needed, she understands perfectly when I wrap my fingers in her hair and guide her lower.

Trailing kisses down my body, she pushes my wet clothes down and tosses them out of her way. As her hands travel languorously up my legs, she positions her head just barely above me and whispers, "You smell good enough to eat." Ohyes,yes,yes,yes,yes.

Of their own volition, my knees bend, spreading me open before her. She bends over, inhales deeply, and nuzzles me with her nose while my ragged breath changes to short breathless sighs. Going lower, she tastes me and involuntarily, my body shakes. "Hmmmm,' she hums against me. Kneading my thighs, she places kisses on their sensitive insides.

"Dana, baby, please," I plead. She knows what I want, what I need. And bless her heart, she gives it to me without hesitation. My brain screams, Thank you, Lord. Tremors overtake my body. Electricity sparks in my extremities, causing me to twitch erratically. Her tongue. Oh God, her sweet rosy tongue. For a long moment it's inside me and then it's pushing against my clit or running over me; then it's back inside me. She's driving me out of my mind. I scream out with frantic pleasure.

She comes up and kisses me: fierce, hard, and intense. Her kiss is possessive. Do with me what you want. I'm yours. I can't refuse. She pulls back to watch me as her fingers enter me again. My hips undulate in counterpoint to her movements. "There," I whimper. "Right there," I gasp. The last thing I see before my eyes close is Dana smiling down at me.

"Now," she whispers. "C'mon, baby. Let go." The sound of her husky voice commanding me causes my body to explode. The pain is sweet as her knotted fingers rhythmically strain and stretch to press deeper. I feel as though I'm outside my own body, floating somewhere warm, basking in streams of light.

The next thing I'm aware of is Dana pulling strands of my hair off my damp face. She kisses my eyelids and when I open them, she says, "Hi, baby."

I smile and raise up to kiss her. "Thank you."

"My pleasure," she says grinning. Pulling the covers up over the naked bottom half of my body, she takes a moment to adjust my top so I don't get chilly.

"I thought you were asleep."

"Something woke me up," she says while placing a kiss on my cheek.

"Me?"

"Not really. It was more a feeling, a sense, or something. I can't really explain it."

"Well, whatever it was, I'm glad you did."

"Me, too."

"It made it all that much better with you coming to my rescue," I smile.

"Point of order. You were the one coming," she chuckles. "Anyway, it looked like you had things well in hand." This time she can't contain herself and breaks out in a full-blown bout of laughter at her middle of the night word games.

"It's all your doing anyway, honey. You really shouldn't tease me like you did and then not follow through."

"I'll remember that."

"So, I guess it's your turn next."

"My turn?"

"Yes, your turn, baby. You know how we've talked about masturbating in front of each other? Well, I've had my turn. As they say, the ball's in your court."

She hesitates. "Mel, I don't know."

I know she had a strict religious upbringing concerning sexual matters, I wonder if that has anything to do with this? "Come on, honey. There's nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. You just get started and I'll join in. Like you just did for me. Okay?"

"Let me think about it?" she asks warily.

"There's no rush, baby. We're going to be together for a long time. Whenever you feel comfortable is fine." I pull her to me and kiss her tenderly. "And if you never want to? Well, that's okay, too. I'll love you either way. No pressure, honey."

She's silent for a moment. "Can you get to sleep now?" she asks.

"Oh, yes," I chuckle. "I'm suddenly quite relaxed. But how about you?"

"Me?"

"Yes, you. Aren't you a little keyed up about now? Because if you are, I can take care of that quite easily." I kiss her again, this time stroking the inside of her mouth with my tongue as my hands smooth their way over her body.

She breaks back from me. "Mel, I'm still really tired."

"Are you sure?"

"Raincheck?"

"Anytime, anywhere, baby."

"In the morning?" she asks, smiling broadly.

Crossing my heart, I reply, "I promise."

"Come here," she says, scooting closer and wrapping her body around mine. "I love you."

"I love you too, baby."

THE END



Title: Pop Goes the Weasel
Author: ScullyFu
Feedback to: X-File_Addict@msn.com
Author's Website: http://scullyfu.populli.net/ Status: Complete
Category: X-File
Pairing (Primary): Scully/Other Female
Pairing(s) (Secondary):
Crossover Fandom (if any):
Crossover Info (if any):
Other Pairing Info:
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: There are a couple of minor mentions in passing. Permission to Archive: Spookies, Gossamer, Ephemeral are okay. Others, please ask. Series or Sequel/Prequel: This is the eleventh story in the series and brings us back to current time. The prequels are over. Dana and Melanie have returned from their trip. If you have no idea of what's going on, perhaps you'd like to have some background information from the other stories set in the Beach Blanket Bingo Universe. All the stories are relatively short, so if you want to read them to get caught up, please, be my guest. Go here: http://scullyfu.populli.net/ Notes: I have allowed myself some leeway with the medical information. Also, this story was started long before the tragic events of 9/11/01 and I do not mean to minimize what has come to pass. Thanks as always to my beta, Rochel. Hi, sweets. Warnings:
Disclaimer: They're not mine. CC, 1013 and Fox have the sole rights to their existence. Dammit! Summary: Scully's first case back deals with a rash of baffling deaths.

SUNDAY, 7AM, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Good morning. It's the first Sunday of May and I'm Jim Stone with your up-to-the-minute Northwest Cable News. Our top story this morning: The Bellingham Herald is reporting the unexplained deaths overnight of five young boys. Although the police are withholding any details pending further investigation, we do know the boys were playing together in a backyard when all became deathly ill. The boys, all under the age of seven, and residents of Ferndale, were taken to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Bellingham, where they were placed under immediate quarantine. A spokesperson for the hospital reports all the boys died overnight.

It should be noted one of the victims was Billy Olson. If the name sounds familiar, it is because his father, Michael Olson, died under his own somewhat mysterious circumstances just last week. We will continue to stay on top of this story and will bring you details, as they become available.

MONDAY, 8AM, HOOVER BUILDING

"Morning, Mulder," I say, striding into the office. This is my first day back from my two-week leave of absence. When Skinner called me at home last night and asked if I was alright to come back two days early, he didn't go into details; he'd only say it was a time sensitive matter. But all the bruises are faded, I'm experiencing no pain, and I've even got a bit of a tan, although I certainly would have enjoyed the extra couple of play days with Mel. Perhaps even more disconcerting is the postponing of the talk I was planning on having with Mulder before coming back to work. Now I guess we'll have to do it here rather than away from the office.

"Scully," he answers, watching me intently as I place my laptop on the desk. He's probably still trying to process my relationship with Mel. What didn't he see? How could he have missed it? Is that why we've never become romantically involved over the years? It's probably a bit of a relief for him; since he's found out about Mel, he doesn't have to doubt his ability to attract straight women.

Grabbing my cup, which apparently has not moved from where I placed it two weeks ago, I return to the hallway to get myself some coffee. Mulder makes it so strong sometimes I can only gag down a few sips and then I let it sit till it goes cold. I'm crossing my legs when Mulder rises.

"Don't get too settled, Scully." He looks at his watch. "Skinner wants us in his office in seven minutes."

"What about?" I say, blowing steam over the cup rim.

"Don't know. The summons was on the machine when I got in this morning."

"Mulder, I hope it's not about some expense account mix-up," I tease.

"I was very careful to keep track of my receipts on our last trip, Scully."

Leaning forward, I sit the cup on the desk; I'll never get this coffee down in time.

"Come on, Mulder, we may as well start up. If this is about anything we've done, it's probably not a good idea to be tardy."

"Tardy, Scully?" he laughs. "What is this high school?"

I shoot him a glare. Either I've lost my touch, or more likely, he simply chooses to ignore it.

"Ooh, we're being called to the Principal's office. Gosh, I hope I don't get after school detention."

"Shut up, Mulder."

Arriving at Skinner's office, his secretary tells us the A.D. will be with us momentarily. We take our usual positions on the couch to wait. We don't have long.

The door opens and Skinner fills the doorjamb, his presence nearly bigger than life. He really is a fine specimen, standing there in his crisp white shirt, tie, and pleated-front slacks that hug his slim waist and hang loosely over his narrow hips; his body as hard as his eyes at times. As often as I have doubted his loyalty to us, I know deep down we have it. He has been compromised on a number of occasions, but as far as I can deduce, has never betrayed us.

With a single word, "Agents", he acknowledges our presence. We rise in unison and walk into his office where we take our regular seats and wait while he takes his.

He silently gives me his full attention for a moment as though he wants to say something, changes his mind and then looks away to locate a file on his desk. "I've received a request from the CDC for additional assistance on some deaths they have encountered in various locations. It seems they all stem from the same bacteria, but they are at a loss as to exactly how it is being transmitted."

"Bacteria, sir?" I question.

Skinner appears annoyed by my interruption. He clenches his jaw, hesitates, his mouth twitches. "An anthrax-like bacteria."

Mulder and I steal a quick look at each other and then back at Skinner.

"It appears the outbreaks have nothing in common other than the cause of death. There have been reports from Bellingham, Washington; Anaheim, California; Casper, Wyoming; and Atlanta, Georgia. And then yesterday," he pauses to use his finger to pull his collar away from his neck, "there was a report of the deaths of five young boys, again in Bellingham, Washington. One of the victims was the son of one of the men killed in last week's episode there."

Mulder sits up straight and clears his throat. "And they have no idea how the bacteria is transmitted?"

"Given that the incident sites are so distant from each other they have all but ruled out any sort of transmission by physical contact or food ingestion. They suspect it is airborne."

This last bit of information causes Mulder and I to again exchange a glance, not long by other people's standards, but for us it is enough, acknowledging we each understand the severity of this situation. Mulder breaks the silence with the question we both want answered.

"Have they determined if this is a naturally-occurring bacteria or synthetically engineered?"

Skinner chooses to ignore the question. "As you know, Agents, it is policy for the FBI to investigate all threats or occurrences of anthrax-related incidents."

Closing the file, he shoves it across his desk to me. "Have a look at it and get yourselves up to speed. You leave for Atlanta this afternoon where you will make yourselves available to the local Bureau, as well as cooperating fully with Doctor Susan Davis at the CDC."

Pushing his chair back from his desk, Skinner rises. "That's all. I look forward to your reports. Good luck, Agents."

We are leaving the room when Skinner speaks. "Agent Scully, a minute, please."

Mulder acknowledges his dismissal with a slight nod to me. As he closes the door, I turn towards the Assistant Director. "Yes, Sir?"

"I trust you are fully recovered, Agent," he says, looking at me with warmer eyes.

"Yes, Sir. Thank you."

He takes a few strides, stopping less than a foot from me. Peering down, he asks, "And you're ready for another field assignment?"

"Yes, Sir, I am."

Again, he looks as though he wants to say something, but decides against it. "Good to see you back, Scully."

"Good to be back, Sir."

Back in the basement office I study the file hoping something obvious has been overlooked. Mulder begins a systematic search through the cabinet for any case remotely involving germ warfare.

"This is interesting, Mulder." He turns to look at me. "Each location experienced a cluster of related casualties." I can read the question in his eyes, but he voices it anyway.

"Why is that significant, Scully?"

"Because it would appear to bear out the CDC theory that the bacteria is airborne. It would also seem to indicate the people who died had some sort of proximity to each other."

"Assuming it is airborne, wouldn't that explain the multiple deaths?"

"It could. But most toxins dissipate after reaching a certain level of atmospheric absorption. However, anthrax, at least the naturally occurring variety, does not. And since there were no readings of bacteria at any of the sites, I believe this is a synthetic form."

"So all the victims would need to be in pretty much the same area?"

"Theoretically, yes. Of course, the area of contamination would depend on how the bacteria was deployed and in what quantities."

"So, any more theories, Scully?"

"Not yet."

While Mulder goes upstairs to the travel department to pick up our documents, I give Mel a call. She decided since I was going back to work early, she would, too. She would sit in the training room and then meet with Rick, her Boston associate who flew down to cover for her while we were gone, before cutting him loose to return home. She's probably in the middle of a training session, but I need to talk with her before we leave.

"Hi, you," she says, obviously seeing my name pop up on her calling screen.

"I thought you'd be in class."

"And what makes you think I'm not?"

"I just heard some car horns in the background and unless you've switched to teaching Drivers' Ed, I'd say it's a safe assumption you're outside."

"Quite the little detective now, aren't you?" she says with a tease in her voice. "Actually, we're on break. Everybody was getting a bit squirrelly so Rick called a ten-minute breather. What's up?"

"I wanted to tell you Mulder and I have to go out of town."

"Will you be back in time for dinner?"

"I doubt it. We're flying down to Atlanta in a few hours and after meeting with the principals involved, we'll know more. But I would think at least a week, maybe less if we get lucky."

"So long?" she nearly whines.

"I'm afraid so."

"Can you tell me what it's about?"

"Sorry."

"Jesus, baby, I miss you already," she whispers, her voice turning intimate; as though speaking softly will keep unwelcome listeners from hearing. Although the circumstances leading up to our vacation were not optimal, our week away really was like a honeymoon of sorts for us and it hasn't stopped just because we returned home. "I don't know how I'll get by an entire week without you."

"Mel," I say, my voice imploring her to watch what she's saying.

"I didn't even want us to get out of bed this morning," she adds, ignoring me.

Instantly, I'm immersed in a kaleidoscope of vivid memories of the pre-dawn hour, memories so intense I'm once again awash with physical sensations. Oh, God. I close my eyes and visualize my hands raised behind me, tightly clutching the slats of my headboard, my body writhing in ecstasy. My raw throat steadily moaning her name while her mouth guides me to heaven. "What? What did you say?"

"I said, can we at least see each other before you leave?"

Forcing myself to concentrate, I remember her question. "I'm sorry. It's going to be tight as it is. We usually only carry an overnight bag, but since this is going to take longer, we'll need to run home and pick up some extra clothes. And with traffic, well, I'm afraid there's just not going to be time."

"Call me?"

"If I can. So much depends on the length of our days. It goes without saying we'll want to get this wrapped up as soon as possible."

"Please be careful." She pauses. "I'm having pizza for dinner tonight." Translated, that means, 'I love you.' Pizza is our code word for when we're on unsecured lines.

"Pizza sounds delicious. Wish I could be there to share it with you." I hesitate wanting to say more, but instead I add, "Bye."

DULLES AIRPORT, 1PM

On the flight down I try to absorb all the details of the case report while Mulder scours the X-File cases he gathered having to do with germ warfare.

"Come up with anything yet, Scully?"

"I concur with the CDC's initial findings, it is probably airborne rather than cutaneous or intestinal. Since anthrax is usually associated with the meat and dairy industry, I can see the remote possibility of the occurrences in Washington and Wyoming, but it seems curious it would be the cause of death in any non-agricultural areas. There has to be some sort of tie-in we're not seeing."

"Where did everyone work, Scully? Maybe it's some sort of industrial sabotage."

I rifle through the file. "Different industries with no apparent connections."

"Maybe the local Bureau will have something more for us."

ATLANTA, 3PM

Deplaning, we pick up the rental car and head for the CDC. Having at least a half an hour trip from the airport to the CDC, I decide to approach the subject of Mel and me. After we're buckled up and on the road, I tune in the local classical station and give us some time to relax before I begin.

"Mulder?"

"Yes," he replies without taking his eyes off the road.

"I'm sorry we didn't have an opportunity to speak before I came back to work."

"It's okay."

"I really wanted to clear the air before I returned."

"Look, Scully," he says, quickly glancing at me. "I really don't think there's anything to talk about. What is, is and no amount of talking is going to change the situation, not that it ever could."

"I think there's quite a lot we need to discuss, Mulder."

"Dammit!" he yells, honking on the horn and slamming on the brakes. The seat belt abruptly tightens around my shoulder keeping me from lurching forward. "Why do some people always have to ride their brakes around curves? Haven't they ever heard of centrifugal force?"

"Maybe you should stop tailgating, Mulder."

"I'm not tailgating, Scully. I'm keeping up with the flow, even over the speed limit if you must know, and that idiot is holding up traffic. Why doesn't he get in the low lane?"

This is certainly a great way to try to have a serious discussion. Now he's upset and probably won't be receptive to anything I try to say. "Mulder, I wanted to explain why I didn't tell you about Mel sooner."

"Scully, as long as it doesn't affect a case, what you do and who you do it with is really none of my business."

I'm taken aback at his cavalier attitude at what I assumed must have been a jarring discovery, especially given the circumstances. But any further discussion will have to wait till later since we've just arrived at the CDC. We both get out of the car, Mulder slams his door a little too hard and is walking what seems faster than usual, perhaps to just get away from me.

I advise the receptionist of whom we are here to see. She suggests we take a seat in the lobby. Mulder and I sit in silence. In less than ten minutes, I notice a young woman striding purposefully in our direction.

For some reason, my profiling self kicks in. She looks around thirty-five, five-foot-five, maybe one hundred and twenty-five pounds, with a slender athletic body, dark features, short, low maintenance hair stylishly cut with highlights, and not much makeup. Except for the short hair, from a distance she could be mistaken for Mel. Her clothes are professional: flats, nylons and a form-fitting skirt that hits no more than two inches above her knees. The bottom half of her is all in navy, a white blouse visible under her billowing lab coat. I can't help but be reminded of the women officers I saw while growing up on the bases.

"Hello, I'm Susan Davis," she says, smiling to reveal her straight teeth, either a product of genetics or good orthodontia. Standing, I accept her offered hand.

"I'm Special Agent Dana Scully and this is my partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder." He avoids looking at me while I introduce him. He and the doctor nod their acknowledgments of each other.

"Have you had an opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the case?" Her demeanor is friendly, yet no nonsense; a true scientist, she gets right down to business. I like that.

"Yes, on the flight down."

"And your thoughts?"

"I agree with your premise, Doctor, this bacteria is airborne."

"Susan, please. Do you have any medical training, Agent Scully?"

"Dana." I smile. "And yes, I am a medical doctor, a forensic pathologist."

"Excellent," she says, returning my smile, "that should make communications a lot easier."

"Scully, I'll leave all the medical background to you. I'm going to head over to the FBI office, talk to the Agent in charge, and see if I can dig up any new information."

"Let's meet for dinner, Mulder. Susan, perhaps you would like to join us while we compare notes?"

"Yes, I would, thank you."

"Scully, I'll call you later. It was nice meeting you, Doctor." Mulder makes his way towards the front door.

"So, where do you want to begin, Dana?"

"I'd like to see any cultures you may have."

"We've been very systematic and thorough about retrieving and cataloging samples from all the victims." I follow as she starts walking back down the hall in the direction from which she appeared.

"I have no doubts," I say, hoping to assure her I'm not looking for scapegoats. "Because of the locations of two of these incidents I'm doubtful these were naturally occurring situations. Have you reached any sort of conclusion on the source of the bacteria?"

Stepping into the elevator, we continue our conversation. "You mean because two of the cities are not rural?" She hits the floor button and the doors shut. "Well, yes, that was an inconsistency and probably what led us to believe this is something more than a random act of nature. Plus the fact each of the incidents occurred approximately three weeks apart. There appears to be a pattern to the events, but we still can't nail down how the bacteria is being transmitted to the victims."

"Hmm. I looked at the file and can't put together any sort of connection yet either. Maybe Mulder will have better luck when he talks to the Agent in charge of the investigation over at the field office."

After a brief elevator ride up, we walk down a hall and stop at a door labeled, "Laboratory, Room 1113." Susan unlocks and holds open the door. "Here we are, Dana. I'll get out the cultures. Gloves are on the table. Help yourself."

Feeling my most relaxed and confident in the lab, I snap on the latex and prepare to examine the evidence.

I nearly jump out of my skin when my cell phone rings. I've been concentrating so hard on the cultures all else has become non-existent. I take a quick peak at my watch and find I've been at it for nearly three hours.

"Scully, it's me. How's it going over there?" He sounds like his old self, no hint of frustration from our earlier encounter.

"Fine, Mulder. How'd you make out?"

"Well, besides being a little bleary eyed from going over all the case notes again, there's not really all that much to report. How about grabbing dinner now? I'm starving and it's almost seven."

"I'm ready, too. Just a minute." Placing my phone against my body, I briefly speak with my lab partner before returning to Mulder. "Susan's going to give you directions to the restaurant. Hang on."

"Agent Mulder? Hi. Okay, you're at the FBI building, right?" Susan gives Mulder explicit instructions while I start tidying up the lab in preparation to leave. I throw away the latex gloves and swabs, wipe down the area, return the evidence to the lock-up area and cover the microscopes.

Susan snaps her fingers to get my attention and points, handing me back the phone. "You got that, Mulder? Okay, see you there soon. Yes, we're ready to walk out the door."

It takes us little more than five minutes to reach our destination.

"Want a drink in the bar while we wait for your partner?" Susan asks.

"I think I could have my arm twisted."

Settling into a spacious high-backed booth, I double-check my line of sight to the front door of the restaurant. "This is good, I'll be able to spot Mulder when he comes in."

"Hi, ladies, what can I get you?" the waitress asks with her pad and pencil at the ready.

"Just drinks, we're waiting for someone before we go into dinner," I explain. "But I'd really like a blended lime margarita with lots of salt, please. Susan?"

"Make it two," she says, smiling from across the table. When the waitress departs, Susan continues. "So, do you and your partner always call each other by your last names?"

"Yes."

"What's up with that?" she asks, her eyes bright with interest.

"It's just how we started out and it's stuck."

"Sounds kind of impersonal."

"On the contrary."

"Close, huh?" she says, her mouth forming an insinuating smile.

"Not in that way, Susan." I smile back. "We've worked together for seven years. Over time we've developed a close relationship built on mutual trust and respect." I notice the incredulous look on her face and for some inexplicable reason I feel the need to reiterate my statement. "Really, that's all."

"So, if not Mulder, are you seeing anyone?" She really does get right down to it.

The waitress returns with our drinks providing me an excuse to remain silent. Not really wanting to discuss my private life with a near perfect stranger, I am relieved when I catch sight of Mulder coming through the restaurant door.

Waving discreetly to get his attention, Mulder nods his acknowledgement and walks towards the booth. Sliding in next to me, he greets us. I notice Susan watching us.

"What do you want to drink, Mulder?" I ask.

"Are those good?" We both nod enthusiastically. "Okay, margarita it is then." He catches the waitress' attention and indicates he'll have the same as us. "Been here long?"

"Long enough to order a drink," I reply. "So, was Agent Phillips able to supply you with any new information?"

"Not really. I did bring hard copies of the complete background interviews for you to take a look at, but they really didn't reveal anything more than what was in the abbreviated file notes. Anything jump off the slides at you, Scully?"

I echo his words, "Not really. But then I didn't really expect it to. Susan and her team were very thorough in their evidence collection. It was all catalogued and clearly laid out in the reports."

Susan raises her glass. "Thank you, ma'am." She and I exchange smiles.

"I do think we should go out to Main Frame Computers tomorrow though, Scully, have a look around." The awkwardness of earlier seems to have dissipated. Mulder is his old self.

"Agreed. Have you called the hotel to let them know we'd be checking in late, Mulder?"

"Aw, crap. I knew there was something I was supposed to do. I'll be right back." Saying he needs a phone book, Mulder excuses himself.

"Everything set?" I ask when he returns, although the look on his face gives away that all is not well.

"It seems there's a convention in town and when they didn't hear from us, they figured we weren't coming. Now they have only one single room available."

"Dammit, Mulder." I was planning on having some quiet time to continue our abbreviated conversation from earlier.

"I know, I know. You take the bed and I'll campout on the floor."

From across the table Susan speaks. "I think I have a solution." We turn our attention from each other to her. "I have a spare bedroom and you're more than welcome to stay, Dana. Mulder could pick you up there in the morning or you could ride into work with me and meet him there."

"That's very generous, Susan. Thank you." Turning my body, I ask, "Sound all right to you, Mulder?"

"Yes, fine," he says, sounding relieved. He's not as young as he used to be and the idea of a hard floor probably wasn't too appealing.

"It's settled then. Are y'all up for another round of 'ritas before dinner?" Mulder and I shake our heads in unison. Susan hand signals our request to our waitress.

"I'll see you in the morning then, Mulder," I say, retrieving my laptop, as well as my overnight and garment bags from the trunk of the rental car. As I told Mel, we realized we may have to be on the road for a while, so we had each run home and packed a few extra things before leaving D.C. "I'll meet you at the CDC at nine and then we'll head out to Main Frame."

"Okay, night, ladies." He shuts the trunk and watches as we climb into the convertible and speed away into the warm Atlanta night. My head is thrown back and the tires squeal as Susan peels rubber out of the parking lot.

"Do you always drive so fast?" I yell over the rushing air and throbbing bass line coming from the multi-speakers.

Susan takes her eyes off the road to look at me briefly. "Sure. What's the point of having a fast car if you don't open it up and let it go? Do you want me to slow down?"

"No, I rather like it." I smile at my own devil-my-care behavior. This is fun; I check the speedometer and don't recall ever driving this fast. "How far to your house?" I shout over the whine of the engine.

"Only about ten more minutes. Don't worry, I know this road like the back of my hand. You're perfectly safe." She reaches across and pats my knee reassuringly.

As we turn the corner, she clicks the garage door opener. Sure enough, we squeal into her driveway in just about ten minutes flat. "My neighbors are used to me and my car by now." She stops on a dime just before slamming into the back wall of the garage, forcing my shoulder strap to catch while I brace myself against the dashboard. "There, that wasn't too bad, was it?" She clicks the remote again and the garage door shuts behind us.

I am laughing like a wild woman. "Hell, no. That was the best ride I've had in, well, forever."

Susan pops the trunk and springs out of the car before I can even undo my seatbelt. "C'mon, let's go inside for a nightcap."

Opening the door between the garage and house, she flips on the kitchen light, and beckons me to join her. Just inside the door I feel something long and furry skittering along my leg. Before I can stop myself I jump back and let out a scream.

"What's wrong?" Susan yells, turning quickly around to see her ferret jumping wildly around my legs. "Oh, shit. Hazzie, leave her alone. You're scaring our guest. Now go to your bed."

I watch incredulously as the ferret does exactly as told. "Sorry. I'm not usually so jumpy. He took me by surprise. I've never known anybody who had a ferret as a pet." I pause momentarily. "Although he does mind well."

"He's a she and she is fully trained. I got her when she was just a baby and love her to death. She's the perfect pet; if I go out of town I can leave her in her cage for the weekend or just let her have the run of the place. She's got her own little space in the closet where she hoards her stuff. She's so cute and cuddly, too."

Eliminating the ferret out of the equation, I wonder if is this what I've given up by leaving medicine a job with regular hours, a house and weekend getaways? Is this the type of life I'd have if I went back to Quantico or took Mel's offer to join her firm?

We make our way down the hall to the guest bedroom. Susan puts my bags on the luggage rack at the end of the bed and I place my laptop on the desk.

"This will be your room for as long as you're in town, any time." She smiles. "Feel free to make yourself completely at home. It has a private full bath off to the left there. The kitchen is always open in case you get the munchies or want to whip up a cup of coffee. Just help yourself to whatever you want."

I do a quick assessment of the room. It is very straightforward without a lot of frills, yet has a distinctly woman's feel to it, very warm and inviting. A double-sized iron-frame bed with a lovely duvet-covered comforter with matching pillowcases sits on a neutral-colored deep ply carpet. There's an antique dresser with a large attached semi-circular mirror, complete with a hand-stitched lace cloth draped across the width of the dresser. Peach-scented potpourri, in a heart-shaped cut glass container, sits atop the cloth. A key-turn lamp with stringed lace shade rests on the bedside table where it shares space with a clock radio. Delicate lace curtains cover the venetian blinds. A small desk with a bench-style chair and a lovely oil landscape complete the decor.

"Is that your work?" I ask, looking at the painting above the bed.

"Yes, just something I dabble at to take my mind off other stuff." Susan pulls back the bed covers and removes the pillows from the cases, which I notice match the duvet pattern exactly.

Stepping closer, I examine the brush strokes. "It's very good. Have you had any training or is this a natural talent?"

"No formal training, just something I've always liked to do," she says, smiling. "Anyway, feel like a nightcap or maybe a cup of coffee?"

"I think just a cup of coffee, thanks. I need to be fresh for the morning. Mind if I grab a quick shower while the coffee brews?"

"No, actually it's a good idea. Meet you in the front room whenever you're ready," she says while closing the door.

Plugging in my laptop, I take a moment to dash off a quick note to Mel:

Hi, honey. Just finished up for the day. Mulder screwed up the hotel reservations, so I'm bunking overnight at the home of Doctor Susan Davis, one of our contacts here in Atlanta. I'll explain more when I get home.

Tomorrow looks to be a full day for us. Mulder and I will be going out to visit the crime scene and conduct interviews. After that, I'm not sure what's on the agenda. We usually have a general idea of the direction we want an investigation to go, but it's imperative we remain flexible in case we catch a good lead.

Okay, I'll check my email tomorrow night. Have a good day.

Goodnight, sweetie. {{{HUGS}}}

Love, D.

I emerge from my room wearing my pajamas and a kimono Bill brought back as a gift from one of his trips to Japan. I nearly bump into Susan in the hallway, her hair is damp, so apparently she grabbed a shower.

"Feel better?" she asks.

"Much, thanks. My hair was a mess from Mister Toad's Wild Ride."

Susan chuckles and wipes the moisture from the back of her neck.

"I see you grabbed a shower, too," I say for the sake of conversation.

"Yeah, I always like to have a shower first thing when I get home. Helps me to wash away all the grime of the day, clears my head and gets me ready to relax for the evening."

"I know exactly what you mean, although I usually opt for a bath."

"Coffee should be ready by now," she says, leading the way back to the kitchen. "Hope you don't mind unleaded. If I drink the other stuff this late, it keeps me awake. Let's get ourselves some and pretend we're on that commercial that has women relaxing and bonding over a cup of some exotic sounding brew."

Spotting a wall plaque hanging over the dining room table, I inwardly recite the slogan. "Work hard. Invest wisely. Enjoy life!"

I mull it over. "That's quite a motto, did you compose it?"

"Uh huh, just a few things I've learned about life along the way. But it really does help keep me focused on what's important." Susan motions me towards the front room.

The next hour is spent drinking coffee, recounting medical school horror stories, comparing our career choices, and revealing accomplishments as well as regrets. By the end of the hour we know a fair amount about each other and I'm totally at ease.

"I guess that commercial really has some merit," I say, leaning forward and placing my hand over my cup when she offers a refill. "This has been really nice, Susan. I can't thank you enough for inviting me. Hotels just aren't the same as a home." Sitting back against the couch, I adjust my legs so that I'm sitting Indian style.

"Like I said before, feel free to stay here anytime you're in town, Dana. Do you think you'll stay over tomorrow night?"

"Hmm, possibly, depending on how long we spend at the plant, if that's okay. I don't want to be an imposition."

"Are you kidding? I haven't had this much fun for a long time. It's not often I get to kick back with another scientist, a single female one, that is."

"Really? I would've thought you'd have plenty of opportunity. There are quite a few women at the CDC, aren't there?"

"Oh sure, but you know how it goes, everyone has their own life. Plus the majority of women there are married with children and we don't have a lot in common. If we do ever get together it seems to be at a wedding or baby shower or somebody's going away party. Not a lot of opportunity for real friendship building there."

I wince mentally as I think about how little contact I have with other people at the Bureau, or anywhere else, for that matter. "Know what you mean."

We agree it is time to hit the hay if we want any chance at coherence in the morning.

"I get up around seven," she says. "I'll try to keep the noise down to a minimum."

"Oh, seven is just fine. Actually I'm usually up by six or six-thirty. The commute into D.C. can be a bitch in the mornings and I don't like to be late."

"Well, we don't have a long trip into downtown."

"Certainly not the way you drive," I tease.

We smile and say our goodnights as Susan continues down the hall and I close my bedroom door. Settling into the comfortable bed, my thoughts drift and I find myself wondering what Mel's doing now. It's close to midnight. I'd probably disturb her sleep if I called, so instead I pull out the files Mulder gave me. Within an hour, I'm fighting to keep my eyes open and decide to call it a night.

It's strange not having Mel next to me, being lulled to sleep by her deep rhythmic breathing. Moving the pillow out of my way, I flip over onto my stomach and try to get some much-needed sleep.

TUESDAY, 9:30AM

I've got my laptop open as we drive, reading previously downloaded information on the properties of anthrax, as well as my email. Mel has sent me a response: "The bed's too big without you. Love, me." God, I feel suddenly tired. I was so restless last night, I think I probably slept all of two hours.

"So what kind of mischief did you two gals get into last night?" Mulder asks as we head out to Main Frame Computer.

"Gals, Mulder?" He grins sheepishly. "Well, let's see, we visited and got to know one another, reminisced about med school days. You know, gal stuff."

"Did you discuss the case?"

"No." I cover a yawn while Mulder peeks over in my direction. "We visited, Mulder, no work just a pleasant evening with a colleague."

"So you didn't read the files I gave you?" He keeps his eyes straight ahead.

"As a matter of fact I did, Mulder. Last night and this morning before we came into town."

"It must have been a really late night," he says when I try unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn. "And?"

I turn my head to look at him. "And what?"

"Did you pick up anything that might tie these cases together?"

"Nope, I had about as much luck as you. Maybe once we get a feel for the physical layout of the plant something will start to gel."

We drive up to the guard gate where an uniformed man appears from inside it. Mulder informs him we're here to meet with Sam Moore.

The guard checks his visitor's list and obviously satisfied, gives us instructions on how to reach the main building along with specifics about where to park.

"Good morning." The man shaking hands with us identifies himself as Sam Moore, President and CEO of Main Frame Computers. "I'm glad to see they finally called in the big guns. No offense to the local boys, but they seem out of their league on this one."

Call it a sense of loyalty, but I feel an instant need to defend the locals. "Well, admittedly it is a bit baffling, sir. Is there someplace more private we can speak?"

"Sure, sure. Let's go to my office." He leads us to a large corner office on the third floor. "Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, soda?"

"I'd like a water, please," I say while Mulder shakes his head in the negative.

"Coming right up." He goes over to his office refrigerator and brings me back a bottle of Evian.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now what can I do for you? I'm anxious to get to the bottom of this and get the sonofabitch that did this." He turns his attention directly to me. "Sorry, ma'am."

"Sir, have either yourself or other board members ever received any kinds of threats to either your persons or the company?"

"No, ma'am."

"Any ex-employees who might hold a grudge, possibly someone who was fired?"

"No, ma'am," he says, shaking his head. "We like to think of our employees as family and you'd never fire a member of your family. Anyone who's left Main Frame has done so of their own accord."

"Sir, we'd like to get a list of all your current employees, as well as anyone who's left the company within the last three years."

"Sure enough, ma'am." He lifts his phone and punches a button. "Helen, could you please put together a list of all employees along with hire dates, home addresses and phone numbers. And include anyone who's left the company within the last three years, as well as a copy of their exit interview. Thanks."

Mulder, who until now has been happy to let me lead the investigation speaks up. "Mr. Moore, we'd like to take a look around the plant, get a feel for the physical layout and perhaps talk to a few of your employees."

"No problem." Again he punches his phone. "Helen, could you please get me two visitor passes that allow for full access to the plant? Thanks."

Rising, Mulder continues, "Have you always had a guard gate?"

"No, Agent Mulder. We felt that after the tragedy we wanted to do everything we could to keep our employees safe. The guard gate seemed like the least that we could do to help put everyone at ease. We don't want anyone on the premises that doesn't rightly belong here. It helped to ease tensions."

"Have you had a problem in the past with unauthorized personnel gaining access to the facility?"

"No. Like I said, it was mostly to just make people feel safer."

"It appears from the reports the deceased worked in the plant area rather than the offices," I state. "Would that be a correct statement, sir?"

"Yes, ma'am, it would be." He looks up when he hears the soft knock on his door. Helen comes into the office. Walking over to us, she smiles, hands us the badges and leaves as quietly as she entered.

"So, would you like me to get an escort for you?"

"Actually, sir, we'd prefer to go unaccompanied, if that's all right with you," I say, smiling.

"Perfectly fine, ma'am. You take as long as you like, talk to whomever you like. I'll get you a map of the layout of the plant. I think you'll find our employees a pretty happy bunch." He rises and shows us to the door. "Helen, could you please give our guests a map of the plant? Thanks."

I inform Mr. Moore we'll show ourselves out when we're done. "Thank you for your cooperation, sir. If we have any further questions, we'll get in touch. In the meantime, if you think of anything, please give us a call." We each hand him a business card with our cell phone numbers. Helen hands us the list of employees we requested.

Passes attached and map in hand, we set off on our self-guided tour. After looking over the plant area where the deaths occurred, we spend another couple of hours speaking with employees. Leaving our Visitor Passes at the reception desk, we head out to the parking lot.

"We must've each talked to a dozen plant employees, Scully. Either this is the second happiest place on earth or they're covering up something."

"Mulder, just because they all enjoy their jobs and couldn't think of anyone capable of committing such an heinous act doesn't mean there is some sort of sinister plot or, or a conspiracy of silence to cover for somebody. They all seemed genuinely shaken by the deaths of their co-workers."

"At least we got a look at the plant, that may help us when we visit the other sites."

"So what now, Mulder?"

He starts the engine, preparing to drive back to town. "I think we should go to another site, Scully. Have any preference?"

"How about doing this in chronological order? Maybe there's a reason the perp chose this particular sequence."

Pulling out past the guard gate, he says, "Good point, that would mean Bellingham is our next stop. Want to catch a flight out tonight?"

"Actually, I don't particularly feel like sitting around waiting for two long connections to get there, so I think I'd rather go in the morning."

"Want me to try to get you into the hotel?"

"There's no need. Susan has offered to put me up as long as we're in town."

"She seems nice. Although her driving looks a little suspect," he says, grinning.

"She loves speed, that's apparent."

"From your laughter last night it sounded like you were enjoying it, too."

"It definitely was a rush, Mulder."

"So, what's Susan like, Scully?" He takes his eyes off the road for a quick look at me.

"Like? Well, for starters she has a pet ferret named Hazzie, short for HazMat." I can't help smiling, remembering my introduction to the wiry creature. I choose not to disclose my girlie scream.

"A ferret?" he repeats, his eyes wide. "I don't know anyone who has a ferret."

"Me either. I never really thought of them as pets, but Hazzie is trained and obeys Susan's voice commands. It's really quite impressive."

We continue to pass the drive back to town with idle chatter. I get out my cell phone and punch in a number. "Hi, Susan, it's Dana. Yes, we're done for the day. Would you like to join Mulder and me for an early dinner? No, really it's too much." I sense Mulder watching me. "Okay, okay, we'll meet you at the house in a couple of hours. Yes, I remember the way. We'll stop at the store and pick up a few things. Well, if you're sure. All right, see you then."

"What was that all about?"

"Susan wants to barbecue. She says she's got all the necessities covered, but let's stop at the store, Mulder, and grab some beer or something."

"Works for me, Scully. Think I'll stop at the hotel and do a quick change into some jeans. We have plenty of time. Right?"

"Yep."

After a detour to the hotel in downtown rush hour traffic and a stop at the liquor store, we arrive back at the house just as Susan is squealing into the garage.

"Holy shit, was the entire ride like that, Scully?"

"Uh huh."

We fill Susan in on what we turned up out at Main Frame while we all pitch in to make salad and barbecue fixings and then set the table.

By the time Mulder and I finish all the prep work Susan is just getting ready to serve up the main course. "You cook up a mean steak, Susan."

"Thanks, Mulder. I really hate to cook inside on warm nights. It just seems like such a waste, you know?"

"I sure do. I remember all the summers back on Martha's Vineyard; we'd eat every meal outside. I loved the early mornings best I think, before it got too hot." Mulder nods in my direction, prodding me to join in.

"Ahab, that was my name for my father," I explain for Susan's benefit, "loved to barbecue when he was home on shore leave. He called it 'family time'. We'd all have an assignment"

"An assignment, Scully?"

"Yes, Mulder. Mine was usually to make sure the condiments and napkins were on the table. Then Ahab would make a big show of putting on his apron with 'Chef' written on the front and grab the flipper. The ritual was always the same. Mom would bring out the burgers and the barbecue was deemed officially begun." I am momentarily lost in the sweet childhood remembrance.

"Another beer, anyone?" Susan chirps, bringing me back. We nod our agreement. "Okay, here you go," she says, handing us each a cold one from the cooler.

"So who chose the beer?" she asks.

I acknowledge it was my choice.

"It's good. Mack and Jack, I like it; it's kind of catchy. How did you decide on it, Dana?"

"Umm. A friend introduced me to it recently."

We fill Susan in on what we found out at Main Frame and continue visiting over a leisurely dinner and more beers.

Mulder checks his watch and gets up from his lawn chair. "Well, Susan, it has been a fun evening, but I think I'd best head back to the hotel. Our flight leaves at five-thirty, Scully. Do you want me to come pick you up here?"

"How about I meet you at the airport, Mulder? It would probably be just as easy as you coming back out here and then having to backtrack to the airport; I can call a cab."

"Heck, why don't I just run you out there, Dana?"

"What? It's much too early, not to mention out of your way. But thanks for the offer, Susan."

"Hell, Dana, it's not that much out of my way. After I drop you off, I'll stop for an early morning workout and a bite to eat before going into work. It's settled. I insist." She gives me an 'I won't take no for an answer' sort of look.

"Okay, if you insist. It's very generous of you. Thanks."

The three of us stroll leisurely to the car. "See you at the airport, Mulder."

"Night, Susan. Night, Scully." Climbing into the rental car, Mulder gives the horn a little toot as he drives off.

We speak almost in unison. "Night, Mulder."

"Feel like grabbing a sauna, Dana?"

"You have a sauna?" First Mel and now Susan, they sure are popular.

"Yep, put it in a few years back. I can't always make it to the gym so I decided to be a little decadent and treat myself," she says, smiling impishly.

"God, that sounds wonderful. Just let me clean up the kitchen first."

"Relax, will you please? There's nothing that can't wait. That's the beauty of barbecuing, virtually no clean up." She smiles. "Anyway, don't you know that's why God invented paper plates?"

I can't subdue a smile.

"Meet me in the basement in five minutes," she says tossing me a big towel from the hall cupboard. "There's extras downstairs."

I can feel my muscles relaxing in the intense dry heat. I watch as Susan pours water over the lava rocks. The sweat is beginning to roll down my body and is quickly absorbed by the fluffy Egyptian cotton towel wrapped around me.

"You're right, Susan, this is kind of decadent." I take a long drink of water to replenish the moisture seeping out my pores. "I never seem to be able to find the time for anything like this."

"Oh, I don't know how I'd make it through some days without this baby. I've found it does wonders to help relieve the stress. It's really necessary to treat yourself sometimes, hang the cost. So, what do you do to pamper yourself, Dana?"

I think about the question for a moment. "Well, I do enjoy a nice long bubble bath with soothing music and candles. I just shut my eyes and imagine myself somewhere peaceful." God, I'm parched; I drink down half a bottle of water without stopping. "So, is your gym close to the CDC?"

"Just around the block, actually. Which makes it nice and convenient when I want a break from work. It's not too busy during the middle of the day and I find it gives me a lift to get the old blood flowing; helps me to refocus on whatever I'm doing at work."

"I couldn't help noticing the trophies and plaques outside. Why do you keep them down here rather than upstairs?"

"Well, I'm not one to brag, I guess." Susan rises to add more water to the rocks leaving them to sizzle under the moisture as she resumes her position on the bench opposite me.

"Being a triathlete demands a lot of perseverance. I doubt there's many people with the willpower or mindset necessary to do what it takes to attain your level of excellence."

"Well, thanks," she chuckles. "I'm not used to being called 'stubborn' in such nice terms. But you're in great shape, Dana, please don't tell me you don't work out."

"Okay, I won't tell you." She pouts as I grin. "Seriously though, I try to keep up a regular routine, running mostly, some weights when I can. Our travel schedule often only allows for the running rather than a full workout. There is a gym at the Hoover Building and I try to use it as often as possible." I lift the bottom of the towel to my face and wipe the sweat before it drips into my eye. "But really, I admire you so much. A triathlon is such a feat of mind over body. How long have you been competing?"

"Oh, about seven years on a more or less steady basis. It does consume a lot of my off hour times." She smiles somewhat self-consciously, dropping her eyes from mine. "But I've always been a bit of a loner."

"I guess you'd have to be to put in the hours it takes to really get yourself ready for a race," I offer. "How often do you compete?"

"Well, the biggie is the annual event in Hawaii, but I try to throw in at least a couple more a year just to keep my mental toughness up. I run some marathons and do a lot of bike riding. The toughest part is all the swimming though. I enjoy the other two, but for me the swimming is the loneliest." She gets up and pours another cup of water onto the rocks. "Unlike running or biking, I can't wear a headset to distract me when I need a diversion; it's just me, alone." She takes a swig of water. "Sometimes too much thinking can be a bad thing. So that's the part of the training I have to really push through."

I find myself watching and listening to Susan through new eyes. Perhaps her life isn't all I had initially imagined. There is a degree of fragility, an element of loneliness I overlooked in my earlier assessment.

The flight is a quiet one. I take the opportunity to shoot a note off to Mel: "Hey, sweetie. It's still very early; in fact, I bet you're probably just now thinking about getting up. I'm sending this from the plane; we're on our way out West. We wanted to get going early because we have to make two connections to get to our destination. While I can't tell you our exact plans, I can tell you we will briefly be in the city where we met. Love, D."

Mulder and I go over all the witness statements and official reports a number of times looking for the slightest clue, but come up empty, again. We have a ninety-minute layover in Seattle before our connection to Bellingham and we're happy for an opportunity to stretch our legs. Since our luggage was checked to our final destination, we have only our briefcases to carry with us. Of course, I have my laptop as well.

"Ooh, that sounds good," I say as we approach Starbuck's. When we reach the register I order first. "I'll have a grande mocha, non-fat, with the works."

Mulder stops dead in his tracks. "What the hell did you just say, Scully?" Holding up two fingers, he speaks to the woman behind the counter. "What she said."

"That'll be nine seventy-three, sir."

Mulder stares at the barrista for a moment, seemingly not believing his ears. "Jesus, Scully, this had better be some damned good coffee."

"God, this is so wonderful," I say, sipping my drink. "I haven't had a good mocha for what seems like ages." I close my eyes and let the full flavor of the espresso-chocolate mixture trickle down my throat. I smile at the memories of the last time I was in Seattle. "How do you like yours, Mulder?" I ask, licking the whipped cream off my top lip.

"It's pretty good. Did you learn to order like that on the seminar trip out here?"

"Yes. It's weird, Mulder, for some reason the coffee out here tastes better than what we get back home."

"Maybe it was the company you were keeping, Scully," he says.

"Could have been," I say smiling and lifting my eyebrow in response. He seems in a good mood and we have plenty of time, so maybe this is a good to have our talk. Before I can begin, Mulder speaks.

"Have you heard from Mel?"

I'm surprised he's brought her up. Looking up from over my coffee cup, I answer, "Yes."

"What have you told her?"

"Nothing, Mulder. I haven't discussed the case with her. I've only told her that we went to Atlanta and now we're out West." I feel myself getting slightly annoyed. "I'm well aware of the Bureau rules regarding information disclosure, Mulder."

"Of course you are, Scully. I certainly didn't mean to imply otherwise."

I hesitate before speaking. "No, I'm sorry, Mulder. It is tough keeping things from her. And since we've been together, we've never been away from each other this long." I feel slightly embarrassed telling him these personal things. "Look, Mulder, since you brought her up, let's talk about Mel."

Giving me his full attention, he says, "As far as I'm concerned there's nothing to talk about, Scully."

I reposition myself on the hard plastic chair. "Perhaps I'm misstating the situation." I pause. "I have something I'd like to say to you, Mulder. It's about the night Mel came to the hospital."

"You're really intent on going into this, aren't you, Scully?"

"I think it's important we clear up a few things; that's all."

He sighs in defeat. "All right, go ahead."

Before I begin, I clear my throat. "I want to explain why I haven't told you before. You know, Mulder, I truly hated the abrupt way you found out."

"It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does. At least to me it does." I reach across the table and take his hand. Looking directly into his eyes, I say, "I'm sorry, Mulder."

"Sorry, for what? You're under no obligation to tell me everything about your private life, Scully."

"I know. But this is something I should have addressed with you long ago. You guessed I was seeing someone and I should have told you then, but I wasn't ready."

"Okay."

"Mulder, you have been my closest friend for over seven years and I owed you that much."

"You don't owe me anything, Scully," he repeats.

I frown at him. "Mulder. Stop making excuses for me." I can hear agitation creeping into my voice.

"I'm not. You and I have a professional relationship, Scully, and it's there you owe me to disclose everything. What you do on your own time is your own business." He allows his attention to shift to something over my shoulder.

"Mulder, be honest. Our relationship goes beyond just a professional one. We've saved each other's lives more often than I care to recall. You know things about me no one else does. And vice versa. I think that makes us more than just work buddies, don't you?" I apply gentle pressure to his hand.

He looks directly at me. "Yes, I do."

"Well, then, will you please allow me to explain why I didn't tell you?"

He apparently recognizes the calm, controlled tone and realizes he doesn't really have a choice, so he nods his compliance and sits back in his chair.

"I wasn't trying to keep the relationship from you, per se. I just wasn't sure about it myself for a while. You see, Mulder, I'd never been with anyone I felt so strongly about before. Mel is the best thing that's ever happened to me. And, well, you know my upbringing, so you can probably imagine how extremely difficult it was to even acknowledge and accept these feelings."

Leaning towards me and placing his other hand over mine, he quietly says, "I know how hard it must have been for you, Scully. I'm glad you were able to get past it. I just wished I could have helped you through it."

I offer a weak smile. "Mulder, remember I told you once that not everything is about you?"

His face tells the story. His mind is obviously flashing back to some of the darkest days in our relationship. My own heart clenches at the memories. "God, do I," he confesses.

"Then please hear me when I say my silence in no way reflected on you. On the contrary, it had everything to do with me and my struggle to come to grips with the situation."

"Okay."

"Mulder, I know how you brood over things sometimes. I want to be perfectly sure you understand my silence had absolutely nothing to do with any concern I had with a level of trust between us."

"I understand completely, Scully."

"Do you understand, Mulder? I mean truly understand the frustrations, the fear? Do you know what it's like to love someone so fiercely, but be afraid to be seen together, even casually, for fear someone will put two and two together if it happens too often? Maybe all it takes is us standing too close or laughing over a private joke." My voice is barely above a whisper. "Never being able to show her the simplest of affections in public for fear a casual touch will become the proof needed to accuse? The abject fear of knowing the career you've spent years carving out could be ripped out from under you for no other reason than the person you love is of the same sex?"

His eyes look pained. "But you have to know I would never betray you, Scully."

Of course I do. "Mulder, I--"

Before I can completely answer him, our flight is called. The announcement over the loud speaker jars us both from our intense conversation. We stare cautiously at each other for a few moments, then gather our belongings, toss our cups in the trash, and head for our terminal.

Neither of us said a word during the hour-long flight; both of us caught up in our private thoughts. It's not until we're in the car that he breaks the silence.

"I think we'll wrap this up in a few days, Scully."

Personally, I think it'll take a bit longer and he probably does, too. But I play along and smile at his compassionate attempt to soothe me about being gone so long from Mel.

"You were digging through the file pretty good on the plane. Find anything new?"

"Maybe, Mulder. You?"

"I asked you first," he teases. Although I'm usually catching the brunt of it, teasing is always a good sign and at this moment I'm happy to be on the receiving end of it.

"Well, I think it's relevant all the deaths occurred in the warehouses and nowhere else in the facilities. Now we just need to figure out why that particular area would be targeted, especially at four very diverse companies located so far from each other. What aren't we seeing, Mulder? What's the connection?"

"I agree, Scully. There's definitely something here we're missing."

While Mulder drives us to the crime scene, I stare out the window, remembering. I dreamt about Mel last night and woke up wet, my body aching for her touch. God help me. I've never been this distracted by anyone before.

"Scully."

"What?"

"Where are you? I asked you if you got the directions to Laser World." He looks over at me. "In fact, I asked you three times. Is everything okay?"

I don't address his question, but instead reach into my pocket to retrieve the directions I secured from the car rental clerk in the airport. Despite being called Bellingham International, the airport is one not very large building with only one check-in desk. Like so many other small airports we've been to, you just walk out onto the tarmac to your plane. I imagine they call it 'International' because of a number of incoming and outgoing flights to Vancouver, British Columbia, a mere sixty miles north.

I unfold the directions. "Head north on the Guide Meridian for about a half mile until we pass the mall on our left and then a little further up we'll pass Wal-Mart on our right. Turn left on Horton Road and it will be the building that sits back on our right on Laser Road."

Mulder has evidently decided not to pursue his questioning of me. Just as well, there's really nothing to discuss. It's quite simple; I miss Mel.

"Scully, I said what's our contact's name?"

"Oh, sorry. It's right here in the file. Umm, John Baker."

"You didn't answer my question, Scully. Is everything all right?"

"Yes, Mulder. I didn't sleep well; I'm just a little distracted is all." The truth is I tossed and turned all night, again. I can't get used to sleeping without her.

He pulls into one of the visitor parking spots and we go inside. The receptionist greets us, then announces our arrival and directs us to the second floor where Mr. Baker is waiting. After the introductions, we go into a conference room.

"I'm not sure what I can tell you that I haven't already told the local FBI and police. But I'm happy to answer any of your questions."

We ask Mr. Baker the same questions we posed to Mr. Moore in Atlanta. He agrees to let us take a tour of the facility and speak with his employees without an escort. Before we leave him we give him our cards, just in case.

"We'll be in touch, sir. Thank you for your cooperation," I say, reaching for the door.

"Agent Scully, Agent Mulder." We look back at him. "I just want this guy caught."

We follow the same routine as Atlanta, spending most of our time in the warehouse area, speaking with employees there. Back in the car, we decide to stop at the mall for lunch.

"I don't know, Mulder. There just doesn't seem to be any tie in, except the warehouse locations of the incidents."

"Maybe that's it, Scully. Maybe there was no reason behind why these particular companies were targeted, it was random."

"If it was random, Mulder, how does that explain the time frame between the incidents? The perp must have some sort of plan."

"Yes, a plan. But it doesn't appear to include any sort of targeting of a particular industry. So what is the point?"

"Some sort of domestic terrorism?" I suggest.

"I don't think so, not yet anyway. If full-scale terrorism is the goal, the deaths have been minimal. No, it's something else, Scully. It's almost like he's testing out his plan, trying to work out the kinks."

"So, how's he able to get this bacteria dispensed? We keep running up against the method of transmission."

"I think that's the key, Scully. If we can figure out how he's able to infect these people in so many different areas, we can find him."

"We're running out of time, Mulder. It's been nearly two weeks since the last incident. I think we should fly out to Wyoming this afternoon and look at the plant."

Mulder nods his agreement. This is good; this is what I need to do, keep my mind busy so I can stop thinking about Mel.

"Do you want talk to Mrs. Olson before we leave, Scully?"

"No, we have her statement. She's suffered more than most. Not to minimize the other deaths, but she's also lost her only child to this same contagion. If we need to speak with her later, we will. Otherwise, Mulder, I'd like not to disturb her, or the other children's parents."

He nods his agreement. An awkward silence ensues. Every time there's a death of a child involved in a case, Mulder gets very protective of me. His concern is touching, but suffocating at the same time. I've never relished cases with child victims, but I'm long past the point of seeing every child as my own.

God, how I hate connecting flights. On top of our two earlier in the day, we took the shuttle plane from Bellingham to Seattle right around one, caught a flight to Denver, then switched planes again, and now, around eight o'clock at night, we are about a half hour from landing in Casper.

One good thing has come out of it, though; because of the time difference, Mel and I are able to talk via Instant Messenger. I had never used it before so Mel took it upon herself to set it up for me.

Lucy: Hey, baby, how's it going?

Dr. Kay: What is with these screen names?

Lucy: What do you mean?

Dr. Kay: I mean, how did we end up with these names?

Lucy: Don't you get it?

Dr. Kay: I'm obviously missing something. I give.

Lucy: Whose books do I devour as soon as they're released?

Dr. Kay: Wait. I know this. Hang on. Patricia Cornwell?

Lucy: Right. And what are the names of the two main women characters?

Dr. Kay: Let me guess...Dr. Kay and Lucy.

Lucy: Bingo.

Dr. Kay: So how does that relate to us?

Lucy: Well, Dr. Kay Scarpetta is the protagonist, who happens to be a forensic pathologist. That's you.

Dr. Kay: And Lucy?

Lucy: She's Dr. Kay's computer whiz kid niece. Now tell me that isn't clever. Go on, tell me.

Dr. Kay: Okay. That isn't clever. <eg>

Lucy: Hey!!

Dr. Kay: I was just following orders. <g> Yes, it's very clever. LOL

Lucy: So, how are things going?

Dr. Kay: They're going.

Lucy: When will you be home?

Dr. Kay: I'm not sure. We're having a hard time finding any connections among the crimes. It's frustrating. Usually by this time, Mulder has made one of his infamous leaps and we're zeroing in.

Lucy: But not this time?

Dr. Kay: Not yet.

Lucy: Well, don't get too down. It'll happen.

Dr. Kay: I know. Anyway, how's it feel being back at work?

Lucy: Same old, same old. I'm missing you terribly.

Dr. Kay: I had a dream about you last night.

Lucy: Really?

Dr. Kay: It was, um...quite erotic.

Lucy: Really? Do tell.

Dr. Kay: Mulder's sitting right here. He's asleep now, but he could wake up at any time.

Lucy: So? Come on, Dana. You've peaked my interest, not to mention my libido. Which, btw, has been in high gear since you've been gone.

Dr. Kay: Really?

Lucy: Oh God, yes. I can't stop thinking about you, baby. When I shower it's your hands holding the soap, sliding over my breasts, stroking between my thighs. I touch myself and make believe it's you.

Involuntarily, my eyes close in sweet misery. I can't hear this now, but before I can respond, she's sent another message.

Lucy: At night, in bed, I think about how hot you were the other morning and I have to do the same thing. Jesus, Dana, when you give yourself to me so completely, I just melt. I love you so much, baby. I can't wait till you get back.

Dr. Kay: Me either.

Lucy: My body has gotten so used to having you cuddled next to me that it's hard to sleep. I keep reaching for you and when you're not there, I wake up disoriented, wondering where you are. Then I start worrying about you.

She doesn't come right out and say it, she doesn't need to, but she's hinting for me to quit again. It's nothing I haven't been seriously thinking about lately, but now is not the time to discuss it.

Dr. Kay: I'll make it up to you when I get back.

Lucy: You will, eh? And just how do you propose to do that?

Dr. Kay: Well, remember before we went to the Islands? We were on the couch and you told me about a couple of things you'd be interested in us doing?

I wait for her to respond, but when she doesn't, I continue.

Dr. Kay: You do remember, don't you? Because, if you don't...

Lucy: Are you kidding? Of course, I do.

Dr. Kay: Well, I was thinking we could try one or two, if you still want to, of course.

Lucy: Dana?

Dr. Kay: Uh huh?

Lucy: Hurry home.

Dr. Kay: LOL

Lucy: Hey, darlin', I've got to cut this short and go over some notes for tomorrow's training.

Dr. Kay: Take some aspirin, sweetie; that may help you relax so you can sleep.

Lucy: The only thing that will help me relax is when you're back home. I love you. Please be careful.

Dr. Kay: I love you, too. Talk to you tomorrow. Kisses.

By the time we secure a rental car and get to the hotel it's around ten. We're both starving, but I don't want to stop anywhere, so we agree on pizza. We take the opportunity to get cleaned up while we're waiting for the delivery. Too tired to talk, and with no new case information to mull over, we eat in silence. Mulder retires to his room and I very nearly pass out before I can climb into bed.

Unfortunately, our trip to Casper didn't turn up anything new to the investigation. We followed the systematic investigation procedures of the previous cities to a tee. Mulder and I are determined to catch the perp before any more deaths occur. Hopping a late afternoon flight to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, we try to sleep on the plane, but without much success. When we're awake, our elbows keep bumping as we jockey for the armrest between us. This case has us baffled and we're both restless. This time we get lucky and only have to change planes once in Salt Lake City. Even at that, it's still nearly nine by the time we get the car. We drive a half-hour up the freeway to Anaheim, home of Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth.

Too tired for a restaurant dinner, I just want to go directly to the hotel. Mulder drops me off and goes back out to grab some fast food for us.

My body is not responding well to this time zone hopping. I'm having difficulty sleeping soundly; it's apparent in my eyes and my ability to concentrate is being compromised. To top it off, I barely held it together last night. The only thing that kept me from shooshing Mulder out of my room so I could call Mel was pure exhaustion and the fact it would've been the middle of the night in D.C.

After breakfast, which included lots of black coffee for me, we head out to Peterson Pet Supplies, the site of the fourth incident. Again, we follow the exact same procedures we've used previously. Unfortunately, with the same results.

"I can't get a lock on this, Scully. There's virtually nothing to go on; no fingerprints, no weapon, and no apparent connection between the victims or the companies."

"Let's go back to D.C., Mulder. I want to run all the data from the various sites through the computer. There's got to be something we're missing. I can't help but feel the answer is hiding in plain sight. What ties these incidents together? What is the common link?"

I try unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. Mulder is looking at me with concern in his eyes. No doubt he's noticed my deteriorating appearance.

"Let's go home, Scully."

Oh God, another plane. At least this time it's a direct flight. Using Mulder's shoulder as a pillow, I manage to catch a bit of a nap. He gently squeezes my hand and softly calls my name to rouse me from my sleep. I'm groggy and feel a little woozy. All I want to do is curl up in my own bed, but before I can even think of doing that, I want to get this computer search started.

"Scully, let me handle getting the computer guys on track. I think you need to go home. And if you'll allow me an observation, you need to forget about setting the alarm and sleep in late."

I feel just lousy enough to agree with him. As soon as the plane lands we pick up our car from long-term parking and head out. Mulder helps me take my bags in the house and then leaves. I promise to go straight to bed if he promises to call me if anything of interest develops.

Without thinking, I check my answering machine. There are no messages. A quick shower and then I'm in my own bed with my own pillows. Sleep. I don't even call Mel to tell her I'm home. All I can think about is lying down. I'll call her when I get up for something to eat later.

The morning light is coming in through the window. What time is it? Crap, it's nearly ten. I slept right through the entire evening and night. Why hasn't Mulder called? I shower, dress hurriedly, and do my hair and make-up in what seems like record time before I head into work. I'll call Mel and ask her to meet me for lunch. God, I can't wait to see her.

Mulder looks up as I enter the office. "Scully. It looks like you finally got a good night's sleep. Feeling better?"

"Yes, thanks. Nothing like your own bed to thoroughly relax."

"Or your own couch," he says, smiling.

"Have you heard anything from the computer guys yet, Mulder?"

"Not yet. I'm going out for a while, Scully; need to stretch my legs, maybe grab a sandwich or something. Can I bring you back anything?"

"No, thanks."

I decide to work up my case notes while Mulder is out. But first, before I do anything else, I have to call Mel.

"Hi, you," she answers sweetly, her smile practically coming through the airwaves.

"I'm home."

"Really?" she asks excitedly. "When did you get in?"

"Yesterday afternoon. I'm afraid I feel asleep as soon as I got home. I had every intention of just taking a nap and then calling you to get together. I'm sorry." I want to call her a pet name, tell her how much I missed her, how much I love her; but this is an unsecured line, so we need to careful.

"It's okay. I know how tired you must've been with all the travel. I'm just glad you're home, safe and sound." The warmth in her voice calms my apprehension that she'd be annoyed.

"Can you meet me for lunch, say around one, in the cafeteria?" I ask hopefully.

"Can we make it closer to noon? That's when we usually break."

"Sure, no problem, I'll meet you then." I pause. "I can't wait to see you."

"Ditto."

"See you then. Bye."

While my laptop powers up, I formulate the outline for my case notes. After thinking for a few moments about the main points I need to hit, I begin to type.

The bacteria appear to be anthrax-like. Testing by the CDC has revealed that unlike organic forms of anthrax this synthetic version does not linger in the air. Surprisingly, it seems to dissipate upon evaporation into the atmosphere at a rate of ten thousand parts per million. Working on the premise this type of contagion is to be used for terrorism purposes, this rate is unexpectedly low.

The HazMat units called to each scene all reported no lingering dangerous levels and no evacuation or decontamination procedures were employed. Extrapolating, only those in immediate contact seem to be effected.

Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax are mild and nonspecific and may include fever, malaise and mild cough or chest pain; acute symptoms of respiratory distress, x-ray evidence of mediastinal widening, fever and shock follow in three to five days, with death shortly thereafter.

Inhalation anthrax results from inhalation of spores in risky industrial processes, such as tanning hides and processing wool or bone, where aerosols of B. anthracis spores may be produced.

The fact none of the victims worked in a high-risk industry also would lead one to assume this is not a naturally occurring contagion.

The unknown bacteria also seem to differ from its natural counterpart in that the autopsies have shown this to be a fast-acting bacterium. Unlike the expected incubation period of anthrax, there was no delay in reaction to this unknown exposure. The deaths were all immediate within twenty-four hours with evidence of the same symptoms of organic anthrax exposures, except for the highly accelerated time frame.

Given the distant locations of the incidents, as well as subsequent testing, it is no doubt airborne. How it is being transmitted is another question and when we are able to answer that, we will be well on the way to identifying who and why.

The death of five children from the same contagion, including the seven-year-old child of one of the victims in Bellingham, is of extreme interest. What ties this child to the plant other than his father? His mother reports he was not in proximity to the affected area when the deaths occurred. Additionally, he had not been to the plant for nearly six months.

At the time of his death, a week later than his father's, Billie Olson and four other children were playing in the back yard of his home. Nothing out of the ordinary was reported by any of the other children's parents.

Based on empirical data, it appears one must be in the immediate area at the time of the exposure, so what's the tie-in? How were these children infected?

Satisfied with my entry, with Mulder out, and still over a half-hour till I meet Mel, I decide to call my mother. I haven't spoken with her for quite a while.

As we're chatting, exchanging tidbits about how we've been and what we've been doing since we last spoke I hear some rapid popping sounds in the background.

"What's that noise?"

"Oh, Charlie brought the family for a visit. Didn't I tell you they were coming? No, I guess we haven't spoken since they made the plans. Anyway, I received a package from UPS today, something I bought to put away for a Christmas gift, and the boys are playing with that bubble stuff used for packing boxes."

Jesus. That's it. Trying to keep my voice calm, I say, "Mom, take it away from the boys."

"Dana? What are you talking about? They're just play-"

"I don't have time to explain. Just do as I say, please."

"Oh for heaven's sake, Dana, you're frightening me."

"I'm not trying to. It's probably nothing. I'll explain later."

"Alright." She covers the phone, but I can still hear her yell, "Boys, put that down. Charlie, come here."

"Thanks, Mom. I want you and Charlie to watch everyone for any signs of sickness."

"Dana? Now you are scaring me. What's this all about?"

I repeat, "I'll explain later. Just open all the doors and windows, air out the house for a while. But if any of you starts to feel sick, call me and get to a hospital."

Hanging up, I call Mulder and tell him to hurry back to the office. When he arrives I am just finishing my phone request with Sam Moore in Atlanta. "It's just routine, sir. Thank you."

Mulder strolls into the office with a soda and hotdog. "What gives, Scully?"

"I called all the contacts and asked them each to fax me a copy of the vendors they use for their warehouse supplies."

While Mulder is processing the information, I continue. "I think I may know how the bacteria is being transmitted."

His face lights up as he sits down and I tell him about the phone call with my mother.

"I think that's how the children fit into the equation, Mulder. The father took some bubble wrap home for his child to play with and, unfortunately, it carried the contagion."

"It's definitely worth checking out, Scully. When we get the lists we can compare the suppliers and see if there's any connection there."

I'm excited. My heart is beating faster than normal, but I try to retain my stoic countenance.

"Exactly. I think this is it, Mulder. This is the break we've been waiting for. Bubble wrap is used in all warehouses these days for packaging and somehow the perp is trapping the bacteria in the air pockets and when the bubble is innocently popped, the synthetically engineered anthrax spores are released. It appears the answer was hiding in plain sight all along."

"Good work, Scully."

I allow myself a brief moment of acknowledgement. "Well, if it is the way it's being transmitted, we will have to advise Susan to have her people start testing on all the bubble wrap at the sites as well as at the manufacturer."

"I wonder how many bubble wrap manufacturers there are, Scully?" he asks, looking at me eagerly.

"I don't have a clue, Mulder," I respond, my voice sounding playful, even to myself.

"Let's find out, shall we?" He starts clicking away on the keys of his computer, getting the search for bubble wrap manufacturers on its way.

"We'll need to get a list of all the wrap employees and then connect a manufacturer with all four sites, Mulder. The recent time frame of the occurrences would seem to indicate a shipping schedule."

Mulder picks up the conversation. "We should be looking for any recent additions to the payroll in the production areas. Anyone who would have access and could somehow manage to get it sealed within the wrap."

"Then," I add, "we'll have to get a list of all the people the manufacturer supplies and have them issue an immediate recall."

We can feel it. We can taste it. We've been here countless times in the past. We can smell the end. The hunt is about to end as it is just beginning. Both of our adrenaline levels are peeking. The room is electric as we toss around theories about who would do such a thing and why.

The faxes eventually come in and we each take two of the lists and start comparing supplier names. Of course, they are not in alphabetical order, why did I think this part of it would be easy? When we have matched up our own lists, we compare notes. We have one or two that appear on two or three of the lists. The name must appear on all four or we're back to square one.

Mulder jabs his finger onto the paper. "Bingo! Scully. That's the one. Cute name, too, don't you think?"

"Sounds more like a bubble bath manufacturer."

"Bubble Your Cares Away out of Akron, Ohio."

Mulder's smile is infectious and I can feel myself grinning right along with him. I can't believe I'm saying this after all the damned miles we've logged in the last few days. "Feel like a little plane ride, Mulder?"

Mulder makes a quick call to the Bill Dillon, owner of the suspect company, to alert him to be available when we arrive in the morning. He also tells him to have a list of all employees with hire dates ready, a list of anyone who's left the company within the last three months, and a conference room at our disposal. Above all, Mulder impresses upon him the need for confidentiality in this matter. We definitely don't want to tip off the perp.

While Mulder is on the phone with Dillon, I call Mel. "I'm sorry. We just got a break in the case. We have to fly out right now so we can be at the suspected site bright and early."

"You don't even have time for lunch?" she asks, sounding disappointed.

"I'm afraid not. I'm so sorry."

"Will you be home tomorrow?"

"I certainly hope so. I'll call you as soon as I know. Okay?"

"Okay. Be careful."

"You know I will."

We go upstairs to advise Skinner of our findings and then hurry out to the airport for a quick trip to Akron. If you count having to change planes in Pittsburgh the express route, that is.

I'm glad I got a good night's sleep, I feel invigorated, my old self again. By the time we get to the airport, I am sure this is going to be the end of the line.

We get to Akron and to the hotel by nine. We could have flown out in the morning, but we wanted to be here and out to the plant early. So, we go out for dinner and talk over our strategy for tomorrow. The decisions are made as to how to conduct the investigation.

With that out of the way, I decided to bring up the subject of Mel again. Part of the reason I'm feeling so out of sorts is this conversation with Mulder, I think.

I take a deep breath. "Mulder, I really would like us to finish our conversation."

"I thought we were through, Scully. All the plans are in place for tomorrow."

"No, Mulder. The conversation about Mel."

"Really, Scully, it's all right. We don't have to discuss it any more."

"No, what you said earlier, I didn't have an opportunity to respond." I pause. "I want you to know that I know you'd never betray us. Know it absolutely." We smile at each other. "It just seemed prudent that the fewer people who knew, the better; at least while I was still figuring it out myself. But Mel and I have been together for about six months now and I'm sure. I'm sure I love her and she loves me; I feel secure in that knowledge." I take a sip of water. "What I don't feel secure in is other people's reactions, personally and professionally."

"Scully, I want you to be happy. And I think you are." He reaches across and hooks one of my fingers with his. "Mel seems to be good for you. And, damn, she's like a mama lion when it comes to you," he chuckles. "When she first came into the hospital, I thought she was going to tear the place apart till she found you."

I can't help but laugh remembering how she charged in, all flustered. "Mama lion. That's a good one, Mulder. I'll tell her you said that."

"Don't you dare, Scully. Lions may look like big kitties, but they are far from domesticated."

"Oh, don't worry. Her roar is worse than her bite."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"She does tend to get a bit protective sometimes."

"Who could blame her? She loves you. It's hard for someone on the outside to understand our job, Scully. Hell, even I don't get it sometimes. We risk our lives chasing bad guys and they get away clean, never to be seen until the next time they strike at us. We've had nearly eight years to make the adjustment to our lives being threatened. Mel's had what, six months?"

I clasp his hand. "You're right, Mulder. But I wanted to make sure you knew the reason I didn't tell you. I do trust you implicitly. I told you one time you were the only one I trusted. Well, I've made an adjustment to the list," I say, smiling, "but it's still true. I trust you with my life."

We sit in silence for a few moments. "Are you really all right with this, Mulder?"

He strokes his thumb over mine. "Like I told Mel, people love whomever they love. It's not always a matter of choice. The fact the person you love happens to be another woman is of no consequence. She makes you happy. That's what matters."

"Mulder?" The tone of my voice is challenging.

"Okay, I admit I never would have suspected you to be a lesbian, Scully. I mean, I know your um, experiences with men haven't been real successful, but I never thought you were gay. I mean, there was never any indication."

"Indication, Mulder?"

"You know, I never caught us checking out the same babes."

I bubble up a laugh. "Mulder!"

"Come on, Scully. Let's go."

"So everything is all right then?"

"Everything is fine, Scully."

Back at the hotel Mulder and I say our goodnights and even exchange a hug. I'm keyed up. I flip on the TV hoping to be distracted and droned to sleep. Two hours later I'm still awake. I wanted to get another good night's rest and be raring to go in the morning. At this rate, I'll still be awake when Mulder knocks on the door to go to breakfast. My anxiety over the situation is not helping any either. Maybe if I have a drink. What's in the mini-bar? Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Vodka. And hiding in the back? Yes, it's orange juice. I'll have a screwdriver. That'll help to relax me. Glass? All right, whew, I made that a little strong. Oh well, it'll just be that much faster acting.

Finished with my drink, I shut off the TV and lie back down. My body is beginning to relax. One by one I feel my major muscle groups easing up and my mind has stopped racing a mile a minute. I make one last glance at the clock, one-fifteen.

There's a knock on my door. Jesus. What the hell time is it anyway? Didn't I just go to sleep? I take a quick glance at the clock. Good thing it has a luminous read out because it's dark in here. No wonder, it's only five-thirty in the damn morning. The sun isn't even up yet.

What the hell is that sound? I hear my name, half-whispered and half-yelled, "Scully." It's followed by another set of knocks.

I groan. Mulder. Crap. "Just a minute."

Shuffling over to unlock the door, I catch a glimpse of myself in the dresser mirror and attempt to straighten out my hair.

"Mulder? Tell me there's a good reason why you're waking me up at this ungodly hour."

"Breakfast, Scully."

"Since when do we eat breakfast at five-thirty, Mulder?"

"By the time you get ready, it won't be five-thirty, Scully. It'll be closer to six-thirty. Then allowing an hour for breakfast and the drive to the plant we'll get there right when they open." God, he's way too chipper for this time of morning. He's so wired, I would bet he's already gone on a run.

"All right. All right," I say squinting at the morning sun as it begins to filter in through the slightly ajar door. "Just stop talking. I'll knock on your door when I'm ready."

Closing the door in his face, I head to the bathroom for a shower to wake me up. Approximately forty-five minutes later I am waiting for Mulder to open his door.

"Let's go," I say.

"Good morning to you, too."

Whatever.

We review our strategy one final time for the morning meeting with Mr. Dillon and how we want this portion of the investigation to proceed.

"Scully, I'm concerned." He stops mid-sentence.

I wait for him to continue, but he doesn't. "What, Mulder? You're concerned about what?"

"Nothing, forget it."

"Mulder, if it has something to do with the case, I need to hear it."

"It's not about the case, Scully."

Oh, so it's personal. Do I want to hear this? Knowing Mulder if I just keep quiet long enough, he'll tell me. So, the question is do I continue to wait or do I jump in and change the subject? Before I can decide, Mulder speaks up.

"Are you sure everything is okay, Scully?"

"Look, Mulder, everything is just fine, alright? I told you I've been having difficulty sleeping is all. I'm sorry if I've been irritable or short with you. Just know that it's got nothing at all to do with you."

"Maybe you should see a doctor."

"I am a doctor."

"You know what I mean, Scully. Usually you can fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I'm the insomniac, remember? I would hope you'd tell me if something is bothering you."

"Mulder, there is nothing physically wrong with me, so please, relax." I hesitate. "And I will try to be less irritable." I force a smile.

He looks relieved to hear there is nothing physically wrong with me. "Okay, if you're sure." He offers a weak simulation of a smile back at me. It's the eyes that always give him away; they show his disappointment when I won't confide in him. "But, Scully, I'm always here for you."

"I know, Mulder." I reach over and pat his arm. "I know."

We get up from the table and head out to the plant with Mulder driving, of course.

Arriving, we can't help but chuckle again over the name of the company: Bubble Your Cares Away. Mr. Dillon is waiting for us in the lobby and leads us to his office. Once there he supplies us with the data we had requested.

"I think you'll find all our employees are hard-working people. I can't believe one of them would be capable of doing such a thing."

"Well, Mr. Dillon, I'm sure you can appreciate the situation, we have to follow up all possible leads," Mulder says, trying to diffuse the man's close to the surface panic.

I can sympathize with him. I'm sure he sees nothing but lawsuits, bad press, and the possible loss of his business.

"Of course, Agent Mulder, but I just can't believe it," he says.

"Sir, we are not accusing you of anything; this is just routine procedure and we appreciate your cooperation. Now if you could please show us to the conference room we requested, we'd like to get started," I say, smiling while I reach for the documents.

As soon as Mr. Dillon leaves us alone Mulder and I start dividing up the papers.

"You've got that smile thing down to an art form, Scully."

"Well, you catch more flies with honey."

Forty-five minutes later and neither of us have found anything that looks out of the ordinary.

"Dammit, Mulder. He's here. I know it."

"We'll find him, Scully."

I get up and pour us coffee from the carafe; they have also included a box of donuts. Why does everyone assume every law enforcement officer is a donut-eater? Why no bagels? Not that I'm even hungry.

"Look at this, Scully." Mulder looks up excitedly. He has his 'Eureka! I've found it' gleam in his eyes.

I walk around to where he is sitting. Well, actually standing now. He's shoving papers at me and pointing. "There, there he is, Scully. Ralph Jephson."

"Why do you think it's him, Mulder?"

"He fits the profile. He was hired within the last ninety days. He works in the plant area where they make the bubble wrap. His resume shows he graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Biochemistry. Ask yourself, Scully, why would someone with those qualifications be working in a production plant?"

"I admit it appears suspicious, Mulder."

"Before we talk to him let's run a background check; see if he belongs to any known subversive groups. Maybe he's got some questionable campus activities he failed to mention under the extracurricular activities area on his job application."

"I'll fax this back to D.C., see what they can turn up on Mr. Jephson."

"In the meantime, Scully, feel like taking a stroll around the grounds?"

"I think in this instance, Mulder, we should have an escort. We'd look less out of place than if we were by ourselves. I'll call Mr. Dillon and ask him to arrange it."

"This is it, Scully. I can feel it."

"I hope you're right, Mulder."

After a stop in the ladies' room, I return to find Mulder standing with a man who has his back to me. As I approach, he turns in my direction.

"Agent Scully, this is Mike Rawls, our guide."

We shake hands. God, he's young. Is he an executive here or the mailroom boy? Mulder reads my mind.

"Mike here is the head of the IT Department, Scully."

That's good. If anyone sees us, they'll just assume we're computer people of some sort perhaps here to fix a problem with the system.

"Ready to go?" Mike asks. "We'll go downstairs and cut through the break room to the plant area."

I follow Mike and Mulder follows behind me, his hand on the small of my back.

We try to act interested and occasionally pose a question to Mike, but our focus is on the plant layout and processing areas. Everyone here wears a nametag and I try to look for our perp. I recognize his picture from his employee file and nudge Mulder. He sees him and nods to me.

"What's this area over here, Mike?" I ask, casually walking in the direction of Jephson. Mulder and I never look directly at him. He has to think he is invisible and we are nothing more than visitors.

"Oh, this is the area where the actual bubble wrap is constructed."

"This is fascinating, isn't it, Mulder? Look at the way the two sheets of plastic are molded together to allow for those air pockets."

"Amazing."

We continue to watch the operation for a bit before moving on. I've been watching Jephson out of the corner of my eye and he hasn't taken any notice of us.

"Mike, thanks for the tour," Mulder says.

We head outdoors so we can discuss in private what we just saw. "Mulder, I think it is quite possible something could be inserted into the bubble wrap before it's sealed. It would just take a little timing is all."

"But it happens so fast, Scully. How could a contagion be injected into it?"

"If the machine were to stop for some reason, it could be done easily. I think the contagion must be enclosed in some sort of timed-release shell. When the outer coating evaporates, only the contagion is left. Then when something causes the bubble wrap to be broken or, or a child pops it while playing, the contagion is released into the atmosphere. Those in the immediate area are infected and are dead within twenty-four hours."

"Well, Ralph Jephson certainly has the knowledge and the access; I say we get a search warrant, Scully. Maybe Mr. Jephson has himself a laboratory set up in his garage."

Within an hour we obtain our search warrant and arrive at the suspect's home with the police. We wait until the HazMat unit shows up shortly thereafter. They go in first, then come out to get us; seems there is no danger because there is no lab.

"Dammit! There's got to be something, Scully."

I've been roaming around the house, looking for anything to give us a clue. "Look at this, Mulder."

He joins me in the bedroom. "What is it, Scully? Did you find something?"

"I turned on his computer and look what's on the screen."

We both stare at the monitor. Laid out right in front of us is an equation for the production of a synthetic anthrax bacteria.

"Let's go get him, Mulder."

Before leaving I instruct the officers to bring his computer's CPU in as evidence. We drive back over to Bubble Your Cares Away and inform Mr. Dillon we are going to arrest one of his employees; he is none too happy.

We head out to the production area. Mulder casually walks up to Jephson, slaps the cuffs on him, and starts reading him his rights. A crowd has formed and everyone is whispering in wonder about what is taking place.

Mulder jerks Jephson by the cuffs and we take him off the premises. Driving down to the police station, none of us say a word.

Once there, Mulder takes over the interrogation while I call Susan in Atlanta to inform her of the turn of events. She agrees to get the CDC people out here to do extensive testing. I call all the plant owners who readily agree to pull the bubble wrap they have purchased from Mr. Dillon's company. They are all extremely happy to comply with the directions I give them regarding storage of it until HazMat personnel arrives.

Lastly, I call Skinner and inform him of the arrest. Mulder is walking out the interrogation room as I'm heading down the hall.

"Did he confess, Mulder?"

"He broke down right away."

"So? Did he offer a reason as to why he would do this?"

"Oh, yeah, a really good one, too," he says, his answer dripping with sarcasm. "The stupid sonofabitch just wanted to see if he could do it. Over twenty people dead and the potential for I don't know how many more and he just wanted to see if he could do it."

"What about his lab? We didn't find any evidence of it."

"He rents a self-storage unit a few miles from his house. That's where he did all his lab work."

"Come on, Mulder. It's all over but the paperwork. We've done everything we can here. The rest is going to be up to the CDC. Let's go home."

"I wonder just how much of that contaminated bubble wrap is out in the general public, Scully. It could be anywhere; it's a ticking time bomb."

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see if any other cases are reported, Mulder. It may be that it'll never happen, if the bubble wrap is not compromised." I pause. "I'm sure Susan and the local Bureau will do everything in their power to track as much of the suspect wrap as possible. We'll just never be sure if they've found it all."

On the flight back, I call Mel to tell her I'll be home for a late dinner. She's overjoyed and tells me she's anxious for us to be together again tonight.

Back at the office, Mulder and I agree we can finish putting our notes together tomorrow, and decide to call it a day. Besides, I'm anxious to get home.

As I unlock and push open the door, I'm hit by the most wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. Before I can say a word, Mel grabs me, kicks the door shut, and greets me with a series of intensity escalating kisses. "Welcome home, baby," she says as we cling tightly to each other. "I was so worried about you."

I lean back, look directly at her, hoping to reassure her. "I was never in any danger, honey." I take a moment to look her up and down. God, she looks wonderfully sexy standing here barefoot, in dark slacks and pale colored scoop neck cashmere sweater, the swell of her breasts peaking up to tease me. Pulling her back into my embrace, I ask, "What smells so good?"

"Besides me you mean?" she laughs.

"You always smell good, sweetie." I softly nibble on her earlobe and then continue slowly down her neck. She quietly moans my name, causing my stomach to flip flop and I feel an instant rush of heat and wetness between my legs. "And you definitely always taste good."

She laughs. "Are you hungry?"

I stop nibbling and look up at her. "Oh, baby, you have no idea just how hungry I am."

Her eyes widen. "Why Agent Scully, are you trying to tell me I'm going to get lucky later?"

I struggle in vain to contain a grin. "Who said anything about later?" I run my finger over her lips, then mimic the action with my tongue.

On our way to the bedroom we make a quick detour to the kitchen. As we pass the dining room, I notice the formally set table, complete with candles and fresh flowers. I can't contain my desire and stop to kiss her passionately. In the kitchen, I reach around her to turn the oven down to 'warm'. I deliberately press my pelvis against hers. She gasps and moans in quick succession, then begins to gently undulate against me.

"But dinner is almost ready," she whispers, in faux protest.

"Yes," I say, running my tongue across her collarbone and blowing a stream of warm breath between her breasts, "you are."

THE END


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to ScullyFu