Secrets 1/2 (NC-17)


 

He grabbed the phone from the wrong side of the desk, on his way to get another cup of coffee.  "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me.  I just wanted to let you know I wasn't coming in today."  Her voice sounded slightly muffled, not quite herself.

"You okay, Scully?"

"Yeah, I'm fine.  I think it's just a little stomach flu or something."

He'd already winced at the "fine", he really needed to teach her a new word for 'I'm not doing too well but I don't want you to bother me'.  "What if I drop by later with some chicken soup?"

"No!  I mean, I'm contagious Mulder, you don't want to get near me."  He frowned at that.  She never hesitated to get near him if he were sick.  Must be a doctor thing.

"Will you call me if you do need anything?"

"You'll be the first.  Later."  And she broke the connection.  She must really be feeling ill; it almost sounded like she was crying.  Except that Scully didn't cry.  Okay, he'd give her a little space today, but if she wasn't here tomorrow he was going over there.

The rest of the day dragged, but he got through it.  He picked up the phone to call her three separate times, but managed to stop himself.  If she was sleeping he didn't want to disturb her.  Likewise after work, he forced himself to head to his apartment rather than hers.  She'd promised to call if she needed anything.

He managed to hold off calling her until 8:30.  It took her four rings to answer.  "Scully, it's me.  Did I wake you?"

"Uh, no, I wasn't asleep."

"You don't sound any better."  In fact she sounded worse, but he didn't want to say that.

"I plan to be in tomorrow."

"Don't push it, Scully.  If you don't feel well - "

"I said I'd be in tomorrow.  I need to go."

"Oh, okay.  I'll, uh, I'll see you tomorrow.  Goodnight Scully."

"Goodnight."  Again she was the one that broke the connection.  He didn't feel any better about her.  She must be feeling pretty bad.

*****

She was there at her regular time the next morning though she didn't seem quite herself.  "You didn't push yourself too hard, did you, Scully?"

"Good morning to you too Mulder."

"Sorry.  I am glad you're back."  He grinned at her.

"Didn't get the expense report finished yesterday, did you?"

He chuckled, but didn't give her a straight answer, just watching her enjoy her coffee.  He saw her grimace.   "Scully?"

"It's nothing."  She turned away from him, but he followed.  His eyes narrowed as he looked more closely at her face.  That was a bruise, carefully covered with makeup.  He automatically reached out with a couple of fingers to touch her cheek.  She shied away sharply.

"Scully, what happened?"

"It was stupid.  I got up in the night to go to the bathroom and ran into the door.  I almost knocked myself out."

"Damn, Scully.  Are you okay?"  He took another step toward her, but she backed away.

"I'm fine.  Can we just get to work?" 

"Sure."  He didn't mean to hover, she always hated that.  He moved back to his own desk to give her some space.  She wasn't okay, but she wanted to work.  He kept quiet, working beside her until lunchtime.  Finally he pushed back from the desk.  "Want to get something to eat?"

"Uh, no.  I'm not hungry."  She didn't look at him. 

"You should eat something, at least try."

"I said I wasn't hungry.  Okay?"  That wasn't like her.  "Why don't you go eat?  I'll be fine."  He didn't believe her, but she obviously wanted some time.  He wanted to make her feel better, and if that was what she wanted . . .

She seemed agitated when he returned, unable to sit still.   He finally commented on it.  "Scully, I think you've put in enough time today."

"What?"  She turned back from the file cabinet, spilling half of the file she held.  He rose and moved toward her.  "I'll get it."  He hesitated, watching her gather up the papers.

"Go home, Scully.  I'll finish up here.  I think you need some more time."  He was startled to see her eyes grow moist.  "Scully?"

"Um, you're right.  I'll, uh, I'll see you in the morning."  She wouldn't look at him now.

"Scully, why don't I take you home?" 

She glanced up and quickly away.  "I'm fine, Mulder."  Without another word she gathered up her things and left.  He sat staring at the door.  She was really out of it.  He hoped an early evening and a good night's sleep would help.

 

She was late the next morning.  He was almost out the door on his way to a meeting with Skinner before he heard her approach the office.  "Get a move on, Scully.  We're late."  He looked up when she didn't respond and put the file he was holding back on the desk.  "Are you okay?"  He reached for her arm and she pulled back.  The bruise on her face was more noticeable today, or the makeup job wasn't as good.  "Have you seen a doctor, Scully?" 

"Leave me alone, Mulder.  Stop . . . stop hovering.  Let's just go to the meeting."  He stepped back, stung at her attitude.  He was trying to help and he was getting a little tired of her pushing him away. 

"Fine.  Let's go."  He turned from her and retrieved the paperwork.  He headed out the door and didn't see her start to reach out her hand to him.  She quickly dropped it and followed him to the elevator.

She was distracted during the meeting.  Mulder spent more time watching her than paying attention himself.   Skinner caught on when he had to repeat his third question to her for the second time.  "Agent Scully, are you with us here?"

"I'm sorry sir.  I . . . if you'll excuse me."  She was practically to the door before Mulder made it to his feet.

"What's going on, Mulder?"

Mulder shrugged helplessly.  "She said she had a bug, she was out on Tuesday."

"That doesn't explain the bruise."  Skinner pinned him with his gaze.

"She said she stumbled into her bathroom door."  It sounded lame when he said it.  Skinner just looked at him.  "I'll go see . . . " 

By the time he'd reached the office she was gone, but at least she'd left a note.  "I'm taking the rest of the day.  This medication is making me dopey.  See you tomorrow."

Well, at least she was taking something.  He might swing by there this evening on his way home.

The day dragged by, he called once but her machine picked up before the first ring.  Well, that probably meant she was asleep.  That's what she needed.  He did head that way when he left work, but as he got closer he developed cold feet about actually stopping.   She'd been so prickly about his concern.   Instead he checked that her car was there and the lights on.  Okay, maybe she'd be better tomorrow.

*****

The next morning came, but Scully didn't.  He waited as long as he could, still only able to raise her answering machine, and finally decided to throw caution to the winds and head over there.   She could yell at him if she wanted, but she needed checking on, and he should have done this sooner, he could feel it.

Her car hadn't been moved from the night before.  She was probably still asleep, but he didn't care.  The paper was still at the door; she hadn't been out yet this morning.  He tapped on her door and when there was no answer, knocked louder.  When there was still no response, he pulled out his key.  He opened the door and looked inside before entering, he didn't want to startle her.  "Scully?   It's me."  No response so he came on in.

The place didn't look right; it was messier than he was used to.  She was usually so meticulous about her living space.  He'd seen her hands twitch to straighten up his apartment more than once.

Then he spotted her, sitting on her couch unmoving.    Her knees were tucked under her chin and her hair was covering most of her face.  It looked stringy, unkempt and her face . . . she had no makeup on and her cheeks were red, the tracks of old tears and that horrible bruise plainly visible.  She was wearing the same clothes she'd had on in the meeting yesterday.

"Scully?"  He approached her cautiously; she still didn't seem to be aware he was in the room.  "Scully, it's me, it's Mulder.  Can you hear me?"

Her head turned slowly and it seemed to take a while before her eyes focused on him.  "Mulder?"

"That's right.  Scully, I'm going to take you to the hospital.  Okay?"

"No!"  She jerked back violently at that and knocked away the hand he reached out toward her.  "Don't touch!"

"Okay, okay, Scully.  Just relax.  I'm not going to hurt you."  He glanced around the room again.  What the hell had happened here?  "Scully, I'm going to fix you some hot tea.  Is that okay?"

"Don't leave."  He barely heard those words, whispered into her knees.

"I'm not going anywhere, just to the kitchen.  You'll still be able to see me.  Scully?"  She nodded slightly at that and he backed away from her, afraid to turn away.

He found the mug and tea bags quickly; he wanted to be back in there, beside her.  He realized his hands were shaking slightly when he took the cup from the microwave.  Shit, he'd stared down the barrels of guns, had holes drilled in his head, killed people, and she was making his hand tremble.  What was wrong with her?  This was no damn stomach flu.

"Scully?  Drink this, okay?"  She took the cup and held it as though unsure what to do next.  He moved closer and she pulled back into the cushions.  "It's alright, Scully.  I won't hurt you."  She looked up at him then and seemed to relax a little.  She took a sip and closed her eyes.  He waited, she couldn't be rushed.

After a few more sips she opened her eyes and looked at him.   She tried to place the cup on the table, but he ended up taking it from her, though she did pull back at first.

"Can you talk to me, Scully?  Tell me what's wrong.  Please."  He moved slightly closer, but didn't want to crowd her.  "How did your face really get hurt, Scully?"

"He hit me,"  she spoke low, but the words rang in his ears.

"Who hit you, Scully?"  He managed to keep his voice even, calm.

"The man out back."

"Out back?"  That confused him.

"I . . . I took the trash out."

"You were mugged?"  He desperately wanted her to say yes.  A mugging was bad, but . . .

She shook her head.  "I was just taking out the trash.  I do it all the time.   I was in my pajamas and robe.  They were waiting for me."

"They?"  There was no way to hide the quaver in his voice on that word.  "Scully, how many . . . people were there?" 

"Three.  Three men."   For the first time tears formed in her eyes.

"Scully, were you ra . . . raped?"  The tears slipped from her eyes then and he closed his own.  Someone had violated her.   No, not someone, three, three men had . . . he'd find them.  He was going to kill them.  She was his; given to him, first as a partner, then a friend, and now . . . his hands have become fists.  "Scully."  He reached for her and when she pulled back, didn't retreat himself.  "Scully, let me touch you.  Let me hold you.  I won't hurt you, Scully."

The trembling had increased to shaking now, and her breathing had grown shallow.  He cautiously moved closer and put his arm around her.  She was so tense, but she wasn't pulling away.  He eased her into his lap and put his arms around her.  He was almost afraid she would break.  Her arms didn't go around him, clutching her own body.  She did bury her face in his chest.

"Let me help you, Scully.  I would never hurt you."  He continued murmuring in her ear, caressing her back.  After several minutes he could feel a slight relaxation of her muscles.  She finally took a deep breath, but stayed where she was in his lap.

"Scully, why didn't you call me?"

"I was, I . . . when they were gone I crawled inside," his arms involuntarily tightened around her.  "I wanted to . . . but it all went black.  I don't know.  When I woke up, it was late, too late to call you." 

"Scully."  When had it ever been too late to call him?  But he stopped; he wasn't going to scold her about anything.

"I got up and . . . and showered.  I know," she stopped his automatic protests, 'but I had to!"

"You didn't call the police?"

"No.  Mulder I couldn't, I can't!"

"Okay, okay.  Don't . . . it's okay.  Just relax.  I'm going to take care of this.  But you do need to see a doctor."  She tensed up again immediately.  "Scully, it doesn't have to be anyone that knows you.  But you . . . I'll be with you."

She looked anguished and he continued holding her, she had to seek medical help.  But she also had to decide it for herself.  Finally he felt her shoulders relax a little and handed her a tissue.

"Where?"

"There's a walk-in clinic near my apartment.  I'll take you there.  It'll be okay, Scully."  She made no comment and attempted to rise from his lap. 

He had to help her and then, because she seemed somehow cold without him holding her, pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped it around her.  She looked up at him gratefully. 

He led her to his car and headed for the clinic.  He'd been there several times himself and knew the staff.   Watching her was more important than watching the road right now, but he managed to do both. 

She was reluctant to leave the car, but with his arms around her, she managed.  His badge and her appearance got them an examining room immediately.

The young doctor that entered took one look at Scully, then moved over to speak in low tones to Mulder.  "What do we have here?"

"She was attacked.  You'll need to use a rape kit."  He managed to sound business-like, though his stomach was in knots.

"When did it happen?"

"Monday night."

That brought the doctor's head up.  "Monday?  It's probably too late, Mulder."

"Do it anyway, Joe.  Whatever we can find."

The doctor nodded and moved over to Scully.  "I'm Joe Davenport.  I'm going to get a nurse in here and then I'll examine you.  Try to relax.  Mulder, if you'll -" He motioned toward the door.

"No!"  She reached for him.

He took her into his arms.  "I'll be right outside the door, Scully."  He whispered into her ear.  "I'm not leaving, I swear to you I will not leave."

She was shaking now and Joe could see what this was costing her.  "Why don't I give you a little something to help relax you?  You'll feel better."

She looked up at Mulder as though for guidance and his heart broke.  "Take it, Scully."  She nodded, not looking over at the doctor.  He prepared a syringe and gave her the shot himself.  In a very few minutes her eyes were closing.  Mulder laid her back on the table and kissed her forehead, then after a quick look at Joe, stepped outside.

The next forty-five minutes were the longest of his life.   When Joe finally emerged and handed him the kit he realized he'd been holding his breath.  "Is she okay?"

Joe studied his shoes for a moment.  "I gave her the morning after pill."

"She's unable to conceive,"  he said it matter of factly, no emotion.

"I'm sorry."

That brought Mulder's head up, surprised.  "Me too.  But is she okay?"

"I had to put in a couple of stitches."  Mulder felt his knees start to buckle at those words and Joe took his arm, leading him to the nearest of the black plastic chairs in the hall.  "She's not a case, is she?"  Mulder shook his head.  "What name do you want me to put on the file?"

"Jane Doe."

"You know she'll need follow up AIDS testing.  Where do I send the results?"

"To me.  At my apartment."  Joe nodded, they'd worked together before, but he'd never seen Mulder like this.  After a moment the tortured man looked over at him.  "Can I get her out of here?"

"She's not awake.  The sedative hit her pretty hard.  I imagine she hasn't been sleeping."

Mulder nodded.  "I'll keep an eye on her.  We're just going to my place."

Reluctantly the doctor nodded, "Call me if you need anything."  Mulder didn't bother to acknowledge that and rose.  He redressed her and carried her to his car.  He needed to be alone with her; he needed to make her feel safe again.

His building was empty when he arrived, so he wasn't observed carrying her inside for which he was grateful.  He made her comfortable in his bed and slipped from the room, leaving the door cracked in case she needed him.

His hand hovered over the phone for just a second then he grabbed it and dialed quickly.  "There's a problem.  Can you come over?"  He nodded at the answer and hung up.  He stood in his living room, staring at the kit not sure what to think, what to feel.  He wanted a drink, but that was the last thing he was going to do, hell it wasn't even lunchtime.  He sank onto the couch and sat staring at nothing.

The knock at the door finally roused him and he forced himself to his feet.  He opened the door and watched his three friends enter.  They gave him the once over and Byers spoke, "Mulder, what happened to you?"

"Not me."  He turned and picked up the kit from his counter.  "I need you to analyze this.  Get everything you can from it.  Hack into every DNA database you can find." 

"What is it?"  Langly took the package from him.

"A rape kit."

"Rape?  Who was - "

Frohike caught on first and they turned to look at him as he moaned.  "Mulder, no!"

Byers moved toward Mulder.  "Not Scully."  Mulder nodded.   "We'll get the information."

"There were three of them."  Byers looked up at him stricken, Frohike lowered himself into the nearest chair and held his head in his hands.  Even Langly looked pale enough to faint at that point.

"Is she," Byers had to swallow to get his voice back, "is she okay?"

"What do you think?"  Mulder looked away for an instant as the men winced, "Sorry, I . . . "

"Are you okay, Mulder?"  Byers touched his arm.  Mulder shook his head, but didn't bother to speak.  "Is she here?"  Mulder motioned toward his bedroom.  "We need to get started on this.  Mulder, call us if you need . . . if we can do anything."

"Get this information for me.  That's all I need."

The men nodded and Frohike stood.  Frohike and Langly left the apartment, but Byers stopped at the door.   "Mulder, do you want me to stay - the guys can get this information without me.  If you want to talk or . . . "

"No, it's okay.  She didn't know I was going to call you.  When she wakes up I don't think anyone else should be here."  Byers nodded and after a moment followed his friends from the apartment.

*****

"Scully, Scully it's me.  It's Mulder, wake up.  You're safe."  She opened her eyes and focused on him immediately.  "Are you awake?"

"Is this . . . is this your . . . " She looked around, trying to get her bearings.

"Yeah, I thought you might be more comfortable over here."   She nodded, her eyes tearing.

"Scully, don't cry.  Are you in any pain?"

"No.  I just . . . thanks for, for bringing me here."  He took her hand and sat beside her on the bed.

"I want you to stay here tonight.  Okay?"  She nodded.  "If you'll make me a list, I'll run over to your place and pick up what you need, then get some dinner.  We missed lunch anyway, so you're probably getting hungry."

She demurred, but he was right about needing some things.   It was just the thought of being alone again.   But here . . . it should be better here.

She walked him to the door and he stood outside until he heard the deadbolt engage.  He'd hurry; he didn't want to leave her alone.  Mulder headed for her apartment first and let himself in, automatically looking around to see if she had left any evidence.  Nothing obvious.   He moved toward her bedroom and found her overnight bag.  He opened it on her bed and began to look for the items on her list.  Going through her underwear drawer was uncomfortable; he was here at her request, not like some pervert.  Knowing that didn't help any.  He finished as quickly as he could and moved to her bathroom.  That wasn't nearly as bad, and it was while he was closing the mirror to her medicine cabinet that he spotted the bundle of something stuffed behind her tub.

He moved over to it, was it clothing?  He knelt to examine the cloth without having to touch it.  Scully wouldn't . . . pajamas, this is what she'd been wearing - oh god.  When he was able he rose to his feet and headed for the kitchen.  There he found a plastic bag that would keep the evidence safe and returned, carefully removing the clothing and sealing it in the bag.

Her things forgotten temporarily, he found himself at the backdoor, concentrating on evidence.  She'd cleaned in here.  That was obvious, but she'd missed some blood in the crack of the door jam.  He steeled himself to think of it only as evidence and managed to open the back door.  Here, this was where they had . . . No!  Evidence, think about the evidence.

He moved carefully, looking intently for whatever he could find, but this area was trampled constantly - the garbage had been emptied, vehicles had been in and out of the area.  He'd have to rely on what he already had.

Move it, he needed to get back to her.  He'd drop the pajamas by the guy's apartment and pick up some dinner.  He'd already been gone longer than he'd planned.

Frohike answered the door.  "Mulder, we don't - "

"I found this."  Frohike moved to let him enter.  Mulder shook his head; "I have to get back to her."  Frohike nodded, not sure what to say.

Now he definitely felt the need to hurry, she'd been alone too long.  So as not to frighten her, he knocked rather than let himself in, barely balancing their dinner as he held onto her suitcase.

She opened the door and grabbed the styrofoam containers before he could drop them, then stepped back to let him in.  He looked her over and grinned, partly in relief.

She blushed slightly.  "I took another shower, I'm - "

"Believe me, it looks better on you than on me."  His t-shirt came to her knees.  It was one of his older ones, there was a hole at the neck and it had been washed so many times it was probably the softest thing he owned.  It molded itself to her shape perfectly.  As soon as he realized he noticed that he felt shame.  This woman had been violated and he was looking at her like this?

Scully reached out and touched his arm, as though she had read his thoughts.  "Thanks for getting my things."

"Hey, no problem."  She'd let him off the hook.  He carried the suitcase on into the bedroom while she set out their dinner.

She cleaned up despite his protests following their meal.   She hadn't eaten enough, but he'd made certain she ate at least a little.  While she was in the kitchen he checked to see if there was any email from the guys.   None.  He wasn't sure what he expected this quickly, but he wanted something.  He signed off as he heard her come into the living room.   "That didn't take long."

"Practice, Mulder.  You should try it sometime."  He grinned up at her.  She hadn't changed clothes, apparently feeling comfortable enough with him not to worry about it.

He didn't bother to respond, she was right anyway.   "You want to pick the movie tonight?"

"You go ahead.  I probably can't stay awake for the whole thing anyway."  She was right, drifting off before the movie was barely begun.

"Scully?  Come on, let's put you to bed."  She nodded and let him help her to her feet.  He stopped just outside the bedroom door.

"Thanks, Mulder."  She squeezed his hand.

"Call me if you need anything."  She nodded again and moved on into the room, pushing the door to, but not latching it. 

His smile disappeared when she was out of sight.  She did seem better, but there was no way she was healed.   He wondered if it were possible for her to ever be okay.

Wearily he returned to his movie, but after a few minutes cut it off so it wouldn't disturb her and got ready for bed himself.  He stretched out on the couch and forced his mind away from things he couldn't bear to think about right now.

*****

She woke with a start, and it took her a moment to recognize his room.  She relaxed back against the pillow.  Had she had a nightmare?  She didn't remember one, which was probably good.  Then she heard him.

He was in the room at Skyland Mountain.  Duane Barry was in front of him, shaking his head, murmuring nonsense.  "Did you hurt her?"  He was helpless, he'd never been more helpless and this man had hurt her, maybe killed her.   He spotted the blood and hair on the man's hospital bracelet.  His rage overtook him and he had the man by the throat.

"Mulder, Mulder wake up.  It's Scully.  You're safe."  He sat bolt upright, nearly knocking heads with her.

"Scully."

"Yeah.  It was just a dream." 

He held his head for a minute.  "Right."

"What was it?"  She was beside him on the couch now.

"The abduction dream."

She nodded, "Samantha."  She understood that one; he had it often enough.

He shook his head, "No, you."

She looked up startled.  Her?  He had dreams about her abduction?  "It's okay, Mulder.  It was just a dream."

He nodded, "Sorry I woke you."

"No problem."  She got comfortable on the couch next to him.

"Scully?"

"Why don't we finish that movie?"

She knew him too well.  He wouldn't be able to sleep the rest of the night anyway.  He rose and put the tape back in the VCR, then returned to the couch and after only a second's hesitation tucked her in next to him and left his arm draped around her shoulder.  When there was no protest he relaxed.

He actually did see the rest of the movie, though she didn't.  When it was over he muted the TV and began rewinding the tape.  She was sound asleep, so he lifted her into his arms and carried her back into the bedroom.  

He laid her gently onto the bed and before he rose, pressed his lips against her forehead.  Without warning her arms went around his neck.  "Scully?"   He whispered.

"Alone."  What?  She wasn't awake, but . . . did she not want to be alone?   Maybe he'd woken her a little carrying her in here.  He'd hang around until he was sure she was asleep.  He stretched out beside her, on top of the covers and she turned immediately to bury her face in his chest.

That surprised him, but gave him comfort somehow.  She trusted him, she wasn't afraid of him and for a change she was letting him be there for her. 

He lay watching her until her breathing was even, then started to move away from her.  She seemed to sense it and became restless, following him.  He stopped and put his arm back around her and she relaxed immediately.  The same thing happened the second time he tried it, so he gave in.  She wanted him here, and it was no hardship on him.  He could lie here beside her as easily as he could on the couch; he wasn't expecting to sleep anyway.

*****

He woke to find himself alone.  Scully!  Where was she?   Then he heard the shower and was able to draw a breath.  He rose; he could start the coffee.  Did he have anything here for breakfast?  Once the coffee was begun he checked out the refrigerator.  Nothing there he could offer a human.  Well, well - in the freezer, some English muffins.  Better than he had thought he could do.

His head went up when the heard the shower cut off.  In a few minutes he heard her come up behind him in the kitchen and he turned to greet her, but stopped.

She looked better, more relaxed.  The bruise was beginning to fade and she'd pulled her damp hair back into a ponytail.  He'd done well in his choice of her clothes.  She was wearing a light green, scoop neck t-shirt and jeans.

"Is everything okay?  Mulder?"

He realized he was staring and gave a low chuckle.  "I'm not used to this."

"What?  Most of the women take the money off the dresser and leave before you wake up?"

She was teasing him!  She could tease about this, now?  "Watch it woman - I'll charge you rent."

She smiled then and dropped her eyes, moving toward the counter.  He poured her a mug of coffee and lowered the muffins into the toaster.

"I need to get some groceries, Scully.  I'm out of . . . well, everything.  Want to help me make a list?"

She nodded and swallowed her coffee.  "You could use some cleaning supplies too."

"Scully, you don't have to - "

"I want to.  In fact, I've wanted to for years.  Please, it will give me something to do."

"Years huh?  How should I take that?"  He watched the smile she tried to hide grow.  "I should get dressed.  Write down what we need and I'll run out in a little while."

She nodded not facing him.  She was okay, really, most of the time.  But the thoughts of him leaving left her feeling strange, alone, almost abandoned.   "Scully?"

"Just thinking about what we need.  Go on, shower."  He watched her for a moment longer then moved on to the bathroom.

When he emerged, dressed and toweling his hair one more time she had assembled quite a list of needs.  It was lying on the table and she was on a chair, looking through his cabinets.

He picked up the list to examine it.  She must be planning to cook; he didn't even know what some of this stuff was for.  His eyes scanned down the list and stopped about three-quarters of the way down.  Was she kidding?  She wanted him to buy . . . he'd never even been down that aisle of the market.  But other men did, surely he could make a selection and . . . damn, the things he would do for her.

He looked up to find her watching him, not speaking, just watching.  He wondered what his expression had betrayed but decided not to ask.  "This a complete list?"

"No, but I'm not sure your car could hold everything you need.  Let me get some money."

"I can get this, Scully.  You can get the next one."  She went dead still, the only movement was her throat as she swallowed.  He waited, had he said the wrong thing?

"Okay, I'll get the next one."  He tried to hide his relief and could only hope that he succeeded.   He tucked the list into his pocket and turned toward the door.  "Mulder."   He stopped and looked back.  "Nothing.  I'll see you later."

He nodded, "I won't be long."  She nodded and attempted to smile.   He stepped back to her and took her hand.  "I'll have my cell phone, in case you think of anything else we need.  Okay?"

"Okay."  But she didn't look up at him.  That's when it hit him; she didn't want to be alone.  That's what last night had been about.  Dana Scully was afraid.  He wanted to tear them into little pieces - he would when he found them.

The shopping was actually an adventure.  It would have been more fun if she had been along but neither of them had thought about it.  He finished up as quickly as he could, ignored the looks that he received from the cashier and loaded his car.

At the last minute he decided to run by her place again.   He didn't think anything would spoil in that amount of time.  He was back on the road in record time.  She hadn't called, but she wouldn't - she would think that showed weakness.

He had to kick the door, no hands to knock with when he got home.  She opened it immediately, obviously waiting for him, and took one of the bags from him.  "Can you start unloading?  I've got a couple more trips to make."

"My god, Mulder.  How much did you buy?"

"Just what was on the list ma'am."  He tipped an imaginary hat at her.  She smiled and turned to the task assigned.  He thought she looked steadier, more composed than yesterday.  Was he? 

It took two loads to bring up the last of the stuff.  The final load included a couple of her suits and work shoes.   "Mulder?"

"I'm enjoying the company.  I thought you could stay a little longer this way."  She looked at him without comment for a moment then gave a half nod.

"Byers called while you were out.  He didn't seemed surprised when I answered the phone."

"Oh?"  Careful, what should he reveal?  "Did he want me to call him back?"

"Yes.  I had the impression he has information for you.  Would this be about a case I'm familiar with?"

"This is one I'm working on the side."

"Mulder."  She pinned him with that look.  She didn't seem overly upset and she had to know.  When had she ever not known what he was up to, really?  "They know, don't they?"

"Scully, I . . . I needed some help and I didn't want to go through the Bureau."

She nodded, "Thank you."

That caused his breathing to be a little easier.  "Let me help you with the rest of this."

"Don't you want to call him?"

"Yes.  But I want to do this first, with you."  She blinked at that.  He took her clothing on into his bedroom and when he returned she had her back to him, holding something in her hand, not moving.  "Scully?"   He stepped closer and realized she was crying.  Shit, maybe he shouldn't have talked to the guys but . . .

"Thanks."  Thanks?  For what?  She turned then and he saw she was holding the carton of gourmet chocolate chocolate chip ice cream.  "I don't remember putting this on the list."

"Oh, you don't think I got that for you, do you?"   She came into his arms then and he held her until she pulled away.  He handed her his handkerchief.

"I'm sorry.  It just . . . "

"Well, if you're going to act like this I guess I could share the ice cream with you."  She swatted his arm and turned back to the groceries.

When they were finally through she turned to him.  "You need to call the guys."

"Scully, why don't - "

"I'm part of this, Mulder.  You'll need me for an identification."

He rubbed her arm as he stood looking down at her.  "You don't have to - "

"Yes, I do.  And I can, if you're running the investigation."

"That's just it.  I don't know if I can.  Scully, we can't convict anyone with the way the evidence has been handled already."

"What were you planning?"  He looked away then and she saw his jaw tighten.  "Mulder?"

"Don't worry about that.  The guys and I will find out what we can and I'll take it from there."   That look on his face, she wasn't going to get anything else out of him right now.  She moved into the living room and curled up on the couch.  She looked up waiting for him to make the call.

He closed his eyes to block the sight.  He was hurting too, not like she was of course, but . . . How could he talk about this in front of her?  He took a deep breath and sank into the chair at the desk, then dialed Byers' number.   "It's me.  Turn everything off."

"It's off."

"I'm not kidding."  His voice was harsh and she watched him, seeing what this was doing to him for the first time.  "Sorry, what did you find?"

They had had some success and were accessing databases for a match.  So far they had been unsuccessful there, but admitted they had only gotten into the obvious ones so far.   The sexual offenders, felons, etc. did not have their men.  After some discussion, the Bureau, the military and several other areas were marked for searches.  Mulder offered to assist in getting the access but they didn't need it.

As the conversation wound down there was a pause, then Byers asked, "Is she . . . how's she doing?"

Mulder glanced over at her involuntarily and quickly away.   This wasn't a case; this was so damn personal.  "Better.   I think she slept pretty well."

"I did."  She said this quietly, for his ears only and he looked up to see her smiling softly at him.  He tried to smile back but failed. 

"Let me know what you find.  And thanks."  He hung up but didn't attempt to stand.  She rose and put her hands on his shoulders.

"Thank you, for all you're doing."

"The guys are - "

"No, thank you for everything else.  My clothes, letting me stay here, the ice cream . . . "

"That's nothing Scully.  It's no trouble having you here.  I just . . . I wish I could have - "

"You couldn't."  Her hands tightened on his shoulders.  "And you can't change it.  But I love you for wanting to."

Love him?  Had she really said those words?  Of course she wasn't saying she loved him, not like he had said it from his hospital bed in Florida.   But it was still incredible to hear the words, in whatever context.

She moved away from him then and he managed not to grab her and pull her back.  "Did you have any lunch?"

He shook his head, "No, I didn't think about it.   But there's plenty here now."

They made sandwiches as they looked for storage for the supplies he had purchased.  Mulder had just taken a big bite when the phone rang again.  "I'll get it."  He mumbled and headed for the living room.

"Mulder."

"We've got something.  Can you come over?"  The excitement in Frohike's voice was unmistakable.

"Yeah.  Give me a couple of minutes."  She appeared in the doorway as he hung up.

"It was them, wasn't it?"

"I need to go over there for a few minutes."

"I'm coming with you."  She glanced around for her shoes.

"Scully, no.  I don't think - "

"This is about me, Mulder.  I'm still functioning and I'm still an agent of the FBI."   She'd found them now and was shoving them on. 

"I don't want you involved in this.  I may have to -- "

"Go outside the law?  What else is new?  You'll need me for positive identification.   Mulder, don't try to stop me here."

He deflated at that.  He would need her ultimately but . . . damn!  He nodded and followed her out of the apartment.  He wasn't sure she was going to let him drive for a moment, but at the last minute she stopped on the passenger's side and let herself in.

*****