Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2000 5:13 PM

TITLE: Disconnected V
AUTHOR: Joann Humby
RATING: R (mostly for language)
DATE: 29 October 2000
SPOILERS: Everything through to S7 Requiem
ARCHIVE: To Gossamer, Ephemeral and MTA. Others please ask.

Mulder has issued an invitation to a meeting at the Watergate

Disconnected I, II, III and IV are available at:

My grateful thanks to my series' beta readers - Pat, Ann, DJ,
Laurie, Goo, Hui and Tamra - who push me on, stop the wheels
falling off, and provide many of the commas. And thanks to
everyone who's mailed me with so many encouraging words
during the series. I know it's been a slow journey, but I
hope you've enjoyed the ride.

Legally these characters belong to some combination of 1013,
CC and Fox. I'm borrowing their souls from DD, GA, NL and MP.


The suite was far too large for one and far too comfortable
for the one in question to accept as reality.

Not that Mulder felt comfortable. The sudden return of
sensation had sent him into information overload, and his
brain had responded by throwing his body into spasms. Arms
wrapped around his knees, he'd curled up as tight as he
could, shaking until exhaustion and pain had carried him into

When he woke up a few hours later, he was alone. That was the
only thing that wasn't a surprise.

The bright white lights were missing, replaced by an orange
glow. An orange glow that seemed to be the product of
diffused light arriving from one wall of the room. He turned
to face it, snorting in a startled lungful of air when he
felt his body move, rather than just his eyes.

Violent shivering overtook him, stopped his eyes from
focusing well enough to identify exactly what he was seeing.
But he understood enough to know that the remembered shock of
sensation had been sustained through his latest bout of
unconsciousness. Terrified that it was a dream, he closed his
eyes and tried to feel.

As the shivers tapered off to something more manageable, he
reopened his eyes - tentative, dreading that the action might
be enough to wake him up for real.

It was a bed; he was in a bed. Its mattress springs were
giving a little as he shifted. His eyes were confirming his
body's feedback; his brain was giving him permission to hope.
The orange glow appeared to be sunlight flowing in through
curtained windows

So what if every joint and sinew was burning? Why care that
every muscle was pulling to contraction before releasing,
involuntary twitches rippling through his body from head to
toe before fading out. Skin itched and screamed, like the
sting of poison ivy alternating with the numbing tingle of an
electric shock.

It felt real. So real that if it was just a lie, then it was
surely over. If he woke up now, death or madness would be a
heartbeat away.

He'd known that it was coming. They'd told him that he was
ready, and he'd agreed with them. They'd told him that they
planned to reconnect him and then send him back.

But he hadn't expected to wake up in a suite at the Watergate


The shower hurt, water droplets slamming into him like a hail
of darts. No matter. It was a good hurt, building his
confidence in this new reality. Not easy to handle. He had to
rest his head against the tiles to stop the room from
spinning, before finally giving in, and sitting in the bath
to complete the process of washing his hair.

Drying himself, with what logically he knew had to be a soft,
plump, fluffy towel was like scrubbing at raw skin with a
scouring pad. Far too rough a treatment. So he used the towel
only to dab the water away, letting himself dry in the free
air by cautiously walking around.

He dared to look at himself then, let his eyes study the man
in the mirror. It didn't feel like him, but it was him, or
close enough to be at least familiar. A little heavier
perhaps, a little more muscle around the neck and shoulders,
a little less angular maybe. His skin glowed, warmly golden.

Truly he was viewing the product of optimized exercise, diet
and UV levels. No skipped meals, no too busy days, no hours
of burrowing through microfiche in small town libraries.

Judging by the stubble on his chin, he guessed that he'd been
shaved maybe 24 hours ago. Consistent with his view that when
things had happened, they'd happened fast. Though even that
theory was based on an assumption about beard growth that
might not be valid.

He snorted at that. Everything was based on assumptions. He
was even assuming that he was in the Watergate Hotel just
because the headed stationary and magazine said that he was.
What could be easier to fake than a hotel suite? Time to
check-out and move on.

The wave of panic rolled over him again, just as it had every
other time he'd tried to act on that instinct to go home.
Back to his apartment, back to Scully, back to life. He'd
been told not to do that. He'd told himself not to do that;
it was just that he kept forgetting.

Hardly surprising, he couldn't even remember how to stand in
a shower and wash his hair without falling over. Why should
he remember how to handle more abstract things?

Almost inevitable that his sense of balance was screwed.
Prolonged weightlessness alone could do it. Add to that,
whatever game they'd played with his ears, his eyes, his
body. He stopped adding things to the list. It was enough.
There were enough reasons for the physical symptoms.

So what was the reason for them dropping him off here, rather
than in the woods where they'd found him? Or if they were
bothering to bring him back to DC, why not take him back to
his apartment? Or deliver him directly to a hospital? In
fact, why the haste? From lying disconnected on an alien ship
to fending for himself in a hotel room in what, he stroked
his chin, in less than 24 hours.

Because he was ready.


And he was here because it was a safe place to get his
bearings and be invisible. Because no Federal arrest warrants
accusing him of killing 21 people in an arson attack would
come crashing through that door.

He should turn himself in. Get it over and done with.


Not before he'd spoken to Scully and Skinner. Not before he'd
had a shave. Not before he'd found his clothes. Not before
the constant low-grade panic had stopped buzzing through his
body and not before his skin had stopped prickling like
someone was pouring ice-cold, fizzing coke onto his sunburn.

And definitely not while his head was still spinning.

He thought of another reason for the dizziness. How long
since he'd last eaten? He found the room service menu and
dialed. They welcomed him as Mr Hale.

The phone was tempting his fingers to dial again. He pulled
them away. Skinner, Scully, the Gunmen, his apartment, any
place he could think to call, anyone he wanted to talk to was
out of bounds. Any calls he made would lead the FBI and who
knows who else directly here.

He needed to be stronger for that, mentally and physically.

It had been his own choice, he realized that now. They'd
asked if he was ready, and he'd said yes. They'd asked if he
needed time to adjust, and he'd said that he'd rather just

Cold turkey rehabilitation.

Which was ok.

He heard the knock on the door. Room Service.

Clothes? Too many things to do, one thing at a time. He
headed back to the bathroom and wrapped the robe around

He could acknowledge it then. He hadn't been left in an hotel
room to "fend for himself" - he'd been left in a good hotel
with everything he needed to get other people to do the
"fending" for him.


Ok, that could wait. He could tab the tip as well as the

He asked for the food tray to be delivered directly to the
table, sensing that his balance was barely adequate to keep
himself upright.

With the room empty again he made his way to the food, lifted
the lid from the plate and almost keeled over. Everything was
hypersensitive, not just his skin. The brief whoosh of steam
hurt his eyes; the smell of garlic and chili almost made him

Maybe he should have gone for the cheese sandwich and saved
the fantasy food for later. Maybe the coffee wasn't that
bright an idea either.

He could almost hear Scully trying to fuss over him. He could
imagine himself arguing with her, even as he did as he was
told. He remembered a dislocated finger and her hands folding
over his. His eyes shifted to the phone again and he had to
force himself to look away.

Flat 7-Up might be a safer option; he poured the can into the
glass and left it to get warm.

Great. Just great.

He started laughing, amazed that he still had it in him to be
angry and frustrated about anything. Given where he was 24
hours ago, it seemed like he had very little to complain
about now. Laughing made him dizzy and breathless. He flopped
back down on the bed, leaving the whole mess until later.

When he woke up, everything was at room temperature. Gloomy
but realistic, he ordered turkey sandwiches. It seemed
appropriate somehow.

The misfiring nerves had lost a little of their prickliness.
Without his whole body screaming for attention, individual
body parts were now making their presence felt. His head
hurt, he was shaky, cold and hot, his stomach was cramping.
OK, that was all OK, no problem, just dehydration and low
blood sugar.

Sighing, he looked at the food and drink on the table and
accepted it for what it was - medicine. It didn't have to
taste good. And in honesty, it didn't. He just needed to get
some liquid past his sandpaper dry throat.

Then he'd have to get hold of some toothpaste, and a
toothbrush, and a razor.

One thing at a time. For now, he focused on sipping a little
more water and keeping it down.

That one task carried out to the best of his admittedly,
limited ability, he tried to work through the list of things
he needed to do before he was truly "ready" for anything.

He checked the closet and was not disappointed, the clothes
he was wearing the night he was abducted were neatly folded
on the shelf, still in their hotel laundry bags. Such a
leisurely way for them to have disposed of any trace
evidence. Not that he'd anticipated there being any. Just
that he might have felt qualms about putting the clothes on
if he'd thought there might be anything.

Like the qualms he'd felt about stepping into that shower and
washing them off his body? Not that he could do that, not
that he would ever be able to do that.

He leaned heavily against the closet, his fingers clinging on
to the wooden doorframe for balance, suddenly absurdly
grateful that he still thought of them as them. He breathed
in carefully, sensing the rapid acceleration in his heart
rate and knowing that his body couldn't handle it.

"Our fates are entwined," they'd told him. And he'd believed
them. Still did.

The great thing about a place like this was that you could
order almost anything from room service. He wrote a shopping
list. He just hoped that Mr Hale's credit card could take the

He forced himself to drink another glass of water before
going back to bed.

When he woke up the room was dark. The first time he'd known
darkness since they'd reconnected his eyes. Even when they'd
been disconnected, it hadn't been real darkness, more like a
glowing back projection screen on which they could run any
movie they chose.

His throat tightened and he had to fight the panic. His hand
shaking as he remembered that he could move. He reached out
to the wall and scratched his way along the surface until he
found the light switch.

Breathing out, he blinked and looked in disgust at the
fingernail he'd just cracked. Disturbed
by that trivial warning about his lack of ready-ness, he
tried to ignore it. He focused instead on the more mundane
frustration of not having any scissors. Why had they let his
nails grow so long, yet shaved him at least once per day?

Ah, that was the giveaway. When he curled his lip back, he
could have felt any facial hair, could have used it to gauge
how many days he'd been on the ship. Fingernails? He couldn't
have even seen them.

Mulder was glad that he was lying down. When the wave of
nausea struck, he was relieved that all he had to do was roll
onto his side and keep very still.

He'd been taken more than three months ago, he knew today's
date from the newspaper he'd had delivered to the room. He'd
halfheartedly tried to piece together a timetable of events
since the abduction. It was pretty much impossible to know.
How long had it taken Krycek to set the link up? How long had
Carver held the unit? How long between Carver losing the
communicator and Carver being killed? How long since he'd
last spoken to Scully?

No way to judge it. Waiting took forever. Drugged sleep took
no time at all. He'd just have to ask them. Soon.

He wondered if he could make his thoughts go quiet for long
enough to send a message over the link, surely the only safe
route out. Of course, his thoughts were only part of the
problem; he also needed to block out everybody else's

Mostly, that was easy. The mass of people were going about
their lives, doing their jobs, washing their hair, eating
their food, watching their TVs. The difficulty came with the
ones who were doing it while screaming in pain or crying out
in anger. Years as a Federal Agent hadn't deadened his
reaction to other people's distress, and years as a profiler
had just sharpened his instinct for danger.

Truly, he couldn't hear himself think.

His thoughts flashed back to the voices that "they" had used
to talk to him, when they'd come in on their favored route,
mind to mind. So calm and uninflected. Mulder understood it
now, the words had to be enough. Because emotions swamped and
overwhelmed, emotions had to be removed.

And how had he sounded to them?

No wonder they'd kept on drugging him into oblivion.

The memories surged through him, couldn't keep them out, no
matter how hard he tried. Emotions could kill. So little
distinction between the thought and the deed that he'd killed
three of them without even realizing what he was doing. Oh,
he could scream about self-defense, howl about being a
hostage, but in the end, he'd learned an ugly lesson.

Had the assassin who'd killed Carver and his crew thought of
it as murder or was it just another day at the
slaughterhouse, destroying the human animals like so many
unwanted cattle?

Shaky at the clash of memories and ideas, he tried closing
his eyes and was rewarded by feeling the bed swim beneath
him. Bad move. Cautiously, he reopened his eyes and was
relieved to feel the spinning sensation slow down. OK.

Got to keep trying. Got to be ready. Got to talk to Scully.
Got to be practical about what he was capable of doing.

Fine. Something to eat. Something to drink. Another shower.
Get dressed. Start acting like a human again.

He eyed the TV set. Much as he liked the idea, he hadn't
actually been able to hear the thing last time he switched it
on, too much other stuff clamoring for the same circuits in
his head. Fine, that would be another milestone. He'd just
add it to the list of things he'd fantasized about and was
planning on doing, like eating chili, drinking coffee, and
talking to Scully.

Bile rose in his throat and he was forced to hold onto the
doorframe to stop himself from crashing to the floor. Ready?
What a fucking joke.

Soon, soon would have to be soon enough.

He caught another glimpse of the phone and it was tempting
him to do something, something suicidal. He went back into
the bathroom, and carefully closed the door on the danger.


When he woke up the next morning, he felt less tired but no
more ready. Physically, he was on the mend. His body, that
yesterday had seemed somehow blurred and incoherent, was
slipping into focus and becoming, at least, predictable.

With a list of mundane objectives and by keeping each task
simple he could even get some things done. Trivial in every
case, yet when taken together, they represented a move back
to reality.

Sighing as he eased himself out of bed, he knew he ought to
give himself a break. If they had dropped him off at the
hospital, then no one would condemn his rehabilitation steps
as unworthy. To keep clean, fed, watered, and to coax his
body back to movement would be accepted as a full-time job.

Here, listening to the babble of strangers' thoughts, with
other people's crises and complaints hissing through his
brain, he felt useless. Without other people to say that it
was OK to need more time, it was hard not to feel like it was
already over.

Like he'd already lost.

He had, hadn't he? Already lost. That was why he was back

The sudden shortage of air made his head spin. Time to lie
down and curl up again. He deliberately lay on his side so
that he could study the phone. Let fantasies about calling
people on it hypnotize him, if not to calm, then at least to

Something buzzed past his ear, like a stealthy mosquito
keeping just out of his line of sight. He turned, chasing the
noise, but the noise followed him.

Ah, he was ready then.




Who is it?


It's me. Scully. How are you?


Ready. I'm sorry that I couldn't talk.


I've missed you. So much has happened. We need to talk, to


I know. But that should be face to face.




Watergate Hotel. Suite 473.

====== Disconnected ========

The decision about readiness had been taken out of his hands
and he was glad of it. He returned to working on those
mundane, little steps. Thought positive thoughts, like how he
would have enough time to shave and get dressed properly
before they got here.

Focus. He closed his eyes and tried to blank everything out,
but only succeeded in triggering another dizzy spell. Shaky
and breathless, he needed to keep moving, little steps. One
at a time. He succeeded in washing his hair without the need
to sit down in the tub.

With a few minutes spare, he switched on the TV and tried to
understand what the voices were saying, channel surfed until
he found something with a plot he could follow. Women's
soccer. He shrugged, maybe one day he'd work his way back up
to basketball.

Too soon, he heard them coming.

Scully, pensive but eager. Skinner, taking her lead,
apparently literally as well as metaphorically; Mulder could
feel him tiptoeing behind her. Did Skinner ever actually
tiptoe? An idea so incongruous that he almost laughed.

The Gunmen, anxious. He could see their point. They didn't
know who they would be meeting; they were right to be
suspicious. And Krycek, Alex Krycek, joker in the pack, all
fizzing adrenaline and no plans. Well, that would soon
change, Alex could think on his feet.

Someone else? Someone new. Nicholson, perhaps? More puzzled
than any of them.

He wondered about that Federal arrest warrant, the likelihood
of murder charges that would be hard to shake. What had
Nicholson thought of that? Had Scully's faith won him over?
Had her surface shell of skepticism stopped her from sounding

Soon enough.

Heart beating faster, louder, he opened the door. They were
less than ten feet away.

Like the opening of a blast furnace, suddenly he was being
swept away by their energy. An overload of emotions hit and
he stumbled away from the door.

Head spinning, he coughed out an attempted greeting and
pulled back into the room, rested his weight against the desk
and tried not to collapse. It had been bad enough when room
service made their deliveries, but he'd always been careful
to try and stay deaf to them as they moved. And they'd
obliged by moving swiftly, without placing demands on him -
well trained.

The six people who marched into his room were definitely a
crowd. A loud and discordant crowd. Angry and confused and so
fucking loud.

Focus failing, he concentrated on not falling over. It was
hard to see individual faces, their features were all jumbled
up like they'd escaped from some Picasso print. They looked
so old, so tired, so much like something was eating them

Scully stepped forward, bright damp eager eyes. Her hands
open and outstretched in a gesture that should have felt like
a greeting but made his body recoil in panic. She flinched at
his response and her chin quivered, her forced, yet honest,
smile fading into a look of pure anxiety.

Stand still. Stand still. Stand still. He screamed at himself
to pay attention and to try not to do any more damage. As if
he'd ever be able to do that.

As soon as she touched him, his head spun and the contrast
with other times was too much to take. Last time he'd heard
her thoughts, they'd been her, nothing more. Last time he'd
touched her, he'd relished the contact. She tried to pull him
closer, he felt her arms fold around him, the softness of her
hair under his chin, smelt her life and warmth. He gasped at
the shock of impact.

She staggered back an instant later, her hand shifting
protectively towards her stomach, her eyes going wide in
alarm. Mulder took the opportunity to inch further away,
making sure the desk chair now stood between them.

Dread and panic, a cacophony of noise and impossible emotion.
Mulder looked quickly around the others as they stood in
stunned silence, shouting so loud and so incoherently inside
his head that he wouldn't have been able to hear them even if
they had decided to speak.

Skinner moved forward, and gently pressed his hand against
Scully's arm, a forewarning that, unless she moved of her own
free will, his next action might be to drag her further away.
She got the message, retreated to sit on the edge of the
couch, her eyes fixed on Mulder's face.

The last place Mulder wanted to look was into Scully's eyes.
Scanning the scene, he hunted for something a little less
frightening to focus on. He saw Mike Nicholson, the calmest
place in the room. Angry and confused, the same as the
others, but without the emotional investment to make it hurt.

More importantly, underneath that confusion and anger, there
was something else. Nicholson ultimately looked more curious
than distressed, and that was a much friendlier place to

Mulder tried to respond to Mike's curiosity. "I am him."
Fuck. That was smooth. Talking about "him." He chased round
his brain looking for the better phrasing. Me. He. Him.
Mulder. Them. Too much meaning for too few words, too easy to
read between the lines of too direct a response to the
question he'd heard in Nicholson's thoughts.

The room was getting even rowdier and he knew they'd heard
too much in his words as well. He tried to keep locked on

"I'm not a morph." He almost laughed as he heard Nicholson's
follow-up question coming in loud and clear, despite the
crush of background noise. "Yes, they really do morph."

Nicholson mouth moved, but he said nothing.

Mulder nodded. "I can hear you."

Mike Nicholson shook his head, a little stunned, definitely
uncomfortable, but ready to roll with it. Mike decided it
would be better, for his own sanity and maybe for the people
in the room, if he asked his next question out loud. "Did you
kill those people?"


"Prove it."

"I can't, can't prove anything."


"Not even them. Scully's seen them, so has Krycek."

Skinner intervened, threw his words down like he was playing
the trump card. "Eddie Van Blundht."

"He's been destroyed." And Mulder flinched again, backing
away from the sound of his own words and their betrayal of
who he ought to be, who he'd been. He tried again. "Van
Blundht was murdered, at the hospital. His records have been


Mulder shrugged, shaky. How long ago had they told him that?
Days maybe. But recent, much more recent than the death of
Carver's crew. Not long before they'd returned him.

In the absence of a reply from Mulder, Skinner started
tapping in numbers on his phone. Mulder concentrated on his
breathing and tried to force the noise in the room down to
nothing more than a loud annoying buzz. Almost succeeding in
turning it into a kind of white noise, a whitewater roar in
which none of the screams were distinct enough to be audible.

Skinner addressed his words to everyone. "My secretary is
checking." He looked back at Mulder. "Why?"

"Why not?"

Anger in the air, white light and a percussion of fury.
Mulder tried to look at Nicholson but the pain in the room
erupted and billowed heat, like the flash of an explosion,
flaring up too close for comfort.

Mulder pushed his fists against the top of the desk, hoping
that the physical reaction might block the mental one. He
curled his fingers tighter and was rewarded by the sensation
of another nail cracking as shaky muscles finally cooperated
and gave him what he needed.

It would be a hell of a lot easier if they could hear his
thoughts. He kept breathing, shallow but even, built up the
energy to speak. "You're right, Walter. Eddie could have
given us a starting point for a defense. They are clearing up
the known genetic anomalies. He's in the X-Files. It made him
an obvious priority."

"To whom?"

"Them. The other faction."

"And which faction do you belong to?" Scully's voice was ice
and fire.

And Mulder's determined efforts to keep her thoughts at bay
crumbled like a pack of cards as he failed to block his ears
or his mind in time. His body froze, making it almost
impossible to breathe, his head pulsing with new panic.

Scully ran towards him, but he reacted fast enough to throw
an arm forwards to warn her off. She stumbled to a halt as if
she'd hit an invisible brick wall. Palms open, her body said
the words her mouth never would, she pleaded against the

No mercy, he kept the barriers up against her.

His eyes chased over the faces until he found Krycek's.
Krycek was alert to the tension, recognized that something
was going to have to give. Alex was beginning to make plans.
Krycek looked carefully at Mulder then glanced over at
Skinner's laptop computer resting by the door. Mulder blinked
an acknowledgement. A sharp intake of breath from an old
enemy and Mulder knew that his message had been received and

If they, the them out there, had asked him his intentions
before returning him to DC, he wouldn't have known the
answer. He still didn't have an answer. Instincts, emotions
and intellect were pulling in different directions. Years of
training and duty as an agent, warred with months of
indoctrination as a hostage, and were slipped into the
blender of decades of him, the man inside.

There were patterns in the mix, streaks that could mean
something or nothing but which he knew would vanish if he
just let the brew keep spinning. There was no steadily
clearing picture, just more inponderables, that appeared and
disappeared in an instant. Was there a right answer, a right
thing to do, or just a right now?

Right now. All Mulder knew about himself was that emotions
were unsteady and his instincts were not his own. It would be
so easy to bury himself in Scully's trust. So easy to hand
her the choices that were impossible for him to make. To give
her responsibility for his future as well as that of the new
life growing inside her.

In the silent stand-off that followed, the noise of the
group's thoughts surged and swelled in Mulder's head and he
let them in, a formless sea of other people's emotions
drowning out his own responses. Only Mulder didn't flinch
when Skinner's phone buzzed back to life.

Skinner walked to the window, cupping his hand over the phone
in an illusion of privacy. "And that's confirmed?...The same

When he turned back to face the room, Skinner's eyes
immediately locked onto Mulder. Mulder didn't look up, just
kept studying the floor and his bare feet with their overlong

"Mulder." Even Skinner's most insistent AD-delivering-an-
order voice didn't force Mulder to lift his head. Skinner
changed tack, his voice taking on the authority of an
interrogation room. "Agent Mulder. Where were you yesterday

Where? Here maybe, but asleep? There maybe, but comatose? "I
don't know."

"Who told you that Van Blundht was dead?"

"They did."

"This room became George Hale's two days ago. I repeat. Where
were you at 9am yesterday morning?"

Mulder shook his head, lacking any reply beyond the one he'd
already given.

Scully took up the slack. "Sir? Can you tell us anything?"

"Van Blundht was one of six men who died in a fire in the
records' office of the hospital. As of today, the prime
suspect in that case is Agent Mulder."


"He signed in as a visitor less than an hour before the fire.
The accelerants used were the same as in the attack on
Carver's lab. There's security footage of Mulder leading Van
Blundht away from his room. One of the staff remembered
Mulder from previous visits. The media don't have the story

Skinner directed his next words firmly back at Mulder. "Give
me one good reason not to call your location in."

Mulder rocked slightly on his feet. "I didn't do it." He took
deep breaths, struggling against the sudden shortage of air
that was reminding him just how far from ready he really was.
His head was starting to spin again.

Even Skinner didn't believe him. What chance did he stand
with anyone else? Skinner had seen the abduction. Or maybe
that was it, if Skinner could believe that Mulder had been
taken so easily by them, maybe he could also believe that
this returned Mulder was not the man who'd been lost.

Hell. Mulder's deep breaths were turning into rapid gasps for
air that wasn't arriving fast enough to help with the
lightheadedness he was feeling. He didn't even blame Skinner.
Couldn't do really. He'd had the same idea himself.

Skinner tried to offer him an escape route. "Another morph?
Why frame you, Mulder?"

Because they could? "I told you."

"Right. Because one of the factions wants you. For what? What
do they think you'll do?"

"Be a voice, in places they can't go. Protect the modified

"Genetically modified by them."

"Genetic throwbacks." Mulder almost laughed, though he knew
he shouldn't. "They say they are just switching on the extra
features that were part of our original specification."

Scully was mercifully inquisitive and Mulder was grateful
that she wasn't going to insist on feigning disbelief or
disinterest, despite having this audience in the room. "Such

"Eddie could morph; Gibson could hear people's thoughts;
Modell could force his thoughts on other people."


"An experiment. A warning they'd say. Of how ill-prepared we
are for the changes."

There was an uneasy stillness as they considered it. It gave
Mulder an unwelcome freedom to think above the roaring
waterfall of their thoughts.

Of course, he was only telling them, the story that "they"
had given him. He was just parroting back the threats and
warnings that had provided the cold heart of their
reeducation messages. They'd blasted him with their plans and
their logic, over and over again, and it felt so real. More
real that sitting in a hotel room.

Was it possible to drown in fresh air? It certainly seemed
that it might be. And maybe that would be for the best,
because at least then he wouldn't be a variable in the
equation any more. No more worrying about whether he was a
plus or a minus in some much bigger picture, just a zero,
fading into oblivion.

Zero. That was always an option.

Scully moved forward again and Mulder retreated, waving his
hands ahead of him to brush her away. She stopped in her
tracks, her eyes openly begging for his attention now. He
lifted his face to look at her and the loss and emptiness in
his eyes made her take a step back.

Skinner surged up to Scully's side, brushed a protective hand
over her arm, glared at Mulder. "What the fuck's going on?"

Mulder stared back at them, unfocused, rocking slightly,
clearly unsteady on his feet. Unsteadier still in his
thinking. "I can't be near her. I need time."

Scully folded an arm over her stomach, flinching as if she'd
just taken a punch. A gasp. And another. Until short staccato
gasps became a shudder and her reserves of strength crumpled
and the briefest of shakey whimpers escaped her lips.

Skinner wrapped an arm around her, drawing her closer.
Frohike moved forward, and took up position as a guard
between Mulder and Scully. Byers stepped in too, adding his
weight to Scully's human shield as Skinner tried to persuade
her to move further away.

She didn't move, shrugged out of Skinner's grip, threw her
elbows out from her sides to warn would-be comforters away.
Her eyes remained fixed on Mulder, looking for some truth.

The question made sense to no one except Mulder and Scully.
Mulder tried to answer, Scully deserved an answer. After all,
the baby was inside her. Mulder's words were intended just
for Scully. "She can hear me."

Scully shook her head, rejecting and accepting it at the same
time. It could be true, literally true, vibrations and sound
could travel through the placenta. But that wasn't any sort
of an explanation for the acrobatics performance that was now
underway inside her body. She tried not to shake too visibly,
but the violence of the assault was leaving her no choice.

Breathless, she edged back, working by feel rather than sight
until she found the couch again and tentatively sat down.
Almost immediately, even that was too much, and she had to
let herself lie back, almost curling up onto her side as she

Five angry men turned toward Mulder, only Krycek retaining
any real distance from the lynch mob frenzy that was
building. Krycek took advantage of their distraction to pick
up the laptop computer and head for the door.

Mulder sensed their need to act, felt the way their
adrenaline levels were surging as they looked for something
positive to do. They weren't going to get the chance. He
lifted his hands in an abrupt, angry gesture ordering
everyone to stay back. He walked towards the shivering body
of his partner.

Skinner hadn't moved since Scully had pushed him away. He
stood now, frozen in place, his hand finding its own way to
his holster.

Byers tried to block Mulder's path, but Mulder didn't pause,
and Byers couldn't follow through with enough force to make
his resistance anything more than just a gesture.

Nicholson, who had also stepped forward and certainly could
have followed through, paused instead, deciding to hover over
the reunion rather than to stop it. He waited, content to
stay alert and ready until he got an order from Skinner, or a
signal from Scully.

An instant later and Mulder was sat on the couch, next to his
partner, leaning into her space. He tried to block out the
sound of the other men, sensing that it would be futile to
ask for privacy or even demand a little faith that he wasn't
going to tear her to shreds.

Why would they have faith? They didn't even know for sure
that he wasn't the arsonist. They didn't even know for sure
that he wasn't a morph

Impossible. There was no right way to handle this. Even in
his most lucid and imaginative dreams, he'd never resolved
it, never found quite the right words. He certainly hadn't
anticipated having an audience. Though perhaps that was for
the best.

With or without an audience, there would be no right way.
Fuck it. Like it mattered what they thought. He slid along
the couch until he was almost behind her, curving his body
around hers, folding her into his arms, nuzzling into her
neck. "I'm so, so, sorry."

His fingers stroked across her belly, soothing them both. If
he let the white noise of the other people in the room wash
away his own consciousness, he could freewheel. He could
start begging her not to hate him. Beg her not to want him to

Time drifted away. She stilled, the tension draining, her
body becoming quiet, her thoughts calming to the point where
he could hear her. Hear her sounding like someone who sounded
like her.

He could also hear her demand that he get the onlookers out
of the room. It didn't matter to him. His thoughts hadn't
been his own for weeks, months. What did it matter if they
heard the things he was willing to say aloud? It mattered to
her. He had to clear his throat before talking to the
assembly. "Scully wants some privacy."

More noise, in his ears now as well as in his head. A babble
of confusion as they tried to argue but weren't quite
competent to form a united front.

Mulder rose to his feet, pulling Scully to sit upright, ready
to carry her if necessary away from the couch and into the

Skinner sounded like an Assistant Director of the FBI, taking
charge, "I don't think that's wise."

Mulder ignored the warning and drew her up into his arms.

Skinner moved forward. Mulder realized that he was ready to
intervene now and looking only for the method least hazardous
to Scully. Skinner was already cursing himself for failing to
keep Mulder away from her. He prepared his voice to howl out
an order to put her down, but Scully just buried her face
closer to Mulder's body, hiding herself in him.

Skinner stiffened at her move, then tried to understand it.
"Agent Scully?"

She drew in a deep breath, but it provided her with only the
smallest volume of sound. Barely audible. "Please."

Nicholson was the least involved and perhaps because of that
his voice had a clarity that Skinner hadn't quite delivered.
"We'll be right here."

Mulder half-smiled, pressing his nose into Scully's hair as
he felt her thoughts buzz with a little pride at how good a
temporary partner she'd chosen. He mumbled into her ear.
"Yeah, good choice."

Inside the bedroom and with the doors closed on the group
outside, Mulder could pretend that the rumble of their
thoughts was just the sound of too many TVs, playing too
loud, through too thin walls.

Carrying her was a foolish move. The dizziness almost caught
up with him before he reached the safety of the bed. He'd
loved the thought of it and the feel of it, what pounded at
him now was the sickening reality that he'd done it despite
the risk of hurting her. A trivial hurt compared to the rest,
but it nagged, announced itself as a symptom of some much
deeper problem.

The men in the outer room were arguing, trying to keep their
voices down, even as their anger flared. Despite their
clamor, he could hear Scully clearly now. Through a haze of
blood red anger and soft blue emotion, he could hear her.
Confusion and fear and so much trust and it hurt to listen to
her like this and not to be able to explain properly.

And he wasn't sure which question she wanted answered first
and which ones she didn't want answered at all. So he waited
until she was willing to say it out loud.

She cleared her throat, whispered the most painful of words.
"Who is she, Mulder?"

The children will still be children. That's what they'd told
him. Should he destroy that for her as well as him? "A baby."
He paused, struggled with the words. "You'll know what to

"Will I?"

Oh God. He scrambled through his thoughts, looked at the mass
of contradictions he found there and didn't have an answer.
Except the ones they'd given him. And he couldn't bring
himself to say their words. "Just love her."

"Where will you be?"

"Not here."

She cried then, as a hundred unadmitted fantasies crashed
into the wall and shattered. Cried for herself, and a baby,
and a man, and a world that didn't know enough to cry for

He held her, wishing that he could tell her that he needed
only days or weeks to make it right, that she need not fear
his absence, that he would soon be back at her side. He
wished that he could tell her that it would take just one
word from her, that he only needed her instruction to make
him stay.

But he couldn't lie, and he was glad of that because maybe
that meant that somewhere deep inside, he was still himself.
And maybe that meant he could be himself again.

Mulder didn't have the words that could kiss the hurt better,
nor the moves that could promise her a happy ending. He
wrapped himself around her, molding his body to hers. He
nuzzled into her, taking comfort from the silk of her hair
against his cheek, the smell of her that he'd remembered so
clearly even when other sensations became impossible to
imagine. He stored up the sensations for the drought ahead.

His hand folded over hers, caressing her fingers, his thumb
stroking across the soft skin he found. Guilty, he recognized
his acts for what they were, self-comforting gestures in the
face of her pain. Relaxing a little, only as he realized that
she seemed to be drawing strength from him, just as he did
from her.

When he thought she could hear him again, he lifted his hand
to touch her face. "They think I'll go away, lick my wounds,
and that because they're right, I'll go and work for them."

The tiny gulp of sound from her was an order to keep talking.
His fingers swirled through her hair, pushing it back behind
her ear so he could stroke her cheek more easily. "I'm
useless to them as a zombie. That's why they let me go."

And as a wanted man?

This time, he ignored the fact that she hadn't said it out
loud. "If it comes to it, they'll loan me a morph for the

"God." Her squeak of reaction could easily have been the
start of a hysterical cough of laughter, but exhaustion took
even that escape from her. She struggled with her breathing
and finally mumbled the rhetorical question. "But only if
you're a good boy?"

"If I'm a good boy."

"And will you be?" She stroked the back of his hand as it
shifted to rest against her belly.

He swallowed. "What? And break the habit of a lifetime."

"Not even for this?"

"Especially not because of this. She's going to be special,

"Then stay."

"And do what they want?"

"There must be something..."

"Not yet, not until I know it's me who's making the decision.
If I stay here, it'll be in jail."

"Unless you work for them?"

He left the answer unspoken.

She was struggling for breath, but kept talking, sensing that
it might be her last chance to keep him close. "I'll come
with you."

He buried his face against her neck. "I don't know who I am.
What I might do."

"I know you."

Ah, if only that were true. She'd known him. She might yet
know him again. But she didn't know him now; he didn't even
know himself. Didn't know if he could be turned against her
by them, if her needs contradicted theirs. Didn't know if his
thoughts could kill. Didn't know if he could ever be a force
for good in the life of that baby she carried. Didn't know
what good meant.

He whispered his words, hoping that he could find a way to
explain enough. Knowing that it would be better if she came
to the conclusions for herself. "Why do you think they let me

"Because, they don't need you any more."

He smiled, almost chuckled at her optimism. "Because I'm
ready." Deep breath. "They say that I'm smart enough to see
things their way. That I'll cooperate, become a spokesman for
them. And." He paused. Almost started laughing. After all, it
was pretty funny. "And be a mentor for the children."

"Including her?" Her words were faint, but sang loud in his


"But you won't?"

"That's the trouble. I would. Right now, I'd do it in a
heartbeat. And it's so hard to walk away."


His body tensed and he felt an angry kick to his hand where
it rested on Scully's stomach. Calm, calm, calm, he told
himself. Calm, calm, calm, he told the new life in her belly.
The baby stopped struggling, he could hear her snuggling down
again. "But, I will."

He wanted to explain it, but he didn't have the words. Maybe
if he could find his most dispassionate voice, his best
disguise, his most clinical psychological terminology, then
just maybe, he could tell her. Quote chapter and verse on the
problems encountered by hostages, about the ease with which
sensory deprivation destroys boundaries, undermines the sense
of self.

After months of having not only every physical sensation, but
every thought and emotional response monitored and controlled
and firmly regulated, he couldn't trust his instincts or his
reasoning. It hadn't just been his body that had been forced
to accept their restraints, in the end he had accepted them,
too. Stayed quiet and listened, been impressed by their
logical argument about how a more resilient and talented
human race would be a better ally for them.

Moreover, there had been a perfect synchronicity about it.
Tougher, brighter humans, all senses and powers turned on and
tuned in, would clearly be a more dangerous enemy to an alien
opposition who would prefer to view human bodies as
hatcheries or slaves.

If he let them jail him for that massacre at Carver's office,
for the deaths of Van Blundht and the others at the hospital,
then he would die in prison. It would be the easiest thing in
the world to make a de-facto execution look like the
inevitable mis-adventure of a pretty-boy Fed who'd strayed
too far from the guards' protection.

That is, if they bothered to do anything. They might do
nothing, certain the Court case would run their way.

Might live long enough to see Scully and the baby though.

He flinched at that, angry with himself for this last
indulgence. Why did he decide that this meeting had to be
face to face? Why not just drop off the face of the planet
and disappear. What on earth had possessed him? Why the hell
had he suggested that she come here?

Why do this now? Why not wait until he was really ready,
until he could explain himself properly, until he knew what
he had to do? However many months away that might be. He
shivered. Maybe because that "right" time might not be months
away, it might be never. Panic sat only skin deep in his body
and it simmered there now, he could feel his blood pressure
rise, his heart rate surge.

"Mulder?" Her voice was soft, tentative. In pain.

Alarmed, he responded in an instant. "Are you OK?"

"The baby."

He forced his thoughts to slow down, and felt the violence
that was assaulting Scully from within.

His mind flashed on an image from his days in the ISU,
profiling a slasher who'd sliced open pregnant women in a
grotesque parody of a caesarian section. The idea assaulted
him, leaving him short of breath. It didn't help Scully
either; the new blast of pain that followed was forcing gasps
and whimpers through her lips, growing, building toward some
nightmare crescendo.

Calm, calm, calm. Scully was shaking now, taut with the
effort to keep still and not scream. He shifted on the bed,
maneuvering Scully's body so that she faced him and then slid
carefully down her torso until he could press his ear gently
to her belly button.

Within seconds he could feel the fetus's battle subside.
Scully could feel it too; she started to breathe normally
again. She spoke in a whisper. "Is she sick?"

Anything but. "No, no. She's angry, upset."

"With us?"

"She doesn't understand."

"I don't understand."

Mulder sighed, a little shiver of a laugh as he moved
position again, resuming his previous place of honor, resting
close behind her in the bed. What could he possibly say?

The child was already responding to his emotions. She got
angry and, untutored, took it out on Scully because Mulder
was upset. What the hell would she do if he went to jail?
What the hell would she do when she grew up?

What a fucking mess. And the only way out was to work for
them because they were his best chance of building a defense
in a court case, and more importantly, his only chance of
protecting himself or anyone else from the others. How
fucking convenient! Cute of them to blame it on the "others."
What if there weren't any others?

Welcome to a brave new world. A life based on knowing fuck.

Except he did know that if he didn't calm down soon, Scully
would be in agony. He had to get away from here, get his
emotions in check. Learn how to think clearly again. Weigh up
the months' worth of story that he'd been told. Test it if he
could. And he couldn't do that here.

A rumbling behind his ear and he scratched back at it,
irritated by the distraction. Then realized what it was.






Time to go.




Don't haggle, move.

====== Disconnected =======

He sat up abruptly, startling Scully back into action. She
immediately tried to follow him, but was forced to lie down
again as the baby renewed its struggles.

Time to go? Why the hurry? Another few hours, another few
minutes. What could it matter? He tried to clear his head and
concentrate. Suddenly knew. Oh God. "Did you phone anyone
before you came here?"

Scully's words were forced and strained, and were somehow the
truth, yet not the whole truth. "No."

"The Gunmen." He tried to focus in on the idea. "Fuck. They
hacked into the hotel records and found out who was on the
guest list for this room. Right?"

She groaned, nodded the barest of acknowledgements.

Mulder started to roll off the bed. "There's a Bureau team on
its way."

"Oh God." She held on tightly to his hand, sensing what was
coming next, but trying to deflect the argument to more solid
ground. "We won't leave you in there. We'll find a way. Find
a defense. You don't need them to defend you. Maybe there's
another Van Blundht. Maybe one of his kids."

And lead them to another bunch of innocents to kill? No way.
"I've got to go."


He drew her to him, knowing what had to be done. He met her
sad, impossibly blue eyes with the briefest of smiles.
Stroked his fingertips across her belly and was grateful for
the peaceful response of the life inside. In the stillness,
Mulder leaned forward, pressed his forehead against hers,
wishing that he could let her know all he thought and all he

Scully sighed, and there was no pain in the sound, just
understanding and trust. And he had to gulp for air then,
because that made his next act harder as well as easier.
There was so much warmth in her touch, as their breath
mingled and she tried to give him her faith. So much hope in
her heart as she tried to wish him a safe journey and a safe

And he wondered again why he was leaving and why she was
staying. It was not right that it should end like this. It
wouldn't end like this, he wouldn't let it. And there was
such power in knowing that she would still be here, because
she wouldn't let it end like this either.

He pulled back slowly, the hardest move he'd ever made. His
body, a stubborn deadweight as he struggled against weak and
uncooperative muscles that couldn't believe his brain was
serious in its orders.

Infinitely slow, he rose up to his full height and forced
himself to smile. And suddenly it seemed right that he should
smile, because he was doing only what had to be done and
Scully had given him her permission. She might not have
agreed with his decision, but she'd accepted it, understood
that it was his to make.

His eyes, clear and bright, looked down on her and there was
so much love, so much left to say and this was not the time.
"I won't say goodbye."

She tried to smile, but didn't quite make it. She sucked in
her tears. "Nor will I."

He smiled again as he walked to the bedroom door and the men
who'd waited outside so patiently, or more accurately so
impatiently, almost walked straight over him. All was well.

Perhaps it was not the right choice. But he'd live with that.
Hindsight was apt to be the best and harshest judge, and its
judgment would be final. And that was OK, because he could
see no further than his next move. And perhaps that was
fortunate, because maybe what lay beyond that move was a
terror that could paralyze him if he saw it too clearly.

Krycek would be waiting for him outside. Mulder would insist
that the laptop be left behind, somewhere safe, for Scully to
find. And there was no way to know what would happen next.
Except that this way, there might be a next. Lousy odds,
but... The shark dies if it stops swimming.

Skinner, Nicholson, and the Gunmen stepped eagerly to
Scully's bedside. Scully played her role to the hilt, drawing
and holding their attention with her damp eyes, careful
movement and quiet words.

A lingering last look over a snapshot scene taken from a
different life and a final deep breath.

He tore his gaze away, drew energy from it, wanting to
believe in one more extreme possibility.

Another swim, then.

And Mulder was gone.



All Done, Bye, Bye.

Joann -