We All Die Virgins
by Jaime Lyn

Chapter 14

The J. Edgar Hoover Building,
Washington D.C,

The hallway outside the boardroom was alit by wavering overhead lights; slightly shifty, yellowy rays had shadows dancing from side to side, elongating and twisting.  Special Agent Dana Scully stood silent, staring blankly at the portrait of J. Edgar Hoover that hung over a bench in the front hallway, her fingers shaking as she gazed into the glass and pushed a strand of red hair back over her left ear.  She shifted her head to the right, and then to the left, squinting her eyes, as if uncertain whether she could hide the disfigurement on her cheek if only she faced a certain way, brushed her hair to one side, and walked backwards into the boardroom.

They had been waiting outside the OPR hearing conference room for about fifteen minutes, just sitting, standing, pacing, glancing at each other every few minutes or so but not speaking, and generally cooling their heels.  Less than a half-hour, and already it felt like days.  The waiting was nothing more than a generalized scare-tactic, an FBI standard, really, a gambit on the part of OPR personnel to remind he and Scully who was in charge, who held all the cards.  They could be singing Madonna or playing Gin Rummy in the boardroom for all it mattered, so long as the delay forced Special Agents Spooky and Spookier to wait outside and ponder thier erratic behavior and the effect said behavior would have on their fate.

So far, the tactic was, unfortunately, working.  

Mulder sighed, feeling much like a frog trapped inside a glass jar.  He rose from the vinyl bench he had claimed for sulking, and came up behind his partner, gazing into the glass at her bluish, slightly distorted reflection.  Her eyes wavered as she silently acknowledged him, but her mouth remained closed.  She looked drained, exhausted, and her cheek, while still brownish-blue and slightly swollen, no longer twitched as if the muscle underneath had gone into a drunken frenzy.  Mulder supposed at least that was an improvement.

He cocked his head to one side as if pretending to examine her, and then touched his hand to her shoulder.  "Maybe noone will notice," he tried, smiling half-heartedly.

Scully still said nothing, but this time she raised an eyebrow, her face a careful mask of controlled emotion.  Mulder had seen this expression before; the calm guarding the storm.  After shootings, after abductions, after autopsies that left her more vulnerable than usual, her blue eyes adopted a glassy, slightly wild look.  Mulder often wondered if, behind her silent reservior of strength and professionalism, an unruly, angry child sat in wait, itching to be released.  He imagined that when the child was finally expelled from the grown woman,  all those pent-up, pushed-back emotions would take over, and the result would be catastrophe.  There would be screaming.  There would be the throwing of blunt objects.  Heavy blunt objects.

Mulder could only hope that in this case, he wasn't standing in front of Dana Scully when the dam broke and the rage filtered out.  It was going to happen, and soon; Mulder could feel it.  He'd seen chunks of emotional debris flying from the carefully constructed wall around her angry, inner core when she'd yelled at him earlier.  Get in the fucking car, Mulder, she'd ordered.  And then other things she'd managed to filter obscenities into.

So he gave her the keys and let her drive.  Truth be told, he wanted to remain on the case, to turn around and go back to Long Island, to find Lily Harbor and talk to the neighbors, run her through the airport, and figure out her secret.  And he would have done it, too.  Had he pushed harder, he would have done it and Scully would have let him.  She always let him.  But something in Scully's eyes stopped him short, told him not to go any farther.

The eyes reflecting back at Mulder were calm, almost controlled.  But Mulder knew better.  There was a dangerous spark running below the surface, and Mulder felt that spark in the same painful place he felt guilt over having accidentally hit her.  Nobody else would see what Mulder saw when they looked at Dana Scully, but Mulder knew.  He saw.  And he supposed he liked it just that way.  He liked being the only person who knew her secrets.  No other human being could ever have Dana Scully, not really, so long as Mulder was the keeper of her secrets.  Maybe that was why he'd let her drive.

Scully looked down at her hands and took a breath that was so deep, her jacket-top rustled in time with her expanding ribcage.  She blew out the air through a tiny hole in her pink, heart-shaped lips, and she looked as if she were whistling.  Mulder shook his head.  He knew he should say something, speak some useful words of encouragement, but he didn't know what, exactly, would be appropriate at this moment.  And the OPR board was taking forever.

"You don't have to say anything," said Scully, as if she could read his thoughts.  She didn't look back up.  The lock of goldish-auburn hair that she'd tucked behind her ear fell back into her eyes, and Mulder felt the instinctive urge to brush it away.  With each new haircut, Mulder quickly memorized where Scully liked to style all of the individual strands, where she preferred each layer and section.  The first thing he did when he visited her in the hospital, if she was not awake to do it herself, was finger-comb her hair back the way she liked it because he knew, if nothing else, that Scully preferred not to have a single hair out of place. He would have done it for her now, except that touching her was definitely innaproriate, considering the situation.

"This is my fault," he suddenly said, unable to keep what he felt inside himself any longer.  It was hard not to wince when noticing her black eye.  And noticing it.  And noticing it.  And noticing it again.

"Mulder, one of these days you'll have to get it into your head," said Scully, her gaze fixed on her cuticles, "That I am responsible for my own actions."

"You know what I mean," said Mulder, not saying it, not really, not outright, but thinking of how she must have fallen backwards after he slammed her.  How the back of her head would have hit the ground.  How she probably had a bump beneath that russet hair where her skull bashed against the floor, or maybe even against the nightstand on the way down.  He couldn't remember how he had done it or why, and he didn't know why he couldn't remember, and he hated that he felt like a danger to her.

"You're not any more volatile than I am," she said, finally looking back up into the glass.  Her blue eyes reflected back to him over J. Edgar's brown suit and black tie.  Their gazes held for a moment, suspended in the glass of the portrait.  Mulder took a small breath, his hands at his sides.  Scully's lips parted, her tongue darting out to lick away some phantom dryness he couldn't see.  Standing in front of him as she was, she seemed so small, delicate--like an ethereal, ancient beauty someone had painted with watercolor over the image of J. Edgar Hoover.  Of course, Mulder knew that Dana Scully was far from delicate, but certainly she would break if he tried to break her. If at a vulnerable moment, on a case perhaps, when they were both asleep in their respective rooms, and Mulder had another violent episode, and Scully was caught in dream, her hair spilled like liquid amber across the pillow, her eyes closed, her gun out of reach---

"You're not a danger to me," said Scully, her voice soft.  Her eyes squinted, slightly out of focus, as if she was seeing something he could not.  She turned to him, and Mulder was faced with the technicolor version of Scully's face, and not just the monochromatic facsimile of her reflection.  "Mulder," she went on, staring directly at his tie and not into his eyes.  "There's something we need to talk about--"

"Agents," came the interruption.  A voice cleared its throat from somewhere behind Mulder, and Mulder turned to face their Assistant Director watching them, his brown eyes narrowed behind silver, wire-framed glasses. Skinner's hands hung loosely, although not too loosely at his sides, his wide shoulders back and straight, his entire body poised and yet ready to strike if the need arose.  A.D Skinner, although always the ex-marine, always the disciplinarian, had a specific weakness for discovering the truth, and for letting both Mulder and Scully slide under his radar to get at that truth.  How ironic that now the A.D would be forced to drop the axe on the X Files division.  Of all people, he was the last Mulder would have suspected to perpetuate such ridiculousness.

"Sir," said Scully, and she sidestepped Mulder, her hands folded neatly in front of her chest.  The moment, whatever it was, had passed.

"They're ready for you," said Skinner, and he raised one last eyebrow at them before disappearing back into the boardroom.


"Agents," said Director Jana Cassidy, a scowl affixed to her otherwise expressionless face.  "It seems as though we keep crossing paths, doesn't it?"  She didn't expect an answer of course, and she didn't get one.  Scully glanced quickly at Mulder before her eyes returned to the wooden platform of directors, three men and one woman, all sitting above them with hands folded, eyebrows raised, like judges pronouncing sentence.

Jana Cassidy was head of the OPR committee, and a stern, gray-haired woman of about fifty-five or so, who had spent thirty good years of her life carefully working her way up the bureau ladder, from front-desk receptionist to Special Agent, to Assistant Director, to Director.  She was something of a legend with the Washington sector, as she was one of the first women ever to rise to power within the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Jana Cassidy was a direct biproduct of the chain of command, and she believed in nothing but the law, and the rules of bureau policy, and how to enforce both concepts to the best of her advantage without injuring the bureau's illustrious reputation.

"Do you understand why you're here this afternoon?" Director Cassidy asked, passing a manila envelope down the line of two directors, and finally down to A.D Skinner, who sat at the end nearest the door.  He took the envelope and rose from his seat.

Scully shifted in her chair and she and Mulder glanced at each other uneasily.  Mulder felt bile rising in his stomach.  He nodded at Scully to answer, afraid he might vomit if he opened his mouth.

"No, sir," Scully finally said, her expression blank, almost calm.  "We were not briefed as to the..." she paused.  "The specifics of this meeting."

Cassidy nodded to Skinner, and Skinner made his way down the two carpeted steps from the platform to the wooden conference table, where Mulder and Scully sat, hands identically folded on the tabletop.  Skinner dropped the folder in front of Scully, as if he knew what would come next and expected Scully, by proxy, to be the more rational of the two.  A strange look passed from Skinner's eyes to Scully's at that moment, and Mulder would have guessed the A.D wished to apologize to her, or crawl under the table, but the moment passed as soon as it came, and Skinner turned his back to the two of them, moving up to the platform once again and taking his seat.

"You are here," Director Cassidy continued, as if she was the only person present for these proceedings, "Not simply because of the contents of that folder, which contain evidence that both of you have broken several proprietary protocols, but because we have had, this morning alone, several complaints from the accounting and requisition departments about the gross amount of money that seems to...conveniently disappear whenever the two of you embark on a case."

Mulder's eyes narrowed, and he glanced once at the folder, which Scully had not yet opened, and then at the board of directors, who all seemed to be peering down their noses at him from the same pair of silver-rimmed glasses.  The nausea rumbling in his stomach was turning to something else, something dark, and Mulder felt like knocking his chair over.  "Are you accusing us of mishandling funds?" asked Mulder, his jaw working tightly.  He could feel a tension headache coming on from clenching his teeth.  Laughing in his face over the existence of extra terrestrials was one thing; bringing him up on charges of embezlement was quite another.

"This comittee is not entirely sure what to make of your...investigative expenditures," said Director Logan, a dark-haired man of about sixty-two.  Logan was short and overweight, and he had not investigated anything since the Reagan administration.  "It's easy to take a... a romantic vacation, shall I say, when you're not the person footing the bill."

"Just what exactly are you implying?" asked Mulder, sounding more defensive that he would have liked.

Scully took that moment to inhale deeply, as if through her teeth.  He turned to her and saw her handling a group of 8x10 photos as if they would bite her if she brought them too close to her face.  She squinted at the photos one by one, turned them sideways, and then dropped them to the table, her face white.  Wordlessly, she slid the photos towards him.  Mulder frowned, put his index finger on the corner of one photograph, and pulled it towards himself.

"This hearing has been called because of some questionable and downright defiant behavior exhibited by your division," said Director Cassidy, her tone clipped, harsh.  "Yesterday morning I recieved word that the agents of the X Files division chose to bypass a required budget meeting and use bureau dollars to drive up to New York, supposedly to investigate a case forwarded to the division by a member of the NYPD.  The nature of the trip was not explained or justified satisfactorily to their superior, nor was it cleared through proper channels.  Having said that, Agent Mulder, perhaps you would care to explain to me the investigative approach you're utilizing in the photo in front of you."

Mulder narrowed his eyes, and then gazed down at the photo in question.  It was a glossy, black and white still of he and Scully from the night before, and it had been taken at close range--or if not at close range, than with a damn good camera.  35 mm.  Someone who knew what they were doing.  Mulder swallowed.  He felt like shooting himself in the foot, which was basically what he had done the night this picture was taken..

In the photo, Mulder held his partner suspended over a motel walkway.  Scully 's legs dangled off his left arm, and her back was flush with the concrete motel wall outside her door.  One slender set of fingers tousled the hair at the back of his head, while the other clutched at his shoulder, her arms wound tightly around his neck.  Her eyes were closed, her mouth over his, her cheek sucked in slightly, as if her tongue was not where it should have been. The intent of the situation in the photograph could not be mistaken.  Or make them look any worse.

"Who took these?" Mulder demanded, not knowing what else to say.  He flipped through another photo--this one of the kiss as it had deepened, and Scully's back arched against the motel room door.  He nearly shook with anger as he tossed the photo back to the table and picked up another one--this one taken of them through half-opened, orange motel curtains.  Scully lay on the bed with her feet propped up on the pillows and her arms around his neck, and Mulder stood over her, supporting her weight, the back of his head obscuring hers entirely.  There was no question as to why Scully's head could not be seen.

"Who took them is irrelevant, Agent Mulder."  Director Kraus this time, his brown, wrinkled hands folded on the platform in front of him.  "We are only glad that a note requiring payment in exchange for not printing these was omitted from the envelope.  I expect you understand how bad this looks.  How utterly irresponsible.  On both your parts and on behalf of the bureau."

"Sir," said Scully, her face expressionless except for the slight wavering of her eyes.  That storm brewing in her, brewing louder and harder.  Silent.  "I...apologize for the unprofessional picture this paints.  But I assure you, whoever took these pictures misinterpreted the situation."

"Misinterpreted," said Director Cassidy, her eyes widened slightly in disbelief.  "Misinterpreted how?"

Mulder gazed again at the pictures, blindly hoping that if he stared at them long enough they would just disappear. Rage built up inside of him and festered.  He couldn't even speak.  Who had taken these pictures?  And how?  Who had known they'd be in Long Island besides Skinner?  And who had Skinner told?  Truthfully, Mulder had been expecting something like this when Scully had earlier mentioned a manila envelope, but he had been hoping for something less...damning.  This was bad.  This was extrordinarily bad.

"It was late."  Scully's voice wavered slightly, as if she was either embarrassed to speak or upset or both, and Mulder could hear chinks wearing away through her armor.  She'd made a statement, but he wasn't sure she had planned to back that statement up.  "I was...Agent Mulder...and myself... were investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young girl from Long Island--Kelsey Elizabeth Harbor.  At the time this photograph was taken, we had recently come from the scene of a severe fire in which Kelsey's sister Lily barely managed to escape unharmed.   We put the young girl up in our motel for the night so that she would have a warm place to sleep, and so we could more easily question her the next morning.  I had injured my ankle, and Agent Mulder offered to carry me back to my room.  I was...we were tired, and we got a bit caught up in a confusing moment, such as it was-- but nothing in any of these pictures was premeditated, or orchestrated in such a way that a romantic entanglement--"

"It would seem," Director Cassidy went on, as if Scully had not even spoken, "From these pictures, that you injured your lips as well.  Or perhaps you were having trouble breathing and Agent Mulder, gentleman that he is, offered to assist with that."

One of the directors snorted.  Mulder wasn't sure who.  He couldn't stop staring at the photos as if he could wish them away.  More than shutting down the X Files, this kind of reprimand could destroy Scully's career.  A man in the bureau who was caught fooling around with his partner was generally reassigned, but more or less hailed as some sort of conquering Romeo.  His record was blemished for about a month, until those in power who had demerited him in the first place forgot about the indiscretion almost entirely, and fellow agents patted him on the back, wondering how he'd managed it in the first place.  On the other hand, a woman in the same situation had almost no shot of coming out unscathed, no matter how brilliant or capable she was.  Female agents who slept with their partners were generally reassigned, placed behind the desk, forgotten, their reputations slaughtered with other females within the bureau, who assumed such reprimanded women to be sleeping their way to the top.   Credibility would further be tarnished with male agents,  often refused working with a reassigned woman on the offshoot that they could lose their jobs due to sexual harassment or innapropriate conduct.

It was fucking amazing.  In a world that claimed to be color-blind and non-discriminatory, the agency that swore to uphold the law sure as hell managed to find interesting ways of circumnavigating everything true and honest.

God.  How could Mulder have allowed this to happen? What had he been thinking, kissing her like that?

"We were investigating a legitimate X File," said Scully, probably hoping to get the subject matter on more stable grounds.  "There's an officer with the NYPD out of Long Island.  Detective Mark Guinness.  You can contact him for verification.  He forwarded the case to us and he was present--"

"We will be contacting no such person," said Director Logan, his lips pursed, his gaze straight and unwavering.

"Excuse me?" Scully managed, her blue eyes widened slightly, as if this kind of railroading had never happened to them before.

"This hearing does not concerm anything but your innapropriate conduct, Agent Scully, and your irresponsible use of government money to sanction it."

"My apologies," said Scully, her fists clenching and unclenching, "but I resent the implication that--"

"Sir," Mulder finally broke in, his voice cracking only slightly.  He set the photos down.  "This isn't Agent Scully's fault.  She wasn't responsible for her own actions."  Mulder swallowed, and he could feel Scully glaring at him, anger radiating off of her so deeply he knew it without seeing her.  She would never forgive him for this, but he would do it anyway.  If only to save her career.

"What are you saying, Agent Mulder?" Director Cassidy gazed pointedly at him. She was either going to let him speak or throw him in the brig, he just wasn't sure which.  

Mulder then stole a glance at Scully, whose eyes were clear, hard, and fixed on him.  She looked as if she wanted to reach over and strangle him if not for their boss and three OPR members sitting across from her.  Mulder turned back to the board of directors, where Skinner watched he and Scully with disbelieving, squinting eyes.  If there was anyone on that panel who would not believe the line of bullshit that was about to spew from Mulder's lips, it was Walter Skinner.

"Agent Scully and I finished up with the crime scene and then went for a jog," said Mulder, "And she injured her ankle, just as she stated.  But she was in... a lot of pain. And on the ah, the way back, she asked me to go to the car and give her some painkillers she kept in a bag in the trunk.  Agent Scully is a medical doctor, as I'm sure you all know."  Mulder paused and the room was silent.

His heart beat loudly--at least to his ears, pounding out a double rhythm in his chest.  He had a sudden, painfully clear vision of Scully lying in bed, helpless, silent, her eyes closed, her arm splayed about the pillow, as he loomed over her in some post-hypnotic dream state.  She sighed softly in her sleep, murmuring his name.  She didn't know he was standing there, but she asked for him all the same.  She wanted him there, with her, on the bed.  Mulder gazed at her, pushed a sweaty, damp hair out of her face, and instead of pushing back the covers to lay with her, he shot her, shot her right between the eyes with her own gun.

The scene was slight, but powerful, and it made him nauseous.  Literally.  He almost couldn't breathe.

Christ.  Mulder was a danger to her, a menace.  And this hearing was further proof of that.  He needed to get her away from him.  The idea popped into his head and floated there, wavered in front of him as if someone was holding a banner.  He had to get Scully away from him.  Get her away.  He had to get her away.

Mulder took a deep breath.  He was about to ruin his career for her, and all he could think of was that he had to get her away.  The thought repeated over and over.

"So I gave her some pills, but I accidentally gave her more than the amount she asked for," he continued.

"Mulder," said Scully, interrupting him.  That glazed look in her eyes was back, that dazed expression from the car thisafternoon that made him think she'd floated miles away and was only now deciding to return.  She seemed to be looking through him, past him, and not at him.  Her eyes watered, not with tears, but with something else.  "Don't do this," she said lowly.  "Please don't do this."

"Agent?" asked Director Cassidy, looking not at Mulder, but at Scully.

"I request a recess," Scully said quickly, looking from Mulder to Director Cassidy, and then back to Mulder again.

Mulder felt undeniably strange, nauseous, and he couldn't fully focus on his partner.  He couldn't seem to focus on anything, for that matter.  His tried shaking his head, to get the vision to leave him, but he couldn't erase the image of Scully lying in bed, her blood on the blankets, her beautiful face nothing but a sunken, gutted hole.  Her hand dangled limply from the mattress, her hair the same color as the sheets.

He had to get her away from him.  He had to get her away.

Cassidy was talking now, but he'd missed part of it:  "---what grounds I should grant you a recess, Agent Scully, when you've already stretched this panel far past the point of decency?"

Mulder took a breath and interrupted, feeling the intense urge to speak and get this entire affair over with.  "While returning to the room, Agent Scully admitted to me that she was too weak to walk, and I carried her.  I noticed she was woozy and not herself, and I...I..." He was going to throw up.  If not on the conference table, then in the hallway the second this meeting adjourned.  "I took advantage of the situation as she was dozing off because I knew she would not willingly act innapropriately otherwise.  I do not believe Agent Scully knew who she was kissing."

He heard Scully suck in a breath; mortification spread over him--not his, but Scully's.  He felt it like a blanket, covering him.  Director Cassidy physically bristled, as if personally offended by the idea of such disgusting conduct.  Mulder supposed he would be too if he was in her position. "Is this true, Agent Scully?" she asked.

The entire panel, everyone including Mulder, turned to Scully, whose pale hands were clenched on the table so tightly he thought her fists might shatter.  Her lips pursed, and she seemed to be considering whether to punch him or slink into the floor, or just do whichever came first. She would shoot him for this later to be sure, but at least she would still have a job.  And that was all that mattered.

"No," said Scully, and Mulder knew as she said it that chances were great the panel would believe her to be lying anyway, covering for him.  "Agent Mulder seems to be..."  She shot him a murderous look.  "Not well...at the moment.  If he was indeed in his right mind, he would recall that I never asked him for painkillers--"

"After that we went back to the room," Mulder went on, lying unabashedly and without a net now, careening madly to his professional death, refusing to allow Scully to dig herself a hole.  "That's Scully's room in the other... photos. Her suitcase on the floor.  I put her down on the bed, and I..." He swallowed back acid in his throat, feeling suddenly dizzy, like he wanted to pass out or die.  Fighting through it, and through the disgust he felt at even saying what he was about to say, he went on, "I kissed her again.  It was my fault, my impropriety, and not Agent Scully's.  She tried to get me to stop but I kept going--"

"That's not true," interrupted Scully, her voice rising.  She stood up then, as if she felt that standing would give her better leverage.  "Agent Mulder...he's had a rough night, and I believe he's indirectly, if not misguidedly, trying to protect my interests."  She gazed at Mulder again, and this time her nostrils flared slightly, as if speaking more to him than to the panel.   "He's. Not. Well."

Skinner's eyes were wide and he watched both of them with his fingers on the bridge of his nose, thumb and forefinger rubbing hard, as if not sure what he should do with either of them.  Skinner was by and far used to both of them taking falls and shots for each other, but even he seemed surprised at this turn of events.  As if he thought that either they would have been more discreet about their relationship, or that Mulder had simply gone insane and had fallen in love with a woman who did not return his affections.  It was easy for anyone to think the latter, since Scully was beautiful and yet professional to the letter, and they all thought him crazy anyway.    The irony that Mulder could have a panel of FBI agents believing his word over Scully's was not lost on him.

"If Agent Mulder is not telling the truth," Director Logan said, "Then please, Agent Scully, explain to this panel what ailment you believe plagues Agent Mulder.  And then explain to us what happened to your eye."

At the mention of her bruise, Scully's mouth opened, but no sound came out.  She was a bad liar, as both Skinner and Mulder well knew, and her hesitation seemed to be all the panel needed.  "It was dark," she managed, her voice drained of  her earlier authority.  "And it was late.  Agent Mulder's temperature was elevated and he was having a nightmare.  I heard a noise and I...I entered his room. That is--"

"Spare me the flowery excuses, Agent Scully, and simply give me the facts.  Did Agent Mulder give you that bruise?"  Director Cassidy spat the words, as if incensed to be even speaking them.  Scully opted not to speak at this, her eyes closing warily, and Director Cassidy tossed down the pencil she'd been holding in disgust.  Apparently, Scully's non-answer was all the answer she needed to hear.

Mulder's head throbbed, his temple pulsing. He couldn't feel his feet.  He felt as if he was floating from his body, hovering over himself, watching all of this without actually taking part in it.  He'd just insinuated that he tried to rape his partner.  That he'd drugged her and taken advantage of her.  He still couldn't believe it.  He would never, not even with a gun to his head, force Scully to do anything.  But he had to say it.  He had to protect her, her good name, her career.  He had to get her away from him and out of the basement.

His gaze again found the photos, fanned out on the table like a scattering of black and white leaves.  He and Scully outside the motel.  He and Scully on the bed.  He and Scully, he and Scully, always he and Scully.  They would take her away from him now, put her somewhere safe.  Somewhere far from him.  He had to get her away, far away.  He had to get Scully away.

There was her arm, dangling from the bed, swaying drunkedly back and forth as if to carnival music.  Her face, her smooth, sweet-smelling skin, her big blue eyes, her lips; they were all gone.  He'd left a hole, bloody and messy, spilling onto the carpet.  He'd done it.  He'd shot her.

"--Can't possibly believe this," Scully was saying.  "Agent Mulder isn't--"

"Agent Mulder, it would seem, is the only person here who has a concrete explanation for these photos," said Agent Kraus, his tone dissenting, as if he thought Scully might not understand him unless he spoke slowly.  Mulder blinked a few times to try and focus.  The room was wavy, underwater.

"Agent Scully," said Director Cassidy.  "I understand that because of the intense nature of investigation, agents in close association often develop a deep bond.  It is not uncommon and rather, it is encouraged, and often helpful when out in the field.  However, it is also not uncommon for persons involved in said relationships to develop a misguided need--a sense of obligation, if you will-- to protect one another, no matter what the personal costs are to oneself."  Director Cassidy paused, taking a breath, as if the weight of the world was just too great.  "I also understand, from my conversations with your superior, Assistant Director Skinner, that you have taken quite a few reprimands for Agent Mulder.  That your record was clean before you were assigned to the X Files, but now has quite a few blemishes on it.  Is this correct?"

Scully bristled, and Mulder squirmed in his seat.  Once again, he had inadvertantly put his partner on trial without meaning to.  He had put her honor in a place to be questioned.  And for that, he wasn't sure she would ever forgive him.  Damn it.  He didn't like where this was going, and suddenly he wished he could take back the last ten minutes of his life.

"If I have ever defended my partner, or gone against bureau protocol," said Scully, her chin jutted, "I have done so to protect the interests of the bureau and the work that we do on the X Files."

"Your integrity here is not in question, Agent Scully," said Director Logan, his eyes narrowing, his scrutinizing gaze falling on Mulder. "Agent Mulder's integrity, however, has not escaped this hearing so unscathed.  I believe it may be in the best interests for both you and the division, as I'm sure this panel will agree, that this partnership be dissolved on the grounds of innaproriate conduct."

Scully lowered herself back to her seat at this, landed hard on the chair as if struck.  Mulder couldn't imagine a bullet would have hit her any harder.  He closed his eyes, trying to block out the rest of it.

"You're going to reassign  us," said Scully, her voice dull.  "You'll shut down the X Files. The closing of the division is no great hardship to you, is it?"  Her voice was dark, as if she teetered dangerously on the edge.

"The division will not be shut down," answered Cassidy, as if speaking to a small, chastised child.  "I do not believe that it is in the best interests of the bureau, at this time, to close down the X Files division."  The Director paused as if thinking.  "You, Agent Scully, will remain as division head until such time that you may be assigned a new partner.  Agent Mulder, however, will be suspended until further notice, forfeiting all rights and priveledges therein.  I also want to make clear, Agent Mulder, that this committee will bring you up on charges of misconduct and sexual harassment.  The bureau will not tolerate such acts of indiscretion and violence towards its female agents.  Is that clear?"

Mulder said nothing, merely put his hand over his head and nodded, as if he could make the room disappear by closing his eyes.  His head was going to explode.  There was the sound of shuffling papers and scribbling; the nature of silence in a conference room.  It was never an exact silence, but silence with an edge, the background whir of pens, pencils, pink suspension sheets and goldenrod contracts, life spinning by and kicking him out of the car.  Silence was only real and true in a vaccuum, where the pratfalls of living could not taint the edges of each moment with pinpricks of sound.

"I won't allow this," said Scully, her tone low and dangerous.  "I won't press charges against Agent Mulder.  He committed no crime and did not force me into anything.   I will not allow my partner to lose his job over an incident that never happened.  If this panel pursues legal action, I will fight it."

"I don't think you will, Agent Scully."   Agent Kraus this time, his voice nasally, weasally.  "Because if what you're saying is true, and the evening did not unfold as Agent Mulder claims it did, then it would mean that your partner has purjured himself in front of this panel, during an informal hearing.  And not only will Agent Mulder be brought up on charges for purjury, but both of you will be held accountable for your actions."   Kraus paused as if for dramatic effect, and then continued, "And then the division will be shut down, as if we do not have enough just cause to shut it down already."

Another voice chimed in, deep, gruff.  Assistant Director Skinner's baritone.  "This isn't a hearing, Kraus," he said, roughly.  "You can't charge a man for perjury outside of a courtroom."

"It's a hearing if I say it's a hearing, Assistant Director Skinner," said Kraus.

Mulder opened his eyes to see Kraus, the older, grayed man, smiling.  Not a full smile, but a half-smile, as if he had planned this all along and had known what would happen before the meeting even began.  An image of the smoking man popped into Mulder's head, his lips dripping with lies and half-truths.  How far did it go?  How deep did betrayal and deceit run in the FBI mainstream?

"You planned this," said Scully suddenly, the remark so out of character that Mulder turned to her with confused eyes.  He'd been thinking just that.  He would have said it himself, but she said it first.  "You knew Mulder would say what he said to try and protect me.  You counted on it."

"Agent Scully," Director Cassidy all but bellowed, "That is enough."

But Scully's eyes were glassy again, unfocused, and her voice got louder.  "I won't let you win."  And then she seemed to be speaking not to Director Kraus, but at someone beyond him, behind the wall, someone nobody could see but Scully.  "I won't let you do this to him," she said.

A murmur arose from the directors on the panel, and they gazed uncertainly at one another.  Skinner narrowed his eyes and stared down the panel at Kraus.  Kraus looked uncomfortable, as if he had been called on a bluff.

Mulder swallowed, concern washing over him.  "Scully?" he asked, looking up at her and touching her arm.  She seemed not to hear him, and her behavior was growing steadily erratic.  It wasn't like her.  Not at all.  "Scully?"

"Assistant Director Skinner," Director Cassidy snapped, sounding frazzled and annoyed and way past her breaking point on the matter.  "Please remove Agents Mulder and Scully from my sight, and then have Agent Mulder removed from the building entirely."

Scully blinked, but otherwise remained silent, still staring at the wall behind Kraus, her eyes watery and unfocused.  Her lips moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, as if she spoke to some invisible person.  She looked like she might faint, and Lord knew the last thing Dana Scully needed was another bruised eye.

Mulder stood, nearly knocking his chair backwards, and he quickly glanced at the platform, where Skinner had already risen and was moving towards him.  Then he stared at Scully, quickly stepped in front of her, checked her pupils--Scully had shown him how to do that years ago.  No, they were too dilated, her lids twitching as if irritated.  Something was wrong.  Very wrong.  Something had been wrong ever since they'd come back from Long Island.

Mulder grasped Scully's shoulder and took a shuddered breath.  Either she'd answer him or she'd kick him in the groin for making such a mess of things, and frankly, at this point, either response would be acceptable.  "Scully," he whispered, not knowing how else to reach her.  "Dana...please."

In less than five seconds, Director Cassidy  would have Skinner escorting him out of here in a headlock for touching Scully, but Mulder didn't care.  Scully needed his help, and she needed it desperately.  He had the feeling, somehow, that she'd gotten trapped...locked inside herself.  And for her to get out, she needed for him to touch her, to reach her; he couldn't even say how he knew this.  He just knew.

"Scully," he said, louder this time.  "It's me."

"Mulder?" she finally whispered.

A rush of images; A file cabinet, a hallway, Scully, her gun in her hand, chasing someone he couldn't see down an unfamiliar stretch of infinite gray, her voice loud, echoing, Stop, stop right there.  I won't let you get away with this, goddamn it.  Get out!  Get out now!  Then his own face, his eyes, his lips, his hairline, all in fast and hard focus.  Him sitting at a desk, pouring over a stack of files.  Him leaning against the bed in a motel room in Bellefluer, Oregon.  Him flicking paperclips into a coffee cup on her desk, back when they shared two adjoining cubicles in the agricultural terrorism warroom.  Him looking down, gazing at her, and then lips on lips, Auld Langs Ayne playing soft and nearly indecipherable on an old TV.  That last one, over and over again.  Lips on lips, again and again.  Scully's voice, not to him, but to someone else: Won't let you take this away from me...

Then Skinner's hands were on Mulder's shoulders, jolting him back to reality, escorting him forcefully from the room.  Mulder walked grudgingly, his feet dragging the floor, and he turned back to stare at his partner.  Former partner.  Whatever.  He couldn't remember when he had gotten up, or even why he had.  Something happened with Director Kraus and then Scully...

He didn't know. Fucking hell, why couldn't he remember?  Scully made a statement and then...and then...God damn it!

Scully stood beside the conference table, her her fists balled at her sides, her blue eyes screaming helplessness, as if she had considered taking out all the agents in the room, grabbing Mulder's hand and running for the exit, but then realized she never stood a chance.

Their eyes held for a solid second before Skinner pushed Mulder to the door.  A crack seemed to fizzle in his head, an electric spark travelling from his brain to his arms to his toes and then back up again.  The hairs on his arms stood on end, pulling away from his skin as if his whole body had become electrified.  The throbbing in his sinuses stopped, if only for a short moment, and the humming synchronization of every sense and nerve ending cleared some sort of path, some sort of wavelength.

I won't let them shut us down, said Scully's voice.  Not out loud, but in his head.  He heard her.  Not a memory, but her voice, floating, wandering, ending up in his head.  They won't get away with this.  I promise you.

Mulder took a breath, a fresh wave of nausea gripping him with slithery, phantom fingers.  His vision splitting in two, he watched as Director Cassidy's papers scattered violently to the floor, files and contracts, suspensions and debriefings flying mel-pel in all directions, raining to the ground as if swept by wind.  Scully winced, and then grabbed her forehead, groaning in some sort of intense pain.  She doubled over, a gasp that was nearly a scream escaping her, and Director Logan rushed to her side, urging her to sit.

Mulder tried to call out her name, to reach her, but he was out the doors after that, Skinner behind him, pushing his shoulders and muttering something that might as well have been German for all it mattered.  The boardroom doors slammed shut behind them with a crack, and Mulder bent quickly forward, his vision spintering off in thirds, and then in fourths, his eyes squeezing shut as he gasped, gagged, and emptied the contents of his stomach all over the white and gray speckled hallway, his insides twisting, breaking him in two.

Continued in Chapter 15