We All Die Virgins
by Jaime Lyn

Chapter 21

********************************

-------------------
11400 Commonwealth Dr,
Georgetown, Maryland,
8:19 pm
-------------------


When Agent Scully emerged from her bedroom, she found Mulder pacing the hallway, shuffling back and forth like a caged lion. He eyed her curiously, tight-lipped, cell phone pressed to one ear.  He seemed to be struggling with...  

No.  Too much.

Scully shuddered, feeling Mulder too close; outside, he was tightly reined, his face as blank as cardboard.  But his emotions ran the gamut; fear, anger, confusion, curiosity, all came to her, hard and fast, and the sensations fogged her, pressed at her until she thought she might burst from the weight; how could she bear such an invasion any longer?  At first his presence felt beautiful - a merging of unlike minds.  But then immediately came the weight, uncontrollable, so heavy...

Scully sighed, and worked out the tension in her neck.  Much as she fought, she could not shake the pressure of one mind tingling the back of hers.  He was there, always there.  But something else, too.  Something dark - something lurking in the air -

<You're misbuttoned, Sister Spooky.>

Scully pursed her lips.  She ignored him, but pulled subconsciously at the hem of her gray v-neck.  She was still mostly embarrassed over the episode in her bedroom. Embarrassed, and somewhat annoyed, actually.  And just as soon as she figured out who to direct her irritation upon, she'd feel a lot better.

<Who's on the phone, Mulder?>

<Guinness. I told him we'd found Lily.  Didn't push the telekinetic slash telepathic angle - saving the best for last, you know me.  Turns out he caught a flight after we drove in.>

<Guinness?>  Scully frowned.  <He caught a flight?>

<Yeah.  Said he'd come vouch for us, if we needed it.  And we probably need it.>

 Mulder rubbed his forehead in frustration - like beads of sweat, Scully actually felt tendrils radiating off him, falling, as if upon her brow.  He continued with his phone conversation - "You're where?  No, make a right at Elm, yeah, Elm Street, not Avenue - "

Every once in awhile he tossed her an errant thought. She wasn't even sure he was aware of the transfer.

<Mulder?>

Nervous rustling - shadows of his thoughts dancing in her head: a silent, powerful waltz.

<hmm?>

Should she ask?

She licked her lips.  <Nevermind.>

He countered.  <You're hearing me all the time, aren't you, Scully?>

She swallowed, answered, <Are you hearing me?>

He gazed at her, and looked suddenly morose.  <Only what you physically direct at me.>

She took a breath.  <Oh.>

But she felt him still.  As if she were trapped in her own head, lingering between spirit and physicality, with only her tired thoughts and a pale afterimage of her partner.  

He was trying to hide what he really thought.   Mulder was convinced something terrible would go down tonight, and he felt powerless to prevent it.  Moreover, he hated himself for feeling such weakness. And yet, in the midst of deciphering their immediate troubles, there was more to him beneath the surface; Mulder was aggravated.  He was insane with jealousy.  Despite his own ability to hear her, to collide their thoughts like atoms rushing inside a particle tube - despite it all, he could not read empathically.  He could not feel her close, as she felt him.  The knowledge made him insecure.  The lack of capability frustrated him to no end.  But why was the transmission so stilted and one-sided?  There had to be a scientific explanation, thought Scully.  For all of it.

Scully shivered, took a breath, and glanced at her boss, who had been eyeing them curiously from the relative safety of her living room couch.  <Shit,> remembered Scully - <Skinner.>

<What?>  Mulder, in the middle of conversation, turned to her, confused.

<Nothing.>  Scully shook her head, waved him off . Never in a million years would she ever get used to this.

"Agent Scully?"  Skinner's left eyebrow rose, and a crease appeared at the center of his forehead, where his brows converged.  He certainly seemed annoyed, but Scully could not read him directly as she could read Mulder.  For whatever reason, she seemed to be a one-channel baby-monitor.    

"Sorry, Sir."  Scully glanced at Mulder, and tugged at the collar of her blouse, the coarse fabric itchy, rubbing her skin wrong. God damn it, he was right about the buttons - (And sensing Mulder turn his back on her, Scully turned simultaneously, and rebuttoned as she directed the flow of conversation outward; had Mulder seen her turn, had he noticed her tug at the buttons?  Had Skinner?  Why was she so paranoid?  What was wrong with her?  She felt… rushed.  Something was wrong, something happening in the back of her brain that wasn't quite - )  

"We're trying to get a handle on this situation, Sir," she forced. "I assure you - "

"And what," asked Skinner, arms folded, "is the situation, exactly?  Because neither you nor Agent Mulder has explained it to my satisfaction.  And without getting into the scene I just witnessed in your bedroom, you've been conveniently mute for about ten minutes now, Agent. "

Ten minutes?

Well… shit.  

Scully bit the inside of her mouth so hard she nearly drew blood.  What wouldn't sound completely ludicrous to any sane person?

A wave of blinding subconscious rushed from Mulder, crashed into her, and she suddenly pressed a hand to the side of her head, wishing she could clear all the clutter away.  <There's a key here I'm not seeing Men of God men of God a connection to something else Have to get the disk maybe the answers are on there Suspicious connection to photographer -> More and more, fast and furious, pounding in a far-off corner of her head.  <Not an accident we found this case someone wanted us to find it maybe a set up screams set up and Skinner sounds pissed Scully can handle it we can't just go in that room have to be sneaky and damn Scully good color on you wouldn't mind being that shirt right now - >

Flushed with embarrassment at having overheard a thought so personal, Scully frowned as she glanced down at her diagonally buttoned shirt.  The fabric pulled at her breasts, tugged at her sloppily.  With amusement, she thought: Gibson was right. < Mulder has a dirty mind.>

<Floating away with flukeworm at the bottom of a sewer, where you're concerned, lady.>

Scully sucked in a breath, momentarily surprised at herself for having allowed Mulder access to her reaction.  Their eyes met, and his twinkled. It was one of those intense, blindingly bizarre moments, when everything around them and between them - including their very lives - lay on the line, like a damsel tied across the railroad tracks.  And all Scully could think of was that damned kiss they'd shared against the motel room door.  Cold air warring with inner warmth.  The dark, December night piercing her skin, swishing through them.  The taste of him, the feel of him, of them both - tangled together, as always.  Their partnership was a landslide of beautiful, frustrating, enigmatic happenings, chance encounters.  How appropriate that a kiss should come so unexpected, so random.  But it was wrong, nonetheless, and she should have never -

Stop.  

No.  There was no time for this, not now.

"Mulder?" she asked out loud, mindful of Skinner, who seemed to be unaware of any silent broadcasting.

"Yeah?"

"You're looking for the backup disk?"

He turned to her, a look of surprise glittering in his eyes.  "Yeah, actually.  How'd you - "  Suddenly, he frowned, realizing.  "I wasn't sure if you'd have one or not.  I thought I'd taken the disk from the office, but it seems that my memory isn't - "

"Isn't serving you correctly."  

Mulder looked terse.  "Yeah, something like that."

"I do have a third copy; it's just incomplete."  

Mulder nodded, mute.  Her invasion of his every emotion was starting to irritate him, and yet she had no idea how to shut it off.  Was there a switch?  What if she tried to envision an off button?  

Scully took a step forward, and frowned, halting in her tracks.  Silently, she asked, <What about the room?>  nervousness wracking through her, burning behind her retinas.  <I don't want Skinner in that room.> Memories of the past like giant paperweights, holding her down, drowning her - unused teddy bears, blood where there should not have been blood -

<Not yet,> said Mulder.  <Changed my mind.  I think I might have a better idea.>

<A better idea?>

Mulder shrugged.  

"Agent Scully."  

Startled, Scully turned.  "Sir?"

"The explanation I was waiting for?  Agent Mulder said something about a suspicious young girl with telepathic abilities?"

"Oh…Yes."  Both Mulder and Scully avoided one another's eyes as Scully passed him on her way to the living room wall unit.  From him, she felt resentment, a lingering tingle of regret - slight but palpable - festering beneath the surface.  Those piles of half-opened boxes, pale, streaky walls, those tiny, unused, yellow jumpers that were to have been...

No.  She had to block it out.  

Feeling hoarse, Scully cleared her throat, began, "Agent Mulder believes Lily Harbor may posses powers beyond what is scientifically known of the human mind."

"Abilities."  Skinner stepped forward.  "Such as telepathy and telekinesis?"

Scully reached behind the baseboards of her cedar wall unit, ran her hands along the smooth wood.   "Abilities similar in theory, perhaps."

"In theory?"

"Given what little evidence we have…" Scully stammered.  "That is… hypothetically speaking, if I were to, to - "  

"Hypothetically?  Then I take it you don't concur with Agent Mulder."

Scully paused, and understood suddenly that she had painted herself into a very unattractive corner.  The matter was no longer an issue of whether or not she believed.  By default, she'd been forced to believe.  Mulder's previously lofty truths had, in the span of only a few hours, become a part of her science, had become fact - no more, no less.  But could she admit this conflict of interests to Skinner?  To herself?  Sure, science and the unexplained worked well together, cooperated nicely in a remote, symbiotic relationship - but only, she realized, when the twains never met.  

And now?  

Now, she had no choice but to believe, and yet she knew - understood in the deepest parts of her heart - that she was terrified of the truth, terrified that what she'd known as they sky was not actually the sky at all, but the sea, or whirlpools of mud beneath the floorboards, lurking.  She was terrified she might be wrong - about science, about the world, about everything.  She was scared to death that life was capable of creating purple skies instead of blue skies.  Pink moons with holes, like swiss cheese carved from a hundred storybooks.  Suddenly she realized how Melissa would have laughed at her now, if Melissa were still alive.  

Scully's body flushed with inexplicable heat; Mulder's gaze burned on the back of her head, searing, as if he were trying to pop her open with an invisible laser and puzzle her out.  A silent wave of thought crashed into her: Exasperation; Mulder only wanted to be right.  He wanted her to say she believed he was right and that she was wrong, that she had been wrong all this time.  He wanted her to automatically back him up no matter what was said; he was embarrassed that she either would not, or could not.  

<You're hedging> said Mulder.  

<I do not 'hedge,'> Scully returned.  The nerve of him taking it all so personally, as if everything she did and thought, everything she feared and chose to vocalize, was a direct consequence or reflection of him.  

Eight years of partnership, of searching all remote possibilities, of forcing Mulder to see every avenue - scientific and otherwise - and it could not, in the end, come down to a simple "I am right" and "you are wrong."  She had merely become compromised, just as he had.  So why, then, did it always come down to this drag race between them?  The Outer Limits versus Scientific Weekly?

Scully shot Mulder a look of warning, felt the cold, hard trickle of anger climbing within her.  She turned and addressed Skinner.  "Given what little we know of certain unused quadrants within the human brain, I can't in good conscience rule out anything unusual - including telepathy and telekinesis... The God Nodule - as it is commonly known, and as we've seen from past experience - is exceedingly hard to quantify.  And considering I have not physically examined Lily, I also can't limit the scope of possibility.  We could be looking at the next Gibson Praise..." She paused, tried to sound as rational as possible while simultaneously wishing she could saw her partner's head off at the shoulders.  "Or something else entirely."

"Gibson Praise?"  Skinner looked mildly alarmed.  "He was a scientific pawn, the result of consortium experimentation."

Mulder nodded, deadly serious.  To Skinner, he said, "Exactly."

"And you think this Harbor girl - "

"Might indeed be a part of similar experimentation."

"To what end?"

Scully pushed back a ball of dust from backboard of her wall unit, and wiped her sweaty palm on the metal bracket. She grimaced, and added, "Agent Mulder believes a government program may have, at one time, existed for the sole purpose of designing a sort of superhuman with these types of abilities pre-programmed at birth."

"Then what you're suggesting..." Skinner looked perplexed. "Is quite serious.  Can you provide any proof?"  

<No,> thought Scully, dismally.  Out loud, she started, "Well, frankly - "

"Sitting in Scully's spare bedroom as we speak, sir."

Scully shot Mulder a pained look.  She strained for purchase behind the wall unit, and twisted her head to fully meet his gaze, her back bent at an odd angle.  It amazed her that a man as brilliant as her partner could so thoroughly dismiss all practicality in favor of getting ten miles ahead of himself.

<What in the hell do you think you're doing?> she demanded.  <We don't have proof.  We have speculation.  We have conjecture.  You have no idea whether that girl is even in this apartment, do you?  Don't you think that if she was, she would have shown herself already, for all this time we've been talking about her? We don't even know - >

<You're just afraid of opening that door, Scully.>

Mulder's eyes were cool, his expression blank.  His brain was roiling, though, twisting itself in knots: so many thoughts at once that they snowballed, gathered around her in a smothering grip.  

<I'm afraid of nothing.>

<I know exactly what you're afraid of.>  

His face blank, challenging: <go ahead, prove me wrong, Scully.  Go through the usual song and dance. We both know the truth, even if you won't admit it.>

<Fuck you, Mulder.>  

Their eyes told truths their mouths refused, and for a moment they stood there, glaring at one another.  

"Then why aren't we simply extracting the girl?" said Skinner.  "If it's just that easy, if you're so sure she's hiding out in this apartment, surely we can take her by surprise.  How dangerous is she?"

Mulder tossed his cell phone from palm to palm. "It might not be a good idea to go in there quite yet.  Especially since we haven't yet established the safest plan of action to stop her."

"To stop her from what?"

Mulder shrugged.  "Burning down the building, killing all of us, nothing too weighty."  

Skinner looked constipated.  "For crying out loud, Mulder."  

Scully cringed

"Then tell me what it is you have established," continued Skinner.  "Where did she come from?  This girl?  Guardians, background -"

Scully finally reached the disk, and groped around for a loose spot beneath the tape.  Her headache returned, and she couldn't seem to collect her thoughts. Nothing was real anymore.  Time and space collided, tangled like a ball of yarn.  Like everything else in her life, half of what she owned now belonged to Mulder.  First her office space, then her personal life.  And now her mind, her soul, her innermost thoughts… it was as if she was trapped. Trapped under the rubble of her own locked past, and of Mulder's unrealistic image of her as a partner, and as a friend, and...

As the mother of his child?  

No - not as a mother.  Of anyone's child.  She would never be anybody's mother.

"Her background is virtually non-existent," said Scully, forcing herself to ignore the pounding in her brain.  "No medical records, no school records.  Parents dead, sister missing under mysterious circumstances - which is how we came upon the case.  Kelsey Harbor is presumably - "

"Presumably deceased," finished Mulder.  He flipped his phone off and came forward.

"Deceased?" she asked.  

"A hunch," said Mulder.  "The gunmen are working on it."

"Then you think… what?  Murdered?"

"Stillborn."

Scully frowned, and found herself unable to extract an exact line of thought to respond.  Instead, she simply said, "You're saying you don't believe Kelsey Harbor existed?  That her sister invented her?  Why?"

"I'm saying it's possible Lily fixated on the birth of her sister and completely, albeit unwittingly, blocked out any memory of her death.  Perhaps because her seclusion and early abuse, compounded with the alienation afforded her by her abilities - "

"Forced her brain to build a vessel for the overflow," finished Scully, sensing the rest of the thought.

Mulder gazed at her, pleased. A current of affection flowed suddenly through her, lingering, as if misting from a warm, pleasant shower. "Basically," he said.

"And what about you Agent Scully?" asked Skinner, as Scully emerged from the unit with floppy disk in hand.  She handed the disk off to Mulder, who rushed to her desk, and booted her terminal with the side of his foot.  

"Sir?"  Scully frowned, confused.

"You tried to jump off the building. Mulder suggested psychiatric illness.  Is this something I should be worried about, given that you are now conscious?"

Caught off guard, Scully stood rooted to the carpet, recalling her destroyed kitchen, the forks aligned in the wall, the cabinets ripped violently from their hinges.  Wood and broken glass lay everywhere, spewed, as if her appliances had vomited them up.  She'd not yet had the time to truly contemplate how bad this situation looked.  Undoubtedly, it looked terrible for her.  Catastrophic even.  But for Mulder…

Scully felt suddenly very guilty, recalling the way their hearing for the OPR Board had gone, and how Mulder had basically thrown himself on the funeral pyre for her.  She shuddered to think what Skinner must have assumed took place here between the two of them.

"Is this true, Agent Scully?"

"Is… is what true?"

"Are you unwell?  And if so, how long has this situation been on-going?  Could this… illness… possibly have had anything to do with your uncharacteristically unprofessional behavior on your recent case?"  

Scully stuttered ungracefully, unsure of what to say.  Scrambling for purchase within her own head, she flipped through an invisible rolodex of Mulder's excuse encyclopedia, trying to come up with whatever crap words of wisdom he'd told Skinner as a cover.  But nothing came to her, nothing but that insistent, crushing pressure.  Damn it, why did Mulder never warn her before running his mouth off? 

"Well, Sir, I… That is, I haven't been feeling exactly, exactly - "

"Exactly what, Agent Scully?  When I walked in tonight, you were completely unconscious.  The kitchen was in shambles.  Agent Mulder was convinced that you were psychiatrically unwell.  He said you destroyed your own kitchen in a psychotic episode.  Then you tried jump off the side of the building - do you not remember this?"

She'd tried to what?

Dumbfounded, Scully forced words to her lips; she felt light-headed all of a sudden. The sound of Mulder clicking away at her keyboard rang loud in her head, so loud she wanted to rip the computer from him and toss it out the window.  He was purposely ignoring this conversation.  She knew it; she could feel it.  "Sir, I - I - "

"What really happened today at that meeting, Scully?  What happened tonight with those sedatives?  Either Mulder lied to a panel of board members, or he lied to me this evening about your illness. Either way, I want something honest from you about this proposed telepathy crap, and this business about his taking advantage of you, because frankly, I'm growing wary of this huge pile of bullshit that the both of you seem to enjoy stewing in."

Scully took a breath.  "I had a headache," she managed, weakly.  

Skinner looked unimpressed.  "And do you normally take horse tranquilizers for headaches?"

"Well, normally, I… that is - "

Silently, she said,  <Mulder?>  

For a few seconds, nothing.

Her patience grew thin.  

<Mulder?  Damn it, I know you can hear me!>

<In a minute, Scully.  I'm onto something big here.>

"I'm waiting for an answer, Agent Scully."  Skinner waved a hand, disgusted.  "I mean, since we're all sitting here pontificating the unexplained, and yet doing absolutely nothing to dispel the situation, I figure I might as well get some answers.  Does your career mean nothing to you?  Or does your partner's career mean even less to you than your own?"

<Mulder?>  Her heart beat an erratic rhythm within her chest.  <What in God's name did you say?  You told him I’d exhibited telepathic abilities?  That I was psychotic?  Are you out of your mind?>

He was thinking too much, running his thoughts too fast, one right into the other, crashing, circling; her head would explode soon from the over exposure.  

<Not now, Scully.  I think I've found something - >

<Mulder, I swear to God!>

Out loud, she managed, "It was a really bad headache, Sir."

From the computer, Mulder let out a whoop, and exclaimed, with a clap of his hands, "Nightmares!"

Both Scully and Skinner turned, Scully with her fingers at her forehead, massaging.  She was about two seconds away from picking up the lamp on her mantle, and tossing it across the room.  "What?" she asked, shortly.  

"I did a few short keyword searches - working off a hunch.  All cases that mention 'Men of God,'" explained Mulder.  "All involve peripheral parties who suffered from intense nightmares - specifically, strange, uncharacteristic nightmares which seemed to spring forth from out of nowhere.  In the case of that orphaned girl who nearly blew the roof off the group home, one of the group organizers who had counseled the girl mentioned being prescribed sedatives because…. Because…." He smacked the mouse, clicked a few times, and read, "her nightmares produced terrible migraine headaches.  Some of these nightmares involved missing blocks of time, sleepwalking - Jesus, that has to be the key!"

"The key to what?" asked Skinner.  

"Mulder," Scully interrupted, rubbing her forehead so hard she thought she might pull up skin.  "Can I see you in the bathroom for a moment?"

Mulder frowned, but nodded.  Scully pursed her lips, chucked her finger in the direction of her spare bathroom.  "Please excuse us," she directed at Skinner, before clenching her fists and moving down the hallway, Mulder close behind.  Once she reached the bathroom door, she shoved it open and nearly broke off the knob, and motioned with an exaggerated wave for Mulder to step ahead of her. He did, and she slammed the door behind them without a second thought.   

<You realize, Skinner is five seconds away from shooting both of us and dumping our bodies in the gutter,> she directed without words. < Just what the hell did you tell him tonight? Surely, it can't be any worse than what you said in the board room today, but did you… did you recant the entire story? God damn it, Mulder, he wants answers, and I have no idea what to say! No idea at all!  You made me look like a fool. I was completely unprepared - just like I was this afternoon.   You can't simply go and imply to our superior that I have, among other things, taken on the characteristics of a deranged Luke Skywalker, and not warn me!>

Mulder blinked, but did not move.  <Don't you think you're overreacting just a tad?>

Scully's eyes narrowed.  She took a long, hard breath. <No,> she returned.  <I am not overreacting.  I am definitely not overreacting.  Overreacting would be my filling the bathtub and shoving you in headfirst.  Trust me, this is not overreacting.>

<Well, what the fuck did you expect me to say to Skinner?> Mulder returned, his body language stiff and defensive.  <You were unconscious!  I had to say something.  Then suddenly you walked out onto the fire escape and tried to kill yourself in your sleep.  Would you rather I told Skinner you got stoned, and in a fit of drugged ecstasy, imagined you were a carrier pigeon trying to warn the Americans that the Redcoats were coming?>

< I'd rather you have stuck with one story.  I'd rather you have conferred with me before telling Skinner the specifics of a case that has clearly been used to drive us off the X-Files.  Jesus Christ, Mulder, you are always doing this. All the time, always - >

<Always doing what?>

Scully shook her head, spread her hands wide.  <Jumping to an immediate conclusion before anyone can even posit an hypothesis first.   Speaking without thinking.  Making decisions for the both of us,> she said, <throwing yourself headfirst onto the proverbial bonfire without even asking me if the martyring is necessary.>

<Oh Christ, you're still pissed off about this afternoon,> sent Mulder.  <The hearing ->

<No, Mulder.  It's not just the hearing.  I'm pissed off that you blew off the budget meeting - the sixth budget meeting in a row, I might add - without considering how it would reflect on both of us.  Then that you brought Lily into our motel after I specifically stated how against it I was.> Scully felt exhausted.  <I'm pissed off that you didn't ask - that you never ask.  I'm pissed off that you lied at the hearing, that you lied and then reversed the story for Skinner - that you told him you had proof of something we have no proof of at all.  I'm pissed off that you go into these self-referential trances, where you seem to believe that you are the only one capable of thinking for the two of us.  What are you thinking?  That I should just hop into the backseat, simply because you're at the wheel?>

<That depends.  Will I be joining you in the backseat?>  

Scully sighed.  <You think this is a joke.  Everything's a joke.>

<How can you honestly say that, Scully? You know I don't think anything's a joke.>  His expression changed slightly, so imperceptibly than anyone else who hadn't known him like Scully did, would have missed it.  <so before you go lynching me, Special Agent Dudley-Do-Right, do you or do you not want to hear what I've found on that disk?>  

Scully folded her arms, unconvinced. She let the air in her lungs drag out through her nose, fighting to slow her pulse.  <What did you find on the disk?>

<Nightmares,> said Mulder.

<You said that already.>

<I know.>  He waved a hand in explanation, even though his mouth never moved.  <I looked up three files on that search engine you installed - I think I told you about some of the cases earlier.  Initially, I knew there was some similarity I had overlooked, but I didn't realize what it was until just now, after your sleepwalking episode.  Now I think I get it.>  He paused, and the excitement of his discovery melted around her, warm and soft, and she couldn't help but feel safe here, with him.  

<Go on.>

<I think these nightmares - they're all related.  Your episode, mine - >  

Scully squinted, trying to wrap herself around Mulder's often obscure logic.  Talking to Mulder and thinking for herself at the same time, she realized, was much easier when everything was silent.  <How?> she asked.  

<This girl,> Mulder went on, <Whenever she uses her abilities, she gives off a negative charge - like laundry without fabric softener.>

<Yes,> said Scully.  <I remember.>

<Right.  But I've also noticed she only seems to attack through the subconscious.  My memories of the post-hearing, your memories - they're screwy.  Almost as if they're glued together from other experiences, pieced in such a way that when we realize they're not real, our bodies react violently to it.  And once the error is corrected, she's thrown out of us.>

<Thrown out of us?  But how do you that it's her?  That she's even accessing our thoughts to begin with?>

<I don't know,> Mulder admitted. <Not for sure.  But I have a feeling. A strong feeling.>  

<You think she's feeding off us?> asked Scully.  <In what way?>

<Drawing electrostatic activity from unused portions of the brain,> answered Mulder.  <Electron sharing.  If there are enough electrons passing through a magnetic field - >

<It would cause a charge, an alignment of circulating iron in the blood,> Scully finished, understanding.  <Like what you'd see under an MRI scan, but magnified.  I see what you're saying, Mulder. But why? Why us?  Why me?>

<I'm not sure,> said Mulder.  <Maybe she likes us.  Maybe she hates us.  Either way, for her powers to work successfully, she needs to find an energy source - a fear, a sadness, a memory, something to cause an electrical impulse - and the easiest place to find those is in a dream.  Or even better - in a nightmare.>

<Your nausea,> Scully finished.  <My headaches ->

<Exactly. Which is why our memories of this afternoon are not quite seamless - there are pieces missing, some in the wrong place.  She must use the space between REM sleep and reality - the human psychological blind spot, so to speak, to draw in electrostatic impulses.  It's objective correlative, Scully.  The outside world as a projection for inner struggle.>

<And these nightmares are a byproduct.  A release.>

<Perhaps not a byproduct, but a doorway.  She goes for the jugular, Scully, because she has no other way in.  I think she's looking for something… companionship, maybe?  Which means the nightmares - >

<Are her playground.>  Scully nodded, slowly.  

Still, something niggled at the back of her head, poked into her logic.  Something was missing, a puzzle piece fitted in the wrong hole, mismatched.  She squinted, recalling Lily leaning against the motel room doorway in her nightgown, shivering from cold, batting her eyelashes at Mulder, mewling, "Agent Mulder, could you help me with the key?  It seems to be stuck…"

Scully's jaw dropped in recognition, and she pressed her palm to her lips.  <Mulder, it's you.>

Mulder frowned.  <What?>

<It's you.  My God, it is.  Don't you see?>  She waved an arm, eyes widened.  <All of this - why Lily destroyed her house, why she followed us here, why she hid out in the apartment; Jesus, it's not me at all.  It's you, Mulder.   It has to be.  Here's a girl who's never been exposed to the opposite sex before, and then she meets you after a traumatic experience, and you promise her you'll help her, you'll do everything you can... It's a perfectly normal sociopathic leap for an isolated, heterosexual female. Didn't you notice the way she acted with you at the precinct, at the motel, the way she looked at you, flirted with you - >

<Flirted? Oh come on, Scully, isn't that a little - >

<No, it's a lot.>  Scully touched Mulder's shoulder, comprehending.  <Mulder, she's been trying to hurt me - not bond with me.  She must see me as some sort of threat; she wants me out of the picture.>

<Should I invest in a mud wrestling pit?>

<But then there's the telepathy,> Scully thought on,  <It doesn't make sense; I can read you but I can't read Skinner.  Why only you?>

Mulder shook his head.  <Not sure why that is,> he answered, honestly.  <All I can think is that Lily must've turned on some sort of untapped brain activity while rooting around in your head.  Maybe you've got a gift.>

Scully stifled a snort.  <Some gift.  What can we do about it?>

For a moment, Mulder was silent.  

Then he forced a smile, tipped his head towards her medicine cabinet.  He had the look of a small child getting ready to make for the playground swing set. And Scully, with a wide-eyed look of surprise, shook her head.  She stepped back, disbelieving, and realized immediately what Mulder would suggest before he even suggested it.  

<Oh no, no, no, we're not,> she said, backing further from him, palms raised.  <It's dangerous.  Physically and mentally.  If what happened to me earlier is any indication - >

<We'd only have to take two each,> Mulder suggested amicably.  <Skinner's here, Mark's on his way over.  We can explain this to them.  We'll have at least a half hour before we even get woozy.  Plus, we seem to have this convenient method of communication.  So if anything happens - >

<No.  Out of the question.>

Mulder gazed at her, smug as hell.  <You're still afraid,> he countered, as he had done before in the living room.  

Scully visibly bristled.  <You keep saying that, Mulder.  What the hell is it you think I'm so afraid of?>

<Locked doors.  Blank walls.  Empty cribs.>  

Scully looked away, stung, unable to meet his eyes.  

Mulder opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out a bright orange bottle.  The cabinet hinges squeaked loudly, the mirrored door swaying between Mulder's thumb and index finger. He held up the bottle for her to see, and set it lightly down upon the porcelain counter top.  The label read: Klonopin.  

<We can either break down your spare-bedroom door and go after her, risk getting ourselves killed because we're mentally unprepared, and she's much too powerful in this reality - >  He tapped the side of the bottle with his thumb.  <Or else we can drug ourselves up, and go after her on her own terms.>

<This is an exceedingly bad idea, Mulder.>

Mulder shrugged. <Since when are you not game for exceedingly bad ideas?>

He popped open the lid of the bottle, and drew out four pills.  Scully eyed them warily, and against her better judgment, allowed him to drop two of them into her palm.  Their eyes met over the makeshift pill cocktail, all thoughts suddenly silent, and Mulder brushed a wayward strand of hair back behind her ear with his free hand.  He allowed his thumb to linger on her cheek, to trace a circle near the corner of her mouth.  The air tingled between them, electric.  Scully closed her eyes, letting his presence fill her.  In her mind, she heard, in a soft whisper, <Do you trust me?>

Her answer came automatically: <You're the only one I trust.>

<Then come with me.>  

She sighed.  <Skinner isn't going to go for this.>

<Having his head up his Director Cassidy's ass prevents Skinner from going for a lot of things.>

<Mulder, this isn't... isn't - >

His voice, melodic and vibrating inside every part of her, drowning out reason: <Come on, Scully.  The mirror's cracked from side to side.>

When she opened her eyes, Mulder had lowered his hand, and both his pills were gone.  He gazed at her, searching her, pleading without words for her to follow him down the rabbit hole.  This was emotional blackmail, she realized.  And when they awoke, she would kill him for his audacity.  But for now…

A bad feeling creeping up the base of her spine, Scully pressed her palm to her mouth, and swallowed both pills dry.   With shaky hands, she reached for Mulder, and solemnly finished, <The curse has come upon me, cried the Lady of Shallott.>

---------

Continued in Chapter 22