Do Overs

by ML

Date: August 23, 2003
Title: Do Overs
Author: ML
Email: msnsc21@aol.com
Feedback: welcomed and adored!
Distribution: Ephemeral, Gossamer, or if you've archived me before, yes; if you haven't, please just let me know and leave headers, email addy, etc. attached. Thanks! Spoilers: One Son, Monday, Arcadia
Rating: PG-13
Classification: Vignette
Keywords: Mulder/Scully UST
Summary: Continuing work on partnership. A series of missing scenes from "Arcadia."

Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine. They mostly belong to the actors who portrayed them, but Chris Carter created them, and Ten Thirteen and FOX own the rights. I mean no infringement, and I'm not making any profit from them. But I am forever grateful for their existence!

I'm also borrowing from Lennon and McCartney without permission, but with gratitude and respect, and no intent to infringe.

This is the next story in the series that started with "Sounding the Depths" and then "Interval." The series now has a name: "Going the Distance." You can still appreciate this story without having read them, but I hope you will anyway!

My new stories have a new home, hosted by the talented and generous Circe Invidiosa:

http://www.invidiosa.com/ml/index.html

You can still find most of my earlier stories at Kimpa's fabulous site:

http://www.kimpart.com/mlfic.html

Grateful thanks also to carol, who administers encouragement, read-throughs, and judicious pokes whenever needed...


Do Overs, Part 1 of 2
by ML

"'Don't take chances with romances so important to you, She'll never hurt me, she won't desert me, Listen can't you see --'"

Scully had to admit that Mulder did a pretty good job of harmonizing as he sang along with the radio. But the song -- hell, the whole radio station -- seemed out of character for him.

"Mulder," she raised her voice a little to be heard over the music and his drumming on the dashboard.

Mulder turned slightly toward her, still patting the dash and swaying in his seat in time to the music. He looked a question at her, still mouthing the words under his breath.

"Mulder, what's with the Golden Oldies? I didn't think you liked that kind of music."

"I'm just getting into character, Scully. You know, white bread, middle-America, enjoying my lost youth at a safe distance --"

"I guess that explains the names," Scully muttered to herself. A little louder she said, "How much longer till we get there?"

Mulder grinned. "You have to put a little more whine in your voice when you say that: "'When are we gonna get there, Dad? I hafta go potty.'"

Scully rolled her eyes. There was no talking to him when he was in this kind of mood.

She wasn't sure what was going on inside his head. Ever since the bank robbery attempt he'd been behaving differently. The death of the would-be robber's girlfriend had hit him hard. Pam had taken a bullet meant for him, and death was not something Scully or Mulder took lightly. But it seemed to be more than that. It was as if he'd known Pam personally. He didn't want to talk about it, and he didn't want to tell Scully how he'd seemed to know what was going to take place.

As was typical of their work, there'd barely been time to recover from that experience before they were sent on a new assignment. This case represented a couple of firsts for them. It was the first case back on the X-Files, and the first undercover case they'd done together. It couldn't have come at a worse time, and Scully wondered if Mulder felt the same way.

She worried that there might be another reason for his strange behavior. Something a little more personal between them.

There had always been an attraction between them. It wasn't something acknowledged very often by either of them, though in the past year or so Mulder had been a little more overt in his feelings and gestures. Then Diana Fowley appeared and Scully began to doubt that they'd ever be able to work as partners again, let alone have anything more.

A little more than a week ago, Mulder had done more than make a gesture. Everything about that afternoon had been unexpected and slightly surreal. Sometimes it seemed like a dream. Had Mulder confessed he loved her? Had they really kissed?

They had, she knew they had. She remembered the feel of his mouth on hers, his hands caressing her body. She couldn't possibly have imagined that. But since then, it might as well never have happened.

On the Monday following, Mulder was late getting to the office and before they could say anything to each other, the incident at the bank had happened. She'd had nightmares since then, dreaming the what-might-have-been scenarios and worrying herself out of many a night's sleep.

She wondered if she should say something, somehow introduce the topic, but the time never seemed right. Mulder's recent behavior wasn't making it any easier.

"Hey Scully, can you hold it just a little longer?" Mulder was asking. "I can see the entrance from here."

Sure enough, the front of the gated community appeared before them. The moving van driver paused to shout something into the intercom and the gates swung open.

"Wow, Scully," Mulder said reverently. "Just like Disneyland. We're in Fantasyland now."

"Knock it off, Mulder," Scully muttered, but Mulder pretended not to hear her over the din of the radio.

He should be grateful that they were back on the X Files and that Skinner took them seriously enough to assign them something. The office had been wiped clean in their absence. There was no evidence that Agent Spender had ever done any actual investigation of an X-File. Diana Fowley hadn't shown her face since their reinstatement either, and Scully was grateful for that.

She'd wanted to ask Skinner where she was, but Scully didn't want anyone to know that she cared or even thought about Agent Fowley. It was enough that she had nothing more to do with the X-Files Division.

Scully would never be able to forgive Diana Fowley for what she'd done to her and Mulder at Fort Marlene. Scully saw it for what it was: a kind of one-upmanship, a demonstration of her power over them.

It had also been an extremely adolescent thing to do. It reminded Scully of the kind of mean trick some girls would pull in gym class, replacing a girl's street clothes with an old tee shirt or someone else's dirty gym clothes. She'd never been the recipient of the prank in high school, but she recognized the tactic, and felt both incredulity and helpless rage over the juvenile behavior. She would not have allowed herself to stoop so low had she been in Agent Fowley's place.

She did, however, have mean little fantasies about stripping Diana Fowley naked and turning a fire hose on her.

And yet Mulder seemed to have no problem with his former partner's behavior. He'd merely said he was trying to forget about her, and hoped that Scully would, too.

Scully knew better than to think she was catching Mulder on the rebound, and she'd never accuse him of it. But everything about Diana Fowley made her feel petty and mean. She didn't recognize what she felt as jealousy.

You can't be worrying about that right now, she told herself. The important thing is, we're working together. We have a job to do.

x-x-x-x

Mulder gnawed on the inside of his lip, sneaking glances at Scully out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't at all sure that going undercover like this was a good idea. Things were complicated enough between them right now.

He felt confident about their working relationship. They'd already worked one unofficial case together. It had been a little rough at first, but they'd managed. More recently, their timing during the stand off at the bank couldn't have been more smooth, almost as though they'd never been apart. But the other stuff wasn't going to fall into place as easily.

Just over a week ago they'd shared a kiss. It would have been so easy to let it escalate into something more. Somehow it hadn't. He'd gone to his apartment, and she'd gone to hers. Yet he'd been hopeful that night. Scully had told him that she felt what he felt.

He hadn't called her the next day. Instead, he'd spent his time preparing for Monday's meeting and cleaning up his apartment. He still wasn't sure where he'd gotten the waterbed, or some of the other bachelor-pad accessories, but he was willing to go with it. He loved spending time with Scully at her place, but the possibility of making out with her on his couch -- or better yet, in his bed -- was a great incentive.

It wasn't until the end of Monday that he'd realized he'd lost an opportunity. There was no way to go back and recapture that lost day now, and he regretted it. He should have known that somehow fate would conspire against them once again. One foiled bank robbery later, he still wasn't sure what had gone wrong. He'd almost lost Scully again. He couldn't keep doing that to himself, or to her.

But how to get off that particular merry-go-round? He also didn't want to lose her as a partner, and even suggesting it was a sure fire way to get him on her shit list once again.

He didn't regret telling Scully how he felt or, heaven forbid, kissing her. He'd wanted to do both for a long time. On Monday during the standoff with Bernard, he had the fleeting thought, "at least now we know." He'd had one less regret, one more good memory.

He wondered about Pam. He was grateful for her actions but he didn't understand them, any more than he'd understood his compulsion at the bank to confront Bernard.

He was haunted by Pam's last words to him. "That never happened before," she said as her eyes glazed over. What did she mean by that? He'd gone over and over the whole day in his head so many times that it had been like reliving it. There hadn't been any good way out of it. Pam seemed to sacrifice herself to save everyone but herself.

He'd had nightmares since then. They were mostly the same, with a few variations, but they all ended the same way: he lost Scully, and himself. It was so much worse, losing something they now both knew that they wanted, and were so close to. He was tired of it.

He realized he'd distanced himself from Scully in the past week as a result. He was overcompensating for his discomfort. Now this damn assignment. Another time he might have welcomed this ersatz intimacy. Now that they seemed on the brink of the real thing, it was an annoyance.

"Showtime," he muttered at they pulled to a stop in front of their house. He pasted on his charming Suburban Husband smile and climbed out of the SUV to meet their new neighbors.

x-x-x-x

They spent the evening unpacking and settling in as best they could under the circumstances. Scully put some of her clothes in the bureau of the master bedroom, hiding her gun in her underwear drawer. Mulder had thrown his suitcase in the corner and then had absented himself to jog around the neighborhood, to "get a feel" for the place, he said.

She thought perhaps he needed to get away from her for a bit. She had to admit she was glad, too. This was all too strange. In all their years together, they'd never done an undercover assignment. They'd spent most of their waking hours together, but they'd always been themselves. They'd never had to pretend otherwise, despite what people sometimes mistakenly believed. But now, having to act the part of a married couple was just too weird.

Despite his scorn, Mulder seemed to dive into his role with his usual enthusiasm. He let his arm rest on her shoulder or his hand linger on her arm just a hair too long to be comfortable, but she couldn't fault him for behaving that way in public. That didn't mean she had to put up with it in private, or his little smartass comments. She'd accused him of not taking the assignment seriously enough, the only defense she could think of while her skin tingled from his touch.

And he accused her of wanting to play house. That really rankled. He was the one who'd made the first move beyond a professional relationship, not her. Maybe he'd thought twice about it since then.

Suddenly the prospect of spending twenty four hours a day with Mulder didn't seem like such a great idea. She couldn't think of a worse assignment at this point in time. She'd prove to him that she could handle it, though. She could, and would be, professional about this.

Mulder came back and she retreated downstairs while he showered and changed. It seemed just too intimate to be unpacking while he was naked in the next room.

They dined on bits and pieces gleaned from the Welcome Wagon basket. Scully noted that Mulder left a trail of crumbs and mustard smears on the counter. She sighed and started to clean up after him, then thought better of it. She'd give him a chance to do it later. At the moment he was finishing his makeshift meal in the living room. He was hunched over the laptop, intent on whatever it was, supposedly work-related, though for all she knew he could be exchanging emails with Frohike.

She wasn't very hungry herself, so she cut up some fruit and cheese and put them on a plate with a few crackers. She was tempted for a moment by the bottle of wine thoughtfully provided, but decided against it. She was on the job, after all.

If she did have wine, no doubt Mulder would make a crack about her drinking. It wouldn't be the first time. She settled for a bottle of water.

She remembered preparing a wine and cheese tray for both of them another time. She'd just been given a reprieve from her cancer, and had been filled with feelings of hope and possibilities. Nothing had come of it. If Mulder had understood the meaning behind her gesture, he'd chosen not to acknowledge it.

Perhaps there was a lesson in there somewhere. Perhaps the gesture was enough, and follow through was not to be expected. She pushed away the thought.

Mulder yawned and stretched as Scully entered the living room. He was dressed in an old tee shirt and sweats, and he looked more like Mulder again than Rob Petrie. She preferred it. "I've been checking around for any other unexplained disappearances in the area," he said. "Or around the countryside."

"That's a lot of territory to cover without something to refine the search," Scully said.

"Tell me about it," he said. "Do you think Big Mike knows anything about the Klines?"

Scully shrugged as she nibbled on her apple slice. "He sure didn't want to talk about them at all."

"What say we pay a neighborly visit tomorrow morning, return his dishes to him? If he knows anything at all, I'm sure you can charm it out of him. You know, talk a little shop, colleague to colleague."

"Slightly different professions, Mulder, despite the caduceus he wore." Scully rose to take her dishes back into the kitchen. She rinsed them carefully and placed them in the dishwasher, hoping to set a good example for Mulder.

Mulder followed her into the kitchen and leaned against the door, watching her. "So how do you want to do this?"

She turned toward him. "What do you mean?"

He shrugged away from the doorframe. "There's only one bed. Shall we flip for the couch or what?"

She'd been wondering how to approach this subject herself. In the past, she wouldn't have felt uncomfortable bringing it up. Mulder himself would have made a joke about sharing the bed. They'd have kept it light, regardless of any feelings under the surface. But now they'd kissed, and nothing Mulder said, or Scully felt, seemed quite right.

Mulder was staring at her, waiting for a reply. "I'll take the couch," he said finally. "The TV's set up in the living room anyway."

x-x-x-x

This night the dream was different. It was Scully who ran in front of Bernard, who took the bullet meant for him. He cradled her in his arms and watched the light die from her eyes, helpless as Bernard opened his jacket and thumbed the switch.

He sat up with a start, worried that he'd yelled out loud. He listened for a moment, letting his breathing get back to normal. If he hadn't been listening, he would have missed the low whimpering sound. He wasn't sure where it was coming from at first. Someplace outside? He sat very still, and heard it again.

It sounded like it was coming from upstairs. Scully? He grabbed his gun and took the stairs two at a time.

The bedroom door was ajar and Mulder pushed it open cautiously. "Scully?" he called softly. "You awake?"

He saw her go still. For a few seconds she didn't answer. Then she slowly sat up and turned toward him. Her features were indistinct in the dimness. "Mulder?" she said in a sleep-slurred voice.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," came her uncertain-sounding reply. Another pause. He could almost hear her mind working. "I had a nightmare," she said finally.

Well, if she could admit it, so could he. "Me too." He considered his next words carefully. "You wanna talk about it?"

He could make out that she was shaking her head. "I don't think so. Do you?"

"Not really," he said, relieved. "Same old, same old." Well, same circus, just different clowns. He stood in the doorway awkwardly. He didn't really want to leave yet, but he had no reason to stay.

"I'm sorry I woke you," Scully was saying.

"You didn't, really. I woke myself up," he said. He turned to go.

"Mulder --" Scully's voice made him turn back.

"Sit with me a minute?" she asked. "I don't think I can sleep yet. Can you?"

"Probably not. I've probably already exceeded my minimum daily requirement." He sat on the edge of the bed, placing his gun on the nightstand. It was dark enough that she wouldn't notice if he had any kind of expression on his face that betrayed his feelings about being there.

Scully sat curled up against the headboard, facing Mulder. He couldn't see her expression, either.

"I'm sorry we didn't get a more exciting case for our first time back," Scully said.

Mulder shrugged. "S'okay. Beats fertilizer detail, any day of the week."

Scully made a small noise that sounded a bit like a snort. He guessed she was agreeing with him.

He was glad she hadn't turned on the light. It was peaceful sitting here in the dark, not talking about anything in particular. After a while Scully lay down again, facing Mulder and propping her head up on her hand. Mulder felt encouraged to sit with his back to the headboard, legs stretched before him on the bed.

Scully's replies gradually got more disjointed and before long he could see that she'd fallen back to sleep. Suddenly very tired himself, he gingerly lay back against the pillows beside her. Just for a minute, then he'd go back downstairs.

x-x-x-x

The sunlight woke Mulder. His face was mashed into the pillow and if he'd had covers over him, he'd kicked them off in the night. He opened one bleary eye. He was alone, but he could hear the shower running.

Wait. This was Scully's bed.

x-x-x-x

Mulder came bounding down the stairs as Scully stood at the sink with a coffee cup, looking out over the perfect lawns in the silent, perfect neighborhood. Mulder was perfect, too, showered and shaved and turned out in his polo shirt, slacks and loafers.

His daytime persona was back again. She missed night-time Mulder -- he of the soft tee shirts and gentle fingers, stroking her hair as she fell asleep.

Or maybe she'd just dreamed that. If so, it was preferable to the other dreams she'd had lately.

She wasn't sure what had possessed her to ask him to stay with her. She hadn't wanted to tell him her dream, but the vestiges of it made her want to keep him nearby, if only for a few minutes. She didn't want to see him walking away from her, especially if he was walking toward someone else.

It was a ridiculous dream, especially now. He wasn't walking away from her.

He'd still been asleep when she came out of the shower. She'd dressed quietly, not wanting to disturb him. She kept glancing over to the bed where he lay sprawled. She left him there when she went downstairs to make coffee.

She'd been a little surprised to find him next to her when she woke up, lying on top of the covers but facing her, his hand just brushing the edge of her pillow.

She wondered what it would be like to really wake up next to him. To go to bed together with intent, and wake up the next morning, knowing that they'd meant to.

This was the wrong time to be having those thoughts. This was work, not vacation. Personal feelings had to wait for personal time. They needed to maintain their professionalism. She needed to maintain her distance. They'd never had to have this discussion before, and it didn't come easily to her.

"Ready to go visiting, Scully?" he asked. "Turn on the ol' charm for Big Mike?" He bounced on the balls of his feet, like he was warming up to run.

She turned back to the window and took a deep breath. "Mulder," she said, and turned toward him. "I'm sorry about last night."

"Why?" he asked. "Did something happen that I don't remember?" He raised his eyebrows at her suggestively.

"No, of course not. But it could have."

"Then I'm sorry too, though probably not for the same reasons you are." He hesitated and he became more serious. "Scully," he began.

Scully made a small negating gesture with her hand. Unfortunately, the sharp gesture knocked her coffee mug into the sink where it broke in two.

Mulder was instantly solicitous. "Are you okay? Here, let me --"

Scully reached for the broken pieces and Mulder reached for her hand at the same time. Their fingers brushed.

"I'm fine," Scully said quickly, barely refraining from snatching her hand away. She faced Mulder. "But we have to remember that we're on the job right now. We can't ... I can't ..."

"I know," Mulder said, hiding his disappointment. At least she was thinking about them, and that was a plus. A definite plus. "Call me Rob."

x-x-x-x

Part 2

Call him an opportunist, but Mulder loved touching Scully in public. He slung his arm over her shoulder, pulled her close to his side, or stood as close behind her as he dared, putting his hands on her shoulders. She wouldn't pull away when they were in public. The worst she'd been able to muster in return so far was "poopy head." Scully was usually no slouch in the repartee department, but she was hobbled by the role she had to play.

Mulder loved it. Scully was a little annoyed with him, but she hadn't said anything to him so far. She even rested her hand over his in Gogolak's office, patting him softly before realizing what she was doing and pulling away.

She'd probably blast him later, but any reaction from her was better than no reaction in his view. He knew she wasn't happy with the way he chose to play his role. For him, there was no other choice. Surely she could see that they couldn't just be themselves around these people.

"I need you to do something," Scully said in a low voice as they walked away from the Schroeder's house after dinner. Mulder had taken her hand as they walked down the sidewalk and so far hadn't let it go.

"Anything you like, Honeybunch," Mulder said, swinging their arms back and forth. He'd been insufferable at dinner, but then he'd been pretty much insufferable all day. Scully felt like a shrew, harping at him for leaving the toilet seat up, for making a mess on the kitchen counter again ("you coulda just made me the sandwich, Scully, then there'd be no mess"), and just generally being Mulder. It was unfair, she knew it, but this whole case had left her on edge. They were living a travesty of a marriage in a travesty of a neighborhood. The neighbors around here might be living a lie, but they weren't the only ones.

She didn't understand it. They'd spent plenty of days alone together working, in much closer quarters than this. Somehow being cooped up in that house made it harder. She thought their little talk in the morning had cleared the air, but if anything it made things worse. Something had been acknowledged between them. Mulder was honoring the letter of her request, but not the spirit. The strain of pretending was taking its toll on both of them.

"I saw what looked like Mike's caduceus through the grate but I couldn't reach it."

Mulder made a face. "I hope the storm drains are as clean as everything else around here. Anything else?"

They were safely inside now. She gently disengaged her hand from Mulder's. "A New Age convention, Mulder?"

He shrugged. "Hadda say something. What would you have said -- church? Night school? Traffic court?"

Scully didn't answer. She kept on going up the stairs.

Mulder shrugged again, not that anyone was paying any attention, and stomped up the stairs after her to change into his Pierre Cardin jogging suit.

He was gone a lot longer than she expected. She was beginning to worry just a little and was on the point of dressing to go out and look for him when she heard the front door open and close, and his familiar footsteps pounding up the stairs.

He was in a mood, tossing the caduceus at her, then tossing his sweatshirt, and getting all over the bed with his big, dirty shoes.

Then he started picking at her again. Is that how he really saw her? As some sort of Rule Nazi, insistent on her way of doing things? What did he expect from her?

His comment about her fitting in here really rankled. She wasn't that rigid. No, she believed in following rules, but not to the exclusion of common sense.

There were certain rules of conduct that should be followed, and he knew it as well as she did. She also didn't believe in breaking the rules just because her emotions wanted her to. She wondered if he'd been doing some things on purpose to annoy her, or to test her.

Was coming to her room last night a test?

He wasn't playing fair. He said and did things in public when she couldn't do anything about it. She hadn't chosen this assignment, damn it, but she was doing her best with it.

Now he lounged on the bed, giving her sultry looks under his brows and patting the bed. Like she'd just fall at his feet.

Just what would you do if I took you up on your offer, Mulder? she thought, and was glad of the cream on her face, hiding her blush.

Mulder didn't think there was much chance of a repeat of last night's cuddling. He'd picked at Scully until she picked right back, and then he picked a little more. He made one last crack at Scully and trudged down the stairs, resigned to another night without cable to lull him to sleep.

x-x-x-x

The next morning, Mulder watched Scully back out of the driveway, leaving him alone.

He'd been finding Scully's constant presence distracting. He'd always been able to control himself when he could go home at the end of the day and be by himself. But this twenty-four hour enforced togetherness was hell.

It would be different if they truly had a personal relationship, he thought. Wouldn't it? Then they would both have welcomed it.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it would have been even harder to bear.

Well, she was gone for the day, and he now had nothing but time to himself.

She seemed to be doing her best to keep him at arm's length. She never let down her guard, except for a few moments the first night. Why was that? What made her so reluctant? Was it just the assignment, or was she having second thoughts?

He wished he could get inside her head, just to get at whatever was disturbing her. If he was really honest, he also wanted to know what she thought of him. She had really closed off since arriving at The Falls.

She'd had a nightmare again last night, that much he knew. He'd crept to her door and listened but kept himself from entering the room. He just stayed, listening, until he was sure she was okay.

He wondered if it was an old nightmare or a new one. She had nearly as much nightmare material as he did.

He wasn't sleeping much himself, not that he ever did. Nightmares were nothing new to him. He'd found the best way to combat them was to wake himself up when they started.

What a pair we are, he thought. A match made in heaven. He grabbed his pink plastic secret weapon and went outside to fire the first salvo at their unknown opponent.

x-x-x-x

There was very little traffic on the road when Scully drove back to The Falls. She'd had a long and not very successful day. She wondered what mischief Mulder had gotten himself into in her absence. He'd deflected her questions, which meant either that he hadn't formulated his plan or it was something he knew she wouldn't approve of.

It was probably a little of both, she reflected. It wasn't so much that Mulder couldn't or didn't plan, just that he liked to be able to react based on circumstances. It was one of the things that made him a good agent, and something she admired. Even if his impulsiveness was sometimes misdirected.

Like when he kissed her two weeks ago. Had it been an impulse or a long planned event? As with his investigative style, she thought it was a little of both.

Maybe the timing hadn't been optimal, but he'd seen an opportunity and seized it. That was also an admirable quality, most of the time.

If he'd had it to do over, would he do the same thing now? It was an unanswerable question. Reflecting back on the days since then, he might very well decide differently. Nothing seemed to have changed between them.

But maybe that wasn't all Mulder's fault. Maybe it was just as much hers.

She could have done something about that. She should have called him the day after. With the clarity of hindsight, she could see that Mulder had made his move, and now was waiting for her.

She remembered the discussion they'd had in the office on Monday morning. Mulder had argued for free will, she'd argued that character determined action. "With every action," he'd replied, "we change our fate."

She thought about this. If she'd succumbed to Mulder's obvious but unspoken desire to take things further that day ... or if she'd called and invited him over the next day ...

She indulged herself a little, imagining Mulder at her front door. He wore jeans and a leather jacket, just as he had that Saturday. He'd smile a little, and hesitate in the doorway, waiting to be asked in. They'd probably be awkward with each other, maybe sitting on the sofa together. One or the other of them would have to make the first move. She willed Mulder to be the one. <I invited you over>, she thought at him. <Don't make me regret it.>

And since this was her fantasy, he did. Finally, he turned to her and leaned closer so that she could feel his soft breath against her lips. Then at last she could feel his lips touching hers and they'd be kissing. And all their doubts, questions, and fears would melt away...

"...Welcome to the Falls. Please enter your access code," a metallic female voice intruded on her thoughts.

How long had she been stopped in front of the gate? Somehow she'd gotten through the last part of her trip on autopilot. She licked her lips and looked furtively around. It was late, and the streets were deserted.

She smiled a small ironic smile. She was getting as bad as Mulder. She punched in the gate code and the saccharine voice intoned, "Welcome home, Mrs. Petrie," as the gate swung smoothly open.

"It's Pee-tree," Scully muttered. Not even the damn recording got it right.

She was sorry not to have better news for Mulder about the samples she'd had analyzed, but knowing Mulder, he'd found something else after a day of being left to his own devices. And she suspected that they were both better off spending the day separately.

After this case, she promised herself. I'll invite Mulder over and surprise the hell out of him. But right now, there was a case to solve.

She couldn't change the past, that much was certain. But she could change the future.

x-x-x-x

As a precaution, they agreed to take turns staying up and keeping watch for who or whatever was stalking the neighborhood. Mulder suspected it was two somethings -- the original beast and their mysterious benefactor.

Scully couldn't agree to the beast part, though she agreed to everything else. He figured she'd come around once she caught a glimpse of the thing.

Mulder roamed from room to room downstairs, keeping the lights off and standing by one window or another, watching the silent yard and the street beyond it. They might be living in a ghost town for all the life he saw. No lights on in any of the houses, only the perfectly aligned ranks of lamps at the edge of each driveway.

Clear as day, he heard Scully cry out. He dashed up the stairs and found her sitting up in bed in the dark.

He approached cautiously. "Scully? Are you awake?"

There was only the sound of Scully's rapid breaths. She said something in a low voice, almost a whisper.

He thought it sounded like, "don't go."

"I'm right here, Scully," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. You want me to stay, I'll stay."

"You went with her before," she said in the same voice.

"Who? Scully? Who are you talking about?"

Scully didn't say anything for a long time. Then she said in a more normal voice, "Mulder? Is that you?"

He stepped into the room. "I'm right here."

Scully reached over and turned on the light. They both blinked in the sudden brightness. "I thought -- never mind. It was a dream." She looked very small and vulnerable in that big bed all by herself.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "Can you go back to sleep?"

"Isn't it my turn to keep watch?"

"Near enough, if you're up for it," Mulder said.

Scully bristled just a little. "Of course I am."

"Okay," he said. He turned to go downstairs with Scully.

"Why don't you take the bed, Mulder? You haven't slept much, I'm sure."

He wasn't about to start sleeping now either, but he also didn't want to argue with Scully. "Okay."

Without another word Scully picked up her gun and went downstairs.

Mulder left the light on and flopped on top of the covers. He doubted he'd sleep any more tonight either. He folded his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling, thinking about what he'd just witnessed. It seemed that he wasn't the only one who was afraid of being abandoned.

x-x-x-x

Scully looked out the window at the knot of neighbors gathered around to watch Mulder and the backhoe. The night before had passed without incident, if you discounted the fact that she'd practically awakened the whole neighborhood with her nightmare.

Fortunately, Mulder hadn't pressed her on it. When he got up, he'd sent her upstairs to nap while he waited for the backhoe to arrive and she was too tired to argue with him about it.

The bed looked like it had been the site of a wrestling match. Pillows were dented and squished, and the covers were all twisted around. She straightened them out a little and plumped the pillows. They smelled faintly of Mulder. She smiled and lay down, not really expecting to sleep.

The noise of the excavation had awakened her. Mulder was in his element. She'd said to him once that if they'd thrown him out into the desert and told him the truth was out there, he'd ask for a shovel.

A backhoe really was more his style, though.

The neighbors gathering around looked faintly menacing, although they weren't doing anything other than watching. She thought of the villagers in "Frankenstein." All they needed were pitchforks and torches.

By noon the neighbors had dispersed but Scully had the distinct impression that they were watching from behind curtains and blinds all up and down the street.

x-x-x-x

"Here I thought we were done with garbage duty," Mulder complained. He shook more of the remains of the uber-menscher off his shoes.

Scully hadn't seen it, of course, though she'd allowed that "someone or something" had attacked Big Mike upstairs. And they'd found bullet holes in the opposite wall. Scully was pretty sure even without the ballistics report that they were from her gun.

Mulder was pretty sure even Big Mike couldn't miss at such close range, but Scully took the opposing view, citing his strange behavior and wild talk. Mulder let it go.

None of the residents of The Falls would own up to the Tulpa either. Gogolak's death was attributed to a heart attack, and though Cami Schroeder still looked frightened, she kept her mouth shut. Win looked satisfied and not at all sorry about his neighbor's death.

In fact, no one seemed to be very sorry. They were entirely too eager to lay all the deaths at Gogolak's door and get on with their lives in their perfect community. Scully had changed her mind about who the residents of the Falls reminded her of: they were much more akin to the pod people of "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers."

"Somehow, this seems even less savory than manure duty, Mulder," Scully said as the last of the neighbors left their makeshift interview room: the dining room of their "home." Stale cups of coffee were all over the table and the kitchen counter, and dirty footprints marred the tile and carpet.

The local FBI office had sent a few reinforcements and they were continuing to dig up the front yard. Mulder had given them the addresses of a few more yards to try, among them Gogolak's and the Schroeder's.

Scully felt as grubby as the house. She looked around with dismay. She wanted nothing more than to take a bath and to sleep until noon, but they still had packing to do and reports to write. It was already almost sunrise.

"So this isn't your idea of an idyllic neighborhood?" Mulder asked. "Not the place where you want to put down roots?" He rubbed his face, still smeared with dirt. He picked up a kitchen towel and used it to wipe his hands and face. He looked sidelong at Scully, half expecting a reprimand, but she said nothing. She didn't even bother to dignify his crack with a reply. She just raised her eyebrow.

"Just askin'," he muttered.

Scully smiled at him, and it took him a moment to get over his surprise and smile back.

Then she turned away and started to load the dishwasher with the dirty mugs.

"Leave that, Scully," Mulder said. "The team'll come in and do the clean up."

She raised her eyebrow again. "Is that what you think? That someone will come by and take care of all this?"

Mulder shrugged. "Well, don't they?"

"Has anyone ever done that at your place when it's been tossed?"

"But that's different," Mulder said. "That's my place. That's not --"

Scully just looked at him.

Without another word of protest Mulder started picking mugs up off of the counter and handing them over to Scully.

x-x-x-x

Mulder stood alone in the empty living room. The movers were loading the last of the boxes into the truck. It didn't look quite as pristine as when they arrived but thanks to Scully it was close. She'd stopped short of shampooing the carpet, but only because there'd been no time. It must be her naval upbringing, he thought. Wanting to leave everything shipshape.

There was so much they didn't know about each other. This time at The Falls had been a weird way to find out.

He supposed that there was no obstacle that they couldn't overcome, if they could just get past the first big one. He was no believer in fate, he just felt that they were meant to continue together. Definitely as partners, and if he had his way, more than that.

He turned to see Scully coming down the stairs. She'd made one last sweep to make sure they'd left nothing behind upstairs.

"Hey Scully," he said. "Remember what we were talking about on the Monday of the bank robbery?"

Scully smiled just a little. "Something about fate versus free will?"

"That's right. You were for fate, and I was for free will."

"I beg to differ, Mulder. I believe I said that character determines fate. Your character causes you to act in certain ways, and that determines your fate."

"So if I jump in front of a speeding car, it's not fate or free will, but something in my character that made me do it?"

Scully was silent, wondering what might have prompted this line of reasoning. She said carefully, "It's an extreme example, but I suppose you could say that. Just as character would determine whether or not someone would risk life and limb for another person, even a complete stranger. Generally speaking, you can't compel someone to do something that's not in their nature."

"Do you mean, like Big Mike intervening on our behalf?"

"That's one example. Another might be Pam," she said deliberately.

Mulder didn't reply. Scully had picked up on his thought process.

"I'm not surprised there are good people in the world," Scully continued gently. "Just as I know there are evil ones. You can't have one without the other. Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell which is which. This past week illustrates that, I think. You can't judge a book by its cover, or a community for that matter."

Mulder nodded, uncharacteristically silent.

"And," Scully added, "I think if you believe in free will, you can't blame yourself for anyone else's actions."

"It doesn't keep you from wishing you'd done things differently," he said.

"No, it doesn't. Regret is human. Sometimes we make choices, or we say things that we regret." Scully reached out to put her hand on Mulder's arm. "We wish we could do them over, but the best we can do is to try and learn from what happened and move on."

Mulder smiled. It was the first time Scully had touched him voluntarily the whole time they'd been at The Falls.

"I guess we're not so far apart on things as it would appear," Mulder said.

Scully nodded. "I think sometimes that's true."

"And other times?"

"There have been times when we were pretty far apart," she conceded. "But we could almost always find a common ground somewhere in there."

There was so much subtext in this conversation it made his head spin. He hoped he was understanding her correctly, and that she would also correctly interpret his response.

"Thank you," Mulder said.

"What for?" Scully asked.

"For sticking with me," he said. "For having character. For being able to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and for telling me, too."

The words were of gratitude but the tone was apology. She could hear it, as clearly as the words themselves.

"I wouldn't put myself on the line for anyone but you," she reminded him. "I believe in your character, too." Her words were more than a reminder. They were a promise, too.

Mulder grinned. "Must be fate then, huh?"

"Uh huh," Scully said. "Or free will. Character. Whatever you want to call it."

"Dr. Emilio Lizardo would say that character is what you do in the dark."

Scully raised her eyebrow. "Is that what you call it? Actually, I think he said `character is what you are in the dark.' Do you get all your philosophy from second-rate science fiction movies?"

"All the really good stuff anyway," Mulder said.

"Like, `no matter where you go, there you are?'" Scully asked.

"That's actually pretty deep if you think about it," Mulder said.

"I'd rather think about going home, if it's all the same to you," Scully said with a yawn.

"I'm with you, Scully. Just one more thing."

She turned back toward him.

"There are things I've said and done that I regret, but there's at least one I don't," he said. "I want you to know that."

"What's that, Mulder?" she asked.

He'd never get a better cue than this. He leaned into her and kissed her swiftly on the lips. He felt her smile.

After several seconds, he pulled away, and heard her breathe, "me too."

Mulder draped his arm over her shoulder, and she didn't flinch away. In fact, she turned toward him and put her arms around his waist. They held each other close for several moments.

Mulder closed his eyes and rubbed his cheek against her hair. "Home is where the heart is," he murmured.

"Hm?" Scully asked. "Did you say something?"

"Yeah. Let's go home. Come on, you can sleep in the car on the way to the airport."

"Lead the way, `Rob,'" Scully said.

"The name is Mulder," he said.

end.

End of the story, not the end of the series! Stay tuned...

One more acknowledgment, to the creators of "Buckaroo Banzai": W. D. Richter and Earl Mac Rauch. I've quoted without permission but with admiration, and I mean no infringement. I don't consider it second-rate at all, but deliberately, gloriously campy. I'm still waiting for a sequel...

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