Apartment 35
Washington, DC
Monday, January 27, 1997
2:18 am

I've been staring at the two red drops on the goose down pillows Mom bought me for, what, ten minutes now? That's enough, take a few deep breaths, it doesn't mean what you think it means. The air was crisp and dry in Pittsburgh, then on the plane back home, utterly moisture-free, with that ever-present plastic odor, and only slightly better here in DC. It's winter. You have nosebleeds, Dana. Live with it.

Call Mulder. Now why would I want to do that? He's just as tired as I am, more, to judge by the look in his eyes as he dropped my bags in the spare bedroom this evening. That ground-down expression he's worn since his Mother was sick, since he almost stole away that clone of his sister, or whoever she was, was gone during this case, only to return in the car on the way to the airport. I almost had the old Mulder back this time around, fussing about the refuse container, excited about the Kirlian photography, spouting theories left and right.

I was so happy to catch a glimpse of the man I used to work with that I didn't argue when he mangled Eldredge and Gould, didn't put my hands on my hips and puncture his Punctuated Equilibrium speech. I could have. Oh, yes, Straight-A, Oxford-Graduate whiz kid, I could have. You see, Mister Peabody, I've met Steven Jay Gould, shook his hand as one of a privileged group of high school Honor Students. Then, I listened to him lecture a hall of starry-eyed undergraduates about natural selection, the misunderstood Lamarck, and his beloved little Cerion land snails.

I didn't, though, because the blazing, focused Mulder rarely shows up on our cases these days.

After he left with Jeremiah Smith, I was so glad he returned unharmed that I don't fight with him much anymore. I didn't shout back when he snarled about how he had the only hard evidence in that 'psychic' photograph, just after I found the connection that led us to Gerry Schnaus. I gritted my teeth in the four-wheel drive in Tennessee, when he demanded I just believe his 'recovered' memories. Un-hunh. Dead Melissa Ephesian's words fall into the mind of my oh-so-suggestible partner, then he spins them out further, and he wants me to just believe? What if I had 'just believed' you were going to die from contact with the alien's blood, the retrovirus, in Alaska, and done nothing? What then, Mulder?

A crazy theory out of my partner is like a breath of fresh air, a welcome respite from the brooding, tortured soul he has become. So I didn't interrupt, only put up some token resistance, anything, just to keep the Agent I enjoy sparring with from evaporating before my eyes. I held my tongue as he lectured me about sarcomas. Me! A pathologist! He pontificated about terminal cancers to me like I'm a first-year medical student again. But my silence in the Taurus, the darkness I assumed so easily after years watching him, punctured him instead, the elation slowly leaking out of him, until he was long-faced and sad-eyed, as usual.

He had attempted to speak with me, in the car and on the plane, to ask me what had happened in the ambulance with Betts, but I was still too wired. I'm surprised he hasn't called on some pretext or other, just to prod a little more, to be the relentless hunter on a lead I've worked with for so long. I have to give him credit, he came when I asked him to. He was there so fast, so soon after our quarry flew out the back doors of the ambulance, I almost thought he *was* Leonard Betts, the Amazing Regenerating Man.

I turn the pillows on end, as I've seen Mulder do so many times when he forces his body to relax in a strange hotel. I lean into them, tip my head back, push six more Kleenex against my tender nostrils. My mind wanders over the case, the way it seems to, more and more, since there is nothing else but a case, or two or three, all running together.

Leonard Betts is like Gerry Schnaus is like Samuel Aboah is like Virgil Incanto is like Donnie Phaster is like Duane Barry is like that Flukeman is like ... Eugene Victor Tooms.

Whatever Betts was, however his physiology worked, he was one of those undead things we seem to chase perpetually, the soul-stealers, the takers of body parts. He killed the only woman who befriended him, who watched out for him at his job. It was odd that the other EMT's knew him so poorly that he could come back to the same hospital, to the same group of men and women he had worked side by side with for years, where he had won so many awards, and they did not recognize him. Only she cared enough to follow the strange man to her death.

That's a train of thought I'd rather not pursue right now. But my musings are like those locomotives Mulder jumps on, they just run on and on, as this one will, into the darkest part of the night. I, too, follow a strange man. Or don't follow him, as I didn't when he went off to Russia, and came back all alone, minus the stalking Alex Krycek.

I should have kept my composure when he appeared, should have been the professional Agent Doctor Dana Katherine Scully. It was a Senate Committee Room, after all; there was the press, and Assistant Director Walter Skinner. Or, I should have reamed him out in front of them all, "How *dare* you ditch me, yet again, run off on your own, when the case was here, in DC, in Florida, in Canada, not in Russia. The Senate, the Consortium, our nameless enemies, all didn't care where you were, Mulder. They only wanted to distract me, the Bureau, the media, from what I had, from what I knew, from what we *could* have learned *together*. How *dare* you!" But when I saw him standing in the door, his eyes shining, his face shouting, but only I could hear, "I'm back, I'm home, did anybody miss me?" I decided to save my lecture for later, when we were safe and alone, after I heard his "long story", only, 'later' never came.

Later was... Roche. I don't want to think about Roche right now. It's too sinister, too wrenching.

I check the Kleenex, probe my nose gently. The bleeding's stopped, for now, so I can try to rest, once more. I glance at the clock, wondering where the minutes went, calculating how few hours of sleep I will have tonight, before I face my somber partner in the basement. I used to look forward to opening that door, to finding the projector all set up, the screen in place. Waiting for me would be an eager puppy, panting almost, remote control in hand, anxious for me to take the scent and run alongside him on another wild chase.

I don't remember the last time we had a show. Oh, yes, Burst. Frank Burst and Robert Patrick Modell. Mulder didn't take over the slides until he had a thought, an insight like I can never seem to get, like I never seem to have the time to get. I did once, about the Excelsius Dei Home, and he followed me. But not with Modell. I shudder at the memories of that investigation. Frank Burst was a good cop, an honest man doing what he thought was right, and it killed him. I won't even think about what it did to Mulder. To me. To us.

Now, there are no slides, no audio-visuals to ease my transition onto any new Quest, just a cautious "We have a case, Scully." He holds out my tickets and the folder tentatively, afraid I won't take them, won't come with him this time, or the next, or ... ever again. I sigh, lift them away, and we're off. We trudge to the elevator, ascend to the parking garage, sometimes leaning into each other from the time the doors close until they open again, and we hesitate. He waves me forward, but sometimes I won't go, until the doors roll shut.

So we stand there, blinking like malingerers who have to wait to be seated after the overture, or the beginning of the second act. Then we arrange a time to meet at National, separate at our cars to go back to our apartments, where we stuff a few essentials in our duffel and suit bags. Or, not, just hoist the stiff, wide straps onto our shoulders and leave. Yet another city, yet another case.

I gave up on suitcases years ago. That silly pink luggage Mel gave me, after the Quantico ceremony making me an FBI Agent, is home, in Mom's attic, behind the playpen and Ahab's uniforms.

BRRRIINNGG! I jump, and a trickle of warm stickiness runs into my mouth. It's my phone, it's ... my partner. I don't even bother to speak my name. I haven't since he went to Massachusetts, found the cockroaches, chased Bambi through the microscopes and the bug-infested house. He may have caught her, for all I know. He may have cornered her, wooed her, won her, had his way with her, only to lose her to Doctor Ivanov. I don't care, really, just so long as he was careful, as long as he practiced safe ... As long as he ... came back ... to me.

"Hey." These are the first words I've spoken since I thanked him briefly around nine. I shooed him out the door then with a tiny joke about sending him home in an ambulance if he didn't go straight to his sofa and sleep.

It was an easy thing to say at the time. He was swaying on his feet in my living room, looking down at my itchy, too-short couch. It seemed as if that was where he wanted to spend the night, not in Apartment 42 on cold leather, listening to water gurgling in the little pond by his head.

"Sculleee?" He sounds, grumpy, out of sorts, like a little boy after a nightmare.

I can picture him, hair on end, crumpled dress shirt half unbuttoned, one tail hanging out, standing in my bedroom doorway, blinking. The illumination is harsh, 200 burning watts I use to keep the demons at bay, out of my circle of security when I cannot mount a guard any longer, that day.

"Yes?" I see him rubbing his eyes with grimy little fists, but then I remind myself that he's a grown-up man. So, I mentally clean the hands, then blue the long chin, but somehow, it doesn't seem to take. There is some part of him that will always be twelve, always, until...

"Did I pack my shaving kit in your duffle bag?" The tenor isn't rough and scratchy, as it would be if he had just awakened.

I smile. "You won't need that until later, or do you have someone there you need to impress?"

He grunts, then, with an ease of long practice, feigns offense. "I need my *toothbrush*, Doctor Scully."

I release one eyebrow to begin its customary trek up my forehead. "Don't you have more than one, Mulder?" I hear two short bursts of breath, his mouthed ha, ha.

"I do, but I used it to kill some ants that were making a meal of my toothpaste while I was gone."

The other brow curves. "Ants are more balanced protein than sunflower seeds." I hear a frustrated little protest of denim bouncing against leather. If I keep this up, I may be able to sleep after all.

"Yes, but, Queen of the Plastic Head Section Slides, they were crawling down the wall behind my toilet."

I stick my tongue out slightly, letting him win. "Okay, I'll look." Knowing he wants the connection to stay open as much as I do, I carry the phone with me into the spare bedroom, reminding myself not to sniffle while he can hear.

He waits as I rummage through my always-packed well-beaten duffel. Whacked-out gentleman that he is, he had detoured to hang my suit-bag in my spare bedroom closet. Sometimes I think he likes to make sure it's still as he remembers it, from the one fever-riddled night he spent there. Strange, that he wants to revisit that torment.

I lift the black kit out from between my running tights and sweatsuit. "I have it, Mulder." Another memory of that time hangs off a similar phrase.

"I'll be right there, Scully." Without another word, the conversation ends.

It was the excuse he was looking for, then I wonder if he somehow didn't plant the kit there, once we reached the airport, just so he could check up on me. I'm becoming too paranoid for my own good. As I move into my hallway, I stop.

The blood. My nose is still dripping, and I don't know how to staunch the flow before he arrives. My mind floats back, as I change from the soiled night clothes to a sweatsuit, dark navy blue, almost black, to when I was a teenager. Then, there was another flow I wanted to tame; it was so inconvenient, my dreaded monthlies, just like this one is. I think of them both in the same way, not wanting anyone else to know it happens, hoping to avoid dealing with it.

Now, since my unremembered abduction, coma, and recovery, my cycles are irregular; lately, they haven't been starting at all. I'm not sexually active, so I don't watch the calendar like I should. I chuckle at my rationalizations. Women my age are supposed to be cowering before a tolling biological clock, but all I hear is an insistent voice, telling me to keep watch over my partner. Maybe he's all the child I can handle. I remind myself I should make my much-delayed annual visit to my gynecologist's soon. I'll ask her about the skipped periods then, postpone another stress-related health problem until later.

I've been losing weight, too, just not feeling like eating, so I haven't. Once Queequeg was killed, there was no one to remind me that regular suppers were a vital part of the day, unless Mulder and I were on a case. Then, only if my partner didn't retreat, shutting out the rest of the world, would I sit down across from him in some forsaken little diner. I'd pick the brown lettuce out of my salad, while he would push the Salisbury steak, or whatever he was avoiding, around on his plate.

But he's noticed the weight loss, made teasing little Mulder-comments. The last was just prior to our previous case, before the Mexicans and the legends and the yellow rain. I had bounced into the basement after a run, clad in sweaty black Lycra tights and a form-fitting Gore-Tex jacket, also black. We have come to adopt similar tastes in off-duty apparel.

The office was empty when I arrived, but my partner appeared moments later, whispering in my ear as I pulled the faux-tortoiseshell barrette from my hair. "Rrrrrouwer, G-woman, or should I say, C-woman."

I tossed him a quick smile. It had been his first playful, flirty-but-not-really quip after Roche, and I wanted more, longed for a glimpse of one of his authentic off-center smiles. After his Mother, the Ephesian case, and Roche, I thought I would never again see his eyes twinkle with sweet delight, as they were then.

He had responded with another jibe. "Pendrell asked to speak with you about some viral samples." He had waved his hand. "Drop by looking like that, and he'll need major defib time."

In my relief, I had rewarded him with a pose, my hand on my hip while I gulped some water, shooting him Scully Look #23.

He had grinned, his Samantha-sorrows carefully tucked away, then dropped a completed expense report onto my desk. He's been more diligent with the paperwork since Roche, his squeaky-clean G-man front kicking in after escaping with only a dressing-down by Skinner. It could have been much worse; it could have been the excuse *they* needed to shut us down, and he knows it.

Two warning signs, Dana, and you've ignored them both. It was that worried, scolding tone I used on Mulder, speaking in my head. I grabbed a paper napkin, then an extra, holding them in place until just before Mulder knocked on the door. I'd be ready, gripping the knob in one hand, the kit in the other, the bloody evidence up my sleeve. I'd have to fend him off with some quip, so he wouldn't push in through the door, wouldn't stay and fuss, or worse, run me to the hospital, just for a little nosebleed.

"Sculleee!" It was him, banging away. I'm surprised I haven't been kicked out of here, what with my partner in the hallway any time of the day or night, bellowing like some Jewish Stanley Kowalski.

I look around. Kit, key, napkin, all systems go, ready for the opening curtain. I focus beyond myself for the first time since waking. "Coming, Mulder!" I pad to the entrance, my little feet, silent on the wood in thick sleep-socks, not clicking like my Pomeranian's used to. As I swing the door away, I feel more liquid run onto my upper lip, and know the jig is up, the game is over, I'm caught.

My partner is gazing down at me, joy and fear intermingling in his glowing eyes. "Scully!" Springing in, he pushes the door closed behind him, taking my face in both his hands. "What happened to you?"

I think quickly, search for a convincing half-truth. A joke, a spiel, anything to keep this poor harried man from lying awake another night on my behalf. I roll my eyes. "Oh, I smacked my nose on the door when I walked out of the room." I daub at it with the bloody napkins. Bad move. He knows. My partner always realizes when I'm lying, just as I sense immediately when he is as well.

"Where, Scully? Which door?"

I pull away, my cheeks freed from his warm grasp, for the present. "The bathroom?" I offer hopelessly.

He nearly knocks me over in his rush to check the purported scene of the crime. One quick glance, then he's in front of me again, peering anxiously at my nose. Under the black barn jacket, he's much as I had envisioned, flapping shirt-tails, stubble and all, but the vestiges of drowsy fear are gone. In their place is a full-blown waking horror, so I know, if he asks, I'll tell him everything. Ahab never punished us for the whole truth, only if we shrank back, if we wouldn't own up to our nasty little deeds.

His head is tipped to one side. "Scully..."

I hold out the shaving kit, a feeble attempt, I realize, to keep at bay my worried partner, once he cloaks himself in his overprotective big brother persona.

He sets it down on the ledge of the China cabinet by the door, then guides me to the couch, his hand on my back, solid, caring. "Tell me how this happened, really." He pushes me down on the cushions, then sinks beside me, turning and grasping my shoulders with both his hands, as if he could squeeze the facts out of me.

I sigh. "I don't know. I woke up, coughing. When I turned the light on, there was blood on my pillow." I give a little shrug, so he frees me. It's the truth, as if I could ever tell him anything else. I watch that mantle of eerie sadness descend on him.

Resting his arms on his knees, he ages before my eyes. "Scully, what did Betts say to you?" He covers the hands clasped in my lap with one of his own. "Was it that you have something he needed?"

I nod, barely, and can tell from his gasp that it's enough, that he understands. "Mulder, I..."

He leans forward, his forehead wrinkling as he tries to bring his face under mine, aimed at my hands. "Can I take you?" He realizes my plans, once it is light, wants to help, no, *needs* to join in the fight, shoulder to shoulder, strength to strength.

This is our case; he is my partner. I raise my eyes to his, nod again; the burden lifts. We are a team. The rest will fall into place. "I'll call an oncologist in the morning, Mulder. I have to know." One muscled arm reels me in; I let him snuggle me close. He slides us both over to the protruding edge of the couch, propping his spine against it, tucking me between the padded back and his rib-cage.

I realize I need the comfort, as much as he aches to offer it. I hook my feet into the crack behind the seat cushions. I nestle under his shoulder, my ear where it can tune into the slow thudding in his chest, my arm draped along the waistband of his jeans.

Somehow, the remote is in his hand, the light flickers on our faces, our generation's electronic fireplace soothing us in early morning quiet.

We'll both fall asleep, I know, for a few hours, like this. Then, I'll awaken with a stiff neck from his chin pressing down on my head, but it's a small price to pay.

To have a true friend.

-END-

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Author's Note: Well, readers, if CC can do repeats, so can I. I wrote this little scene when I was so angry with 1013 for setting public knowledge about oncology and evolutionary theory back about thirty years. But, since this is me, Mary Ruth Keller, I couldn't write it without *some* positive Mulder-Scully interaction.

The title is a play on the one given to the 1983 collection of Lewis Thomas essays, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Lewis Thomas was in charge of the Sloan-Kettering Institute and directed it through many years of ground-breaking work in oncology. 1013 would have been wise to check some of their results out before embarking foolishly on the Scully cancer arc.

Thomas' essays were originally published in Natural History. When he stopped writing essays, Thomas' role was assumed by Steven Jay Gould, whose theory of Punctuated Equilibrium was so thoroughly mangled in Leonard Betts. Gould has released his essays in several books as well, among them, Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, Bully for Brontosaurus, and Dinosaur in a Haystack. In an essay in "Dinosaur...", entitled Dinomania, Gould discusses all of those fun things about the Terrible Lizards that Jurassic Park (the movie) got all wrong.

Watch out, CC, we scientists, too, wield the power of the pen.

Originally released to ATXC: 2/4/97

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