Title: Tranquility Lost
Author: Debra Longley
Completed: December, 2001
Category: MT, M/S angst, MSR, X-File
Spoilers: assumes knowledge up to Season 7, not
including Requiem; minor for CindyET’s The Bennington
Triangle, for VS9
Summary: Posing as a bickering married couple, the
agents investigate Tranquility, a spa where all-body
treatments and stress reduction activities go hand in
hand with mind enrichment. Is Mulder taking his role
way too seriously or is something more sinister
Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks; any others
just let me know. 🙂
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner and any
recognizable characters belong to Chris Carter, Ten
Thirteen Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox
Television. They are used here without permission. No
copyright infringement is intended. Unrecognizable
characters belong to me.
Author’s Notes: This was written for I Made This!
Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season
9. IMTP may be found at http://imadethis2.tripod.com/
Locations are real, although I’ve taken some
liberties with them. Tranquility is imaginary,
although it’s based on several existing spas. No
disrespect is intended.
Thanks: Special thanks to betas Suzanne, Susan, and
Sally for their suggestions and encouragement, and to
artists Heather and Theresa for making this little
fic come alive with their talents.
Feedback: Did you or didn’t you? I’d like to know.
“Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!”
Othello, Act III, Sc. iii
SENATOR RYAN’S RESIDENCE
Eighteen miles northwest of Boston, a colonial-style
mansion was the home of Senator Gordon Ryan and his
wife Evelina. In their bedroom, they were lying in a
four poster bed. She felt him move beside her and
turned, pressing her body against his. He was soft
and warm, his breath stirring her hair. When he
tensed, she knew he was awake. He rolled over to the
edge of the bed and sat with his back to her. She lay
motionless in silence.
The sense of loss he felt caused intense pain in his
chest. Had she ever really been his? “Are you awake?”
he asked in a voice that held no warmth.
She clutched the duvet to her breast and stared at
him. His rigid spine spoke volumes. “Yes,” she
responded dully. All of a sudden she flung it off,
padding across the carpet. “I don’t know who you are
She was looking at him as if he was some kind of
alien she had never seen before. There was a long
silence then her husband sighed, getting to his feet.
“You’re being dramatic.”
“Dramatic?” she parroted. “You can’t even make love
with me anymore.”
“Hell, Lee!” He grasped her by the upper arms and
shook her lightly.
The woman was close to tears. He released her, and
she whirled away from him. “I can’t answer you.
You’ve been different ever since we went to that
The Senator caught her wrist, pulling her back to
him. Facing her, he saw that she was flushed, and, in
her red nightgown, she was one color from head-to-
toe. Still, she reached up and pulled down his head,
resting his lightly lined forehead against hers. He
moved away abruptly as if her touch had burned him.
A dull ache appeared behind his eyelids and he rubbed
his thumb and index finger over them. He glanced at
the digital clock radio on the night table. “I don’t
have time for this,” he insisted.
He never had time anymore. She hated that clock. She
wished clocks had never been invented. As she
thought it, 5:11 a.m. turned into 5:12 a.m. She
stared at it, as if doing so would stop the passage
of time and make everything all right again. 5:13
a.m. appeared nonetheless — just like clockwork, she
thought hysterically, triggering a giggle.
She was acting like a crazy person. Her brown hair
was mussed, the gray strands around her face unruly,
accentuating her behavior. To Ryan, it didn’t make
any sense. Hadn’t he given her everything she had
ever wanted? “I don’t understand — ”
“How could you,” his wife interrupted, “when I don’t
understand it myself?” Strength drained from her
legs, like a rapid rush of water swirling down a
basin, and she sank heavily on the bed.
Her arms ached from the knowledge she might never
hold him again. She wished she had known that the
last time really *was* the last time.
With another obvious look at the timepiece, Ryan
said, “For God’s sake, Lee, I have to get dressed and
catch a plane. I have a meeting on the Hill today.”
“I could go with you,” she offered, her voice
“Not this time. I’ll call you tonight from the
His response stung. She folded into herself, as if
she could no longer support her shoulders.
He took her silence as submission and didn’t look at
her again. Instead, he stepped away from her and went
into the dressing room.
The basement corridor was quiet, the hum of voices
and keyboards usually present on the upper floors
conspicuously absent. The office door was shut
tightly, trapping its three occupants in a seasonably
warm room that smelled faintly of dust and Mulder’s
cologne. The office seemed no bigger than the storage
room it had been in the past. Its surfaces were
covered with sprawling file folders crammed with
paper, and piles of newspaper clippings and
magazines. Also visible were 3-ring binders
containing computer printouts, and nonfiction books,
their worn and well-thumbed pages folded over to mark
Mulder was settled behind his desk, his knees crossed
and his hands folded on the desktop blotter, prepared
to listen. Its surface held a yellow legal pad and
pen, and three used coffee cups. Presiding over the
room, Mulder sat opposite a woman seated in the
visitor’s chair, and Scully, who sat beside her.
The woman wore a tasteful ivory linen suit and a
single strand of pearls. Her brown hair was fastened
in a bun at her neck; some runaway gray strands
framed her round face. Its plumpness made her look
younger than she was. There were smears of mascara
under her brown eyes and she clutched a shredded
tissue in her right hand.
Mulder rose to his feet, the chair creaking as he
changed position. He came out from behind his desk,
hands in his pockets, waiting for her to speak. He
could feel a trickle of sweat between his shoulder
blades. Clearing his throat and interrupting the
silence, he asked gently, “How might we help, Mrs.
The woman was caught off balance by his voice and her
mouth quivered. She dabbed the tissue at her nose
then balled it into her fist. Looking up at him, she
saw merely nonjudgmental interest on his face.
Satisfied, she took a steadying breath, readying
“Evelina, please, Agent Mulder.”
He lowered himself, propping his hip on the corner of
the desk and leaning forward. Scully noticed that the
right knee of his pants was wearing thin and found it
“Why don’t you start at the beginning, Evelina?” he
His attentiveness was encouraging. “My husband is
Gordon Ryan,” she began. “He’s a senator for the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a member of the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”
Mulder nodded in recognition.
“Gordon works too hard; he was looking tired and had
lost weight. A colleague recommended a place: an
exclusive spa with the best of treatment, indulging
both body and soul. Even its name was ideal —
Tranquility. We decided to book a four-night weekend
package; it was high-priced, but it was a second
honeymoon of sorts. May I have a glass of water?”
“Of course. You’re doing fine,” Mulder assured her.
“I’ll get it,” Scully offered. “Mulder?”
He shook his head no. No one spoke until she returned
with the cup. The senator’s wife took it from Scully
and sipped a little bit, setting it on the desk. She
started again. “There were people of all ages and
shapes there. The staff responded to our every need;
it was good to be pampered. But before long, the
serenity I was feeling was lost.”
“Why?” Mulder asked.
She lifted her hand to her throat, fingering the
pearls around her neck. “It sounds absurd, but Gordon
had changed, almost before my eyes. He was a
stranger, with a whole other side. He was keeping
things from me, distancing himself….” Her cheeks
flamed. “Unaffectionate.” Briefly, she was back in
their house in Concord, when it was it was all brand-
new and good. “Every time I try to find out what’s
wrong, he pushes me away. These past weeks I have
looked deep into my soul; I still love him, support
him. I can’t accept losing him. Will you help?” she
asked the agents, a little embarrassed by her
outpouring. She used to feel private lives should be
Mulder’s open expression let Scully know his interest
was aroused. The next words he spoke confirmed it.
“We can’t take on a case without authorization,”
Mulder answered, “but I do think we should find out a
Sunlight streamed through the narrow window, and she
placed her hope on it, the way it seemed to carry the
drifting particles of dust. For a moment, she
believed things would be the way they had always
been, before Tranquility had come between them.
Evelina got to her feet, reaching for Mulder’s hand.
She wondered if he would feel her trembling. Mulder
slid his hand into hers, his grip firm and warm. The
look on his face was sympathetic, not condescending.
He reached out and put his left hand on her shoulder
before releasing her hand. She was grateful for the
gesture and decided she liked him.
Walking her to the door and closing it behind her,
Mulder went to make a fresh pot of coffee. He fished
out the used packet of grounds, intending to empty
the carafe, but Scully laid her hand on his sleeve.
“Wait,” she told him, suggesting instead, “Why don’t
we go to the Pavilion, buy some sandwiches, and have
lunch at The Mall? I know a bench with our names on
Mulder set down the pot. “Are you coming on to me,
Reading his thoughts, she raised an eyebrow and
smiled. “Yes, now that you mention it,” she countered
THE NATIONAL MALL
After the stillness of the office, the stroll to the
expanse of lawn extending between the Washington
Monument and the Capitol was chaotic with traffic and
pedestrians swinging their briefcases and handbags.
Mulder found an empty place for them to sit. He
discarded his suit jacket, folding it on the bench
beside him, pulled down his tie, and unbuttoned the
top button of his blue shirt, loosening the collar.
He helped himself to a Black Forest ham and Swiss
cheese sandwich on homemade white bread, unrolling it
and taking a bite. He shoved an errant bean sprout
into his mouth with his thumb.
“Do you know what I think?” Scully asked, reaching
into a second paper bag and handing Mulder his can of
“You’re about to tell me there’s a perfectly rational
explanation.” He popped the cap, tossed down a
mouthful then took another bite and waited.
She pulled out her bottle of peach flavored sparkling
water. “Her husband is going through a mid-life
crisis and she can’t handle it.”
“She didn’t say one word about him lusting after
“He may be having a psychological reaction to the
loss of youth, which would explain his erratic
“That explains why I shaved in the dark this
morning,” he grinned. “I found a gray hair.”
Scully looked intently at him, saw the offending
strand suspended over his brow, and impulsively
plucked. “Although controversial, scientific evidence
also indicates that physiological changes — reduced
activity of testosterone — can have a huge effect,
popularly known as male menopause.”
She unwrapped her turkey and Gouda cheese on a
croissant and began eating. “It’s not an X-File.”
“What if Ryan went to Tranquility and someone else
came back?” Mulder put to her. “The technology to
replace him with a duplicate exists, Scully. We’ve
Clones. Alien/human hybrids. Dolly, the sheep. The
Samanthas, the Gregors, and the Kurts. Emily. The
Litchfield Experiment, a U.S. government top secret
program in which a group of genetically controlled
children were raised and monitored, the boys named
Adam and the girls Eve.
She wiped her mouth with a napkin. There were other
case files back at the office in various stages of
investigation, but his instincts were always good.
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt to have a quick look at the
spa files,” Scully conceded at last. “Could the Lone
Gunmen hack into them?”
“Piece of cake,” he grinned, washing down his
sandwich with the rest of his iced tea.
They deposited the remnants of their lunch in a
nearby trash bin and continued at a leisurely pace on
the grass, watching the children laugh and play.
Mulder dangled his suit jacket on his finger,
swinging it and letting it fall carelessly over his
shoulder. The agents crossed Constitution Avenue and
walked up 12th Street, heading back to Pennsylvania
Avenue. The walk back to the Hoover Building was not
as companionable as the visit to The Mall. Mulder was
quiet, and Scully, taking a look at his
uncommunicative profile, saw he was somewhere else
entirely and left him alone.
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR SKINNER’S OFFICE
The blinds in the windows of the spacious office had
been closed to keep out the sunlight’s warmth; air
conditioning, its hum barely audible, controlled the
room’s temperature and kept it comfortable.
“You’d be spending a lot of money on a hunch, Agent
Mulder,” the balding man stated grimly from behind
the polished oak desk. He sank into his chair,
swiveling around to face the agent, drumming a pen
absently on the request. Christ, how would he explain
this one to the Finance Division?
“I can handle Finance,” Mulder echoed uncannily.
“It’s more than a hunch, sir.”
Before he requested the 302, he had booted up his
office computer and turned to the keyboard. As his
fingers flew over the keys, Scully positioned herself
at his shoulder to get a better view. He accessed an
Internet search engine and typed in the keywords for
his search, the object being the Intelligence
Committee and its jurisdiction and members. He
discovered that its purpose was to oversee and make
continuing studies of the intelligence activities and
programs of the government, to submit proposals for
legislation, and to report to the Senate concerning
such intelligence activities and programs.
The agent told Skinner, “Initial inquiries revealed
all of its members were guests of Tranquility at one
time or another. All six, including Senator Gordon
Ryan, changed their minds on several important pieces
of legislation. All six of them voted with the
committee’s chairman on an anti-terrorism bill that
would give the government the power to invade the
privacy of ordinary citizens.”
“You think they wouldn’t play ball and were
“You’ve read it.” Mulder waved his hand in the
direction of the file folder on Skinner’s desk.
“What went on in that committee merits a look.”
The assistant director was quiet for a long moment.
“Do what you like,” he allowed, throwing up his
Four nights with Scully, without an alarm clock or
the office. Gourmet food, even if it was analyzed for
calories and fat, and a wealth of indoor and outdoor
activities. “It should be — almost — painless,
After arriving at Hartford’s Bradley International
Airport, Mulder had disappeared inside a national car
rental chain to rent a car for the trip to the
Berkshires. Waiting for him at the curb, Scully
started when a yellow Ford Mustang convertible sped
past her, its male driver swerving abruptly to the
right and screeching to a stop just in front of her.
Her stomach rolled like a ship pitching suddenly to
one side when she saw who was at the wheel. Have
your fun, she thought sharply. What was the saying —
that a man was nothing more than a tall boy?
The driver’s door swung open and Mulder emerged.
Another victim of the male mid-life crisis, she
supposed, shaking her head. First a face-to-face look
at mortality in the mirror, now a convertible instead
of a nondescript Ford Taurus. Her eyes flicked to the
vehicle. “I hate surprises.”
She didn’t sound offended even if her hands were on
her hips. He beamed, “Well, we’ve got to look the
part, Scully.” Indicating the fragrant leather
interior, he continued happily, “And it has a stick
He smiled his most winning smile, the one that showed
all of his teeth and stopped her breath. “Samantha,”
she corrected, forcing herself to breathe. Samantha
and Darrin Stevens. Why, oh why, had she relented and
let *him* pick their names? Could it be he used
*that* smile? “Sam,” he righted easily, throwing
their bags in the trunk. “We have a bit of money. I’m
a successful entrepreneur; we have a gorgeous
condo… ” He perched his sunglasses on his nose and
pivoted for Scully’s benefit. “Shirt by Hugo Boss,
pants by Armani.”
“Didn’t I ever tell you that I was never attracted to
your wallet, Darrin?” She leaned against him,
smiling. “In fact, my eyes never made it past your
Feeling good, she laughed a real laugh and let his
slip-up go. They climbed into the front seats and
closed their doors; Scully eased into the back of the
seat, settling the map on her lap, and Mulder put a
compact disc she had given him into the Mustang’s CD
player. He turned the key in the ignition, and, as
Don McLean mourned for the day the music died,
shifted the gear into place and shot away from the
curb determined to make good time.
Accentuating his mood, the sun stayed out as they
flew north on the Interstate, with the top down and
their hair be damned. The air was against his face,
warm and fresh, and Mulder felt a sense of freedom
and anticipation that investigating a new case always
brought him. He turned to Scully, yelling, “Isn’t
She pulled strands of her hair out of her eyes and
felt a wave of irritation, as if it was his fault.
When he reached for her hand, placing it on the black
knob and downshifting, she was distracted. It was
impossible not to feel the vibration — or the shape
of his fingers. “It’s exhilarating,” she yelled back
truthfully, and he squeezed her hand.
They took Exit 14 for the Massachusetts Turnpike,
following it west to the exit at Lee. They drove past
the well maintained white farmhouses, weathered
barns, and fields of crops and colorful wildflowers,
all giving an impression of prosperous serenity.
Scully pointed out, a little wistfully, that there
was no shortage of antique dealers either. Mulder
felt her breath against his cheek and turned just in
time to spot a swinging sign, underneath a jumbled
row of brightly painted birdhouses. The delicate
floral scent coming from his partner made him want to
get even closer. He sighed and turned his attention
back to the road.
The hamlet of Lenox, with its stately homes and
fabulous mansions, was tucked in a corner of the
Southern Berkshire hills. Scully was content enjoying
the scenery along tree-lined streets. Reluctantly,
she turned her attention to the map and traced a line
with her manicured fingertip.
“We’re almost there. Take the next left.”
A teal green sign with white lettering edged in gold,
Tranquility Spa was adjacent to an open gate.
Towering hedges surrounded the grounds. Slowing the
Mustang, Mulder peered through the driver’s side
window and signaled left. He turned it through the
opening; the winding drive would take them to the
vintage mansion, which now served as the inn.
As he steered the car leisurely up the drive, Mulder
was greeted by a civil but firm security guard. He
braked and, with a wink at Scully, turned back to the
man, informing him that they were Mr. and Mrs.
Stevens and were expected.
The guard studied his list and confirmed their
registration. He waved his arm and gestured them
forward, allowing them to pass.
“I guess there’s no popping in for a look around,”
Mulder commented. As they continued ahead, through
elaborate gardens with flowing fountains, the two-
story inn came into view.
Involuntarily Scully gasped. She loved it at once.
“We’re from the too-rich set, Sam,” Mulder reminded
her. We don’t mind combining dietary deprivation and
masochistic physicality with turn-of-the-century
He pulled into a parking space near the entrance,
separated from the lot by beds of roses. Scully
glanced quickly into the rearview mirror to make sure
she was presentable, smoothing her hair with her
fingers. Mulder got out of the Mustang and went
around it. He retrieved their bags, sliding the
straps over his shoulder. His hand pressed lightly
into the small of Scully’s back and they walked to
the front door, breathing in the perfume of the
prickly shrubs. As Mulder guided her inside the
building and across the lobby, the heels of her
sandals clicked softly on the ceramic floor.
The grand lobby soared up two stories and was paneled
with aged wood that gleamed with polish and proper
care. An elegant mahogany staircase curved up to the
balcony fronting the rooms, large tubs of cut roses
sitting at either side of its base. Scully stopped to
admire an expansive display case of antique glassware
while Mulder proceeded with long strides to the
information desk. When she joined him, he was already
deep in conversation with the clerk.
Mulder shrugged off his feelings of pleasurable
anticipation and arranged his face into a scowl.
“This is not my idea of a good time, Sam,” he
complained to Scully.
Scully hesitated, trying to follow his thinking. She
answered softly, “Well, I thought it might be a good
idea.” Then she looked hard at Mulder. “I’m a little
upset you don’t understand my feelings.”
“And I don’t know how to empathize with you, is that
it? It’s called being human. Unlike you, I don’t
expect everyone to be perfect.” Rather reluctantly,
he pulled out his credit card and smacked it on the
desktop. His lip curled. “She thinks we have to do
this spa thing. Always expects me to give in.”
“Only when I’m right,” Scully muttered.
The woman ignored them tactfully. She checked their
names against her register and told them they had
appointments with the registered nurse in an hour, to
review their lifestyles and general health. She
processed his credit card and gave him two key cards
and spa information packets, containing
questionnaires to take to their room and fill out.
Mulder mumbled a thank you, palming the cards and
handing the plastic envelopes to Scully. He took a
closer look at the people in the lobby; one woman
appeared to be checking him out. He guessed she was
about forty. She was nearly as tall as he, wearing
navy shorts and a white T-shirt. She had a narrow
face, and her fine blond hair was parted in the
middle, hanging down to her jaw and curling under at
the bottom. The roots were black.
Her eyes traveled up his long legs, past his lean
hips and the powder blue golf shirt, reaching
eventually his boyish face. His nose was noticeably
above average in size, but over those full lips…
Drop-dead gorgeous. He looked fit — a runner, she
supposed. Wasn’t he looking her way a little longer
than she would expect, as if only she and he existed?
She wished he would take off the dark lenses perched
on that nose, so she could see his eyes. She stopped
ogling him long enough to notice his companion,
dressed in a lime green silk blouse and loose linen
slacks, with her smooth flawless skin and her red
hair carefully groomed into a casual, wind-blown
look. She dismissed her in a matter of seconds.
“Let me handle this,” Scully whispered. “What are you
doing, Darrin?” she accused loudly, folding her arms
across her chest.
At the sound of her scolding voice, his head swiveled
and he looked down at her with a look of confusion.
“What? Did you say something?”
She answered him by stepping hard on his foot.
“I’m only sightseeing,” he explained.
With a glance at the woman, Scully said irately, “I
can see that. You’re a man, aren’t you?”
Mulder moved away from the desk, sidestepping
instinctively another man. His eyes cut to the man’s
face. His brow was creased. He felt the need to
defend himself again. “You really want to know what I
was thinking of?”
He opened his mouth to tell her, but the withering
look she threw him belied her words. He closed it
without saying a word. He climbed the stairs to their
room after her, watching her swinging hips. He was
blissfully unaware of the eyes on his back, shooting
“If that son of a bitch so much as touches Angela….
” the man murmured. His voice was rough, heightened
by the dryness in his mouth.
MULDER AND SCULLY’S GUEST ROOM
TRANQUILITY SPA INN
With the Bureau’s Finance agents in mind, Mulder had
reserved a deluxe room rather than a luxury suite. He
chose a double, mindful of conduct while maintaining
the married couple facade. It was lush and well
appointed. The spreads on the queen-sized beds
matched the curtains and the shades on the old-
fashioned lamps, as well as the cushions placed just
so, set on the comfortable chairs. A reproduction of
Monet’s Pink Water Lilies hung between the beds. A
table held a welcoming bowl of fresh fruit and two
glasses of chilled lemonade. The room smelled of rose
As she closed the door behind them, Scully headed for
the bathroom and started pulling off her clothes. She
turned on the taps, raising her voice so Mulder could
hear her over the running water. “She was looking at
you like you were a hot fudge sundae after a week of
“Very funny.” Mulder grabbed a shiny red apple and
bit off a chunk. He wedged the fruit between his
teeth and opened his bag. He took out a pair of
boxers and unrolled them, uncovering his Sig Sauer.
Assured by the weapon, he wrapped it back into the
underwear, burying it inside his bag with his other
boxers and socks, swimming trunks, toiletries and
running shoes before placing it inside the wardrobe.
Mulder ate up the apple then changed into the
supplied navy shorts and white T-shirt. He also
slipped on a lightweight waffle weave robe, leaving
it open, and sandals. To tell the truth, he felt a
Scully had finished freshening up and was similarly
attired, but her feet were still bare. Her robe’s
sleeves hung down to her fingertips, and she had
pulled the belt tight around her waist.
Their eyes met. As she came toward him, Mulder said,
his voice low, “There’s enough room in your robe for
both of us. Imagine the possibilities.” With his
thumb, Mulder touched Scully’s cheek, her chin and
her lips. Her rapid, shallow breathing was his
response. He lowered his head, substituting his
When his lips touched hers, Scully hesitated, pulling
away. The kiss was disappointingly short. “We might
not make our appointments, Mulder,” she told him,
looking to him for support.
“My thoughts exactly,” Mulder agreed, his eyes dark.
“Who needs to set up a fitness regimen? Bed rest is
“What makes you think we’ll be resting?” she
insinuated, eyes twinkling.
“I think you’d better stop talking like that, Scully,
or we won’t be leaving this room.”
“Who started this conversation anyway?”
Since her question was rhetorical, Mulder didn’t
answer. They glanced briefly at the spa information
packets, containing tips on how to beat jet lag, and
brochures for services and their locations. They put
them aside, turned to the questionnaires and began to
fill them in.
REGISTERED NURSE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
Fay Beck, R.N. was inscribed on the brass plaque on
the door. The nurse introduced herself and shook
their hands. The fifty year-old woman was small with
unremarkable features; she had colored her medium
brown hair with red highlights. A pair of glasses
with red plastic frames hung from a gold chain around
her neck. She turned on her heel and said over her
shoulder, “Come on, Mrs. Stevens,” leading Scully
back into her sun-drenched office and closing the
On his own in the reception area, Mulder worked his
way around the room, pretending an interest in the
posters on the walls. He didn’t know exactly what he
was looking for, only that he would know when he saw
it. There were two other doors; he tried their knobs,
but they were both locked. It didn’t take him long to
figure out he wasn’t going to find out anything here.
He was aware suddenly of movement in the doorway.
Scully was already crossing the room when the nurse
gestured Mulder inside. She offered him a seat on the
comfortable blue colored sofa, in almost the same
shade as his shirt. She considered him carefully from
behind her desk.
Mulder looked back at her.
“How did you come to choose us?” she asked at last.
“Someone at work told me about you,” Mulder answered
vaguely. “Personnel ordered me to take some of my
vacation — my wife was all for coming here. I told
her it wasn’t likely I would rejuvenate myself on top
of all that sweat.”
“You can be as active or relaxed as you want, Mr.
Stevens. It’s really a low-maintenance vacation; you
don’t have to worry about a thing. If you regard it
that way, you’ll find many advantages.”
The nurse lifted her glasses to her nose and scanned
Mulder’s responses to the questionnaire.
“You’re an entrepreneur. Are you successful?”
“You could say that, yes.”
“Did you work hard to get where you are?”
“It wasn’t easy.”
“Stress,” she said to herself, making a notation next
to his handwriting. “Do you get much exercise?”
“I like to swim and run,” Mulder replied honestly. “I
shoot a few baskets to stay in shape.”
“Are you on any medication?”
Glastenbury Mountain, Vermont. Meddie’s Museum. The
plunge he had taken down the basement stairwell. He
played it down. “I took a tumble on the court,” he
lied, exasperation flashing across his face. “I’m not
twenty-five anymore. My wife thinks she’s my doctor;
she tucked some painkillers into her bag. I’m only
supposed to take them if I have pain — and I feel
Nurse Beck questioned him further about his health,
confirming he hadn’t smoked for some years and wasn’t
much of a drinker then moved on to his eating habits.
“I’ll acquaint you and your wife with Doctor Payne,”
she concluded finally. “He’ll want to meet you.”
“Pain?” Mulder blurted.
She laughed. “He’ll do you good,” she assured him.
She took them to meet Doctor Norman Payne, telling
him their names. The man was at least ten years older
than Nurse Beck, short and stocky with a slight
paunch. His hair was the color of beach sand and
thinning on top. Payne viewed it as a poor joke. As
he lost it from the top of his head, it seemed to
accumulate in the tangled mess that were his
His eyes were intelligent and viewed them carefully.
Payne offered his hand, making an effort to be
friendly, but Mulder noticed that his brows were
drawn together. “Enjoy your stay,” he said simply.
There seemed to be nothing more to be said. Mulder
turned to Scully. “What’s the torture for this
afternoon, Hon?” he asked in an ill-tempered tone.
“I’m going for the New Look hair styling,” she
answered, suggesting he could amuse himself.
“Good luck,” Mulder muttered.
As the couple left the Health Center, Payne retreated
to his office. He shut the door behind him and
clicked it firmly shut. The doctor paced for a moment
then moved to the window, lowering himself into the
black leather sofa and pushing a hand through his
hair. He saw the Stevens making their way along the
winding stone walkway. Mr. Stevens was chatting
animatedly, using his hands to accentuate his words.
Payne stared at him before rising slowly to his feet
and shifting to his desk.
His hands folded beneath his chin, Payne eyed the
telephone thoughtfully. He puffed out his cheeks.
What to do with this problem? “Damn,” he muttered,
making a dour face, then an idea zeroed in and he
changed his mind. This was where he would become
indispensable to those in charge of the Project. He
reached for the telephone and dialed the District of
Columbia area code and a seven-digit number.
On the third ring, it was picked up on the other end.
Payne was about to speak, when it sounded like a
match was being struck. There was an inhale followed
by an exhale of air. “Afternoon, sir,” he greeted. He
gave a summary of what had just taken place. “Even
so, there’s nothing to worry about. We can continue
without discovery from the Bureau. All it takes is
the correct treatment.” He listened, his mouth
puckered. “I appreciate that,” he began to object,
“but under our direction, Mulder… ” His hand
tightened around the receiver. “I can’t touch him.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m
Payne waited for the call to end then slammed down
the phone. He had been told to leave the FBI agent
alone. It was indirect and subtle, but he understood
it meant cover his ass and start again somewhere
Well, he wouldn’t run.
TRANQUILITY SPA SPORTS CENTER
The pool was surrounded by filtered plate glass,
inset on each end with prism-shaped stained glass.
Sunlight passed through it, reflecting the colors of
the prisms across the water. The effect was stunning.
Mulder walked into the damp warmth. He stepped out of
his sandals and removed his robe, T-shirt, and
shorts, dropping them where he stood, revealing a
sensible pair of black swimming trunks. The
chilliness of the dark green marble floor was in
contrast to the warm moistness, penetrating his feet,
and he flexed his toes.
From her lounge at poolside, sipping on a glass of
orange juice, Angela watched him as he let himself
into the shallow end, swimming back and forth across
the pool until he was warmed up. She saw he was a
good, strong swimmer. He climbed out at the steps and
padded to the deep end, his wet feet slapping on the
floor. The fabric clung to him, leaving almost
nothing to her imagination. He made a perfect dive,
his entry into the water barely making a sound. He
didn’t surface right away, staying under as long as
possible then came up to blink water out of his eyes.
He finished his swim with a rapid crawl, doing
Like Mulder, the woman wore a simple suit, but, in a
brilliant lemon yellow, the one-piece drew the eye
and emphasized her shape. As Mulder sat on the edge,
breathing heavily, she moved and stood next to him.
“You make it look easy,” she said. “I’m Angela.
She was still there staring, her interest obvious.
His breathing returned to normal. He had been on his
high school’s swim team, and swimming had always
remained one of his favored means of exercise, but he
replied simply, “Practice,” then added, “Stevens.
He had a nice voice. It fit his looks. She joined
him, dangling her legs in the warm water. Her calves
stirred the water with quick strokes, and it lapped
gently around them. He thought about Scully’s calves,
how warm they were and how soft.
“Your first time?” he questioned.
She knew what he meant, but her cheeks flushed a
slight pink. “This is my second visit to the spa.”
He deftly shifted the topic slightly. “It’s world-
renowned, isn’t it? Powerful people have been sighted
He was focused on how she would answer. She liked
that about him. “I saw James Caan once.”
She hadn’t told him anything really, but he nodded.
His hazel eyes were like chameleons, changing from
light brown to green, knocking her off-balance. She’d
never seen such amazing eyes before. Her gaze lowered
to his upper body and she saw there was a scar on his
left shoulder. “What’s that from?” she asked with
Mulder looked at her blankly. “What?”
She placed her index finger against the imperfect
skin and pressed. Drenched with water, his skin was
both damp and warm. The nerves in her fingertip
jumped like they were charged with electricity.
She was too close for comfort. Mulder shifted his
torso uneasily, trying not to be too obvious about
it. The adjustment caused her to withdraw her hand.
He had almost forgotten the old injury; he had been
about to kill Alex Krycek, after the murder of his
father. Scully had shot him in order to preserve his
freedom, lest the authorities suspect Mulder of both
deaths. “I was Robin Hood, my sister was Prince John.
Her bow and arrow worked a little too well.”
Angela found the account comical and laughed. Mulder
grinned slowly in spite of himself. It was good to be
able to laugh with him. It seemed intimate and
something only the two of them had shared.
He looked for a way out. The hairs on the back of his
neck stood up, a warning that someone was watching,
and he was pretty sure he knew who that someone was.
“I have to go,” Mulder told her, getting to his feet.
He toweled himself off, pulling the T-shirt down over
his head and gathering the rest of his things.
As they passed each other, he met her husband’s eyes.
A few quiet seconds went by as they eyed one another.
“Afternoon,” Mulder greeted politely. He wanted to
add the last name, but couldn’t quite bring himself
to say it.
Darling nodded, still coldly silent, although his
palms were sweating. He was tanned and well built,
suggesting he spent a lot of time outdoors, but he
was slightly overweight. His blond hair was cut into
a brush cut. Mulder stepped out, the door closing
Darling wasn’t sure what he had interrupted — a
harmless chat or an intimate talk. “What were you two
finding to talk about?” he interrogated.
His steel blue eyes were a marked contrast to warm,
hazel ones. “I was simply being friendly, Lon,”
“Try being friendly with his wife.” Taking up with
Patti had been a costly mistake. Was Angela teaching
him a lesson for what he had done to her, or was her
attraction to Stevens real? Uncertainty grabbed him
by the heart and tugged.
MULDER AND SCULLY’S GUEST ROOM
TRANQUILITY SPA INN
As she heard Mulder’s key card in the lock, Scully
felt like she was on her first date, running
downstairs and waiting for the young man to come up
the front walk.
“Your hair,” Mulder exclaimed, his eyes focused on
her carefully. Her hair had been fastened to her head
in waves, some of them deliberately let loose around
her face and neck. He reached out and touched a curl,
tugging it gently and pressing it to his nose.
She smelled like peppermint. Involuntarily, his
tongue wet his lower lip. Releasing the strand, he
told her, “Perfect.” He reached into the wardrobe,
pulling out two slips of paper and flashing them
between his fingers. “All dressed up and somewhere to
“What have you got there?” Scully asked.
“Tickets for this evening’s performance of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra here in Lenox,” he answered.
“Previn, Mozart, Strauss, and Chopin.”
“I love it when you talk dirty to me,” Scully said.
He grinned, but then his smile faded and he was all
seriousness. “We’ve work to do here, Scully, but this
is for us.”
KOUSSEVITZKY MUSIC SHED
The estate of Tanglewood, the summer home of the
symphony, with its acres of magnificent lawns,
gardens and ancient trees, overlooked a sparkling
lake. Their tickets were for the shed, an open-ended
auditorium surrounded by a lush green lawn where an
outdoor audience lounged on lawn chairs and blankets.
How he had managed to get tickets for the sellout
performance, conducted by Andre Previn, was a
mystery, but Mulder wasn’t talking. Scully suspected
it had something to do with The Lone Gunmen and their
expert programming skills.
Mulder relaxed into his seat, attuned to the
conversations going on around him. The couple beside
him was bickering about the latest family crisis. Two
women to his and Scully’s right were discussing
flower arrangements for a wedding. The businessmen
below him were talking about next week’s business
Mulder thought about the case that had brought them
to Massachusetts. What had happened between the
Senator and his wife? Did she really understand him
and his motives for doing anything? He looked over at
Scully and was rewarded with the information he
wanted. She truly understood *him*. Wouldn’t it be
reasonable to assume Evelina wasn’t a novice as far
as her husband’s behavior was concerned?
Mulder was almost too focused on the Ryans to hear
the start of the concert, but Scully’s hand slid into
his and gave it a light squeeze. He squared his
shoulders and turned enthusiastically toward the
sound of the music.
“It’s marvelous,” Scully whispered, as the audience
grew hushed. Her words reflected his own happiness as
he listened to Strauss’s The Blue Danube, the harmony
of sound frolicking with his eardrums.
MULDER AND SCULLY’S GUEST ROOM
TRANQUILITY SPA INN
Scully awakened to find Mulder’s arm wrapped
protectively around her chest, as if he had sought
and found her in his sleep. One of his legs was
thrown across her right leg and under her left,
interweaving them together. She was reluctant to
disturb him, but she needed to take care of an
insistent bladder. She tried to wriggle out from
He woke and pinned her with his leg. “Morning,” he
said softly, rubbing it against hers.
“Good morning.” He continued to trace a path along
her leg, and it felt so good. “Mulder.”
“Mmm?” He lowered his lips to hers, seeking the
warmth of the inside of her mouth. He thought of how
it would feel and his insides boiled over.
She opened her mouth to welcome him, but her bladder
repeated its need for immediate attention. Scully
pulled back, but he was quick and kissed her neck.
She clasped his shoulder, her expression apologetic.
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
He looked at her mindlessly then he blinked, his eyes
clearing. The boil reduced to a simmer. He dropped a
kiss lightly on the top of her head and heaved
himself off her, supporting his weight on one elbow.
“Hurry back,” he told her, indicating they would
continue where they had stopped when she returned.
REGISTERED NURSE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
The small, windowless room off the nurse’s office was
simple. Painted white and softly lit, it had no
decorations and a single massage table in its center,
covered with a white sheet and a folded white towel.
Mulder could hear strains of, oddly enough, The Blue
Danube, and he flashed back to the Boston Symphony
“This 50 minute session will be full body, Mr.
Stevens,” she told him. “You’ve been under some
stress and are on medication for an injury. Swedish
massage is a therapeutic approach to healing; you’ll
find it will encourage well being, managing your
stress, and promote release of neurochemicals,
naturally reducing your pain.” She explained she
would leave the room while he undressed.
When he was nude, he lay down on the firm, flat,
padded table and placed the towel over his waist,
draping the sheet over him for additional privacy and
warmth. Nurse Beck started with preliminary strokes,
gliding her fingers beneath his shoulder blades and
across his neck muscles.
“Just relax,” she said. She began the rest of the
treatment by stroking his fingers, wrist and forearm
then kneading and tapping his upper arm. She repeated
it for his left side then lowered the sheet, applying
a light coating of lotion to his abdomen and
massaging with the palms of her hands. As she
pressed, she spoke to him. Her constant soft cadence
began to work; Mulder responded to the calm,
controlled voice, his tension easing.
“Does this feel tender?” she asked.
“Good pain,” he groaned, nearly asleep.
She drew the sheet up and exposed his right leg. She
applied more lotion and began at his toes, gradually
increasing the pressure as she moved to the top of
his thigh. “You’ve denied the truth,” she said.
“No,” Mulder protested sluggishly.
“Yes, you have.” She covered his leg and repeated the
strokes on his left leg. As she kneaded the middle of
his thigh with her thumb, her hypnotic voice
skillfully shaped his emotions. “Your sister was your
responsibility. Your inaction allowed her to be
“My fault,” Mulder rephrased mechanically.
“You were small and weak. You see it now, don’t you?”
“Those who loved you never forgave you.”
“Never forgave myself.”
Something was happening to Mulder’s face; it was
crumbling slowly, like a sandcastle baked too long in
“Guilt is the greatest hell,” the nurse said to
herself. When she saw him like that, she felt renewed
dread that this wasn’t a good idea. This time, Payne
was not under orders and he wanted her to look the
other way. By going after *this* man, she feared he
had miscalculated — and she was right in the middle
She leaned forward, directing Mulder to turn over so
she could complete the treatment. There were days,
she decided, she was a fool.
MARTHA’S VINEYARD, MA
After spending the day at the beach, Fox had sat
under the sky and watched the sun go down, an event,
which signaled the finality of his day and the fact
he was soon due home. Around him, other island
residents using the restricted beach also packed up
and slipped away, climbing into their vehicles and
heading to their houses.
Throwing away the rest of his bologna sandwich, Fox
loaded his towel into his bicycle’s basket, hopping
on to the banana seat. With a kick to the pedal, he
turned it on to the winding dirt drive that would
take him to the road and then home. He biked the road
twice a day; sometimes, he walked for miles along it,
watching the ocean wash the shore.
Teena Mulder heard the slam of the back screen door
and the accompanying thud of kicked-off sneakers from
the kitchen, where she sat with her hands wrapped
around her cup of tea. Picking it up, she tasted it,
but it had long gone cold. Joining his mother, Fox
gave her a brief description of how he had spent his
time before she intimated he should have a bath and
get cleaned up for bed.
“Good night, Fox,” she said, giving him a quick dry
kiss on the cheek. “See you in the morning.”
“Night, Mom,” he returned, suppressing his
disappointment. Even though he was fourteen, he still
longed for some comfort from his mother. He padded up
the narrow stairs to the bathroom. Fox got out of
his clothes and turned on the water to fill the
bathtub. He eased into the warm water with a sigh of
pleasure. Sliding a little further down in the tub,
he stirred the water with his fingers.
His mother’s voice drifted up from downstairs,
through the register in the bathroom floor.
“Explain the swing, Bill.”
Sitting up, the boy rested his elbows on the rim and
leaned forward, listening intently. It wasn’t the
first time he had heard discussions after his parents
assumed he was upstairs, out of earshot. He pictured
his mother in the kitchen, her wet hands gripping the
windowsill instead of washing the evening dishes.
She’d be looking at the tire swing, hanging from a
tree branch in the backyard. She was waiting, but for
what: for his sister to come back, for him to
disappear too? His father would be standing
ineffectually beside her, stiff as a board, clenching
“It’s still there. Why isn’t she!”
All of a sudden his chest hurt. Fox placed his palms
over his ears, sinking back into the bath water,
mercifully drowning her out. Why couldn’t it have
been him instead? Then he wouldn’t be here now, with
this ache inside him that was more than he could
MULDER AND SCULLY’S GUEST ROOM
TRANQUILITY SPA INN
Mulder was jolted from sleep by the certainty he was
having a heart attack. The physical discomfort in his
chest was incredible. His eyes flew open and he tried
to suck in air. “S-Sam!” he sputtered.
“What is it?” a voice said sleepily into his ear.
There was movement and the pressure eased. Mulder
was too busy drawing air into his lungs to reply.
Scully was looking at him, her eyes wide and
concerned. The memory of the eight-year-old and how
he’d failed her that November in
1974, and every year since, came back with shameful
She turned to him, stroking his arm. His skin felt
warm. Sweat was beading above his upper lip. She
studied his face, but his hazel eyes were shadowed
and gave nothing away. “Are you feeling all right,
“I’m fine,” he claimed, but the tone was flat and the
words sounded false. He rolled away from her in
She’d tried to fool herself, and him, about her own
feelings by using the same phrase many times. She
really didn’t have the right to push, but she did.
“What are you thinking about?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he answered at last. “We can’t
bring back the past.”
He got off the bed and went into the bathroom. He
turned on the light and it spilled out into the room,
carrying with it his shadow. He was just standing
there, possibly staring into the mirror. What was he
thinking? She still wasn’t sure.
Mulder examined his reflection in the glass,
expecting to see it mirror some kind of defect, but
the eyes that stared back at him looked merely
ordinary. He’d enjoyed pretending to be someone else
— who wouldn’t want to be another person for a
while? — but he smiled gravely. He *remembered* who
he was. He looked at the doorway behind him then
turned, pushing the door closed.
He was shutting her out. She looked at the oak door,
fretting. He may not want it, but she was going to
talk to him. Scully pulled the spread to the side,
leaving the bed. She stood quietly before the
bathroom door, determined and calm. She reached out,
her hand fisted, ready to knock.
Then he did something that stunned her into
immobility. He pulled the bolt into place, locking
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
Within the health center, the library was a marked
contrast to Nurse Beck’s sunny office. Designed in
keeping with the vintage mansion, it was paneled in
dark wood, its layout and furnishings reminiscent of
cigar smoke and aristocracy.
The library was a lending library of books, videos,
and compact discs. Its centerpiece was a historical
exhibit detailing the past of Tranquility’s mansion.
There were several meeting rooms where daily
presentations on a variety of health topics were
held, and quiet areas for reading and research.
The short walk to the library had given Scully time
to walk off her unease. She was accustomed to
consistent behavior from Mulder, even when she argued
with him and questioned his decisions, and his
withdrawn silence wasn’t totally unpredictable — but
it was a long way from the man who had passionately
enjoyed the symphony.
Scully found a comfortable chair in a back corner.
She looked under a nearby table for an accessible
phone jack and a place to plug in her laptop.
Settling herself into the chair, she readied the
machine to go online. Digging for background on Dr.
Norman Payne, she learned he had been born in New
York City and attended New York University where he’d
studied chemistry. Her eyebrow raised when she found
he’d received a Nobel Prize in 1988 for Medicine, for
his discovery of important principles for drug
He was a biochemist, pioneering the development of
transdermal drug delivery, allowing FDA-approved
drugs to be absorbed through the skin via creams,
lotions, gels, and patches. What was he doing here,
at this summer camp for adults? She realized the best
of practitioners could be found at a spa, but what
would draw a man of his stature? It wasn’t proof of
anything yet it nagged at her.
OUTDOOR RUNNING TRACK
TRANQUILITY SPA SPORTS CENTER
The sky was a radiant blue above aged oak trees
providing lots of shade. Mulder’s body went through
the automatic routine of running the track while his
disordered mind raced through thoughts of his sister.
He’d thought he’d come to terms with Samantha’s
abduction and death — but had he really? The old,
familiar guilt had washed over him like sickness.
Where had it come from? This was how he’d felt every
time he played her abduction scene out to the end.
What was happening to him?
Mulder completed another circle. Warmed up, he
stopped to do some stretching. He placed his feet
slightly more than shoulder width apart and stretched
one arm down toward the outside of his knee. He held
it for a few seconds before repeating the side bend
on his left side. Other runners breezed by him; those
in pairs were happily chatting away. It made the
deficit in himself even greater. They probably could
see it just by looking at him. He could still
remember how, as a young boy, it had hurt to be on
the receiving end of unwelcome interest.
He did the exercises six times then tossed his head
impatiently and broke into a jog. He quickened his
pace into a sprint. If he ran fast enough, maybe he
could run what was going on with him this morning
REGISTERED NURSE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
“You noticed something different?” the nurse asked,
putting on what she hoped was the right expression —
because his eyes noticed everything. She hoped she
hadn’t sounded anxious. So, it was finished then.
She didn’t seem surprised at his admission, but she
looked concerned and was watching him intently.
“Nothing dramatic. I felt lighter,” Mulder told her.
Finally, her features relaxed into a small smile. “I
know what you’re talking about. Some patients report
feeling taller after a massage.” She removed the
sheet and, while holding the towel that covered him,
asked him to turn on to his stomach. She covered him
again, leaving his legs exposed. She applied lotion
to his right leg, noticing the back of his thigh was
particularly sensitive. She stroked it deeply,
releasing the tension then pressed her knuckles into
the sole of his foot. She repeated the treatment to
his left leg, draping him with the sheet.
“Ah-h,” Mulder groaned. He was nearly asleep.
She lowered the sheet from his back. “Are you warm
“Focus on a place where you have total peace.” Her
voice was calm and well controlled. “It may be
resting beside a pool of water… It may be watching
the tide as it drifts in to the shore… While you
think about this place, your body is relaxing, deeply
relaxing… ” She stroked him firmly as she talked to
him in a constant soft rhythm; the friction released
both the tightness in the upper muscles and his
capacity to resist her words. She applied lotion to
the skin, palpating the tissue along his spine. Only
moments passed when she said, “Your partner was
assigned to investigate and debunk your work.”
She kneaded his upper back. “You’ve been a puppet in
a conspiratorial show since the very beginning.”
“With her help.”
“No,” he protested sluggishly, in a low-pitch, but
resonant with feelings she hadn’t been able to work
out of him so far.
“Yes,” she insisted, crisscrossing his back with her
hands. She tapped it with the outside edges. “With
her help. Her devotion to you isn’t assured.”
“Can’t trust her,” Mulder rephrased automatically.
She finished by stroking her fingers lightly along
his back, and covered him with the sheet. She told
him she would be leaving the room and he was to rest
for a moment. “You won’t remember our conversation,”
she added. “You’ll feel relaxed.”
When he was ready, Mulder got up from the table and
dressed. He felt like he was floating. The sense of
relaxation was pleasurable, yet, curiously, he felt
unsettled. Apparently, regaining inner balance was
going to be harder to achieve.
DOCTOR PAYNE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
“We need to talk.”
“Of course.” Payne beckoned the nurse through his
After a few paces, she told herself to remain calm.
“Stop before you cause him any more harm.”
The doctor stared at the doorway behind the woman for
a moment before answering. “I’m merely winning him to
the crusade, Faye. Mulder has always been a loose end
that no one wants to tie up.”
His unconcern left her feeling as if she had just
fallen down a hole. “It’s a gamble, Norman, and you
know it. If this goes wrong, They’ll blame you.
They’ll blame me.”
He didn’t deny it. That’s what this was about —
self-defense. He would preserve the sanctity of his
work, even if the purpose of it had been changed. He
was still concerned with the development of drug
therapy, but with less-commercial applications of
course. “I intend to carry
on working — as should you.”
It had been for nothing. Tomorrow she would slip on
her uniform and manipulate the agent’s emotional life
like she had before. Her eyes lit on Payne’s brows,
spilling over his eyes like shrubs that had never
been trimmed. She was careful to keep the abhorrence
The dining room was not a mix of the old and the new;
everything was modern and expensive, from the
utensils to the furnishings, like the best of
restaurants. A soothing fountain was midst the tables
covered in starched blues and greens. Items on the
menus, however, were listed indicating their
calories, fat grams, and fiber grams.
“And the background check I did showed only two
parking tickets for him,” Scully finished. “It’s
going to be hard to prove Payne’s involved with what
Mulder pushed the grilled trout around on his plate
before spearing it with his fork. Scully looked at
him expectantly, but it was obvious his mind was
He was staring at the fish, making his mind up. He
lifted the fork. A piece of it was hanging
precariously from a prong.
“What the hell is the matter with you? You haven’t
heard one word I’ve said.”
“I just want to be sure the feelings I’ve been having
aren’t one-sided,” he accused.
She had seen him at his best and worst, had even
accepted his criticism, but she hadn’t expected this.
Scully pushed her plate of baked stuffed zucchini
aside and sat back in the dining room chair.
“Mulder,” she whispered his name softly. “You can’t
mean that.” She searched his face, looking for an
She was twisting her cross in her fingers. He
wondered if the delicate chain would give way before
the wounded look on her face disappeared. He leaned
toward her, invading her space. “You don’t have to
sound so surprised.”
She tried to tell herself this wasn’t a real
conversation; they were acting. The fact that her
emotions were in chaos told her how badly he had hurt
her. “I wasn’t aware we were in a contest of who
loves who more.”
He swore, and she heard the legs of his chair scrape
the floor as he rose to his feet. She got a full view
of the fountain behind him. Its gentle trickling made
it seem as if it was weeping. He was backing away
from the table. He was going to walk away! “Do you
really want to leave?” Scully put to him.
She was close to tears. It tossed his power to act
upside-down. Either he could trust her or he
couldn’t. “I don’t know,” he confessed in a low
He was angry with her, for a reason she knew nothing
about. Outrage bubbled inside her, but she didn’t
want him to go. She blinked away the tears, leaning
toward him and touching his hand. She pulled him
back into the chair. Silence hung between them.
“Either you trust me or you don’t,” she said.
The words were so close to his own thoughts, Mulder
“We’ve missed something, Mulder, I know it. Payne was
going places. Why is he here? He must have access to
He forced his mind back to the case. Perhaps it was
the certainty in Scully’s voice. He latched on to it,
at least for the moment. “You’re right. We need to
find a lab,” he conceded.
She nodded tightly. “There may be some information
about Gordon Ryan, the other senators. What do we
have to lose by looking?”
“Nothing,” he said at last. “We’ll look tonight,
after Payne’s office hours end.”
He was impassive, unresponsive to something that
would normally excite him. She reached over and
covered his hand with hers. “We’re seeing this
through together.” Hadn’t they braved a global
His eyes met hers before flicking away. The worst
part was Scully was afraid she’d already lost him.
INDOOR BASKETBALL COURT
TRANQUILITY SPA SPORTS CENTER
Darling watched Stevens warm up on the lighted indoor
court. The dark-haired man trotted forward, across
the floor, dribbling the basketball close to his
body. He used his fingertips, using first one hand
and then the other. He dribbled the ball around his
body, at a medium level, with one hand and then the
other. He dribbled effortlessly around one foot, then
around the other.
Because he handled the ball better than many
amateurs, Darling knew the man was experienced. If
the two of them participated in a little one on one
basketball, it could be a great learning opportunity.
Denial wouldn’t get Stevens through this game.
“How about a game of one on one, Stevens?”
Darling was looking at him with an amicable
expression, but his eyes were cold and hard. Mulder
would wager a month’s pay that an objective of the
game would definitely not be good sportsmanship. Did
he really want to swap sweat with this guy? He held
the ball close to his chest. “Not tonight, Darling,”
he said, wincing inwardly at the sense of the words.
Darling couldn’t help smiling a little. “We’ll only
play to ten points.”
Mulder stared long at the basket then his gaze fell
back on the man’s face. “All right.” He tossed him
the ball and Darling threw it back. They did it twice
then Mulder broke for the basket. He took a shot, and
the basketball bounced against the backboard and fell
through the net.
Darling caught the ball as it dropped. His face
contorted. “My wife is attracted to you.” He stopped
and shot. The ball slammed against the rim and
dropped to the floor.
Mulder caught it after it bounced. “I noticed.” He
held the ball in both hands then shot at the basket.
It arched gracefully and sailed through the hoop.
Darling scooped up the ball, getting possession of
it. His eyes sought Stevens out. He looked at him
with a somber expression, his face flushed. “Did you
now? You didn’t waste any time.”
Mulder’s eyes narrowed. Intuition, sharpened in the
field, told him he would have to have eyes in the
back of his head. “Just taking a look,” he responded
truthfully. He had been studying the guests in the
The other man dribbled the ball, switching from one
hand to the other, moving to a different spot. This
time, he aimed carefully and made a clean shot.
“Taking a look or figuring out how not to get
Mulder grabbed the basketball easily. He took two
steps toward the net. At the same time, Darling
aggressively bumped into him, and he staggered, the
soles of his running shoes gripping the floor. He
managed to stay on his feet. The blond man reached
out and stole the ball. He tossed it against the
backboard and scored.
Mulder caught it. He shot the ball. It struck the
rim, rolled, and sank through the net. He ran
forward, his face shining with perspiration. Again,
he was pushed from behind. An elbow slammed into his
back. Mulder pivoted on one foot, his hands up, ready
for another blow — if it came. Adrenaline rushed
Darling reached the ball, but threw short of the
basket. Mulder picked it up, turned, and dribbled.
As he aimed, Darling leaped, and they collided. Both
men tumbled to the floor, panting.
“Lonny!” Angela hurried toward them and knelt beside
her husband. “Are you hurt?”
“Just banged my head a little,” he answered.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. It’s just a headache.” He pressed his fingers
to his forehead.
She snatched his hand, curled her fingers around his,
and squeezed. “Why don’t you come back to our room?”
she hinted breathlessly.
Darling cracked a smile. “Sure thing, Baby.” She
helped him to his feet. He turned and met Mulder’s
eyes. There was no mistaking the enthusiasm on his
As the two of them left the court, Mulder pushed his
bottom off the floor and stood up. The Darlings had
been united by the truth of the love they had
rediscovered. Would he and Scully be torn apart?
DOCTOR PAYNE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
They had been denied sleep, waiting for night to
descend and things to settle down before they took a
look at Payne’s office. Mulder didn’t say goodnight,
he simply slipped his gun beneath the waistband of
his pants and slid into bed — the other bed —
without an explanation.
It touched a nerve; Scully wanted him in bed with
her, but she backed off. She’d seen something in his
eyes; he didn’t have a clue how hurtful he was being.
She now understood what Evelina had been thinking; if
he loves me, why is he so hostile?
He didn’t have to explain himself to her, Mulder
thought as he lay in the dark. He’d been blinded by
his own feelings, but if Scully was playing some kind
of game with him, he had seen through it. If only he
wasn’t finding the discovery so difficult. He was
finding it hard to shut off his feelings.
When the time was right, they made their way to the
Health Center. Trying to be both fast and silent,
they entered and moved toward Payne’s office. Mulder
seemed to be okay — if Scully didn’t count the taut
muscles in his face. He reached under his shirt and
pulled out the Sig. Scully did the same, taking out
her own weapon and holding it in a two-handed grip.
She felt better now that they were prepared.
Choosing a closed door off the reception area, Mulder
ran his hand over the knob, his fingers closing
around it and turning. As he suspected, it was
locked. He inserted his lock pick and the door swung
open with little effort. The agents aimed the beams
of their penlights inside.
Like the massage room off Beck’s office, there was no
window. It was a common laboratory: a computer and
printer sat on a disorganized desk top, a tall,
gleaming file cabinet stood at attention in a nearby
corner, and used test tubes and beakers spilled over
a rectangular table. There was little space to pace
and think. There was a small desk lamp, but the
agents didn’t turn it on, preferring to use the
penlights to illuminate their search.
Thrusting his weapon into his waistband, Mulder
sorted through the cabinet, pulling out several
folders to take over to the table.
“What are you looking for?” Scully asked from her
position at the computer.
“I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it.”
It was surprising, but the doctor hadn’t protected
his files with a password. Navigating the mouse and
opening a file, Scully viewed the data on the
monitor. She drew in a short breath as she realized
what she was seeing. “Oh, my God.” She lifted her
eyes and looked over at Mulder who was leaning over
the table. He was focused on scanning the pages of
printouts, biting down hard on his bottom lip.
“Mulder, you have to see this.”
He turned to see her face lifted toward him, but he
couldn’t make out her expression. Was it evidence of
cloning? Something else? Curious, he pulled some
papers from the file, tucking them under his arm. He
crouched down beside her and examined the screen.
Scully sensed his left hand moving, and he wiped it
across his mouth. “Shit,” he muttered. “He’s
continuing to develop transdermal drug delivery.”
“This form of absorption through the skin into the
bloodstream is rapid, Mulder. It’s brought about by
the formation of a matrix within the topical base,
into which the drug itself is absorbed, giving it a
unique penetrating power. The potential applications
would be limitless: medications previously deemed
inappropriate for many patients, cosmetics, other
“He’s not using any FDA-approved drug,” Mulder
uttered with conviction. “What is it, Scully?”
“It looks like LSD — rather, a derivative of LSD, ”
It was all starting to fall into place, now they had
found the vital piece of the puzzle. “There was an
acute interest in brainwashing techniques, rooted in
government intelligence and defense. Hundreds of
brainwashing programs were funded in the ’50s and
’60s. They were convinced it would transform the spy
business. Unwitting subjects were submitted to
hallucinogens, weeks of forced sleep, and massive
doses of shock therapy.”
“Its hallucinogenic properties have been removed.”
“It would be mind-altering without the ‘trip’,
ensuring the pharmacological approach of controlling
human behavior, assisted by psychological techniques,
is completely hidden.”
Mulder pulled the papers out from under his arm.
“Someone whispered a few words into the good doctor’s
ear about Ryan.” He held them a moment, tapping their
edges against the fingers of his other hand. “And the
other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
He dropped the printouts beside Scully. “He played on
fear, doubt, or guilt, and, along with the drug, it
pushed them into doing his bidding.”
A voice boomed into the room at the same time as the
room was filled with light. “You’ve connected all the
dots.” Payne stayed by the door, a gun fixed at the
agents. “They were no longer capable of thinking in
concepts other than those they had adopted, Agent
Keeping his expression carefully bland, Mulder moved
his hand into his lap. “You know me?” His fingers
tightened around his gun.
“I know everything about you.”
The doctor’s concentration was on Mulder. Scully had
only seconds to make a move. She reached under her
shirt, pulling out the gun tucked into the waistband
of her slacks at the same time Payne shifted his aim.
Her finger closed on the trigger.
“Stupid! Drop it, Agent Scully, or I’ll shoot him.”
She heard Mulder’s voice, loud and strong. “He won’t
shoot me, Scully. He’s gone to too much trouble.”
The order was followed by a shot. Her ears ringing,
Scully was unsure whether the maneuver had come from
the doctor or her partner.
His right arm hurt. Mulder winced, and his knees
buckled, so that he was sitting on his feet. His gun
clattered to the floor. Startled, he looked down,
then his left hand went to his upper arm. He saw he
was steadily bleeding dark red blood.
“The next one’s through his head,” Payne warned.
Scully had heard something fall. She wanted
desperately to keep her weapon, but she had no choice
and she lifted her hands in surrender, lowering the
gun slowly to the desktop. Payne moved forward and
picked it up, kicking Mulder’s weapon out of reach.
“You should have stayed out of my office.”
Any movement was painful. Mulder kept his arm still,
holding it steady against his body to support the
soft tissue injury.
“Mulder?” Scully questioned.
Mulder heard the concern in Scully’s voice, but she
was not the only one with questions. He had some he
wanted answered. He looked at her, shook his head
gingerly, and returned his gaze to the doctor. “What
did they tell you about me, Payne? Am I in there?”
“No… but I do know everything. Your missing younger
sister. The possibility there was something more you
could have done. How badly had you really wanted to
Mulder remembered that gray November day; it was
raining, but they’d barely noticed the storm. They
were really into the game and neither of them wanted
to lose. She was looking at her playing piece. A dim
anger grew at the back of his mind. If she moved it,
he’d be finished. As if his sister could read his
thoughts, her hand reached down toward the playing
piece — and paused for a moment. He held his breath.
Sam glanced over at him, her brown eyes large, a
combination of sympathy and desire to win. She
seized the piece, sealing his fate. He wanted to hurt
her. She was going to pay. “I did… my best…”
Mulder managed, his voice trailing off.
“But did you do the right thing? Your family was
shattered. You spent years in boarding school. Your
parents didn’t want any reminders around, not even
their own son.”
“That’s enough, damn it,” Scully protested. “They
were full of blame — at themselves, not him. They
might well have lived a normal life together if not
Payne didn’t let it go readily, ignoring her
explanation. “You spent your life trying to make
amends. It made you noble, but it also got you into
trouble. You became an expert in the workings of
men’s psyches, but you didn’t have the power to save
your own soul. What do you do when you no longer
believe in anything? You believe in everything, Agent
To control the bleeding, Mulder applied direct
pressure with his bare hand. “Get to the point. Why
am I so important to you?” he bit out impatiently.
Payne shouldn’t have been surprised at the intensity
of the question, but he was, and he was slow to
The doctor was making him work for the answer. “You
ripped me apart, doc. It’s a wonder I’m still in one
He was sarcastic and flip — so *Mulder* Payne had to
smile. “You’re a pinnacle in my distinguished career,
a complement to my contribution to the Project. You
become malleable, compliant to their objectives —
one of them, but still able to do your job, of
Mulder pulled himself together enough to think. Did
he really uphold his values that lightly? Could they
be changed that easily? “Not fucking likely,” he said
“It’s an automatic rather than a voluntary choice.
I’m afraid it’s already started.”
“And it was allowed? I don’t think so.”
Payne looked at him appraisingly. “Good, Agent
Mulder. However, this is what I’m meant to do.”
REGISTERED NURSE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
He had waved the gun at the agents, telling them the
treatment would be completed and forcing them to move
to the massage room. Their hands were securely bound
with his belt and tie, readying them for the
appearance of Nurse Beck who he summoned for the spur
of the moment massages. Moments before the nurse
walked through the door, Payne disappeared, leaving
Mulder still bound, but stretched out on the table
and a still tied up Scully sitting on the floor. The
margin for escape was too narrow.
She saw with shock that the male agent was hurt. It
was his blood on his clothes, and she turned away,
unable to look him straight in the face.
The woman wasn’t completely aloof to his distress,
Mulder realized quickly. He had to find some way to
get through to her. “Let us go,” Mulder said soberly.
“We’re Federal agents.”
Some of her anxiety must have manifested itself. “I
know who you are. I’m here to work,” she defended.
“We’ll give you more of a chance than you’re giving
us,” Scully declared.
“I don’t know why we’re talking about this. I can’t
do anything about it.”
“You can,” Mulder asserted. “Don’t let any more lives
be destroyed. I buried my father and then I buried my
mother. If you do this, I’ll lose Scully, too. I
won’t even understand what has happened.”
She turned to face him and her lips were set. “So,
then what difference will it make?”
She was obviously planning to go through with the
treatment. Disappointment wormed into his gut. “Don’t
tell me there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll walk
away from *her* tomorrow and my loneliness will be of
At his assertion, some of the fight went out of her.
He watched her walk over to the table and look
straight into his eyes. He wanted to tell Scully to
get out of there, to try and run — but she was held
immobile, and the nurse stood between them and the
Still, Nurse Beck put lotion into her hands and
rubbed them together. She slid her fingers across his
neck muscles. “Focus on a place where you have total
peace,” she began.
The familiar, calm sound of her voice pulled him in.
“Faye,” he whispered in protest.
Her eyes fastened on his. “It may be in the comfort
of your…” She hesitated, “…own bed.” No longer so
well controlled, she repeated carefully, “It may be
in the comfort of your own bed. While you think
about this place — ” She broke off and seized
Mulder’s hands. “No more,” she said forcefully,
feeling both exhilarated and deficient at the same
time. She loosened the belt that held Mulder’s hands
and the tie that bound Scully. “Go.”
DOCTOR PAYNE’S OFFICE
TRANQUILITY SPA HEALTH CENTER
They should have been prepared. Mulder stretched as
far as he could, peering over the top of the mahogany
desk. There, on the floor behind it, was the doctor.
Bright red blood fanned out from beneath him. Careful
not to touch anything, he could see nothing more than
that. His gaze turned to Scully.
“Suicide?” she asked.
He muttered something that sounded like no, Payne had
been deliberately placed here for them to find. “Yet
the official account will read death by his own
She heard doubt in his voice. “Why kill him?”
“Payne was filled with self-importance because of his
ties to certain people. He was getting too hard to
control, a loose end — like me. It would have worked
perfectly if he hadn’t acted on his own initiative
and put the Project at risk.” The sudden weakness he
felt caught him unawares and he slumped against the
Scully bent closer to him. Fresh blood was trickling
down his arm. “Mulder, you’re bleeding again. You
need a sling to limit your movement.” His blood
pressure was probably low. “Do you feel faint?”
“I’ll be okay,” he answered. It did hurt like hell.
He could use something to numb it. “I might want
those pain pills after all, Mrs. Stevens,” Mulder
Some of the strain disappeared. He was making the
situation more bearable with his sense of humor —
like always. Her hand brushed his cheek tenderly. His
skin felt cool and clammy. The surprise on his face
indicated he was still feeling off-balance. “Don’t
worry,” she whispered.
“We’ll talk when we get home.”
She was telling him not to be upset. It was easy for
her to say. Scully had touched him, her fingers soft
and warm, and her token of love had caught him
unaware. It shamed him. Could she ever forgive him?
Could he ever forgive himself?
Seated behind his desk, Mulder had shrugged off his
suit jacket and rolled the sleeves of his white shirt
up to his elbows, besting the heat. Scully had told
him she’d be right back, but she’d been gone several
minutes, so he busied himself reading his e-mail.
Before being considered fit for duty and cleared for
work, Mulder had taken leave to detoxify and heal.
There were initial questions over his psychological
state and several sessions were arranged with a
psychologist. They discussed how things sometimes
happen beyond one’s control; people may have choices
made for them instead of making their own. Mulder
could seek forgiveness — from himself and from
others — by accepting the shame he felt and putting
it behind him.
Mulder opened the letter tagged urgent.
Subject: Expense Report Meeting
Re your latest expense report, it’s important we get
together. What I’d really like to do is discuss money
saving techniques for your division.
Would this Monday at 2 p.m. work for you? Do you
anticipate any scheduling conflict?
Singer would probably give him a presentation,
showing him how he was needlessly throwing away
Bureau dollars. Pencil-pushing number cruncher.
Mulder looked up at the sound of Scully’s footsteps
as she came through the open door. Face it and forget
it, he told himself for what seemed like the
millionth time. “Come and look at this,” he said. At
first, his arm remained by his side then he pulled
Scully to him.
He had reached out to her and it wasn’t merely on a
verbal level. He was so close she could smell the
fragrance of his soap and shampoo. It made her think
it was going to be all right. He was studying his
computer screen. “What is it?” she asked, more calmly
than she felt. She took a look at the monitor, read
the e-mail, and shuddered in sympathy.
Mulder alt-tabbed to another window. “Salem is
celebrating its history next week during Heritage
Days. Care to visit the Witch Dungeon Museum with me
and take a tour?”
He was looking at her, his eyes questioning. “Mulder,
we spend enough time in the basement as it is.
Besides, we just got back from Massachusetts.”
“It’s right up our alley: old houses, mass hysteria,
witchcraft trials… ” There had to be an X-File in
there somewhere to boot. “What do you say, want to
drop by for a spell?”
Scully rolled her eyes, but her mouth turned up in a
“Great antiquing,” he pressed.
They would run their hands over dusty family
heirlooms and yellowed chipped plates from someone’s
wedding china, aromatic with old hopes and dreams.
They would stand in front of a heavy, old-fashioned
mirror and her reflection would smile back at her and
the man by her side.
His eyes would catch hers, and the mirror would know
“Just tell me when you want to go.”
Mulder yelped in delight and hit the reply button.
His fingers moved swiftly over the keyboard.
Subject: Re: Expense Report Meeting
I’m afraid, this Monday Agent Scully and I will be
out of the office. We’ll have to reschedule. I’ll be
In the meantime…
“Welcome to the Pine Tree State, Mr. Vice-President.
Enjoy your stay at Paradise Spa.”
Mulder received a Swedish massage, detailed in Thomas
Claire’s Bodywork: what type of massage to get — and
how to make the most of it, c1995.