Tranquility Lost

cover

Title: Tranquility Lost

Author: Debra Longley

E-mail: d_a_longley@hotmail.com

Completed: December, 2001

Category: MT, M/S angst, MSR, X-File

Rating: R

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

involved?

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!”

– Shakespeare

Othello, Act III, Sc. iii

~~~~~

Teaser

~~~~~

SENATOR RYAN’S RESIDENCE

CONCORD, MA

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

anymore, Gord!”

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

place.”

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

subdued.

“Not this time. I’ll call you tonight from the

hotel.”

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.

~~~~~

Act I

~~~~~

MULDER’S OFFICE

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, DC

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

their places.

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.

Ryan?”

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

herself.

“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

oddly endearing.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning, Evelina?” he

suggested.

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

kept private.

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

bit more.”

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

it.”

Mulder set down the pot. “Are you coming on to me,

Scully?”

Reading his thoughts, she raised an eyebrow and

smiled. “Yes, now that you mention it,” she countered

playfully.

“Good.”

THE NATIONAL MALL

WASHINGTON, DC

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

iced tea.

“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

younger women.”

“He may be having a psychological reaction to the

loss of youth, which would explain his erratic

behavior.”

“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

seen it.”

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

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, DC

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

replaced.”

“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

hands.

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,

sir.”

I-91

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

shift!”

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

belt.”

“Scully!”

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

this great?”

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.

TRANQUILITY SPA

THE BERKSHIRES

LENOX, MA

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

opulence.”

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?”

“Yes.”

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

poisoned daggers.

“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

water.

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

abstinence.”

“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

little ridiculous.

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

mouth.

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

more therapeutic.”

“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

door.

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

fine.”

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

eyebrows.

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

listening.”

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

else.

Well, he wouldn’t run.

~~~~~

Act II

~~~~~

INDOOR POOL

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

several laps.

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.

Angela Darling.”

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.

Darrin.”

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

here?”

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.

“Interesting.”

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

interest.

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

behind him.

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,”

Angela answered.

“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

go.”

“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

TANGLEWOOD

LENOX, MA

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

trip itinerary.

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

under him.

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

Orchestra.

“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.

clip_image002

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

taken.”

“My fault,” Mulder rephrased mechanically.

“You were small and weak. You see it now, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“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

the sun.

“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

of it.

She leaned forward, directing Mulder to turn over so

she could complete the treatment. There were days,

she decided, she was a fool.

~~~~~

MULDER RESIDENCE

CHILMARK

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

his jaw.

“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

stand.

~~~~~

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

clarity.

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,

Mulder?”

“I’m fine,” he claimed, but the tone was flat and the

words sounded false. He rolled away from her in

solitary silence.

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

the door.

LIBRARY

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

therapy.

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

right out.

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

enough?”

“Hmm.”

“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.”

“Yes.”

She kneaded his upper back. “You’ve been a puppet in

a conspiratorial show since the very beginning.”

“Yes.”

“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

open door.

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

inside.

DINING ROOM

TRANQUILITY SPA

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

we’ve got.”

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

somewhere else.

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

answer.

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

voice.

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

was speechless.

“We’ve missed something, Mulder, I know it. Payne was

going places. Why is he here? He must have access to

medical facilities.”

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

conspiracy?

His eyes met hers before flicking away. The worst

part was Scully was afraid she’d already lost him.

~~~~~

Act III

~~~~~

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

lobby.

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

caught?”

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

through him.

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

face.

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

topical products.”

“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, ”

Scully amended.

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

Mulder.”

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.”

“Drop it!”

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

save her?”

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

for that.”

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

Mulder.”

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

reply.

The doctor was making him work for the answer. “You

ripped me apart, doc. It’s a wonder I’m still in one

piece.”

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

course.”

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

firmly.

“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

your making.”

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

door.

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

hand.”

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

desk.

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

quipped weakly.

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?

~~~~~~~

Epilogue

~~~~~~~

MULDER’S OFFICE

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, DC

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.

~~~~~

From: psinger@washington.fbi.gov

To: fmulder@washington.fbi.gov

Subject: Expense Report Meeting

Agent Mulder,

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?

Sincerely,

Peter Singer

Finance Division

~~~~~

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

small smile.

“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

their secret.

“Just tell me when you want to go.”

Mulder yelped in delight and hit the reply button.

His fingers moved swiftly over the keyboard.

~~~~~

From: fmulder@washington.fbi.gov

To: psinger@washington.fbi.gov

Subject: Re: Expense Report Meeting

Agent Singer,

I’m afraid, this Monday Agent Scully and I will be

out of the office. We’ll have to reschedule. I’ll be

in touch.

Sincerely,

Fox Mulder

X-Files Division

~~~~~

In the meantime…

“Welcome to the Pine Tree State, Mr. Vice-President.

Enjoy your stay at Paradise Spa.”

~~~end~~~

Deb

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.

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