DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc. Nor do I own the MPAA rating system.
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The car was silent other than the hum of the engine and the crunch of gravel under the tires as we followed slowly behind the Sheriff's cruiser. The glow of our parking lights provided the only illumination for Mulder to carefully maneuver into the brush in front of the rural West Virginia property and pull to a stop only inches away from our lead vehicle. As usual, I had forgotten how dark the night could be away from city lights and without the glow of the moon. Normally, headlights would be helpful, but we were trying to approach the remote residence as inconspicuously as possible.
"Too bad there isn't a full moon tonight, huh, Mulder?"
"Nah, the reflection off the cars might...." It took him a moment, but he finally brought his attention away from our present task and acknowledged my gentle ribbing. "You can scoff all you want, Scully, but if we have these two in custody on the next full moon, everyone will see that I'm right."
I just turned away to hide the smirk that I couldn't stifle and decided to let it go. Of course, only Mulder would conclude that the dog bites on the victims indicated one of our suspects to be a werewolf. Fortunately, the rest of the forensic evidence pointed clearly to the locally-notorious Crawford boys, so we were able to obtain a warrant. If Mulder wanted to continue in his little delusion, it wasn't hurting the rest of the case, so I didn't see the harm in indulging him.
In the dim lighting, we could see that Sheriff Fredricks and his deputy had already disembarked and stepped off toward the house, so we quietly followed suit. Back at the station, we had already established our plan: the sheriff and deputy would knock at the front door to officially serve the warrant while Mulder and I circled around the back to keep an eye out in case the suspects bolted or backup was needed.
Without conversation, Mulder took the lead, and I fell into step behind him, once again readjusting my Kevlar vest in a vain effort to find a more comfortable position. These things were designed for flat chests and large ribcages--in other words, for men, not for women. This time, at least, the awkward shape was a hidden blessing; or, should I say, it hid my blessing. Now that the persistent nausea had finally relented, I had started to gain weight and was rapidly pushing the limits of my current wardrobe. Unlike my form-fitting suits, the flatness of the Kevlar easily obscured my growing abdomen, relieving me from the self-conscious tugging at over-sized jackets or lab coats, if only for a few hours. The added benefits, however, did not make the thing any more comfortable to move around in.
Advancing upon the house as quietly as we could, we navigated carefully through the thin foliage, working our way toward the back. Just as we passed the garage, a potent smell wafted toward me. At first, it didn't register in my mind but only nagged at it, trying to tell me something. A twig snapping under my foot demanded my attention, so I momentarily forgot the odor until we rounded the corner and a stiff breeze threw it back in my face, full force.
I froze in my tracks. I knew immediately what that smell was, and what it could mean. A quick glance around located a pile of discarded canisters and boxes indiscreetly stacked by the trash cans, confirming my suspicions.
However, if Mulder also detected the smell, he seemed oblivious. It would jeopardize our position to have a conversation here, but this was too important to let go.
"Mulder!" I whispered just loud enough for him to hear. He turned back in my direction inquisitively, and I gestured for him to join me along the side of the garage, where there were no windows and we were thus less likely to be detected. He leaned in close to me, close enough that I could feel his hot breath on my cheek, so we could converse as quietly as possible.
"Do you smell that?" He merely shrugged at me, remaining nonverbal for the moment. "It's ammonia."
"If it's making you sick--"
Bless the man for realizing that just about any smell could turn me off these days, but he was totally missing the point. I shook my head and waved a hand toward the trash cans while I jumped in to explain, "I think the Crawfords might have a meth lab inside."
He followed my gesture and then turned back to me. "I guess that's not much of a surprise. Sheriff Fredricks said these guys have been implicated in all sorts of things."
Then Mulder started to pull away, and I saw that he still didn't get it. I grabbed hold of his arm to stop him.
"Exposure to meth labs is extremely hazardous. It's bad enough for adults to have even limited contact, but the effects on children are much worse."
He was nodding along impatiently, eager to get to our post. "Then we'll be caref--"
But I held on tight to his arm. "Mulder, if these chemicals get absorbed into my bloodstream...."
As his eyes grew wide, I knew that my point had finally registered and I didn't need to finish my statement. "Get back to the car, Scully. I don't want you anywhere near this house."
On any other occasion, hearing him bark a command like that would have irked me, but this time, he was simply stating plainly what I was already trying to communicate. But still, I hesitated.
"What if they run? I can just stay out here--"
"We'll be fine. We have them outnumbered, three to two. Just keep a lookout, and if anything goes wrong, get on the sheriff's radio and call for backup."
"Go!" Without waiting for my response, he disappeared around the corner. We had already wasted too much time arguing and possibly compromised the entire situation. And I knew he was right. I hated this, but I knew he was right.
Peeking carefully around the front of the garage, I made sure I was clear before quietly trotting back to the cars. I didn't get inside, though, because I knew I wouldn't have a clear view of the house. Instead, I took cover in some bushes, and waited.
At first, there was nothing but silence. Too much silence. I had no idea what was going on inside and nothing but my own churning thoughts to preoccupy me. I hated this whole situation. I hated having to make a choice between my unborn children and my partner. I hated not being able to carry out my job. I hated sending Mulder off into the unknown without being able to watch his back. And I really hated just sitting here and waiting.
Unfortunately, the silence didn't last: gunshots rang out. My first instinct was to draw my weapon and head for the house, and I got as far as the next bush before I hesitated and dropped back into hiding. There had been four shots, maybe five, but they had ended as abruptly as they began.
I had no idea what the situation was, and it was killing me. Could I risk going inside, even for a moment? What if Mulder was hurt? But, what if he wasn't? What if they already had everything under control? Was it worth the risk to find out?
I was just about to head back to the sheriff's cruiser to call for reinforcements when someone finally emerged from the house. I sighed in relief and rose from my lookout as I recognized the silhouetted form. It was Mulder.
"We need to call for an EMT. Luke's in custody, but Ralph got himself shot. Deputy Hansen's trying to stop the bleeding."
In the darkness, I couldn't discern whether Mulder himself had received any injuries. Eager to check him for wounds, I pulled out my pocket flashlight and stayed put until he caught up with me, thankfully seeing no blood as he stepped into the small circle of light. We were just turning to head for the car when the sheriff exited.
"Agent Mulder, don't bother. He's a goner. I'll call the coroner instead." As he continued to approach his vehicle, he came into my line of sight, which until then had been obscured by Mulder's larger frame. The sheriff didn't pause as he passed, but that didn't slow him down in other regards. "Well, Miss Scully, nice of you to join us. Next time we need backup, I'll be sure to send you an engraved invitation."
I felt my stomach turn over, but this time, it had nothing to do with being pregnant. I'd faced my share of chauvinists over the years, but in the past, they'd never been right. Tonight, however, I had shirked my duty and abandoned my partner, and there was nothing to say in my defense. The bastard was right.
I finally pulled my eyes away from the retreating figure and, out of habit, turned to Mulder. He just shook his head at me, indicating that I shouldn't let the sheriff's words bother me. But how could I ignore the truth? A man had died tonight--what if my presence would've changed things? What kind of federal agent was I if all I could do was sit back and watch?
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The ride back to the police station was a quiet one. I filled Scully in on what had happened inside the house, but she said nothing in response. I wasn't even sure that she was really listening. I figured she was probably stewing over the sheriff's sarcastic retort, so I decided it was better to leave her be. But I didn't care what the jerk had to say about it. If our babies were in danger, their lives took precedence over two suspected murderers. There was only one right choice, and Scully had made it.
The deputy had stayed behind at the house to wait for the coroner and, on Scully's insistence, a hazmat team, but the sheriff had gone on ahead with the suspect and must have been off processing him when we arrived. It was late, and Scully and I were both exhausted from a long day, so we only intended to pick up our stuff and head back to the motel. I was hoping we could be in and out before the sheriff made an appearance, but no such luck.
We were in the back room returning our Kevlar when the stocky man made his entrance. "Well, sweetheart, you certainly didn't need that tonight, now did ya?"
Some guys just don't value their balls. Scully was standing between me and the sheriff, facing him, and thus with her back to me, so I couldn't see her facial expression, but I knew from experience what it would be. Regardless of our choice for her to remain outside tonight, the sheriff's condescending attitude was completely uncalled for, and I knew from Scully's silence that he had already gotten under her skin.
I leaned back on the locker behind me, waiting for the fireworks to begin. I had never admitted it to my partner (since I valued my *own* balls), but one of my favorite pastimes was watching her rip some guy a new one after he dared to make sexist remarks to her face. It happened far too often in our line of work, which gave her plenty of opportunities to shine.
Sheriff Fredricks, however, just didn't know when to stop. "I suppose you just came along tonight for moral support, huh? It's kinda hard for you to provide backup when you're hidin' in the car. Maybe next time you should just stay behind, or else we might have to rescue ya. Someone might think a pretty little thing like you'd make a good hostage."
He was really asking for it, and the fact that Scully had remained silent for so long told me she was really brewing up a storm. This one was going to be good.
But what happened next confused the hell out of me.
I heard a sniffle. I looked down at Scully, still only seeing the back of her head from this position, and watched as she stiffened her spine and then make a beeline for the door. All I could do was just stare at the empty doorway as she disappeared down the hall. I was too stunned to move.
"No place for cryin' in law enforcement. That's why you'll never see a woman on my force. Keep 'em where they belong, behind a desk--or on top of it."
Now my attention was drawn away from the door. The prick even had the audacity to snicker at his own "joke." I was seeing red, and it took every ounce of resolve that I had not to do what came naturally and drive my fist right into his smug little face. But I knew Scully wouldn't be happy with me, and she was my first concern right now. If I didn't get out of there posthaste, however, I wouldn't be able to stop myself. So I focused my attention on my partner and set out to find her.
I exited just in time to see her disappear through a door at the other end of the hallway, which I discovered, upon approaching it, to be the women's restroom. I hesitated for a moment, not sure how to handle this, but at the muffled sound of a stifled sob, I took action, knocking as I cracked open the door. It was late, and there weren't many women around this place anyway, but I didn't want to press my luck and just barge in.
"Just a minute, Mulder. I'll be right out."
I could tell from her tone that she was trying to hide her tears and sound impassive, but she wasn't fooling me. I decided if there were any other women in there, they were probably concealed within stalls anyway, so I would take my chances.
Scully heard me coming and pulled back from the sink. At first, I was concerned that she might have been throwing up again, even though the nausea had finally begun to let up once she listened to her doctor. But as I caught her discreetly swiping at her eyes, I realized that she was just trying to erase the evidence of her tears. It was her reddened eyes and tear-stained cheeks that were my undoing.
"This is the women's bathroom. You can't just--"
But the remainder of her rebuke was muted by my chest when I closed the distance, wrapped my arms around her, and held her tight. She resisted, as I knew she would, but I didn't release my hold.
"Mulder, this isn't the place. We can't--"
"It's okay, Scully," I crooned into her ear. "You did the right thing tonight. Don't let that guy get to you."
I felt the fight drain from her as she sagged in my arms, leaning her head against my chest in defeat.
"But he was right. That bastard was right."
The floodgates finally opened and the tears were no longer held in check, and though I was pained to hear her cry like this, I was also relieved. Honestly, I was still a bit confused about what had happened back there and why she reacted in this unprecedented way, but I could only guess that it had something to do with the pregnancy. It was hard enough for me to read her emotions before all this, but now with the added hormones, the old rulebook was out. On more days than not, she left me wondering whether I should scratch my watch or wind my ass.
Yet what was almost as surprising, once I thought about it, was my own reaction. Since when did I go running after my partner to demand hugs from her, in the women's bathroom of all places? At least she had the excuse of the extra hormones; what was my excuse for suddenly becoming so overprotective--sympathy hormones? Maybe this is why she had such a hard time letting me in and letting me be involved. She was probably afraid that I would start treating her differently, no longer as my equal but as a damsel in distress. But all of this was just as new to me as it was to her. We were both just trying to figure this out as we went along.
I noticed Scully's sobs begin to slow, bringing my thoughts away from myself, and I finally felt her arms reach around my waist to return my embrace.
"I was a liability to you tonight. I couldn't cover you properly, and that put everyone in jeopardy. I can't do my job anymore." Her voice cracked on the last word, and I knew she was struggling not to start crying again.
"Nonsense. I still need you on this case. There's a body to be examined, and I need you in that autopsy bay to find out the truth."
She sighed and started to pull away, but I didn't release her yet; thankfully, she didn't protest. "I don't need to examine him to tell you he's not a--"
I knew what she was going to say and jumped in before she could finish. "Then prove it."
This earned me an indulgent look and half a smile. At least that was something. But the smile quickly faded.
"I love my job, Mulder. I don't want to give it up. And I don't want to abandon you."
Still keeping one arm wrapped around her, I lifted a hand to stroke some strands of dampened hair from her face, pleased when she didn't lean away from my touch. "Our priorities have changed, partner. Someone else needs you more than I do now--two little someones, in fact. I hate to say this, but any agent or cop with a gun can protect me almost as well as you can. But you're the only one who can protect these two." I nodded downward to indicate her belly. "And *nothing*--especially not this case--is worth risking their lives or health."
Her head fell against my chest again, muffling her words. "I know. But it's just so hard...." Her words trailed off into a hitched sigh.
From my perspective, it was difficult to fully understand what was so complicated about this. Obviously, these children that we thought we could never have were to be protected at all costs. But I knew that I couldn't judge Scully for her mixed feelings. This was her body, not mine, that was undergoing so many changes. She was the one who inevitably had to make the sacrifices and concessions. All I could really do, for the most part, was stand by and watch.
Wrapped up as we were in our conversation, neither of us noticed the click of approaching heels until they were accompanied by the squeak of hinges. I turned at the noise and briefly caught the startled face of the sheriff's secretary and her mumbled, "Excuse me," before she disappeared back the way she came.
I felt Scully stiffen and looked down to meet her startled gaze. In our shock, there was a momentary delay as we both registered how our current position must have looked to an outsider, and then we hastily pulled apart. She turned toward the mirror and immediately began to straighten her appearance.
"Why don't you go start the car? I'll be there in a minute."
Case closed, end of discussion. I had been dismissed.
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The rest of the week following the arrest of the Crawfords had been uneventful, for which both partners were grateful. Scully had found no conclusive evidence that Ralph Crawford was indeed a werewolf, but she did find some genetic anomalies, which Mulder took to be proof of his theory. That detail remained unexplained, however, and the case was filed away, like so many other X-Files, with results but without complete closure.
Their first Monday back in the office was met with an urgent request (i.e., a direct order) from Skinner to stop by his office as soon as they got in. The pair speculated on what recent follies may have prompted this invitation while they headed up to their superior's office to meet their fate.
Once they were admitted into his inner office, Skinner waited until both agents were seated before he spoke.
"Is there anything you'd like to tell me about your case in West Virginia last week?
The partners shared an uneasy look. They had said nothing to their boss about their decision for Scully to avoid the meth lab, and it seemed that the information had now caught up with them. The problem was, they still hadn't told Skinner about the pregnancy, nor had they really discussed when to reveal this information.
Scully softly cleared her throat and spoke up. "Is there a problem, sir?"
Skinner sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose before responding. "I received a complaint from Sheriff Fredricks that two of my agents were found engaging in...inappropriate activity...in a public restroom while on a case. Would you care to explain this to me?"
Both agents had been so concerned with the event that precipitated this "indiscretion" that they had forgotten about it until now. Mulder looked to Scully for her reaction, but she kept her gaze trained on Skinner, quite obviously avoiding making eye contact with her partner.
Her spine remained stiff, and she summoned all the dignity she could muster as she replied: "Sir, I'd had a particularly difficult day, and Agent Mulder was simply offering his support. The choice of location was unfortunate, but there was nothing inappropriate going on. A secretary or someone walked in on us, and she must have blown the story out of proportion."
"More likely the sheriff blew it out of proportion," Mulder contributed. "That man didn't take much of a liking to us, and I have to say that the feeling's mutual." He hesitated a moment and then added, "Is that the only allegation he made against us?"
Skinner considered his agent before answering. "No. He also made several sexist accusations, which I assumed to be baseless. Is there anything more I should know about this situation that might shed some light on his comments?"
Mulder squirmed in his chair and shot a glance back toward his partner, whose eyes were now fixed on her hands in her lap. When his gaze followed her own, he couldn't help but pause at her abdomen. The loose-fitting jacket barely managed to keep her secret hidden from unobservant eyes. They suspected that several other people around the Hoover building already knew. How much longer could they really keep this information to themselves?
Failing to get Scully's attention, Mulder addressed their boss. "Sir, would you mind if Scully and I stepped out for a moment?"
"So you can get your stories straight? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mind. There's obviously something going on here, and I'd really like to know what it is." He turned to the more likely source of a straight answer: "Agent Scully?"
Rather than respond immediately, she turned her head to the side and slowly brought her eyes up to meet Mulder's. Though no words passed between them, she could read his expression: he would defer to her to break the news, but if she didn't, he would. They both knew it would come out sooner or later, and fate seemed to determine that now was the time.
Scully dropped her eyes again and took a deep breath before proceeding. "Sir, I'm...I'm pregnant."
Skinner was apparently not expecting this confession. He looked from one agent to the other, as though trying to process the information.
"I thought you couldn't.... I'm sorry, that's none of my business. I guess congratulations are in order."
"Uh, thank you, sir." There was an awkward silence while they all tried to determine where next to proceed.
After a moment, Skinner hesitantly added, "I appreciate your candor, but I'm afraid that doesn't exactly clarify the situation for me."
She hastened to explain to him, as succinctly as possible, their encounter with the meth lab and her uncharacteristic emotional response. Skinner seemed to weigh this information before replying.
"Will you be requesting a leave of absence?"
"Eventually, yes, I'll be taking maternity leave, but it's still a bit early for that."
Skinner took a deep breath and then lowered his tone as he spoke, clearly wanting his words to come across as gently as possible. "Agent Scully, you know it's my job to be concerned about the safety and well-being of my agents. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but do you really think you belong in the field right now?"
Before she had a chance to react, Mulder jumped in. "Sir, we've already discussed these concerns, and while it's true that Scully will need to reduce her risks, the fact is that I need her with me in the field, as much more than just backup. The pregnancy in no way prohibits her from performing her duties in the autopsy bay or providing her usual scientific analysis." The set of his shoulders added an unspoken, *I won't let anything happen to her,* that lingered in the air.
When he finished speaking, Mulder looked over at Scully with a determination that emphasized he'd support her on this issue, despite his own misgivings about her remaining in the field. With a barely discernible smile but a look that spoke volumes, she conveyed her thanks, and then both agents turned their attention back to Skinner to await his reaction.
"Well, then, I guess I'll trust you two to make the right decisions as the circumstances dictate. But if there's anything you need, please don't hesitate to call me." He picked up the letter in front of him and brandished it. "Especially the next time you run into a Sheriff Fredricks. It's easier to clean up these messes *before* they turn into paperwork."
"Does that mean you'll take care of it?" Mulder asked hopefully.
Skinner chuffed out a mirthless laugh. "Don't I always?"
Scully decided that was her cue to hasten her partner out of Skinner's presence before any discussion of past "messes" arose. She quickly stood, and Mulder followed her example. Taking a step toward the desk, she graced their boss with a grateful smile. "Thank you, sir."
Following along behind her as they made their way past the desk and toward the door, Mulder also nodded his appreciation to their boss. Skinner gave half a nod in response, but once they had passed, it turned into a shake of the head. These two and the things they got themselves into....
After the agents departed, with Mulder's hand lingering possessively on his partner's back, Kim passed through the open door to deposit some forms on Skinner's desk. He mumbled his thanks but was still too lost in his thoughts to notice that she remained standing there.
Surprised at her continued presence, he looked up abruptly. Catching her knowing smile, he rapidly restored his professional persona and turned his attention to the papers on his desk before responding.
"I've told you how I feel about office rumors."
"I just thought maybe you'd gained some insight on the question of paternity."
"You know that's none of our business."
To her credit, Kim dropped the fishing expedition and accepted his dismissal. Once the door was closed, Skinner leaned back in his chair and sighed, removing his glasses as he once again contemplated his most high-maintenance pair of agents. Because of Scully's abduction and cancer, he'd been privy to enough details about her infertility that he was baffled by this latest development. He'd heard the recent rumors, but he hadn't truly been willing to believe them until he received the news directly. Although Scully hadn't elaborated on how this was possible, it was hard not to speculate on the whys and hows. As he'd told his assistant, however, this was really nobody's business but Scully's.
But what he hadn't told Kim was that he already had fifty bucks riding on Mulder--and he was about to make that a hundred.
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