Fox headed for home, driving in that Zenlike, automatic way he drove whenever his mind was busy with the details of a case. This time, though, it wasn't a case that was on his mind. It was Claire.

He had thought things were improving, that they'd finally gotten past that particular impasse; he'd thought they'd made the adjustments they'd needed to make. It had been a long time now since she had begged him to give her room to breathe, since she had restlessly pleaded for 'space.'

He'd never seen the charm of that independence; when he'd found Claire he'd felt whole, felt complete, for the first time he could remember. She hadn't made the hard things from his past go away, but she had kept them in the past, where he knew they belonged. They had gone off like good, dutiful ghosts, and hadn't come back to haunt him anymore. He was still so surprised and grateful that he would have kept Claire at his side all day long, every single day, if he could.

But still... still... something nagged at him.

She had been quiet -- she was never boisterous, but she had been unusually quiet -- all week. Her eyes had a soft, inward focus that unsettled him. He realized, thinking about it, that she'd been like this, becoming more like this, for some time. It disturbed him to find that he couldn't pinpoint when it had begun. And two nights ago, when he'd made love to her, she had cried afterward, and wouldn't -- couldn't? -- tell him why. Long after she'd fallen asleep he'd lain awake, holding her, fighting off the faint twinges of some unnameable dread...

He pulled up in front of the apartment building, noticing with some surprise Claire's car out in front, rather than around the corner where she usually left it. Getting out of his own car, he glanced over at hers as he walked around it; in the thin late-afternoon winter sunlight, he saw cardboard boxes piled in the back seat, and smiled to himself. She'd been out trolling the thrift shops for treasures again, no doubt; when he went inside she would ask him to carry the boxes in, smug as ever about how much she'd gotten and how little she'd paid.

By the time he got out of the elevator, Fox was feeling better. He was relieved that it was finally the weekend; they'd have time now, two whole days together, and he would be able to get to the bottom of whatever it was Claire had on her mind.

He turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open. "Claire -- honey," he called, stepping inside, "Claire, I'm -- "

She was sitting on the sofa; she was wearing her coat and her gloves, her keys clasped in her hands. She made no move to get up. She did not speak. She just sat there, looking up at him with great, mournful eyes.

Fox felt as if he'd been struck. Something was wrong, was terribly, terribly wrong. He tossed his keys haphazardly at the table and hurried toward her. "What is it? Claire? What happened?"

He reached out his arms as he came to her, but she held up one hand to ward him off, and he stopped, shocked, and stood still a foot or two away from her. She dropped her gaze, and he awkwardly lowered his outstretched arms.

"Fox," she said, her voice small and piteous. His heart lurched. What had happened to her, while he was away? If he had been here he would have protected her.

"Fox," she tried again. She raised her eyes, and he saw that she had been crying. He shifted nervously from foot to foot, but she shook her head; he was mute, transfixed. He waited.

"Fox, I..." She took a deep breath, closed her eyes. "I'm going." She hung her head. "I have to go, Fox..."

The floor shifted under his feet. He managed to turn his head, look around the room; he saw that the cello was missing. The boxes - the boxes in her car... He stared at Claire again, at the top of her head. He saw everything in clear, lurid detail. She looked up again and met his gaze.

She wrung her gloved hands together, twisting the keychain awkwardly between them. She never took her eyes from his face; he watched tears begin to slip down her cheeks. "Fox," she quavered, "this is the hardest thing I've ever done. This is," and her voice broke on a sob, " the worst thing I've ever done to anyone. This is the cruelest thing I'll ever have to do."

He felt himself sway as he stood, and she must have seen it, for she stood up quickly and reached for his arm.

"Fox -- sit down. Here, sit down." His legs, his whole body, felt numb; she turned him and pushed down on his shoulder, and he found himself seated on the sofa, unsure of how he'd come to be there. He lifted his head and stared up at her. Was this Claire -- his Claire? Was this really her, leaning over him, her eyes red-rimmed and her face patterned with glistening tearstreaks? His Claire would love him forever. His Claire would never go. How could this be?

His heart hammered dully within him. She was speaking, and he tried to listen, knew it was important. It was so hard to hear her over the ringing in his ears.

"Fox," she was saying, "you need something from me that I don't have - I can't give you what I don't have, Fox. I'm so sorry. I've tried and tried, but I can't."

The words registered slowly, sank like stones, like millstones tied around his neck. He had hurt her. She was going. He had hurt her so badly that he had driven her away. He pictured her somewhere else, somewhere far away, without him; he pictured her happy, pictured her laughing. When was the last time he had heard her laugh?

"Fox, I don't know any other way to make you hear me. I've tried everything I can think of to make you understand. If I knew anything else I could do, I would, Fox. You have to believe me..."

He believed her. He knew there was nothing she could do. He had learned too early and too well the fallacy of the simple notion that the people he loved would still be there the next morning when he opened his eyes. He was marked; he was branded. He would never be the same. He knew of no way to tell her this, so he was silent.

"Fox. Don't try to find me. Please. I know you could. It would be easy for you, but please, don't. ...Let me -- let me call you in a few days, Fox. When you've had time to -- When we've had time -- " She pressed her hand to her mouth, looked away, fighting the tears. She straightened up, turned away, hugging her arms tightly around herself. He couldn't look. He hung his head.

"My mom and dad know where to reach me, in case - in case anything... Fox, you won't -- you wouldn't... Fox, are you going to be alright?"

The question was so absurd that he raised his head quickly to meet her gaze, but when he saw her eyes, wild, desperate, he understood what she was afraid of.

He opened his mouth; his throat worked. He searched for his voice. "No," he breathed, shaking his head slowly. "No, I wouldn't... It's alright, Claire." He saw the tears welling up in her eyes again, and he nodded toward the front door. "You -- you can... I'll make it."

She seemed to want to say something more, but instead she covered her mouth with her hand and fled toward the door; he felt more than heard it close behind her.

He found himself getting up, going to the window. He drew the curtain back and watched as she came to the car. He saw her fumbling with her keys, unlocking the car door. She still had one hand pressed to her mouth. She was crying. He wanted to hold her. He watched as she got into the car and started the engine and drove away.

She was brave, his Claire. He had always known she was brave, and that he could never have been so. If she had hurt him, he would have stayed. He would have learned to accept the pain in place of the love, would have come to cherish each twist of the knife; he would have walked willingly into her fire to be consumed. He would never have had the courage to go. He thought he loved her all the more for having the strength to leave him.

Without his volition, his legs carried him away from the window and back to the sofa, and set him down again. He twined the fingers of both his hands together and leaned his elbows against his knees, and hung his head, and stared down at the floor.

When at length he noticed that the room had grown dark, he understood that he must have been there for a long while, although he'd had no sense of the passing of time.

He could not move. His legs had offered up the last of their strength in bringing him to the sofa. He shifted his weight, fell slowly onto his side against the armrest; he curled his body up into a tight ball. He heard himself moaning under his breath, and then the tears came, and he lay alone in the dark, sobbing, until at last, exhausted, he slept.



Every morning the clock went off, and every day he got up and he went to work, and every night he came home. He supposed he was coping. Never mind how; he preferred not to look too hard into that. It was enough that it was happening.

The clock went off every morning long before sunrise. He would shut it off and slip into a pair of sweats without turning on the light, and he would find his sneakers and go outside and at the end of the block he would break into a jog. A half-mile later he was running, really running, and he would run until he couldn't anymore, until his legs ached, until he was lightheaded from gasping for breath. He would walk the last few blocks back to the apartment. He was too well-trained in psychology himself to miss the metaphor of his running, and he would smile grimly in the shower afterward as he thought about it.

Every morning the clock went off on the end table beside the sofa in the living room. He hadn't been able to get into the bed -- their bed -- since she'd gone. He'd awakened in a tear-stained, headachy heap on that sofa the morning after she'd left, and he kept coming back to it night after night. He had found over the intervening weeks that more and more of his clothing had migrated to the closet in the entryway, and that he had to go into the bedroom less and less.

Word traveled among the people that he and Claire had been friendly with, and some of them called him, invited him for meals, for coffee, for drinks. He kept to himself. He poured himself into his work. He lobbied persistently, tirelessly, for assignment to the X-Files, believing more and more that somewhere in them was the answer to the mystery of his sister. When Claire had been with him, Samantha had stayed in the past, but now she haunted him, called to him. His desire to find her had reawakened, and it was voracious; it consumed him.

He knew he was difficult to work with. He was going through partners at an alarming rate. His superiors had told him to his face that the last three agents he'd worked with had requested reassignment; Agent Bausch had called him 'frightening.' But he also knew that he would not be disciplined, because he had by far the highest percentage of cases resolved of any agent in his division.

He had lately worked on quite a few cases with a woman named Diana Fowley, and found that he got along tolerably well with her. He wasn't sure whether he trusted her, couldn't even really say that he liked her, but working with her brought him something approaching satisfaction. She challenged him. She was willing to follow the intellectual and intuitive leaps he made, and had surprised him by making a few of her own; he respected that -- respected her.

She was a few years older than him. She had a dry wit and an acerbic sense of humor. There was a darkness to her, a cynical edge that his present state of mind found very appealing. He began taking her up on her occasional invitations to have a few drinks after work. She didn't make him forget -- nothing made him forget -- but one day he realized that she was the only person he really talked to anymore.



"... Fox? ... Fox."

Diana's voice startled him from his miserable reverie; he turned in his chair to face her.

"You haven't heard a thing I've said, have you?" she asked.

He shook his head dully. "Sorry. I was..." His voice trailed off.

Diana sat on the corner of his desk and studied him for a moment. "I don't know who you've been meeting for lunch on Wednesdays, but I've got to say they make you pretty useless for the rest of the day. It's the same every week, Fox."

He leaned his head into his hands. "It's my wife."

Diana shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry," she said at length. "I didn't mean to - "

"No, no," he interrupted. "It's... We're separated." He lifted his head and ran his fingers through his hair. "She told me she needed... she needed space." He laughed mirthlessly. "God. It sounds so..."

"I know," Diana said. "My ex ran off with his bimbo secretary. You're not the only one whose marriage ended in a cliche."

Fox looked up at her. "You too? When?"

"It'll be three years this coming February."

He rested his chin on his hands, elbows propped on the desk, and looked up intently at Diana. "Can I ask you...? How the hell did you get through it?"

Diana dropped her gaze and shrugged. "You've heard the saying -- 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' ... It didn't kill me."

He hung his head. "It's killing me, Diana," he said softly.

She nodded. "You think it is." She leaned over and laid her hand on his shoulder. "You have to take it day by day. Just get through this one. Don't worry about the next one till it comes."

For a long moment he stared down at the ring he still wore on his left hand. "Does it get easier?" he whispered.

"Easier?... I don't know." She shook her head slowly. "Maybe you just get used to it." She patted his shoulder and stood up. "I'll see you later, Fox."

He watched as she walked away.



"Mulder, finish that."

"But I'm not -- "

"Don't sit there and tell me you're not hungry," Scully said mildly. "I've been watching you play with your food since I got here the other day. You've hardly eaten a thing. You look terrible, and you spend the whole day whining about your headache. Now finish that, or don't complain later, okay?" She kept her eyes carefully on the toast she was buttering, avoiding his gaze.

"Well, good morning, sunshine," Mulder grumbled, but he took another bite of the scrambled eggs, and reached for his orange juice.

Scully reflected, not for the first time, on the irony of Mulder's hanging his whole life on the search for the truth, when he himself was a mystery so deep she thought he might never be fathomed. There were a hundred questions she wanted to ask him, but she knew she wouldn't; she already felt almost guilty just knowing the little that she did. She shouldn't have been surprised, she thought; secrets seemed to cling to Mulder, to be natural to him. And yet this was the same man who'd sat by her bed in the dark and poured out the whole outlandish-sounding story of his sister's abduction by aliens to her when he'd only known her for days.

...Samantha. He had built an entire life around the pain of her loss, but he had never, never once, mentioned Claire. Just looking at him across the table made it plain to Scully how deeply Claire's death had affected him. And as for his 'keeping track' of her, as Frohike had so delicately put it... Had losing Claire been even harder than losing his sister -- so hard that he couldn't acknowledge it, even to her?

Even to her. Scully shook her head, reminding herself in the familiar litany that she was his partner, and not... Years of practiced self-discipline once again derailed that train of thought before she could see where it might lead her. It was better that way; she needed it to be that way.

"Would you like to tell me how this Karen Gathis was involved in all these drownings?" Scully asked. "Some of the notes were a little sketchy."

Mulder's eyes narrowed as he looked up at her. "What do you want me to do -- eat, or talk?"

"I seem to remember you doing both, by turns, on several occasions," she answered, refusing to be ruffled.

Mulder frowned, but drank down the rest of his orange juice before speaking.

"Well," he began, "it varies. She had initiated contact with each of the victims some time before they drowned -- sometimes in person, sometimes over the telephone. She seemed to be trying to warn them, but either they didn't understand, or they dismissed it as ridiculous." He paused to take another bite of eggs. "She was actually found at the lake the following morning last November when George Taggart died, and the police report describes her as 'incoherent.' She told them she was trying to stop him, but she wasn't strong enough."

Belle, their waitress again that morning, chose that moment to reappear at the table. "I see you're out of juice," she said solicitously, leaning over Mulder. "Would you like s'more?" She proffered the tall glass on her tray.

"Thank you -- I would," Mulder replied. Belle set down the new glass and whisked the empty one away, smiling brightly at Mulder the whole time. Scully watched bemusedly; when they were alone again she shook her head, grinning.

Mulder reached for the juice. "What?"

"She really thinks you're cute."

"What?" he asked, incredulous. He turned his head to stare after her. "When did she tell you that?"

Scully chuckled. "She didn't. Mulder, you're more oblivious than I thought. Watch it, or you'll end up wearing that instead of drinking it."

Mulder looked back at the glass of juice and seemed startled to find it in such close proximity to his tie.

"So," Scully went on, "Gathis claims to have had some kind of foreknowledge of all these people's suicides? The file says she wasn't even acquainted with any of them."

"Oh, she says they weren't suicides at all. She says there's a spirit in the lake that drew them there and led them into the water."

Scully, reaching for her coffee, paused. "A spirit."

"A lake spirit," Mulder affirmed. "I think I'll let her tell you about it when we get there."

"I think," Scully said slowly, raising an eyebrow, "that I'd like to hear that."



"Do you mind if we go outside and sit down? They won't let us smoke in here."

"That's fine," Mulder said as he and Scully followed Karen Gathis down the long hallway toward a pair of wide, heavy glass doors that opened onto a small patio. "Wherever you're more comfortable." Karen pushed the doors open and stepped outside, looking doubtfully up at the leaden sky.

She was a slight, almost gaunt woman in her late forties, her short ash-brown hair streaked with blonde. Her face was drawn. She had a habit of glancing nervously around herself as she spoke; she fidgeted restlessly after she sat down, seeming unable to keep her feet still. She shook a cigarette out of the pack and struck her lighter into flame; she took a long drag and let the smoke trail from her mouth as she let out her breath.

"I know we've discussed it at some length, Karen," Mulder said, taking a seat beside her at the table, "but I was hoping you'd explain about the spirit in White Rock Lake to Agent Scully."

"Yeah, sure," Karen said, smiling sardonically. "You guys might be the only ones here who don't think I'm completely nuts. Or you cover it up better than them, if you do."

Scully looked over at Mulder, but he was watching Karen attentively and didn't meet her eyes. "It would be helpful if you could just start at the beginning," he suggested.

"The beginning..." Karen lifted the cigarette to her mouth. "The beginning... was back when I was just a kid. I heard it even then.

"I grew up right here in Dallas, a few miles away from White Rock Lake. We used to play down there, my sister and me. It wasn't all built up around there like it is now. We had lots of open space then. All summer long... It was beautiful then. Still is, I guess, if you don't know better, if you don't know what's there." She shook her head, and fell silent.

"You said you could hear it even as a child," Mulder encouraged her.

"Yeah. Sometimes just the voice, sometimes singing. My sister never heard it. I told my parents and they thought it was cute that I had an imaginary friend that talked to me. ...I couldn't explain that it wasn't talking to me - I just... overheard it. It was talking to other people. It was calling them."

"Calling them," Scully repeated.

Karen nodded, cigarette at her lips. "That's why they all came there. They were called."

Mulder leaned forward. "Was it always the same voice, Karen?"

"No." She shook her head emphatically. "It changes. It's a woman -- then a man. There were times when it wasn't in English. There'd be one voice for a while, and all of a sudden it would change, and after a while it'd change again. It took me years to understand why."

"And why was it?" Scully coaxed.

"Because the spirit speaks in the voice of the last person it called into the lake. I think," she said softly, hesitating, "I think it traps their souls, and they aren't freed until the next person surrenders and comes to the lake and -- and dies."

Scully exchanged a glance with Mulder, but his face was expressionless, and she couldn't tell what he thought of this revelation. She turned back to Karen. "Do you still hear the voice?"

Karen sighed. "Not so much. Not with all the Thorazine, you know?" She shifted on the bench, and pushed the packet of cigarettes around in a small circle on the table. "My sister and my brother-in-law talked me into admitting myself here again after the last one. And I was so tired of hearing, and knowing, and not being able to stop it..."

"Do you think that's why you hear it?" Scully asked gently. "So you can save these people?"

Karen passed one hand across her eyes. "God, I don't know anymore. I used to think so. But I never could." She looked up at Scully, tears in her eyes. "I stood right there and watched that man walk into the water last winter. I couldn't stop him. I stood in front of him, he pushed me out of the way. I tried to hold onto him, he just kept walking. God -- I can't..."

Scully waited. A moment later Karen took a deep breath and shook her head slowly.

"So I came here. For a couple of months I didn't hear it. I hoped it was over. And then it started again... and it -- It took Dr. Claire." She bowed her head. "Dr. Claire was good to me. She made me think I could get better. And it took her." Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. "And now it's her voice. I hear the spirit calling, but it's Dr. Claire's voice..."

From the corner of her eye Scully saw Mulder raise one hand to his forehead; looking up, she saw how pale he'd suddenly become. She leaned over to him and put her hand on his arm.

"Are you alright?" she asked, her voice low. "What's wrong?"

He took an uneven breath. "It's -- it's too warm out here," he said. "Let me go inside and sit down in the air conditioning for a few minutes." He rose and went toward the doors before Scully could say anything else; he pulled one open and disappeared inside.

Scully stared after him for a long minute. Then she turned back to Karen.

"I wish it'd just take me!" Karen said suddenly, vehemently. She slapped her hand down against the table. "I hate being the one who knows, and being helpless. It's ruined my life. I have nothing left -- no home, no job, no family of my own. I don't know why it won't just take me!" She broke into tears and laid her head down in her arms on the tabletop, and Scully leaned over and patted her shoulder.



Scully surreptitiously studied Mulder's ashen face as they walked out of the front doors of Green Oaks. She could have stared openly, she thought, for all the notice he was taking of her.

"Mulder," she began, "have you checked whether you can establish any links between the victims? Karen doesn't think they're random, you know; she thinks there's a pattern of some kind."

He shrugged. "You've pretty much seen what I've done. I haven't had time yet to delve into all that. It's a huge task."

"If there is anything -- and I'm not saying there is -- with both of us working on it, we might come across something."

Mulder, stopping suddenly, caught her by the arm and turned her to face him. "What's going on here, Scully?" he asked. "Yesterday I thought you were going to pack up and go home, and now you want to go running down leads. What brought this on?"

Scully looked at his face, into his searching eyes, and for a fleeting moment caught herself about to reach over and place her hand on his, about to tell him that she knew, to tell him how sorry she was, to... . Instead, she shook his hand from her arm and said briskly, "I can see you're determined to stay on this until you reach some kind of conclusion. If you'll let me help you, maybe we'll find an answer sooner, and we can get back to Washington and do our real work."

Something in his eyes told her clearly that she had not assuaged his suspicion, but she met his gaze steadily until he backed down.

"All right, then," he nodded, "I appreciate that." He turned and walked toward the car, and she followed, and wished she could believe that he would even accept her sympathy if she could find a way to offer it.



"You'll have to excuse me if I find it somewhat hard to believe that you're really putting any credence in what Karen Gathis had to say." Mulder flipped the right-turn signal on and eased the car up to the edge of the street.

Scully considered her answer carefully. "Well, I do have to admit that the symptomology Karen presents is only very slightly removed from the classical model of schizophrenia, but..."

"But what, Scully?"

But what? But I can't bear to watch you making yourself sick because you want so desperately to make sense of her death? But you obviously still have so many unresolved feelings about her? But I want to help you, and this is the only way I have?

"But the coincidence of Karen's apparent foreknowledge of all those deaths suggests something more. Finding a connection among the victims is a logical place to start. We may be able to distinguish a pattern that will give us more to work on."

Mulder was silent. Scully sighed and watched Dallas roll by outside the car window.

They had only gone a few miles on the highway when Mulder nudged the turn signal again and pulled onto the exit ramp. Scully glanced over at him, puzzled, but he kept his eyes on the road, bearing first left and then right at the two forks in the ramp. The car merged onto another highway.

"Mulder, where are we going?" Scully asked, watching him.

"I want to show you something."

A few minutes later Mulder turned right and then left again; the highway narrowed and became an ordinary street, and Scully decided uneasily that she could guess where Mulder was taking her.

The tires crunched on gravel as Mulder pulled off the street into a small parking area and drew to a stop before a low wooden railing. Scully looked out through the windshield at the expanse of water stretched out before her. Mulder was already getting out of the car, and she fought down the urge to call him back; instead, she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door and followed him.

The lake was ordinary enough, generous in size, with graceful trees scattered intermittently along the banks; the earlier clouds were beginning to break up and sunlight glittered here and there on the surface of the water. She watched as Mulder's long stride opened up the distance between them. When he came to the marshy footing near the edge of the lake he looked around for her.

"Mulder," she said, "Why are we -- " she waved a hand around her -- "here?"

"I wanted you to see it for yourself," he said. She glanced up sharply at the urgency in his voice, but he was staring out over the lake. The clouds had parted now before the sinking sun, and the water turned to gold where the rays fell upon it.

"See what, Mulder?" she asked. "There's nothing here to see." She knew she was speaking too quickly and that her voice was too high. "There's no evidence to find. I don't know why you brought me here." She thought even from where she stood that she could feel his body thrumming with some strange intensity; she took an instinctive step backward when he turned toward her. His eyes were lambent in the dying light.

"I wanted you to feel it, Scully. I can feel something here."

She would have said that this was the first time in days that he seemed like himself, instead of the shadow-Mulder she'd been dealing with, but in the same moment decided that was wrong. He was too alert; he was strung as tightly as the bow of the cello she'd seen in Claire's house.

"You know how little I like it when you start feeling things," she said, still retreating. "Show me facts, Mulder, or let's just go back to the hotel." She kept edging backward, willing him to follow.

He glanced from her to the lake and back. He seemed to be having a hard time making up his mind. As she watched he raised one hand to run his fingers anxiously through his hair, and suddenly winced and pressed the hand to his forehead.

She stepped forward and took his arm. "Mulder?"

"Oh -- Scully -- " His eyes were squeezed shut. She led him up to the wooden rail and he sat down on it, rubbing his forehead with his fingers.

"Mulder," she said, leaning over him, "whatever this is, it's getting worse." She smoothed his ruffled hair with her hand. "Let me take you to a doctor."

"No, no," he said, waving her hand away. He sighed. "Scully, I'd be fine if I could just sleep. That's all it is." His tone was final. She'd had this discussion with him so many times over the years that she knew there was no use in pressing him. She just stood watching him, her hand on his shoulder, until he looked up at her again.

Mulder reached into his pocket and drew out the car keys; he held them out to her. She took them from his hand. He rose to his feet and they went wordlessly up to the car.

Scully got in and found the lever on the floor and pulled the driver's seat forward. She backed the car out of the gravel and turned left onto the street.

Mulder watched the road through half-closed eyes. "Make a right onto this Thornton Freeway here... Take the I-30 west."

"I can do it from here."

Mulder leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes. For a few minutes, Scully drove in silence. She glanced over again to see if he might have fallen asleep.

"Mulder...?" she ventured softly.


She asked, before she could change her mind, "What was she like?"

He said, at length, in a low voice, "She was... serious. She wanted you to think she was serious. ...But then she'd come out with something so wickedly funny..." She could hear the smile in his voice. "She was incredibly smart. Compassionate. So independent. Her own person."

Scully drove on.

"She was a musician," he said slowly, after a while.

Scully nodded, although she knew he wasn't looking at her.

"She was good. Gifted. She even had an offer to join the Washington Symphony... but she was still in med school..."

"She turned it down?"

"Yeah..." Mulder sighed. He turned his face away from her. "Scully... I'm so tired," he murmured.

"We're almost there, Mulder. ...We're almost there."



Of course, Fox had found her.

It only took a few days before he succumbed to the temptation to look for her, and with the resources of the Bureau behind him it was a childishly simple matter; she'd made no effort at all to stay underground. He assuaged the guilt he felt at so quickly violating her trust by telling himself that simply knowing where she lived now was a very different matter from actually going there himself.

Three days after she'd moved out, she had called him. Neither of them seemed to know what to say; he'd felt incredibly awkward. They had begun meeting for lunch every Wednesday, and his week had fallen into a predictable routine, with Wednesday somehow both the highest point and the lowest.

He had so much time on his hands. He hadn't realized until now how very much he had depended on Claire to distract him from his own darkness. He had forgotten how to be by himself. He brought work home to keep himself busy; he was embarrassed to admit even to himself how many erotic -- all right, pornographic -- videos he had acquired. If he hadn't had his father's bad example set up before him as a deterrent, he was sure he would have begun to drink. One day Diana glanced at the ashtray on his desk and and made a face and asked him if he realized how much more he'd been smoking; he quit that day, cold turkey -- another self-denial, another punishment. He was abjectly grateful whenever Diana asked him to go out, and had even called her himself a few times, feeling guilty when he did, as if he were cheating on Claire, even though that was the farthest thing from his mind.

He was consumed by the need to see her. He went to one of the performances of the chamber orchestra she played with, wishing, with the terrible clarity of hindsight, that he had made more time for things like this when she'd really been his. He arrived a little late and, doing his best special-agent act, slipped unnoticed into the back of the concert hall. He was fine until they began to play that Debussy piece, and then he had to turn away, had to leave before the tears came. He wiped his eyes afterward as he sat in the safety of his car.

Wednesdays became both easier and more difficult as time went by. They were easier, because both he and Claire were practiced, and more at ease; they were harder, because it took more effort every week to simply kiss her and watch her walk away. "I wish you were home," he'd said last week, his heart in his throat. And she had lowered her gaze and whispered, "So do I."

Perhaps that was what emboldened him on their anniversary. He had bought her a gift, a necklace; instead of waiting until Wednesday he found himself getting into his car that Monday evening and driving toward the apartment she shared with Tracy and Jeanne. He drove past, slowly, staring up at the lighted windows, just as he had done so many nights before; tonight he found himself pulling over to the curb, parking the car, cutting the headlights. He felt almost as if he were dreaming as he got out of the car and approached the building. The moment was inevitable. He was a moth; Claire was the flame.

He found the apartment. He stood before the door. He lifted his hand and knocked.

She opened the door a crack and peeked out, and then she pushed it back and he heard her unfastening the chain from the lock. She swung the door open and stood staring at him.

"I thought you might be out," he said after a moment. She was silent, her eyes wide; he couldn't read her expression. He swallowed hard. "But I... I saw your car, and I..."

"You didn't just get lucky and see my car," she breathed. "You knew where to look."

Why had he imagined that she would fling her arms around his neck, and tell him how much she had missed him? Helplessly, he held up the little package with the bright bow. "I brought you something."

"To make up for this?" Her voice was cool, but her grey eyes burned. He eased forward and she retreated, backing away, and then they were both in the apartment. He pushed the door shut behind him.

"No, for our -- Claire, it's our..." He stumbled over the words. "Happy anniversary, Claire."

"What was the one thing I asked of you, Fox?" she exclaimed softly, ignoring the gift in his outstretched hands. "The one thing. And here you are." Her cheeks were flushed, and as he watched, tears spilled from her eyes and ran down them. "How many nights have you sat out there in your car, watching?"

He hung his head in silent admission of his guilt. He turned the brightly-wrapped package over in his hands, studying the colored pattern of the paper.

"Oh., Fox." She turned away and sat down on the sofa, her face in her hands. "Oh, Fox, I thought we were going to work this out. I really did. Why did you have to do this to me, Fox?"

He edged toward the sofa and timidly sat down on the other end. "Claire," he faltered. "I couldn't wait anymore. I miss you too much." He reached out and put one tentative hand on her shoulder, and bit his lip when she startled at his touch. He felt as dizzy as he had that awful night at home, when he'd walked in and found her waiting there.

"You do. It is too much," she wept. "I'm not strong enough to hold you up, Fox. You have to stand on your own two feet. I can't do it for you. That's what I've tried to tell you, and you just won't hear it." She lifted her head and looked up at him with a stricken gaze. "And what am I supposed to do now? I'm going to be looking around every time I walk out that door, wondering if you're watching me, following me. Hunting me. I can't stand it, Fox!"

He held his hand out to her, but she shrank from him. "Claire -- "

"Go home, Fox."

"But Claire -- " He hated the sickening, panicky knot that was forming in his stomach. "What about Wednesday?"

"I don't know, Fox. I don't know." She stood up and began to walk rapidly, unsteadily, toward the kitchen. "Please, just go home."

Dropping the little gift onto the coffee table, he rose and hurried after her. "Claire, wait. You can't do this to me." His voice sounded sharper than he had meant it to. Something like anger flared up in him, and he reached for her and caught her hard by the wrist, pulled her around to face him; he met her eyes and saw that she was afraid of him. "Fox, let me go!" she cried, and he remembered --

-- remembered his mother's voice, raised just that way, downstairs in the kitchen with his father --

-- downstairs, after they'd thought he was asleep --

He released her, pushed her away, staring at his own hands as if he thought her flesh might have burned him. She spun around and grabbed at the back of one of the kitchen chairs. He watched her knuckles whiten as she gripped it harder and harder.

"Claire -- "

He stared at her back and saw that her shoulders were shaking. "Claire..."

"Fox, please go," she whispered, imploring.

"Claire," he said brokenly. She did not lift her head, did not speak.

He turned on his heel and strode out of the apartment, and he made it almost all the way to his car before he started to cry.



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