8:15 a.m.

Mulder hands her the faxed report from the Philadelphia P.D. without a word, without looking at her, without so much as a 'Good morning, Scully' before he brushes past her, crossing the room in long strides, loosening the knot in his tie and exhaling slowly. He is contained force, nearly bursting through his skin, through the invisible walls that incarcerate him, radiating tension to the farthest corners of the room.

Unlike on previous mornings since she checked herself out of the Oncology ward at Allentown-Bethlehem Medical Center, there is no visual once-over when she enters the office. No quick assessment of her condition, her skin tone, her weight, the shadows under her eyes. No flash of remorse in his eyes, no frantic need to do, to fix, to find the cure. Mercurial to the extreme this past week, he alternates between woefully depressed and balefully agitated, from morose and torpid to pacing the room with his hands on his hips. Yesterday he was possessed, desperate. Today there is something else on his mind. Today he is angry.

As he moves through the anteroom, he swipes at a paper cup left at the edge of a table, knocking the cup across the room and spilling old coffee into a dark corner. She glances up at him, then, and closes her eyes briefly, turning away with a soft sigh. She cannot help him...there are no words that will erase what she has done, or change what has been done to her. There is no fix, quick or otherwise. She has cancer, and the outcome is inevitable. And while the cancer has been at the forefront of every recent moment, it does not erase the immediate past. It simply serves to magnify it, to monopolize it, and distort it like flawed glass.

Glancing down, her eye catches a dark red spot on his desk, and her first impulse is to raise her fingers to her lip to check for blood. Her fingers return dry, and drift down to the spot on the desk. It is dry and brittle, and she lifts it, turning it over in her hand. A petal - a rose petal. She is surprised he has kept it. A reminder of what once was, what will never be again. A souvenir of her grand error.

Laying the petal back on the desk, she looks at the fax, already knowing the smallest details of the report, knowing that Mulder has read it now, knows everything now. Case Number...Incident Type...Address of Occurrence...Reporting Officer...Weapon or Objects Used...Victim...


She pauses on this word, as she has never wanted, nor has she welcomed the role of the victim. There are situations, and through her work she has become embroiled in these situations - in these events, these factors, these circumstances. They are as numerous as they are varied, and as a result, she has suffered losses, both small and great.

She has cancer.

But this time, this situation, so quickly reminded by one fax - this is her fault. It is her making. She knows it, and Mulder knows it. Just as she knows he has turned and watches her, waits for her. But she won't meet his gaze.

And now with the silence expanding in the space between them, her illness, his personal code of ethics, or maybe both, keep him from saying what she knows he really wants to say. What she's been saying to herself since she left Philadelphia. How could she trust so readily, give herself to a stranger so intimately, endanger her life so foolishly? 'Not the most sexually spontaneous person,' he'd called her once, years ago. Instead of words, she hears him grab his overcoat, senses his frustration, feels his heat flow out of the room in a rush before the room is, at last, still.

10:13 p.m.

She sets the thermostat to 76, unable to quell the chill that seems to have settled at the very center of her being. She wears an afghan around her shoulders - a much-beloved hand-me-down from her grandmother that she's possessed since college - and pulls the ends together in front of her, wrapping herself as tightly as she can in its familiar comfort. Except for the chill, she still doesn't feel sick. If it weren't for the frequent nosebleeds, she'd have no symptoms at all.

Crossing the room in stocking feet, her living room glows around her in warm amber and gold, a retreat from the gray winter evening outside. A cup of herbal tea waits on the coffee table, alongside a new novel she's started several times but can't seem to get very far along. She settles herself on the sofa, picks up the book and opens it to the last page she read, but after a few paragraphs, she closes it again, her thumb holding her place. She has been retreating into her thoughts all evening, and returns to her reverie, a windstorm of remembrances, mostly about the past. About the life she thought she would lead, about the person she'd wanted to be and the person she's become. About simpler times, simpler relationships. If she were still in college now, she would be out tonight, dining in a small Italian restaurant near the campus where the pasta is cooked perfectly al dente and the candles drip down the sides of old Chianti bottles. She and her boyfriend would exchange valentines, she'd drink too much wine and flirt shamelessly, knowing they would spend the rest of the night making love before drifting off to sleep. There would be no thoughts of cancer, or regrets. The memory is cherished, a stark contrast to her most recent sexual encounter...which would, all things considered, probably be her last.

She has chosen, and now she must live with the repercussions of her choices. Had she not accepted the invitation from the attractive stranger in Philadelphia, had she not decided to mark the moment or spent the night, she wouldn't have had to call Mulder from the nearby hosptial. He would not have learned that her date, which he'd so snidely mocked over the telephone the day before, had amounted to a few drinks, a tattoo, and an aggressive round of bruising sex followed by a visit to her date's basement incinerator. She has survived, but the humiliation she's been living with since the police report, since Mulder arrived in Philadelphia, since his telephone call to brief Skinner on her condition, has been the hardest cross of all to bear. While she struggles to make sense out of the cancer, to give some kind of meaning to it, she knows that it is something greater than she is. In this, she is a victim, and that is, somehow, easier for her to accept.

A short rap on the front door pulls her back into the present, and she briefly contemplates who might be paying her a visit at this late hour. Like any other evening, she is expecting no one. After a quick look out the peephole, she opens the door to her partner, his eyes bleary and apologetic, with enough intensity in them to let her know that, as ever, he has not found sure footing in this uncharted journey they are on.

"Mulder, what are you doing here?" she asks, her brow furrowing.

He moves his weight from one foot to the other, and briefly glances into the room. "I saw your lights on. Did I catch you at a bad time?"

She lets out a soft sigh, knowing there are too many conditions that would qualify as bad timing, but this is not one of them. She looks down at the book in her hand, then steps aside to let him enter. "No," she replies. "Come in."

He steps past her, and she notices he holds a thin bouquet of long-stemmed roses in his hand. Turning to face her, he sees her looking at the flowers, and holds them up with a shrug. She turns, and shuts the door.

"I've been driving around, wondering whether or not I should give these to you," he says.

"You didn't have to-" "I know I didn't have to. I want to. I just didn't know if you..." he doesn't finish the comment, but he still holds the bouquet between them.

She lets out a shaky breath, "Mulder-"

"-just..." he cuts her off, and lets out a huff in frustration. "Let me do this, Scully. I need to.." His voice wavers slightly, and he clears his throat. "Let me do this one thing. Please."

She holds his gaze, seeing the need there. Licking her lips, she nods, accepting the roses. They are beautiful, and the thought and tradition behind the gesture touches her. Studying the delicate overlay of pedals, she replies softly, "I don't mean to sound..." she lets out a sigh, feeling as if she's adding insult to injury. "They're beautiful. Thank you."

He is silent a moment, watching her. "How are you feeling?"

Her eyes dart up at him, then away, and pressing her lips together into a thin line, she nods. "Fine. I'm fine."

He nods as well, his eyes narrowing, scrutinizing her. "Scully..."

She looks up again, and now there is a stubbornness, a determination in her eyes that hadn't been there seconds ago. But he does not back away from it.

"I know this is your life," he says, gently. "And I'm doing my best not to intrude. But you have to understand..." he pauses. "You are not the only person affected by this."

"I know that, Mulder," she replies, sharply. "And I'm sorry. But it's my cancer."

"I know that, Scully," he answers, too patiently, and takes a stop closer. "But you aren't alone. You dont have to be."

She catches her breath, and lets it out slowly, trying to swallow back the lump that has risen in her throat. She is alone, and she doesn't expect anyone else to understand that. Blinking the tears away, she says, "If I'm going to see my way through this, I have to make this mine. I have to own it."

His eyes grow darker, but he nods. Reaching out, he moves a wisp of hair away from her face, tenderness transforming his features. She looks into his eyes, and something passes between them, brief but intense. He draws in a soft breath and drops his hand to his side.

"So I guess I'll see you on Monday, then."

She nods, but he has already turned, and has moved to the front door. He reaches for the doorknob, then stops and looks at her over his shoulder.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Scully."

"Happy Valentine's Day, Mulder," she replies, and they look into each others' eyes a moment longer than they should before he opens the door and steps outside.

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