Summary:  Seeing that her cancer is getting worse, Scully worries about what will become of Mulder after she has passed away. To put her own mind at ease, she tries to set him up with a new partner to take her place. Rated: PG


May 22, 1997 FBI Headquarters 12:28 p.m.

Scully had left the door to the office cracked open slightly when she excused herself to go to the ladies' room. Mulder sat behind his desk, thoroughly engrossed in the contents of a file folder containing their latest case. He heard the sound of light footsteps approaching out in the hallway and assumed it was his partner returning. Without looking up, he began speaking as soon as the door began to open fully.

"Hey, Scully, come take a look at this. I was going back over the evidence report and I think I may have found something important the local guys in Trenton overlooked."

"Well, aren't you the observant one."

Mulder's head snapped upwards as he sought out the owner of that unfamiliar voice. A woman about the same height and build of his partner — and with similar fashion sense — walked slowly up to his desk. He guessed her age to be about twenty-eight. Her brown, almond-shaped eyes and long, straight black hair gave away her Asian heritage and her noticeable accent paid homage to her Boston upbringing. She presented him with a toothy smile as she approached with her hand outstretched to shake.

"The infamous Fox Mulder, I presume."

Mulder stood, removing his glasses and accepted the stranger's hand in greeting.

"And you are?"

"Agent Katrina Loyola. I'm with forensics in the Boston division. Dana's told me all about you. Where is she, by the way?"

"She just stepped out for a moment. She'll be right back."

Katrina turned away from Mulder as she began a casual survey of his office. "Dana said I'd have to see this office for myself to believe it. She wasn't kidding. It's quite eclectic."

She was careful not to touch anything; either she had been warned against it or she simply respected the private properties of others. She did, however, take a close visual interest in all that she saw, especially the books and posted articles on the occult, ghosts, inhuman oddities and UFOs. When she came to his "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster, she turned to face him.

"Do you really believe in all this stuff?" she questioned.

Mulder walked around to the front of his desk and leaned against it with arms folded. He responded with a slight nod and a tiny smile, then asked, "What is it that you believe in, Agent Loyola?"

She strolled slowly towards him as she began to spout out her beliefs. "I believe in my mom and dad, that they love me and only want the best for me even though we disagree on what that is. I believe that hard work pays off, that two wrongs don't make a right, that a person should always wear clean underwear because you never know when you might get into an accident and I also believe that you shouldn't tell a stranger all your beliefs the first time you meet them."

Mulder grinned. So far, he liked her. "Have you known Scully a long time?" he asked.

"We first met at Quantico a few years back. I was in one of her classes. I was highly impressed with her skills and knowledge and I asked more than my fair share of questions. We've kept in touch mostly through e-mail. She called a couple a weeks ago and suggested we get together for lunch. She never used to talk about you much before. She only made vague references to, 'My partner,' often lovingly accompanied by, 'that mule-headed jackass.'"

"I see you two have met," said Scully as she entered the room, a small amount of embarrassment reddening her cheeks.

"Dana, hi!" Katrina embraced her with open arms as though she was a favorite relative or best friend. Mulder thought that Scully would be put off by such a show of affection, but she accepted it wholeheartedly and seemed truly delighted at having this person present. "You look good," said Katrina when she pulled away to get a better look at her friend. "How do you feel?"

The question let Mulder know that Scully had confided in Katrina about her condition. Still only a handful of people knew about her illness. She hid it well, although there were days when her medication did little to help the painful headaches and the nosebleeds still erupted without warning. She wanted no one to pity her, and the best way to prevent it was to keep her fatal illness a secret. Apparently, she had found someone outside her small circle of family and friends with whom she could share her feelings. This Katrina must be someone very special to her, Mulder speculated.

"I'm doing good, Kat," she answered the woman with a tired smile.

"Really?" She obviously knew her well enough to know a lie when she heard it.

"Well, I couldn't exactly pass the FBI training course right now, but all in all, I'm feeling well."

Mulder clamped down on a grunt. Whenever he had asked that question, the most he ever got was, "I'm fine, Mulder," then found himself facing her back. He wondered exactly what Katrina was to her, and felt an ounce of jealously thinking that his best friend had gone out and found herself a new best friend.

"So are we ready for lunch?" asked Katrina, with a clap of her hands.

"Actually, Kat, I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow."

"No, remember, we agreed to make it Thursday. And today is...."

Scully gently slapped her hand to her forehead. "Oh! I don't know where my mind is. I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. You guys didn't have other plans, did you?"

"No. No other plans." Scully looked to Mulder who was just returning to his chair. "Mulder, would you like to join us for lunch?"

"No, you two go on. I've still got some things I need to work on here."

Katrina grabbed Mulder's suit jacket from the coat rack from which it hung and held it out in his direction on the end of her index finger. He leaned back in his chair and eyed her curiously.

"You know what else I believe in, Agent Mulder? That all work and no food... really sucks."

Mulder's eyes shifted from Katrina to Scully who merely pursed her lips and lifted her brows at him in mute response. It was then that he viewed the invitation as more of a challenge; one that he decided to accept. After all, the sticky bun he'd had for breakfast had completely worn off, and besides, being seen with two very attractive women certainly wouldn't hurt his image any.

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Denny's 1:22 p.m.

On the way to the restaurant, Mulder was afraid he'd be stuck listening to girlie talk as his two luncheon dates hashed over old times. Instead, he had to endure chop talk -- as they laughingly referred to it -- in graphic detail of each of their worst autopsy victims. Luckily, they took pity on him once they were seated at a booth and food was in front of them. The conversation veered into a more tolerable direction.

"So, Agent Mulder," said Katrina after sampling her tuna salad, "what was it that you discovered the Trenton locals overlooked?"

Mulder had to wait for a big chunk of chili dog to clear his mouth before speaking. "The cat," he answered as if that was enough.

"The cat?" Katrina looked to Scully hoping for some clarification.

Scully shrugged her shoulders, not bothering to even attempt a guess. At the moment, she found the tender, white chunks of chicken in her salad a tad more interesting.

"Okay, why don't we just back it up a bit. What is this case and what does it have to do with cats?"

"Five people with apparently nothing in common except for how they died," said Mulder.

"Which was?"

"Well, Scully has a string of ten dollar, technical terms to describe it but what it boils down to is that they were literally scared to death."

"By cats?"

"Just one cat. A black one. With each victim there was evidence of a black cat being present or a report of a black cat in the area at or near the time of death. The people in question were all basically healthy individuals with no previous indication of heart disease. Yet, they each dropped dead of a massive coronary with an expression of pure terror practically etched onto their faces. Now, if a person was superstitious enough to believe that black cats were bad luck or a sign of evil, should one cross their path, they might be prone to suffer a dramatic if not horrific response. What would you make of it?"

Katrina gave it some thought and shrugged lightly. "I suppose the power of suggestion is a pretty strong force. I wouldn't discredit your idea completely."

"You wouldn't?" Mulder looked at Katrina with renewed interest. "How refreshing," he commented while stealing a glance at his partner who obviously didn't share his killer cat theory.

"But how do you know it's the cat that's responsible?" Katrina continued the questioning.

"Technically, it's not. I believe it's being used by someone with two legs to kill off their enemies. Therefore, if we can locate the cat, we'll locate its owner and the real reason why those five people are dead."

"Well, it sounds intriguing," said Katrina. "Dana said that you guys come across some pretty interesting cases."

"Excuse me," Scully spoke with a napkin partially covering her face.

A small, red stain signified the start of another nosebleed. Scully got up and quickly hurried off towards the ladies' rest room. Mulder watched her go with concern. Besides cleaning up after the nosebleeds, it seemed that she was spending half her life in the rest room these days. Either her illness or her medication was getting to her. She didn't bother to confess which one it was and he was too afraid to ask.

"You're really worried about her, aren't you?" a delicate voice cut through his somber thoughts.

"You know about her illness?" he asked softly.

"Yes. She told me just a couple of weeks ago. I was totally shocked. Normally we only discuss chop talk, but that night she called, we talked for three solid hours and she opened up to me as if there was no one else she could turn to. But I know that's not true. She has family and she has you, but I think maybe she just wanted to talk to someone she wasn't close to, someone whose feelings are more distant. So I listened. She's very brave, your partner."

"Yes, she is. Maddeningly so at times."

"And she thinks very highly of you."

Mulder refrained from offering his personal thoughts about his partner in return. Instead, he reached into his pocket and withdrew one of his business cards and handed it to Katrina. "There are things Scully doesn't like to discuss with me, mainly her health. I'm afraid she'll try to keep working even when it's no longer safe for her to do so. If she should confide in you again...."

"You want me to be your snitch?"

"I want you to help me protect her."

Katrina placed the card into her purse and smiled. "You two are a lot alike," she told him.

There was no time to expound on that statement. Mulder saw that Scully was returning. "Don't say anything about the nosebleed," he said to Katrina. "She doesn't like to be fussed over."

When Scully took her seat again, Katrina didn't give her a chance to feel self-conscious about her sudden departure. "Oh good, you've returned just in time. Your partner was attempting to talk me into going witch hunting with him. You do suspect the cat's owner is a witch, don't you?" she asked Mulder.

"Or warlock. They come in both genders. What do you think, Scully?"

"I'm hurt. You didn't invite me on a witch hunt until our second year together."

"Well since you're both seasoned pros at it," said Katrina, "I wouldn't want to slow you down or get in the way. But thanks loads for asking."

She was sharp, clever, thoughtful and not bad to look at, Mulder thought to himself. He really did like her. When his eyes shifted from Katrina to Scully, he saw that she was smiling at him, almost as if she was encouraging this new bond. He thought that was kind of odd considering how she had always seemed to rebel against him making any new female friends. She would never admit to jealousy, but there had been occasions when she had trouble hiding it, as did he at times. Each shared a possessiveness about the other that went unspoken. Neither chose to define it nor question it.

The rest of the lunch hour continued with light-hearted dialogue. Afterwards, Mulder said his good-byes to Katrina in case they didn't meet again before she left town later that evening. He returned to his office while the ladies headed for the morgue to compare techniques or whatever pathologists did when they got together over a dead body.

--------

FBI Headquarters 6:28 p.m.

Mulder was at his computer going over some information he had downloaded from the web when Scully finally made an appearance.

"Hey, Scully, did you know that witches have their own web pages?"

"Doesn't surprise me any." She plopped down wearily in the chair across from him.

"Has Agent Loyola gone home?"

"Yeah, about a half hour ago. So what did you think of her?"

"I liked her. She seems very nice."

"I was hoping that perhaps we could bring her in on a case from time to time."

"Well if you feel you need the extra help, Scully, by all means, bring her aboard."

"You wouldn't mind an outsider tagging along with us?"

"Tagging along? I thought you meant she'd be helping you with the autopsies and forensic evidence."

"She would. But I figured we could use her help outside the lab as well."

Mulder took off his glasses and turned his full attention to his partner. "Scully, you promised you'd tell me when the job got to be too much for you to handle.

"I guess that's what I'm really trying to do, Mulder. I'm afraid I've reached the point where I can't handle the all-nighters or the traveling at a moments notice. I don't have the energy level that I used to or the strength to keep up with you."

His heart sank. He had known all along that this moment was coming. All those times he had asked her if she was all right and received the standard "I'm fine, Mulder," he realized easily that she had lied to him. Whether it had been for his benefit or her own, he was never sure. So for her to readily admit that she could no longer keep up, let him know just how serious her condition had become. He sucked in his bitter disappointment and responded in a caring manner.

"Are you saying you're ready to hand in your resignation?"

"No, no, that's not it at all. Mulder, I love this job. I couldn't bare to sit at home with nothing to do except wait for death."

She saw him flinch at that dreaded word. She knew he had yet to accept her fate. He definitely wouldn't like the rest of what she was about to say to him. But there was no point in sugar-coating it. He was always searching for the truth, but this particular truth he chose stubbornly not to believe in.

"I don't want to resign," Scully continued. "But I do feel the need to cut back some. A nice forty hour week instead of the sixty to eighty hours I normally put in. Limited travel only to cities with quality medical facilities, no cases involving fungus, spores, insects, half humans of any kind, and absolutely no UFO chasing.

"Gee, Scully, you're banning all the neat stuff."

Scully managed a quick smile before continuing. "I was also thinking that if you got along with Katrina well enough, and if you haven't frighten her away already, that maybe you and she might team up when I finally do resign." When she received no response from the man across from her, Scully questioned his attention. "Mulder, did you hear what I said?"

"Yes, I heard you and no, I don't think so," said Mulder without looking at her.

"Mulder, you'll need a new partner, and she--"

"I said no!" Mulder stated resolutely.

Scully blew out a weary sigh. "Be realistic, Mulder. You can't possibly do it all by yourself. You'll need someone to watch your back, someone to look out for you."

"Has the cancer affected your hearing, Scully?" he snapped angrily. "I said, NO WAY!"

He regretted saying it the moment it left his mouth, but she had struck a delicate nerve. The guilty look in his eyes conveyed to her his desire to apologize, but his anger wouldn't allow the words to be instantly formed.

"No, Mulder, the cancer hasn't affected my hearing... yet."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that," he offered as sincere an apology as possible.

"I know."

"It's just that... I never wanted a partner to begin with. And in actuality, you weren't meant to be my partner. Remember, you were sent to spy on me."

"Yes, I remember. And you thought you could scare me off. But you couldn't."

"Why is that?"

"I guess it would have to do with that first night we shared on the road. When I came running to your motel room in a total panic because of those tiny bumps I discovered on my hip. I think about that night a lot. How I'm standing there in my underwear, exposing myself to you and how you didn't try to take advantage of me. You could have, easily, and I could think of a few men who would have. But instead you held me in your arms and you allowed me to stay until I stopped trembling. And then later when you opened up and told me about your childhood and your quest to find your sister... I just felt that I had to stick with you. I felt that you needed me." Scully smiled bashfully as she made her next confession.

"I have to admit that in the beginning, I was mildly attracted to you in the physical sense." She saw him blush and look away as she went on. "But my feelings for you over the years have grown so much deeper than that. I can't bare to think of you being alone when I'm gone, Mulder. I heard how hard you took it during the time of my abduction. The term, 'walking zombie' was used by more than one person to describe your behavior. Now I know that I'm the only one you have to turn to in time of emotional stress. It frightens me to think what will happen to you when I'm not here to hold your hand anymore."

She saw the glistening in his eyes as he focused on something imaginably more important on his computer screen. She knew this was a topic too painful for him to discuss, but it was one she felt was absolutely necessary. She continued unfettered while her voice allowed her to speak without trembling.

"You need someone there for you at three and four o'clock in the morning. You need someone on the other end of that cell phone you can say, 'It's me,' to and know they'll know who's calling. You need someone with a medical background to patch you up when some odd matter of life form doesn't agree with you. You'll need a shoulder to cry on when it all gets to be too much for you. You need me, Mulder, but I'm not going to be around for very much longer."

His eyes were moist slits as he now glared down at a crumbled piece of paper on the floor, a missed attempt at scoring two points from across the room. "So you just decided you'd go out and find me a replacement, is that it?" he grumbled.

"I certainly couldn't leave it up to you, now could I? You'd run around without a partner and go into a dangerous situation without backup. It'd just be a matter of time before...." Her voice trailed off, sensing that she'd said far more than he could handle.

"We think an awful lot of ourselves, don't we?" Mulder spoke, an edge to his voice, and his eyes flashing her way for just an instant. "It's a wonder I managed to exist at all before you came along. Come to think of it, I believe I managed a good thirty-two years before you were forced on me. And I'll probably manage quite a few more after you're...."

After what? After she was six feet under and pushing up daisies? He didn't mean any of that either. She was forcing him to be defensive. And he could get downright nasty when he was put on the defensive. Didn't she realize what this conversation was doing to him? Didn't she know how hard it was for him to watch her dying a little each day, knowing that he was the cause of it all and knowing there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it? She wasn't the only one worried about his existence once she was gone. No one but his sister had such an emotional hold over him. As many times as he had ignored her, ditched her and overall abused her kindness and friendship, Scully had remained steadfast. She had indeed always been there for him when he needed her the most. He had to wonder to himself just how the hell he would exist without her in his world.

Her eyes had grown wide with hurt, both by the harshness in his voice and the truth to his words. She swallowed hard and choked back the tears she felt were trying to escape. "I suppose I am being a bit presumptuous," she uttered softly. "Of course you were fine before I came along. Of course, you'll be fine after I'm dead and gone. I'm sure you'll manage quite well, with or without a new partner.... I'm sorry, Mulder. I had no right to force my ideas on you like that."

Scully grabbed her purse, then got up and headed for the door. She wasn't sure how he managed to get there before she did, but when she tried to open the door, Mulder's hand was above her head and pushing it shut again. She kept her back to him, afraid to face him, knowing that the tears were about to start raining down. Mulder was silent for a full moment. His body was inches from hers, his warmth generating towards her. Soon, she felt his chin gently rest atop her hair.

"If anyone has a right to force their ideas on me," he spoke at last, "it's you, Scully."  His right hand remained on the door while his other hand landed on her left shoulder. He worked hard to keep his voice from breaking as he spoke. "I... uh... I appreciate the gesture, Scully. I do. But what you and I have developed over these past several years is very special. It's something that can't be prearranged and it can't be duplicated. You know me well. You know that I'll probably be a total basket case when you're gone. I'll mourn for you... perhaps a lot longer than I should.... But eventually, I'll hear your voice telling me to get off my lazy ass and get on with my life. And I'll listen to that voice and I'll carry on with my work and continue the search for my sister.... And...uh, there'll be times when I'll forget and I'll punch in your number on my cell phone, and some stranger will cuss me out for waking him at two in the morning. And... oh, God, Scully," he choked, "can we please not have this conversation? I can't do this.... Please don't make me do this."

The tears were streaming freely down his cheeks, mirroring those of his partner's. Scully spun around and threw her arms about his shoulders drawing him downward into a comforting embrace. Mulder's arms encircled her tightly and he nestled his head in the small crook of her neck.

"I'm sorry, Scully," he sobbed into her ear. "It's all my fault. They're killing you because of me. Because of my meddling, because of my stupid search for the truth. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please forgive me, I'm so sorry."

"Shhh, shhh." Scully cooed. "It's okay, Mulder. It's okay." She patted his trembling back with one hand and smoothed his hair back with the other. "You tried to warn me before that our working together would be dangerous. I chose not to listen to you. I thought you were just being paranoid. I don't want you to blame yourself, Mulder. It's not your fault. It was never your fault."

Mulder pulled away far enough to be able to look into her eyes, obviously planning to counter her last remarks, but she prevented it with an index finger laid against his opened lips.

"I said it's not your fault. I know you'll continue to blame yourself, but I want you to know that I don't hold you responsible for any of it."

Mulder managed a pained smile. "I don't deserve you. I suppose that's why this is happening."

"I don't know why it's happening, Mulder. I hated the fact that it was happening. But now, I've accepted it. And that makes it easier."

Mulder shook his head, straightened to his full height, then grasped her arms with both hands. "I don't accept it. I can't help but feel there's a cure out there for you, Scully. Whether it's natural, spiritual, scientific or extraterrestrial, I believe your cancer can be cured. We're just not looking hard enough."

"Mulder --"

"No, Scully. I try to be realistic and view the world through your eyes, but miracles happen everyday. Somewhere, every single day a miracle happens to someone. Health is restored, dreams come true, lives are saved due to no other cause but a miraculous twist of fate. Tell me you believe in miracles, Scully.... Tell me you believe. Miracles won't happen if you don't believe in them."

His voice held so much desperation and his eyes so much pain, that even if she didn't believe, there was no way she could disappoint him by admitting that fact. Taking in a deep breath, she nodded her head and found the strength to smile at him.

"I believe, Mulder... I believe."

He smiled through his tears as he swiped his thumb across her cheeks to dry hers. "Then no more trying to fix me up with new partners?"

"No," she replied as she returned the favor and wiped the dampness from his cheeks with the palm of her hand.

"And no more talk about dying?"

"No. No more talk about dying."

"Good." Mulder pressed his lips to her forehead, then wrapped his arms about her again. "I'm not going to give up on you, Scully. Don't you give up on yourself. Okay?"

He felt her head nod up and down against his chest. It was a few seconds longer before he was able to pull away from her, his own personal human security blanket.

"You want to go get something to eat?" he asked, his voice nearly back to normal. "You know, all work and no food...."

"No thanks. I don't have much of an appetite right now. I'm just going to go on home."

"You feel okay?"

"Yeah, I'm f--," she started to lie, but with him looking directly into her eyes, she opted for the truth, or at least something closer to it. "I'm feeling a little tired."

"You need me to drive you?"

"No. I can manage."

"You sure?"

"I'll let you know when I can't."

Mulder nodded and opened the door for her. As she stepped out into the corridor, he asked,  "I don't suppose you'd feel like taking a little drive up to Trenton with me tomorrow, would you?"

"Pick me up at eight?" she responded with no delay.

"Let's make it nine. And I'll bring the donuts."

"Good-night, Mulder."

"Night, Scully."

Mulder stood in the doorway and watched her as she walked to the elevator. He remained vigilant as the elevator doors opened and his partner stepped inside.

"Hey, Scully," he called out to her before the doors could close.

She placed her finger on the "open" button and stuck her head out to look at him.

"I just wanted to say thanks," he said in taking a few steps forward.

"For what?"

"Everything."

Her smile for him was angelic as she replied, "You're welcome, Mulder."

She stepped back and allowed the doors to close. Mulder lingered in the hallway for a moment, then slowly drifted back into his office and shut the door. Sitting in front of his computer again, he put his glasses back on and grabbed a bag of opened sunflower seeds. He began munching on his favorite snack while reading the latest information he'd downloaded on cancer research. There had to be a cure for Scully out there somewhere, and he was doggedly determined to find it.


THE END