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Dana Scully had completed her computer entry and was just getting to her feet when the office door opened and Mulder entered. She looked at him with some relief. "There you are," she said before he could get his overcoat off. "Iíve just updated the case report and posted the details onto the network, so itís ready for filing." She indicated the paperwork on his desk. Her expression changed suddenly as she walked towards him. "Mulder, Iíve got something to take care of. Iíll be gone a couple of hours."

He looked at his watch. "Our flightís at 3pm," he reminded her, surprised that she still had other things to do. Her eyes told him she was well aware of that. "I thought Iíd meet you at the airport. Iíll be there before three," she explained. "Where?" he asked. "At the check-in." He nodded, noted that she seemed pre-occupied but also sensed this wasnít the time to get into a discussion and delay her. Whatever her business, it was important. He handed her her overcoat from the apparel stand then opened the door for her. "Thanks," she said and walked out.




Scully turned the silver-grey sedan into the marked parking bay, braked and switched off. She sat a moment, thinking, a part of her absorbing the familiar scenery. Surrounded by immaculate lawn and gardens, the box-like three stories of the main hospital complex took up almost all the view. No doubt functional and in keeping with the architectural flavour of the neighbouring suburbs, but a hospital was a hospital.

Scully put a hand onto her brow and closed her eyes briefly, then glanced at the rear-view mirror. Even to herself she looked tired. The incident at Antietam had affected her more than she realised, or cared to admit. It was almost two months ago now and since that time she had never felt so ill-at-ease. She had tried to put it behind her, to get on with business. Mulder had no problems finding them cases, but she knew also that he suspected something was wrong.

She had examined the shooting over and over in her mind and was satisfied that the use of deadly force had been justified. Sheíd had no choice but to open fire; then why the stress? Why couldnít she get past it now? She instinctively knew part of the answer was here, in this hospital. The question was, what was she going to do about it? After a moment she extracted the keys, eased herself out of the car and made her way into the building.

Dr Andrew Hoganís office had always felt claustrophobic to Kevin OíNeill, more so today, when there was a chance that this might be his last visit. He was almost champing at the bit - too used to wide open spaces and no shackles. A month and a half in hospital had been tedious - his recovery slow and painful. Everything now depended on Dr Hoganís examination. Characteristically thorough the surgeon took his time and when finally finished he appeared reasonably satisfied.

"Well, Kevin, in spite of the unexpected complication, the wound is continuing to heal satisfactorily, but I think weíll keep you here for a few more days. Iíd like to keep a weather eye out in case of any further seepage from the internal sutures, but I wouldnít worry, itís just a precaution." Although naturally disappointed, OíNeill couldnít blame the doctor. Heíd been more than efficient, friendly and attentive. "I have a lot to thank you for. You got me through this."

Dr Hogan smiled briefly. "Iím flattered but I canít take the credit. Make no mistake, the wound could have been fatal. Your life was saved by the expert first-aid you received at the scene." OíNeill nodded and his jaw muscles tightened, well aware of the debt he owed to another. Dr Hogan continued: "However thereís a down-side to all this, Kevin. I want you to understand that injuries of this nature tend to leave certain residual affects. Youíll continue to suffer some degree of pain - Iím afraid thereís not much we can do about that, but the medication should help. Also, and I donít want to alarm you, thereís a strong possibility youíll become diabetic. That will need careful monitoring."

The surgeon paused to allow OíNeill to digest the information. OíNeill did have questions - what did it mean in the long term - injections? "Iíll go into all those details with you later," Dr Hogan explained, "but at this stage weíre looking for seventy five percent recovery or better and I canít see why you couldnít continue in an administrative capacity." OíNeill pursed his lips. "Thatís your recommendation?" Dr Hogan nodded "Yes, it is."

There it was then in black and white. OíNeill realised he would have to re-examine his future very seriously. Above all else he was a realist; to be an effective park ranger you needed to be physically fit. In the back of his mind he suspected this would happen; he just wasnít willing to face it. There were one or two options to consider. He hated the thought of being stuck behind a desk, and his love for the job was going to make any decision hard. He got to his feet. Hogan rose at the same time. "Iíll set up the appointment, but Iíll be here if you have any problems. My door is always open."

From the entrance and past the admittance desk at reception, Scully walked the corridors at a brisk pace. She was no stranger to Georgetown and needed no directions. Perhaps she was too familiar she mused, having spent several weeks here last year as a result of her abduction. As she walked, the sounds and smells were powerful reminders of her lengthy stay. She slowed and then paused as she neared her old room. She stared with a slight frown at the closed door. Even now the healing was still not complete. She finally shook herself from her troubled reverie and continued on. Scully found who she was looking for. She had spoken to Nurse Wilkins on the phone earlier. Theyíd met before of course. Wilkins had been the principal intensive care nurse who had attended her.

The nurse looked up as she approached and her brown face creased into a welcoming smile. "Dana, how are you? You look well." They shook hands. "Iím fine, thank you. Has there been any decision yet?" Wilkins shook her head. "No, but as I said on the phone, it looks like itíll be another few days, perhaps even a week." Scully frowned. "Chart?" Wilkins turned. "Right here. Itís just come back from Dr Hoganís office. Come through." She handed her OíNeillís medical chart as Scully entered the nursesí station. "Iíll just check Mrs Matthewsí medication. Be a minute," Wilkins told her and touched Scully on the elbow as she passed. "You know, Dana, heís quite a catch." She winked. Scully smiled as the nurse disappeared into one of the nearby rooms. "Youíre probably right," she whispered to herself as she turned back to the chart.

OíNeill rounded the corner from the connecting corridor sorely aware that the walking cane was awkward and obvious. He simply hated to be dependent on it. The short walk from Dr Hoganís office had tired him and it depressed him to be reminded of his present physical shortcomings. His dark mood quickly disappeared however when he saw her at the nursesí station. Her back was to him and he paused to watch her intently, taking in every detail: the soft lines of her face, how her hair fell around the contours of her shoulders, the easy way she moved. The tingling returned. He always felt a little nervous when seeing her again, but that only heightened the rush.

OíNeill ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to tidy himself, straightened to his full height and continued with what he hoped was confidence. She turned briefly without noticing him, absorbed in a medical chart. He approached the desk, uncertain now of what he was going to say as he hoped he was going to be giving her good news. Scullyís back was still to him as she flicked through pages and notes. The light fragrance of her now familiar perfume served to ease his mind and he closed his eyes a second, savouring it.

Scully had turned by then and was smiling at him. He couldnít hide his pleasure at seeing her even if he felt frustrated with his lot. She brought from him the hint of a grin. "I wish I could say theyíre kicking me out of here this afternoon, Dana," his tone conveyed his disappointment, "but he says a few more days." He shook his head. "Wasted journey, Iím afraid."

Scully looked him over. No journey to see him was ever wasted. He was dressed in a Parkís regulation training suit, form hugging across his chest, broad shoulders and well-muscled arms. He looked thin but his colour was good and beneath the steel-rimmed glasses his eyes were bright. He looked good to her - very good. She too had been hoping for better news, but she had seen the implications in the chart for herself. She cast a professional eye over the outline of the bandage that was quite visible beneath his sweat-shirt and looked back at him with a gentle reassurance. "Theyíre concerned about a recurrence of seepage from the internal sutures. Really, itís just a precaution."

Nurse Wilkins returned to the desk and as she took the chart she couldnít help noticing the way they were looking at one another. She spoke to Scully, calling her name twice before gaining her attention. Wilkins smiled knowingly. "The coffee shop is open. They serve a pretty good lunch." The small coffee shop was a fair distance away, one floor down.

Scully set off. OíNeill fell into step beside her as they walked. Still visibly limping he took it slowly. Scully could see that he hated the need of the support of the cane so she remained close to him, watching attentively in case he needed help. They took the elevator. "Hell, I was hoping to get out of here," he cursed softly as the doors closed. "Itís been so damned long. I feel cooped up, hemmed in." She glanced at him and nodded. "I know what you mean." She didnít elaborate, but OíNeill sensed that she understood exactly the constraints and the depression he was experiencing.

The coffee shop was only two steps from the elevator. A warm, aromatic smell met them as they entered. The place was familiar to Scully now - at least the vending machines on the far wall had become so; disposable cups of always too hot coffee consumed in restless concern. Her visits with him had never been long enough, her duties continually intruded, leaving her rushed with much on her mind. It left her unable to settle and deeply undecided.

There were few patrons for this hour, mostly ambulatory patients and their visitors talking in quiet tones or keeping their own council. OíNeill declined the offer of a meal, still restricted to dietary necessities, and Scully wasnít particularly hungry. She insisted he took the weight off his feet and went to the counter to buy the coffees. When she joined him at the table she mentioned as she sat down that she needed to be at National airport before three. He wasnít totally surprised by the news. He suspected it was the primary reason she came to see him.

"Youíve got an assignment," he remarked flatly. "Yes, in Seattle,"she replied evenly. He looked down. "You and Mulder?" She nodded and he returned her gaze. "When will you be back?" A glimmer of hope that this wasnít what he suspected it to be. "I have no way of telling," she explained. "These cases are always so unpredictable." He pursed his lips. More than likely she wouldnít be back before his discharge. Damn.

Scully shifted uneasily. The chrome seats werenít the most comfortable. She reached round to the small of her back to remove the holster from her waist band and slipped it deftly into her coat pocket. She noticed him watching her, a disconcerted expression forming harsh lines about his mouth. The rapid blinking of his eyes greatly concerned her. His jaw muscles tightened. "I used to enjoy shooting," he explained in a low voice, without the need for a question. "Now even the thought of a gun makes me feel sick." Scully understood, and not just because of the medical implications. "Itís trauma association. Youíll lose the anxiety in time."

Instead of a reply he shook his head ever so slightly. There was a moment of silence before he asked: "What did you do with it?" She had a pretty good idea what he meant. "The bullet?" He nodded. "It was tagged and submitted as evidence." She didnít offer any more information or ask any questions; whatever his thoughts she left them to him. He frowned and ran a hand through his hair before rubbing the back of his neck. It appeared then that he had simply cast the subject from his mind.

Scully looked at him steadily. "I suppose Dr Hogan explained the nature of your injuries?" He nodded. "Youíll probably be restricted to light duties." He suddenly screwed up his face and then straightened in his chair adopting an almost defeatist attitude. "You donít want to move into management?" she asked, reading his body language. He made his feelings plain. "I donít want to be deskbound, Dana. Shuffling papers would kill me. Iím no pen pusher."

Scully pursed her lips; why were these things always so difficult? He felt her sympathy. "Dana -" he went to take her hand but thought the better of it. The gesture wasnít lost on her. She reached across, covered his hand and squeezed it briefly. "What are you going to do?" she asked gently. He pushed his glasses up, rubbed his brow and his eyes, then looked back. "Thereís this lecturing job - American History with emphasis on the Civil War and the involvement of the Irish Brigade. Itís short term, twelve months. But Iíve been stalling, putting them off. I had trouble enough thinking about how to deal with the relic hunters, let alone a career move."

"The job sounds ideal. Where?" He wiped his mouth. "Dublin. Saint Patricks." She hadnít expected that. "Ireland?" She felt her heart actually murmur. "But they want a definite answer this time," he explained. "I guess itís my last chance. Theyíre not going to wait forever." Her voice was hesitant when she asked: "When do they want you to start?"

"Immediately, more or less." He saw her eyes widen but continued. "It would mean opting out, taking a disability pension. Then thereís moving overseas. Itís a hell of an upheaval, not to mention difficult at the moment. Iím not exactly fighting fit."

"Visiting lecturer, itís a good offer," she observed, surprised how detached she sounded. His expression told her he thought the offer was good, too. "When I finally got my head together and had to accept what happened, Saint Patrickís seemed like the best way out. There was nothing left for me her - or so I thought." His eyes drilled into hers for a second and she couldnít fail to read his meaning. He looked down. "Dana, to be honest, I donít know what to do." He didnít need to pretend, to hide behind macho walls; he could share his feelings. After all, she was the only one who really understood.

Scully examined the options. "You know, you donít have to resign. Take a leave of absence. Itís only a year. Think things over, work out what you want to do, but more importantly, get your health back." Serious lines formed around his mouth. He nodded, took a gulp of coffee and placed the cup back onto its saucer. "Truth is, Iíve felt the cords pulling me back for some time. Ireland isnít my birthplace but I feel at home there." He paused to reflect and she let him continue without interruption. "Maybe Iíve always intended to go back, I donít know." A thought came to him. "Most of the men in the Irish Brigade expected to return once theyíd made their fortunes in this country, and like them I never considered the consequences. Guess I made my fortune," he looked past her with pain flashing across his face, "but it cost me."

Scully leaned close to him to re-establish eye contact and her voice was low and encouraging when he said: "You survived." Again she briefly squeezed his hand. He held her gaze for a long moment, captivated by the emotion in her eyes, finding himself moved by it. Deep inside he was in turmoil, a state so alien and frightening to him he wanted to reach out and simply hold her.

Scully saw him clench his fist with pent-up anger and grief and she wanted to tell him that she knew what he was going through, but wasnít certain how. After all, did she really know? She dismissed her own confinement in intensive care as irrelevant or what it was like to be on the wrong end of a gun. To be shot at and grazed was one thing - to be critically wounded quite another. Her heart went out to him. She could tell he was confused, that he was more than tempted by the offer, but something was preventing him from making the final decision. She had a pretty good idea what that was, but it was a truth she felt unprepared to face. Why did that scare her so much? She found herself relying on the easy and now familiar pretence of detachment.

"Look, Kevin, itís your decision, but I think itís a great opportunity. The peace and quiet will do you good, and itís a chance to maintain your Civil War interests." His face conveyed his feelings. "Sure, peace and quiet, but is it any safer? The Troubles havenít really gone away, the violence has just been down-played. The scars are too deep - too much blood invested - thereíll never be and end." He shook his head sadly. "I wonder what those soldiers would have thought of it all - their homeland tearing itself apart, destroying families, compounding the grief."

Scully leaned a little closer. "The Troubles have always existed in one form or another," she pointed out. "But there have also been those who were willing to try and resolve them, even during the Civil War." OíNeill looked at her soberly, hanging onto every word she said. "You have a chance to keep the memory of those soldiers alive," she explained, trying to appeal to his greater loyalties. "In a way they believed they were fighting for their homeland as well as for us. North or South, Irish men, both sides committed to their beliefs and yet willing to work out their differences and come together when it was over. Peace with dignity. It is possible. Young minds are very impressionable, Kevin. Help them see that - make them understand."

He smiled to himself, pleased that sheíd read the book heíd given her and that sheíd researched the history, the politics and that she was genuinely concerned about The Troubles. He rested his fingers onto the back of her hand. "Thatís just the Irish cominí out in you." He laid the accent on thick, knowing how much she like it.

She grinned to the point of having to stifle a giggle, but even as she did so she realised her rational mind was urging him to go and as a consequence she may never see him again. The sudden and heavy sadness it brought prompted her to react in a way she may not have under different circumstances. She turned her hand upwards and grasped his firmly. It seemed so natural when his fingers curled around her palm and tightened. There was something about his touchÖ

Yet even then she couldnít relax completely, that uninvited voice of conscious and so-called reason refused to be silent. One word more than any other, garishly highlighted or as if on a loop endlessly repeated, not to be ignored, painful to accept: separation. But it had to be the best course, the only logical course, because it was apparent that Kevin had become strongly attracted to her. More importantly she knew now that the attraction wasnít just one sided and she simply couldnít afford that right now. Reluctantly she took her hand away. He raised his eyebrows in silent question.

Scully fingered the rim of her coffee cup and looked out of the windows to the immaculate lawns and gardens. The moment was souring and she knew too how much she hated Lyle Watkins and that damn percussion revolver for ruining Kevinís life.

The soft lead bullet had torn into his right side, shattered two ribs, nicked the large intestine and punctured the pancreas before lodging in the muscle sheath of his back. She had no way of knowing that at the time however, and had done her best to stem the bleeding and tend to him with nothing more than a standard first aid kit. Mulder had called 911 but she had despaired over the time it took for the ambulance to get there. Kevin had stopped breathing and as she desperately gave him mouth to mouth she knew he was slipping. The time factor was vitally important so she got Mulder to help her continue CPR until the paramedics arrived.

Sheíd gone in the ambulance at Mulderís insistence while he took care of Watkins and assisted the sheriff to get the preliminary investigation underway. By the time they had arrived at Sharpsburg Hospital Kevinís condition was critical. The prognosis wasnít good.

They were short staffed and needed her help and she gladly scrubbed up to assist in the emergency surgery. Heíd come through it well enough but his condition remained touch and go for 36 hours. She tried to stay with him as much as possible, ostensibly as his doctor, but the statements to be made and reports to be filed over the shooting incident took her away from him. She was well aware that every time your gun left its holster you were accountable. But at least the paperwork kept them in Sharpsburg. She was at his bedside when he woke.

Kevin was airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for further treatment but Scully suggested and then arranged his transfer to Georgetown as Dr Hogan, recently transferred from Bethesda, was a former Navy surgeon who had seen active service in Vietnam and the Gulf War and was very experienced in gunshot wounds. Kevinís condition steadily improved under his care.

As for OíNeill, he remembered very little about any of it; merely disjointed bits and pieces as he wandered in and out of consciousness. The pain was constant. He had vague impressions of the ambulance ride and being worked on. Dana had been there. His next recollection must have been later, he wasnít sure how long later. He thought he must have been asleep, he wasnít sure of that either. When he opened his eyes he thought he must have been dreaming. Danaís concern became a dazzling smile. He became aware of the physical contact, the restoring touch that stirred him into life. She was holding his hand - but she had his heart.

The weeks that followed held uncertainty and fear. Long nights when sleep wouldnít come, alone with much too much time to think, attached to all kinds of machines, that was the worst. He felt trapped. Sometimes he thought he would die. And then she would fill his thoughts to soothe him. He reached for and held onto the memories, recalling them over and over.

Dana came to see him when she could and he counted the hours, sometimes days between her visits. She was his life and the absences only deepened the sense of connection. When she was with him everything seemed so right and proper. She was his tangible link to all that he held so dear. Without her he felt lost and afraid.

Kevin noticed Scully peering at him over her raised coffee cup. "That poem you were working on." He folded his arms. "What about it?" She put the cup down. "Have you finished it yet." His expression was non-committal. "Maybe." Scully had encouraged him to turn back to writing for therapy. Heíd written several articles for the Civil War journals, but poetry was entirely a different matter. Although he had dabbled in it, it confounded him and heíd found it too awkward and difficult. She had challenged him to try his hand again, something familiar - a Civil War theme.

"Can I see it?" she asked and waited expectantly. "What makes you think I have it with me?" he teased. Scully gave him a mock-scolding squint and sat back. "Because the notebook I gave you is in your back pocket." He was a little sheepish, but kept her waiting. "So it is. The thingís not very good, and Iím not sure about the last line."

She insisted. "Can I see it?" Finally he took out and gave her the notebook - her old one, well-used and embossed with a now mostly faded FBI seal. She flipped the cover up. His handwriting was very good, neat and easy to read. She took her time over the poem and when finished she looked up with her eyebrows raised, her eyes sparkling with good natured admonishment. "Youíre too hard on yourself. The last line works fine. Iím impressed." She moved to hand the notebook back but he shook his head and asked her to read the poem aloud. Dubious, she nevertheless complied:

"ĎClear the way!í the Regiments cry

Irish born, Irish Brigade,

Brothers in arms, willing to die

Harps, shamrocks, sunbursts,

Our banners display.

Emerald and gold they fly gallantly above

For Ireland, for God, for those we love,

Never were hearts more true,

We march into glory, our bayonets charged.

The proud Sons of Erin in Union Blue.í"

He smiled. "Sounds a whole lot better when you say it." She shook her head in disagreement. "I canít give it the justice it deserves." She handed him the notebook. This time he took it. "What do you intend to do with it? Itís for one of the journals?" He thought a moment. "I have Patrick OíNeillís diaries. I thought maybe Iíd get them into shape for publication." She nodded. "I think thatís a good idea."

"He was quite a hero by all accounts, a colour bearer." Again she nodded. "Then he was a hero among heroes." He focused on her; she meant it. He leaned a little toward her. "And so the men of the Irish Brigade never wavered, splendid and heroic under fire. No one stood taller then the colour bearer, his courage unbounded, determined to rally the men. To the last full measure of devotion each man knew his duty and stood his ground, prepared and willing to die if necessary, to do what must be done to restore the UnionÖ"

She recognised the passage, it came from the book heíd given her, and she searched her memory. "This, then, is their legacy," she recalled it and finished for him, "for in their sacrifice a nation was reborn." He was impressed and secretly delighted. "You remembered." She became serious and just a little sad. "Seems to me that too many have already forgotten."

They sat for a time and in silence finished their coffee. OíNeill declined another. He wanted to stretch his legs as sitting too long made his side hurt. He ditched the cane - it was more of a hindrance than a help. As they walked he suddenly asked her about diabetes and Scully explained the nature of the condition and its treatment. She reassured him that even if he required injections some time in the future, with proper management and self-regulation he shouldnít have any reason to worry. This eased his mind a great deal.

The journey took them down via elevator to the reception area and out of the building. A side door opened to the hospital grounds beside the reserved car spaces for ER staff and emergency vehicles where Scully had parked earlier. The walk remained unhurried, even lingering. OíNeill led her to a small enclosed section of the lawn where a brass plaque commemorated the foundation stone. Bathed in bright sunshine the garden had been artistically landscaped and lovingly tendered. It was warm for autumn with a soft, almost imperceptible breeze and Scully felt somewhat hot in her overcoat, or was her raised body temperature due to another reason? She felt completely comfortable nevertheless, and secure, basking in the pleasure of his company, all other concerns had long since faded into insignificance. They were quite alone. For the first time in a long time, she felt at peace.

The flowers were blooming, tantalised into prolonged life by the perfect Indian Summer weather, magnificent red and yellow roses, a sprinkle of lavender, all in low, bordered beds. "Someone takes pride in their work," she observed as she leaned over a deep red rose bush to sample the fragrance. OíNeill glanced about him. "Iíve come to rely on this little sanctuary," he explained without reservation. "It provides me with some much needed solitudeÖ a place I can come to when I get too stressed out." He half smiled. "I guess you know what hospitals are like." She did. Scully knew this spot well. During her stay she, too, had drawn much needed strength from this small garden, and one other place: the hospitalís tiny chapel. But these were experiences so personal she felt reluctant to share, at least for now.

OíNeill gestured with a sweeping hand. "I get the same sense of calm here that I did with a similar garden off the cloisters of Saint Patrickís." While it was true to a degree, he knew her presence really had that calming effect. He turned to her. "Have you ever been to Ireland?" She folded her arms and faced him directly. "No, but Iíve always wanted to go."

He grinned broadly. "Oh, youíd love it." His eyes became distant as he conjured up visions past. "Early morning mist rising over rolling green hills thick with clover and shamrocks; hundred year old stone-built pubs that have cozy wood-burning fires and landlords full of blarney whoíll sell you Guiness on tap but offer a myriad of tall stories for free; narrow, hedge-lined lanes and country roads; the sound of fiddles and pipes. You can feel the history all around you." He seemed so happy as he recaptured the memories and Scully, captivated by the timbre of his voice, could almost picture the landscape he so vividly painted. "It sounds beautiful."

He grinned. "It is. Youíd fit right in." She smiled shyly at the inference and the compliment. Scully dropped her arms and he saw her pull at her cuffs nervously and he realised he wasnít the only one. Again he was so moved by the honesty in her eyes that he decided then and there to drop all the fencing and say what he really meant. He had been side-stepping the issue for far too long, his inbuilt natural defence mechanism keeping him at a safe distance from the possibility of rejection. For he still believed there was someone else. He needed to know. It was now or never - there was no going back. Anxiously he took her hands and looked at her pleadingly. "What if I asked you to come with me? Just take some leave. See what itís like. No strings, I promise."

She didnít avoid his eyes but her reply was immediate. "I canít." His crest-fallen expression seemed to say that he knew why she couldnít. "Itís Mulder, isnít it?" Her smile disappeared. "In a way." He knew it. "You and heÖ" She became slightly embarrassed. "No," she whispered and shook her head. He frowned. "Iím presuming too much, is that it?" She adjusted her hands to take up his and reassure him. "I think I know how you feel." That only made him unable to understand. "Then what?" How to explain? Scullyís face creased as she struggled to find the words. "Thereís something I have to see through. I owe Mulder at least that much. I donít know how long itís going to take."

OíNeill had carried a suspicion that her sense of obligation and duty would be tempered in steel, and therefore would always be a barrier between them. Certainly he loved his job but he could walk away from it if thatís how it had to be. Dana, however, had answered a calling, and her devotion proved unquestioned. He clenched his jaw and scanned the sky momentarily as he tried to consider the broader aspects and understand her heavy responsibilities. "I admire your commitment and your courage, but I worry about you. I worry about the danger." He squeezed her hands to emphasise his concern. "Dana, sometimes courage alone isnít enough."

She brushed aside any suggestion of bravery. "DangerÖ yes, thereís danger, but it comes with the territoryÖ and Iíve learnt to roll with the punches, but it isnít simply confined to me. It affects everyone around me." She paused to select her words very carefully. "I almost lost you once, I canít risk that. I care about you." He held her gaze as if the world depended on it. "The difference isÖ I love you."

His admission evoked so many conflicting emotions that Scully couldnít react. She was struck first by the odd physical effects; her knees felt rubbery and numb and there was a curious, almost painful twinge in her chest and side. And then there were the terrible complications that she couldnít ignore. She was about to speak but wasnít certain that anything she could say wouldnít upset him. Her hands moved to his arms for more solid contact and to steady herself. "I need to know youíll be safe, Kevin, away from all this."

He was beginning to understand that she was trying to protect him from whatever evil she knew only too well to be out there. As a victim heíd experienced some of that evil, now she was trying her best to shield him and take away the hurt. "Iím here, let me help," he said in a low, sincere, voice. "You donít have to face it alone." She shook her head immediately. "I donít want to see you hurt again." Her grip tightened. "I couldnít take that."

OíNeill found in her eyes an unguarded honesty and something else: past sorrow and pain endured in silence. There was so much more she wasnít burdening him with. So, she was a victim, too. He wanted to share it, to take the weight. His arms went around her to draw her to his chest. Scully was at first reluctant, her hands held defensively in front of her, but then she acquiesced and accepted his embrace. When she finally held him she was firm yet conscious of handling him gently. Appreciating her thoughtfulness he hugged her to prove he wasnít fragile. She reciprocated and he closed his eyes when he felt her rub his back. They held one another in silence until she said: "Where were you three years ago when I had the chance to change my mind?"

She looked up, straight into his eyes but only for a second, finding it too difficult to let him see the threatening tears. To calm and reassure her he put a hand to her face and stroked the skin of her cheekbone with his thumb tenderly, rhythmically, seductively. "Iím here now. Iíll always be here," he promised. When she responded to his touch, a little pressure encouraged her to lift her face toward him, and he brushed his mouth over hers, testing permission.

Scully caught her breath and pulled back slightly, eyes half closed before turning partly away, uncertain, even a little unwilling. He felt her tense even as her breathing quickened, but did not break from him. OíNeill put a heavy restraint on his own desires and didnít pressure her. He relinquished control to her straight away, concerned that he had overstepped the mark and he hadnít wanted or intended to. He could see she was holding back, cautious even guarded and he was thankful that she had allowed him this much, that she trusted him enough to give just a little of herself. "Iím sorry," he said, meaning it. She turned to him and he lightly ran his thumb along the line of her jaw; again she moved into his palm and he brought her closer just to hold her.

Scullyís ever rational mind insisted she should resist. Do not get involved - this is not right - it has no future. Her heart willed it to happen. She wanted so desperately to drink in these wonderful sensations: the simple nearness of him, his breath on her face, the feel of his heart pounding in his chest, his tenderness, generosity and understanding, the gentle strength of his arms and the exciting touch of his finely sculptured hands. He was the most kind and considerate man she had ever known.

Despite the crystal - clear negatives she couldnít fight the moment any longer and threw all caution to the wind. She surrendered to her feelings and reached up to put her arms around his neck. Still naturally tentative she nudged his mouth and chin with her own before losing herself in a powerful surge of unleashed emotion and need. Overwhelmed by the sensual rush she closed her eyes and sought his lips with some urgency. Then, confident and contented, she kissed him deeply, offering him more than he ever expected. He returned it just as eagerly and neither of them wanted it to end.

Her unbridled passion had hit OíNeill like a super-charged bolt that almost knocked him over. Then just as abruptly her tenderness equalised the balance. All the awful cliches couldnít possibly describe the ecstasy which lifted his soul and swelled his heart. In an uncanny impression of dejavu, her kiss gave him new life. Here was the culmination of all his desires, his hopes and wishes. He wanted to laugh, to sing, to pick her up and dance about like some besotted teenager enraptured by first love. Only one thing could be better than thisÖ to make love, to share love. For her he would gladly give up all that he had, all that he was and all that he could ever hoped to be. He wanted to commit himself totally, unequivocally, desperately.

His gently exploring hands slid across her shoulders, down her flanks to ease inside her overcoat to her waist and the lower curve of her back. He nestled himself against her, yearning to consummate the dream.

Willingly swept up in the intoxicating power of arousal, Scully was brought to the edge of total abandonment, prepared to do anything he asked. She did not reject his advance and took shelter in his embrace, wanting to trust in the safety of his love. However that nagging, accusing voice wouldnít go away: she was letting this go too far; why was she allowing it to? This wasnít fair - how could you do this to him? The weight of guilt the voice brought eventually caused her to pull away, but she refused to allow it to dampen the exhilaration, a feeling she thought she had lost forever.

Breathless, euphonically weak and so grateful to have this time with him she caressed his ear with her cheek and rested her head on his shoulder. He rocked her gently and she nuzzled his neck. He felt her body react. "Youíre trembling," he said and gave her an affectionate squeeze. "Itís just that itís been so long," she explained softly and relaxed in his arms. "I canít imagine why. Someone as beautiful as you should be beating them off with a club." She turned her head and looked up at him. "My Smith and Wesson l075 nine millimetre tends to put them off."

Suddenly aware the a reference to a gun may had adversely affected him she straightened to search his eyes for any sign that she may have hurt him but he was smiling lazily at her, and kissed her on the bridge of the nose. It was so easy to ignore the warning voice, to answer the call of her heart; too easy to fall head over heelsÖ He smothered her with soft brief kisses on her face her brow, her closed eyelids. Oh, it was so easy to want to love this man. She tilted her head up, his mouth barely touching, traced the line from her forehead down the valley of her nose. He bent low, her lips were parted slightly, welcoming.

However, Scullyís cell phone rang, shattering the spell, its tone suddenly irritating and highly intrusive. She dropped her head to his chest in apology and he let her go so she could answer it. She dug deep into her cavernous pocket to extract the thing to shut it up, wrenched the antenna up and put the phone to her ear. "Scully." She pocketed a hand. "Scully, itís me. Iím at the airport check-in. Where are you? Itís getting late." Scully turned from OíNeill and walked a couple of paces away. "Iíll be there, Mulder." Was she annoyed? He must have detected something in her voice. "Are you all right?" The question was gentle, concerned. "Yes, Iím fine. Iíll see you shortly." She punched off and rammed the antenna down.

OíNeill had narrowed his eyes and folded his arms conscious of the envy. Heíd clearly heard Mulderís voice, filtered and a little distant through the phone, listened to the familiar way they spoke to one another. Heíd seen for himself how they were with each other. There was love there even if she didnít recognise it. The strongest kind of love; mutual respect, unshakeable loyalty and absolute trust. How could he compete with that? As if to hasten the inevitable, his wristwatch pipped the half hour and he suspected the simple note had triggered an automatic response in her, converting her mind back to the business ahead. Indeed, when she looked back at him her expression had changed from the tender, passionate woman he had held in his arms, to the hard-edged professional Federal officer.

OíNeill had dreaded this moment. Hope against hope he had always believed there was the chance he could persuade her to allow him into her life. He had dreamt of the joy of intimacy and building a relationship - now it was all crumbling before his eyes and he could do nothing to stop it. "Kevin, itís getting late," Scully explained in a low voice. "Mulderís waiting at the airport."

"I know," he replied flatly, clearly disappointed. Then, almost as an after thought, he reached for his notebook, opened it and tore out a page. "Iíve been meaning to give you this. Just a couple of lines. IÖ" he handed the page to her. A poem in his handwriting. She read:

"Red, white and blue your banner unfolds,

For God, for Country,

On oath willing to defend, to uphold.

Yet tempered by mercy and higher ideals,

Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity

worthy gold shield.

Never a heart more true.

God watch over you and keep you safe,

gallant soldier of justice

My angel of Erin in Union Blue."

Hand shaking, Scully thrust the page into her pocket, closed her eyes hard and turned away from him with her head bowed, battling tears and unable to speak. She didnít want him to see her floundering in the cruel tide of inescapable fate. A part of her wanted to stay, another simply wanted to flee. She hated goodbyes. OíNeill knew heíd upset her however unintentionally. He took her shoulders between his hands and rested his cheek on her head.

"We could make this work," he whispered to her, his voice full of emotion. "Goddamit, itís worth a try, isnít it?" Scully leaned back into him, savouring the contact. "You donít know how much I -" realising she was going to say something that would just make matters worse she stopped mid-sentence and paused. "I only wish we could." Her voice was husky, full of regret.

"I love you!" She turned, looked up, eyes glistening. There were no words, but there didnít need to be, he found all he needed to know in her face. How could you avoid the cliches? "I donít want to lose you," he said quickly, desperately, "Iíll shuffle papers, do whatever they want. Iíll do whatever you want me to."

"No, that wouldnít be fair on either of us. I couldnít always be there for you and you deserve much better than that." He pursed his lips and looked with anguish to the sky before spreading his hands. The irony wasnít lost on him. "I guess you canít lose something you donít have."

"Itís not as simple as that. Believe me if there was a choiceÖ if the circumstances were differentÖ she took his hand, behind the steel-rimmed glasses his eyes were wet. "Please donít. This is hard enough." OíNeill continued to struggle to come to terms with the situation. Whatever his feelings or how much he was prepared to concede, nothing would change. Much greater, external forces were at work here and he was just a minor player. He entwined his fingers through hers. It had become all so clear to him now. She had a destiny to fulfil - obviously it didnít include him.

"Dana," he spoke slowly, hesitatingly, "thank you seems inadequate. You saved my life." She shook her head. "You saved your own." OíNeill gathered her up and kissed her longingly, as if the power of it could make her change her mind, but even as she responded with freely given passion, he knew it was goodbye. Finally she put her hands to his arms and pushed away. "I have to go." He clenched and unclenched his fists. "Will I see you again?"

She was certain he could see her inner struggle to stay composed, her child-like stumbling over words she couldnít voice. She touched the side of his face, caressed his cheek with her thumb as he had done. His sad expression almost made her give way. She dug deep into her pocket once more, found a business card and her pen. She wrote something down on the back of the card and slipped it into his breast pocket. She kissed on the cheek, turned and walked away.

He watched her stride to the car, the silver-grey four-door sedan seemingly making her tinier and more fragile by comparison. Neither were the case but it didnít stop him from worrying about her. He took several steps down the grassy slope. "Take care of yourself, Dana Scully."

At the open car door she looked up at him and smiled. Even from here he could see her eyes were brimming. "And you, Kevin OíNeill." She got in, fired the engine, and drove away. With a terrible sinking feeling OíNeill watched the car until it disappeared into the distance. Finally, he extracted the card and read it. The note said simply:

"When itís over, Iíll come looking."

--end of file--

C L Goodwin 1997