Near Death Experience
by Christina M. Simmons
Illustrated by Erin Livingstone

**Standard Disclaimer: All rights to characters and series owned by Twentieth-Century Fox and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. No profit turned by the writing or posting of this work. Please don't sue me, yadda yadda...**

Author's Note: I was just so tickled by other fanfic in this category that I had to stick in a short vignette of my own. I've no idea what's going to happen... the teaser was a jumble to me, and I'm lost without my VCR. But, soulmates seeming to be the theme...


They stood in the field together, close to death. Mulder's death, apparantly... some hundred years before, or so he'd said. Scully's death, too... if things hadn't turned out differently. And now, tangible death... the body of the young woman at their feet. Heavy clouds, rain-laden, chilled the air, blocking the sunlight. The drab navy uniforms of the local police seemed black against the seared ocher of the undulating meadow hummocks.

Mulder was the first to turn away, silent.

Scully gazed at the young woman for a moment longer, the eyes still wide in death, her blood a bright splash against the late autumn gold of the grasses. Then she followed her partner, just as silently... she'd learned to give Mulder his space in times like this. He'd speak when he was ready.

At the edge of the field, he turned, crinkled eyes taking in the expanse of it... almost searching, or imbedding it in his memory. Scully looked at the ground at her feet, waiting.

"We'll be back here again." he said at last... though it was by no means clear whether he was speaking to her, or to himself. Scully turned her blue eyes on him, and found her gaze met by his steady hazel regard. "It all comes around again, Scully... we'll be back."

Scully sighed, taking her turn to memorize the landscape. "I don't think I want to, Mulder. Once around is enough for me." She didn't need to tell him that she wasn't speaking of physical location... Mulder was the master of subtext. He would understand.

He did, and suprised her by chuckling, as though her response had cheered him out of his pondering. "I don't think you have much of a choice." Then, once again, he lapsed back into silence... this time, the silence of one carefully choosing his next words. "It's... reassuring, in its own way, Scully. If you look at it that way. It's not simply events which draw us back... it's people. Don't you prefer to look at it that way... knowing that maybe, just maybe, death doesn't mean 'goodbye forever'?"

"According to the way I was raised, it never did." She lowered her voice, her eyes... her mind traveling with that statement back to other experiences... other times. Sunday school... all she'd been taught. Her sister Melissa's deviations from that teaching... Mulder would have appreciated Missy's thoughts, at a time like this. A condemned killer, staring up at her with the face of her partner... speaking in a voice that was almost her own. Visions of a stout Naval officer in dress whites, silhouetted against ebony velvet... whispers of a beloved voice. "Death never has been the end of anything, Mulder, except the physical form... but it's a moving on. A transmutation. Not a recycling of energies."

Mulder interrupted her thoughts with a hand on her back, steering her away from the field... and when she glanced up at him, he was smiling.

"I won't argue religious philosophy with you." he said, then, as a parting shot, a grin. "After all... in either way of thinking... we'll have all eternity to debate it, won't we? Here... or wherever."

"You're sure of this." She put all her skepticism into that, raising one eyebrow, but could not hide the amusment she felt. Mulder just seemed so... pleased... by that decision.

"Positive, Scully... I saw things, you know." He was referring to the regressive hypnotism, his eyes going distant for that moment. "No... no 'proof.' But it's enough for me. And you..." He was teasing her mercilessly now. "You will just have to wait around and find out if I'm right or not."

Scully stopped dead in her tracks, the sudden realization hitting her that Mulder was not speaking in generalities... or about separate experiences with the other side of death. Her partner stopped, too, regarding her with unabashed amusement.

"Wait. So you're saying..." She spoke slowly, carefully, keeping her face carefully neutral. "You're saying that you... saw ME... in... whatever sort of life-thing it was that you thought you saw? That's what you're talking about? That we'll be back here. You and me. In some ... other life?"

Mulder nodded. "What can I say... though I'm tempted to ask if you've been following me around..."

"Uh-huh." Scully said flatly, regarding her partner, both brows raised now. "So you're telling me that not only am I stuck with you in THIS life... but I've had to put up with you before... and will have to do it again... most likely for all eternity?"

He grinned. Scully closed her eyes for the briefest of moments, and started forward again, striding straight past her chuckling partner.

"You're buying me dinner." she told him, not turning around. "Tonight. Somewhere nice. If I'm going to put up with this sort of abuse for the next milennia... you owe me that much, Mulder."

Mulder, trotting to catch up with his partner, did not protest in the least.


Author's Note: There had to be more to the field... if Scully was really a part of it. If she had a place in Mulder's former life. Please excuse the dates, or lack thereof... I'm currently without VCR, so I can't get all the details. Comments welcome, of course. Hope you like it.

Compound Battlefield, 3:46 p.m.

He was in the field again.

She'd stood and looked on from the edge of the long grasses, yellowed with autumn, and watched the solitary figure of her partner bow his head. He was looking at the photographs... of the man he thought he'd been, of the woman he thought he'd loved. She'd given them to him... a peace offering, of sorts. Maybe that had been a mistake.

Of course it was a mistake. You know Mulder.... how he gets... you know he's been vulnerable. To her... to this. But you gave him those photographs anyway.

Dana Scully closed her eyes slowly, bowing her own head. She wanted to go to him, to take him from this place. It was too close to death... too many deaths. Too many. She felt it, too, and ached for that loss of life... Mulder, however, was heart-deep in another time right now... a time that she had no place in.

Scully stood there for a moment longer before turning away.

Civil War Archives, 4:15 p.m.

I can't believe I'm back here again.

The dust of ages, the smell of old papers and photographs, could not be eradicated from the archive room. It had bothered her allergies even in her previous visit, however brief... but here she was. Again.

Mulder would love this. He'd say that we all come back again... or something like that.

Memory of her partner's hypnosis session remained clear in her mind... Mulder, face creased with effort and the pain of the memories he was supposedly reliving... herself in the background, fearing for him.

Come off it, Dana... you came here for him. Why deny it?

It was true.

She'd felt so distant from Mulder, these past two days. Cut off... shut out. For almost four years now she'd settled into the unspoken bond they shared... the comfort of knowing him, of being part of the shadowy world he inhabited... trusted, and trusting. She would rather walk in the light... where facts were facts, and science held true... but if she had to probe the darkness, she was glad that Mulder was at her side. Always.

Until now.

And that had been the greatest fear building in her as Mulder had, of late, drifted further and further into the shadows... without her. He was straining at the bond that had been their strength... and each time he did, Scully felt herself break a bit under that effort.

Pull it together, Dana. You know why you're here.

Resistance was futile. If she did not want to lose her partner, her friend, entirely... she had to follow him into the gray areas. And into the dark.

Even if it scares you... it always has, and it does even now... but you're looking into the dark now. Because you're more afraid of...

Of what? Of being alone?

Dana, you've been listening to Mulder too long.

But here she was. His eyes had gone distant under hypnosis... and he'd recited places and names... connecting the past to the present. His father... his sister... Melissa... even the Cancer Man. All had a place in his past... or his delusion.

Even herself.

It was the field. That damnable field, again...

" sergeant is there. He is Scully." Dead. So she had died in that field, too... in Mulder's mind, at any rate. She'd come to the archives to search for the truth for him... and found the photographs of Sullivan Biddle, the man he'd claimed to be, and of Sarah Kavanaugh, the woman he'd loved... the woman Melissa's fragmented mind had latched onto.

She'd come for him, before. Now, she came for herself.

You're curious. Curious is good. Scientists are curious. At least look at this rationally...

She hadn't asked Mulder about the image of her former self. To do so would be to admit belief... and she couldn't. Not now. Not yet. But still she stood before the registry of names, scanning over the unit that held the name of Sullivan Biddle.


A name. A name... and a location. Drawer 1026-A. There was a photograph, then. Sgt. Gideon Scott.

But how many sergeants were there in that field? Dozens of men died that day...

But only one sergeant in Sullivan Biddle's unit.

Her hand trembled on the metal drawer's handle, and she hesitated. She was glad that she'd left Mulder behind... she didn't want him to have to see this struggle. This was the drawer. She was certain of that much... logic told her that. One unit. One sergeant.

This is it.

What would she feel, opening that drawer? Would there be a revelation, of sorts? A shock of recognition? Or... nothing? No hint as to whether Mulder was right... or not.

Which would you rather, Dana?

She closed her eyes and opened the drawer.

Eyes stared up at her from the yellowed tint of an ancient photo. Eyes that could have been green, or grey, or blue. A young man in a Confederate uniform, stern-faced... barely thirty, if that. It was the eyes that captured her, though. The expression in them.


As though he didn't quite believe the camera would work. As though he wouldn't be satisfied until he saw the finished print. She reached for the picture, a curious numbness coming over her, stretching out to examine it closely... and found leather.

Cracked leather. The photo had been mounted on the cover of a book of some sort. Scully lifted it, examining it. Brown faded to tan in water-strained patches... leather binding cracked, weathered, the unevenly-cut pages yellowed, jagged.

She held it in her hands, gingerly tracing the edge of the photograph, the etchings on the leatherwork. This... if this was what she believed it to be... Mulder would want to see it. The journal of a man who had been his friend... a comrade in arms.

A man he believed she had been.

Still staring at the photograph, Scully sank into a polished wooden chair, elbows resting on the table, and regarded the little book for a moment longer.

Do you want to do this? Do you know what it means, if you do? Leave the book... leave it for Mulder, Dana. Even if he's right... this is the lifetime that matters. You don't know what you'll find in there...

She stared into the eyes of Gideon Scott.

Which is why I have to read it.

She opened the book, gently, with fingers that still trembled... and began to read.

May 12

I woke in a rude field hospital, unsure of the date or the day. Sullivan was there. He sat by my bedside and grinned at me with that damned smugness of his. "Gideon," he said to me. "Don't you go thinking that you'll ease on out of our bet just yet. You've got the schooling, so you may be my sergeant, but I've got claim on a nickel from you, sir, and I do intend to collect!"

It hurt to laugh - my left arm was on fire. The hospital was low on morphine. An orderly later told me that the doctors had wanted to take my arm, but Sullivan had fought an orderly to get to my side, and had put his musket to the back of the doctor to stop him. Examining the wound myself, best as I could, I knew that there would be lingering pain and some loss of movement... I would have a lame arm. But I would have two arms, and it was thanks to Sullivan Biddle.

Sullivan has presented me with this journal, to keep up my spirits until I may rejoin my unit in the field. This, then, is my first entry. My name is Gideon Scott.

May 15

The days pass slowly... too slowly. I am permitted to sit up for longer and longer, and Sullivan tells me that the men are comfortably ensconced close by a sprawling farm. He has met a young woman there he seems to think much of, but her name escapes me. I had a letter from my Virginia today, and it has cheered me considerably. Sullivan brought it to me himself, two miles over fields in the rain.

I will take the time to write of Sullivan here — he who gave me this journal, and takes such pride in seeing me write in it. He sits by me for hours on end, and waits for me to read to him from what I have written. This will please him, then, and amuse the two of us both.

We were children together, growing up in the farm country not far from the state capital of Nashville, and I have known his voice since I knew words to speak with. Time was when I could find my way to his wide window in the darkest of moonlit nights, and we would sit and gaze at the stars together, or chase down the fireflies in the fields, or fish and frog on the mud-banks and waterholes. He gave me his favorite pup when I fell out of a tree. I gave him my father's skinning knife when he took his first white-tailed buck. Boyhood is good when one has a friend as dear as a brother.

I remember Sullivan always as a slightly older boy with a crooked smile and the scar on his right temple that he got from teasing his father's fox terrier. He fancied it made him look brave, though we both knew him to be as mild as the well-kept fieldmen living out behind his home. But he was quick with a joke and quicker up a tree or down to the river, and we spent many happy days together, swearing to each other our everlasting devotion like David and Jonathan in the Good Book.

I was ten and Sullivan eleven when the sickness came, taking both my mother and my father, and my two sisters as well. I do not remember their going. I do not remember being taken from there, nor of the journey to Nashville, where I was taken in by a city-dwelling uncle. When I woke from the fever-sleep, I was plunged into the cold ravine of my own grief... and it was not until I had finally recovered my senses that I could mourn not only the loss of my family but also my boyhood friend. Miles away I had been taken, far from the farmlands, far from the sickeness. It had been his father who had taken me to Uncle Eben, but I had no news for weeks of my friend Sullivan — only that the sickness had spread to Edgecomb, his family home.

It was in that time that I decided to become a doctor. I would write more, but my head and arm throb, and I feel I must now sleep. Sullivan, keeping watch by my bedside, says that I may not have this journal back until well into the morrow, and this time, I will allow him to prevail.

May 16

Sullivan has gone back to the men. I am left to the company of this journal and my memories.

Sullivan and his family came through the epidemic that claimed my family relatively unscathed, though his nurse's newborn daughter was called home to the Lord and Sullivan's elder brother blinded. The sickness swept the county, leaving the churchyards patchworked with fresh earth and a shortness of field hands to bring in the harvest. We never knew the name for the illness, for the doctors had never seen its like. Farms were burned entire, with no stick left standing, no crops left to grow... Yankee troops marching in, as they do today, burning all they could find. No answers... only flames. It was then that I determined to become a doctor, so that the evils of disease would not take future generations all unawares.

My uncle Eben enthusiastically supported my goals, hiring for me the best tutors his amble wallet could provide during my long recovery... childless, widowed, he had no better use for his coppers, he said. On weekends I was permitted to take the buggy into the countryside, where Sullivan and I renewed our pact and hunted and fished until the summer faded.

I was to go away to school that autumn, a private boarding school appropriate, said Uncle Eben, for a young gentleman. I sorely wished that Sullivan could accompany me - his family had money enough from the plantation to educate him well - but Sullivan wanted nothing more than the simple life of a country gentleman. And so it passed that I went away to school, and from there to university, and the vows made by two boys in an open field of cotton and tobacco went where old summers go.

May 17

Here I will skip the years of halcyon and academia... Uncle Eben's purse was not so ample as we had hoped, and I was forced to leave the university for the more sobering halls of West Point. My uncle knew that I had not the heart of a shopkeeper, nor a schoolmaster — so a soldier it would be. I was not three months from graduation when war broke out between the states and I was sent for... by my uncle and, in turn, by a venerable colonel who was a personal friend of my father's. He offered me a commission in Grant's army — a right proper place for a lad of any education and bearing — and it was then that I became Captain Gideon Scott.

War moves at once too slowly and too swiftly. Deployed as far south as Atlanta, I learned the ways of skirmishes, of the acrid scent of gunpowder and the putrid fecor of infected flesh. There were wins and losses, and our unit made headway against the Yankees one day only to fall back the next. One day runs into another in the war... and you learn not to try to count them.

It was when I was promoted to sergeant and placed with a unit out of Jackson that I felt my proudest... and my most lonely and desolate. In the thick of battle, one has no time to ponder one's mortal condition - and little time to nurture one's soul, gulping Bible verse between dusk and dawn. In this new post, however, I was aware of the absence of my former comrades, and missed them acutely.

I had arrived early, before the coronet sounded the dawn, to inspect condition of the troops that were to be mine... and as they fell in, one by one, I recognized them each to each as good men and true. It was when a latecomer straggled in, still straightening his uniform and adjusting his musket, though, that I felt my heart leap within me. I am not a man to believe in fate or in destiny, only the will of the Lord. And like the Allmighty watched over his beloved David and the loyal Jonathan, I felt certain in that moment that some force had indeed been watching over me. The man was Sullivan Biddle.

Sunlight angled through high windows, a visual amber-hued clock, and Scully paused, shaking her head. Truth is, of course, stranger than fiction... but the journal read more like the adventure novels that her brothers had once been so achingly fond of. She'd sneaked enough off their shelves to recognize the style.

Gideon Scott was a man fond of interminable detail, and the teller of a sound story... but it was a story she did not have the time to read. Or... perhaps? Turning the pages gingerly, however, she noted that the bulk of the journal was battlefield scrawl... recordings of skirmishes and the numbers killed or wounded.

Once he had left the hospital, Scully presumed, time for writing had turned short, and entries were scrawled between sketches of battlefields and notations on supplies. Personal entries were few and far between.

No. Mulder would sit here, poring over the pages. She had sated her curiosity, though. she could leave now, if she wanted to. If she had to.

I don't have the time for this.... Scully thought. I have a report to file. A partner to collect. Interest in history is all well and good, of course, but it's not adding anything to this case. She closed the cover, careful of the cracked binding, and rose, gathering her handbag. The photograph of Gideon Scott stared up at her, golden-hued. Her mind wandering for a moment, she mentally blended the picture of Sullivan Biddle with the image before her. Scott would have been the taller of the two, though not by much... and they would have made a handsome pair, in pressed uniforms. A smile crept to her face, unbidden.

Would it change anything, Mulder's voice asked her, if she'd known that they had been friends before? Or, more to the point, that we'll remain friends in the future? In many futures? Did he want that? Was that statement part of his way of apologizing for making a hard case that much harder? Of saying that our bond will hold through any words - any arguments - any wars that might come up?

She puffed upwards, blowing a stray lock of hair out of her face.

You're tired, Dana. You're tired, and you feel guilty over doing nothing wrong.

She heard her own voice answer Mulder in her mind. I wouldn't change a single day.

Setting her bag aside, she sat down once more, and reached for the journal.

June 13

We are based in Savannah. The men are glad for the shaves and hot baths - and the women. Sullivan is the worst of the lot. He falls in and out of love as easily as a moon-sheep, but the ladies gather around him in tittering flocks. He says that when the right woman comes along, he will give up his caddish ways and be the model of propriety, as I am. Then he laughs.

As for myself, I thank the good Lord that I've a woman sweet, true, and safe - awaiting my return. My Virginia - my Ginny. We had no time to marry before I marched, but Sullivan will stand up for me when we march into Nashville in two weeks. She will stay with her parents until I am able to come home. I pray each day that the time will not pass slowly. In my heart I am more scholar than soldier, but these Yankees must learn that the South is not their plaything.

June 30

Tonight it is my turn to sit with the wounded. We were caught by surprise at the delta crossway of two rivers, making for a supply barge that had run aground on a sandbar. The Yankees were of the same mind, and we met there. They had the high, firm ground. We held the mud where rain has made the earth boggy.

I cut the unit and sent Sullivan to harry the flanks, much as we had once set our dogs upon treed wildcats... only the wildcats never had guns to fire back with. Darkness came, and the guns fell silent... but there is no sign of Sullivan or the men who went with him.

July 1

The Yankees stay to the ridges. They cannot decend, but their commander is stubborn... they are well supplied. Our runner has found Sullivan and his company. They are drier than we, but we dare not give ground to join them. In the nights when the guns are silent and the mosquitos are thick, we can hear the Yankees on the ridgetops singing, and see the light of their fires as we can see theirs. I remember campfires of my youth. I wonder if Sullivan, camped where we cannot see, thinks of them as well.

July 5

Reinforcements came from up the river, having taken the barge and its supplies of arms and food. We have treed the Yankees, and taken them from their perches like hens from a tall bush. Tonight, joined with Chapman's 85th infantry, we roast meat that is almost fresh and laugh and tell lies.

Sullivan came to the fires late, one hand over his jacket. Reaching inside, he grinned at me... and produced a blue-eyed kitten. As he took the hill, their drummer boy flung the little creature at the advancing troops, perhaps hoping it would scratch out the eyes of the soldier pursuing him. Sullivan caught up the little creature and took a shine to her. The kitten will ride out with Chapman tomorrow... a spoil of war for his daughter in Atlanta.

July 18

We came upon the burned-out remnants of a plantation today, its former inhabitants weeping by wayside. The eyes of my men were on the road, focused on the march, but I am certain that their hearts burned even as my own at the sight. The eyes of the children were the worst of all. Sullivan, bringing up the rear, paused by me.

"I watched the troops burn the plantation beside yours." he said quietly. "All those years ago. I do not know why they spared your land... they've no decency or logic, Yankees, but I was grateful to the, then. And I am even now. I remember watching the fields burn, and remembering you, and was glad you were far away."

Then he turned and walked away. Sullivan is a man of actions, rather than words, and the confession strengthened me.

August 12

My negro message-boy fell sick two days ago, so tonight I let him sit by the fire with our men. He is a clever little thing, and seemed heartened by the kindness. At the onset, I had wanted to leave him home in Uncle Eben's care, but he insisted that he could serve me better than any ignorant white boy could as he can both read and write. My uncle would frown at his cheek, but I have taught him myself out of my own books, and he is right. He is thirteen.

He is most touchingly fond of Sullivan who, he says, spins yarns fit to beat a preacher. Tonight we were regaled by a tale Sullivan swears is true - but as he always does, and produces no proof, I am inclined to believe the twinkle in his eye over the words on his lips. This being said, Sullivan Biddle tells the most hair-raising tales that I have ever heard, and the men call for his ghost stories time and again. It is a boost to morale, replacing the horror of the daylight hours with the specters of the mind, which can be banished far more easily.

August 30

Two days of hell, and mud, in another godforsaken field. We beat the Yanks back, though, and can collect ourselves before the march at dawn. Too many wounded, and even one is too many killed.

I found Sullivan where I had left him on the flank, leaning against a tree and trembling worse than a chinaberry tree in the wind. He was deeply grazed across the temple opposite his boyhood scar but otherwise unhurt, and as I tended his wounds, he looked into my eye. He told me that he was a coward because he had not shot at the retreating Yankees as they had passed his quarter. He had looked at them, and they were little more than boys.

He is a soldier under my command, but Sullivan Biddle is also my friend. I did not tell him that he was not a coward, but neither did I confirm it. Rain at dusk, and Tooley has the grippe. We march on the morrow.

September 27

We are on home ground now, dug in along Hawk's Ridge. The Yankees outnumber us two men to one, but my men love this land and will fight to the last. As we waited for the next volley of shot, I told Sullivan that in the event of my death or capture, he was to take the men to safer grounds... what was left of them, anyway. He would not promise, swearing to stand by me until we both fell — both, or nothing.

"I'll mourn your corpse, if it comes to that." he said. "But I will not tell Ginny that you were taken while I had life in me." Nothing I could say could sway him, for while Sullivan still professes his cowardice, his friendship holds stronger. When I pressed him, he quoted the book of John: "There is no greater love than this — than for a man to lay down his life for his friends." It surprised me, for Sullivan is not a god-fearing man. He grinned, and says that if we survive this skirmish, he will debate religion with me as much as I like.

October 12

Two days ago a letter arrived which shattered my world about me. I had found no time to read it until today, assuming that it contained the usual news of crops and the land, written in my second cousin's halting hand. It did not. My little wife Ginny has died and the child she carried, too... gone within hours of each other in the trauma of childbirth. Ginny was seventeen. The son I have never known was barely three hours old, but baptized when it seemed he was failing. For that alone I am thankful, if I can feel anything through the gray which surrounds me. I have no heart for the fight coming in the morning in this godforsaken field. I have no heart for this war. If death should come on the morrow, I should be glad of it.

Sullivan grew fierce upon hearing me say that, and shook me. I'll not leave him, says he, while there is life or hope. I told him that I care not for the first and have none of the other. He looked wild enough to strike me at that, but did not, and instead sat close by me through the night and wee small hours, talking of his own home. Sullivan is the only able son, and his parents are kind, and he plans to bring me to Edgecomb and make me co-heir to the land with him and his blind elder brother, if I will have his offer. Even if I have no family left when this damnable war passes, his will be mine. It should have cheered me, but I cannot find comfort in comaradarie when my Ginny lies in the cold earth.

October 25

The battle fares badly. Four more dead, and more wounded. The Yankees have reinforcements on the way. They are set to arrive on the morrow. It is as well. Our supplies have run short, though ammunition we have in plenty, if we could but digest the bullets. The weapons are well hidden, though... they will not gain that, even if they take this field. The bunkers are cunningly hidden.

Sullivan will not move more than an arm's length from my side. For a man who calls himself a coward, he fights as one possessed of a spirit. My words of the past two days have settled into him, and he is determined that if we are to die, we will die together. I do not desire that. He said that it was beyond desire... that he would not leave one who had been as a brother to him.

And so it stands. The field is quiet now as the light dies, and through the copses we can see the flicker and flare of the enemy campfires. They trust that we cannot attack in the night, weakened and outnumbered as we are. Sullivan sits by my side, and reads over my shoulder as I write in this journal he has given me. He is a friend to surpass all others, and I would be glad if the Lord had granted us true brotherhood, rather than this frail sworn oath. Sullivan laughs as I write this, and tells me that the strongest bond of kinship is that which we choose for ourselves. Sullivan Biddle is my brother.

The rest of the pages were blank. It must have been the field, Scully thought... that same field where Mulder had found the bunker, where Melissa had turned to him with her burning eyes, where the voice of Sullivan Biddle told her that she... that "his sergeant"... had died along with him.

A pang - disappointment? Lack of closure? There should be more... somehow. She knew how it had ended... but there should be more.

She stared at the pages, flipping through them one by one, until finally she stared at the rear cover. Like a child digging to the bottom of a Christmas stocking, or an Easter basket... unwilling to accept the end. But...there was a scrawl on the inside rear cover... a shaky hand, and not Gideon Scott's:

I am Josiah. I fought with the sergeant and with Sullivan, both my comrades, and both good men. They thought much of this little book, so I take it with me... one of a unit, the only survivor. Sergeant Gideon Scott fell to a Yankee bullet. Sullivan fell to the next. They were ever the best of friends. This journal will remain after they have been forgotten. I think they would want that known.

They would, too.

Scully closed the faded, water-stained leather now, staring at its bland cover, at the eyes of Gideon Scott. She felt light-headed...

It's all the dust in here.

She felt... odd.

You've been staring at barely legible script for too long.

She wasn't sure what bothered her more: that she felt nothing for this man her partner would swear she had been, no hint of kinship, no trace of recognition... or that something inside her, deeper down than she cared to reach, had wanted her to.

She didn't need to look up to know that Mulder had been standing behind her for some time now, watching her read. She set the journal aside and gathered her belongings about her before raising her face to him. He had the most curious expression on his own face... so soft, almost wondering, but the lines around his eyes had deepened, and she could tell he had been crying not long before.

"How long have you been here?" She didn't have to ask... but something was needed to break the silence. Mulder moved around the table, hand brushing briefly across her shoulders, sliding into the chair opposite her. He looked weary... down to the core, and Scully ran her eyes over him sympathetically.

"Long enough. You seemed pretty engrossed. I didn't want to disturb you."

"I was waiting for you." She dropped her eyes to the journal again, then pushed it across to him. "You might like it."

Mulder didn't open the journal. Instead, he stared at the cover, as Scully had... and she dropped her eyes as the silence welled up again.

"Find what you were looking for?" he asked softly.

Hoping. He needs to know... needs to hear me say that I believe...

And I can't. Oh, Mulder... I can't.

But I can't tell him that I don't, either.

"Sated my curiosity, at least." There was no sense in denying it. No sense in analyzing it, or speaking of it, either. Mulder had been through enough these past few days to do without her honesty. Let him think what he would... and let him be happy with that.

"You don't have to believe me, you know, Scully." Mulder's voice was even quieter now... sincere. "I just want you to know that."

"I know, Mulder." She scanned his face, eyes thanking him for that gift. She couldn't give him a reply... but she knew, somehow, that he would understand. Maybe when he'd managed to leave the field in the past... where it belonged, after all. The smile that met her, though, was a flicker of the old Mulder... the partner she'd come to know.

"The way I see it, we'll have all eternity to debate philosophies, and to figure out who's right." And he grinned, teasing her, rising and walking around the table, pausing for her to catch up. "Come on I've had enough of this town for one lifetime."

Scully groaned...but something inside lightened at that double lure, and she quirked an eyebrow at him, rising, but not moving forward.

"Let me get this straight. What you're that not only am I stuck with you in this lifetime, and have been before... but I have to put up with you for time immemorial?" She put all her skeptical flatness into that tone intentionally... knowing that the glint in her eye would give her away. Mulder, facing her now, chuckled.

"Life ain't fair, is it?" And his eyes went dark again, growing serious for the briefest moment. "I'm not complaining, Scully." He extended a hand to her.

She did not take his hand. Instead, she looped her arm though his, pulling close to his side, angling her face up at him.

"Good." She stepped forward now, leading him out of the dust-scented room. "Good... because tonight, you're buying me dinner. Someplace nice, for a change. The way I see it, Mulder... if you're right... you owe me that much."

"The way I see it..." Mulder countered, his voice full of quiet humor. "You still owe me a nickel." He winked down at her, as astonished feet faltered. He didn't give her time to reply. "Come on, Scully. I won't let you off... but I'll buy. This time."

— finis —