Chapter Two: Flames and Chaos

~~~~~

July 2
Early morning

It was Idaho that did it.

Scully wasn't surprised; she was more surprised by the lack of nightmares to this point. They'd each slept remarkably well, if sometimes on a strange schedule. But this afternoon they'd been working on their second report, Mulder trying without much success to pull up some recollection of what he'd seen inside the base. If she was hearing what she thought she was now, he was finally reaching some of those buried memories.

"Nn ... noo ... ah ..." He wasn't thrashing around to match the anguished moans coming out of his mouth, but a sheen of sweat covered his face. Scully slipped out of bed and went into the bathroom, where she dampened a washcloth and pulled the hand towel from the rack next to the sink.

He was starting to shift on the sheets when she returned, so she pulled up a chair from next to the window and sat to wait. The sounds grew louder and less distinguishable, his movements more frantic, until with a final cry he flung himself upright in bed, his hands coming up to hold his head.

Scully gave him a moment to catch his breath before she moved to the side of the bed. Reaching up, she wrapped her hand around one of his and pulled it gently away from his face. When he looked up at her, his eyes layered with pain, she brought the wet cloth up and smoothed it over his face, wiping away the sweat and cooling his skin.

His eyes closed and his free hand fell onto the mattress, his breathing gradually returning to normal. He shivered, and Scully traded the washcloth for the towel, drying his skin, waiting for him to speak.

"Scully," he rasped. "Could you get the recorder?"

She nodded and turned to set the cloth and towel on the nightstand, reaching into the drawer to pull out the microcassette recorder. She checked the tape, pushed record, and nodded at Mulder.

What he had to say filled up three full tapes.

~~~~~

"Mulder, that can't be right. You were only gone for about two hours. How could they have done all that?"

"It was quick, Scully, I'm telling you. Maybe an hour or so. I know it sounds like it should've taken longer."

"I just don't see how you could have taken in so much detail about so much of the base so quickly, Mulder. You have to admit it's not plausible."

He crooked a smile. "Since when has 'plausible' been my style?"

~~~~~

Scully's linear thought processes led the way as they worked. Mulder preferred the big picture and wanted to jump ahead, to fill in all the blanks at once, but she insisted that they record their thoughts in order. Max Fenig stayed missing; Skinner reported to CGB Spender; he'd never heard the name Daniel Waterston, and she'd never heard of Diana Fowley.

It wasn't easy, or perfect, but they mostly stuck to it.

Besides, there was always Phoebe.

~~~~~

July 7
Afternoon

Mulder blew out a breath and tilted his head back, resting it on the edge of the couch cushion. He sat on the floor, legs sprawled out before him; Scully sat above him on the sofa, legs crossed.

"This isn't going to be easy to tell you, Scully," he said, his gaze holding hers. "I'm a little afraid of how you'll react." He looked away. "I don't know if I can do it."

She smiled briefly and slipped off the sofa, bringing a throw pillow with her to use as a seat and settling herself comfortably in front of him, her back to his chest. She drew his arms around her, interlacing their fingers.

"I'm not going anywhere, Mulder," she said. "I doubt you're going to shock me anyway."

She settled back against him and waited, the only sound their breathing, Mulder's faster and rougher in his obvious nervousness.

"It was my second year at Oxford," he said. "Phoebe was a year older and had a reputation, but, well, I didn't listen. I thought she was with me because she loved me."

He fell silent, and Scully squeezed his hands lightly in silent encouragement. "I should have stopped it," he finally ground out. "I mean, I was nineteen and horny as hell all the time, and I wasn't averse to ... experimentation. I was never into drugs; I didn't like feeling detached like that. But the sex ... the sex was different. It was always good; *she* was good. And when she said she wanted to spice things up, I thought, 'why not?'

"Before I knew it, I was in her bedroom with her and four other people. Two men and two women."

Scully blinked. He was so afraid to tell her about a college orgy? Did he think she was that much of a prude?

"I mean, I'm not a homophobe," he continued. "I've had thoughts about other men, before and since. Hell, I studied psychology; I know it's normal and healthy, and I'm not ashamed of it. And if that's why I'd done it, it wouldn't have been such a big deal. But I didn't do it because I wanted it. I did it because Phoebe wanted it."

He fell silent, and Scully waited, understanding now why he was so affected but wanting him to say it.

"It was ... I hate to use the analogy, but the next day, when I had a chance to think about it and realize how meaningless it was -- I felt like I'd been raped. Not physically. I went in with my eyes open, and to tell the truth, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it like hell. But emotionally, I felt stripped raw.

"That night Phoebe called and invited me over for 'a party' and I turned her down. I wish I could say I broke it off completely, but she stayed after me, and I eventually went back for a while. That lasted six months, until I showed up one night and one of the men from that first night was already there with her. I don't know what she had in mind; I didn't hang around to find out.

"Next time I saw her was in 1993. She hadn't changed." She felt him shrug. "I doubt she ever will."

Slowly, Scully turned in his arms, settling herself across his lap, her arms around his neck. Even more slowly, she leaned forward and kissed him, then pulled back.

"C'mon, Mulder," she said. "Is that the worst thing you can come up with? 'Cause you've got a long way to go before you hit my shock meter."

He stared at her, then let out a laugh.

"Well," he said, leaning forward to plant a kiss on the side of her neck. "I'm sure I could recount a dream sequence or two that might raise that eyebrow of yours ..."

~~~~~