Exaiphnes VIII: Guarded Optimism
Written by Rachel

Author's notes at the end.

I picked up my plate and walked into the kitchen. Tim had remained on the couch, his eyes at half mast. It had been a long week, with him working a series of stone-cold who- dunits and me in Montana with Scully trying to track down the suspect behind the disappearance of three tourists in Glacier National Park. Finally we had been rotated off the case and I had been more than glad to get home.

"Hey, Tim, let's just go to bed. You're tired, I'm tired," I said as I laid my hand on his arm. The case had been unpleasant, and I missed being with Tim. It had been two months since my medical leave had ended and I still couldn't get used to leaving him.

"Huh?" Tim asked, looking up at me. Even half-closed, I could never get enough of those eyes. I held my hand out. "Bed time." He took it and I eased him up. We walked over to the steps and slowly moved upstairs.

I plopped down on the bed and started taking my shoes off. "What's the plan for tomorrow?"

"Nothing. I traded my shift at the bar off to Lewis. I should go in and return some calls on this case, but not before noon or so." Tim pulled his t-shirt out of the waist of his pants and over his head. "What about you?"

"Scully made me promise we would take the weekend off. I'll probably go down to DC on Sunday, but nothing tomorrow. I just want to lie in bed and watch cartoons tomorrow."

"Sounds good to me. Mighty Mouse is on at 10:30," Tim said as he padded over to the bed and pulled the covers down.

"Just bring me some of those Pop Tarts and you're on," I replied as we crawled under the covers and I snuggled up behind him, reaching my arms around and pulling him close.

I woke to feel Mulder's hand snaking around my waist and down along my groin. I sighed happily and reached down to help out. Mulder moved his hand up and down my growing erection. He slipped his hands over my scrotum, massaging first the left and then the right testicle. It was mornings like this that made it so hard to send him out on the road again.

He paused and then felt the right one again. "Hey!" I said. There was a sharp pain down in my testicle.

"Does that hurt?" he asked, pulling his hand away.

"Yeah, a little bit. It was bothering me this week on the bike, but I figured I --" I rolled on my back and looked up at Mulder's face. It was creased with concern. "What?"

"Hurt when?" Mulder asked.

"I don't know. Wednesday. It ached, but it went away. Why?"

"There's something in there," Mulder replied.

"What?" I asked, pulling myself up in bed. I reached down to check it out for myself. There was definitely something there, a lump. It was small, but I could feel it.

"You feel it?" Mulder asked.

I nodded, feeling my throat begin to close. That whole phenomena about the pit of your stomach...mine was headed toward China.

"I'm sure it's nothing. A cyst or something," he reassured me.

I nodded again. "It's 4:30 am. Let's go back to sleep. We'll call somebody in the morning and find out." He pulled me toward him and lay back down.

"I'm sure it's nothing," I said, my back to Mulder.

"Of course. We'll just call and get the scoop. Don't worry," he replied. We lay there silent, the unspoken anxiety destroying any chance of sleep. I surreptitiously checked my watch again and again. 5 a.m., 5:30 -- the minutes ticked away until finally I was able to get back to sleep.

"The advice nurse said we could come in to urgent care, but she recommended an appointment on Monday. I guess there isn't really anything they can do until then anyway," Tim said as he hung up the phone.

"Are you comfortable with that?" I asked as I looked up from the paper. I had read the same article about traffic around the Inner Harbor about 4 times while trying not to listen to Tim's conversation with the nurse from the HMO. "We can go in if it would make you feel better."

"Go in and see someone who doesn't know me and can't do anything except tell me that there's a lump in my ball, which I already know. I'd rather wait. At least Dr. Morris has been with me through the other stuff."

The other stuff. It was rare that Tim brought up the shooting. The first anniversary had passed amidst my own recovery and it wasn't until Munch said something at the Waterfront one night that I even realized it. The summer had gone by quickly with the trouble in July and what felt like constant trips out of town with Scully to deal with a variety of cases. Now on a weekend that had promised to be relaxing, this happened. I sighed internally, wondering what the future held for us now.

"So what are we going to do?" I asked, folding the paper up and setting it aside. "Why don't we go do something so we don't spend the whole day thinking about this."

Tim nodded. "I'm not sure it will work, but we might as well try. You got any ideas?"

"Let me go check my e-mail and then we'll think of something," I said as I got up and walked over to the sink. I dumped the last of his coffee out and rinsed the mug as Tim followed me and began pulling the dishes out of the sink and placing them in the dishwasher. I could feel his fear hanging in the air. I turned put my arms around his shoulders. "It's going to be okay."

Tim nodded numbly as I turned and left the room. I quickly walked upstairs and logged onto the Internet. Instead of checking my mail like I had said I would, so I opened up Netscape and pulled down the bookmark file. The folder had lain dormant for the past few years since Scully's recovery, although some perverse sense had prevented me from deleting it altogether. I quickly pulled up Oncolink, the best online cancer resource I knew of. I skimmed through the front page looking for the link to individual diseases. There it was, under genitourinary cancers. I scanned the page looking for some quick facts, clicking on a link to the Testicular Cancer Resource Center. It was a cancer that struck young men, the risk group 15 to 35. Tim was 38. Was that close enough to still worry?

The lump I had found was typical, pea-sized. Two kinds of tumors: seminoma, non-seminoma. Which was the good one? Seminoma was slower growing, the other more aggressive. It looked treatable, surgery, radiation, chemo. At least this could be treated; Scully never had a chance with conventional treatment. Had I done this to him, like I did to Scully? Who would they hurt next? My thoughts were interrupted by a creak in the floorboard.

"E-mail?" Tim asked, walking up behind me.

"I just needed some information," I responded. Tim rubbed his hand across my head lightly.

"Good news or bad?" Tim asked.

"Well, if it is cancer, it's treatable, curable most of the time," I replied, trying to sound braver than I actually felt..

Tim nodded.

I couldn't tell him the rest. I couldn't admit to him -- hell to myself -- that this could just be another benefit of knowing Special Agent Fox William Mulder.

The noise of the doctor's office felt far away to me, like I was underwater. I looked over at Mulder and smiled. He had called Skinner and asked for some emergency leave. His role in the case in Montana wasn't crucial. He had debated calling Scully and filling her in, but decided to wait until we knew something. Personally, I argued against that maneuver. I know Mulder pretty well now and if there's one thing he needs in a time of crisis, it's Scully at his back. I needed him strong for me...and he needed her for that strength.

Finally the nurse called us back into an exam room. A blood pressure and temperature check later, and we were waiting again.

"This silence is getting to be deafening," Mulder said, interrupting me from the six-month-old _Newsweek_. I smiled. He had been nearly silent in the car on the way over as well. It was good to know that he was sharing in my overall sense of terror. The door opened and the doctor appeared.

"Detective Bayliss, good to see you again," Dr. Morris said, shaking my hand. Firm grip...it was always a good sign.

"This is my friend, Fox Mulder," I said as the doctor and Mulder shook hands. I had been with Chris Rawls the last time he treated me and we had discussed the nature of that relationship. When he later introduced me to his *friend* David, I knew that this was someone I could have a deep and meaningful medical relationship with.

The doctor had me get up on the exam table as he pulled out my chart. The questions seemed endless. When did you first notice the mass? Do you have any pain in that area? Have you notice any changes in your urine? Is the color the same? How about your semen? Notice any blood in your ejaculate or a different color? How about unprotected sex? When you were little do you remember any injury to that area or did your parents mention undergoing any procedures on your testis?

After the questions he looked in my eyes and mouth, then examined my neck and collar bone, moving back and forth over the neck, pressing in different areas. He tapped and listened to my chest thoroughly and then took one arm in his own and checked my armpit, palpating deeply up each underarm. When he was finished with that he told me to lie down.

The doctor covered me with a drape sheet and pulled my gown up over my abdomen. I suddenly felt much more exposed. He took his time examining my abdomen, checked my right and left groin areas carefully and then finally got to my genitalia. I squirmed involuntarily as he probed the sensitive area. Dr. Morris pulled out a small caliper to get a measurement of the lump and then held what felt like a lit penlight to my scrotum.

I shifted uncomfortably once again and Mulder got up and stood by my head.

"We're almost through, I just need to check a couple of other things," the doctor said. He slipped a glove on and put on some KY jelly. Mulder took my hand and rubbed my shoulder gently. My back arched slightly in anticipation of the examination.

"If you can relax Tim, that will help a lot. I need to see if I can feel any enlargement in the lymph nodes. The only way to do that is to feel them between my hand on the exterior and a hand inside. I'm going to have to reach in pretty deep, but it'll be over soon."

My hand tightened on Mulder's as the doctor commenced with the exam. I bit down on my lip, trying not to cry out. Morris pressed down on my abdomen again and again. The pain was unspeakable. Finally he was done. After the doctor walked out Mulder helped me sit up.

"Are you okay?"

"I hope we're not planning to do this daily," I responded as I wrapped the sheet around myself and headed for the changing booth. After a moment there was a knock at the door and the doctor reappeared.

"Well, there definitely is something in there," Morris said pulling out a diagram. He showed Mulder and me where the tumor was. "Nine out of ten are malignant neoplasms. It's fairly solid, which leads me to believe it is malignant. Either way, you really need to have surgery."

"What kind of surgery are we talking about?" Mulder asked, pulling the diagram over so he could look more closely.

"We call it an orchiectomy. They remove the testicle through the groin and then biopsy the mass."

"You take the whole thing?" Mulder asked. I remained silent next to him. I still couldn't quite grasp what he was saying. Cancer. Is that what they thought it would be? Surgery? Where? They would do it when?

"It's better if we take it all; it's almost always malignant and we don't want to run the risk of any cells escaping during the procedure. The testicles are like kidneys. You have two, but one can do the job."

I nodded and reached for Mulder's hand. I needed him near me. This was...I never dreamed of anything like this.

"I'm going to refer you to a urologist, Dr. Iverson. We will try to get you in tomorrow. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let me know. We'll get you started on some tests." He stood up and shook our hands and left.

I turned to Mulder and expelled the breath I had been holding. Mulder moved to put his hand on my shoulder, draw me closer, but I held himself back. I wanted him near me, but I didn't want anyone to touch me.

"We had better go get the appointment and start the tests," Mulder said, getting up.

"You should go back to Montana," I said after a couple of moments.

Mulder turned and looked at me. "What did you say?"

"You should go back to work. I'll take care of this."

"The hell you will." He turned and opened the door. "I thought we had gotten over that 'rugged individualist' shit, Tim."

What the hell did that mean? He had been the one, after his accident, who had pushed me away. Why didn't I get the same respect?

Mulder stalked down the hall to the front desk. He was half way through making the arrangements when I finally caught up.

"We need to go over to 3 West for the CT scan and blood work. Your appointment with Iverson is tomorrow at 11:45 am." I nodded and Mulder collected the appointment cards.

"Refreshed?" Scully asked as I walked into the office. I dropped my briefcase on my desk and sat down without responding. "Mulder?"

"Huh?" I said, looking over at her. Scully's face wore a mask of concern.

"You took some vacation. Did Tim sneak you off somewhere? I mean, Montana wasn't that great, but it sure wasn't fertilizer visits like last year."

My mind completely on Tim, I ignored her comments. Instead I asked her, "How did you feel when you found out?" We had never really talked about her own struggle with cancer...this demon again in my midst. She had tried once, in the forest in Florida, but I had cut her off, again, with a flip remark. So quick with the sarcasm, Fox. Nice.

"About what?" she responded.

"When you found out about your cancer. How did you feel?"

Scully set her coffee cup down and looked at me for a moment. I knew if I had a mirror in front of me I would look stressed, older, intensely sad. She crossed over to me, kneeling in front of my chair and taking my hand.

"What's going on? Where were you this week?" she asked.

"I--Tim. We had things going on," I responded, pulling my hand from hers and turning to my desk. Why had I thought this was a good idea? Scully didn't need this in her life. Hell, I sure couldn't talk about it.

"What's going on, Mulder? Clearly something is bothering you."

I turned back and looked at her, my eyes moistening slightly. "We've been going to the doctor. Tim has a lump in his testicle. These things are usually malignant, but we won't know until they do the surgery. Nine out of ten are, so I guess that's it."

Scully put her hand on my shoulder. "You don't know for sure and even if it is, it's highly treatable. It's not like my cancer, Mulder."

"I just--he's shutting me out, Scully. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help him. We saw the doctor Monday, but he won't talk about it. Yesterday, with the urologist, he let me drive him there, but didn't want me to come in. How can I help him if he won't even let me be there for him?"

"You are there for him, Mulder. I'm sure he's so overwhelmed that it's hard for him to know what he wants. It's hard for him to be vulnerable in front of you. Let him set the agenda."

I nodded. Scully reached up and ran her hand along my face. God, it was so smooth, so caring.

"When are they doing the surgery?" she asked.

"Friday. At least we don't have to wait through another weekend," I responded. I needed her. I wasn't going to make it through this again without her.

Scully nodded. "I'm sure the waiting is as hard as everything else."

"Why is this happening? Things have just gotten back to normal. Thank god we have separate insurance. Otherwise, I think we'd be removed for overuse," I said, my tone dripping with sarcasm.

"Who knows why any of this happens to us? You're going to make it through this Mulder; you and Tim both will."

I stuck my head in the kitchen. Mom stood over the stove stirring what looked like a pan of soup. "Hey, Mom."

"Tim! What a surprise. What are you doing out here this time of day? Why didn't you call? I would have made a special lunch."

I leaned in and looked at the pan of soup. I know it's a cliche, but my mom's cooking really is the best.

"Actually chicken noodle is just what I could use." I sat down at the table. She took the soup off the stove and poured half into the bowl she had sitting on the counter. Reaching into the cupboard, she got another bowl out and put the rest of the soup into it.

"What's wrong?" she asked as she slid the bowl over to me. I had never been very good at holding things back from her. I reached for the pack of saltine crackers and pulled several out, desperately trying to delay the inevitable.

"Why does there have to be something wrong?" I asked, looking over at her.

"Tim. It's 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday. This isn't a social call and we both know it."

I sipped the soup off my spoon and set it down on the table. "I have to have surgery next week."

"For what?"

"They found a lump--"


I looked down at the table, the soup forgotten. This was hard -- one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It didn't seem like it should be, but in some fatalistic way it was worse than telling her about George, worse than the police academy, even worse than my decision to make my life with Mulder. I could feel her eyes boring into my head. I looked up at my mother. Her eyes were filling with tears. I inhaled deeply. "It's in my testicle. They'll take it all out. It's--it's almost always cancer."

She nodded, biting her lip to keep from crying out. I moved, instinctively, to kneel next to her chair. "It's treatable. They've had a lot of luck with this kind of cancer, Mom."

"When is the surgery?" she asked.


"I'll go with you," she replied.

The trip home flashed by and before I knew it I was standing in front of the door to our home...the home that Tim and I had made, here in Fells Point. I had always thought of it as a sanctuary, but now I wanted to run, to run straight back to Alexandria, to Hegel Place, to an apartment that probably had some old lady and seven cats living in it now. But I couldn't. My place was here now, with Tim, through thick and thin. The only problem was there seemed like a hell of a lot more thin lately.

My thoughts were interrupted as the door opened in front of me.

"I wondered if you were actually planning to come in tonight. You know, the neighbors only just stopped talking after the moving incident," Tim said as he moved aside so I could walk through.

I leaned in and kissed him. How could he joke at a time like this? Even about the horrible afternoon when he had thrown his back out while we were moving my stuff in. We were in the middle of a crisis. Tim might have...god, I couldn't even say it to myself, in my head.

"You talk to your mom?" I asked as I followed him into the kitchen.

"Yeah. Real stiff upper lip, but she wants to come for the surgery," he replied.

Oh man, I had really traded one for another. Maggie Scully had nothing on Virginia Bayliss in the "nurturing" mother class. Teena Mulder could sure take a page from either woman's book. The worst part was that I was my mother's son. I honestly think I may lack the gene to nurture. I wasn't sure how I was going to be there for Tim. I sure as hell wasn't there for Scully when she was sick. I think it might be worse to have Tim's mom around, again illuminating my shortcomings.

"That's good. Isn't it?" I ask as I look back from the open refrigerator. Tim is sitting on a stool at the counter, fingering the mail lying there. I grabbed two beers and sit down across from him.

"Yeah, I guess so," Tim said. He reached across for the beer and twisted the cap off.

"So, you went to talk to your mom, what else?" I asked. I knew he had seen the doctor again, but I wanted him to bring it up for once instead of me always pulling every detail from him.

"I had the follow-up with Iverson. They can't do it on Friday, some kind of scheduling problem. It's gonna have to wait until Monday," Tim replied.

Monday. Like I had told Scully earlier, I wasn't making it through another weekend. I couldn't make it through another one. Okay Mulder, just hold on...it has to be ten times worse for Tim. Be strong. Be strong.

"Monday. Well, we'll be able to have fun this weekend, at least," I replied, trying to lighten the mood. "We could go down to Annapolis, head up to New York, whatever you want."

Tim looked at me and smiled. "I'm not happy about it either. We'll just have to suck up and deal. I went to talk to Gee."


"He wants me to take a medical leave. I want to wait and see what the follow-up is. If it's radiation I can still work. I've gotta keep working," Tim replied, his eyes dropping from mine as he loosened the paper on the wet beer bottle.

I totally understood. I had nearly lost my mind during my recovery. Working would be good for Tim, if he was able to keep going. I think it had helped Scully. Keeping busy, that was what it was all about.

"I won't...I'm not stopping working," Tim said as he got up from the stool. I watched as he walked from the room. I knew I should follow him, but I wasn't sure what I would say when I got there. I had watched Scully struggle with this disease and I wasn't able to help her. How could I possibly help Tim?

I leaned over and punched the snooze on the clock. I knew we had to get up. I felt Mulder move against my back; his head at the crook of my neck. He kissed me lightly. The weekend had lasted forever. Saturday, we had driven along the bay, pretending to enjoy a wonderful Indian summer day, but neither one of us was in the mood. Sunday we hadn't even made the attempt; instead we sat around picking through the newspaper. Mulder had suggested we go to the Redskins game (he can always get tickets) but I knew that I couldn't keep up the facade all afternoon. I had retreated to the back porch, and he had ended up in his office surfing the net. We had tried to go out to supper, but I begged off at the last minute. I probably shouldn't have because I wasn't allowed to eat after midnight the night before the surgery and now my stomach was rumbling.

We had gone to bed around ten the night before. I knew that the morning would come before we were ready. Sleep seemed impossible. My mind drifted back to the night before:

Mulder was sitting with his back against our headboard. His glasses had slipped ever so slightly down his nose as he continued reading while I moved into the bedroom. I quietly slipped out of my clothes, moved over and pulled the sheets down on my side of the bed.

"You tired?" Mulder asked. I shook my head. I was way too keyed up to sleep. He set aside the magazine and patted the pillow next to him. Instead of lying down next to him I pulled the sheets down, exposing his bare flesh.

Silently I moved my hands up his legs. His calves were so well-developed and muscular. He sighed slightly as my hand continued to climb. Mulder slid down as I moved across him, my legs on either side of his. I leaned in to kiss him gently. Here, with him so near, it was much easier to forget what lay ahead for both of us.

Mulder's hand moved down, following the thin line of hair below my navel. He moved further, until I stopped him.

"Don't," I said, pulling his hand away. His eyes questioned me. "I just can't. I'm sorry," I said. I rolled onto my side, the moment gone. Mulder lay there next to me, silent. I reached over and snapped the light off.

Why hadn't I let him touch me...make love to me, one more time? Without an answer I crawled out of bed and headed for the shower. I grabbed the soap and lathered up, moving it across my body. My hand dropped down as I continued to wash. Suddenly, there it was...the lump, the foreign body. Overcome, I slid along the wall down to the floor of the shower stall. The water continued to pour over me as my body shook with the tears I found impossible to stop.

I was such a coward. What the hell was wrong with me? I lay there pretending to be asleep while Tim got out of bed. I waited until I heard the shower start and then headed downstairs to make some coffee.

I poured the water into the back of the machine, carefully measuring the coffee into the pot. I flipped the switch and sat down to wait for the first mug. I had to buck up. Tim was going to need me more now than he ever had before. I pulled the mug from the cupboard, and removed the carafe from the coffeemaker. My hand shook as I poured, seeming to slip without an effort on my part. The glass shattered all around me, the coffee splashing up on my leg, burning me. I crouched down to pick up the glass that seemed to be everywhere.

The sob crept up without warning. I couldn't lose him. We...we had only just found each other. I heard him on the steps and choked back the emotion.

"Don't come in here. I broke the carafe," I called out.

Tim stopped at the door. "I'll get my shoes, you stay there. Don't cut yourself," he said to me. I looked down, suddenly aware of my bare feet with the shards of glass all around them.

Tim returned and silently cleaned up the glass around me. I watched for a moment while he swept the shards into the dust pan, then turned to go upstairs and get dressed. If he noticed my puffy eyes he didn't say anything. I sure didn't mention his.

Returning downstairs, I grabbed my coat off the hook by the back door. "We might as well go," I said. Tim nodded and headed for the front door. I moved to take his bag, but he grabbed it before I could and headed for the car.

This was surreal. It was six a.m. and I was wearing my running shoes and sweats but instead of running I was walking toward the admitting desk at Johns Hopkins. What was I doing here? The woman at the desk greeted me three times before Mulder finally poked me.

"Your name?" she asked again.

"Timothy Bayliss. Dr. Iverson. I'm having..." My voice trailed off.

"Yes, Mr. Bayliss. I have you right here. If you'll wait for the transport, we'll get you up to the surgical prep area."

I nodded and Mulder and I walked over to the chairs. Mulder took the clipboard the admitting clerk had handed me and began filling the questions out. I couldn't believe there could be anything else to ask us. It seemed like I had been answering questions and signing my name constantly since I saw Morris the first day.

"Bayliss?" a young man with a wheelchair called from the door to the waiting room. I got up and took the bag from Mulder.

"I'll go with you," he said.

I couldn't do that. The morning so far had been too hard. I couldn't look at him anymore, or I was going to totally lose it.

"My mom is coming up. I don't want her to be alone. Will you wait for her?" I asked. Good thinking, Timmy. Way to be on your feet. I might end up one ball short, but I sure as hell wasn't losing my touch.

He looked hurt, but he nodded and handed me the clipboard.

"I'm not quite done and I didn't know the stuff about the family history," he said, his eyes dropping away from my face. He had that look. He wanted to kiss me, but we couldn't. Not here. Not with the audience. Instead he put his hand on my shoulder.

"I'll take care of your mom."

I took his hand in mine. "Thank you," I said and then they took me down the hall. I wanted to turn and see if he was watching, but I couldn't.

The orderly rolled me into a small room, tossed me a hospital gown and left me alone. I slipped my sweat pants down wondering if they wanted me to take off my boxers too. *God, Tim. Are you really that lame? They're going to cut your nut off! Of course you have to take off your panties.* I slipped my hands under the elastic and dropped them to the floor. As I stepped out of them, my hand snaked down once again. I didn't want to touch it again, but it was there taunting me. The lump. I had to feel it again. How dare my body betray me again? I thought I was past all of this. It was never going to end, until I was dead. I could die. This thing could kill me, just like the bullet last year almost killed me.

I was on the bed, my arms clenched around my knees when a petite, blonde-haired nurse tapped on the door.

"Morning Mr. Bayliss. My name is Sarah. I'm going to get an IV started and then we'll get you a little Valium. It'll help you relax."

I nodded. She efficiently slipped the IV needle in my right arm. I had suffered through my fair share of IV applications and she was one of the good ones. She pulled a syringe from her pocket.

"I'm assuming you want the Valium," she said, holding it up.

I nodded and she injected it into the IV line.

"It's not a bad idea. We have you on the morning schedule, but it might be a little while. You'll feel better if you relax a little bit. Shall I turn on the TV for you?" she asked.

I nodded again. I felt that I was incapable of starting any conversation, that I had no control of my emotions.

Sarah tuned in the _Today_ show and handed me the remote control. "Give me a call if you need anything," she said as she left the room.

I found the bed controls and moved the head up, resting against the cool pillows, and waited for the soothing voice of Katie Couric to take me away from my own personal tragedy.

Tim's mom was the waiting room when I returned from the coffee shop. I had met Virginia a few times and she was always very nice to me, but we had never been friends. I honestly didn't know what she thought of me. Tim had told me about her wish for him to become a doctor. I'm sure that the prospect of no grandchildren from her only son had not been a welcome thought, but hopefully she could see that he was happy. At least I thought he was happy. What if... I brushed the thought from my mind. I couldn't go there. Not yet, anyway.

I sat down next to her. She looked tired, with more creases around her eyes than I remembered.

"I'd be glad to get you a cup of coffee, but I have to warn you that it's terrible-tasting stuff." I said, indicating my imported java.

She shook her head. "No. My doctor has me off caffeine. Is Tim . . .? Are they doing it now?"

I looked at the clock. It was a little past 7 a.m. "They were hoping to get him in by 9 a.m. I'm not sure why they wanted him so early, but he asked me to wait down here with you."

She nodded and I continued.

"I...he...he seemed okay." I wasn't sure what else to say. I heard a familiar cadence of footsteps in the hallway and looked up. Thank God.

"Mulder," Scully said as I stood up and took her in my arms. I was drowning here and the cavalry had just thrown me a buoy. Geez, I was mixing metaphors with wild abandon. I released Scully and took another sip of my coffee. I needed the caffeine in me now or my brain would stop functioning altogether.

"You must be Tim's mother. I'm Dana Scully, Mulder's partner," she said, holding her hand out. Virginia took the hand as Scully sat down next to her.

"I've heard about you, Miss Scully. It's nice to meet you," Mrs. Bayliss said.

I paced over to the window as Scully and Tim's mom exchanged pleasantries. I turned to lean back against the glass and watch them. Why couldn't I do that? Scully didn't know Tim's mom, yet she sat there chatting with her like they were old friends. Tim had asked me to do one thing today and I was already failing. I was never going to get through this. My mind rewound. Correction: get TIM through this. I didn't matter now. It was all about Tim.

Finally they came to get me. The orderly helped me slide over onto the gurney. I was definitely feeling the effects of the valium now. The nurse took my glasses, and the whole world turned into a big blur.

They pushed me down the hall toward the operating room. It was cold, the sheet they had placed over me didn't stop the breeze from chilling my bare legs. Goosebumps formed on top of goosebumps. I shivered slightly, either from the chill or my trepidation. This wasn't what I had expected for my life.

The door to the OR opened and they moved me inside. It was hard to understand what was going on without my glasses, but the nurse who had given me the valium announced Dr. Iverson's arrival. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, get up and bow? He was a doctor, not God.

They rolled me onto my side, swabbing the small of my back with a cold wipe. I shivered again.

"Please try and stay still, Mr. Bayliss," the anesthesiologist said. "I'm going to give you the epidural now."

I tried to hold as still as possible while he injected the epidural. Soon my body was numb from the chest down. I started to shake. Suddenly it was even colder than it had been in the hallway coming to the OR.

"It's normal," the nurse said, laying her hand on my shoulder. "I'm going to do the catheter now. You'll feel some pressure, but let me know if you have any pain.

She moved down toward the end of the table, quickly becoming a blur to me. I could sense her parting my legs and then the pressure. This should only be done under the influence of valium.

I watched, my eyes at half-mast, while they moved me again, settling my legs into long stirrups to hold them up and away from my body. My arms were pulled out and strapped down, making me look like the crucified Christ. The anesthesiologist and nurse continued prepping me, snapping on a pulseox clip. I could feel the blood pressure cuff snug against my bicep, the nasal canula in my nose. My mind refused to go further, to think about what they would do next. Thankfully the drugs finally drew over my mind like a cloud and I drifted into oblivion.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and my head snapped up. Tim's doctor was standing in front of me. It had seemed like forever since I had left Tim at the admission desk, but in reality it had only been about 4 hours.

"He tolerated the procedure well," Dr. Iverson said.

I could only nod my understanding. I could see Tim's mom over in the corner, crying softly. He must have told her first.

"We're going to move him up to a room now. If everything goes okay you can take him home in the morning."

"And the lump?" I heard my voice ask.

"It was malignant, Mr. Mulder."

I nodded as the rest of the world seemed to fade away. My head dropped down as the tears came unbidden. Without saying a word Scully was at my side. I looked up to see her face creased with concern.

"What do we do now?" I asked her, my voice choking.

"We take care of Tim," she said, confidently, holding my hand tightly in hers.

The voices were far away.

*"Mr. Bayliss, we're going to get you into bed now."*

Movement. Pain. Must be in bed. Pillow. Soft. Eyes closed. More voices. Mom. Mulder.

"No, you sit there," I whispered as Tim's mom tried to get me to take the chair by his bed.

Tim was in his room. They would keep him overnight, until his digestive stuff got back in order. I had taken the week off; Skinner was really understanding. As usual, the cup overfloweth in terms of my annual leave. I just never had anywhere to go and it wasn't like the cases stopped coming in if I did take time off. I just had to work harder to catch up when I got back. The last time I took time off was when Scully was sick. Hey, maybe that could become my new policy...a malignancy-only leave policy.

I shook my head, trying to chase away the black thoughts. This was not Scully's cancer, this was not an organism put in Tim to hurt me. It couldn't be. Then again, maybe it would be better if it were a plot against us. Maybe that way we could know how to fight it...maybe then there would be a cure.

Movement in the bed drew my attention back to Tim. He was waking up. I moved over to the other side of the bed and took his left hand.

"Mmm ..." Tim said, licking his lips. His mom reached for the water pitcher and poured him a small glass. She held his head up so he could take a sip from the bent straw.

"Hurts," he said after she had put his head back down.

"I know, sweetie. Should we get the nurse?" Virginia asked. She knew everything to do. I was just standing here like an oaf. Damn, I hadn't even said a word yet.

"Tim. I'm here, and your mom. Scully's waiting outside to see how you are." Great. I finally speak and I tell him Scully is here. I'm not doing anything for him that no one else could do. Next thing I know I'll be bringing him Beanie Babies and balloon bouquets.

Tim moaned again and Virginia signaled the nurse. In what seemed like seconds the nurse appeared.

"I see we're awake," she said as she moved to Tim's side. "I'll let Doctor Iverson know. I'm sure he'll want to come see you and then we'll get you up and moving."

"Hurts," Tim said. "Have to pee."

"I'm sure you do. Do you want to use the bed pan or get up?" the nurse asked.

"Get up," Tim responded. He was in so much pain, it was clear to me that they needed to do something for him.

"Okay. Let me give you a little morphine first and then we'll get you up," the nurse replied. She paused and turned to me. "You might want to wait out in the hall for this."

I nodded and turned to leave, slipping my hand from Tim's. Outside the door Scully was waiting.

"How is he?" she asked.

I shrugged. "He's in a lot of pain. They're getting him up to the bathroom," I said as another nurse walked past us into the room.

Scully nodded. "It's always painful when you work in the abdominal area. You cut through a lot of muscle to get where you need to be."

Tim's mom joined us in the hallway. "I thought it might be easier if I left too," she said as we heard Tim call out. Our heads all turned toward the door, but no one moved to go back in.

God damn. Why did I think the idea of peeing in my bed was such a bad one? Walking the ten feet across the room hurt like a son of a bitch. It hurt almost as bad as when I was shot, but at least there was the numbness after that. This pain just kept pulsing and growing.

I shuffled back over to my bed, hunched over like a hundred year old man, one nurse supporting my left arm while the second one took charge of the right side and the IV pole. How was I ever going to get out of here?

"Good work, there Mr. Bayliss," the nurse called Julie said.

I nodded, the only movement I seemed capable of at the moment. Nurse Julie and her assistant disappeared and were replaced by Mom, Mulder and Scully.

They all stood around me, watching.

"So, Tim, how are you feeling?" Scully asked.

"Like Mulder tripped over me," I responded. Everyone laughed. I still had it in me.

"Well, I just wanted to make sure everything went okay," she said as she took my hand. I squeezed it as a thank you. She kissed me on the forehead and left.

A moment later the door opened, admitting the doctor. He flipped open my chart and looked over his notes.

"Well, Tim, you're doing quite well. I'm glad to see that you were out of bed, that your systems are functioning again. We'll keep you overnight just to make sure and then send you on your way tomorrow morning."

I nodded, my mind trying to focus on what he was saying while the constant throbbing from my groin threatened to drown the doctor's voice out.

"As we suspected, the lump was malignant. It was pretty small, but we'll have to wait and see whether it was seminomal or non-seminomal. The pathology report should be back next week. I'll have my office call you as soon as we get the report, and then have you come in and we can talk about the next step in your treatment."

I tried to remember what the difference was. One meant more surgery, lymph node removal. The other meant radiation, maybe chemo. I'm not vain, but I really don't think I want to lose my hair. I know Frank looks good bald, but it's not really the same on a tall white guy. Besides, I'm already cold all the time.

"Well, you try and get a good night's sleep. Use that morphine pump. You'll feel much better if you can relax and sleep, and at this point I would recommend using any and all pain-relievers offered to you," Iverson said. He then turned and left.

"Do you want me to stay?" Mulder asked. I shook my head. I did, but I didn't. I really just needed to think and I couldn't with him and my mom here.

"Both of you should go home. I'm going to need you in good shape tomorrow," I said.

My mom protested slightly, but thankfully Mulder got her out the door and moving toward home. I really just needed some quiet, some time to think.

About fifteen minutes after they left the phone rang. I picked it up, wondering who knew I was there.

"Did you get them to leave?" Scully asked.

I laughed. "How did you know?" I asked.

"When I was sick, there were many times it was great to have people around, but more often than not I really just wished they would take their pitying expressions and get out of my face for a little while," she responded.

"You do know, don't you?" I replied.

"Tim, the most important thing I can tell you right now is to find one person who you can tell all the stuff that is scaring you. That and that alone will get you through. You can be strong for everyone else if you have someone who you never have to be strong for."

"It works?" I asked.

"Yeah, it really does. I'll do that for you, if you want," Scully replied, her voice quiet, yet strong.

"Thanks, Dana. I really appreciate it," I answered.

"Now, take the morphine and get some sleep," she said, her voice firm but understanding. She really did understand what was going on in my head and body.

"Absolutely, Dr. Scully," I responded before hanging up. It felt good knowing there was someone I could talk to. Mulder was my lover, my partner, but there were some things that I still was not prepared to share with him. There were plenty of things I still hadn't shared with him.

"You need some help?" I asked as Tim moved toward his dresser. Our day at home had been quiet, watching golf. It was mindless, but hadn't required either one of us to talk about things we didn't feel prepared to discuss yet.

"No, I'm fine. I'm just gonna..." Tim's voice trailed off as he pointed toward our bed. I assumed that meant he was just going to sleep in the t-shirt and sweats he had been wearing all day. He hadn't shown the scar to me yet and in some ways I was really okay with that. I knew it was soon and, well, I was scared too.

I reached over and picked up my pillow. "I'm gonna...I'm gonna sleep in the study tonight. I don't...I don't want to hurt you, you know how I can thrash."

Tim nodded and pulled back the duvet.

"Do you need anything?" I asked as I headed for the door. "You take your pills?"

Tim nodded again.

"Well, call if you need me, okay?" I gave him a long look. He smiled gently and nodded his head again. I made my way down to the office and pulled a blanket from the closet. It had been a long time since I'd slept on the old black leather couch, but in some ways it felt like the most comfortable place for me right now.

Why did he leave? That thrashing business is bullshit. I pulled the duvet back up over me, trying to get comfortable. The pain pills worked pretty well, but they didn't take care of all the pain.

He's disgusted with me. I haven't been able to show him what it looks like. I've barely been able to look myself.

*Damn, I have to go again.* Reluctantly I pushed the covers back and heaved myself out of bed. I made my way into the bathroom off our room.

I pushed the seat up on the toilet and stood there, waiting for the release. I caught a glance of myself in the mirror along the wall. I needed to just look, to get it over with. Nothing was going to change.

Standing in front of the mirror my eyes dropped down to the sac; it was like they said it would be. It's flat. It looks like someone popped my little balloon. I dropped my hands down there, touching where the offending organ had been. I had never thought too much about my balls, I mean, a guy has them, you're pretty much aware of them right off the bat, but I never thought about what they did, what they were. I moved over to the left one...the only one. I ran my fingers over it, looking for another lump. What if it came back?

A cry caught in my throat, and I choked it back. If I wasn't careful, Mulder would be in here trying to figure out what was happening. I turned the faucet on, running some water, and washing my face, then snapped the light out and went back to our big, empty bed.

"Sir," I said as I tapped on the interior door to his office. Kim wasn't at her desk and I was, once again, breaking all the rules of etiquette and showing up without an appointment.

Skinner looked up from the paper he was studying and signaled me to enter. I moved across the room and settled in my customary chair on the right. It felt a little weird to not have Scully beside me, but this was my problem alone.

"Yes, Agent Mulder?" he asked, peering through his glasses at him. His face was so hard to read. I couldn't tell if he was upset or indifferent toward me.

"Sorry for dropping in unannounced," I said, picking at the cuticle on my finger. Why was I so nervous?

"Is there something I can do for you?" he asked.

"I, uh, well..."

"Just spit it out Mulder. The director is expecting me in ten minutes, so I'd appreciate it if you could share your news and move along."

Good old Skinner. "Sorry, sir. You know that I've been in and out the past week. I've had some personal things come up and I might need some more flexibility in the next couple of months."

"Anything wrong, Agent Mulder?" Skinner asked, his voice coated with concern. So, he did care, after all.

"Uh, no, I mean, it's not me. I'm fine, it's just..." I stumbled over my words, wondering where to go within the confines of the "Don't ask, don't tell" mantra of the current administration.

"Agent Mulder, we have worked together for quite a few years now. I would like to invite you to just spit out whatever you have to say."

I looked at him carefully, weighing my options. Finally, I decided to just take the plunge.

"I share my home in Baltimore," I began. "My friend is ill, he's just had surgery and will be undergoing either radiation or chemotherapy. I think that it is important for me to be closer by, to not have any out of town travel until he's better. If it's possible, I would like to explore working from home as much as possible."

Skinner sat quiet for a moment. Finally he opened a drawer and reached in for a sheaf of papers. He laid them on the desk in front of me.

"I was recently contacted by the Baltimore field office. They have a paternity leave vacancy in their Innocent Images unit. I was going to send Special Agent Tanner, but it might be just the thing for you. Are you interested?"

"Innocent Images. The internet pedophilia unit?" I asked.

"Yes. You would be masquerading as a young boy to flush out pedophiles. Do you think you could handle it?" Skinner asked.

I nodded. It was horrific crime, but no worse than some of the things I had seen while working for the FBI.

"You'll have to pass the psych screening, but barring that, I'm willing to lend you out for the next six weeks. You'll have to talk to SAC Haeuser, but I can't imagine you couldn't telecommute for most of your work. Does that sound workable?"

"Yes. Thank you, sir. I appreciate your flexibility," I responded, standing up to shake his hand.

"Glad I could help, Agent Mulder. You'll need to make an appointment with Karen Kossoff for the psych exam. Good luck to you and Detective Bayliss."

I nodded and was halfway out the door before I figured out that I wasn't telling Skinner anything he didn't already know.

A knock at the door pulled me out of a light doze. The pain killers were keeping the wolves at bay as far as my pain went, but I could hear them howling in the distance. Man, it was also fucking with my mind, making me think in all these screwy riddles. I dropped the foot on the recliner and tried to launch myself out as carefully as possible.

I made my way to the door, never quite straightening up. I pulled it open to reveal Mulder's other partner.

"Hey, Dana. What are you doing out here?" I asked, letting her in the house.

She smiled. "How are you doing, Tim? How's the pain?"

I ushered her into the living room, moving at about one- tenth my usual speed.

"Well, it's definitely improving," I answered, as I lowered myself back into the chair. Dana took a seat on the couch opposite me.

"Those abdominal incisions are a bear. But it will get better."

I nodded again. "Mulder let you out on a pass this afternoon?" I asked.

She laughed. "No. He had an appointment and things were slow, so I thought it might be a good time for us to talk. Have you thought about what I said?"

I had thought about it. I had thought about it a great deal. Was it fair for me to talk to Dana about things that I really should discuss with Mulder? What would he think if he found out?

Her voice cut into my thoughts.

"It's not a crime for you to talk to me. Mulder wouldn't hold it against you," she said, leaning forward.

"It's not that...well, it is partly that," I began. "You're *his* friend. Why is it fair for me to steal his support at a time when he needs it?"

"You need support too, Tim," she said. "Besides, I have more than enough support in me for both of you. I have something I can share with you, Tim. I know what you are going through. I've been there and I can help you. You should let me do that."

I considered her words. It was true. I was scared shitless and I sure couldn't tell the other people around me. My mom looked like she was about to break in two every time I mentioned my illness. Mulder had been giving me this stiff upper lip that looked like it would crack if I touched it. My sister Jane was going through her own stuff with a divorce. There wasn't anyone else to turn to.

"What if I die?" I asked her, the question that had been on my mind since the moment Mulder felt the lump. "Am I going to die?"

Dana moved over to kneel next to my chair and take my hand.

"Well, the scientific answer is that we're all going to die. Hell, we're dying right now. But what you're asking about - - I don't know the answer to that. This is a treatable disease, but anything can happen. I'm not going to tell you not to be afraid, because that's natural, but there is no need to borrow trouble. We'll know a lot more once the pathology report is back. That will tell us where the disease might have spread and how they'll treat it. You don't have the kind of cancer I had; this is a totally different thing."

What did she mean by that? What made my disease totally different? I wanted to ask her, but this was supposed to be about me, not her.

"Were you scared?" I asked, instead of the other questions racing through my head.

She nodded. "Before I went into remission, I was very close to death. I had no hope. That isn't totally true, though. I had Mulder and I had God. To be quite honest, I'm not sure which one saved me."

"What do you mean?" I asked, confused by her response.

"There are..." Her voice trailed off. "There are people who would seek to stop the work that Mulder and I do. They would stop at nothing to make sure that we don't find the answers we are looking for. We felt that my cancer was part of that conspiracy to control our actions."

So that was what was making Mulder so anxious. He thought he might have caused this disease, like he thought he caused Scully's disease.

"Mulder knows that this isn't his fault, doesn't he?" I asked.

"I think in his head he knows, but in his heart he's afraid that he caused it. I'm not sure we'll ever be able to convince him otherwise," Dana responded.

Our conversation was cut short by the sound of the key in the lock. Dana stood up and started for the door.

"Please, don't ever hesitate to call me, no matter what," she said. I thanked her, heard her greet Mulder at the door and then she was gone.

"Hey, stranger," I said as Scully came out the door. I moved over to lean on the stair railing. She pulled the door closed behind her.

"He's doing pretty good, losing that gray shade of pain," she said, smiling at me.

I nodded. I knew he looked a little better, but I was just so overwhelmed with the illness. Did I look this bad when I was sick last spring?

"So, what brings you up to Charm City?" I ask.

"Tim and I have a little common ground, you know," she answered.

I nod again. I know all too well.

"He's concerned about you, but he's also scared for himself. You two need to talk, Mulder," she said.

"Is he talking to you?" I ask.


"Good." And I was glad. He needed to let it out somewhere. "I need to talk to you about something, too. I decided that I need to stick a little closer to home for a while."

Scully nodded. I knew she would understand. "Skinner find something for you?"

"Yeah," I replied and told her about the Innocent Images assignment. I had met with Karen Kossoff that afternoon and passed the psych profile. She was a little worried about my baggage with Samantha, but as usual, I turned on the psychologist charm and worked my way out of it. Besides, I was going to be targeting pedophiles interested in boys, not girls, and anyone I looked for would be unlikely to have any alien connections.

"It sounds like a good idea, Mulder," she replied. "Tim could use your support now."

I thanked her and waited as she walked to her car. After she had pulled out toward Broadway I turned to go into the house. As always the feeling of dread dropped over me. I tried to shake it off and opened the door.

"Honey, I'm home!" I called as I walked into the entry and peeked into the living room. Tim was in the recliner where I had left him that morning. A tray with a half empty bowl of soup sat on the coffee table in front of him.

"Hey," Tim replied, pushing himself up into a sitting position.

"How are you doing?" I asked as I dropped my bag and coat on the end of the couch and sit down near him. "Did you eat anything else? Take your meds?"

"Yes, I was a good little detective and took care of myself all day long," Tim replied in a sing song voice. "But, I think I'm ready to head back to work tomorrow."

"Is that really such a good idea?" I asked. Man, he could barely drag himself up to our bed, let alone go running around the streets of Baltimore.

"Gee wants me on desk duty for a while, but it's not fair that Diane is being slammed with all of our paperwork. Besides, that Gonzalez case is going to trial next Monday and Danvers needs to talk to me about my testimony."

"Just promise me you'll stay on the desk, even if Diane or Munch or any of them try to get you out on the street. Don't be the hero...at least this week, okay?" I asked, turning on the charm full blast.

"Okay," Tim agreed. He dropped the foot of the recliner and rocked forward as if to launch himself out. I stuck my hand out and he pulled himself up. "I'm thinking I should have let them leave the catheter in. It was a heck of a lot easier than getting to the can ten times a day."

I watched as he walked gingerly to the bathroom. He was doing better, but it seemed like it was going to take forever and we still had to face the doctor again, to get the lab results. I didn't know how it was for Tim, but this not knowing was really hard for me. I was going to feel so much better when I knew what to expect next.

I knew there was something I meant to ask Mulder, but the painkillers were not keeping me as sharp as usual. I listened while he continued talking about the latest developments in the Montana case he had been working on.

"Hey, what were you meeting about this afternoon?" I asked, suddenly remembering the burning issue.

Mulder turned to look at me, his eyes taken away from the pot of marinara sauce he had been stirring.

"What?" he asked, looking surprised.

"When Dana came up this afternoon she said you had some meeting you had to go to, something you didn't tell her about. I just wondered if it was interesting."

He turned the flame down on the burner and pulled the chair out across from me.

"I had to have a psych evaluation," he said.

"Anything wrong?" I responded. This wasn't what I expected. I expected a rant against Skinner or an interesting case, but this was certainly a new twist.

"I'm going to be reassigned, temporarily, out of the X- Files, so I needed the exam."

"Where are they sending you?" I asked, starting to get annoyed. I couldn't believe he would go out on the road, not now. I knew he was scared, but I thought we had some kind of commitment to one another.

"Actually, to Baltimore," he replied, that little half-smile on his face. "It's a unit called Innocent Images. I'll be able to do most of it from home, you know, in case, you need me around."

Innocent Images. Mike Giardello had told me about the unit one day over lunch. Pedophiles. On the net. The room suddenly felt really warm and really quiet.

"The program is working to try and identify..."

"I know what it does," I cut him off. I needed to not hear anymore. Thank god the phone rang. Mulder got up to answer it.

"Yeah, that will work for us. Thank you," he said and replaced the receiver.

"Iverson can see us tomorrow at 8:30 am. He has the pathology report back."

I nodded. Tomorrow we would know everything.

Seminoma. I rolled the word around on my tongue. I tried to retrieve all the information I had read online while the doctor continued to talk through the pathology report with Tim. Was this the good one or the bad one? My normally flawless memory was failing me. It had to be stress. Could it induce Alzheimer's?


I felt Tim touch my arm and call my name. My attention snapped back to the room.

"Do you have any questions?" Dr. Iverson asked.

I looked at Tim and cocked my head. He shook his head.

"What will you do next?" I asked, realizing this had probably all been stated while I was zoning out, but I didn't trust Tim to remember all of it. I should have brought my microrecorder.

"Radiation and a CT scan to make sure it hasn't spread. The tumor was small with clean edges, so it looks good," the doctor said. I nodded. Radiation, we could deal with that. Not as bad as chemo.

"How long?" I asked, looking at Tim. His face looked grim, but ever so slightly more relaxed than when we had walked into the doctor's office. Perhaps the truth does set you free.

"We'll do fourteen rounds of radiation, weekends off. You should try to make arrangements as soon as possible. The sooner you start, the sooner you're done," the doctor answered.

Tim nodded and we finished the visit. Fourteen. That didn't sound bad at all. Three weeks and we would be done with cancer. Tim finished up with the doctor and stood up; I followed him out of the office, still trying to process all of the information.

"Fourteen shouldn't be bad," Tim said to me as we waited for the elevator. "Maybe you should reconsider the reassignment."

I turned to look to him. He looked intently at me.

"I mean, if I'm not having chemo, there's no reason for you to..." Tim began.

"We don't know how sick you'll be. Just let me do this. Besides, I think the assignment sounds interesting," I answered. The elevator door opened and we got on. There was a young boy with his mother and an older man already in the car.

"Are you sure?" Tim asked, quietly.

I nodded again. "I want to do this, for you and for me." We rode the rest of the way in silence. Halfway to the car, Tim stopped and turned to look at me.

"I'm going to be fine, you know," he said.

"I know," I answered. I wanted to think that I believed it. I would feel better after the fourteen treatments were over.

The pictures kept running through my mind. I couldn't stop them. I kept thinking about Mulder and those men, the men who hurt children. I didn't want them here.

I realized that Mulder had been talking while we drove back from the medical clinic.

"Satterfield seems like a good guy and Hall looks like she knows what she's doing. Agents with a law degree always seem to have an interesting take on things."

I rubbed my hand across my eyes, trying to hold Mulder's prattle away from my thoughts. I really couldn't deal with this today.

"So, home or office?"

I looked up, realizing Mulder has actually addressed a comment toward me.

"Huh?" I asked.

"Where do you want me to drop you off? Home or the station house?"

"Uh, the bar. I need to sign a couple of checks for Munch and then I'm going to try and catch up on some of that paperwork," I replied.

"Sounds good," Mulder replied, turning onto Broadway. Again silence filled the car until he pulled up in front of the Waterfront.

"I'll see you tonight," he said, holding his arm across the back of my car seat.

"Okay," I answered, getting out of the car. I paused to watch him pull away and then turned to walk into the bar.

"Detective Bayliss. Back among the living, I see," Munch called as I walked through the door. I smiled weakly and moved to go around the back of the bar.

"Munch, just what the doctor ordered," I answered.

"Four out of five, anyway," he responded.

I pulled up a stool and sat down, grimacing slightly. There were still very few comfortable positions, although it had gotten much better.

"But you are feeling better, right?" Munch asked, his face covered with uncharacteristic concern.

"Yeah, slowly but surely," I replied. I had told Gee and Diane about the surgery. I wasn't sure how far the specifics of my condition had been spread, but the grapevine worked pretty efficiently, so I figured I didn't have to really share the details with Munch.

"Well, we'll be glad to have you back," Munch replied, pulling another stool alongside mine. "You going back to work soon?"

"I have to. I'm going crazy sitting at home," I responded. "Say, you got those checks for me to sign?"

"Yeah, just a minute. Sorry about calling you in, but Meldrick has gotten some sort of crazy idea that a couples retreat might save that sham he calls a marriage."

I chuckled at the thought of Meldrick and Barbara "sharing."

"If he had asked me, I would have told him the best way to guarantee marital bliss is to never do the deed," Munch replied, coming back out of the office. "Here you go."

I took the checks and scrawled my signature in the prescribed location. I handed them back and eased myself off the stool.

"Take care of yourself, John," I said moving toward the door.

"You too, Tim."

"This is our main base of operations," Agent Satterfield said as he led me through the Baltimore version of the bullpen. "We have ten agents assigned to this division working around the clock. I'm going to turn you over to Agent Hall for more in-depth training."

I turned to look at the short, dark-haired agent in front of me. I was familiar with Susannah Hall by reputation. She was a Harvard-educated lawyer who had joined the bureau after a short tenure with the ACLU. She had been a part of the initial investigation out of VICAP that had spawned the Innocent Images project.

"Agent Mulder," she said, her voice curt, but not unfriendly. She held her small hand out. Firm handshake. Always a good sign.

"I've heard good things," I responded, pulling up the chair to sit next to her workstation.

"As have I," she answered. "Agent Scully and I used to work out together when I was based out of DC. I trust that you are just taking a temporary break from the little grey men?"

I chuckled. "Yeah, something like that. Actually, personal things are keeping me a little closer to home than usual."

"Okay, well then, let's get you logged on and get started."

"Hey, hey, hey. Detective Bayliss has decided to show his fine face," Meldrick called out as I walked through the squad room door. I tried to smile, but walking up the flight of stairs had just about killed me. Not so much that I would admit it and take the elevator, but my body was not ready to move that way quite yet and definitely not for that distance.

I gritted my teeth and tried to flash a smile his direction. I made my way toward my desk as quickly as possible. Finally the marathon was complete and I sank down onto the chair. "What are you doing here, Lewis? I thought you were off retreating."

"Well, you know, Barbara, she had this thing come up and well, we're gonna try for next week," Lewis responded.

"Hey Tim," Diane's soft tones reached my ears. "You ready for this again?"

I looked up and smiled across the desk at her. She wasn't Pembleton, but she had been a damned good partner so far. Our styles complimented one another nicely and she had become a good friend as well.

"Yeah, I think so. I do know I was ready to be out of that house," I answered, smiling again. It felt damned good to be there, back at my desk, Detective Tim Bayliss again, not the patient, not the invalid.

"Well, in that case, how about I call Danvers and see if we can go over that Gonzalez testimony?"

"Chat rooms are our main way of establishing contact. The perps will masquerade as kids until they get you into a private conversation. At that point they will usually try to establish your location and attempt to make personal contact with you. Once that happens we can get the warrant and set up a sting. Any questions?" Susannah asked, her glasses slipping slightly down her nose as she turned to face me. His face was rapt with attention.

"How do you figure out which ones are the adults and which are just other techno-junkie teens?" I asked.

"It's hard at first, but soon you'll be able to pick them out in the first post. Their language will seem stilted, they're not as familiar with the lingo. It's like learning a new language and you have to do it as well, so they can't pick you out," she replied.

"It's so much to learn," I answered. "I'm a fan of e-mail and I've joined a few lists, but I'm not a big newsgroup hound and I definitely have never tried to see the seedy underbelly of America Online."

"I would assume that an Oxford grad like you would see it as a challenge," she replied.

I smiled. I wasn't the only one who had done some homework.

"So, what are you working on?" I asked.

"I've got a guy who has sent me photos at what he assumes is my home address. I think he's going to set up a face to face pretty soon here. I've told him I live in Kansas, so we'll set the sting up there."

"And do you go?" I asked.

"Sometimes. I've been working on this guy for a while and we're pretty sure he's guilty of multiple violations, so it'll be worth the trip."

I nodded. "So, does it get to you?"

"Of course. Take advantage of the psych consults. Remember, the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. You're going to need to talk to someone, and it's usually better to keep it within the family here."

"Well, thanks," I said, standing up. I needed to get home and see how Tim had done with his first day back at work. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."

"Tomorrow," Susannah said, taking my outstretched hand in hers.

"So, do you need a ride tomorrow?" Mulder asked as I looked through the mail.

"What?" I asked. I had heard him, but hadn't really processed his question.

"Tomorrow. Do you need a ride to treatment?" he asked, coming out of the kitchen to find me in the hallway.

"No. I'll just take a Cavalier. It isn't supposed to take very long." This was definitely not the road I wanted to go down. It was bad enough that Mulder had upset his whole life, but I did not need him carrying me to and fro. I just wanted to keep everything as normal as possible.

"Well, I'll have my cell, so give me a call if you need me," Mulder answered.

Great. He was hurt. I just couldn't get this one right. It seemed like I was damned if I did, damned if I didn't.

"So, the Baltimore office seems pretty good, interesting cases," Mulder said, still standing in the doorway to the kitchen.

"Good," I responded. I didn't want to get into this now.

"I think it will be a nice change of pace. It's amazing what they are seeing; it's really amazing what people will do to kids."

"Yeah, well, I'm going to go upstairs. I'm a little tired after my day," I replied.

"Do you need anything?" Mulder asked.

I shook my head and made a hasty exit. I was tired, but I was mostly unwilling to deal with Mulder. I just wasn't up to it...not now.

What had I done? I figured it was best to just act normal. Tim and I always discussed work, but now he had run away. He's tired. That's normal. He's just trying to keep things as normal as possible.

I reached for the phone and punched speed dial 2.

"Scully," she answered.

"Hey, it's me."

"What's up, Mulder? You making nice with the kids in Baltimore?"

"Yeah, pretty well. They seem civil enough and no one's called me Spooky yet."

"Give them time. So, what's up? You didn't call to give me a field report."

Man, she knew me well.

"How's Tim?" she asked when I remained quiet.

"Well, that's it -- I'm not quite sure. He went to work today, came home and headed straight for bed."

"That's not surprising. It's really hard to be on your feet after you've been in bed for few days. Besides, he's probably still pretty sore from the surgery. You never saw it, but when I was sick I always went home and crashed."

Yeah, and I never knew about it. Whose fault was that? I had disappointed her and now I was disappointing Tim.

"He won't let me take him for his treatment tomorrow."

"Mulder, you know it's more about doing for himself than him not wanting you there. He feels powerless. He needs to take control any way he can. You need to let him do these things for himself."

"But what if he gets sick?" I asked.

"Then he'll call a cab, or he'll call you. Just wait."


"Yes, Mulder?"

"We're...I'm..." I couldn't say it. She was my closest friend, but this was really personal...between Tim and me, but I needed to talk to someone about it.

"Has he shown it to you?" she asked quietly.

"No. I haven't...I haven't been sleeping in there. I was worried about hurting him and now I'm not sure how to go back in. I...I kind of feel like he has to ask."

"He might be waiting for you, Mulder."

"Yeah, he could be, but there's...there's a distance there. I've never felt it before. Tim is so open, so accepting, that now there is this barrier and I'm not sure how to get over it."

"Just give it some time, Mulder. It's going to take a little while, but I have faith that you will get through this."

"Thanks, Scully. You're worth a million."

We said our good-byes and I hung up. It was going to take a little while. I would just have to be patient.

I flipped around the channels trying to find something to watch. I could hear Mulder's voice downstairs. He must be on the phone. I was tempted to pick up my extension and see who it was, but didn't. We both needed our privacy now.

I looked over at the other side of the bed. It had been empty since I had come home from the hospital the week before. I knew that all I needed to do to get him back in our bed was to ask, but I couldn't. I didn't know what was stopping me. I needed Mulder now more than I ever had before, but I was incapable of asking.

I heard him come up the steps. He paused outside the door to our bedroom, then moved down the hall to the study. A moment later I heard him come back down the hall. There was a tap on the door and then it swung open.

"You still awake?" he asked.

I nodded and indicated with my head that he should take a seat. He lowered himself carefully to the bed, staying well away from me.

"I talked to Scully," he said by way of introduction.

"How is she?" I asked, looking over at him. He seemed relaxed, although I was sure he had to be as anxious as I was.

"Fine. I think she might miss me, but she didn't say so."

"Well, we both know how irresistible you are," I said, cracking a slight smile.

"Yeah, well, that's true," he answered, chuckling. "Tim, I..."

I turned to look at him. Yeah, he was looking a little more agitated now.

"We should...we should talk."

I dropped my head, closing my eyes. It was a defensive movement, but I needed something between us. I felt the bed shift as Mulder moved toward me.

"We can't leave it like this," he said as he moved his arm onto my shoulder. I stiffened against the weight. He dropped his arm back down into his own lap. We sat there for a few minutes, the silence oppressive.

"Tim..." he began. "I love you. Do you know that?"

I nodded. Of course I knew that he loved me.

"And nothing is going to change that. Whatever has changed physically, it hasn't changed anything else," he added.

I nodded again. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I would start to cry and if I started, I wasn't sure I would ever stop.

"So, whatever you need, whenever you're ready for it, you let me know. Okay?" he asked. He moved to the edge of the bed.

"Mulder?" I called. "I can't...I can't do anything, but will you stay here?"

"Of course," he said. He pulled the blankets back and moved to lie next to me. I had been going to bed in a t-shirt and sweatpants. It would put enough space between us.

I turned to lie on my side, gasping slightly. Damn, that still hurt! I rolled onto my back.

"No spooning, yet," I said, wryly. I reached over and turned off the bedside lamp.

"It all takes time," Mulder replied. He moved his right hand over to take my left. He squeezed it lightly. I moved my head toward his.

"I love you," I said. He moved his hand up to touch my face. He leaned in and kissed me lightly. His tongue prodded my mouth open. I opened to receive him. He began to kiss me more intently. This felt so good. I could feel my erection beginning to grow. The pain was still there, but somehow seemed less as my pleasure grew. Maybe this was the tonic I had been looking for.

Mulder's hand moved down over my chest, toward my groin. Our kisses grew deeper as the hand moved closer. Suddenly I was aware again of what was happening.

"No!" I called, grabbing his wrist and pulling it away. I jumped out of bed and moved toward the wall.

"Tim...I'm sorry...I..." Mulder began. He got out of bed and moved toward me.

"I'm not ready, not for this."

"I'm sorry. Let's just...let's just go to bed," he answered.

"I don't think so, Mulder. I just can't. Not yet," I replied. He waited for a moment and then left.

I stood at the window for at least twenty minutes. Why did this scare me so much? I knew that physically I could do as much as was comfortable, but the psychological was a lot harder.

It was going to take more time.

What the hell was I thinking? Fact was, I wasn't thinking - - that was abundantly clear. I knew that Tim was uncomfortable, but the urge to be with him had removed any sense from my brain. I guess that man is led by his dick.

I flopped back on the couch. How would I ever make this back up to him?

The door swung open. The big hands moved around mine, swallowing them. I'm little. The hands are everywhere. They are holding me. Touching me. I can't make them stop. He's with me. He's in me.

Daddy. Help me. Stop him.

What's wrong with you? Why is my son such a pansy? Why are you lying? Do you like it?

I woke up with a start. I could hear something. Was it the TV? I got up from the couch and moved down the hallway. It was Tim. He must have been having a nightmare. I could hear him crying in his sleep, muttering something I couldn't understand.

I pushed the door open and stood there. Earlier that night I would have gone to him, comforted him, but now I was frozen. I just couldn't go and hold him and have him turn me away again.

Mulder was gone when I got up that morning. I wasn't sure if I was glad or not. I was glad to not have to relive the horrible night before over the breakfast table, but I would have appreciated seeing his smile before I went to the hospital again. I had not slept well, my night filled with dreams I couldn't remember.

The building scared me a little bit. It's overwhelming. It had so many memories for me: Frank's stroke, my shooting, the surgery. We had always come out, but always with a little piece missing, either physical or emotional. I wasn't sure what else I could lose.

"Please fill out this form and we'll call your name," the desk attendant said as she handed me yet another set of forms to fill out. It would seem that in this day and age of technology it wouldn't be necessary for me to fill these forms out every time I turned around.

I worked my way though the form and returned it to the desk.

"Mr. Bayliss?" a technician asked. "You can follow me."

I followed her into a room where she had me change into a hospital gown. Then we went into a larger room with the machine that would shoot the radiation into my body, presumably killing the malignant cells that might have escaped the tumor.

"We'll protect the rest of your body with these lead shields," the technician said, helping me onto the table. She had me slide down, positioning me below the radiation machine. The day before they had made small tattoos on the locations they wanted to direct the radiation beams at. The technician lined those up.

"Please remember to stay very still," she said as she left the room. The machine moved over me, humming as it shot the radiation into my body. Fifteen seconds passed by and she returned, re-positioning me. We repeated the drill. Before I knew it, the session was over and I was getting my clothes back on.

"One down, thirteen to go," I said as I passed the technician.

"See you tomorrow," she said, smiling.

I stared at the computer screen, engrossed in the conversation transpiring in front of me.

I typed in a comment, trying to subtly catch the attention of "HAWK37", a suspect I had been tracking for most of the morning. Background files had identified him as a paroled pedophile from Cincinnati, Ohio. His presence in this chat room discussing "Pokemon" was suspect.

Susannah was right, it took a delicate touch, but I thought I was starting to get it. Thank god. I needed something to keep my mind off my travails at home. It was interesting that I had taken this assignment to make me more available to Tim, while I was now using it to hide from him.

My watch beeped. I had set the alarm to remind me of Tim's appointment. I had taken off that morning before he got up, but I really needed to check and see how he was doing.

I typed a hasty good-bye in the chat room:

BBStud: gotta go. Mom's calling-

I signed off and headed for the door.

"I'll be back in about an hour," I said, sticking my head into Agent Satterfield's office.

"How's it coming?" he asked.

"Pretty good. I think I'm coming along with Bishop. Bishop was the pedophile I had been profiling and pursuing.

"Good. Once you feel comfortable, feel free to do this from home," Satterfield said.

"Yeah, well, it's working out pretty well here. We'll see," I replied. Fact was, I had no real interest in being home. As long as I was in Baltimore I could get to Tim if there was a problem.

I walked out to my car, flipping my keys back and forth. I probably should have just called Tim to see how he was, but I felt quite certain he would tell me he was fine. I felt like we needed to talk. I wanted to see him, make sure he had gotten through the radiation okay.

Traffic was light and I made it down to Fells Point easily. I pulled into the station house, waving at Sergeant Gibson in the guardhouse. It was nice to have a parking place whenever I needed one.

"Hey, Mulder," Terri Stivers called out as she made her way over to one of the fleet of Cavaliers.

"Tim upstairs?" I asked.

"I think he and Diane just walked over to Jimmy's," she answered.

I thanked her and headed back into the sunlight.

"So, he tells me that when we find the guy I should go in first," I chuckled, relating to Diane yet another classic Frank Pembleton moment.

"He was that bad a shot and still made detective?" she asked, smiling at me. Her smile was all too infrequent, but always a treat when it appeared.

"A terrible shot. I was sure he would never pass the firearms exam after the stroke. He would have been hard- pressed to pass before," I answered. I looked up to find Mulder standing just inside the door. He waved and walked over.

"Hey. Diane, good to see you," he said, shuffling his feet as he stood by our table.

"Can you join us?" she asked.

"If you don't mind," he responded, grabbing a chair from a vacant table nearby. He signaled the waitress and put in his order for a tuna melt.

"How did things go?" he asked.

"Fine," I answered. I was surprised to see him, but I should have known by this point in our relationship that Fox Mulder was a man of mystery, if nothing else.

I reached for my glass of water. I had started feeling sick shortly after returning to work, but so far it had been okay. When Diane had asked me to go to lunch I didn't have the heart to say no.

"How's the new assignment?" Diane asked Mulder.

"Good. Very interesting. I think I've attracted the interest of a paroled pedophile," he answered.

My stomach clenched. I wasn't sure if it was the radiation, or the turn in the conversation. I pushed my chair back, waving Mulder away as I headed for the bathroom.

"You think he's okay?" Diane asked as Tim disappeared toward the men's room.

"Has he been sick?" I asked. I didn't realize it would happen so soon.

"Not that I know, but he doesn't tell me much," she answered.

I knew how that was. "I'd better go see if he's okay."

I got up and made my way to the men's room. It was a single and Tim had locked the door behind him. I tapped lightly at the door.

"Hey, you okay?" I asked.

"Yeah," Tim replied through the door. I heard the toilet flush and the sink run. The door opened up and he stood in front of me, his face a little pale.

"You sure?" I asked again.

"Yeah. It's no worse than the flu," Tim answered.

"You want to go home?"

"Nah, I'm fine. Go finish your lunch. I'm going to go get some fresh air and then head back."

I followed him to the door. "Call me," I said as he pushed the door open.

"I'm fine, Mulder. Just go back to work," he responded, walking quickly away from me.

I headed back to the table.

"Was he okay?" Diane asked as I sat back down.

"I think so. He was sick, but it didn't look too bad. Keep an eye on him for me, though."

"Of course, Mulder. Of course."

I got my sandwich to go and headed back out into the afternoon. I probably should have gone to find Tim, but as if on autopilot I headed back to my car and to the office.

Shit. This sucks. I haven't puked this much since I had bad clams on a trip to Cape Cod in college. I'm not going to make it for three weeks if it's like this.


Okay, it could be so much worse. I can make it three weeks. Of course I can make it.


Oh man, I have got to hit the can again.

I ran for the bathroom, hitting the toilet just in time. How can there be anything left in there? I had barely eaten lunch before I started getting sick. After two trips to the can at the station house I called it quits for the day. Quite frankly, I couldn't take that look on Diane's face anymore. The second time Gharty came in during the heat of the moment. I think he would have rather been anywhere else. He was nice, but neither one of us really wanted to share this kind of intimate moment.

I made it home fine. Diane took pity on me and dropped me off. It was nice to have the house quiet and to myself. Maybe I should consider Gee's offer to work half days. I could go in the morning, have my radiation and then come home and puke here in the privacy of my own home.

That would be fine as long as Mulder wasn't sitting here watching me all day every day. I couldn't take that.

I stood up and flushed the toilet. I should probably invest in knee pads if I'm going to keep hitting the deck at this pace. As I walked back into the hallway I heard Mulder's key in the door.

"Hey," I called out to him as he walked through.

He smiled and dropped the mail on the table by the staircase. "You feeling better?"

"Well, not really." I answered. "I decided it was better to just not put anything in if it was going to all come back up."

"I understand," Mulder answered, taking his coat off and hanging it up on the hook by the door.

"I'm...I'm thinking maybe it would be better to work the mornings, then do the treatments and come home," I said, watching for his reaction.

"You talk to the hospital? Gee?" he responded, his face devoid of emotion.

"Yeah. They both thought that would work fine," I replied. I walked back into the kitchen and he followed me.

"Do you want me here with you?" he asked, reaching over and turning the oven on.

"I think I'll be fine, unless you think you need to be here."

"Let's play it by ear, but you tell me if you need me," he answered, closing the refrigerator door and opening the bottle of beer in his hand. He sat down on the stool by the counter. "You'll tell me, right?"

"Yeah, I'll tell you."

Mulder nodded. "I mean, I can work at home, but the office is a pretty good environment. I haven't worked with anybody but Scully for so long. This Agent Hall is pretty sharp. She can really pick out the pedophiles. I can't believe some of the things these guys have done. I mean, I've worked with some of the worse, John Lee Roche, but the sheer volume is completely amazing."

I can't talk about this now. I won't. I'm not going to get into this.

"I'm going to go lay down," I say as I get up, Mulder's comments still hanging in the air. As quickly as possible I get upstairs and close the door to our room.

I drop down on the bed, the room clothed in darkness.

Why have I never told him about Uncle George, about what happened to me? We've been together for almost a year and he has told me so many things about his past. He told me about his sister, about this alien thing. He trusts me; so why can't I trust him? I have to tell him.

I can't. He won't want me when he finds out what happened to me. How could he? How could he ever want someone who would let somebody do such bad things to him?

If he finds out that I did this to myself, that I caused this cancer, then he'll definitely go. He doesn't need this kind of pain and it's all my fault.

I don't get him at all. I talk about us, he runs. I talk about work, he runs. I can't find anything that will allow a conversation between Tim and me to last more than two minutes.

I am the first to admit that I am not the most nurturing person, but how can I take care of him if he won't let me?

I really don't know what to do.

The timer dinged on the counter and I pulled the frozen pizza from the oven. I hoped it wouldn't make Tim nauseous. I slid it onto a cutting board and sliced it into 8 pieces. Picking up the board and my beer I made my way into our living room. It looked like another long evening of channel surfing and self-recrimination lay ahead of me.

As I sat down the phone rang.


"Mulder, it's me," Scully intoned.

"Hey, partner. Miss me?" I ask, a smile appearing for real for the first time all day.

"Of course, Mulder. How's Tim?"

"Sick. He's been puking all day," I answer.

"Already? That's really soon. Most times it takes a couple of treatments. It might clear up, but sounds like he might not tolerate it very well. Is he taking anything?" she asked.

"Like what?"

"Check with him, but there are a few anti-nausea medications he can take. There's no sense for him to be sick if he doesn't have to be."

"Thanks, I'll check on it with him."

"How's the other stuff coming?" she asks. I know instantly what she's asking about.

"Well, that's more complicated," I answer.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.

"No...I will, but not now. Thanks, Scully."

"You're welcome, Mulder. You'll work it out. I know you can."

We said our good-byes and hung up. She was a wise woman. Tim and I were both lucky to have her.

"Any other questions?" Dr. Iverson asked.

I had gone in for my post-operative exam. Mulder had not pushed me when I said I wanted to go alone. We had grown apart over the past week and I knew it was my fault. I had not pushed him away, but I had not done anything to encourage him to try and work things out with me.

"I...I wanted to know if they...do they know what causes this cancer?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" the doctor asked me.

"I've read things about injuries to that area. When you examined me, initially, you asked about that. What is the relationship?"

"Well, we have had some clinical studies that include a very slight increase in testicular cancer in men who had suffered injuries to their genitals. You said you had not suffered any injuries when I examined you. Are you concerned about that?" he asked.

"I..." I was having a very hard time spitting it out. Quite frankly, the only time I had talked about it was with Frank and that was after a long evening of Old Milwaukee. This was not quite the same setting.

"I was abused. When I was young," I finally spat out.

"I see," the doctor answered. "And you are concerned the two are related?"

"I know it won't make any difference now, but yeah, I would like to know," I answered. I needed to know.

"It's highly unlikely. We have to assume that there could be an injury that might have caused the abnormal cell growth. Do you remember a specific injury?"

I shook my head. "I don't remember much."

"That's not uncommon either. Otherwise, how are things? You're a little anemic, but it's not dangerously low yet. How's the nausea?"

"Better, with the medication. I'm still working half days, but I'm feeling much better."

"And the pain?"

"Nearly gone."

"Good," the doctor answered. He stood up and came around his desk. "Well, call me if I can do anything."

I took his hand and shook it. Not a clear answer, but about what I had expected.

"You get him?" Agent Hall asked as she came and peered over my shoulder.

"Yeah. Satterfield is drawing up the warrants now," I answered. After a couple of weeks of cat and mouse I had Henry Bishop in my sights. With any luck within the next day he would be within the confines of the federal prison system.

"Are you going to Ohio for the arrest?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. I have to go home and check on the situation, but yeah, I would love to be there to bring him in."

"It's a good feeling, Mulder. I have to admit that I get a lot of satisfaction out of it."

I pulled my coat off the hook by my cubicle. "Well, hopefully I'll be back shortly with my bag packed."

I heard the door slam downstairs. I didn't always nap in the afternoon, but as a matter of habit I at least laid down when I got back from my treatment.

I heard Mulder on the steps and then a light tap at the door.

"C'mon in," I said.

He pushed the door open and moved into the room. "Were you sleeping?" he asked.

"Nah, just lying here thinking," I answered. I turned the light on next to the bed. Damn, he looked so good in those dark, tailored suits.

"How'd it go with the doctor?" he asked, standing near the door. He had not sat on the bed since that night.

"Fine. Things looks good. Only 3 more treatments and we're done."

Mulder nodded, jamming his hands into his pockets.

"We...I've got enough on my guy, on Bishop, for the arrest. We've set up a face to face tomorrow in Columbus. I'd...I'd like to go, if you think you'll be okay."

"Yeah, that's fine, Mulder. How long?"

"A couple of days. If you need anything, I think Scully is in town."

"I'll be fine. Go catch your bad guy," I say, trying not to think about the crime Mulder was prosecuting.

"I'll call as soon as I get there," he said while opening the door to our closet. I watched as he pulled out his travel case and quickly packed.

"Take care, Mulder," I said as he zipped the case closed.

"You too, Tim," he said as he leaned in and kissed me on the forehead. I didn't answer and then he was gone.

"Hey Scully," I said, holding the cell phone close to my ear to drown out as much of the traffic in the airport terminal.

"Where are you, Mulder?" she asked.

"BWI. I'm catching a flight to Columbus to close this case. I should be back on Wednesday. Would you mind checking in on Tim? He said he would be fine, but I would feel a lot better knowing he had someone around."

"Yeah, no problem. I've been meaning to come up and see him anyway. How's he feeling?"

"He says a lot better," I answered.

"And you?"

"I've been better," I answered. I was becoming much more honest in my old age.

"Go catch your bad guy, Mulder. I'll take care of things here," Scully said, echoing the words Tim had said to me only a little bit earlier. Sometimes I wondered if they were clones of one another.

I ended the call and headed toward my gate. When I got back I was going to take a couple of days. I was going to straighten things out with Tim once and for all.

"So, are you my babysitter?" I asked as I let Scully into the house Monday night. She laughed as she shrugged her coat off. I took it from her and hung it on the hooks by the door.

"Well, Mulder did call me, but I had been meaning to come up here anyway and see how you are doing for myself," she answered as she followed me into the living room.

"Pretty well, actually. I'm tired all the time and the treatments are making me feel pretty shitty, but the light is at the end of the tunnel," I responded.

"It will feel good to be done. And everything else looks okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, the follow-up CT scan was clear and they are declaring me in remission. I have to go back every year and have it checked, but this is hopefully the end of the cancer," I answered.

"It's over, Tim, but don't be surprised if you have some latent anxiety about it. You'll worry when it's time for the check-up. It's human nature. I've been cancer-free for nearly three years, but every time I get a headache or it's dry in my apartment and I have a little nosebleed I get paranoid that it's starting all over again."

I nod. I have already caught myself several times checking for another tumor.

"What about the other things?" she asks.

"What other things?"

"How's it going with Mulder, if you don't mind my asking."

I looked at her and smiled. She's a good friend and she knows both of us. She is someone we can trust.

"That's been a little bit harder," I admitted. "I haven't been able to let him come back yet...back to our bed."

"Is there still a lot of pain?" she asked.

"No. It's pretty much healed. It's...it's the other stuff."

"Are you afraid of what Mulder will think? I really don't think you have anything to worry about there, Tim," Scully answered.

I stood up and walked over to the mantle, trailing my hand along it. I was the main housekeeper and I hadn't been feeling like doing much of anything. Mulder had tried to pick up the slack, but the mantle was covered in dust. I pulled my hand off, wiping the dirt on the leg of my sweat pants. I turned back and looked at Scully. Her face was covered with concern.

"It's not the physical stuff," I admitted. I drew a deep breath and exhaled. "There's something I haven't told him, something I can't."

"What, Tim?" she asked.

God. I was going to do this. Wasn't I?

"I should have told him before. We're together. He's told me about Samantha, the conspiracy, things that I can't even imagine. I've never told him something so little, so minor."

"Do you want to tell me? Or do you want to tell Mulder?" she asked.

It was a good question. How could I tell her and not him? Telling Scully was the first step to telling Mulder. If I started here there was no turning back. I would not be able to force her to keep something like this from him.

"I caused the cancer."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"The doctor said that an injury, that it could cause the cancer, and I did it."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Scully said. She stood up to come over to me, but I signaled her to keep her distance. She sunk back down into the chair.

"When I was a little boy, my uncle George used to take me into the bathroom. He used to wash his hands with mine and then..." my voice trailed off. It was like I wasn't even saying it, like it was coming from an automated recording.

"He touched me and he hurt me and I got this disease," I finished. Scully moved over and put her arms around me. I didn't move within them.

"Oh Tim," she said, pulling my tall frame toward her petite one. We sunk down onto the floor in front of the cold fireplace. I felt the emotion move in my body as the tears began. She ran her hands over my hair, pulling my face toward her.

"I...I wanted him to stop, but he wouldn't," I choked out.

"It wasn't your fault," she repeated over and over, holding me tight as I sobbed for all of the years that I had been hurt, all the time I had held it within.

Finally I was spent. I pulled myself back from Scully, and reached up to dry away the remaining tears.

"Have you ever told anyone that?" she asked me, her face covered with concern.

"Frank. When I was drunk," I answered, wryly. "And my parents. When I was little, but they didn't believe me."

"Oh, Tim," she said, pulling me close again. "What a burden to you."

She held me back again. "You have to tell Mulder this."

"I know."

"He'll understand. All of it."

"I know," I answered again.

"He loves you, Tim."

"I know." It seemed to be the only thing I was capable of. She helped me up and led me upstairs to my bed. I was so tired, from the treatments, the emotion. It was all I could do to pull the blankets back and crawl underneath them.

"I'm going to stay here, Tim. I don't want you to be alone tonight."

I nodded. I didn't have enough strength to argue with her and quite frankly, I had no desire to be alone.

She leaned in and kissed me on the forehead.

"It's going to work out, Tim," she said.

"I hope so," I answered.

"I know so."

We had the play area at Tuttle Crossing, a suburban Columbus, Ohio mall, staked out. Special Agents Satterfield and Boone were covering the east entrance while Susannah and I covered the west.

"You ready?" she asked me.

I looked over at her and smiled. We were dressed in "suburban casual" trying to look like we were watching our kids on the play equipment.

"What the hell is that stuff?" I asked, gesturing toward the play area.

"Looks like breakfast food to me," she responded.

I laughed. "Who makes toys out of breakfast food?" I asked.

"Maybe the place was sponsored by Kellogg's?"

"Maybe." Yeah, I was ready. I was ready for this case to be over and for me to get my ass back to Baltimore. As much as I had wanted to go, I had not been able to get my mind off Tim for more than five minutes at a stretch. Hopefully this bust would go smoothly and we could get the hell out of here.

"Suspect entering through north doors past Chick Fil-A and Steak Escape," came a voice through the plug in my ear. I nodded my head toward his route. Susannah nodded.

Jon Grant, an agent with the Detroit field office dressed in baggy jeans, a t-shirt and baseball cap stood near the fried egg. At 5'5", he passed for a twelve year old boy at a distance. He was wearing the baseball cap Henry Bishop had sent him -- well, actually, had sent me. We watched as he moved toward Agent Grant.

Satterfield gave the signal and we swooped in, making the arrest. I watched it all like it was one of those live action cop shows Fox shows on Saturday night. I felt so detached from all of it. As soon as possible I had to get home.

I turned off Broadway onto Shakespeare. I had never appreciated living this close to work until the last couple of weeks. Most days it had taken all I had to drag myself back home, but today, for some reason I felt much better. Tomorrow was the last day of radiation and then things were going to return to normal. I knew they would. They had to.

I pulled up short, finding Mulder sitting on our front stoop.

"Hey," I said, stopping in front of him. "You're home."


I stood there, not quite sure what to do with myself. Should I walk inside? Were we supposed to talk out here?

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Pretty good, actually," I admitted. "One treatment to go."


"Get the guy?" I asked.


"You're talkative today, Agent Mulder," I said, almost teasing.

"Yeah, well, Tim, we need to talk," he said, pulling his hand up to rub over his chin.

I nodded. We did. We needed to talk about a lot of things.

"You really feel okay?" he asked. I nodded. "Then let's get out of here."

Mulder stood up and walked over to his car, parked just down the block. I followed, getting in the passenger seat.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Away from here," he said. "I can't breathe in this city right now."

Mulder quickly drove out of the city and headed toward DC. I had to admit that I wasn't really sure where he was taking us, but decided it would be a good time to catch a short nap. I felt good, but I was still tired. I was always tired.

I handed the money over to the park attendant and drove in. I hadn't planned any of this, the request to go somewhere just blurting out of my mouth from nowhere. I pulled into the lot and turned the car off. Tim was still sleeping. He had dozed off around Laurel.

Without really thinking we had ended up at Great Falls National Park. When I had lived in Alexandria it was a favorite place of mine to go and think. There was something about the pulse of the water crashing over the rocks that helped me clear my mind. I wasn't sure how it was going to be for discussing significant relationship problems, but I was willing to give it a try.

Tim stirred and then opened his eyes. He stretched his arms out, hitting them against the window and roof. He yawned and turned to look at me.

"We there?" he asked.

"Yeah. You sleep well?"

"Yeah. So, where are we?" he asked looking out the window.

"Great Falls of the Potomac, Virginia side," I answered.

"I thought it looked familiar," he answered. "I haven't been up here for years."

I opened up my door and got out of the car. Tim followed suit.

"There's a good view of the falls a short walk from here. You up for that?" I asked. Tim nodded and we took off toward the interpretive center.

We walked in silence for a few more minutes. It was two o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon and although the leaves were lovely, the park was largely empty.

I led the way out onto one of the large boulders overlooking the falls and sat down. Tim lowered himself next to me.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about you while I was gone," I said by way of introduction. No sense holding back now.

"Come to any conclusions?" he asked.

I turned to look at him. God, I did love him. "Just that I love you and I want to do whatever is necessary to work this out."

Tim dropped his head, breaking eye contact with me.

"Do you know what Sunday is?" I asked. He turned to look at me and shook his head. "Our anniversary. I mean, I'm not sure what we would consider an anniversary and I'll probably never remember it again, but one year ago on Sunday we went on our first date together."

Tim laughed lightly. "The Orioles game. That was quite an afternoon. I wasn't sure what your intentions were, afraid that I was reading you wrong. It feels like a very long time ago."

"Not so long ago," I responded.

"Mulder, I'm sorry I've been so difficult," Tim said, suddenly.

"No, I'm sorry for not knowing what to do."

"Did you talk to Scully?" he asked.

Scully? I hadn't had a chance to talk to her since before I left. I had been so focused on getting home.

"No, why?" I asked.

"There's something I have to tell you. Something I should have told you a long time ago," Tim said. He turned his body away from mine, pulling his legs up against his body.

I recognized the body language and decided to wait and see if he would tell me, not make me drag it out of him. I slid my hand over to touch his left knee. He didn't move toward it, but he didn't pull away either.

"When you told me about your sister I was really moved by your willingness to share it with me. I was amazed that you could trust me, trust yourself with that kind of pain. I wished that I was so strong."

Tim sighed and dropped his head down. We sat there for a few minutes longer before he continued again.

"I've been having a really hard time with this cancer...and, with your job."

My job? I couldn't imagine what he was talking about.

"When you would come home and tell me about what you were doing, I was glad that you were doing it, but it was bringing up a lot of stuff for me. A lot of stuff that I've kept away for a really long time."

I unconsciously sucked my breath in, not certain what was coming next, but dreading it all the same.

"All those kids being hurt, those sick perverts. It was just bringing back all the stuff I've kept tucked away for years. I never wanted to talk about it because there was nothing that could be done and it was over, but then there was the cancer."

I wasn't following everything Tim was saying. He seemed to be talking all over the place.

"My uncle, he hurt me, and then he gave me this cancer. I'm so sorry. I thought that he was done hurting me and then he hurt us and it's my fault..." Tim's voice broke as he started crying. I moved closer, slipping my arm around his shoulder.

"What do you mean, he caused this cancer?" I asked.

"My uncle molested me, when I was little. It could have done this, all of this. He made me gay, he gave me this cancer."

Oh god, all this hurt? Why hadn't he told me? I pulled him closer, nearly onto my lap.

"You didn't do this. You didn't do it," I kept repeating over and over.

I don't know how long we sat there. Mulder held me and almost made it feel like it was going to be okay. He rocked me back and forth, telling me it wasn't my fault. After some time we were interrupted by the voice of a ranger from the interpretive center. Mulder stood up, half lifting me to my feet.

"We should go," he said as the Brownie troop made their way across the foot bridge toward our location.

I nodded. I was spent, incapable of speaking. We walked to the car, Mulder supporting me, his arm tight around my waist. He quickly opened my door and helped me into the car.

Without a word he started the car and drove out of the park. Turning right onto the highway we drove into the town center of Great Falls. Mulder stopped at the light, tapping his hands on the steering wheel. After pausing for the oncoming traffic he turned left and then right into the parking lot of a small strip mall.

"You need to eat?" he asked. I shook my head. I couldn't eat anything now.

"Let's get some coffee at least. You're cold."

I was. I had started shaking. It was probably shock. Mulder got out of the car. He paused for a moment to look at me and then walked quickly into the bakery.

A moment later he reappeared with two cups and a white bag. He handed the bag and a cup of steaming coffee to me. My hands fumbled for a minute and then I took it. I pulled the lid off, first blowing, then sipping the hot coffee.

"I'm not sure what to do," Mulder responded. "I...we can't drive back to Baltimore like this. I don't know what to do."

I had never seen him like this. He was upset. Shit. I had done this, too.

He must have seen the panic in my eyes because he pulled the bag from my left hand and took it in his.

"I didn't mean...I just...I'm fine, Tim. We're fine. We just need to talk. I know we need to talk."

I nodded. We did.

I pulled into the lot of the small motel. It wasn't as bad as the crappy strip motels that Scully and I seemed to frequent and besides, I wasn't planning on spending the rest of my life here. I just needed to get Tim somewhere so we could talk about this.

Shit. I had no idea this was coming. I mean, logically, I should have known, but as usual I had let denial creep in and take over my thought process.

I quickly registered at the desk and went back to fetch Tim. I opened the door and let him in. The room was dark with the shade drawn, so I snapped on a light. It was clean, and that was all that we needed. Tim walked over and wordlessly, dropped down on the bed.

When Sam disappeared, everything in my family changed. My mom withdrew and my dad got cold. He had always been busy, but when he was around, he had always been quick to show us how much he loved us. That went away when Sam did. I'm not sure if it was a way for them to protect themselves against maybe losing me someday or not. I still haven't gotten enough answers about her abduction and my parents' involvement in it to really understand that much.

I had to go see the school social worker once. I had gotten so quiet in class they were afraid that someone was hurting me. It was so humiliating listening to that woman try and figure out if my dad was being inappropriate with me. Ten years later she could have used that whole "good touch/bad touch" thing, but in the early 70s there weren't a lot of subtle ways to get at the subject matter.

Having had that one experience, I can't imagine what Tim's life had been like. People who hurt children made me mad. It was that anger that made me screw up the Roche case. I had let my anger blind me to what he was doing and I nearly got a little girl killed. For sure I bought her some serious head-shrinking.

I wanted to know if Tim's uncle was still around. I would kill him for hurting Tim. Why hadn't his parents helped him? Why hadn't he told them? Why hadn't he told me?

Questions continued to race through my head as I looked at him lying on the bed.

"Tim?" I asked. He moaned slightly. "Can you...? Do you want to talk?"

He pulled himself up, his legs hanging over the side of the bed. He looked up and met my eyes.

"Are you mad?" he asked.

I shook my head. "Of course not." I moved over and sat down next to him on the bed.

"I should have told you sooner," he intoned.

"Yeah, well, I should have been more aware of what was going on with you. We both make mistakes. The important thing to remember is that we love one another."

I slid my arm around him and held him as he told me about what had happened, about his uncle's actions and his parents' betrayal. He told me about telling first Frank and then Scully. The words flowed from his mouth without stopping.

"Your uncle? Is he still...?" I asked.

"He died last winter. Right after we got back from New Orleans. I was going to tell you then, but I couldn't."

"What you said before, about the cancer...you know that isn't true, don't you?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" Tim responded.

"An undescended testicle maybe, but there is no clinical proof that child abuse increases your chance of this cancer. I know Tim, I have read every single thing there is out there. Who told you that?"

"Iverson. I asked him."

"And what did he say, can you remember specifically?" I asked.

"He said there was a slight chance," Tim answered.

"And there is a slight chance that the Redskins might go back to the Super Bowl someday. Tim, you can't look in every dark corner for the meaning of life. When I found out you had cancer, I figured it was the Consortium's way of getting back at me for finally having a little happiness in my life, but then I figured out that they would have no reason to do something like this to me. Now that I'm with you I have given up so much of that."

"What do you mean?" Tim asked, pulling away so he could look Mulder directly in the eye.

"Someday I will find out what happened to my sister and maybe someday I will find out the answers to the questions that Scully and I have been looking for, but I don't have the same single-minded purpose I once had. Now I have you and there isn't as much time or need for all of that."

We spent most of the night talking. I told Mulder about the fear I had during and after the abuse. It felt so good to get it all out of me, to share it with him.

As it got toward morning we lay down on the small bed and he held me. I felt so secure in his arms. I never wanted to let him go.

"When we were back at the park, you said something," Mulder said, breaking the silence.

"What?" I asked. We had talked about so much, I felt totally drained.

"You said that your uncle made you gay? Why would you think something like that?"

"My dad told me that. Said I was lying about my uncle and I was a fag."

"And you believed that?" he asked, tightening his arms around me, pulling me closer.

"I don't know," I responded. I didn't know. Things had not worked out with women, they had with men. My relationships with Chris and Mulder had been better than anything I had ever had with any woman.

"Do you remember when we talked in New Orleans?" Mulder asked. "You said that you had been attracted to women and you had been attracted to men, that it was more about the person than the sex."

"But who did I end up with?" I answered.

"Me. And I ended up with you."

"But it never worked out with women?"

"Well, that could be any number of things. It could be because you are trying to recreate that situation with your uncle, to make it a situation that you can control this time. Or it could just be that you prefer men, or it could be that you love me."

I moved against him, turning so I was facing him. "Control the situation?"

"When your uncle was hurting you, you were powerless. You've had to do what you can to regain some of that. It's not a bad thing, Tim. It's only harmful if you start to act out. Maybe you've done that at other times, in other ways. But us, being together? I don't think that is what it's about. I think it's about two people who were broken finding each other and becoming whole again."

He started speaking again when my beeper went off. I looked at the number.

"Shit!" I said.


"My last treatment. Diane paged me, they called and wondered where I was. They can take me later, but we need to go."

We stood up. We didn't have any bags: actually, we had fallen asleep in our clothes. Mulder went to drop the key off and sign out and I warmed up the car.

"So, did we figure anything out?" he asked as we pulled back out onto the highway and headed toward Baltimore.

"This isn't done, Mulder, but I think we're well on our way," I answered, turning to look at him. He slid his right hand over and took mine. I laced my fingers into his. It was definitely a start.

The End

Author's Notes: Writing Exaiphnes does not happen in a vacuum. First of all, I'm eternally grateful to Marti who created Exaiphnes with me. Even when her name doesn't appear on the top of the story she still has listened and given me tons of feedback as a story goes from idea to posting. I also continually rely on wonderful beta readers. The list keeps getting longer, but many, many thanks to Beth, Vali, Gerry and Jo-Ann. This one was particularly error-filled as I did my first major first person piece. I would also like to thank all of the people who send really wonderful feedback. It continually inspires me and keeps me motivated...even when a story takes six months like this one did!

This chapter of Exaiphnes is special for a couple of reasons. Most significantly, I must thank Dawn for asking me to write it and sharing her story. A lot of the details in this story came from a personal experience she and her husband lived through. I also thank her for letting me use a little creative license (Steve's tumor was benign, thank goodness). Although the idea came from her initially, I have to admit I used this one to work out some personal issues too. Cancer is very scary and when it happens to someone in your life it doesn't just go away without leaving a couple of marks; even when it's like Tim's and seems to come and go quickly. There isn't really such a thing as a minor case of cancer.

Finally, many of you have asked us when Tim was going to tell Mulder about the sexual abuse in his past. We have been saving it for the right moment. I hope this was it! It's really difficult to write about this thing that happened to Tim and how it made him the person he is. I don't think that Uncle George made Tim gay, but I do think that what he did to the Tim, the little boy, has impacted how the Tim, the man, has thought of himself. I think that it makes it hard for him to accept love from others and to respect himself. I think that he presumes that he is incapable of loving or being loved. I certainly hope that Mulder will do everything possible to get Tim to understand that is not true!

And for those who might complain about the lack of sex...well, there will be a Christmas present for you this year, so stay tuned.