For dramatic purposes, let's assume that plot-wise, Never Again follows Memento Mori as should have been the case. Title is a reference to the song by the same name performed by Lesley Gore, which rather seems to reflect the situation.


You Don't Own Me

As he rushes inside the hospital he's a mess of emotions, all of which vie for his attention, and make his head spin while at it. When he answered her call, he could actually feel himself grow pale upon hearing the strain in her voice; it made his heartbeat speed up. Philadelphia. Hospital. An overnight bag. Don't call my mother. I'm fine. Some of his least favorite words combined into phrases he knows he's bound to hear frequently in their near future. Only this time this isn't about her recently diagnosed illness. Somewhat awkwardly, she related the events of the last few days, and he listened with hardly any comment, mouth slightly agape with shock. He, who believes just about anything from aliens to lake monsters and everything in between, could barely believe his ears.

Even though several hours have now passed since the incident, there are a few police officers still congregated by the reception area when he arrives. He approaches them first, and after brandishing his badge, he explains his relation to Agent Scully and asks for updates in his most authoritative voice. They're surprisingly friendly and forthcoming; with very little persuasion on his end they fill in the gaps with details she's left out on the phone (whether deliberately or not, he cannot say), share their insights and case files and crime scene photos with him. He gets a glimpse of the culprit, currently treated at the burn unit upstairs, via a portrait that is attached to the preliminary police report. An average fellow, with an average job and average education, very recently divorced. Obviously unhinged, given what he's being told. A talking tattoo? In his darkest times, even he has never stooped so low.

He examines the photo again, when the officers' attention is momentarily diverted. This Ed Jerse is good-looking, he supposes. And yet, he cannot help but wonder. It isn't like his level-headed, outwardly detached partner to fall for someone like that. He sends the thought away as soon as it enters his mind, closes the file on the photo as if the motion has the power to banish the inappropriate observation. Aside from the fact it is extremely judgmental of him, he doesn't know her type, not really. Come to think of it, he knows very little about her when it comes to matters of the heart. And if he's completely honest with himself, he sort of gets why Ed Jerse might intrigue her. His soulful eyes, this brooding expression that comes across even in a photo. Under different circumstances her dalliance might have led her down the road not taken, allowing her to pursue the domestic life she so obviously craves.

It will be unfair of him to resent her for wanting this – ordinary life and everything it stands for. Nonetheless, he finds that he does, intensely. In the back of his mind he considers it a betrayal of the worst kind, even if he will never admit it to himself, let alone to her. His response makes absolutely no sense. This has been his life quest, not hers, as he has foolishly pointed out before leaving for Memphis. He's uncertain what has possessed him to lash out like he's done. Possibly it is his twisted way of coming to terms with her illness and its impact on their partnership. But he regrets his blatant statement, his cruel words and dismissive tone. Scully may have been assigned in order to discredit him initially, but she has been nothing but dedicated and loyal throughout. Even when their superiors had split them up and he had done everything in his power to shut her out, she adamantly stuck around. He knows he must have hurt her by saying she was just assigned to the X Files. So is this her way of getting back at him? A childish retaliation that has nearly ended her life more swiftly than the cancer? No, this isn't much like her, either. So how could she do this? And why?

One of the officers walks him to her room. He hesitates, then knocks three times and shows himself in without waiting for her reply. The sight of her in a hospital bed is still staggering; he busies himself with placing her overnight bag on the chair beside her in hope that the motion may soothe his racing pulse. She manages a tiny smile when their eyes meet. She looks away almost instantly, though; she seems to have trouble looking him in the eye. Whether it's out of shyness or guilt, he cannot determine. She introduces him to a female officer who is just leaving the room, having just taken her statement by the looks of it. They exchange pleasantries before the officer leaves them alone. His gaze lingers on the closed door for a moment, before he turns to look at Scully, now with wariness. She's apathetic and exhausted-looking. He's grateful for his chat with the officers outside. He isn't going to get any further information from her, that much is clear.

"Thank you for coming," she says in a weary voice; still avoiding his eyes. Her face is bruised, but very slightly. Although the entire situation is abhorrent to him, it's somewhat comforting to know she's suffered worse injuries in previous assaults.

"I think I remembered everything you asked for," he offers a faint grin, desperate to lighten up the atmosphere, hopeful for truce. He isn't used to things being so tense and awkward between them, although he knows he's partly to blame. Well, more than partly, if he's completely honest with himself. He stands there dumbly for a second, then reaches for the second chair by her bed. It screeches loudly against the linoleum floor as he sits himself down. "How are you feeling?"

"I feel fine," comes the predictable reply. "I hit my head pretty hard and blacked out for a while, so they want to keep me overnight for observation given that and the... other thing."

His body becomes rigid; he grabs the armrests until his knuckles turn white. Any mention of the cancer, however vague, makes him want to curl in on himself and sob. "Have you given your statement?"

"Yes, just now." She's as demure as a schoolgirl, her cheeks slightly flushed. He can't decide if she is embarrassed, or just reluctant to be put on the spot like this. He has hoped that despite her unwillingness to speak, coming in here will shine new light on the situation, that one look at her will make him see things more clearly, but he's actually more at a loss than before. He doesn't quite know what to make of the incident, how to address it, and she sure doesn't make it any easier.

A long pause ensues. The air brims with questions he doesn't ask, replies she doesn't provide. Her disinclination is evident in the way she looks anywhere but straight at him. He told her he'd hoped to learn something about himself during his time off, advised her to do the same in his absence. This is not what he's had in mind, however. The admonitions whirl silently inside his head, constant and unrelenting – How could you do this? Have you lost your mind? What were you thinking? It isn't like him to be patronizing her like this, even if he doesn't actually do it to her face. He's always liked to think that the reason their partnership is so unique is the way they've treated one another as equals, transgressions and all. This is not his finest moment, and yet, he cannot help it.

"Did he hurt you?" He finally lets it out, the question that weighs on him most. His tone is half cold, half earnest. She looks at him pointedly and he mentally flinches. She says nothing, but he finds the reply in her icy glare. You hurt me much more. It stuns him into defeated silence. He knows she's right.

"How is he?" she asks after another long silence, and the implications of her tender query infuriate him. He doesn't understand why he goes into this fierce, absurd alpha-mode, really. He reasons it's his inexperience with that aspect of her life that makes him so protective of her. In the four years they've been working together, he only remembers her going on one date. There's Jack Willis, of course, but not having witnessed the relationship firsthand (apart for that case which cost poor Willis his life), it's hard to form an opinion on it. Several men have expressed some interest: Agent Pendrell, Frohike; he's pretty sure Skinner has a soft spot for her, but is yet to prove it. In neither case the sentiment has been reciprocated by her, to the best of his knowledge. So what if she likes this guy, psychotic as he's turned out to be? Who is he to judge her? Hasn't he had his relapses on the job before? Before she joined him on the X Files for sure, significantly less so later; yet another proof that she's been keeping him in check. The only time that comes to mind is Kristen, during that strange vampire case in LA, when she was not there to keep an eye on him. The whole thing was instigated because she wasn't there. He shivers at the unpleasant memory.

But this isn't about him right now. She's gone home with the wrong guy, practically a stranger, and she could have been killed. He doesn't care how well she can defend herself; he's more than certain that she can. Apparently she's put one hell of a fight, according to the officers he's spoken to. But that upsets rather than calms him – under the current circumstances, she's in no condition...

Throughout his internal monologue, she's watching him intently, still awaiting a reply, he suddenly realizes. He shakes his head noncommittally. "I'm not sure. Still at the burn unit, as far as I could gather. Not well enough to make a statement. Doesn't look good though," he adds as an afterthought, and regrets it instantly when she cringes. It's a subtle motion that's been meant to go unnoticed by him, but he does notice, and he hates to be the one to inflict more pain upon her.

"And the lab results?" Her gaze becomes beseeching. He knows what she wants to know.

"Not yet." Softness sneaks into his voice almost despite himself. He doesn't want to be gentle with her. He doesn't even know why he's so agitated, but he feeds off its lethal energy because it's all he can do to keep his wits about him. When the answer eventually reveals itself to him, he's surprised. It annoys him that she's screwed up so royally. Between the two of them, he's the troublemaker, she's the one picking up the pieces. She should have known better, goddamnit.

"Excuse me, Sir," a no-nonsense nurse snaps at him somewhat aggressively, as if she senses his state of mind. "Miss Scully, I'll just replace your bandage and you can rest." He barely registers how significantly softer her tone becomes as she addresses Scully. A moment later her beady eyes are on him, positively glaring. "And you are?"

"It's alright," says Scully, almost appeasingly. "He can stay."

And so he does, leaving his chair and discreetly situating himself by the window facing the room, supposedly to allow the nurse some space, but the honest truth is, he wants to take a peek at it. The Tattoo, as he will think of it from now on. He isn't sure why this is so hard for him to stomach. Probably because the Dana Scully he knows isn't one to act on a whim. And as if getting a tattoo isn't enough of a departure from who she is (or who he thought she was), the fact that she's chosen this shape, its placement on what he's come to consider his spot... He doesn't want to know what it means. Mostly, he tries not to take offense. Yes, he said terrible things that day at the office, as well as during their conversation on the phone the other day, but so did she. Did she really mean it? Does she actually consider herself his sidekick, springing into action with a snap of his finger? Is this how she feels while working alongside him, like that ouroboros eating its own tail?

"All done." The nurse's voice shakes him out of his reverie. Her kind smile morphs into another glare when he meets her eyes. It's unnerving; as if she can read each and every one of his resentful thoughts.

Soon they're left alone, and once again he's speechless, unsure how to move forward. Not just the conversation; he feels as though they've hit an impasse, and he has no clue how to get over this. It irks him that this is the case – their partnership has known rough patches before, but never to this extent. This goes beyond work; it feels strangely personal somehow. And they've never been good at personal. He still cringes when he's reminded of that one time she called him Fox, and how he handled it. Which is why he's at a complete loss as for how to resolve their current predicament.

Where do we go from here? Instead, he clears his throat, and opts for a safer question. "When will they let you off?"

"Tomorrow morning, most likely. I don't think it's a concussion, but like I said, they'd like to keep me here as a precaution." It's the longest sentence she's uttered since his arrival; one that's solely addressing him, at least. She peeks at him timidly through her lashes. "You don't have to stay."

He knows she probably doesn't mean it as offense, but this is how he takes it, nonetheless. He rushed over here at her command, had to literally fight his way onto a flight, and now she's practically kicking him out?

As if reading the hurt in his eyes, she shakes her head. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I mean you probably have better things to do."

Even though she's probably intended it to, her clarification doesn't really get her off the hook. What is he supposed to infer from it? Does she prefer he'll leave? What other business can he possibly have in Philadelphia, when he's obviously here for her, by her own request?

As the silence on his part prolongs, she continues. "I'm grateful that you came all the way over here, Mulder – "

"But?"

"Does there have to be a but?" A sigh escapes her; exhaustion, or exasperation, he can't quite say. But she finally looks straight at him, her blue eyes imploring. "I don't want to fight."

"I'm not picking a fight."

She snorts skeptically. "You look ready to kill somebody. Preferably me."

"Inaccurate." He will gladly go up the burn unit and finish the job on that Jerse guy, though.

"Look, I made a mistake. I get that."

"I didn't say anything." She rolls her eyes as if she can read his judgment in his stance. "Fine, it's just... so unlike you." He says it as gently as he possibly can, but instantly knows it's the wrong thing to say. She all but glowers at him. "I'm the one who pulls off stupid stunts like that. You're better than this."

He thinks it's the word stupid that gets to her most, for her scowl only intensifies. "What is that supposed to mean?" she demands.

"Just... that you're the rational one." He realizes he sounds like a condescending jerk, but doesn't know how to turn things around. It's like he's digging a deeper hole for himself with every word that leaves his mouth.

"What do you know about me? I mean really?"

"We've been partners for four years, Scully. I know you well enough to know that this kind of behavior..."

"Are you profiling me?" she asks with a hint of outrage in her tone.

"Just making an observation. Trying to understand what made you want to..." He nods ever so slightly at her back, where The Tattoo is now concealed underneath a double layer of gauze and a hospital gown.

"This is my business," she snaps, her voice like ice, her eyes not much warmer.

"Noted," he replies tersely.

Another pause, but as awful as it sounds, he begins to get used to them. He lets his eyes wander around the room, adrenaline fading, exhaustion finally catching up with him. He's so lost inside his head that when she speaks again, he's startled. "Maybe I didn't want to be the rational one for once in my life," she says, and her voice is filled with such despondency that he feels like the idiot that he is. "Maybe I'm tired of living up to other people's expectations." He's still debating whether she says other people but means him, when she locks her gaze on his. Her expression is strangely melancholic as she whispers, "Maybe you don't know me like you think you do."

The words cut through him like a knife, but he relishes the pain, knowing he deserves it. He's done nothing but take a jab at her from the moment he's arrived.

He is reminded of the day Penny Northern died. The absolute helplessness that washed over him when he walked into her empty room and for one crazy moment thought he had lost her. The words in her diary, each and every one of them meant for him. The way they were holding each other, clinging to one another, really, as if his presence was as comforting to her as hers was to him. Her intense stare meeting his, both of them in tears. Their partnership seemed so fragile that day, and yet so incredibly resilient. He left the hospital feeling elated for the first time in days.

Looking at her now, he wonders how, within mere weeks, they have moved from that one precious moment... to this.

"I'd better try and catch the officer before they leave," he says quietly, suddenly anxious to get out of there. The abrupt change of topic catches her off guard, but now that he's set a course of action, he's strangely determined. He stands up before he can change his mind. "Maybe they can provide me some info for my file on Pudovkin."

"Mulder..."

He recognizes the remorse in her tone, but now he's the one who can barely look at her. "Get some rest. I'll be in touch in the morning."

"I didn't mean..."

"It's fine, Scully," he cuts her off, only turning to face her when he's safely by the door. Her eyes are filled with regret. He forces on a small, sad smile. "I don't want to fight either."

He leaves it at that, shuts the door softly behind him. He resists the urge to lean against the door and release a shaky breath. Powerlessness is overwhelming. It is so laughably ironic, but now he's the one feeling like that ouroboros on the small of her back. He's put himself into something he doesn't know how to get out of, and he has no choice but eating his own tail.

He does what he does best in these situations – avoids, and immerses himself in practicality. He finds the officers, lays down his request, and gets a ride with one of them to the precinct, where he's given the information he's sought. He contacts the Philadelphia bureau and spends the rest of the evening poring over their files as well. For the moment, it dulls the pain somewhat, provides a temporary respite from the mess inside his head. The storm may rise anew the following day, when he returns to the hospital, or it may not – they're good at sweeping things under the carpet, after all. It just feels like such a waste. She's just been given a death sentence by all accounts, and they spend what precious time they have left together on futile arguments.

The thought keeps him up, and so he turns on a lamp and reaches for his cell phone. He knows she won't take his call – it's way too late to even assume she's still awake – but he doesn't care. The sound of ringing tone is strangely reassuring in itself, a comfort enough for now.

The memory once again comes to mind, an embrace in the hospital hallway several weeks prior, her face against his chest, his lips in her hair. Hope, and devotion, and something else that's only now coming to the surface, an emotion he doesn't dare to name just yet.

He can still make things right. Their partnership can withstand this; it's been through far worse, and it has prevailed.

Life is too fleeting to be doing otherwise.