Title: NI10X01: Pyrrhic Victory Author: Vickie Moseley Summary: Continuation of the Nothing Important universe. Mulder and Scully return to the FBI but it's not as easy as it looks. Category: MSR Rating: e for everyone Disclaimer: no copyright infringement intended. Archive: yes Author's notes: as always, thanks, Lisa! Everyone please read the notes at the end. Feedback :firstname.lastname@example.org Pyrrhic Victory Wee Steps Day Care E Street NW Washington, DC 7:45 am Scully looked around at the colorful banners in the 'baby room', at the cribs lined against the wall, separated by windows to a courtyard adorned with miniature Japanese cherry trees in full autumn splendor. Along one wall sat women holding tiny children, rocking them slowly to sleep in white rocking chairs much like the one that sat in her own home's nursery. It was perfect. A perfect place to leave her most precious son for the few hours a day she and Mulder would be at the office.
So why did she feel so horrible? Scully clutched William to her so tightly the baby let out a soft mewl in distress. She closed her eyes and felt a hand on her shoulder. "We told Skinner we'd be in his office by 8," Mulder whispered in her ear. "We're only two blocks from the office," Scully responded quietly. Mulder said nothing, just squeezed her shoulder. She opened her eyes and looked into his. "I know, Mulder. It's just . . . " Mulder nodded. "Want me to go ahead -- keep Skinner busy for a while? Maybe get him down to the gym for a little 'one on one' ball -- show him up on my first day back?" She just barely held in the chuckle that threatened to escape. "No, you're right," she said, kissing their son's downy soft hair. The little four-month-old looked up at his mother and blew her a bubble surrounded by a smile. "You little stinker, you would have to smile at me now," she whispered, kissing his head again. Squaring her shoulders, she walked over to the woman who had stood patiently by one of the cribs and gently handed William over. "If you don't mind, I'd like to come by at lunch -- " "Not a problem, Agent Scully. Lots of agents come on their lunch break -- spend a little quality time. When they're this little, well you don't want to miss out, right?" It was everything she could do to nod her agreement. Mulder gripped her shoulder again. "You'll call if there are any problems?" he asked, and Scully knew the question was as much for her benefit. "Absolutely, Agent Mulder. We'll call. And we give a full report written report each night to the parents." "Yeah, that was one of the things that attracted us to you," he said. He moved past his partner to give his son a quick kiss on the forehead. "We'll see you in a little while, Slugger," he said, his own voice betraying his emotion. He swallowed and turned toward the door. "So, Scully? Ready?" She cast one last look back at their little boy, now reaching for the nose of the kindly woman rocking him and singing to him softly. Her heart was in her throat but she breathed in deeply and stepped forward. Mulder put his hand at the small of her back and they headed out the door. It was a short walk to the Hoover Building and they made the distance in silence. Mulder couldn't think of a single thing he could say to his partner to ease her sorrow. He'd known this day would come, the minute she said she wanted to go back to work. They'd only been back two months, just eight short weeks and half that time had been finding their new house and moving in. He tried to talk her into staying home a little longer -- maybe till the first of the year. But Scully reminded him that she had always intended to go back and work and the files were waiting for them. He knew it would be a bit more complicated than that, but allowed her the fiction she so desperately needed.
He was participating in a little fiction of his own at that moment. Leaving William had been somewhat traumatic, but he knew it was only for three and a half hours. They'd allowed Maggie to take him for a whole day and all parties had survived -- and that was when William was all the way in Baltimore. Two blocks and a few hours would be a piece of cake. What had Mulder far more concerned was what he was about to face when he walked through the double glass doors of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. As he reached for the door, he had a sudden flash of memory. A bright October day, 1986 -- his hand reaching out to pull that very door. He looked down and could see the dark blue suit jacket, the pale blue oxford shirt peeking out -- even the Rolex watch his father had bestowed on him for his graduation that summer. He blinked and the vision was gone -- his hand was 16 years older and had lines and faint scars that came with all those years. He had a feeling it was going to be a very long day. The guard was young and completely no nonsense. Scully's badge got her through, but Mulder had to stand there until his name appeared on a computer list. The ultimate humiliation was that the personnel department wanted 'a word with him' so he had to use a 'visitors' pass for the day until his new badge could be made up there. He decided that was his first stop after the short meeting with Skinner. A couple of the female agents standing at the elevator congratulated Scully on William's birth and asked about the baby. One or two of the men nodded to him, but said nothing. It appeared the Spooky charm was still firmly in place. Finally, the car arrived and everyone stepped inside, eyes forward, keeping conversations to barely above a whisper. "We dropped him off at day care this morning," Mulder heard Scully answer one of the agents with a terse smile. The other agent, Mulder thought hard for a second and remembered her name was Palazollo, glanced over at him and then back at Scully. "We?" she asked, her smile just a bit forced but her eyes were eager for information. "Yes," Scully replied and promptly shut up, turning toward the door. So that's the way it's to be, huh, Scully, Mulder thought. The old 'don't divulge too much information'. He sighed inwardly. As much as he appreciated his partner's discretion, he was so damned tired of hiding their relationship from everyone. Not that she played the game when they were alone, or out in public. She even let him sneak up behind her and give her a kiss in the frozen foods section of the grocery store just the day before and he'd been blown away when she responded not only with a smile, but a kiss in return. It was just that he would really love to wipe the smug expression off the male agents faces as they barely hid their smirks at his expense. In elevator parlance, it was a 'milk run' -- stopping at every floor on their way to the fifth floor executive suite. As yet another group stepped onboard at the third floor, Mulder caught sight of Agent Crane and his back immediately stiffened. "Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in -- Spooky and the Missus," Crane sneered derisively. "Have a nice time at John Doggett's funeral, Spooky?" All other murmured conversation in the crowded car stopped dead. All eyes took in first Mulder and then Scully. The one female agent looked over at Scully sympathetically, but Mulder didn't miss that Agent Palazollo's eyes lit up in delight. As the elevator hit the fourth floor and the doors opened to let on more passengers, Mulder stepped off the car. "I feel like taking the stairs," he said to Scully abruptly. He turned and headed off to the fire exit when he heard something behind him. Familiar staccato footsteps of a diminutive woman wearing three-inch heels. Scully's hand first brushed his sleeve and then reached and squeezed his hand. "It was too stuffy in that elevator," she explained with a brief smile. Their eyes caught and Mulder's stiff shoulders relaxed at what he saw. They wouldn't speak of this again while they were in the building, but he was positive that tonight, in their own home, they would revisit it all again and come up with a suitable plan of action and responses for all the questions they were bound to encounter. He slowed his pace just a step so that Scully was now in front of him. His expression didn't change one iota, but with his hand on the small of her back, he felt a thousand times better. They took the one flight of stairs in quick order and were soon stepping into Skinner's outer office. Kim Cook smiled brightly at them. "Agent Scully, Agent Mulder -- the Assistant Director is on a call, but it shouldn't take long. Have a seat." They sat down next to each other on the sofa. Mulder fiddled with his tie, Scully put a hand on his knee, just for a second and he caught the hint. No fiddling. He sighed and folded his hands on his lap. He was nervous, but for the life of him, he didn't understand why. His mind wandered and again he found himself 16 years younger, waiting for his first interview. It wasn't Skinner back then, it was old Assistant Director Mathis and it was an office across the hall, facing out to Pennsylvania Avenue instead of the courtyard. Mathis was near retirement age when he interviewed Mulder. The other man hanging around the office back then was Bill Patterson, who didn't say a word after being introduced. Bill simply watched every move Mulder made. Later that day when Mulder arrived at his mother's house in Greenwich after the commuter train ride from hell, there was a message waiting. Upon his acceptance of the position, he was to report to Quantico and the FBI Academy at the end of the week and would be joining the new class. It had happened so fast, he hadn't even had time to unpack the trunk he'd brought home from Oxford. "Mulder? You joining us?" Skinner's baritone broke through his thoughts. He looked up to find Skinner standing in his open doorway, Scully standing at his side. "Un, yeah," he fumbled and got to his feet. He felt somewhat lightheaded as he followed his former and once again superior into the inner office that hadn't seemed to change one bit in all the years he'd been visiting it. Scully took her normal seat and Mulder was more than happy to sit down, hoping the slight dizziness would pass quickly. He could feel his partner's eyes on him, but he kept his attention on Skinner. "Well, it's been quite a few months," Skinner opened, forcing a tiny smile. "Scully, you know you are perfectly within your rights to take a little more time to be home with the baby." "Yes, sir. But I have been home with him these last two months and I really would like to get back to work," Scully said quickly. Mulder wondered if that was what she'd been whispering to herself in their bathroom when he'd stepped into the shower that morning, practicing her speech so that she could say it without her voice catching. Skinner watched her for a moment, gauging, no doubt, the sincerity of her statement. "Very well. We welcome you back, of course. And I'm sure you know the policy for sick leave, if you need to stay home for any reason." "Yes, sir," she said with a nod. "That brings us to you, Agent Mulder." Skinner steepled his fingers and pressed them to his mouth briefly. "Are you entirely certain you want to come back?" Mulder licked his lips. He really didn't see the need to go over this yet again. He and Skinner had hashed out the pros and cons of his return over the wild card game for the National League just three weeks before. "I'm certain as I've ever been," Mulder said evenly. He noticed that this time, Scully was staring straight ahead just as he had a moment before when it was her turn to answer. "Well, then, I guess you'll want to get back to the basement. Everything is pretty much as you left it, Agent Scully. You'll be working together as partners." Skinner stood and came around the desk. "One more thing, as we've discussed. The higher ups are giving me and by virtue of that, give you a great deal of latitude in your private lives. In short, it's on record in personnel that you have the same home address and you both show the same child as your dependent. That's all public record. But what goes on during work hours has to be strictly above board. I'm not talking high school here -- I don't expect to have reports of the two of you making out in the corner table in the cafeteria. I'm talking adult relationships. In other words, all arguments about who left the toothpaste tube uncapped or who put the red tee shirt in the load of white clothes stops at the door to the building. I know you two never stepped away from a good fight, and I fully understand that your approaches to any problem are unique and the reason for much of your past success. However, don't let those 'dialogues' get personal. What happens at home stays at home and vice versa. Do I make myself clear?" Mulder had to bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. Skinner as both boss and relationship counselor was something he would have paid good money to see in an earlier time. He noticed Scully's face was fiercely placid as well -- a sure sign she was just about to bust a gut. "Absolutely, sir. We appreciate any latitude we've been given and will endeavor to maintain ourselves in a manner that will continue to earn that trust," she said, her chin tilting up just enough to show how much she meant what she was saying. "What she said," Mulder quipped. Scully stood up and headed for the door. As Mulder stood, Skinner caught his eye. "Just for a minute," the older man said, crossing his arms and waiting until Scully had cleared the door. It was obvious he wasn't comfortable with whatever he had to say. He turned his head, searching for the right words. "Mulder, I'm not deaf. And the Bureau isn't mute. When word of your return reached the rank and file, well -- " Skinner swallowed and continued. "The record shows that Agent Doggett died in the line of duty -- that was the call made by the Director to keep the press off the scent. A bad agent looks bad for the Bureau. But he was not given a burial at Arlington and he hasn't received any of the normal accolades that a line of duty death would have earned him. Not to mention some the circumstances of his death seem to have gotten out. That you were present and in some manner might have facilitated his demise." "You're surprised by that?" Mulder huffed. "Anyway, there are some who feel that . . . well, let's just say Doggett had some friends in the building. Friends that feel you . . . " "They think I killed him in cold blood and they're just waiting to see when I get hauled off for a murder trail so they can be witnesses for the prosecution, right?" Skinner closed his eyes. "It's caused some confusion and confusion breeds tension. I've discussed it with the Director and he feels it will all blow over and we shouldn't try to address it now because it will only make a bad situation worse. I'm just bringing it up so I can warn you to watch your back." "More so than usual, you mean," Mulder replied with pursed lips. "Yes, more so than usual. I'll do whatever I can to squash any rumors I hear, but -- well, you know how it is." There really wasn't anything left to say to that, so Mulder left the office and caught up with Scully in the hall.
"What did Skinner say to you?" she asked quietly. "I'm to expect a few more remarks like Agent Crane's," he said sotto voce. "Great," she replied, devoid of all enthusiasm. "Same old same old. At least some things never change." "Should we check the office for booby traps?" she asked sweetly. "Nah, I'm not concerned. Besides, I'll just let you in the door first," he smiled back. By silent agreement, they took the stairs and were soon weaving their way among the banker boxes and shelving units to the X files office. Scully reached into her pocket and withdrew her keys. "Want me to come with you to Personnel -- watch your back," she teased. "Well, until I get my badge and qualify, I am unarmed," he returned, "but I think I'll be fine for a short while. I just wanted to . . . " They stepped inside to find the two rooms almost completely empty. The desks were gone, the file cabinets were missing -- only a faint line of grime and rust marking their former edges on the tile floor. Papers littered the ground and when Scully stooped to pick something up, she turned over Mulder's 'I want to believe' poster, torn almost in two. She looked up at him, biting her lip hard. He just stood there, the same blank expression that froze his face when they found the office gutted by fire so many years before. "I'll call Skinner -- we can't stand for this," she ground out, reaching for the phone that was lying on the floor not far from the wall socket. "Scully -- wait. That's just playing into their hands," Mulder admonished. "We have to find the file cabinets -- at the very least," she reminded him. He sighed and looked around. "They're heavy, I doubt that they're that far away. Look, I can't run around looking for them without a badge. I'm going upstairs to get Personnel settled, you look around down here for the files. If you haven't found them by the time I get back, we go to Skinner for reinforcements, OK?" She nodded sadly. "This is not turning out to be the 'welcome home' I was hoping for," she said with just a slight tremor in her voice. "There's always Quantico," he reminded her. When word got around the Bureau that she was coming back to work she'd received a call from the head of the Forensic Pathology Department offering her the job of Section Chief. She'd declined, but was told that the offer was open if she ever changed her mind. "No. I'm not going to throw in the towel. Besides, a really smart guy once told me that if I quit now, they win," she said with a tilt of her head. "Sounds more like a smart ass than a smart guy," he retorted. "I'll be back as quick as I can." "I'll see about finding the files and maybe getting us some desks and chairs," she offered. "Play nice -- remember, you're going to Personnel, not Internal Audit. These people distribute our paychecks." "I'll keep that in mind," he said over his shoulder as he headed out the door. Scully sighed again when she heard his steps on the stairs going up. She was alone -- with way too many memories of the last year. She remembered coming down here right after Mulder went missing, seeing the other agents tearing through his desk and computer files. She remembered going up to the meeting with Kersh and meeting John Doggett for the first time. Tears threatened anew, but this time they were bitter tears. How long had it taken her to trust Mulder when they were first partnered? Months, at least, possibly years before she trusted him completely. But when she found herself alone, bereft of his presence, she found herself wanting to trust a man she really had barely known and to be honest, hadn't even really liked all that much at their first meeting. She thought back on that first encounter. How Doggett tried to get her dander up, how he lied about knowing Mulder and tried to shake her trust in her partner. Why didn't she stick with that opinion? How did she allow herself to be so easily swayed just because Doggett managed to show up right after she'd walked herself into trouble? How the hell did he know she was in trouble unless he knew more than he was letting on? She shook her head. It was never easy to find out you'd been taken for a ride and in this particular instance, the ride had been worse than the most dilapidated roller coaster careening off the track. Her son had been in danger, she'd been in danger, Mulder had almost been killed. But now that they were all safe, she was still dealing with her wounded pride. She'd fallen for Doggett's 'caring nature' routine hook, line and sinker. Sure, she knew the man had feelings for her and she tried to make it quite clear those feelings were completely one-sided. But at the end of the day, she'd given him her trust, told Mulder that he was 'above reproach' and she'd even believed that Mulder's distrust of the man was nothing more than simple jealousy. She'd been a fool. She should have seen through him. What did that say about her judgment that she couldn't see Doggett for what he was -- a spy, a wolf in sheep's clothing sent by the same consortium that had taken her to experiment on her, had taken her ova, were intent on taking their son? Could she ever fully trust her judgment again? She looked around the empty, barren room and wondered if it was worth it. What would they do to them next? What would be the next attack? "Wow! Dana, I assure you, it wasn't like this when I left it," Monica's voice came from the doorway and Scully spun around, startled. "Sorry, I guess I should have knocked. I was expecting to find you both hard at work -- but not like this!" "A little present from the local Welcome Wagon. " "Yeah, I got that. I've been trying to stamp out the rumor mill but it's not easy. Quantico is at least a week behind on the grapevine and this ones involving the two of you have been spreading like a wildfire." "They all believe Mulder murdered Doggett, I assume," Scully said, clandestinely wiping the tears from her eyes. Monica sighed. "Not everyone. Agent Crane isn't the most loved member of the Bureau. He has his enemies, too -- " "Yes, I'm curious. Agent Crane always seemed to be everywhere John Doggett was. Is it possible he was involved in the consortium?" Scully asked. "It might be worth it to look into that," Monica said with a shrug. "Just to find out why he missed out on the clean up operation." "So, what brings you to the Hoover?" Scully asked, clearing her throat and bending to pick up more of the papers on the ground. "I had a meeting with a task force upstairs. Had a few minutes and thought I'd come down and say 'welcome back'," she said with a sigh. "So, uh, welcome back." "Yeah," Scully said sadly. "Any idea where they might have hidden the file cabinets? The desks I can deal with, but losing those files . . . " Monica stepped out into the hall and after it was apparent that she wasn't returning, Scully followed in her heels. Scully found the other agent with her head in the janitor's closet at the end of the hall. "We need to get a couple of maintenance people and a hand dolly," Monica said, opening the door wider to reveal the two cabinets, draped with a paint-splattered drop cloth. "Thank heavens," Scully sighed in relief. "OK, any idea where they put the desks?" Monica smiled and checked her watch. "Hey, I've got half an hour till my meeting. Let's do some investigating and see if they won't turn up." FBI Office of Personnel "You'll need to fill out these forms -- oh, wait, no, you're reinstating so that means you fill out these and these," the woman with a stern expression and at least two reams of paper in her hands said as she handed one of the piles to Mulder. "Oh, read this over carefully -- it's the beneficiary form on your life insurance. Wait," she stopped abruptly. "Did you fully repay your payout from the claim when you, uh, when your partner -- uh, your -- " "My death?" Mulder supplied helpfully. He flashed her a cheesy grin just to underscore the stupidity of the conversation. "Agent Mulder, insurance fraud is a very serious crime," the woman replied, turning to her computer and typing in a few keystrokes. "Ah, here, yes, you did repay the payout. Good, that means we don't have to snap on the cuffs," she said in complete deadpan. "Just yet, at least," Mulder muttered. "And for the record, it wasn't fraud. I have the death certificate, not to mention the bills for the funeral parlor, the coffin, the tombstone and the exhumation to prove it," he said, giving her the same deadly serious stare he'd just received from her. She bit her lip and turned back to her computer. "Well, anyway, since this is reinstatement, you will retain your seniority. I notice you didn't remove your pension benefits so we'll set you up for a 'pre- retirement' seminar sometime in the next few months -- " "Whoa, wait a minute," Mulder said, putting down his pen. "I'm just coming back and you're going to talk to me about retirement?" "You'll be eligible for retirement in just a few years, Agent Mulder. Of course, you can stay longer, but we have to set you up for the seminar so that you can understand all your options." She gave him the first smile she'd cracked all morning. "We aren't getting any younger, are we?" "Not this morning," he replied, sighing. He shook out his hand, picked up the pen and started filling in all the blank lines. An hour and forty minutes later, his hand was in a major cramp, but all the forms were complete. He was ushered over to a blank wall, where his ID picture was taken. The plastic was still warm from the printer when it was handed to him. With a strong sense of relief, he clipped it on his jacket. Picking up all his papers, he walked over to hand them to the first woman, who looked them over quickly and then gave him a genuine smile. "Very good, Agent Mulder. I've called down and scheduled your recertification on the firing range for 1:00 sharp. Come by after that, we should have your wallet and badge ready for you. Then you're good to go." "Thanks," he said, a bit taken back by her change in attitude. "Welcome back," she said and held out her hand. Mulder hesitated for just a moment and then shook her hand firmly. "Thanks, again." As he walked out the door, he couldn't help looking down at the identification on his jacket. He was back. He blinked and the dizziness that had assaulted him in Skinner's office came back with a vengeance. He put his hand out to find the wall, seeking its support. He looked up into the face of Reggie Purdue. "Well, Agent Mulder, are you going to lollygag in the hall all day? C'mon, Wallenberg and the others are in the conference room already. If you want to be in on this bust, you better move your skinny ass!" Mulder blinked and Reggie was gone. In his place was Gene Crane, looking at him with a mixture of disgust and suspicion. "Something wrong, Spooky? You lost up here with the rest of the humans?" Crane sneered. Mulder swallowed down the urge to barf all over Crane's shoes. After a few deep breaths, the dizziness had abated, but a crowd had formed. "What is it with you, Spooky? Just gotta rub our noses in the fact that you can get away with murder?" Mulder just stared at Crane and tried to step away. Crane wasn't going to allow his prey to escape that quickly. "Spooky, I asked you a question," Crane growled, putting his hand up against the wall and effectively blocking Mulder's path. "I have no argument with you, Agent Crane," Mulder said as evenly as he could manage. Inwardly he would have loved to deck Crane right then and there, but he knew his every action was being scrutinized by the higher ups and he had Scully and William to consider. "No, I bet you don't. But I have a few questions for you. Like what happened out there in Oregon? Pretty unusual, if you ask me -- John Doggett, a veteran, a cop, a damned good agent fully trained in hand to hand combat, dying and your sorry ass is still alive. How did that work out, exactly?" Mulder continued to stare at Crane, not saying a word. A few of the six or so agents that had assembled tried to get Crane's attention. "Gene, c'mon, man. You don't want to do this," one of the older agents chastised. He tugged gently on Crane's arm, but the agent just shrugged him off. "Tell me Mulder, while you're banging your partner, do the two of you laugh about killing John? I mean, is it pillow talk for you two? Does it get her hot to know what a big, strong manly man you are?" Mulder wouldn't remember exactly what happened after he put his hands up and shoved Crane. He wouldn't remember Crane's response, which was a very heavy left hook to the chin followed immediately with a strong right to the stomach, making contact with the area still sporting pink scar tissue from the surgery of eight weeks previous. But Mulder did remember coming to on the floor, Scully leaning over him and blowing a lock of hair out of her eyes while two paramedics knelt down and started checking his vitals. "No, Scully, please," he begged. "It's not necessary," he added, pushing all the hands aside to sit up. "Scully, please," he repeated, softly, praying she would understand. "He doesn't appear to have a concussion," the one paramedic offered. "If he feels like he can stand up, he should be all right. You can always drive him down to the ER or his own physician to get him fully checked out later." "She is my physician," Mulder interjected. He flailed his hand and the other paramedic helped him to stand. "Where's Crane?" he asked, looking around. The hallway was empty, but he could see a few people peeking out from behind window blinds. "In his assistant director's office," Scully answered. She nodded to the paramedics, who packed up their equipment and headed out. "Mulder, are you sure you're OK?" "I'm fine. He got in a lucky punch, hit me in the stomach." Instead of reassuring her, that only caused her more distress. "Mulder, your side?" she exclaimed, reaching to pull his shirt out of his pants for a better look. He stilled her hands and held them in both of his own. "Scully, did you forget Skinner's little talk about public displays of affection?" he teased. "I'm fine. No harm done. It's a little sore, probably have a bruise tonight." "Mulder, he could have reopened the wound," she admonished. "If he had, it would be bleeding all down my shirt, Scully," he countered. He looked at her and sighed. She rolled her eyes and huffed out a breath. "Skinner said you were to take the rest of the day off." "I have my recert scheduled for 1." "You can reschedule for tomorrow." "Scully -- if I leave now, it won't help. It will just make it worse." She pursed her lips and looked away, not meeting his eyes. "I know. I agree. But Skinner -- " "I'll talk to him, after the recert. Hey, did you find the file cabinets?" She smiled at him. "Wait till you see what I've done with the place." He didn't argue when she stepped up to the elevator instead of taking the stairs as they usually did. If he was honest with himself he was hurting a little more than he let on. But he was deadly serious about his need to stay at the office. If he turned tail and ran this time, he would never get up the nerve to step foot in the building again. Where would that leave Scully? As they wove their way to the office door, Scully kept casting glances at him over her shoulder. "Do you really want me to say it? I'm fine," he told her firmly. "I didn't say a thing," she responded. "Your eyes did," he replied. "Well, I should make you close your eyes, but here, after you," she offered, stepping aside so that he could open their door. The transformation was dramatic. Two desks, set 'partner' style front to front, corkboards on the walls, but most importantly -- two dark gray file cabinets in their proper position under the skylight window. It looked almost back to normal. "The maintenance men are coming back later to put up the shelves," she said, smiling at him from the doorway as he walked around the room, pulled open the top file drawer and tested out the chair at his side of the desk. "You did this all while I was gone upstairs?" he asked, eyes wide. "Well, Monica stopped by and helped. She was in the building, had a few minutes. She found the files in the janitor's closet at the end of the hall and after a little search, we found everything else in one of the empty storage rooms. I called maintenance and they did the rest." He looked over at the poster, now tacked to the corkboard. If he looked closely, he could see the faint line where the tear had been. "Tape," she answered his unspoken question. "On the back. It doesn't show. I suggest we get a poster frame for it, it will give it a little more protection." She walked over and gently ran her finger over the image of the spaceship. "At least it was easy to fix." He caught her arm and pulled her toward him, encircling her waist with his hands. "You're incredible," he whispered. "Hey, remember that rule about public displays of affection," she teased, but gave lie to her comment by leaning over and giving him a quick kiss. Then she pulled away before he could reciprocate. She checked her watch to cover the blush that had polished her cheeks. "It's a quarter to twelve. If we leave now, we might get to the day care in time to give Wills his bottle." They exited the building, Mulder's hand on Scully's back, guiding her down the street. It was sunny and warm, just a little humid as was typical in the capitol city once a swampland. As they crossed the street, Scully took his hand and so they continued their journey side by side. "What did Agent Crane say to you?" Scully asked after a few moments. "Nothing we need to worry about," Mulder deflected. "Too late, I am worried. What did he say, Mulder?" "Hey, Scully, what about them Angels, huh? Never thought I'd see the day . . . " "Mulder," she growled, narrowing her eyes. "I know where you live," she threatened playfully, but her expression showed how serious she was. "OK, it was just more shit about Doggett's death." "That was all? That resulted in a shoving match with him?" "Where did you hear that?" he demanded. "Half a dozen eye witnesses. All of who also said it was clearly provoked and that Crane threw the first solid punch -- and all subsequent punches. They agreed you were probably just trying to walk away but you were obviously angered by what Crane said." Mulder licked his lips, not wanting to bring it up. "He made some remark about . . . us," he finally admitted. "Us?" Scully prodded. "You and me, OK?" Mulder huffed. "Look, Scully, I was an idiot for standing there and listening to the jerk, I know that. But what's done is done. Am I in any trouble? Last thing I need is an OPR investigation hanging over my head." "No, you're pretty much in the clear. It looks like Crane will be a four-bagger by the end of the day at the very least," she said with a satisfied sigh. "One of the agents also said you seemed to be having some trouble right before the incident." "Geesus, Scully, do you have spies everywhere?" he shot back, not hiding his irritation. "Mulder, if you're not ready to come back -- " They had reached the doors of the day care and Mulder was growing more impatient with her line of questions. "Look, I'm just having a hard time today. I didn't exactly leave on the best of terms, if you'll
remember. And coming back . . . it's going to take some time. I'm working through some things, but it's nothing major and I'm not keeping anything from you, Scully. Now, can we go inside and spend a little quality time with our Home Run King?" "I thought you wanted him to play center for the Knicks?" she shot back, eyebrow raised. "You never heard of Bo Jackson? Wills can do both," he answered haughtily. Chapter 2 Scully sighed with contentment as she picked up her son and held him close. "He's been a real sweetheart this morning," the day care aide, Karen, said with a bright smile. "He had a snack around 8:30, got cleaned up, went down for a nap and he's been playing with us for the last hour or so. A very loveable little guy," she told Mulder. "Well, we think so," Mulder replied, part proud pappa, part totally out of his element. It was all so new, this life he'd only recently started to examine. It was barely six months ago that he had awoken in a hospital bed, finding Scully tearful and needy at his bedside. When he'd come fully awake the next day and saw her in full 8 month pregnant glory, he had been filled with confusion and doubt but underlying it all was hope. He was still clinging to that hope with everything he had within him. "Did you want to nurse him, Agent Scully? We have a blanket -- " "No," Scully said self-consciously. "He's . . . he's on a bottle." Karen just nodded. "Oh, that's right. Sorry, I forgot. I'll go get one warmed up for you." Mulder looked over at Scully and cringed. She'd been so happy and excited to see their son when they first arrived but he now saw tears glistening on her lashes and guilt written firmly in the set of her expression. "Scully -- all he's going to remember in 20 years is that we loved him to death when he was little," Mulder assured her, squeezing her shoulder. "If I hadn't left him -- if I hadn't left you -- " "We can both play that game," Mulder reminded her. "If you can tell me any good it does, I'll be glad to play along." She looked up at him and smiled. "You're right. It doesn't do a bit of good," she conceded. "Love him to death, Mulder?" "Spoil him rotten," Mulder continued. "He'll be embarrassed to see us in the stands -- we'll be the two idiots cheering our heads off." That got a warmer smile out of him. "Never saw that many cheerleaders at debate tournaments in high school," she countered. His grin was wide with surprise and delight. "Scully -- you dog. You never told me you were a debater! No wonder you can smack me down so hard!" She chuckled and wiped at her eyes one-handed. "Third place in state, I'll have you know," she said, sighing once again in fulfillment. "Mom has the trophy somewhere in the attic." "Well, we need to find it, put it on the mantle." "You'd be OK with that -- if he turns out a geek and not a jock?" she asked, eyebrow raised. "I'd be a little disappointed," he admitted. "But mostly I'd be thrilled -- just as long as he's happy." "You're going to be a great dad, Mulder," she told him. "You're already a great mom," he replied, placing a kiss on the top of her head. "Here we go, all warmed up," Karen announced as she returned with a bottle. "The rocking chairs are right there, just grab a free one. I'll just leave you guys alone -- it's mealtime as you can tell." "Sure, you go ahead," Mulder said. "We'll be fine." When William finished the bottle, Scully stood up and handed him over. Mulder took his son in his arms and sat down in the rocker, starting to rock. The baby soon yawned and before long was sound asleep. "We should start back," Mulder whispered, trying to stand and not jostle the sleeping infant. "I know," Scully conceded. "I just . . . " "It'll get easier. Pretty soon we'll be in a routine and it won't be so hard to leave," Mulder tried to assure her. She gave him a look and he sighed. "OK, it's always going to be hard, but not this hard," he offered. "I know that, too," she agreed with a sad, gentle smile. She walked over with him to the crib with William's name on a construction paper star taped to the side. "We'll see you soon, sweetheart," she murmured, kissing the baby on the head before Mulder settled him in the crib. "C'mon. I think we have just enough time to hit Leo's wagon and grabs some dogs," Mulder said with a wink. "Leo's?" Scully whined. "His mustard -- " "I know, it's too spicy for you. So don't get the mustard," Mulder instructed. "This once, but tomorrow, I'm packing our lunches - something healthy. Do you know how much fat is in your average New York style hot dog?" "No, and I really would like to keep it that way," he told her honestly. They made it back to the Hoover, hot dogs in hand, without incident. Lunch was consumed at their desks and Mulder went off to recertify, coming back with his weapon and holster and a pleased look on his face. "Went well?" she asked. He stuck out his hip to show her. "Mulder, I would qualify that as a public display -- " she teased. "I'll show you public display," he growled and started to stalk her as if she were his prey. In three steps he was leaning over her, preparing to kiss her senseless. A throat being cleared in the doorway stopped all movement. Mulder looked up and noticed Skinner, a sour expression on his face. "Might I point out that this is NOT the cafeteria," Mulder insisted sheepishly. Skinner cleared his throat again and blinked, his gruff expression not changing. "And I'm not the hall monitor," he intoned, taking in the entire office before turning to face them again. "If you two can pull yourselves away for a few moments, I'd like you to come up to the conference room on the fourth floor. We're having a task force meeting that I want you to sit in on." Mulder turned to his partner, who was already making her way to the door. "If I may ask, sir, why didn't you just have Kim call us?" Skinner was in the hall, negotiating the shelves of boxes. "I heard there was some mischief down here -- not of your doing, by the way," he tossed over his shoulder. "I wanted to make sure everything was in order." "As it will ever be," Scully muttered, just under her breath. Mulder shot her a frown but she just smiled at him in return.
They arrived at the elevator and Skinner pressed the up button. "How's the jaw?" he asked, his steely gaze not leaving Mulder any room to equivocate. "A little tender, but nothing I haven't had before," Mulder admitted. "I'll want your full report on the matter by the end of the day -- since you didn't take the advice to go home and recover," Skinner growled. The car was empty when they entered, but filled up with people on the first floor. All eyes took in Mulder and then Scully but any conversation dried up the minute the passengers saw the Assistant Director. The rest of the ride was made in tense silence. Both Mulder and Scully were glad to get off the minute the car came to a stop at the fourth floor. They entered that already crowded conference room at the back. Mulder immediately recognized Agent James Connolly at the front, leading the group through a series of slides of mutilated bodies. From what he could tell, they were all young women, none of them older than 25. "And that brings us to the latest victim, Andrea Sims -- 22, post-grad student at Georgetown. She was found just after midnight last night in her car in the parking lot of the Capitol. The keys were in the ignition. Capitol security gave us the security tapes of that lot -- her car was in an area that is just outside the camera's range. Funny thing is, there is no tape showing the car entering the parking lot and the foot patrol says it was not in the lot at 11:53 pm when he made his rounds." Connolly turned to the assembled agents. "So, we have four murders in the last 6 months, all of the bodies found in very public places but we have no idea how they got there. Ah, I see we have someone with some personal insight into such an incident. Welcome back, Agent Mulder." He heard Skinner and Scully draw in sharp breaths, but Mulder just beamed. "Did you dig this one up just for my homecoming, Jamie?" he asked mildly. "You'd think that, wouldn't ya, Fox," Connelly retorted, but there was no animosity underlying the comment. "But could we start with the premise this is not an alien invasion -- maybe work up to that slowly?" "I'll try," Mulder deadpanned. "Prints and fiber?" "Agent Jenkins, give our newly reinstated Agent Mulder a copy of the file, please." He waited a beat for the folder to be handed to Mulder before speaking again. "None found other than the victim's. Three of the four were in relationships, but all parties have solid alibis for the nights of the murder. From the amount of blood, the killings happened at the sites. Two were in their cars when found." Mulder held the file so Scully could read along with him. "Teams, you know your assignments. We'll meet back here tomorrow, same time, to give reports. Unless the Assistant Director has anything else -- " Connolly looked over at Skinner, who shook his head in the negative. "OK, let's get out there and find something to go on." As the agents filed out of the room, Monica made her way over to Mulder and Scully. "Well, fancy meeting you here?" she quipped. "Assistant Director," she nodded to Skinner. "So, what have we got here, Mulder? Who was that guy in Baltimore -- Tooms? This isn't another wigged out case like that, is it?" The voice came booming from the front of the room as the man walked over to join them. "Connolly, you don't write, you don't call, and then at the drop of a hat you ask me to the junior prom," Mulder joked but didn't bother to bring his eyes up from the pages he was reading. "Why didn't we get a personal invitation to this dance?" Connolly shifted on his feet and looked over at Skinner. "Well, you know, new baby in the house, new house, not that long back from the dead -- I didn't want to dump too much on you all at once," he said and pursed his lips. "Yeah. You always were a considerate son of a bitch," Mulder replied dryly. "Do you have any thoughts?" Connolly asked. Mulder finally graced him with a look and a grin. "Yeah. You look old." Connolly rolled his eyes. "And you need to step away from the buffet a little sooner," Mulder added. "Enough," Skinner said sharply. "It's OK, sir. Just old roommate humor -- nothing personal, right, Mulder?" Mulder's grin was even larger. "Of course not. OK, look, let me go over this a bit -- have Scully review the autopsy findings. Who's the profiler on record" "There's a bit of confusion on that," Skinner interjected. "There's a new Assistant Director in charge of the BSU and he's still setting up shop. We expect to have a profiler by the end of the day. You're just filling in for now to help the task force." Connolly nodded, agreeing with Skinner. "It just has enough weird stuff to warrant your involvement, Mulder, so I asked AD Skinner to bring you two in." He looked off for a moment, as if he wanted to say more but decided against it. "Good to see you back," he said finally, almost self- consciously, before returning to the front of the room to gather his slides and papers. Mulder turned and headed out the door, still flipping through the file. Scully flashed Skinner and Monica a look and they all trailed after him. She caught up with him first. "Roommate?" she asked when she stood by him waiting for the elevator. "Quantico. For one week. We almost killed each other." She said nothing, just continued to give him her usual glare that demanded immediate exposition from him. "After we switched roommates, we didn't have any trouble at all. It was a college rivalry, actually." "You went to Oxford," she pointed out, realizing she was probably just setting herself up. "Yeah. Jamie Connolly went to Trinity in Dublin," he grinned back. "His mother's family makes beer. Might have heard of 'em. Guinness, I think the name is." "He doesn't have an accent," she said, thinking aloud. "Neither do I. He was born in New York. I was born on the Vineyard. When you study abroad, you lose any accent you pick up fairly quickly when you get back home. But get him roaring drunk -- well it's not pretty," he added. "I think I have something we can help him with, though. And it doesn't even come close to aliens." When they'd arrived at the basement, Mulder made a beeline for the file cabinets. Scully took the folder they'd been given at the meeting and sat down to read through the autopsy findings for anything that might connect the dots. The next time she looked at her watch, it was a quarter to five. "Mulder, we need to pick up the baby," she said, closing the folder and saving the comments she was making on the computer. His response was total silence. "Mulder. We have to pick up William," she tried again. Again, he was too engrossed to hear her. "Your son." She wasn't getting anywhere. "One of the last times you'll ever get lucky," she added with her arms crossed. That seemed to get his attention. "Did you say something, Scully?" "Yes. We have to finish up. We need to pick up William at day care," she said again, barely containing her exasperation. "You go ahead. I'm on to something here." "That would be fine -- if we had two cars. We rode together, remember?" "I'll catch the metro. I won't be long, I promise." She sighed. "Mulder, we discussed this. We can't keep the same hours we used to keep -- coming in early and staying till midnight. You can't do that when you have a little one at home." He rubbed his hand over his forehead. "Scully. If I stop now it's going to take me an hour to find my place tomorrow. If I stay, I might be able to give Jamie something he can use tonight. Just a few hours. If I'm not home by eight, call me and I'll leave it for tomorrow, I swear." When she seemed unconvinced he upped the ante. "Have a salad to hold you over -- I'll bring home pizza and we can celebrate our first day of school." She rolled her eyes, still not pleased. "I'm holding you to that 8 pm deadline," she intoned. "And if you go off without your phone I really will run off with the pizza guy." He chuckled. "Go on. I'll be home soon." William was all smiles when Scully arrived to take him home. The print out of his day's activities seemed a little redundant, but included such high points as 'tummy time' (playing on a blanket on the floor) and two naps. He blew bubbles are her the entire time she buckled him into the car seat. "Daddy had to work late, Will. We'll go home and play and then he'll come home to give you a good night kiss," she told the tiny boy. "Or I'll know why," she said to herself as she got in the driver's seat. X Files office 6:45 pm Mulder looked at the clock and saw it was a quarter till seven. He stretched his arms over his head, feeling the kinks in his back. He'd been reading the files and looking through old files for two hours since Scully had gone home and it was all a jumbled up mess in his head. He needed something to clear the fog. He needed a long run. Scully was being a mother hen and his new physician still hadn't cleared him for long morning runs. He'd had to settle for laps at the Y pool not far from their house. He looked down at the file folder. The answers he sought were there, but they were also in his head. Unfortunately, they weren't presenting themselves in a way that he could comprehend right then. He needed to get some adrenaline pumping so he could figure it out. The Bureau pool was calling his name. Shutting down his computer, he grabbed his suit jacket and locked the door behind. He'd go for a swim, see if it cleared his head. Then he had to get home to his partner and little boy. Maybe Will would be up for a game a peekaboo before bedtime. Maybe Scully would indulge him in a little peekaboo of their own after the baby was asleep. Down at the pool area, he dug around in the locker room lost and found box and secured a pair of trunks since he hadn't brought a gym bag to the office yet. Scully would kill him if she found out where he got the shorts, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt him. In five minutes he was out in the pool. It felt just like old times. This time the dizziness was almost expected and soon he was head down, doing laps, counting unconsciously when he heard his name called. He looked up and saw Alex Krycek standing at the edge of the pool, towel in hand, looking totally wet behind the ears. Why was he there? Oh, yes, a man named Preacher was out to clean up the mistakes of a war that had been over for 25 years. Deja vu all over again. Mulder stroked his way to the ladder and started to pull himself out. The fist that caught his jaw was completely unexpected because it hadn't been part of his memory. His vision blurred and cleared momentarily to find Gene Crane pulling back for another shot. He ducked, but his foot slipped on the wet cement of the pool edge. Before he could grip the handle of the ladder better he was going down, his head meeting the round tile with a solid crack. Everything went black. 3409 Hamlet Place Chevy Chase, MD 9:15 pm Scully was fuming. She'd tried his cell phone fifteen times in the last hour and fifteen minutes. Even if he was on the subway without reception it would have rang directly to voicemail. Instead it rang and rang and rang unanswered before voicemail finally picked up. She was just about ready to pack up the baby and drive to the Hoover when the phone she was holding started to ring. "You are on the couch tonight, Mister," she growled into the phone when she heard a throat being cleared. "Scully, this is Skinner," came the voice on the phone. She recognized it instantly, plus the tone of his voice was not reassuring at all. "What's happened," she demanded. "We're sorting that out. But I'm on my way to get you." "Where'd they take him," was her next thought spoken aloud as she picked up the baby's car seat and took the cordless upstairs with her to the nursery, the phone tucked between ear and shoulder so that her hands were free to move without hindrance. "Washington General. Dana, if you'd just let me explain -- " "He's hurt. You can explain it all to me on the ride to the hospital." Skinner arrived at her door in less than five minutes. He took the baby carrier out of her hands and guided her to his car. Scully buckled the carrier in the back seat and joined Skinner in the front. She was positive he left rubber on her curb as he peeled out into the quiet street. "We're not sure of the particulars but one of the janitors found Mulder unconscious at the side of the pool. No one else was around. They're going over security camera footage of the locker room -- " At her surprised expression and shrugged. "There have been some thefts lately in the locker room," he explained uncomfortably. "Thefts? In the FBI Headquarters?" Scully challenged. "I know -- not very reassuring, is it? Be that as it may, we hope to identify who was in the locker room following Mulder. It's the only way to get into the pool." "I still don't quite understand what he was doing in the pool area to begin with," Scully mused. "He didn't have his trunks." Skinner bit his lip. He knew exactly where Mulder got the trunks -- it was on the tape clear as day. Still, there was no way he'd spill those beans. Scully could find out that item for herself. "Anyway, the ambulance crew asked about next of kin, so I told them I'd be bringing you to the hospital," Skinner concluded. Washington General 10:30 pm Mulder's head was pounding and there was a loud noise coming from above, no -- all around him. The ship? His heart immediately started triple-tapping in his chest, he could feel the cold sweat prickling his skin. Don't move -- don't scream -- it only makes it worse -- "Mr. Mulder? Are you OK in there?" His throat was too dry to answer. He couldn't have said anything if he wanted to, there was no air in his lungs to force out the words. "Mr. Mulder, you're OK. I know it's a little scary waking up in the tube. We're just taking some pictures and we'll have you out of there in a jiffy. Just relax, take a few breaths. We're almost there." Wait -- that was not in his head. The words sounded muffled, hollow . . . as if coming from a loud speaker or an intercom. That never happened on the ship. Before he could process what was happening his body was moving, the whole surface shifting out and into the light. He started to scream but as his eyes popped open he saw a face -- "Mulder, hey. It's OK. I'm here. Just relax." "scully," he croaked. He shook with relief and grabbed for her hand. "Scully," he repeated, a little stronger. "Yeah," she said, smiling down at him. "The tech has to move you to a gurney. They just finished the CAT scan. After the doctor reads the results we'll see where we are." "Where are we?" he asked, not letting go of her hand even as two men came in and started to move him off the table. "Washington General. We'll talk down in the ER. It's a good thing they let me observe. You had on your panic face. Bad dream?" she asked. "The worst," he admitted. He closed his eyes and let her hand slip from his fingers as they settled him on the gurney. He knew she wouldn't go far and wasn't at all surprised to open his eyes and see her holding the side rails and helping move him down the hallway. "What happened?" he asked. "That's a bit of a question for us, too. You were found by the pool in the Bureau, unconscious, with a pretty nasty gash on your head. Two hits in one day, you have a concussion. They were worried about a tear or bleed, hence the scan." "I don't remember . . . " She smiled sadly. "No, you probably won't. The concussion made sure of that. Do you remember anything about today? What did we have for breakfast?" He closed his eyes and thought hard but ended up shaking his head in exasperation. "Dinner last night?" she tried again. "Lasagna. You snuck in the whole wheat pasta, but used the real mozzarella, not that 2 percent crap." She had to bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing. "The 2 percent crap, as you put it, has less fat and fewer calories," she countered. "We at least know the trauma didn't erase too much of your memory. "I remember you ragging on me about the towel on the bathroom floor, too," he supplied helpfully. She just rolled her eyes. "And that someone was an aggressive little kitten when -- " "That's enough. I'm satisfied," she stopped him with a look. He smiled. Even with a concussion he could still get her riled. He closed his eyes again, but reached out for her hand. She took it readily. Soon they were back in the ER cubicle. The orderlies set the brakes and then left them alone. Mulder closed his eyes, but open then, startled, when he remembered something. "Where's Will?" "In the lobby, with Skinner. Mom's on her way to get him -- she should be here soon." She rubbed his arm just above where an IV had been inserted into the back of his hand. "I should have stayed with you," she said, refusing to meet his gaze. "At the office?" he asked. "You were working on that case Connolly gave you. You just needed more time. I should have picked up William and . . . " "Brought him back to the office?" Mulder quipped. "I don't know about you, but I think I'd prefer it if he were a little older when he found out what we do for a living. Like maybe when he's 30." She closed her eyes, but the guilt was written plainly on her face. "Mulder -- I don't know -- " There was a sharp rap on the window to the cubicle and Maggie's face appeared around the door. "Hey, how is everyone?" "Hi, Mom," Scully said quickly, grateful for the interruption. "Hi, Maggie," Mulder added. "Fox, if you're in some contest with someone for the most time spent in a hospital -- " He saw the smile in her eyes and rolled his. "Great, I'm surrounded by comedians." "Mr. Skinner told me you fell at the pool," Maggie said, coming closer to the gurney and eyeing the bandage and the blackening eye he now sported. "And there was a little mix up in the hall earlier today at the office. The doctor wants to keep him here for observation," Dana explained, hoping it would be enough to satisfy her mother. Just in case it didn't, she changed the subject. "What's Will up to? Has the Assistant Director sold him to the highest bidder yet?" Maggie grinned at her daughter. "Will has the nurses charmed, but I think Mr. Skinner will be relieved when I relieve him from duty. I have my keys to the house, why don't I just take him back to your place and let him sleep in his own crib. Mr. Skinner said he'd stay here until your ready to go home, Dana." "I'll probably just stay -- " "Scully, there's no reason for you to stay here tonight," Mulder interjected. "It's observation." "We'll see what the doctor says," Scully answered in a tone that ended all further discussion. In the end, the doctor sided with Mulder. Knowing her stubbornness on all matters connected to his health and wellbeing, Mulder feigned sleep just so she would finally go home to their son. After a few minutes, he felt her kiss and heard her footsteps on the floor. When the door click shut, he knew he was alone. Alone -- and not at all tired. His head wasn't hurting that much, just a dull throb when he moved it the wrong way. His side was reminding him of all the stitches from his surgery a few months before and it was hard to get comfortable. No subdural bleed apparently did not equate to permission for painkillers, so the Tylenol he'd been given was all he was going to get for the night. It made for a long night. He needed a distraction. He thought about turning on the television, but that would be a sure tip off to his current 'wide awake' condition and would probably result in a 'mild sedative' -- which in turn
would make him groggy and fuzzy in the morning, not to mention the nightmares being under the influence tended to bring. He sighed and looked out the window. The wind was whipping a large tree just outside, tearing off the last of the autumn leaves in a maelstrom of pale gray. The moon cast its watery light on the limbs of the tree, causing shifting patterns as puffy clouds skittered across the sky. Moonlight. Shadows. All sorts of things could hide in shadows. Owls caught mice by the light and shadows cast by the moon. Killers could hide in the shadows of the moon. Moonshadows. Suddenly, in just a heartbeat all the tiny little pieces of evidence he'd been pouring over all afternoon that had been clogging his thought processes tumbled down into a cohesive and comprehensible pattern. The pages of files long buried slammed into his consciousness and he grabbed the bedrails as the picture grew clearer, the answer in bold face type, 72 point font. He knew this killer -- his mind was writing the profile and all he needed was to get it on paper. He grabbed for the phone by his bed and then his glance landed on the clock on the wall reading five minutes to midnight. He dropped the receiver like a hot rock. Scully would never listen to him at this time of night, especially when her mother was sure to be in the house with them. OK, maybe Skinner. He shook his head carefully at the utter ridiculousness of that idea. Skinner would be harder to convince then Scully. All he really needed was just a little time and a decent internet connection. Maybe a working printer. Hell, he had a whole office just sitting there waiting for him in the basement. The Hoover Building was just on the other side of the Mall from the hospital. A cab ride, five minutes at this time of night since all the tourists would surely be tucked in at their various 3 and 4 star hotels. If he planned it right, he could get over there and back between vitals checks. It had been a while since he'd perpetrated a black ops, but he wasn't that much out of practice. At exactly fifteen minutes past midnight the nurse came in, checked his pulse, listened to his heart with a minimum of jostling and checked the heparin lock where the IV had been located. He silently thanked his lucky stars that he'd managed to get the IV removed before Scully had left for the night -- the lock was a compromise in case 'something unexpected' happened and the medical staff had to move quickly. In this case, the unexpected was a quick getaway and not alerting the nursing staff to a pulled out IV was just what Mulder needed to make his escape. When the nurse was finally satisfied and left the room, Mulder relaxed. It was hard enough to lay still, moreso when he had to feign the shallow respirations of deep sleep. He waited a full minute just in case she might come back before he moved. It was a testament to Scully's obvious domestication, or maybe her preoccupation with the baby, that she'd left his clothing in the closet of his room. Actually, it was probably Skinner who thought to bring his gym bag with his work clothes and shoes from the pool locker room. No matter, at least it meant he didn't have to go steal a set of scrubs for his night on the town. He'd be wrinkled, but he'd be dressed. It was just the stroke of happenstance that he was certain meant his plan was going to work. Getting the bedrail down was a bit of a hassle, but the real trouble started when he raised the head of the bed and turned to lower his legs over the side. The room swayed and then swirled, his head pounded loud enough that he was sure he would alert the nurses. "Focus, breathe," he whispered, trying hard to remember what Scully would say to him. What would Scully say? "Get your ass back in bed, G-man," he muttered. But just when he was sure he was going to take Scully's advice by passing out, his vision cleared and he was able to slowly stand. The headache flared when he took a step, but gritting his teeth seemed to keep it at bay. He swallowed thickly, forcing his stomach to settle down. Stupid concussions! He dressed in record time -- at least for a concussed Mulder it was record time. He listened at the door, waiting for the right moment to sneak out of the room. When the soft squeaks on the tile floor receded down the hall and then were silent he opened the door and peeked out. The coast was clear. He made his move. It was fairly easy to escape most hospitals. For one thing, they didn't expect anyone except the psych ward patients to execute such a get away. Most people were in the hospital because they were sick or injured and wanted to get better. That had never stopped Mulder before and it wasn't going to stop him this time. Getting a cab turned out to be easy as well. His wrinkled appearance didn't even pose that much of a problem when he finally got to the Hoover. The night guard was new, but so was Mulder's shiny identification and the young man was probably used to seeing agents wander in at all hours of the day and night. In less than 25 minutes after the nurse's check, he was safely in the basement, digging through files. By a quarter to four, the profile was done and printed, a copy emailed to Jamie Connolly. Mulder knew he had to get back to the hospital, but his head was really pounding. He just needed to rest a minute. His arms came out and his head fell down on them without his consent or approval. By four a.m., he was out like a light. Washington General Hospital 3:30 am The nurse assigned to the patient in room 306 checked her watch as she quietly entered the room. The patient, and FBI agent who had been brought in with a concussion, had been sleeping at the last vitals check. With any luck, the poor man would sleep through another one, as well. As she pulled her stethoscope from her pocket and reached for the blood pressure cuff in the cage on the wall, she noticed the bed was empty. Going over to the bathroom door, she knocked lightly. "Mr. Mulder, I'm just here to take your vitals." No sound came from beyond the closed door. "Mr. Mulder?" she called a little louder. "Mr. Mulder, are you all right?" Again, she was met with silence. She rapped loudly on the door this time. "Mr. Mulder, I'm coming in," she warned and opened the door. Instead of finding an embarrassed patient, the nurse found the light off, the bathroom empty. Scully and Mulder's townhouse Chevy Chase, MD The ringing phone woke Maggie Scully where she lay on the sofa in the office of her daughter's house. At first she didn't remember where she was, but she soon oriented herself and grabbed for the phone, hoping to keep it from waking the baby. "Hello?" she answered quietly, her voice low. "May I speak with Mrs. Mulder -- oh, I'm sorry, Ms. Scully, please?" the voice on the other end requested. Maggie's level of alertness took a swift uptick. "Is this Washington General?" she asked. "Yes ma'am. Are you Ms. Scully?" She knew she should have answered in the negative, but Maggie couldn't bear the thought of Dana being awakened by bad news without someone to try and soften the blow. A white lie felt like the right thing to do under the circumstances. "Yes, this is Ms. Scully, how may I help you." "Ms. Scully this is the ward nurse for 3 east. Mr. Mulder appears to have left the hospital. Has he returned home?" After full minute of silence hung in the air. "Let me get my daughter," Maggie advised the woman. By the time Dana hung up with the hospital, Maggie had made a pot of coffee. She stood in the kitchen and watched her daughter pace while on the phone to her superior. "They say his gym bag was in the closet, but all they found inside was a hospital gown similar to the one they issued him. No one saw him leave, but they said they have cabs outside the hospital at all hours. The last vital check was at midnight, so he left sometime between then and 3:30," Dana said, glancing at her watch. "About fifteen minutes ago." "I'm sending a team over to the hospital, there has to be surveillance tape of all the entrances," Skinner assured her. "Scully, not to sound obtuse, but have you tried his cell phone?" "Sir, I took his cell phone home with me so he didn't risk losing it at the hospital. They advise taking home all valuables," she replied tiredly. "Oh, yeah. Sorry. Um, I'll get started here, we'll check all around the hospital. We'll find him, Scully." "Sir, could you check on the whereabouts and activities of Agent Crane?" blurted out before Skinner could hang up. "I'll see to that personally, Scully," he promised. Alley near Washington General
5:45 am Young Steve Wallenberg had only been out of the Academy for a year and already he was assigned to computer crimes in the FBI headquarters. He was just lucky enough to be pulling a night shift on internet surveillance when the call came in for all agents to assist in a missing person's hunt. He was assigned to a group of agents checking the area around the hospital. The name of the missing person sounded vaguely familiar, but as the youngest man in his group, he wisely kept his mouth shut and followed all orders. That's how he found himself walking down a very narrow alley at the darkest time of night. "Check the dumpsters, check the boxes, check the doorways," he chanted aloud as he walked. It was as close as he could come to whistling in the dark. There weren't any boxes and the doorways he'd passed were empty. All that remained were the two dumpster, suitable for a moderate sized apartment building, sitting at the end of the alley. He flipped the lid off the dumpster on the right. Lucky for young Wallenberg, the garbage had been picked up the morning before. There were about a half dozen assorted bags, but it was easy to flash his light around and ensure him that there was no missing agent there. With a shrug, he flipped the lid back on and turned to the other receptacle. This one wasn't empty. A body was at the bottom, curled in a fetal position. Wallenberg reared back and pulled out his walkie talkie. "This is Wallenberg, position 6. Get a team over here -- I think I found something!" Scully had been at the hospital, interrogating cab drivers when the call came in. She was just two blocks away from the alley and ran full speed to get there even before the other agents arrived in bucars. She shoved Steve aside and somehow managed to climb into the dumpster, her heart in her throat. She took in the body, but all she could see was Mulder, her Mulder, naked and broken -- cold and hard in a field in Montana. She had to force herself to keep breathing as she reached her hand down to move the body -- but it rolled over before she had the chance. As she attempted to placate the drunken man she'd just rudely awakened, her cell phone rang. Someone had finally thought to check with the guard at the Hoover Building. FBI Headquarters J Edgar Hoover Building By 7:15 the fugitive had been cornered and capture was eminent. A heavy hand on his shoulder alerted him to the fact that it wasn't his current roommate shaking him awake. "Mulder, you asshole, wake up or I'll be forced to call for an ambulance," came the gruff tone of Assistant Director Walter Skinner. His mouth was dry, his throat scratchy and his eyelids were fused together with a foreign substance that he was sure contain the same chemical properties as superglue. But at least his voice still worked. "No 'bulance," he mumbled. Knowing that was less than convincing, he swallowed against the sandpaper coating his throat and tried again. "No ambulance. I'm awake." He struggled to sit up and the headache that had been just a dull throb flared to a bright nuclear explosion right behind his eyes. "Shit," he groaned, wiping at his lids and trying not to lose his mutinous stomach on Skinner's highly polished wingtips. He looked up at his superior and instead of finding the usual scowl, he found him making a phone call. "Yeah, Scully -- you were right. He's down here. No, I don't think an ambulance is warranted, but I'll keep him here until you arrive and assess his condition." Mulder leaned forward, clasping his head in his hands to keep his brains within the confines of his skull. "She's pissed, I assume." Skinner glared down at his wayward charge and then looked off, gathering his thoughts or controlling his rage -- Mulder wasn't sure which but he appreciated the gesture. "I would say 'pissed' doesn't even begin to cover it. You realize you were attacked in the pool last night. There has been a working theory that you were kidnapped." He glanced down at his watch and frowned. "By about 5 am, we were checking back alleys in the vicinity of the hospital, fairly certain we'd find your body dumped in one." "I wasn't there," Mulder answered with a scratchy throat. "No, but a young agent thought he'd found you. Turned out to be one very intoxicated homeless man who was less than pleased when your partner, leading half the FBI, turned up to toss him out of his bed for the night." "Ouch," Mulder groaned again, raising his head just enough to look Skinner in the eyes. "No one thought to check here first before scaring Scully half to death?" The blue vein at the side of Skinner's neck started to jump, a definite sign that Mulder had just stepped out on to very thin ice. "If anyone 'scared her half to death' as you put it, I would suggest you check your own actions before accusing anyone else." Mulder let his head drop back down to his hands and lowered his hands to the surface of the desk. "I got it, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa," he rattled off. "Got any Tylenol on you?" "Before she gets here? What do you think?" Skinner growled. Mulder coughed lightly as he sat back up. "So who was the rocket scientist to figure out I was here?" "Agent Connolly came in early and checked his email. When he found your profile he and saw that it was mailed from your Bureau account he checked with the guard. Then he called me and I came down and found you." "I really had intended to get back to the hospital." "Mulder, it was stupid, dangerous -- but it's your neck on the line. How long do you expect her to put up with your shit? When do you think she might just decide to draw the line in the sand?" Mulder sucked in his bottom lip, considering his answer. "Probably about -- when did she find out?" "She called me at 3:40, right after she heard from the hospital." "Then I expect she drew that line about 3:35 am, sir," he said glumly. On cue, the elevator at the end of the hall announced an arrival. Mulder tried to look as miserable as possible, and it wasn't that hard. Skinner just shook his head. "I'm very glad I'm not you right now, my friend," he muttered. Mulder rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "Are you going to watch?" Skinner ignored the jab and turned to Scully as she entered the office. She was not smiling. "Agent Scully. If you need anything -- " "I can take it from here, sir. Thank you for your quick response this morning," Scully said and from her tone of voice it sounded like she'd just dismissed the Assistant Director. He was wise enough to take the hint and head for the elevator. Scully took his departure as an opportunity to close the door. "I doubt if anyone will hear us down here," Mulder rasped, rubbing his forehead and then deciding that really didn't help. "Well, I don't want to take the chance," Scully said evenly. "How's your head?" "Is this the part where I'm spared the execution long enough to heal and then call in the firing squad?" he returned. She turned on her heel and had her hand on the doorknob but he was out of his chair and spinning her around before she could open the door. The sudden movement, although heroic, cost him. The room spun around him and he was holding her arms more for support than to stop her from leaving. "I'm sorry," he told her with all the sincerity his 1000-watt headache would allow. "I'm sorry I scared you." He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and hugged her. She resisted at first, standing stiff as a board until he felt her shoulders tremble and she wound her arms around his chest and squeezed him so tightly he let out a muffled gasp. But the pain was worth it, just standing there, nuzzling her hair. "I'm so sorry. I really meant to get back in time." When he felt the tears soaking into his shirt, he knew they'd better sit down or they'd end up falling down. "C'mon over here." He led her to the chair and sat down, pulling her onto his lap. "Mulder -- " "Screw the rules, Scully," he whispered. "Why didn't you call me?" she countered. Now that the initial flood of emotion was over, her anger was flaring again. "You had just gone home, you'd had a stressful day, you were with the baby -- can you believe that I really didn't intend to be gone that long? I figured out Connolly's case and wanted to get that information to him as quickly as possible. Lives were at stake, Scully." She pushed back and stood up, straightening her jacket. He winced when he realized it was the same outfit she'd carefully chosen for their first day back at work -- the morning before. That spoke more of her worry at his early morning antics than any chastisement she could utter. But then, when he thought about it, she still hadn't expressed her worry in words -- just actions. "Mulder, how can I make you understand that your actions have consequences? That because you didn't want to wake me you ended up waking the whole damned Bureau? That you're little escapade cost man hours and took agents away from other responsibilities and not to mention what it did to . . . " She stopped and put her fingers to her lips, silencing herself. "To who, Scully? What it did to you?" When she didn't reply it wounded him more deeply than if she'd said the words. "You have a perfect right to angry, Scully. You have every right in the world." "I don't own you, Mulder," she replied sadly. "I never have and I guess I never will." "Don't say that," he gasped out. "Please don't say that because it's a lie. Maybe you don't own me because I sure as hell don't own you, but Scully, without you and William, I'm nothing. I don't exist." He hugged her tenderly and then touched his aching head to hers. "I'm sorry. I'm not good at this. I don't know if I'll ever be a good -- mate . . . whatever. Just please, don't give up on me," he begged. She chuffed out a small laugh. "Mulder, I couldn't give up on you if I tried," she assured him. Then she grew serious, his confession giving her the confidence to forge ahead. "But that doesn't mean I'm not royally pissed at you right now. Relief at finding you alive and relatively unscathed does not absolve you from the anxiety you caused." "I know, I know it doesn't," he agreed. "Tell you what -- the next time I'm in the hospital for observation and I figure out a profile, I'll just call you to pick me up. It would save me a cab fare and save the tax payers the expense of looking for me when I'm right here in the basement." She closed her eyes in resignation. "I guess hoping you would just stay in the hospital for the night would be too much, huh?" After a deep sigh she gave him a small smile. "It's probably the most I can hope for. Sure, next time I'll drive you here. Or maybe we could just invest in a laptop for you?" "Can we look at Macs?" he asked, eyes alight. The phone rang just before her fist made contact with his shoulder. He had to reach around her to grab the receiver. "Mulder," he answered. After a few minutes he smiled, told the caller thanks and hung up. When he looked at her there was a huge grin on his face. "That was Jamie. My profile was a hit. He's pretty sure they caught the guy. He was a security guard at one of the federal buildings downtown -- got fired for making advances on a Congressional intern. He's also an amateur astronomer." "Did he confess?" Scully asked. "No, but they found articles of clothing from each of the victims in the trunk of his car and the gloves he used for the murders. See, Scully, I didn't even have to be there for the bust!" In his enthusiasm, he forgot about his headache -- which quickly came back to bite him right behind the eyes. "Ow," he groaned. "C'mon, Mulder. Time for all the good little agents to be home in bed," she scolded. "No more hospital," he confirmed. "No hospital -- however, you are staying home all day today and getting a good night's sleep tonight. We'll try working in the office again tomorrow." "Deal," he said, giving her a squeeze. "Let's go home. I'm hungry. You gonna make me eggs and bacon, since I solved this case." She stood up from his lap and pulled him to his feet. He swayed, just for effect and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "Mulder, you seem to have forgotten that you're in the dog house. You'll be lucky to get a bowl of that nice Kashi I bought." "Kashi -- that organic stuff? Scully that stuff will kill you! It doesn't have any chemicals, no preservatives -- nothing to protect you from all the evils creatures thriving in your stomach!" He continued to ramble and rail all the way out to the car. As Scully unlocked the door to the driver's side she looked around the parking garage. It was 8 am and most agents were filing in to work. Some of them glanced their way, she saw a few chuckle. It had been a long time coming, but she finally felt like they were back where they belonged. But back along the cement wall, Agent Gene Crane watched the two get into their car and silently plotted his vengeance for a fallen comrade. the end Note: this is NOT a work in progress. I'll probably do another episode when the mood strikes (and a case file presents itself). But for the moment, this is a stand alone. Thanks for reading.
More to come in the series