"I understand you have a patient here by the name of Fox Mulder." The nurse glanced over at the doctor standing at the nurseís desk.
The doctor turned and smiled at Skinner. "Fox Mulder. Yes, heís my patient. Are you family?"
Skinner pulled out his ID. "No, Iím Assistant Director Skinner of the FBI."
The doctorís smiled faded. "Is he a fugitive?"
"No. No, heís one of my agents. Heís been missing for seven months, presumed dead."
"The presumptions werenít far wrong."
"With what that manís been through Iím surprised he is alive." At Skinnerís questioning look he continued. "He had burns that havenít healed, cuts and abrasions, but the biggest problem by far is the malnutrition."
"I donít know where heís been, but it wasnít conducive to human habitation."
"May I see him?"
"Sure. He drifts in and out a lot. He seems coherent, but of course we havenít been able to confirm anything. The one thing he keeps asking for is ĎScullyí. Do you know what that is?"
Skinner managed to keep his voice steady, though his heart was clutching. "Yes. His partner."
"Well, heís very concerned about him."
"Yeah. Could you. . . ?"
"Oh, of course. Follow me." They paused outside of the door and Skinner looked through the glass. His mouth fell open. "His injuries arenít life threatening in and of themselves. Weíve got his fever down and the infections are under control. We shaved him, but havenít cut his hair yet. He hasnít been able to sit up long enough for that yet."
"What does he weigh?" He looked like pictures Skinner had seen of Auschwitz survivors.
"He canít stand. I estimate 110-115."
The doctor was being generous. "Damn!"
"Iíll be here at the hospital for another hour or so, if you have any questions."
Skinner nodded and thanked him, then pushed the door open. He pulled a chair up close to the bed and sat beside him, looking at him closely.
"Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?"
"Um, what?" Mulder opened his eyes and blinked to focus on Skinner. "Scully? Is Scully okay?"
Shit, the first words out of his mouth. "Scullyís fine Mulder. How are you feeling?"
Skinner rose and poured him a glass of water. It was obvious he wasnít strong enough to hold it, so Skinner held the straw to his lips. Mulder lay his head back down exhausted from the effort, closing his eyes.
"Can you talk Mulder? Can you tell me what happened?"
Mulder looked up at him again. "Doors locked behind me. Couldnít get back down. Got out, but barely." He managed to grin at the obvious.
"Mulder we searched, where were you?"
"Donít know. Cabin." And he was asleep again. Skinner leaned back in his chair. Mulder was closer to dead than alive. He needed to bring Dana to him. He put his head back and closed his eyes. He was going to lose her; sheíd never really been his to begin with, but god how was he going to give her up?
He roused about twenty minutes later and again his first words were asking for Scully. Skinner had the information he needed, that he could get anyway, so he assured Mulder he was on his way to pick her up and she would be here as soon as possible.
Skinner had Angie make arrangements for Dana and he to fly back on the first available flight. He would bring her here and leave. She shouldnít see him like that alone the first time.
She jerked up from the couch when she heard his key in the lock and was half way across the room before he got the door open. He was startled and tried to hide it. Heíd hoped she was still asleep. He turned and closed the door to forestall conversation as long as he could.
"Walter? Look at me Ė was it him?"
"Yes, Mulderís alive. Iíve come to take you to him."
"What? Whatís wrong?"
"Heís very weak, Dana. They assured me his injuries were not life threatening, but. . . he looks bad. We didnít talk much, he falls asleep easily."
"Mulder?" She didnít realize he was holding her arm and had walked her back to the couch. He seated her and turned to fix her a brandy. "Do I need that?"
"I donít know. I do."
"What did you tell him about us?" Her voice shook slightly.
"Nothing. That was never my intention Dana. I just wanted to make sure it was really him, I wanted to protect you."
"Why would I need protecting?"
"Youíre my wife, Dana. At least for now." His eyes asked the question his lips didnít. She looked away, not yet, she couldnít deal with this right now. He sighed so lightly she wasnít sure of the sound. "Are you packed?"
"Yes." She glanced over at her suitcase beside his easy chair. "We have to tell him something."
"Not now. It can wait."
"Heís that weak?"
Skinner nodded. "Angie has our tickets waiting at the airport."
"Youíre going back?"
"Iím taking you. I wonít stay."
"Walter. . . " There was nothing she could say. She had to see Mulder, find out what was going on, how he really was. Decisions would have to wait.
They were both quiet on the flight. She found she drew strength from his presence, asking an occasional question, but mostly just knowing he was beside her. She would have said she didnít need coddling, but it didnít feel that way from him. She had known from the beginning how he felt about her and now she was aware that her feelings for him had grown and changed. What did that mean? Whatever, she was grateful to him for just being beside her.
He was holding her arm as they approached the room and she realized she needed it as she looked in the door. "Oh my god." She had hoped he was exaggerating, he hadnít been.
"Are you okay?"
"Iím fine." Her answer was automatic and he gave her a grim smile, but didnít respond. He allowed her to open the door when she was ready. She stuffed her left hand in her pocket and slipped her wedding ring off, leaving it there for now. Walter had been right, now was not the time to bring this up.
She approached the bed slowly, almost afraid, and stood looking down at him. Walter drew a chair up for her, but he knew she had already forgotten his presence.
"Mulder? Mulder, itís me, Scully. Can you hear me?"
His eyes drifted open and he looked at her for a few seconds before realizing she really was there. Skinner watched the recognition flow through his body. "Scully? Really here?"
"Yes Mulder. Iím really here. Now you have to get well so we can take you home." He tried to lift his hand and she took it, bringing it to her lips. Walter turned away and let himself out of the room. He didn't see Scully look up and watch him leave.
"I missed you too Mulder. I thought. . . I thought you were dead. I searched for you, but. . . "
"I know. Rescued by a man, he held me prisoner."
"What?" Walter hadnít mentioned this.
"He kept me, fed me when he remembered. Glad youíre here."
"Just rest now Mulder. Iím going to find your doctor and talk to him. Iím not leaving. Go back to sleep."
"Iíll be here when you wake up. Rest." She held his hand until she was sure he was asleep again, then let herself out of the room. She found Walter in the waiting room, sitting, holding a magazine that he hadnít bothered to open. "Walter?"
"He asleep?" She nodded. "I wanted to tell you goodbye before I left. I got you a room at that little inn next door. You can walk over any time, but Iím leaving the rental car for you. Iíll take a cab to the airport. Do you have enough cash?"
"Walter. . . "
"Iíll get the paperwork taken care of for a leave. You shouldnít use your sick leave or vacation. Why not just take this time without pay?"
"Dana, I can afford this."
"But you shouldnít. . . "
"Dana." She subsided. He could afford it and he obviously wanted or needed to do it. She didnít want to fight, not now.
"Will you call me when you get home? So Iíll know youíre safe."
"Sure." He smiled at her. "Take care of yourself too Dana. Please call me if you need anything."
"Walter, this isnít goodbye. I just need to make sure heís okay."
"You also need time to think." He took her hand and saw that her wedding ring was missing. He looked away, saying nothing.
She put her arms around him. "I donít know what to say, Walter."
"Then donít say anything. Iíll call you in a couple of hours." He kissed her forehead and gently removed her arms from his waist. Then turned and headed for the elevators. She watched him walk away and sank onto the couch where heíd been sitting. What was going to happen now?
"Morning, Dana. Mulder has a surprise for you."
"He does, does he?" Dana smiled at Dr. Powers. Everyone on staff had been so good to them. Mulder had become a pet to most of the nurses and Scully kept her jealousy hidden Ė as though she had a right anyway. She and Dr. Powers continued toward his room and the doctor pushed the door open.
Mulder wasnít in the bed. Her eyes frantically scanned the room and spotted him in the recliner where sheíd spent the first couple of nights here.
"Mulder! Youíre up!" She was at his side, her smile rivaling his own.
"I didnít get here alone, but it feels good."
"Yes, but I donít want you to overdo." Dr. Powers joined the conversation. "In fact, youíve been up long enough already. Iíll call Fred to help you back." Dr. Powers left the room and Scully squeezed Mulderís hand.
"I canít believe it! Youíre beginning to look like your old self Mulder."
"Thatís my goal. I want to go home. I want to go home with you." She smiled gently.
The physical therapist was amazed as well and came to Scully. "Iíve never seen anyone as motivated as he is. I think heíll be walking in a month, as long as he keeps this up and gains back that weight."
She relayed that to him that evening while they ate dinner. She no longer had to feed him, he was strong enough to do that for himself now and she knew how pleased he was with his progress.
She pushed back her tray and wiped her mouth. "Are you up for telling me what happened? How you got in this shape?"
"I can tell you what I know, but itís not much." He stretched and reached for her hand. Since his return his need to touch her had grown. She understood and agreed with the sentiment. She hadnít been able to let go of him herself for the first couple of days, sleeping in the recliner pushed up against his bed.
"I gave you to Skinner, you were almost unconscious from the blow to your head." She nodded. "I told him I had to get back downstairs. He offered to go, but I didnít have time to brief him and there were all those people in the beds. Did they determine how many died in the blast?"
"They located thirty bodies. Mulder, donít." She responded to his wince. "You did everything you could. You saved Walter and me and you tried to save the others."
"Yeah." He looked off into space for a minute. "I couldnít get back downstairs. The doors had all locked behind us when we came up. By the time I realized it, it was practically too late to get out myself.
"The blast blew me off my feet and must have knocked me out. I came to with my clothes on fire. I rolled around and put it out and headed away from the building. It started to rain, didnít it?"
Scully nodded, her own memories intruding on his narrative. The storm, her confusion, she still remembered being in Mulderís arms even though she now knew the truth.
"I collapsed in the woods. I donít know what happened next. I woke up in a bed, if you could call it that. I was in some sort of cabin, shack. I was in bad shape even then. The burns wouldnít heal. Iím sure I had a concussion Ė I kept drifting in and out. I thought you were there. I dreamed about you." The color on his face darkened and he avoided her eyes. That dream, memory, whatever had sustained him for a long time.
"How did you get there? We looked everywhere."
"The guy in the cabin. He must have found me and took me back there."
"Who was he?"
"I donít know."
"What about a name?"
"Scully, I was there seven months, youíve told me that. He never spoke a word. He had to be insane. He wasnít deaf, but he never spoke. When I was able, I would scream at him, anything to get a reaction. It never happened. Heíd go off for days sometimes, like he forgot I was there."
"Maybe he did."
"Then why would he strap me in before he left? Sometimes he remembered to feed me, sometimes he didnít."
"Oh my god, Mulder."
"You came to me more often when I was hungry." Her eyes filled with tears. Heíd been dreaming of her and sheíd been safe in Walterís arms.
"Hey, itís okay Scully." He squeezed her hand. "Iím okay now, or will be soon. Then we can go home. Since I donít have an apartment anymore think I can talk you into taking me in?" He gave her that leer she loved so much, though sheíd never admit it to him.
"Weíll think of something." That threw her for another loop. She didnít have an apartment to take him to either. She lived with Walter, her husband. That little fact still hadnít come up. He was better, but not strong enough for that. But then, neither was she.
"Where did you go Scully?"
"Um? Oh, sorry. Iím just so glad youíre recovering so well. I wish. . . "
"Scully, itís not your fault. I donít doubt you looked for me. But this unibomber clone seemed to enjoy my company in his own way."
"Mulder, how did you escape? You couldnít have walked out."
He chuckled and looked down at himself. "No. But the SOB didnít want me to die. Strange as his care of me was, he wanted me to live. Iíd gotten so thin by that time that Iíd started skipping heartbeats."
Scully gasped at that. It hadnít been mentioned to her. She found her hand on his chest to reassure herself it beat steadily now.
"Iím okay Scully. I havenít skipped a beat since I saw you for real."
"He could have killed you Ė starving you, not treating your burns. I want him found and punished."
"What if he saved me Scully?"
She stopped and looked at him. He might be right. As bad as the treatment heíd received had been, he was alive for her. Alive, after sheíd mourned him all these months.
"Scully? Come here, Scully." He tugged on her hand and she rose, joining him in the bed, holding him as he held her. Doing what theyíd always done Ė drawing strength from each other.
"Dana?" She could hear the smile in his voice. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine Walter, I just wanted to check in." And hear your voice, she added silently.
"Iím glad you did. Is Mulder doing okay?"
"His progress is being called remarkable. Heís talking about coming home."
"Thatís all due to you being there with him. Youíre the best medicine he could have." He said it lightly, grateful she couldnít see him, see how saying that had affected him.
There was a short pause, then Scully came to the point of the call. "Heíll be getting out soon and he wants to return to Washington of course. I donít think he would do well at a rehabilitation facility, and he doesnít have an apartment anymore."
"You want to bring him here?" He kept his voice level, but waited anxiously for her answer.
"No, Walter. I wouldnít think that would be a good idea.
Iím going to ask Mom if he can use her guestroom. Iíll, uh, Iíll have to stay
there too, work on his therapy at night, but I can work during the day."
"Isnít that spreading yourself a little thin?"
"I can do it. But thanks for worrying about me."
"I miss you." Damn, he shouldnít have said that.
"I miss you too, Walter."
"How did he react to. . .?"
"I havenít told him yet. Walter, heís better, he really is, but heís not that strong. Let me get him home, get settled in, then Iíll tell him."
"Whatever you think is best Dana. Send me all the details, Iíll make sure everything you need is at your motherís." There was another pause, neither knowing what to say next. She hated this awkwardness. It had been easy being with Walter, before.
"As soon as I clear things with Mom and get a definite date from Dr. Powers Iíll let you know. Iím looking forward to seeing you."
"Believe me, the feeling is mutual. You are taking care of yourself arenít you?"
"Yes. Not as well as you do it, but yes. I better go. Iíll be in touch. Good night Walter."
He waited until she hung up, then responded, "I love you Dana" and replaced his own receiver. He closed his eyes and lay his head back on the chair.
He was like a child on Christmas morning. They pulled up to Mrs. Scullyís house and she thought he was going to run to the door. She smiled; he probably would if he could walk alone. It had been a long trip, but he seemed energized by it rather than worn out.
"Sit still, Mulder. Iíll get the chair out of the trunk."
He made a face at her, but rather than falling on his face, acquiesced to her demand. She had pulled the chair from the trunk when the door opened and Maggie came out.
"Dana! Fox! Iím so glad youíre here safe. Oh, I do need to fatten you up, donít I?"
"You should have seen him before. He. . . " Mulder turned to look at her as her voice trailed off, then looked back at the house to see what she was staring at. Skinner? What was he doing here?
"Can I help you with that?" He had approached the car and
taken the wheelchair from her hands, opening it and holding it steady as he
maneuvered himself into it.
"This is quite a homecoming." Scully was smiling at Skinner and for some reason it was making the hairs stand up on Mulderís arms. Hell, it was just Skinner and he was their supervisor. Scully had pulled the bags from the car and was walking beside Skinner as he wheeled him in; Maggie was talking to him so he missed what the two of them were saying. Probably nothing, just checking in. She had been away from work for awhile now.
Skinner rolled him into the bedroom, just to show him where heíd be staying, and immediately returned him to the living room so that they could all sit and relax a few minutes.
"Mulder, are you sure you donít need to lie down?" Scully had taken the seat nearest the wheelchair.
"Donít worry so. Iím doing great Scully, itís so good to be here, to be home." She smiled at him and let it go. He was a grown man, occasionally.
After a few minutes Skinner excused himself to return to the office. Scully stood as he did. "Let me walk you out." He smiled and nodded. Mrs. Scully distracted him as they walked out. He hadnít realized she was going outside with Skinner. Well, she probably wanted to give him a more complete description of his Ďconditioní, sheíd be right back.
"You look good, you must have gotten more rest than I was afraid you would. Did you actually use the hotel room, or sleep at the hospital the whole time?"
"I stayed there the first couple of nights. Once he got used to being safe I got to use a bed again. Thank you so much for being here."
"I couldnít wait to see you and this was a wonderful excuse. Do I get to kiss you hello?"
"Please." She went into his arms; she had missed this man more than she had anticipated. Well, he was her husband, sheíd spent many wonderful hours in his arms. Too bad things were so complicated now. She was going to hurt one of these men, how the hell was she going to live with that? Her arms tightened around him. "I do love you Walter."
"I know. Weíll work everything out somehow. First priority is getting him back on his feet, so he can come after me for what Iíve done."
She smiled sadly at him; he was only partly kidding. "You better get back inside. Iíll call you tomorrow." He kissed her again, a lingering kiss then gently pulled away and got in the car.
She took a deep breath to steady herself and went back inside.
"What took so long?" Mulder had been waiting, still not used to her being out of his sight.
"Just checking to see if I still have a job."
"The Bureau would never let its best go. You have been gone a lot though, are you doing okay? I mean financially? Iíve got a lot of back pay coming, if you. . . "
"Mulder, Iím doing fine. Donít worry about that."
"Youíll let me know, wonít you?"