Skinner looked up as the door to his office opened and he rose to his feet as he saw his visitor. "Agent Scully, are you suppose to be out yet?" He walked to her and took her arm. He was faintly alarmed when she actually leaned on him a little. When was the last time Scully had leaned on anyone? He seated her and sat beside her, moving his chair closer to her. "What are you doing here?"
"I need to know if youíve heard from Mulder."
"Now wait a minute, Scully, heís famous for taking off on a lead. . . "
"No," she interrupted, "He wouldnít leave now. Not now." He took in her appearance again, she was probably right.
"Whenís the last time you saw him?"
"When he left to come to work yesterday morning."
Skinner looked away. That was more information than he needed or wanted. "Where have you looked?"
"He hasnít been to his apartment or the office. His cell phone is off. I need help to locate him."
"You need to be home in bed." She started to protest, but he raised his hand. "I can handle this. Not you."
"Agent Scully, you are on medical leave. Youíre going to have to let me lead this investigation."
"Yes, Sir." She rose to her feet, but as she swayed he scooped her up in his arms. "I. . . Iím okay."
"Iím taking you home."
"My car. . . "
"Iíve just impounded it. You are not going out again until a doctor, other than yourself, gives you the okay."
His secretaryís eyes widened as he emerged from his office with Agent Scully in his arms, but she wisely made no comment. "Iíll be out of the office for a couple of hours." Was his only remark. Scully had her eyes closed, and he wasnít entirely convinced she hadnít actually fallen asleep before he reached his car.
When they reached her apartment building he allowed her to walk to her apartment, but at the door she once again had to steady herself on the door jam. He again took her into his arms and entered her apartment. He had never been inside her place that she was aware of, but he moved unhesitatingly to her bedroom and laid her gently on her bed.
"Iím going to call your mother, so you wonít be alone."
"Sheís out of town. My brotherís ship is in, it was already planned. I didnít want her to miss it, and Mul. . . Mulder was here."
"You shouldnít be alone now. Is there anyone. . . ?í He stopped, unsure how to react to her tears. She turned her face away, trying to regain her composure.
He reached out, his intentions, at least he told himself, were to touch her arm. He found, however, that he had gathered her into his arms and was rocking her as she burst into sobs against his chest. He held her until she had cried herself out, then handed her some tissues from her bedside. Suddenly he was furious with Mulder for not being there, not giving her this opportunity. She always had to be strong for him, protect him.
She cleaned herself up, unable to look him in the eye. "I think Iíve ruined your shirt."
"Not a problem. Do you feel better now?"
"You needed that. You shouldnít hold everything in. Youíve been through a terrible ordeal yourself. Worrying about Mulder shouldnít. . . "
"The man whoís torturing us. He was playing games in the beginning, then he attacked me. He could have killed me, he may have killed Mulder."
"Mulderís not dead."
"How do you know?"
"You would know. Scully, you would know. Weíll find him. You need to rest. When did you last eat?"
"Iím not hungry."
"Not my question. I heat a mean can of soup. Iíll fix it for you, and then youíll nap. Iíll be back in a few minutes." Scully felt herself relaxing, the burden wasnít hers alone.
She obediently ate the soup he brought her, embarrassed at how she had responded to the gentle caring of this largely unknown man. When she had finished he cleaned up, despite her protests.
"Your job is to recover your strength. Mine is to lead an investigation. Iíll check back with you in a few hours. Try to sleep for a while."
She nodded and walked him to the door. "Back in bed, right now." She gave him a wan smile and followed his directions after he left.
The doorbell woke her a few minutes later and she was shocked to see Skinner at her door, holding take-out. "But. . . but you just left. Do you have news?"
"That was nearly five hours ago, Dana. You were more exhausted than you realized." He put the sandwiches on the coffee table and ignored her comments about getting plates and drinks as he did it himself with quiet efficiency.
"Now, eat and Iíll bring you up to date. I do have news, but not necessarily about Mulder. They found the body of the man that. . . assaulted you, in a landfill in Virginia, shot execution style."
"How did you identify him?"
"But he never. . . "
"The police recovered some items of clothing from your apartment that, frankly, I donít think youíd want returned even though there wonít be a trial."
She closed her eyes and nodded. "As for Mulder, we have an APB out on his car, and Iím checking several other avenues, but itís really too soon to expect results."
"I need to be doing something."
"You are, youíre recovering from major surgery. Youíre not my only agent, I do have a few resources I can call on." She sighed and acquiesced.
She and Skinner fell into a routine, he brought dinner every night and called several times a day to check on her and she obeyed his instructions to rest and eat, but began work at home with her computer links to various sources.
On the fourth morning, Skinner appeared at her door at 9 a.m. She let him in, but he didnít speak. He took her arm and sat her on the couch. "Weíve found him."
Her eyes widened but she seemed to have lost the ability to speak. "Heís alive, at the hospital in Georgetown." Her lips moved, but no sound emerged. Suddenly she rose to her feet and started toward the door. He leapt after her and grabbed her arm.
"I have to. . . heís alive. . . " Skinner caught her body before she could hit the floor. She came to in her bed, and as soon as consciousness returned, so did Skinnerís words. Only his hand on her shoulder held her down.
"You are in no shape to go anywhere. Donít even think about it."
"Iím going to the hospital, Walter. You canít stop me. If you wonít take me, Iíll grab a cab after you leave. I have to be there. Is he conscious?"
"Iím not sure. His eyes are open, but heís non-responsive. I went by to see him before I came to tell you."
"How did he. . . where did you find him?"
"Actually we didnít. He turned up at the hospital, they notified us."
"Thatís what happened withÖ" Skinner nodded. "Are you going to take me or not?"
"DanaÖoh hell, get ready. But you arenít staying long. Iím bringing you home, too." She nodded and swung her legs off the bed, already looking for her shoes.
Skinner held her arm as they approached his room keeping her from breaking into a run. She noted with satisfaction the guard posted outside of his door. Skinner allowed her to enter the room alone, but not before reminding her that her time was limited. She nodded and slipped inside.
He looked awful. Skinner was right, his eyes were open, but not focused on anything in this room. His skin was pasty above the beard that had been allowed to grow, and his eyes were dark and sunken. Occasionally a shudder would travel over his whole body.
"Oh Mulder, what did they do to you?" She caressed his face wanting desperately to receive a response. Scully glanced over his monitors. His heart rate was rapid and his blood pressure was up, it was as though he were frightened. Another shudder ran through his body. She pulled a chair beside his bed and sat, taking his hand and beginning to talk to him. She kept reassuring him that she was there, that she would not leave him. The length of time between shudders lengthened, and they decreased in intensity, but did not cease. There was no direct response to her presence. Doctors and nurses came and went.
Skinner entered the room quietly. "You need to go home, Dana. Iíve left you here a lot longer than I planned."
"I canít go, Walter. I canít."
He put his hand on herís where she was caressing Mulderís fist, trying to calm him. He was startled into a backwards step when Mulderís hand suddenly gripped Scullyís, pulling her from his touch.
"Mulder? Can you hear me? Please." There was no response, but his grip on her didnít lessen. "Walter I am not leaving. You can ask them to bring in another bed or a recliner, but I am not leaving. Iím sorry."
Skinner stared at the death grip Mulder had on her, or was it a life grip? It looked as though he were holding on to her for dear life. Maybe he was. He looked up and nodded at Scully. "Iíll see about that bed." And let himself out of the room. He hesitated before closing the door, taking another look at the woman beside the bed. They were linked, in a way heíd never known and probably would never know. He felt an overwhelming rush of loneliness wash over him. He shouldnít have gotten so involved, he had enough trouble keeping his professional distance from these two anyway. He closed the door and went in search of a nurse.
They brought an extra bed in and she had it moved as close to his bed as possible. It was there she spent the night, if not sleeping at least resting.
Skinner trudged to his car. He was purposely focusing his mind on the investigation when he smelled it. His head went up, searching and he heard the voice. "Well Assistant Director Skinner, itís been a long time."
"I thought you were dead." As Skinner glanced over him he was surprised he wasnít. Heíd never known the man young, but nowÖif it had been any other man heíd have used the term frail.
"Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." He took another drag on the Morley. "How is Agent Mulder doing?"
"Good. I have a story to tell you."
By morning the shudders had almost stopped and he seemed calmer. Scully was awake and talking to him when the door opened.
"Well, if it isnít my two favorite problem children."
"Sweetie, why didnít you call me. You look all done in. Mildredís here now, you go get freshened up." She put her hand over theirs and pulled Danaís loose. "Now Fox, you let that poor little thing go stretch, and Iíll clean you up a bit." She waved Scully on out of the room. She pulled the covers back to expose his chest. "Now you didnít need to lose any weight, boy. Iím gonna have to fatten you up some so youíll look good in a tux for that wedding." She looked up at him and saw a tear spill down the side of his face. "Precious, sheíll be right back. Your Dana is never gonna leave the likes of you. Sheís been right here by you all night, just let her stretch some. Donít fret, even I canít keep her out. Just you relax." She kept up the patter continuously until Scully returned. He turned his head toward the door, and though he made no sound, his mouth formed the word, Scully.
"Oh Mulder!" She flew to him.
"Now donít you go gettingí tears all over his chest, I just got him all cleaned up." Mildred led Scully back to her seat she had replaced when moving the other bed out of her way.
"Looks like the drugs are working out of his system. Theyíll be in to do more blood work soon. Iíll be right back." She gathered up her supplies and left.
The door had barely closed behind her when Skinner stuck his head in the door.
Walter? Mulder felt a pang, when had she begun calling him that? How long had he been gone? As he watched she threw her arms around him and he embraced her. The pang turned into full-fledged agony. It was the look on Mulderís face that caused Skinner to release her, she turned and although he tried to assume a bland expression, Mulder could tell he had failed miserably. She returned to his side and brought his hand to her lips to kiss.
After an awkward moment, Skinner cleared his throat. "I have some good news for you two. You donít have to worry about the gentleman whoís been bothering you anymore. We found what was left of him early this morning. He apparently had been given a first hand lesson in torture himself."
Scully realized that she couldnít find any pity in her for him and the gleam in Mulderís eyes told her he felt the same.
"Youíre never going to believe who led us to himÖ"
"Cancer man." Mulder croaked, the first sound he had made. Both Scully and Skinner looked at him startled.
"Youíre right, how did youÖ?"
"But I thought he was dead." Scully said.
"That's right. He told me he had something to do with your rescue. I assumed he was lying."
Mulder shook his head.
"He apparently took great exception to the early retirement plan his employers had for him. And he wasnít fond of the methods his replacement was using either. I guess he decided to do a little free lance work for himself. I donít know if heís a player again, but he was certainly involved in this."
He let them absorb that information, then, "He also told me what they did to you. Scully, he was pumped full of amphetamines then kept in a sensory deprivation tank. His only company was an audio tape of your friend telling him over and over again how you hated and despised him, how you blamed him for your abduction, your sister and of course, this recent surgery."
Mulder had closed his eyes, remembering it all. When the voice hadnít been there he could see Scully, screaming at him, cursing him, spitting in his face. The shudders began again. He opened his eyes. She was there, but she wasnít screaming. He lifted his hand to her face. Oh god, he could touch this one, he could never touch the others. She was actually smiling at him, comforting him.
"Mulder none of that was true. Iím really here now, and what he was telling you was part of the torture. It was not true. Remember our conversation in my kitchen, when I told you I loved you more than you could know. That was the truth Mulder, that is the only truth. Donít you dare forget that, and you better know Iíll always be here to make sure you donít." She leaned closer and kissed his lips gently.
Skinner backed quietly out of the room and bumped into Mildred who was listening at the door and wiping her eyes. "Mr. Skinner, is the SOB that did this to them really dead?"
"Mildred, I donít think Iíve ever seen anyone more dead than he was."
She nodded her satisfaction, and then her head came up. "Somebodyís smoking! Iím going to have to tan me some hide."
Skinner watched her march off, now that might be worth watchingÖ.