She listened to the engines straining. The oxygen masks had dropped and were in use, but she estimated their altitude low enough now not to need them. The pilots were fighting to gain control of the aircraft. She gave a silent prayer that they would be successful.
Nina's hand was clutching hers, even as she grasped the child's. The stewardess had asked if she minded keeping an eye on the girl during the flight. One of those divorce situations, the stewardess had whispered. Nina was returning to her mother after a couple of weeks with her father. Scully's judgment of both parents for allowing a six-year old to fly across country alone - whatever their relationship - didn't bear repeating out loud.
She was a sweet little girl with long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and big dark eyes with luscious lashes. Her stuffed panda was at her side. After her initial shyness, she had allowed Scully to check out her bear. They had talked of school and fashion-challenged fathers and desires to be home.
At the first jerk of the plane, her hand had slipped into Scully's and still resided there. She hadn't cried or screamed as others had, just moved closer to Scully. Scully had lifted the arm rest between them just before the oxygen masks had dropped down.
How ironic that her fear of flying had turned out to be accurate on one of the rare flights she'd taken without Mulder. Her 'I told you so' might never be said.
"Brace for impact." The pilot's voice wasn't panicked, he was still trying, but Scully placed her arm around Nina and they leaned forward together, placing their faces in the pillows the way the stewardess had instructed.
"Mulder!" She didn't know if she'd screamed it aloud, or just in her mind.
Mulder was bored. Totally. The pencil tattoo he was beating would've driven Scully to violence against him. He'd had a whole weekend without her and now a Monday - a blue Monday - on top of that. But she was flying in today. He glanced at his watch again. He might cut out a little early. He hadn't taken a lunch hour after all. He could go home, change and pick her up. Maybe they'd go out to eat. Of course eating in, say at her place, wasn't to be sneezed at.
Without warning, he jerked and looked toward the door. Someone had called his name. In fact, it had sounded like Scully calling his name, which was ridiculous. He rose and went out into the hall. No one else was in the basement.
Great, now he was having auditory hallucinations without her. But he had heard something, maybe the heat vent expanding? And since when did that sound like "Mulder."
Should he mention this to Scully? She'd laugh at him, but any Scully smile, even at his expense, was worth it.
He finished up the report he'd been futzing with all day, anxious now to get out of here, even if it meant hanging out at the airport. Scully was more than worth it.
It was a little after four, but he was going to cut out. He powered down the computer after printing his report. She could proof it tomorrow before he sent it upstairs. Mulder stood and stretched, then lifted his suit coat from the back of the chair and rolled his sleeves back down.
He actually had his key in the door when the phone rang. He looked at it for a moment of indecision, but it might be her. He grabbed it up. "Mulder."
"Mulder, please come up to my office." Skinner's voice didn't have that command he was used to. Maybe he wasn't in trouble. And 'please'?
"On my way." He went ahead and locked the door. Hopefully this wouldn't take long and he could still get out a little early.
To his surprise, Skinner was waiting in his outer office for him and Kim . . . Kim looked like she'd been crying. "Let's step into my office." Skinner said and his hand actually came out to lead him in that direction. What the hell?
Mulder kept silent, preceding the AD into his office. "Why don't you take a seat?"
"What's going on here?" Mulder asked quickly, glancing back in Kim's direction before the door closed. "What's wrong?"
He ignored Skinner's offer of the chair one more time and leaned on his hands, gripping the edge of the desk.
"I got a call." Skinner looked away and Mulder watched his Adam's apple bob. Fear had taken over as his predominant emotion, but he didn't speak. Skinner sat in his chair then and looked up at the younger agent. "The plane that Scully was on . . . it went down in the West Virginia mountains a little while ago."
The words didn't seem to penetrate for the longest time. Skinner saw when they did. Mulder's face went gray and he sank into the chair he had previously ignored.
"Is she . . . is she hurt?"
Skinner looked away and then back. "They haven't been able to make it to the site yet. The terrain . . .Mulder it doesn't look - "
Mulder was on his feet again. "I have to go."
"Mulder, there's nothing - "
Mulder was ignoring him, moving in the direction of the door.
"Mulder!" That was his Marine voice and for a wonder, the distraught man actually hesitated.
"I have to go." He spoke to the door, his hand on the knob. He didn't see Skinner nod behind him, or seem to be aware he had moved to stand beside him.
It was Skinner that opened the door. "Kim, could you get us two flights?"
"I already have." She said quietly. "You have a little over an hour."
Skinner smiled grimly and nodded. "Come on, Mulder."
The NCID group was gathered in the basement of the local First Baptist Church. It was the room closest to the search site that could accommodate them all. Mulder opened the door and Skinner followed him closely. Mulder stopped, scanning the room, looking for the agent in charge.
He moved in that direction and Skinner kept close to his back. “I need you to bring us up to date.”
“And you are?” The taller man turned to look at them.
They both pulled out their IDs and he gave them a good look.
“Sorry, I don’t understand. Why is the Bureau here? Are you thinking terrorism?”
Mulder opened his mouth, but it was Skinner who spoke first. “One of mine was on the flight. We’re here to help.”
“Jerry Nesmith.” He held out his hand and shook with each of them. “I’m not sure what you can do here. We’ve got the local rescue squad leading us up the mountain. Fortunately we have light for a little while longer.”
“What do you know?” Skinner had taken over the questions. Mulder stood beside him and everyone could feel the tension emanating from him.
Jerry glanced at Mulder, then back at Skinner. “It didn’t burn. The pilot knew what was happening. He dumped his fuel. If anyone survived, it’s thanks to him.” He looked over at Mulder again; the man was making him nervous. “Look, I’ve got to get back to my people. I’ve already finished our briefing. I need to get the teams out there asap.”
Skinner nodded, “Of course. Let us know what we can do.”
Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but Skinner took a tight grip on his arm, drawing him to the side.
“We don’t want to get in their way, Mulder. We have to let the experts take the lead here.”
“She’s out there, injured. I have to find her.” Mulder’s voice was low, harsh.
“We’re going to find her, but these people do this for a living. We need to listen to them.”
Mulder shook his head, “They can’t find Scully. I can.”
“Muld - “
He was already headed for the door.
Skinner shook his head slightly and followed him. He had to try to get Mulder to calm down.
An older man stood by the door, observing them. He was thin and wiry. His skin darkened from years in the out of doors.
Mulder was nearly past him when his arm shot out, stopping the younger man.
“Excuse me, I’m in a hurry.” Mulder forced himself not to punch the man. He was wound as tight as he’d ever been.
“Your woman’s up there.”
Mulder looked at him then, really looked. Skinner moved closer as well.
“Yeah, she is.”
“Then you should come with me.”
“You think you can find this place?”
The man nodded. “I’m Dan Parrish. Lived here my whole life. If anyone can find it, I can.”
“Then let’s go.” Mulder turned toward the door.
“Mulder, wait. These men - “
“Come or stay. I don’t care which. I have to get up there.”
Skinner looked around, then sighed. There was no way he could stop Mulder; if he went along at least he could try to keep the damage to a minimum.
The light was fading, but Mulder paid no attention. He was ahead of Dan now, moving faster. One tiny part of him knew that he’d pay for this if he ever stopped, but stopping was not an option. She was up here. He had to find her. It was the only thing that mattered.
“Hey, Mulder!” Dan called up to him. “You on a track here?”
Mulder didn’t bother to answer. He didn’t have the breath for it anyway.
“Mulder, it’s getting dark. We need to head back.” Skinner called up to him.
That was completely ignored. No way was he going back. He’d be here all night, hell he’d be here the rest of his life if need be. Skinner was right about one thing, it was getting dark. Mulder tried to pick up his pace. Something made him turn to his right. He didn’t see Dan’s nod. Within a few yards he caught sight of some debris.
“Yeah,” he joined Mulder, puffing slightly.
“Shit, this is - “ Mulder was already moving away.
Dan joined Skinner. “You better get on that walkie-talkie you got. Tell ‘em two miles from the old Mather’s place, past where the barn burned down. Any local will find it from there.” Then Dan followed Mulder up the slope and down the other side out of sight.
Skinner made a quick report. “We need to get a helicopter up here, with light. We’re going to move on in and look for survivors.”
“We’re on the way, Mr. Skinner. Let us know if you find anything.”
“Wilco. Out.” Skinner slipped the walkie-talkie back in its holster and followed the other two men. More and more debris was scattered about, and now he could see that the trees were damaged. He sped up to catch Mulder.
Mulder was moving fast now, his second wind kicking in with the knowledge that she was close. He froze when he finally spotted the large part of the fuselage, intact. There was no overwhelming smell of jet fuel; Jerry had been right about the fuel being dumped.
Mulder stepped carefully into the wreckage and moved his flashlight around. There were people still strapped into their seats, but obviously no longer alive. Where was she?
His light caught the red hair and he was moving in that direction. He was too frightened to call for help. She was okay, she had to be.
He was aware his hand was shaking badly as he reached out to touch her. Her skin was warm. He crouched beside her, ignoring the debris around him. He didn’t have to admit that his knees had given way.
She was still belted in her seat and unconscious, blood had covered half of her face, but she didn’t seem to be bleeding now. He found the pulse at her throat, but still gently pressed his hand to her chest and reassured himself.
He forced himself to step away, back to the opening. “Skinner!”
“Here, Mulder. Did you find . . . “
“She’s here, she’s alive. We need a rescue copter, now.”
“I haven’t checked. Get them up here!”
Skinner was already speaking into the device. Mulder returned to her side. There was a young girl beside her. He carefully felt for her pulse and located it after a moment.
Okay, that was two. He let his hand lightly caress Scully’s cheek, then he moved to the seats in front of her. There was a man in the aisle seat, a woman next to the window.
They were both alive, but the man’s breathing was labored.
They didn't attempt to move anyone for fear of causing further injuries. Mulder was beside Scully whispering to her, words that Skinner couldn't hear.
Skinner's head flew up when he heard the helicopters. He turned to Mulder, but then changed his mind and looked over at Dan. "I'll signal them down."
Dan nodded and looked back over at Mulder. After a moment he followed Skinner from the wreckage.
The two rescue helicopters doubled up; the little girl with the larger man and the two women together. There was no room for Mulder and for a wonder he didn't protest; knowing his presence now could endanger her life.
The team was set up and their work was done. Skinner found Jerry to let him know they were leaving.
Jerry grasped his hand. "Thank you. You saved us a lot of time and damn, finding four survivors like this . . ."
"Thank Dan Parrish. He got us up here."
"He's a local. He led us."
"Well I want to shake his hand. I told the others your directions and there was no hesitation. Be careful heading down. I'll be in touch."
Skinner nodded, it was full dark now, but they'd been furnished with lights and could travel with a group also headed back. He located Mulder, who was quiet but no longer frantic. They'd received word that everyone had survived the trip to the trauma center and were receiving care.
When they finally reached civilization again dawn was breaking. Mulder turned immediately to the car, but Skinner took his arm. "You're exhausted; I'm exhausted. We can't do anything for her tonight, Mulder. Let's get some rooms and catch a few hours sleep."
Skinner was pretty sure he was speaking English, but Mulder couldn't have looked more blank. The thought of not rushing to her side was obviously completely foreign to the younger man.
Skinner sighed, he could pull rank, but Mulder would probably wait until he was asleep and steal the car - hot wiring it if necessary - and leave him stranded.
"Forget it. Let's find some coffee and get going."
That Mulder understood and nodded, leading the way. He took the wheel and Skinner climbed in beside him.
They’d been on the road nearly an hour. Skinner brought his tepid, bitter coffee back to his lips. Suddenly Mulder sat up at attention. He looked around, then settled back.
“Mulder? You okay?”
“Yeah, I thought I heard something.”
“I could drive for awhile.”
Skinner looked over at him. He seemed to need the control and he was definitely wide awake now, more so than him. Skinner nodded and sat back.
They reached the hospital intact. Skinner stood and stretched, but Mulder was already moving again. With a sigh Skinner followed him.
Mulder was being directed to the 3rd floor. They boarded the elevator together. Mulder only hesitated a moment when they arrived on the floor, then moved swiftly to the nurse’s station.
“Dana Scully’s room?”
The nurse looked up. “I believe she’s asleep.”
“I need to check on her.”
The nurse looked him up and down. “Room 317.”
“Thank you.” He turned.
Skinner stopped him, “What about the others?” He pulled out his shield. “She came in with another woman, a man and little girl.”
The nurse’s eyes widened slightly. “The little girl is doing fine. She’s in pediatrics. The other woman is doing well too; the man is in intensive care.”
Skinner nodded, “Thank you.”
Both men moved toward her room,
but stopped when a man hailed them.
”Excuse me. Can I help you?”
Again Skinner had his shield out. “I’m Assistant Director Skinner, this is Agent Mulder. I believe this is Agent Scully’s room.”
“It is. I’m Dr. Thornburg.”
“How is she?” Mulder spoke then.
“Battered. She had a scalp wound that bled quite a bit, but she’s not in danger. She has some pretty spectacular bruises, especially across her lap where the seatbelt saved her life.”
“The head wound . . . “
“Not serious. She was awake a little while ago.”
“Did she speak?” Mulder asked quietly.
“Uh, yes. The nurse said she asked for someone, then went back to sleep.”
The doctor nodded and after a moment, turned to the nurse’s station. Mulder pushed the door open quietly. His step faltered when he saw her. There was a large bandage covering the left side of her face and she had a black eye. The good news was there was no IV or those monitors that always scared him to death.
Mulder hurried to the far side of her bed and took her hand. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I’m here. I heard you. I’m not leaving.”
Skinner stood at the door. He couldn’t hear what the man said but she seemed to relax, even asleep. Mulder sank into the chair beside her bed, their fingers linked.
“Mulder, we should - “ Skinner stopped, Mulder had already fallen asleep at her side.
Two weeks later -
“Sir, can you take a call from a Jerry Nesmith?” Kim’s voice asked over the intercom.
“Yes, thanks.” Skinner picked up the receiver.
“Mr. Nesmith, how can I help you?”
“Just wanted to thank you again for your help the night of the crash. How is your agent doing?”
“She’s out of the hospital, doing very well.”
“Good, glad to hear it. Uh, listen . . . “
“Yes? Is there a problem?”
“No, not a problem. Listen, you gave me the name of the local man that led you to the crash site.”
“Yes, Dan Parrish.”
“That’s the name I thought you said.”
“That’s the name he gave us. Have you talked to him?”
“Uh, no. We did find Dan Parrish’s body. He wasn’t on the plane; he was killed on the ground, hit by debris.”
“Yeah. Listen, I have a picture of Dan Parrish. Could I fax it to you, see if we can get this cleared up?”
“Of course.” He gave Jerry the number of the machine in his office and almost immediately it whirred to life. He put the phone on hold and pulled the fax from the machine. It was the man that had approached them in the church basement. Dan looked uncomfortable in a suit, but it was him. Skinner took a deep breath and picked up the phone again. “That is the man that led us up the mountain.”
“Mr. Skinner, I can tell you, he was already dead long before you arrived in West Virginia. According to the doctors, he was killed instantly.”
“I believe you.”
“Then what are you saying?” Jerry asked him quietly.
“I will speak to Agent Mulder about this, but I would drop this part of the investigation Mr. Nesmith.”
“Drop - “
“That would be my recommendation.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone. “I see. Well, thank you for your time.”
“Of course. Thank you for this information.” Skinner broke the connection. He sat staring at the picture on his desk.
After a moment he picked up the phone. “Mulder, stop by my office before you leave this evening.” Then he hung up and moved the picture aside. He picked back up the memo he’d been working on before the call.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.