Meeting This Way (PG-13)
He took a seat at one of the smaller tables in the center of food court and took a bite of his cheeseburger. He flipped open the file with one hand and looked over the information again. His attention was caught by a woman at a table by the wall. She was staring into space and seemed unaware of the tear that was trickling down her cheek.
He shouldn’t be staring at her, he was busy, but that wasn’t the first tear. She looked . . . hopeless, defeated. No one was near her, no one was joining her and this late, there was almost no one left in the food court.
He didn’t realize he was on his feet until he was walking towards her. He found himself handing her his handkerchief.
She looked up startled, her blue eyes wide and tear filled.
“Here.” He pressed the handkerchief into her hand.
“I, I . . . thank you.”
He nodded. “Can I get you anything?”
“I’m sorry, I need to meet someone.” She rose from the chair and handed the handkerchief back to him.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“You didn’t. I . . . thanks.” She turned then and left the food court.
Well, he’d made a fool of himself. At least she didn’t know him. He turned back to his table and finished his burger quickly. He headed back to the office and tried not to think about what had just happened.
He’d had to get out of the office. Everyone was celebrating the end of the case and there was plenty to celebrate. The guy had been a sociopathic sadist and truly enjoyed the murders he’d performed.
His profile had caught him, so he should feel proud or at least relieved. What he felt was filthy. He’d understood the SOB. What did that say about him? Knowing he was trained to track these people didn’t help, so were the others, but he had found him. Once again it had been him.
He sank down onto a bench overlooking the reflecting pool, his mind a thousand miles away.
He didn’t notice the people walking past him, but saw the woman’s shoes that came to a stop in front of him. He looked up and blinked. “You?”
“Are you okay?”
“Th-that was my question.”
She took a seat beside him on the bench at his silent request.
“You know we can’t go on meeting like this,” he quipped, trying to grin.
“No, I guess we can’t. Are you okay?”
“Better now. How about you?”
She nodded. “Uh, I’m Dana.”
“Dana, pleased to meet you. I’m Mulder, well Fox, but I go by Mulder.”
“Mulder,” she shook the hand he held out.
“I guess you’re not a tourist, since you’re still in town.”
“No, I live here. I work at Georgetown Memorial.”
“How about you?”
“I work at the Bureau.”
Now it was him that nodded. “A profiler.”
He grinned, then shrugged.
“Can you talk about it?”
Again he shrugged. “We caught Craig Stilman.”
Her eyes widened. “I saw that on the news this morning. Congratulations.”
Again he attempted a smile. “Thanks.”
“You profiled him, didn’t you?” He looked away. “It must have been hard.”
“No, that’s the problem. It wasn’t. I’m glad he’s caught, but . . . “
She didn’t know what to say then so she just sat there with him.
“Say, would, uh, would you like a cup of coffee?”
She blinked. “Yes, yes I would.”
He rose from the bench and held out his hand. After a tiny hesitation, she took it and stood beside him. His hand touched the small of her back lightly as he steered her toward the street. They were quiet as they walked to the coffee shop on the corner. They ordered, then took seats at the far table.
“What about you? Are you okay now?” he asked her quietly.
“Better. I, I had just signed my divorce papers.”
He looked stricken. “I’m sorry. It was none of my - "
“No, it’s okay. I was just embarrassed to make a spectacle of myself there in public.”
“You didn’t, honest. I, I’m glad I haven’t met the guy.”
“Your husband. I wouldn’t want to profile a guy like him.”
“Why not?” She looked at him curiously.
“He’s got to be really warped, to let you get away.”
She blushed then. “Actually he - "
“It-it’s none of my business. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. He left me.”
“Left you?” He seemed genuinely stunned by that information. “I’m sorry.”
She actually smiled then. “Thank you.”
“Maybe we should change the subject. If, uh, if I haven’t already blown it completely, how would I go about seeing you again? Would I have to make an appointment?”
“Uh, no. I’m a pathologist.”
His eyes widened. She’d seen this reaction too many times.
“Well, I guess that would put a damper on a budding friendship.”
“May I ask why pathology?”
“During my rotation, I had an incredible experience. I was able to help solve a murder. It wasn’t exactly profiling, but it was so . . . “
“Yeah, I know. So you’re a forensic pathologist.”
“Still in training, but I will be.”
“If, when we do get together again, we need to come up with some topics of conversation that are . . . “
He nodded. “What do you know about . . . knitting?”
“Knitting?” she said incredulously, with a smile in her voice.
“Yeah, why not?”
“I don’t know a lot about the subject. It’s kind of girly.”
“Ah, so you were a tomboy?”
“Had to be, I’ve got two brothers and a sister. I had to keep up. What about you?”
They talked of other things then, how long they had lived in DC, other places they had lived. Too soon Mulder became aware of the time. “I’m sorry, but I have to get back to the office.”
“No, the next step in the investigation.”
“But if Stilman is dead . . . “
“He was the dominant, but he wasn’t working alone. We have to find his submissive now. Without Stilman, he’ll be unpredictable.”
“There was no mention of a partner - “
“No, we’ve tried to keep that quiet. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to join in the celebration. It’s not time for that yet.”
“You’ll catch him.”
“We have to,” he agreed. “Do you mind if I call you?”
“I hope you will.”
That brought a smile to his face, a real one this time. “Thank you.”
They rose together and left the coffee shop.
Her shift was over but since there was no need to hurry home any more, she’d decided to stay and work on the ever present paperwork. There was never time to get it done during the day. She stopped in the cafeteria, taking a short break before starting. She was carrying her coffee toward the entrance when she overheard the nurses.
“Yeah, an FBI agent. He was shot three times; two probably weren’t life threatening, but that third . . . He’s in surgery now. It’s all over the news, but they aren’t releasing his name.”
She’d frozen at the first words. It couldn’t be him; she was just more aware now that she actually knew an FBI agent. He hadn’t called her yet, but she knew he would. They had made a connection, a strange one maybe, but a connection and it had felt right.
She hurried to the ER. “The agent that was brought in, the FBI agent, do you have a name?”
“It’s not been released,” the volunteer said quietly, looking around.
“I’d really appreciate it,” Dana smiled.
“Well, at least you’re not press.” The older woman winked at her. She turned to her computer and pressed several keys. “Here it is, Mulder. He’s in surgery.”
“Th-thank you.” Dana turned away, knowing her face was ashen. Well now she knew why he hadn’t called. She was already moving toward the elevator.
She stepped into the nurses’ station and looked around. Finally she spotted someone she knew. “Evelyn, can you give me an update on Agent Mulder?”
“The FBI guy? He’s still in there.”
Evelyn sighed. “You might still get him. Shame too, he’s gorgeous.”
“Thanks.” She was moving again, into the surgery suite. She scrubbed up hurriedly; she wouldn’t be performing any procedures, then entered the operating room. One of the doctors looked up.
“In a hurry, Dana?” The look she threw him was deadly and he sobered. “Sorry, friend of yours?”
“How’s he doing?”
“It’s still touch and go right now. Should you be in here?”
“I’ll stay out of the way.”
They seemed to forget about her then, concentrating on their jobs. She moved to the far side of his head, out of the way of anesthesiologist. She bent down to Mulder’s ear. “It’s Dana, I’m here and you have to keep fighting. You owe me a dinner, remember? I’ll stay here with you.” She touched his cheek lightly.
After that she was quiet, watching him, listening to the orders. “Retractor, suction, what’s his oxygen level?”
Shortly the anesthesiologist spoke up. “You’re doing something right. His vitals are stabilizing at a better level.”
“Good, we need some luck here.”
It was still over an hour before they finished up. “You know, I didn’t know when we started in, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d become your patient. I think maybe you were good luck for him,” Dr. Lieberman said as he walked out with Dana.
“What do you think now?”
“We’ll keep a close eye on him in recovery. He’s got a better chance that he did when he got here.”
Dana nodded. They had done good work on him. She should check to see who from his family was in the waiting room and give them an update. When she stepped into the waiting area however, only one man was there. He was bald and official looking, but too young to be Mulder’s father.
The man stood quickly. “Do you have word about Agent Mulder?”
“Yes, I’ve just come from there. Are you family?”
“Uh, no. I’m his supervisor, Assistant Director Skinner.” He held out his hand and she shook it. “Were you his surgeon?”
“No, I’m a friend of Agent Mulder’s.”
“Oh.” That seemed to surprise the man slightly but he recovered quickly. “How is he?”
“Critical. He’s being moved to recovery now. Do you know if his family is on the way?”
“No, I haven’t been able to reach his father. I understand that his mother is in Europe.”
She nodded. “They’re taking very good care of him. If you’d like to give me your number, I can call you with updates.”
He scribbled his cell phone number on the back of his card and handed it to her. “Will you be here long?”
“I’m going to hang around for awhile, keep an eye on him.”
“I know he’d appreciate it. Call me at any time.”
She nodded and watched him head toward the elevators. No family and any friends must have had to leave. The surgery had taken a long time.
She moved into the recovery ward and found his bed. After checking his vitals, she took a seat at his side.
“Are you . . . “
“I’m going to stay for a little while. They haven’t been able to locate his family.”
The nurse nodded and moved on.
He did seem to be doing better, his vitals were stable and the respirator was giving his lungs time to heal. His oxygen level was stable. She should head on home, the paperwork long forgotten. She found that she couldn’t bring herself to leave, not yet she kept saying to herself.
It wasn’t until the nurse touched her shoulder, waking her that she realized she had dozed off. “Dr. Scully, he’s doing very well. You should head on home.”
She stretched, more than a little surprised at herself. She’d never done this before and she barely knew the man, literally. He’d just seemed so alone that day at the reflecting pool and he’d gone out of his way to check on her when she had needed someone. She sighed and rotated her neck. “You’re right. I’m going to leave my number at the desk. Please call me if there’s any change.”
“Sure will, Dr. Scully. We’ll keep a close eye on him.”
“I know, and thanks.” She caressed his cheek, then looked around to see if anyone had noticed. That was bizarre; she barely knew the man but touching him had felt right. She headed out; it was well past midnight.
There were no calls on her cell phone and no messages when she got home. She got ready for bed, then found herself dialing the number for recovery. She identified herself and checked on his status which was unchanged, then finally went to bed.
She did the same when she woke the next morning. He had survived the night, which was encouraging. It wasn’t time for her shift, but she headed on in to the hospital anyway.
She decided to sit beside him until time for her to report. He finally began to stir and she was on her feet beside him. “Mulder? It’s Dana. Can you hear me?”
His eyes fluttered but didn’t open.
“Can you hear me? Squeeze once for yes, twice for no.” She took his hand in hers.
She felt a slight squeeze and took a deep breath. “Good. Try to open your eyes, Mulder.”
He struggled again and they opened a slit. When he saw her smile, he opened them wider. He started to speak and realized he couldn’t. She saw him start to panic.
“It’s okay. Mulder, just relax. It’s a respirator. Don’t fight it.” She squeezed his hand again. “Listen to me. You have to behave. Your oxygen level is good, so if you behave they’ll take it out.”
Her voice seemed to help, but he was still struggling. “That’s right, let the machine do it for you.” She pressed the button to call the nurse. She came quickly and checked his vitals.
“He’s fighting the respirator. Can you reach Stan, uh Dr. Lieberman?” She kept a firm hold of his hand.
The nurse nodded. “He’s waiting for our call.” She was out the door.
“Hear that? Try not to fight it. I’ll stay here with you.”
His eyes were locked on hers and she smiled down at him. There were some pluses to live patients. He had beautiful eyes.
The problem was the respirator was obviously causing him discomfort and his breathing was becoming shallow. “Mulder, listen to me.” He was better when she was talking so she continued. “After this thing is out, you can tell me everything you remember, until then, you’ll have to put with listening to me.”
His eyes seemed to smile slightly at that.
“You made quite
a splash in the ER with the nurses. They didn’t know your name, but they were
very accurate in their description.” She grinned. “I’d be jealous of their
scrutiny if I knew you better.”
His eyes did smile then.
“Ah, I’m growing your ego. This could be bad.”
He shook his head a little then. They were interrupted then by the arrival of Dr. Lieberman. Mulder’s grip on her hand tightened.
“Well, I’m very glad to see you awake. They tell me the respirator is bothering you. Let me do an exam and we’ll see if we can remove it.” He took the chart from the nurse.
After checking the monitors and listening to Mulder’s chest he nodded. “Okay, Mr. Mulder, I’m going to remove this thing and put you on oxygen. Nurse - “
She moved the instruments he needed into position and they removed the offending tubes. “Now breathe as normally as possible. I’m sure you’d like some water, Mr. Mulder, but I’m restricting you to ice chips for the next few hours. You can raise the head of the bed slightly, but don’t try much movement. I’ll check back on you in a little while. He needs to - " He stopped then. “Sorry, Dana. I’m not used to my patients having a special duty doctor. You never said, what did you think of my technique?”
Mulder saw her cheeks pink slightly. “Not bad. You did seem to leave less of a scar than I usually do.”
Lieberman chuckled and handed the chart back to the nurse. “Talk to you later.”
“I’ve got to get out of here,” he groused when she stuck her head in the door.
She came on in. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve eaten every color Jell-o in the place and they’re starting to repeat.”
She chuckled then. “You should be grateful you’re around to eat the Jell-o.”
“I am, I don’t mean to . . . I want out. I want my place, my stuff. I know I can’t go running or swimming yet - “
“You most certainly can’t!”
He sighed. “Okay, but I can go home and recoup now. They’ve taken away the tubes, I’m off oxygen.”
“Have you been up today?”
“Yes. I did three laps of the hall after lunch.”
She still looked skeptical, but nodded. “I’ll talk to Stan.”
She was carrying his small bag. It really held only his shoes. The clothes he’d been wearing had been cut off of him and they’d been blood soaked anyway. Some friends of his had brought over the sweat pants and t-shirt he was wearing now.
He unlocked the apartment and let her in. He looked around and grinned. “Good, they cleaned up.”
Dana turned to look at him. “This is clean?”
“Hey, not a pizza box in sight, no underwear on the floor.”
“Oh,” she looked around again.
Mulder headed for the couch.
“No you don’t. You need to lie down. I don’t believe you’re ready to be out of the hospital at all, so don’t push it.”
“Oh, well this is where I usually sleep.” He indicated the couch.
“What? Are you serious? No, where’s your bedroom?” She looked around and headed for the door opposite the couch. Before he could stop her she opened the door. The room was piled high with boxes and files. She turned and looked at him. “You’re going back to the hospital.”
“No, come on, Dana. There is a bed in there, I could - “
She just stared at him for a long moment. The pleading look on his face made her look away. After a moment she sighed. “Those friends of yours, would they come over and help me with this supposed bed?”
“You, you’d do that?”
“Well I’m not letting you sleep on the couch five days post surgery. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because you’d have wanted me to stay there,” he said simply.
She rolled her eyes. “Call your friends or I’ll be escorting you back.”
He tried to smile and eased himself down on the couch. He picked up the phone and made the call.
It wasn’t that long before she heard the knock on the door. Mulder was dozing so she headed for the door. She was taken aback by the appearance of the trio standing at the door.
“Mmm, pretty lady,” the short one said.
The bearded one stepped in front of him and held out his hand. “I’m John Byers. This is Ringo Langly, and Melvin Frohike.”
“Uh, hello. I’m Dana Scully.”
“Ah, the pretty doctor. Very nice to meet you.” The short one took her hand then and brought it to his lips.
“Frohike, let her go. It’s bad enough that she knows I know you.”
Mulder had come up behind her, so she moved to let them in. She hadn’t seen these men at the hospital, but then she hadn’t visited at regular hours. They were the ones that had brought the clothes.
“So, what can we do for you?” Frohike asked looking around.
“I need some help,” she responded. “He thinks he’s well enough to be out of the hospital. Then I found out he doesn’t have a bedroom he can use. Either I take him back to the hospital, or we get his bedroom clean out and the bed set up.”
“We get access to the ‘vault’?” Langly chortled.
“You’re not throwing anything away,” Mulder said quickly.
“But we have to make room for the bed and enough room for you to walk around a little. I’m not kidding, Mulder.”
“I know,” he muttered.
“He should have done this ages ago,” Byers nodded to her. “Don’t worry, we can handle this. Mulder, go sit down before you fall down.”
Mulder glowered at him, but after a glance at her, took the seat Byers indicated.
Frohike and Langly exchanged glances when they stepped into the bedroom, then moved on inside to start hauling the boxes out. That took less time than Dana had thought it would. There was less actual stuff, it was just not stored well. They made a couple of neat piles in the living room, then were able to get to the bed frame and mattress.
After it was assembled, Byers helped Dana make the bed while the other two moved the dresser into place, then retreated to the living room to put the boxes in some sort of order so that Mulder wouldn’t.
After a moment, Dana looked up at Byers. “May I ask you something?”
“Uh, sure,” he stopped and looked up at her.
“It’s about his family. I know his mother is in Europe, but neither his father nor his sister have come to see him.”
“He told you about Samantha?” Byers said quickly.
“His sister? No, I didn’t even know her name. I’m just concerned that he seems so alone. Only you guys and Mr. Skinner came to the hospital to see him.”
“Mulder has never been very . . . social.”
“I don’t understand that. He’s brilliant, a Ph.D. from Oxford, he’s well read, articulate. He’s handsome and . . . “
Byers grinned. “Yes, he’s very good looking, but he doesn’t date. He hasn’t had a relationship for a while.” Byers shrugged, “we don’t know why.”
“Do you think he’ll be okay here by himself?”
“Yes. Mulder’s been looking after himself for a long time.”
“That sounds . . .”
“Yeah, I know. He’s pleased that you’re here though, that you’re kind of taking charge in his care. I can definitely see that. He hasn’t had that; not in a long time.”
She nodded, that needed some thought. She had kind of 'taken charge' and they really didn't know each other at all. Maybe they had bonded over being there for each other at those two short meetings.
After they left, she took a seat on the couch. It hadn’t occurred to her to bring something to read. She turned on the television, keeping the volume low, and searched through the channels. Games shows and soaps, after a few minutes she flipped it back off and looked around. The books she had spotted when clearing out the other room were still in there, stacked neatly in a corner. She didn’t want to disturb him so she wasn’t going back in there.
Her eyes fell on the stack of boxes with the files the men had carried out to make room. She shrugged and picked up a file. Since they were here, they must not be top secret.
She opened the file and started reading. Was he serious? This was . . . this was about werewolves. Was it a joke? She flipped through the folder. There was no punch line, but she shook her head and returned it to the box. In the next box was a large expanding file with a rubber band around it. There was still nothing else to read, so she took it back to the couch. If it was vampires she’d give up.
She pulled the elastic band off and opened the flap, then started looking through the large dusty file. The name caught her attention immediately - Samantha Mulder. This was his sister’s file? John had said her name was Samantha and he’d been surprised Mulder had even mentioned a sister.
She glanced over at the door; he was still asleep so she pulled out the first file. She began to read.
How horrible for the family. The little girl had been only eight. There had never been a ransom or contact of any kind. And, and Mulder had been there? They hadn’t taken him, but he'd been injured somehow during the kidnapping. How wasn't explained in the file. He’d been in the hospital for several days after they found him. That was the first file, the police report and the dry information. What else was in here?
She pulled out another file, much bulkier than the first. There were cassette tapes in this one, attached to what must be the transcripts. This was none of her business, but it was such an old case would it matter? He obviously hadn’t looked at this information in a very long time.
She looked at the transcript and began to read. She was immediately fascinated. The psychiatrist had taken him back to that night. If this was a true transcript, it didn’t sound as though he was leading Mulder, but . . . did he believe this? Did he really believe his sister had been abducted by aliens? No, he couldn’t, this was a joke, but . . . She found she couldn’t stop reading. It was fascinating.
After the transcripts, she began looking at the information he had accumulated on the phenomena. She’d had no idea there was this much information. The rest of the bulky folder was full of interviews with other ‘abductees’.
She’d always thought people that talked about this 'phenomena' were less educated, drunks, but these interviews included law enforcement, pilots, teachers, a . . . a senator. She should not be reading this. This was highly confidential. She understood confidentiality in her job, it was crucial. She started putting the files back into the expanding file and heard movement in the bedroom. She quickly stuffed everything in and set the larger file on the floor beside the coffee table.
She started to rise just as he opened the door.
“Dana? I didn’t realize - “
“I didn’t think you should be completely alone. Are you hungry?”
He seemed surprised, but also pleased. “Uh, yeah, but I can - “
“Let me this time. Have a seat and I’ll get you some soup.”
“You want a greasy pizza, don’t you?” she grinned.
“Don’t listen to those guys,” he grinned but didn’t deny it.
“Maybe later, like next week. You’ve got to get some strength back before that.” She turned and headed into the kitchen. She found the pot and opened the soup, putting it on to heat as she looked for a bowl.
She realized she hadn’t heard him for a few minutes, and turned to check on him. She found him standing in the entry of the kitchen, his face hard and eyes like dark chips of ice.
“Who sent you?”
“Who sent you? Who wants you to spy for them?”
“I, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she looked up at him.
“You went through the file. You know my secret, fine. Go, go make you little report. You got what you came for. Get out.”
She glanced at the large file. It was on the coffee table now and he had obviously gone through it. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have . . . No one sent me. I was just waiting for you to wake up. I’m not going to tell anyone. I know about confidentiality. I promise you I - “
“Right, get out. Get out now.”
God, what had she done? She didn’t know this man and she had blatantly invaded his privacy.
“Mulder, I swear to you, no one sent me. And I will never reveal what I read. You have my word.”
“Yeah,” he moved toward the door and held it open for her. “Now, go.”
She opened her mouth, but then dropped her head. She was completely in the wrong, she had caused this and she had no excuse.
Without another word, she picked up her purse and left the apartment. She hurried to her car and didn’t see him watching her, watch her wipe the tears from her face.
She let herself into her apartment, even more upset if possible than when she left his place. Whatever had possessed her to read private papers, FBI files! She wasn’t normally an idiot. She should do something, anything to get her mind on something else, laundry, dusting. Instead, she sat on the couch and didn’t move for a long time.
Her next realization was that it was dark outside. Had she really just sat here all that time? What was wrong with her? She started to rise, but the phone ringing as her elbow after all the silence caused her to nearly jump out of her skin.
There was no response.
“Hello? Is anyone - Mulder?”
“Did you file your report?”
“There is no report to file. Mulder, I swear to you I am not going to say anything about what I read to anyone. No one sent me to spy on you. What can I do to make you believe me?”
The question was met with silence.
“Mulder, I’m so sorry. I never . . . I don’t know what to say.”
“Do you want me to believe you?”
“Yes. Please, let me come back over. We need to talk. Mulder, please.”
“You want to come back?”
“I do, please.”
“Fine. Whatever.” He hung up then before she could respond.
Was he lonely? Had he just reached out to her, even furious? She needed to get back there.
She made a quick call from her cell phone and a quicker stop on the way then headed to his apartment. She hesitated after she parked, then grabbed up the bag and headed inside.
Her knock was answered immediately, as though he’d been standing there waiting, but he didn’t invite her inside.
“I, I brought a peace offering. It’s not pizza but I thought you might like it.” Just watching her, he stepped aside and allowed her entry. “Did you eat your lunch?” She looked over at the kitchen and saw the full pot of tomato soup and the medication, untouched on the counter.
“Oh Mulder,” she placed her bag on the table and poured him a glass of the tea she had made earlier. “Take this now. I’ll get dinner together.”
He took the meds and swallowed them, then sat in the chair she indicated. She placed the container of soup in front of him, not bothering to search for another bowl. “It’s won-ton; a little protein and maybe a little more filling.” She was babbling and she knew it, but he still hadn’t said a word. Coming back had obviously been a mistake.
She brought her container of soup to the table as well and took a seat. They ate in silence for several minutes, then Mulder laid his spoon down. She froze.
“Why did you read it?”
She didn’t look up. “I don’t know. I . . . I guess when I saw her name - “
“Who told you her name?”
“Byers was talking to you about Samantha?”
“No, not at all. I asked about your family, while we were putting the room together. I wondered why your father and your sister hadn’t been to the hospital. I knew from Mr. Skinner that your mother was in Europe. John seemed surprised when I mentioned a sister, and he kind of blurted out the name Samantha. He mentioned that you and your father weren’t close - “
“Close,” Mulder huffed out an unamused laugh. “No, we’re not close.”
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am. You don’t know me, but I give you my word that I won’t talk to anyone about what I read.” She met his eyes as he stared at her for a long moment. He didn’t say anything but rose from his seat.
She caught his arm as he swayed. “You need to lie down. You’re still weak.” She took his hand, then looked back up to his face and her hand felt his cheek and forehead. “You’re running a fever. Mulder, I need to take you back to the hospital.”
“No. I’m fine. I’ll just go back to bed.” He started past her but her arm came around him.
“This could be dangerous. You’re only a few days post-surgery. An infection - “
“I don’t want to go back. I’ll take my medicine and I’ll be fine.”
Silently she walked him back to his bedroom and waited as he stripped off his t-shirt and after glancing at her, his jeans. She straightened up the sheets after he reclined.
“You missed your mid-day medicine, so I’m going to get another dose even though it’s a little early and some acetaminophen. Just relax.”
He started to protest but she was already out of the room. She returned quickly with another dose of his antibiotic and the fever reducer and he swallowed them dutifully.
“I’ll be fine. You can go now.”
“I’m going to wait and see if your fever starts going down. I will sit on your couch and not touch a thing.”
He glanced over at her, then away, turning on his side. He thought he felt the slightest caress on his arm as she left the room.
She pulled the door almost shut, not latching it and moved back to the kitchen, putting away the rest of the food. She couldn’t leave yet; if his fever rose she would take him back to the hospital regardless of his protests.
Dana took a seat on the couch, glanced at the expanding file now re-secured and under his desk and sighed. She did finally turn on the TV and found an old sitcom that didn’t hold her interest, but at least caused a distraction. The sound of restless movement in the bedroom drew her attention and she moved to the door.
He was twisting in the bed, his head rolling from side to side as though watching a tennis match. Closer, she touched his face lightly. He still had a fever, she couldn’t tell if it was higher, but it wasn’t gone and that disturbed her. Did the man own a thermometer and if so, where should she begin looking. No, no more exploring in this apartment.
Instead she got a cool cloth and began bathing his face. He seemed to relax a little then, not waking. After a moment, she took a seat on the side of the bed and he immediately curled around her.
She watched him sleep, more relaxed now with someone beside him. What was it about him? Why was she reacting to him? Was it rebound? No, why would there be rebound from . . . He had a nice body, better than nice and until this morning, they had been, if not friends, at least headed in that direction. There was an air of vulnerability about him while he slept, not the strong FBI agent façade. She knew it was a façade now, at least partially.
She couldn’t help herself, her hand brushed the hair from his brow. Why was she drawn to him? He cuddled closer and it looked like a small smile formed on his face. Very gently she let her thumb caress his lower lip. He reacted to that, seeming to kiss it and without warning, his fever broke.
Immediately the bed was soaked and his body went limp. She needed to get him out of that wet bed and change the sheets. “Mulder, Mulder wake up. Can you hear me?”
“You need to get up.”
He didn’t ask any questions, slowly getting himself up out of the bed. Still mostly asleep, she led him to the couch and he settled in looking more at peace than he had in the bed. Dana draped the afghan over him then returned to the bedroom and changed the sheets.
When she returned to the living room he was burrowed in and looked completely comfortable. Had she been wrong to force him to sleep in a bed? She looked back at the bed and made her decision. She was uncomfortable about leaving him here alone. His fever had broken, but he was even weaker because of it. She turned back to the bedroom and removed her shoes then slipped into the freshly made bed. She’d just rest for a little while.
“Dana?” She opened her eyes to see Mulder bending over her. “What are you doing here?”
“M-Mulder?” She glanced at the window and saw full daylight. “Oh, I didn’t mean to sleep this long.”
“You slept here?”
“You developed a fever. Do you remember?”
He shook his head and took a seat beside her on the bed, apparently completely comfortable in just his boxers. “You stayed here because you were worried about me?”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
He blinked at that, “Well, yeah.”
“I am a doctor,” she sat up then and moved slightly away from him. He rose immediately to move away from her and she forced herself not to reach for him. “I, uh I need to get home. I have to get ready for work.”
“Yeah. Uh, thank you for staying.”
She didn’t respond to that just rising and looking around for her shoes. He retreated giving her more space than she truly wanted, and reached for his robe. She headed for the kitchen and picked up his medication. She laid out his morning dose as he watched.
“Don’t miss a dose today, Mulder. You’re still fighting an infection. You have to take the medicine.”
He nodded. “I will.”
“Do, do you mind if I check back this evening?”
He looked up slightly startled. “No, I don’t mind.”
She nodded, “I’ll bring dinner again.”
“You don’t - “ but her look stopped him. He nodded again and followed her to the door. She forced herself not to look back, and taking the elevator down, found her hands shaking.
He answered the door quickly that evening and she saw that he looked much better, steadier than when she had left. Unsure what to say, she took the food into the kitchen and began dishing it up. He watched quietly and when she turned to take it to the table, took the plates from her. “Thank you,” he said and took his seat across from her.
She was facing into the living room, and saw the file, Samantha’s file, open and spread out on the coffee table. Her heart sank, but she began eating.
He took her plate when she was finished and over her protests, began cleaning up and putting the leftovers away.
“I’ve been on my own for a very long time, Dana. I can handle this.”
“You look a lot better today.” He nodded and as he turned to the refrigerator she said, “Well, I guess I should head on home.”
“We still haven’t talked,” he stopped her and she glanced back over at the file.
“No, we haven’t.” She moved in that direction, taking a seat on the couch.
After a slight hesitation, he joined her. “Why did you read this file?”
“I told you, John mentioned your sister’s name and when I saw it . . . “
“Did you finish it?”
“I, I heard you coming and I slipped everything back inside.”
He watched her for a long minute, so long that she realized she was squirming under his gaze. Finally he spoke, “So you knew I wouldn’t want - “
“I’m sorry. I can’t take it back.”
“That’s not . .
. Did you believe any of it?”
That question caught her off guard. “I, I believe you believe.”
He looked down and seemed resigned at those words. “Yeah, okay.”
“Mulder, I haven’t had time to even think about what I believe. I’ve only been able to think about how I betrayed your confidence.”
“We barely know each other. Why do you care?”
“I’ve been trying to figure that out since it happened.” He heard the truth in those words and nodded. “Please believe me, Mulder, I - “
“Finish reading it. Then you’ll know I’m a total crackpot and never want to see me again.”
“You don’t want to finish it?”
“I won’t believe you’re a crackpot and I do want to see you again.”
That took him a couple of seconds to process. “Why?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I want to get to know you. I want to know what it is about you . . . “
“You took a rotation in psychiatry." That self-deprecating grin appeared. "Maybe you - “
“Stop it. You’re not crazy. This happened to you. I don’t know what ‘this’ was exactly, I don’t know what you saw or felt. I do know that you didn’t make it up. Stop pushing me away, Mulder. I don’t want to go.”
The best description for his expression was stunned.
“Mulder, you came to my side before you knew me and offered friendship.”
“And you ran away,” he said flatly.
“Yes. I did. I was too low to realize what I needed. Then something, fate, whatever, put you in front of me again. I could have walked away. You would never have known I was even in the city, but I didn’t want to. I, I wanted to thank you and . . . “
“You’ve more than thanked me for doing basically nothing.”
“You reached out to me. I was at my lowest point and you tried to help. I haven’t told you about my marriage - “
“It’s none of my business.”
“I know, but I haven’t been able to talk about it to anyone. I’m too humiliated, even my family . . . but I feel like I could talk to you. I don’t understand that, I don’t know why I feel that way, but it’s there.”
“What did happen?”
“He found someone else.”
Mulder blinked, taken aback. “Someone else?”
“Another woman, younger, more ambitious, more fun.”
“Someone who wanted to go clubbing with him. A woman who could jet out at a moment’s notice for a party or an excursion. Someone who didn’t want to tie him down or make him act responsibly. Someone who didn’t want a family.” Her voice gave out then and she stared down at her hands.
“He’s a fool. I told you I didn’t want to profile him; now I see there’d be no point. Shallow is notoriously easy to profile.”
She didn’t meet his eyes, but she did chuckle at little at that. “Shallow. I wish I had sent him to you first. It would have saved a lot of heartache, not to mention expense.”
“Sorry about that.”
She looked up at him. “I don’t understand.”
“Why you’re not in a relationship, married.”
He blinked at that. “I, uh - “
“John said you weren’t very social.”
“Byers told you that? Remind me not to leave the two of you alone together again.”
She blushed lightly. “He said you hadn’t been in a relationship lately.”
Mulder huffed at that. “I’m not . . . popular. My nickname at work is ‘Spooky’. I work with people who think they’ve been abducted by aliens. I profile serial killers and get into their heads with little trouble. I wasn’t in a relationship when I thought I was. You know,” he was staring at her now, “that might be why I approached you in the first place. You’re the polar opposite of . . . her.”
“Polar opposite? Is that good?”
“Well, you’re younger than me, you’re . . . short, you’re a redhead, and, and you have emotions.”
She leaned back, looking at him. “Emotions? That made you come over to me?”
“That’s major irony. I don’t show my emotions. I’m a pathologist, sometimes I act as coroner. I can’t show emotions then. You saw me at a weak moment.”
“It didn’t feel that way. Yes, you were vulnerable, but . . . Maybe I needed to feel protective.”
They sat in silence then, not ready to share any more yet.
She was the one that moved first. She started to rise and his hand came out to stop her without thinking. “Do, huh, do you need to go?”
“Do you want me to stay?”
She smiled then and resumed her seat. “Thank you.”
He leaned back, relaxing from tension he hadn't recognized. He didn't know where this was going, but for the first time in a very long time, he wanted to find out.