Oh shit, he could hear her coming. Even her footsteps sounded angry. Well, he had to stand his ground. This was the right thing, the only thing and he'd just have to live with her anger.
She entered the office, her cheeks flaming, betraying her emotions. Her movements were carefully controlled. She shut the door carefully and turned the lock. His heart sank, she'd never been this angry.
She took a deep breath and finally turned to face him. Scully tried desperately to keep her voice steady and was almost successful.
"How dare you go to Skinner behind my back?"
"Scully, I . . ."
"Shut up. If you didn't want me as your partner, you could have told me to my face. I thought I could trust you, I thought you would be honest with me."
He flinched at that, but said nothing. What could he say?
"Well?" She demanded.
"Scully, you know how I am, I need more freedom, I need to move more quickly sometimes without . . . "
The slap when it connected with his face had her full strength behind it. It was unexpected and he was grateful he was seated, because he was pretty sure he would have gone down.
Before he could respond, she had the door open and was gone.
He scrubbed his face with his hands. Well, he deserved that and a lot more, but he wasn't going to back down. Not this time. He replayed that meeting with Skinner.
"Sir, have you got a minute?"
"Just that, what's wrong?" Something, that was obvious from his face.
"I . . . I want to request a transfer for Agent Scully."
"Excuse me?" Skinner's voice was controlled but the request had rocked him.
"After the events of this week I think it's pretty obvious that she needs to be away from the X-Files."
"Agent Scully has made no such request." Careful, stay neutral.
"Agent Scully shouldn't have to worry about her partner turning on her and nearly killing her." His eyes were bleak but he kept his voice even.
"You didn't kill her and I feel it was because of your close partnership that you were able to control yourself."
"Control?" He stopped and took a deep breath. "Then, Sir, I respectfully request, as ranking officer of the X-Files, that I no longer wish Agent Scully as my partner." He'd actually managed to keep his voice from shaking when he said it.
"Mulder . . . "
"I'm serious, Sir. If I need to move up the chain of command, I will do so."
"I wouldn't threaten me if I were you, Agent Mulder." Again, quietly controlled, they were both excellent at hiding their feelings.
"I apologize if that's the way it sounded, Sir. But I need to stress how strongly I feel about this issue."
"Thank you for your input. I'll make a decision and get back to you."
"Sir . . . "
"You're dismissed, Agent Mulder."
She was moving toward her car as quickly as she could without actually breaking into a run. She kept hearing Skinner in her head . . .
"Agent Scully, thank you for coming on such short notice."
"No problem, Director Skinner, but I am curious." More than that, but she couldn't let him know. Was Mulder not going to join them? What was going on?
"I understand. I, um, I wanted to thank you for the superior work you have done on the X-Files for the last three years. Your investigations have surpassed all expectations."
"Sir? I don't . . . "
"I believe it is time that your experience and expertise be moved to Quantico to increase the level . . . "
"What?" She blurted it out without thinking, then grabbed at her composure. "Excuse me, but you're taking me off the X-Files? No, Sir. I respectfully decline the transfer. Does Mulder . . .?"
"Agent Mulder is aware of . . . "
"Did Mulder request this?" Her voice had become tight, almost brittle.
His silence answered her question.
"Thank you, Sir." She had risen without waiting for a dismissal and left the room.
She made it to her car before she broke down. How could he have done that, gone behind her back to rid himself of her? What was he thinking? Hell, was he thinking? She wiped her eyes; she had to get out of here before someone came by, but not her apartment. And not her Mother's house, where?
Oh, who the hell cared? He didn't want her, not as a partner, not as . . . well, she'd be damned if she'd go back to Quantico because he wanted her gone. The VCS had wanted her at one time, she could request that. Her record was good, better than good. She could make up for the time she'd wasted, get back on the fast track, and move up in the bureau instead of down. To hell with everyone.
He'd seen her twice in the halls but managed to avoid her both times. Why here? Why wasn't she at Quantico? She looked thinner, hell so did he and sleep was practically non-existent for him now, but it was the right thing. She was safer now, without her partner taking shots at her.
The X-Files weren't going that well either. Maybe he was burned out. Hell, maybe he just didn't care anymore.
He was walking down the airport concourse when his cell phone trilled.
"Mulder." He automatically responded.
"Where are you?" Skinner's voice was low, urgent.
"Sir? I just landed in Chicago. Didn't you sign the . . . "
"I have some bad news, Mulder."
"My mother?" His chest tightened.
"No, no Mulder. Scully and Foster were on stake out in Philadelphia and it went bad. Agent Scully took three bullets. They don't expect her to live."
"No." It came out as a whisper. His lungs had forgotten how to work.
"Mulder, Mrs. Scully is on her way to Philadelphia, she's asked for you to meet her there."
"She was suppose to be safer." He said that almost to himself. He was already moving toward the ticket counter. "Why was she in Philadelphia? Why not Quantico?"
"Quantico? She refused that assignment. She's assigned to the VCS, I thought you knew."
"Violent Crimes? Where is she?"
"Mercy General. Mulder, you better hurry." The phone went dead in Skinner's ear.
"FBI." He flashed his badge. "I need to be on the next flight to Philadelphia, any airline. It's life or death."
"Yes, sir. Uh, there's a flight leaving now, but it's pulling away."
"Stop it! What gate?"
"B27, I'm not sure . . . " She'd never had a request like this before.
"Stop that flight." The command in his voice was unmistakable. "If you have any questions, call Assistant Director Skinner at the Bureau in Washington." He was running toward the B concourse.
She had managed to stop the flight, and he didn't care about the grumbling he had caused. He sank into his seat, oblivious to the attendant asking for his coat. "Live, Scully, live." He kept repeating to himself. She was supposed to be safe, not working with the VCS. Why hadn't anyone told him? But who would? He didn't have a hell of a lot of friends. But Skinner, Skinner thought he knew. Did he not know she hadn't spoken to him since that day? Her things had just vanished from the office. All trace of her gone overnight. He hadn't understood what that would do to him. He'd been incomplete ever since. "Live, Scully. I've got to talk to you."
He was the first person off the plane and set a record reaching the taxi stand. "Mercy General. Hurry."
He was not quite running when he hit the entrance, his coat billowing behind him. He approached the information desk, "Dana Scully?"
"Are you Agent Mulder?"
He turned to the young woman standing on his side of the desk, "Yes."
"Please follow me. We've been waiting for you."
"Is she . . .?"
"She's still alive Agent Mulder."
He was able finally to draw a breath as he followed her into the elevator. "Her mother?"
"She got here about twenty minutes ago."
"I'm sorry, you . . .?
"I'm Kim, Kim Harris. Director Skinner asked that someone be placed at your disposal."
"Yes, I've been checking in with him every 30 minutes. Here we are."
After what he had done to get here, why was he having trouble leaving the elevator? God, he was almost with her. After a jerky first step it got easier, he didn't think Kim had even noticed.
"Fox! Thank goodness you're here." Margaret Scully wrapped her arms around him, half supporting him as she drew him on into the ICU.
"Scully." Only her mother could hear him. She looked dead, only the machines told him differently. He circled her bed to take the hand with the least number of tubes. He linked their fingers and leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"I'm here, Scully. I made a huge mistake and once again you have to pay for it. You've got to hang around until you're strong enough to belt me again. Promise me, Scully." He kissed each of her fingertips, then glanced up at Mrs. Scully. "What's her prognosis?"
"They don't know why she's still alive." Mrs. Scully hadn't taken her eyes from her daughter's face.
Mulder closed his own eyes and tightened his grip on her hand.
He stirred, realizing for the first time how stiff he was. "Yeah?" Even his voice was rusty.
"I'm David Foster, Dana's partner." The man held out his hand.
Dana's partner? Not this side of hell. He rose to his feet. "What happened?" His voice was low and threatening. He felt Mrs. Scully's hand on his arm.
The younger man's face colored. "I took the back, she was at the front entrance. We . . . "
"Where was your back up?"
"They were on their way."
"You moved before back up?" His voice was rising.
"We didn't move, they did. We didn't want to lose them. She agreed."
"Get out. I'll talk with you later. But get out, now!" He was losing it and he knew it, but he didn't care. This man could have gotten her killed! Didn't he realize what she meant to . . .? He turned away, not able to look at the younger agent any longer.
Foster came very close to speaking again, but Mrs. Scully motioned for him to leave and in deference to her, he turned and walked away.
He'd never met Spooky Mulder before, though he'd heard plenty. But never from her. Dana had never uttered his name and left if he came up in conversation. He didn't have a clue about what happened to the partnership but it felt like he'd just been reamed by an irate husband. It wasn't his fault, damn it.
"Calm down, Fox. Whatever happened is history now. You can't change it. Concentrate on her."
He made himself take deep breaths, and resumed his seat at her side. He wished again he could understand the monitors. Why didn't she wake up? He needed to see into her eyes.
When the doctor came by to check on her, Mrs. Scully took his arm. "Come on, Fox."
"I'm not leaving."
"Fox, you have to stretch your legs. Come on."
"I need to talk . . . "
"He'll talk to us after he examines her, Fox."
"Yes, Mom." He was only half kidding. She squeezed his free hand and moved to let him up.
The doctor joined Mulder in the hall following his exam. "Shouldn't she be waking up?" Mulder stepped closer to speak quietly.
"Mr. Mulder, don't push it. She's already done a lot more than I thought possible."
"But she is going to be okay?"
"I can't say that. Her vital signs do appear slightly stronger, but she is not out of the woods. As I told her mother, I don't know how she's doing it."
"She's the strongest person I know." He said it reverently, almost with awe.
"I believe you."
Mrs. Scully turned into the hall, "Fox? What?"
"Her vitals are stronger, Mrs. Scully. We just have to wait."
He convinced Mrs. Scully to take a room in the hospital so she could stretch out, but refused for himself. He hadn't really slept in weeks anyway and he was more comfortable touching her.
He was dozing when her hand twitching roused him. "Scully? Sweetheart, can you hear me?" He didn't even realize what he'd said; it came so naturally to his lips.
There was no response, but at least his chest seemed less tight.
Mrs. Scully woke him in the morning and tried again to get him to leave and eat. He rose, stretched, and started to release her hand when her grip tightened.
"Scully? Scully, I'm here. I won't leave, just relax." Her fingers loosened their hold slightly.
"She heard me! She was responding. She's going to be okay. Scully, can you open your eyes?" They fluttered, but did not open. Two nurses rounded the corner at a swift pace in response to Mrs. Scully's call.
"We have to get out of their way, Fox."
He nodded and leaned into her ear. "I'll be in the hall. I am not leaving you. I'll never leave you again." The slight pressure against his fingers made his knees weak. He kissed her cheek and let Mrs. Scully lead him from the room.
He returned as soon as they allowed it to take up his post. She seemed to be asleep again. Shortly Kim arrived with breakfast for both he and Mrs. Scully. He turned to thank her and she gasped.
Her eyes were open. "Scully. Scully, you're back."
She couldn't speak with the respirator down her throat, but her eyes asked the question. "Kim, find her mother. Scully, you're in the hospital in Philadelphia. You were on stake out and the bad guys tried to win one. You got them, one's dead, the other two are in custody. You did good. You should, maybe, shoot a little quicker next time.
Her eyes lightened and she drifted off again.
"Fox! Fox, is she okay?" Mrs. Scully burst into the room.
"She's asleep again, but she was awake. She knew what was going on. I . . . I think she's forgiven me."
"Oh Fox, were you worried about that? She forgave you as soon as she realized why you did it. She was just afraid to contact you. She was so upset at how she handled everything. She was so ashamed she'd hit you."
"She had to talk to someone and her best friend wasn't available."
He studied his shoes at that. "I deserved the slap and a hell of a lot more."
"You were trying to keep her safe. Unfortunately, that's one thing she can't abide."
"I knew that. But to be the one that almost killed her . . . "
Later that day after she was awake again they removed the respirator and put her on oxygen and she was finally able to speak a little. They persuaded Mulder to leave her side long enough to shower and change, somehow his luggage had found him, and to get him to agree to sleep in a bed that night. It didn't last long.
"Mr. Mulder? I'm sorry to disturb . . . "
"Scully." He was halfway down the hall before the nurse made it to the door.
It was a nightmare. He recognized the symptoms. "Scully, wake up. It's only a dream. No one's going to hurt you."
"Mulder . . . " She whimpered.
"It's okay. You're awake now. The bad guys are gone."
"No, no you were gone. I couldn't find you."
"I'll be right here. Mrs. Scully, you go take the bed. I got it nice and warm for you." He stopped, god had he just said that to her mother?
Mrs. Scully hid her smile and leaned over to kiss his forehead. "Thanks, Fox. Dana and I are so lucky to have you in our lives." And she left the room.
Mulder's mouth gaped open. Lucky?
Scully watched his expression and a tear escaped before she could stop it. Her mother couldn't have said anything better to him. Why couldn't she make him feel as good?
Mulder finally mastered his astonishment and turned to her.
"Is the pain back?" He was instantly concerned at her tears. She shook her head, not sure she could speak. "I'll be right here, go on back to sleep."
Her mouth moved, but he couldn't hear her.
"What? Say it again, Scully." He leaned in closer.
"I love you, Mulder."
He closed his eyes; he couldn't handle the emotions washing over him. He found her cheek with his trembling hand and caressed her lower lip with his thumb. He was afraid to open his eyes. What if he'd heard wrong?
He swallowed, trying to find his voice.
"It's okay. You don't have to feel the same."
"God, Scully." He managed to choke out. "I can't remember not loving you."
The next time the nurse walked by she was amazed to see them both asleep in the tiny bed, inseparable, not a tube or indicator out of place.