Title: Achilles' Heel
Author: fran58
Written: October 2004
Email: fran58@wonderhorse.net
http://www.wonderhorse.net or http://www.wonderhorse.net/authorspgs/fran58/fran58.htm
Category: Story, Angst, Case File-ish
Rating: PG-13
Feedback: Of course <g>
Distribution: Wherever - just let me know. Spoilers: Up through Tithonus
Disclaimer: Characters owned by Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions and 20th Century Fox.

Summary: Mulder is drawn into a group that claims to want to cast light on alien abductions.

Author's Note: Thanks to addicted2fanfic, who has put up with me for longer than I care to think. And too MaybeAmanda for cracking the whip..

"Mulder, have you seen this?" Scully held up a slim newspaper. "Is this something you got from the Gunmen?"


"This article details the events experienced by a woman named Josephine Sartini. It suggests that she was at Ruskin Dam."

"I know, Scully, I read it." Mulder's words were clipped. He impatiently pushed back a pile of papers covering his desk and reached for a file. "I read it cover to cover."

"Where did you get it?"

"Came in the mail."

"Did you see where it mentions Wendell Fong as one of the searchers who found Josephine Sartini?"

"Yes, yes I did. He's the guy that brings the mail." Mulder rose from his desk and poured another coffee, the third one of the morning, dosing it generously with cream and sugar. He drew the cup too quickly to his lips sloshing some of the hot liquid onto his lap. Swearing loudly, he dumped the ceramic mug and its remains into the trash can next to his desk. It shattered as it hit bottom.

Scully looked up quickly. Mulder had been like dry tinder the last few weeks, catching fire at the least bit of spark. She had noticed the sallowness of her partner's skin, the dampness on his forehead, but, unwilling to start the inevitable argument, had refrained from pestering him about his health.

Now, she gritted her teeth. She had been more than patient, but couldn't seem to get on track with Mulder no matter how hard she tried. She thought things had gotten back to normal-- normal for them, at least. They were back on the X-Files. Cases were flowing in and out of her in-basket with regularity. Arthur Dales had even written a letter of commendation to the Bureau after what she thought of as their 'sea monster' experience in Florida. It was a nice pat on the back for them. They were not used to positive recognition from higher up.

Mulder looked up at her. "Ritter get anything done last night?"

Scully nodded. "As far as I know, he finished what you assigned to him." She leaned forward a bit. "Mulder, you need to ease up on him. He's working hard." She dropped her gaze and flicked a speck off the lapel of her jacket. "He's trying to... right a wrong."

"Assuaging his guilty conscience is more like it," Mulder muttered.

"It's more than that. He's looking for answers."

Mulder dismissed that idea with a shrug.

Scully knew it was more than just guilt on Ritter's part. His ordered, even-keeled world had been tipped and skewed, much like hers had been since she joined the X-Files. As much as he may have been seeking penance, he also sought to right his world.

Ritter had come to see her in the hospital twice as often as anyone else. He sat by her bed, eyes wide and staring. He brought her flowers and magazines, newspapers and balloons.

He stood next to her at the funeral. The day was wet and misty, but not raining. There were few mourners. Scully and Ritter stood off to the side, away from the rest of the group.

Afterward, he took her for coffee. He told her about the thing he had seen, the presence that had fluttered around her fallen body, touching her face with long, black wisps before moving to where Alfred Fellig lay. Ritter had been on his knees in front of her, his arms soaked in blood as he pressed his hands against the gunshot wound.

He explained the thing had touched him, too. Just for a moment. He said its touch was unlike anything he had ever known. It left him feeling desolate and looking for answers

She wondered how she could explain it all to Mulder.

Scully watched as Mulder bent over a file on his desk, brow furrowed, movements jerky. His mouth was set in a tense line. His shoulders were rigid. She couldn't recall the last time she had seen him smile or even attempt a joke.

His behavior had been strange enough lately that Scully had considered checking the water source in his building, as she had so many years ago, for evidence of tampering.

Sighing slightly, she reined in her frustration. "Listen, Mulder, I did a little digging into Sartini. She's a second generation abuctee. Turns out she's Max Fenig's daughter. "

That got his attention.

Mulder had left early for lunch. Scully had stayed behind to take advantage of the quiet, Mulder-less office to tackle some reports. She rolled the pen she had been holding across the table in front of her. It made a clicking hum as it rolled back towards her. When the pen reached the end of the desk, she flicked it with her finger. It skittered backward then rolled towards her again.

So much for diving into the paperwork.

There was a sound at the door, and Scully snatched the pen up. She stood and turned toward the sound.

A dark head appeared through the half-open door. "I... I'm Wendell Fong. Someone upstairs said you wanted to see me."

Scully raised her eyebrows. "Yes, we do. At the moment, my partner is at lunch. Maybe you could come back around two?"

The young man nodded. "Yeah, okay. I can do that."

An hour an a half later, Wendell was fidgeting in the chair Mulder had pulled out for him. The chair was metal frame, without much in the way of padding. Fortunately, Mulder noted, Wendell had plenty of his own.

Mulder leaned over the desk. "Wen, that's what they call you, right? Would you like some coffee or something?"           Wendell nodded.

"Cream? Sugar?"

"No, no sugar." Wendell glanced nervously at Mulder, his voice a bit too loud. Mulder looked at him sharply. "I'm nervous. Sorry. No cream either, thanks."

Mulder poured the coffee and handed Wen a chipped blue cup. "What can you tell me about Josephine Sartini?"

Wen shifted his eyes apprehensively from Mulder to Scully.

"Wendell?" Mulder's voice was soft. "There's no need to be nervous, no one is going to ridicule you here, are we Scully?" he glanced at her pointedly.

Scully looked at Wendell. "Its okay, Wendell. We've heard a lot of strange things."

Wendell nodded, relaxing slightly. "Yeah, I've heard." He shifted again in his chair. "I don't know much, really. Just that a few years back she disappeared for a while. When she came back, she was full of crazy stories. I don't know her that well. She's the cousin of a friend of mine -- Marshall De Young."

"But you did help search for her that last time she went missing, correct?" asked Scully.

Wendell nodded again. "We found her near, ah, Ruskin Dam? It's about..."

Mulder interrupted him. "We know where it is. How did you know to look for her there?"

"I don't know. Marsh might, though. I figured someone spotted her, and that's why we were there."

"Do you know anything about Max Fenig?"

Wen nodded. "Marsh has mentioned him. He's Jo's father. I don't think she saw him much. I guess her mom thought he was too... unstable."

The questions went on. Wendell loosened up, and Mulder got more details out of him. By the end of the interview, Mulder had Josephine Sartini's address, and a pamphlet on an organization Wen belonged to called New Light.

Mulder slammed the door shut, making Scully jump. Irritation ate at him. A monstrous headache was threatening and the office seemed too bright. He strode to the half- window near the ceiling and yanked down the shade. He glanced at Scully, who was frowning at him. For a moment, he envied her control. The composed way she stood in front of him. The suit she was wearing was a deep blue. In theory, he liked it. Usually, he found the color calming. Usually, he found Scully herself calming; but lately, she, like everything else, was chafing.

"Thanks for deciding to come back to work today." The words came out more sharply than he intended.

Stifling a sigh, Scully answered, "Peyton and I were having lunch, Mulder. It took a bit longer than I expected."

"Peyton, huh?"

"I know that you're allergic to first names, especially when it involves me, but that's how the rest of the world operates."

"So what exciting things did the Boy Blunder have to say?"

Scully shrugged. "Nothing important. Not unless you consider a mildly entertaining story about his trip to Idaho for Easter at his Aunt Susan's noteworthy."

Mulder grunted and moved to his desk. "Couldn't be bothered to ask me?"

"You're going to Idaho for Easter?" Scully asked attempting to lighten his mood.             "To lunch," Mulder said tersely.

Scully stared at him. "Mulder, I *did* ask if you wanted lunch. You declined. I'm sorry lunch took longer than usual, but, Peyton had just gotten back from that wild goose chase you sent him on and wanted to vent. Frankly, I don't blame him."

Mulder merely grunted again, located his glasses and flipped through the pile of papers littering his desk. "He's the one that wants to experience life as an X-Files agent. It's part of the job."

"Having him check the property records of decades old abduction cases simply because you want him out of the way is not part of the job."

"Yeah, whatever." Mulder dropped heavily to his desk chair. He pushed his glasses up and pinched the bridge of his nose, grimacing.

Scully frowned and moved toward him. "Are you feeling all right? You've been so on edge lately, maybe you should take a break, go home early." Her tone was soft and tinged with concern.

"Maybe I should, but I've got a lot of work to do here. Coffee will help. It's probably just a caffeine withdrawal headache."

"You're kidding, right? Caffeine withdrawal? Mulder, you've been living on nothing but coffee lately."

"My appetite's been off."

"Maybe you should see your doctor?"

He gave a short laugh. The first she had heard in weeks. "You're my doctor, Scully. I see you all the time."

"And I think you should slow down. I can make an appointment for you to have a complete physical. We've got time. We've got the X-Files back. They aren't going anywhere."

"Oh yeah? Then why is Ritter here?"

"Mulder, I honestly think Peyton is here for the reason he says he is. He's interested in the work. He wanted an opportunity to explore areas outside his own expertise."          "Well, you oughta know, Scully. You spend enough time with him."

"Only because you won't," she said. "Mulder, he really isn't that bad. He's a good agent for the most part. Thorough, careful about the details and pretty good company if you'd give him a chance." Her voice ended in a hopeful upswing.

"Yeah, well, like I said. You oughta know." He scraped his chair back, snatched at his mug, and, ignoring her troubled look, went to the coffee maker.


The forensics lab was cold, as usual. Mulder found Scully there, with her head bent close to a dark haired lab tech who was explaining something to her.

"I tried MitoSearch, but came up with nothing," the young man shrugged. "But, we have that chemical analysis, and maybe if we-- "

"What's MitoSearch?" Mulder broke in.

"It's a software program. Basically, it searches a database of complete nucleotide sequences of the first and second hypervariable segments of the control region of the human mitochondrial genome," the tech turned toward Mulder. "MitoSearch estimates the relative frequency of specific sequences... "

Mulder waved his hand. "Okay. Got it. Or rather, I don't. And that's fine," he smiled. "That's what Scully is here is for," he reached out and gave her a light punch on the shoulder.

She raised her eyebrows. "Feeling better, Mulder?"

"Are you almost finished here? We've got a date with the Big Man upstairs. He called after you left."

"Ah, yeah. I'll be done in a few minutes," Scully gave him a tight smile. "I'll meet you up there, okay?"

The knock was not wholly unexpected. That afternoon's meeting with Skinner had been nearly disastrous. Nearly. Mulder had managed to keep his comments about Ritter merely scornful, not venomous.

Scully flicked the television off and reluctantly went to answer the demanding rapping. A quick peek into the peep hole and she opened the door for Mulder.

He grinned widely at her as he stepped into the apartment. One arm snaked from behind his back and presented her with a array of flowers.

"Flowers, Mulder? Lilies?"

"Yeah, I swiped them off a dead guy on the way in."

Scully poked through the stems and pulled out the small white card. "Oh, look. The dead guy's name was Scully, too. What a coincidence."

"Lucky for me," Mulder said.

"They're lovely, Mulder. I hesitate to ask what the occasion is, though." Scully walked to the kitchen, lay the bouquet on the counter, and knelt to rummage in a low cupboard. She withdrew a wide-mouthed vase and filled it with water.

Mulder leaned against her table. "No particular occasion. Can't a guy bring a girl flowers?"

Scully eyed him. "Well, you may be a guy, but I'm no girl. What gives, Mulder?"

Mulder hitched one shoulder. "Things have been... not so smooth between us lately, have they?"

"We've been through rough patches before," she said carefully. "How is this different?"

Mulder shook his head. "Can't say, exactly. Just feels different. Maybe it's the third wheel we've picked up."

Scully turned to face him. "You have to give him a chance, Mulder. A *real* chance. I've gotten to know him fairly well -

Mulder grunted. "I've noticed."   

Scully continued, ignoring Mulder's expression. "He's trying. And, he's capable of doing good work. I've seen that. You would too, if you let yourself."

"You're a paragon of virtue, Agent Scully."

"Hardly. I've just managed to forgive him," Scully drew closer to Mulder and peered into his face. He didn't seem as tense as he had earlier, but there were dark circles under his eyes, and his skin was more pale than usual. "How're you feeling? I wish you'd let me make an appointment for you. I know several good doctors..."

Mulder waved a hand. "I'll think about it, okay? At the moment, I think a bowl of ice cream would make me feel better. Offer me some?"

"What makes you think I have ice cream?"

Mulder smirked. "You always have ice cream."


Scully closed the door behind Mulder. If a jigsaw was a puzzle, then Mulder was an enigma.

She picked up the bowls and spoons they had used and walked to the sink. Tonight, she thought, had been nice. A reprieve.

Scully turned the tap, letting warm water fill the bowls, squirted some dish soap into the water and quickly washed and set the bowls on the drain board to dry. She twisted around to dry her hands and her side cramped painfully. She lifted her left hand and pressed down. She could feel the scar, still angry and red, through the layer of clothing that covered it.

Scully breathed slowly, deeply, in and out. When the pain had dissipated somewhat, she walked carefully to the bedroom, holding her side.


Petyon Ritter was worthless, Mulder thought, despite what Skinner or Scully said. He couldn't even get the necessary basic information on an interview subject. His notes on Josephine Sartini stated that she was evasive. Ritter had completely misread her.

Mulder glanced at the figure seated in the chair on the other side of his desk. He had, thus far, found her to be intelligent, fairly concise, and cooperative.

"I want to continue talking about your time on the bridge itself." Mulder kept his voice deliberately soft.

The girl shrugged and peered at him through her dark bangs. Her slightly angular face was pale in the basement light. "A lot of it isn't too clear. I remember the dam, and a bright light. I remember something about fire... men with torches or something..." Here her words trailed off and she shuddered slightly.      Mulder nodded. "And this was the second time you were... called?"

"Yes. I was taken the first time. This would have been the second if... well, if whatever had happened," she said with a shrug.

"What about your father?" asked Mulder.

Jo grimaced. "I don't know much, except that he said he was taken several times."

"He never talked to you about it? What about after your first abduction?"

She dropped her eyes. "He was dead by then."

Mulder chewed the inside of his cheek. "I see." He leaned forward a bit. "How do you feel about the abductions? Both yours and his?"

Jo fidgeted. "I don't know. My mom was freaked out by the whole thing. I didn't talk about it much. But... when I was little, way before I was taken, I used to have these dreams about my dad. They would come right before..."

"Before one of his abductions?" Mulder asked.

Jo nodded.

"Ms. Sartini, is there anything else you can tell us about your time at Ruskin Dam?" Scully spoke for the first time.

"I don't know. What do you mean?"

"Well, what happened when you saw the bright light? Anything unusual?"

Jo Sartini fingered the hem of her fitted shirt and ran a hand over her jean-clad thigh. "I don't know. I don't remember any more than I already told you."

"It's all right. We understand that this is difficult for you," Mulder reached over the desk and squeezed the girl's hand. "We appreciate that you came down to talk to us at all."

"Before you go, can you explain to us exactly what your group, New Light, does?" Scully asked.

"We, well, some of us have experienced abductions, like me. And others are just interested. We are trying to get the word out. About what happened to people like me."  She looked at Scully. "The ones who have the mark. Eventually, we would like to get into researching events like the one at Ruskin Dam."

Scully nodded, seemingly nonplused. "Okay. I think that's all for now. Thank you for stopping by."

Jo gave them an awkward half nod and made for the door.

Scully watched her exit. "I don't know, Mulder, her story seemed too sketchy."    

"You're basing that on Ritter's report."

"No," Scully said deliberately. "I'm basing it on her interview. I haven't even read his report yet."

"Well, you weren't exactly a wealth of information yourself after Ruskin Dam, Scully."

"True. But the difference was I didn't remember anything until the hypnosis. Jo claims to remember some details, but there are others that are missing."

"Everyone's brain works differently, you know that," said Mulder shortly. "And she has the mark on her neck."

"That she does. Her x-rays came back, by the way."


"And there is definitely something there, but it appears markedly different from the chip that's in my neck."

"And that means exactly what, Scully?"

Scully cocked her head slightly. "It means what it means.  That there is something in her neck, but that whatever it is, it doesn't look the same as mine. I can't tell you much more than that without actually extracting the object itself."

Mulder grunted. "What about her being a second generation abductee?"

"It may be worth looking into. I'm not saying that there isn't anything at all to take a look at here. I just think her Ruskin Dam story is..."

"...sketchy." Mulder finished for her.

"Yeah. Look, I've got some stuff to check in the lab," Scully said, gathering a sheaf of papers from the table. "I should be back in an hour or so."

"Yeah. Okay. I'll be here." Mulder watched her leave. Another day, another headache. His stomach rumbled, but he really didn't feel hungry. He supposed he should eat anyway. As he was contemplating making a run to the vending machines, their interview subject returned.

"I... I left my purse here. Sorry to interrupt." She hovered in the door looking uncertain.

Mulder spotted the purse on the floor, half obscured by his desk. He picked it up. "This must be it."

"Thanks." Jo hesitated. "I'd like to ask you something if you have time."

"Sure. What is it?"

"We... our group, New Light. We were wondering if you would come and talk with us?"

Mulder blinked, surprised. "Talk with you? About what?"

"Well, your experiences. The kind of things you do to decide whether or not a situation is authentic... stuff like that. It would mean a lot to us."

"I'm not sure if I'll be of much help to you," Mulder said slowly

Jo looked up at him with wide eyes. "Just your coming to meet with us would help. We really need someone to give us a shot in the arm. A mentor. You've got the experience and the interest. People know who you are. We'd have more credibility if you were involved."

Mulder held up one hand. "Slow down. Let's start just with meeting. We'll see what happens and take it from there."        

"That would be great! Thanks so much," Jo smiled, suddenly alive and lovely. "I really appreciate it."

Mulder scrubbed his hand over his head, making his hair stand on end. Jo smiled at him, and he self-consciously patted it back down. He was starting to drag. Earlier, he had been up for this meeting, but now, it was late and their cause seemed less than promising. The air in the cheap diner felt heavy and greasy. The overhead fluorescents glared and Mulder thought they had an uneasy bee-like hum.

"I think part of the problem here is that you're thinking too big. You're too unfocused." Mulder held up a hand before anyone could protest. "I'm not saying thinking big is bad, but you need to take it in small steps."

"But we really want to get into it, make a difference," said Marsh.

"Right. I understand that. Believe me. But you don't have the resources, facilities or know-how to do that right now," said Mulder.

Marsh who had been leaning earnestly across the table toward Mulder, now slumped back against the worn booth, defeated.

Mulder studied him. Jo had fondly introduced the bright-eyed young man as the 'founder of New Light'. The cousins were remarkably alike in both appearance and mannerisms, though Marsh was fair where Jo was dark.

"So what you're saying is we should just throw in the towel?" asked Wen.

"No, not at all. What I'm saying is that you have to take things slow and not expect too much right away. You have an idea of what you want to accomplish, and that's good. You should look to those things as long term goals and concentrate on obtaining some shorter term goals that you can make happen in the more immediate future." Mulder's head was beginning to hurt. He wanted to wrap this up and get home, but there were three pairs of eyes on him asking for help.

"All right. Let's do this. You get a plan together. Write down three feasible goals that you could accomplish within the next six to nine months. Do the same thing for the next six to nine months after that. Don't go out any farther at this point. We'll meet again and take a look at what you've got."

Marsh chewed his upper lip. "Okay. We can handle that. It means a lot that you're willing to help us with this, Agent Mulder."

Mulder gave them a tight, tired smile. "Mulder. Just Mulder."

"So, Mulder, how's the new club shaping up?" Scully leaned her elbows on the iron lattice work table top. The late autumn sun danced over the Mississippi and cast oblong shadows across her face.

"We aren't the Mouseketeers, Scully." He quirked a smile at her. Four days exploring the intricacies of phantoms in corn silos in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, had done them both some good. Ritter had not been able to join them. They sat now on the terrace of a small cafe, at a table looking out over the Mississippi, some 30 miles away from the last 'haunted' silo they had seen.   "Oh, but it is *we* now, is it?" she smiled at him.

"Yeah, I guess. To a point."


"But -- but I just don't know where this is all going. I let myself get sucked in without really thinking what might be involved."

"So, un-suck yourself."

"Such language, Ms. Scully! I'm shocked!"

"I find that unlikely," said Scully, lobbing a torn corner of dinner roll at him. He batted it away and Scully looked at him, lips pursed. "Seriously, Mulder, if you're feeling uncomfortable, you should probably watch your step. Have you had the Gunmen check these guys out at all?"

Mulder rolled his head back. "Yeah, Byers did a bit of checking on the organization for me. No big red flags popped up. Not much popped up at all."

Scully bit her lip. "I know you aren't going to be happy about this, but, I did some digging on my own."

Mulder raised his eyebrows.

Scully went on. "Marsh had fraud charges brought against him about a year ago. It seems Marsh took part in a swindle involving a shady internet provider, FastLink. FastLink promised good rates and reliable service. The scam was simple in its conception. Sign up subscribers, provide them access for a few weeks, then disappear and change the company's name. FastLink was just the most recent of several names the company had used."

Mulder shrugged and tossed his napkin on his plate. "I know about that. The charges didn't stick, and Marsh says it was a mistake. He didn't know the company was on the take. Jo has a clean record, so does Wen. Byers did his thing, Scully. It works for me." He pushed away from the table.

Scully watched Mulder as he strode away. It had occurred to her that the three New Light members might have juvenile records. She would need help if she wanted access to them.

It was time she called the Gunmen herself.

End One

Achilles' Heel fran58@wonderhorse.net Part Two

"God dammit, Ritter! I asked for a run-down on the three pending cases we've got, not an expose that sounds like it was written by a sixth grader!"

The respite the trip to Wisconsin had brought hadn't lasted long, Scully reflected. Within a week, Mulder had gone from almost mellow to a cutting tautness.

Scully could see Peyton straighten his back struggle and for the right words. "I just did what you asked. I did the best that I could given the information I had. If it isn't up to your standards, then maybe you should handle it yourself."

Mulder crumpled the file in a fist. His knuckles were white and the tips of his fingers an angry red. "I'll do that, Ritter," he said, his voice low and ominous. Pitching the file to the floor, Mulder turned and stalked out the door.

Ritter abruptly deflated. "This isn't working out," he said shaking his head. "I don't know what I'm doing. And Mulder isn't making it any easier."

"He's been uptight lately. I'm not entirely sure what's going on, but, you're only part of it," Scully stared at the door after Mulder. "And I think he's still harboring some resentment toward you."

Ritter slumped into the chair behind Mulder's desk. "It's all such a mess. I really thought I could do some good by coming here. Make up for what happened. It isn't working out that way."

"Mulder thinks you're only here to do penance," Scully moved carefully over to the desk and leaned a hip against its side. "Is that what's going on?"

Ritter shook his head, then shrugged. "In part, I guess. But only in part," his gaze traveled over the office and came to rest on Scully. "I thought that maybe I could learn something here. Despite what I said to you on the Fellig case, I knew you were a good investigator. You made me feel," he paused. "Like I had a lot to learn. In more ways than one."

Scully nodded slowly. "All right," she said and slid into a half sitting position on the desk. "I'm not entirely sure what Mulder's situation is. He generally isn't this volatile. Just be patient. You're not doing as badly as you think."


Golden sunlight poured through the windows set high in the walls of the office. Only the hum from her laptop broke the silence.

Scully pushed back from the work table and stretched. An afternoon devoid of both Mulder and Ritter had allowed her to tie up several loose ends that had been calling to her. At the moment, she felt industrious and contented. Her mind and desk were clear. The room was quiet.

She contemplated making some tea.

Just as she was preparing to stand, the office door swung open. Jo Sartini appeared in the doorway wearing a visitor's badge. She blinked in surprise at Scully.

"Can I help you?" Scully asked.

"Where's Mulder? I'm supposed to meet him here."

Scully paused. "He should be back soon, I expect. Can I help you with something?"

"No. I'll just wait. Mulder said he would let me look at some of the abduction case files on my dad." Jo moved around the office and studied the cluttered walls.

Scully felt her eyebrows go up. "Oh? Did he mention which ones?"

"I probably shouldn't say. In case they're... classified or something," Jo said sounding a bit smug. She turned toward Scully. "I guess I wasn't expecting anyone but Mulder... is this your office, too?"

Scully pursed her lips. "Not exactly. I have one upstairs, so does Agent Ritter. I spend most of my time here, however."

"Mulder didn't mention that," said Jo.

Scully opened her mouth, but was interrupted by Mulder's entrance.

"Hey, Jo!" He smiled. "You made it." Mulder walked to his desk and dropped a stack of old magazines on top of the papers already there. "You get your files?"

Jo shot a calculating glance at Scully. "No."

Scully thinned her lips. "Mulder, can I see you for a moment?" She turned and walked into the other room.

Mulder followed, pulling on his tie and shedding his jacket. "Yeah?"

Scully lowered her voice. "Exactly what files were going to show her, Mulder? There are things there that --"

Mulder shook his head. "Don't sweat it, Scully. I have some information pulled and set aside for Jo. I told her if she showed up and I wasn't here to ask you or Ritter to get the files off my desk. They're labeled with her name."

"She didn't mention that. She just asked for you."

"Maybe she forgot," shrugged Mulder.

Rain poured down the car window nearly obliterating the dingy buildings that lined the street. The overwhelming dampness sank into Mulder's bones, making him shiver.

"Crap, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack," muttered Marsh.

"Just keep your eyes open," said Mulder. He drove slowly, scanning each alley and doorway for Jo. "Tell me again what happened."

Marsh sighed. "I don't know. She was complaining about a headache and rubbing her neck and pacing a lot. We were at Wen's and my apartment, just hanging. I went out to the kitchen to get some chips, and she was gone."

"So you went to look for her."

"Yeah, I thought maybe she just went outside for some air or something. When I couldn't find her, I looked around a bit. I figured she went home. So I called and left a message for her to get back to me. When she didn't, I called your cell."

When he had gotten Marsh's call, Mulder first checked on Scully.

It was almost the end of their work day, and, as usual, she was pecking at her laptop in the basement, unaffected by any calling beacon that Jo may have felt. Well, he had thought, relieved, at least there weren't two of them to search for.

Now, after three hours of driving a coordinated grid pattern, he was feeling uneasy. He had enlisted the Gunmen and Scully's help. They hadn't had any luck either.

He was rounding another corner when his cell phone rang. He snatched it up. "Mulder."

Frohike's voice filled his ear. "Me and the red head have her cornered. Better get over here pronto. Scully's been trying to examine her, but, she looks like she wants to bolt."

Mulder pulled over and hastily scratched an address down. "We're on our way."


"I don't know, Mulder. Without taking her to a hospital, that's all I can tell you. She'll won't let me examine her."

"Well, the hospital is out. She comes close to hysterics every time someone mentions it." Mulder's brow creased with worry and he looked past Scully's shoulder to where Jo was huddled on the couch leaning against Marsh.

"You know what's weird?" said Langly. "It's weird that she's the only one that was affected. Why didn't Scully's chip go ape shit, too?"

Scully glanced at Mulder. "Good question."

"Maybe they only wanted Jo. No one else," Mulder said distractedly.

"Then why not just take her? Why bother 'calling' her?" asked Scully.

Mulder shook his head and moved to the couch. He knelt down and spoke quietly to Jo. "Hey, if you don't want to go to the hospital, why don't you let Scully take a good look at you here?"

Jo dragged her eyes toward Scully. "She won't hurt me?"

Mulder laughed softly. "No, of course not. She just wants to make sure that you're all right. Marsh and I want to make sure that you're all right, too. Okay?"

Jo gazed to Mulder. "Will you stay with me? You won't let her hurt me?" Her voice was a whisper.

"Sure, I'll stay with you. Nothing bad will happen."

Jo licked her lips. "Okay, then."

Mulder had watched the muscle in Skinner's jaw twitch for the third time. He had to hand it to the Assistant Director, the guy was really trying not to lose his cool. Trying, but not succeeding too well.

"...and I expect to hear that you are cooperating fully. Got that, Agent Mulder? Agent Ritter is a competent agent, and you will treat him with the respect he deserves." The clipped tones still rung in his ear.

Marsh's voice and a sudden burst of laughter from the bar brought Mulder back to the present.

"So, he reamed you out, huh? That sucks." Marshall brought his beer mug down with a determined thump, sending tiny jets of the perspiration that clung to the glass spiraling through the air.

"Yeah, well," Mulder shrugged.

"Did he rag on your partner, too?" Marsh was waving his now empty mug at one of the harried wait staff.

"I don't think I need another one, Marsh. Thanks, anyway."

"One more. Then we'll go. The guy is already bringing them over."

Another beer appeared on the scarred table before Mulder. Presto! If I could only do that at home and with food, Mulder thought.

"So did he?"

Mulder looked blank. "Did who what?"

"Did your boss rag on your partner, too?"

Mulder compressed his lips and said flatly, "No. Agent Scully has managed to play rather nicely with Ritter."

"So they're chums, huh? Ah. Well, that's how it goes," Marsh said, and drained his mug.


He was going to be hung-over. Already, he had that dry, cottony feeling in his mouth and pressure behind his eyes. When he shook his head, the room did a great imitation of a jell-o cube, the kind his mother used to make when he was small. He would pick them up, let them wobble between his forefinger and thumb, narrow his eyes and watch the world distort and wiggle...

Crap. He should go home. He should drink some water. Lots of water. Lots and lots of water.

But it seemed Marsh needed a favor.

 Jo needed a place to crash for a while.   

"Why doesn't she stay with you?" Mulder's voice sounded more snappish than he intended, but for God's sake, it was late and he had a headache coming on. He endeavored to look earnest.

"I'm already bunking with Wen, and we just plain don't have the room. There's only one bedroom -- Wen has that -- and I take the fold-out couch in the living room. It's only for a few weeks. Just until her landlord gets the asbestos work done." Marsh looked tired, too. "She doesn't know that many people in D.C. yet. Wen and I are pretty much it." Marsh paused. "And she trusts you. You saw that the other day when she was called. Trust isn't easy for her."

Mulder sighed and yawned. Sleep played at the edges of his mind. He would have agreed to almost anything if it meant he could go home. "Yeah, okay. She can stay a couple weeks, I guess. She can have the bedroom. I spend most of my time at home on the couch anyhow."

Rain tapped against the window. Mulder switched on the lamp against the gloom of the afternoon and paced.

Bad idea.

Jo staying with him was a bad idea.

He liked his relative privacy. Scully had told him to tell Marsh and company that Jo should stay elsewhere if he felt uncomfortable. That he would help her find affordable, temporary housing.

A sound idea, in theory. Mulder had tried to pin Marsh down, but the man was baby oil slippery, insisting that a stay with Mulder would be much better for Jo. Since her abductions, Marsh said, Jo couldn't handle too many changes in too short a time. Mulder was a known entity by now. She felt safe at his apartment on Hegal Place. Mulder was too worn out to argue further. On some level, he knew that Scully was right. That he should exercise more caution. He wondered if he was ignoring her unsolicited advice out of pure contrariness. He'd certainly been feeling mulish lately.

Mulder's pacing was interrupted by a hesitant rap on the door.

"It's open," said Mulder.

Jo opened the door and took a lithe, tentative step into the apartment. She gave Mulder a shy smile. "I hope that this is an okay time for this."

Mulder shrugged. "As good as any other. Come on in. Where's your stuff?"

Jo hefted a duffel bag from the floor. "This is it. Just some clothes and a few other things." She carried the duffel over to where Mulder stood in the center of the room. "I want to thank you for doing this for me." She looked at Mulder with dark, trusting eyes. "It's a big relief. I have a tendency to get worked up over certain things since..." Her voice trailed off and she hitched a shoulder.

Mulder's sighed inwardly. Of course she would be a gun-shy. He sometimes forgot that the most of the world didn't posses Scully's almighty control. "It's okay," he said softly. "Things will be just fine."

At least he hoped so.


The first few days, Jo had been skittish and high strung. She walked tentatively through the rooms, unsure and over conciliatory. Mulder felt himself sinking. He had no time, no energy to draw her out, make her feel at home. He didn't want the job. He wanted less tension, not more. He wanted his office the way it use to be -- just him and Scully.

Now, he had another person wandering around his apartment, crowding him. Standing in his space.

Slowly, Mulder grew used to Jo's presence. He began sleeping better. The office still put his teeth on edge and made his stomach clench, but coming home-- coming home was better.

Yes, Mulder had definitely been sleeping better, but apparently, Jo hadn't. He could sometimes hear her nightmares from the couch. He should have expected it, he thought. He knew Scully suffered bouts of nightmares. He assumed it was latent memories from her abduction that caused Jo's bad dreams. He hadn't asked specifically.                     Tonight, they were bad. He had woken to the gauzy veil of deep night. At first, Mulder had trouble pulling himself into wakefulness. His limbs were weighty and slow moving. His mind still buried in his own ephemeral dreams. The sounds from the other room drew him to his feet and to the bedroom door. Mulder knocked once, the pushed the door open a crack. He leaned heavily on the door frame.

"Hey, Jo, you okay?"

There was a pause, then a snuffling reply, "Yeah. I guess. I just had a nightmare. I'm sorry if I woke you up."

Mulder yawned. "It's okay."

"Come in, Mulder. You don't have to stand there. Come and sit down. You look like you're about to drop." Her voice was ethereal in the dark.

"Okay," Mulder shuffled into the room and sunk onto the edge of the bed. "I can't clear my head. I feel like I'm in a cloud."

"Maybe you're coming down with something," she said.

"Yeah, maybe," Mulder repositioned himself. "I should really go back to the couch if you're all right."

Jo was sitting with her knees curled to her chest. "Just stay for a few minutes?" She reached out one white hand and lay it on Mulder's arm. "I hate bad dreams."

"Mmm. Sure." Mulder could feel his lids drooping and his muscles relax. Sitting down had been a mistake. He wanted nothing more than to sink into the soft mattress and sleep for an eon. "I'll stay for a bit."

The file drawer slide shut with a sharp clack. "I still can't find those files, Scully."

"They were on your desk this morning, Mulder. You were looking at them." Scully looked over the top of her laptop.

"I know. Are you sure you didn't move them?"

"I'm sure."

Mulder stood in the middle of the room. "Fuck!"

There was a stifled sigh from Scully. She looked up again. "I'm going to grab a snack. Do you want anything?"

Mulder shook his head. "No. Thanks."

Grab a snack. More likely she just needed an excuse to get away from him. It had been a hellish morning. Mulder watched as Scully carefully logged out of the session on her laptop. She pushed her chair back and bumped her leather briefcase. It fell over with a soft thud and a manilla folder slid across the floor.

Mulder stooped to pick it up and blinked. It was his file. "Scully? Why did you have this?"

Scully frowned. "Have what?"

"This is what I've been looking for. It fell out of your briefcase."

Scully looked perplexed. "Are you sure it's the right one? Maybe it got mixed in with something else. I don't remember picking it up or putting it in my case."


"No." Scully approached him. "Mulder, you don't honestly believe that I took that file from you for some nefarious purpose, do you?"

"All I know is that you had the file."

Scully scowled. "I'm taking a break," she said tightly then turned on heel and stalked to the door.

Mulder frowned, fingering the file thoughtfully.

Ritter tapped a pencil against her coffee table. "What I don't understand is why they targeted Mulder. Why not choose someone less high profile. The guy's an FBI agent. Why not pick an accountant or something?"

Scully nodded. "I wondered the same thing." She reached across Ritter's outstretched arms and hefted a stack of folders. She scanned them quickly, then pulled one out of the pile and opened it. "Here. I found a couple things that might explain that. Jo completed two years at The University of the District of Columbia before dropping out. There was some trouble with one of her instructors. The school was pretty closed-mouth about it, but I managed to get some information out of some of the instructor's colleagues."

Peyton looked over her shoulder at the file. "Jo and Marsh were blackmailing her? The instructor?"

"Looks that way."

"What does that have to do with Mulder?"

"I've been thinking. The blackmailing wasn't the first incident. If you look at them together, they form a pattern. I think that they're in this not just for the money, but for the excitement."

"Okay," Ritter said. "So, they're thrill seekers. Makes a kind of sense. That, combined with the fact that Wendell had access to Mulder..."

"Exactly. And then there's Jo's alleged abduction. That alone would interest Mulder. Add that to the fact that Jo is Max Fenig's daughter and you've got powerful motivation for Mulder's involvement," finished Scully.

"But, how would they know any of this? Does Wendell have access to any of the records?"

"Not authorized access, but..." Scully shrugged and turned to face Ritter. "You've got to remember that in certain circles, Fox Mulder is a recognizable name. People know about him and what he does. They follow his work. It wouldn't be very difficult for Wendell, Jo or Marsh to get a hold of this information."

By the time midnight arrived, Ritter had eaten his way through a large pizza, and Scully had finished her cheese ravioli. Casting an eye around her apartment, she was startled to find it looked more like Mulder's place than hers, with files and papers stacked about, and strewn take-out containers discarded on the floor.

Scully wandered over to the window and opened it letting the chilly night air run over her face. Hours of work, and they had little more than when they started. Ritter came up behind her, and she flinched only slightly when he laid his hands on her shoulders.

"Guess we should stop for the night, huh?" he asked softly.

Scully nodded. She was bone tired and frustrated.

Ritter spoke softly again. "Dana, I know that you don't want to hear this... but, maybe it's time to let go. You can't stop him, or help him, if he doesn't want help."

"I know. I know, Peyton. But I have to try. I owe him that much." She owed him everything, she added silently.

"It isn't good for you. You're always tired. I'm... concerned," he said, stumbling over his words a bit. She could feel the warmth of his hands on her shoulders and for a brief moment, she longed to lean back into the warmth.

The moment passed and Ritter removed his hands. After a bit, she could hear him shuffling papers and picking up the used take-out boxes.

Intellectually, she knew she was fighting a losing battle, but deep inside, she knew she couldn't quit.

It would be like cutting out her heart.

"Sugar, sugar, sugar. Where the hell is the sugar?" Mulder muttered singsong under his breath. "We aren't out, are we? How can we be out?" His aggravation was tangible.

Across the room, Scully took a deep, silent breath. A cleansing breath, she told herself. A relaxing breath. A...

Mulder cursed loudly. "Dammit!"

...soothing breath. Okay.

She kept her voice light. "Why don't you try looking inside the cupboard? Behind the creamer?"

Mulder bent and rummaged beneath the coffee machine. "You're a genius, Scully! I thought maybe you and Ritter had scarfed it all up."

Scully shook her head. "You're the only one who uses the sugar, Mulder."

"Guess so," he said as he refilled the alien head sugar bowl. He poured a coffee and stirred in a heaping teaspoon of sugar. Back at his desk, he removed a brown bag from one of the lower drawers and set about eating lunch.

Scully stared.

"What?" Mulder asked around a mouthful of sandwich.

"I don't think I've ever seen you bring anything to eat, aside from a bag of sunflower seeds," said Scully. "Maybe the occasional doughnut."

"It was a gift," he said.

"Your lunch was a gift?"


"May I ask from whom?"

"Jo. She made it," Mulder was unwrapping a second sandwich.

"She *made* you lunch?"

Mulder gave her a half shrug. "She said it was the least she could do. After all, she *is* living rent-free."

Scully blinked. "Right. Of course." She shifted in her chair. "Mulder, I don't want to be a pest, but, have you done any more checking into this group, New Light?"

Mulder shrugged and swallowed. "They're all right, Scully. They just need some organization and a clear plan."

"That's not exactly what I meant. Are they legitimate? There are lots of different scams out there."

Mulder snorted. "What in God's name would they gain by pretending to be a group interested in alien abduction? Come on, Scully."

Scully traced the edge of the table she was sitting at with her thumb, and glanced up at Mulder, who was now drinking his coffee. "At first glance, it would seem innocuous, I agree, but..." she cleared her throat and Mulder looked over at her. "But, you never know."

He shrugged.

"I just don't want to see you get caught up in something you can't get out of," she said carefully. "You have a tendency to jump in with both feet and ask questions later."

"I'm a big boy, Scully. I won't let the fledglings hurt me. Next time we meet, I'll wear a helmet."

Scully closed her eyes and bit her tongue.

Scully had taken a late lunch and Ritter was no where to be seen. At first, Mulder had been glad of the time to concentrate without distraction, but as the afternoon dragged on, he found he missed Scully's composed presence. His mind skittered as if on ice, unable to land and focus on any one subject. His head buzzed like a live wire and a headache lurked behind his eyes. Maybe a walk would help.

He headed south toward the mall. The day was cool, but not so cool that it kept people indoors. Mulder took long strides and breathed deeply. The sun felt good and the air was pungent and fresh. He walked quickly, feeling somewhat better than he had. He was even beginning to think that Scully might be right about Ritter. He should give the guy a chance. Everyone deserved a chance, right?

A light breeze caught at his tie and Mulder found himself leaning against a tree. He tilted his head and watched the moving mass of green above. Sunlight filtering through the leaves made them translucent.

Mulder pushed off the trunk, stretched, and glanced around. A familiar figure caught his eye.


She was leaning against the trunk of another tree, her black leather case clasped to her chest, head tilted up, an intent look on her face. On another occasion, he would have been pleased to see her. The fly in the ointment was that she was looking and smiling at Peyton Ritter. Rancor rose unbidden, making Mulder's stomach churn.

His momentary peace dispelled, Mulder turned on heel and left.

Back in the basement, Mulder squeezed his head between the palms of his hands. His headache had blossomed and he felt very tired. His last caffeine fix must have worn off. He laid his head down on his desk and closed his eyes, willing the throbbing in his skull to stop.

What seemed like mere minutes later, he awoke to Scully gently shaking his shoulder. The lights were dim and darkness gathered beyond the windows.

"Hey, sleepyhead," she crouched down next to him and smiled softly. "Why don't you let me drive you home, okay? You're as white as a sheet."

Mulder nodded and ran a trembling hand over his face. "Yeah. Okay. I must be coming down with something." He was cold and pulled his suit jacket tightly around himself. His head buzzed uncomfortably.

"Want to grab something to eat? You look like you could use it."

Mulder shook his head. "Mmmm, no. I don't think so."

Scully frowned and went to the table where her laptop lay. She rummaged through a drawer and came back with a bottle of water and a chocolate bar.

Mulder raised his eyebrows.

"You're probably dehydrated, and the sugar isn't going to hurt," Scully said. She held the water and chocolate out to him. "Eat up."

Mulder dutifully took a swallow of water, then another. It felt good sliding down his throat. It tasted clean and sweet. He put the bottle on the desk in front of him, his fingers were white where he gripped the plastic.

Scully was watching him carefully, with that concerned-for-her- patient look she had. She tipped her head toward the candy bar. "Chocolate next."

Mulder reached for the candy bar.

She leaned toward him and a lock of hair fell across one eye. "Mulder?  Can I ask you something?"

"Can I stop you?" he asked, trying for a light tone.

She smiled. "Probably not." Scully settled herself on the edge of his desk. He could feel her warmth and wanted to warm his icy hands, wanted to soothe his jumbled mind with her logic and self-possession. "Have you made an appointment for a physical?"

Mulder sighed and dropped his head to the back of his chair. "Not this again. Please."

"Mulder, just..." she closed her eyes and puffed out a breath of air. "You need to take care of yourself. I'm worried."

"That's sweet, Scully, but I'm fine. Just tired."

"No, Mulder. It's more than that. You're totally off your game," she twisted to face him. "I mean that in the best possible sense." She stopped again, searching. "You... Mulder... you can leave me breathless when we're working a case. You can astound me and throw me completely off balance. No one else does that. Not on a regular basis, anyhow." She pressed her lips together. "Mulder, I haven't been left in the dust for weeks now. Something isn't right."

Mulder looked up at her intending to answer. The buzzing in his head grew louder, and he lurched forward and grabbed the edge of his desk. "Scully," he mumbled, trying to look up at her. "Take me home."

End Two

Achilles' Heel fran58@wonderhorse.net Part Three

Mulder stumbled the last few steps to the apartment door, grateful for Scully's steady shoulder and the sturdiness of the door frame. The wood felt solid and familiar beneath his hand. Scully used her key and led him gently to the couch.

"I'm going to get you something for your headache, and maybe some juice. Do you have anything like juice around, Mulder?" Scully's voice, pitched low, felt like needles in his head nonetheless.

He managed to mumble, "Maybe."

He remembered drinking whatever Scully gave him before falling into a restless sleep.


Mulder drifted between sleep and wakefulness, fragments of a conversation penetrating his consciousness.

The words were just a hair this side of quarrelsome. He heard Scully's low murmur, and though her tone was even, he knew she was suppressing her annoyance.

The voices grew louder.

"... he really needs to see a doctor. Maybe he'll go if you suggest it. He isn't listening to me." Scully's voice.

"I'm sure I can take care of him just fine," Jo answered. "It's probably just the flu."

A short, aggravated, sigh from Scully. "It may be. But given he hasn't been really well for months now, I think it would be wise to get him to see a doctor. Have some blood work done. I can recommend several. I'll leave the names for you..."

The voices faded out.

Jo twitched and scowled. Scully knew the girl wanted to get rid of her. She was not, however, in the mood to be shifted easily.

"Look, Jo. I know that you think I'm interfering, but, I'm not going away anytime soon."

"We don't need your help. Or whatever it is you're trying to do," Jo answered in a tight voice.

"Mulder *does* need help. He isn't himself." She looked with concern at Mulder's sleeping form.

"Marsh was right. You're just trying to sabotage New Light and our relationship with Mulder. *My* relationship with Mulder."

"I'm still not sure what you're trying to accomplish," Scully said in a low voice. "But you can be damned sure I won't stop until I figure it out."

Jo smirked at this. "I think I've pretty much accomplished my initial goal." She glanced possessively at the sleeping figure on the couch.

Scully ground her teeth together, ignored the remark, and shook her head. "You might think that you're going to separate Mulder from his work, but you won't. Eventually, he'll be drawn back to it. It's part of who he is."

"A part of who he was, maybe. He's a different person now. He doesn't need you or his job to be complete," Jo folded her arms. "He has us now. He has me."

The morning Mulder failed to show for the OPR hearing was sunny with above average temperatures for October. Scully sat at the long table; her dark suit felt confining in the warm room.

"Agent Scully," the lone woman at the long table spoke without looking up. Scully noticed her suit was dark too, and wondered if the other woman felt as constrained as she did. "Do you have any idea of the whereabouts of your partner, or why he isn't here?"

Scully shifted in her chair. Why did everyone assume she had Mulder's life schedule memorized? "No Ma'am, I don't."

The other woman frowned. "Do you have any insight into why Agent Mulder assaulted Special Agent Bitters?"

Inwardly Scully bristled, but she kept her face carefully neutral. Mulder and Agent Bitters had gotten into a shoving match over something. She still wasn't clear on the details, but knew Bitters to be a difficult agent. It wasn't the first time Mulder had been overly physical with another Agent, but apparently, tangling with a Section Chief's nephew was a bigger misstep than an incident involving someone else.

Aloud she said, "No, none at all."

The woman lifted her eyes from the papers before her on the table and fixed Scully with a look. Apparently satisfied she spoke, "All right then, that will be all."

Relieved and annoyed at the same time, Scully pushed back from the table and walked to the door. Behind her she could hear Skinner's voice, low and soft, asking for a moment. He followed her into the hall.

Skinner's white, normally crisp shirt was clinging to him. Obviously, he was warm too. Idly, she wondered why the air conditioning couldn't be turned on in October.

"Agent Scully, what the hell is going on here?"                   "Sir?"

"This hearing was to review the facts of Agent Mulder's suspension. He should be here. Why isn't he?"

"I couldn't say, Sir."

"Can't or won't, Agent? What aren't you telling me? Does this have anything to do with that 'case' Mulder was working on the side?"                "It may have, I can't be positive," Scully said evasively.

Skinner fixed her with a sharp look. "When you are positive, Agent, be sure to let me know. I would hate to lose Agent Mulder. He's a pain in the ass, but he's good."

Scully nodded. "Yes, Sir, I'll do that." She turned to go, but Skinner caught her arm. He smelled of cotton and perspiration.

"Scully, if there is anything I can do, let me know, all right?" He had dropped his voice. "I want you to keep me posted. Call me at home if you have to." With that, he let her arm drop and strode back into the office.

Scully felt her jaw lock. God damn it anyhow. When in the hell had she become Mulder's keeper? She shook the thought off. Mulder deserved better from her. She needed to talk with him. That much was clear. Her recent attempts to get him to contact him by phone had been to no avail. Often, he wouldn't even return her messages. Since the trouble with Bitters, Mulder had been evasive and hard to pin down. Her efforts to get him to see one of the doctors she recommended went unheeded. Instead, he had gone to someone Marsh knew. Just stress, the doctor said. Bull shit, thought Scully.

She was worried

She stabbed her finger at the elevator button and reluctantly decided that if the mountain wouldn't come to Mohamed, Mohamed would have no choice but to go to the mountain.

The dark wood of Mulder's door was cool under her palm. She rested it there, as if she could divine what was within. She bent her head, listening for any sound. Nothing. How many times had she stood here like this? Too many to count. This time was different, however. Mulder's aggravation and paranoia had seeped into every aspect of his life -- and that included his partner. For the first time in a long time, she was not sure she would be welcome.

Taking a breath, and letting it out, Scully knocked.

After several moments, the door cracked open.

"Hey, Scully, what's up?" Mulder's hair was tousled as he squinted through opening at her.

"You missed your hearing, Mulder."

"So you came to check up on me, like a good girl, huh Scully?"

"Skinner was not happy. He wants to know what's going on." She paused, softening her tone. "And so do I."

"I'm a bit busy at the moment, maybe we can do this later." Mulder moved back and began to close the door.

Oh no, not this time. She would not be pushed out, kept away, again. This time she pushed back. The door swung open surprisingly easily.

"Jesus, Scully, make your self at home."

Scully stood at the threshold, taken aback. It had been several weeks since she had actually set foot in Mulder's apartment. It had been bad then. Now it was horrendous. The air was stale and permeated with the scent of beer and smoke. Scully bit back a sneeze. She moved to the couch, pushing take-out boxes away to make room to sit. On the coffee table sat a pipe. She picked it up and sniffed. The musky scent of marijuana filled her nose.

Scully looked up at Mulder pointedly. "Aren't you in enough trouble as it is?"

Mulder hitched a shoulder. "It isn't mine. What difference does it make, anyway?"

"It isn't yours? Whose is it?"

"Mine. Its mine," the voice floated out of the kitchen. Jo. Of course. Scully should have known she would be here. Still, it felt like a kick in the gut. She'd had the vain hope that Jo had moved on and out of Mulder's apartment.

The girl emerged from the kitchen, carrying two beers. Her dark hair was shorter than Scully remembered, tousled in much the same manner Mulder's was. She tossed a beer to Mulder, who caught it and grinned at her. Jo grinned back, and wiped the top of her can with the tail of the grey T-shirt she was wearing. Mulder's, Scully thought with a pain.

"Breakfast of champions," said Mulder, cracking his can open.

Scully winced inwardly.

"Skinner wants to know why you failed to appear this morning, Mulder."

"Didn't feel like it." He seemed relaxed, much more so than he had been in the last couple months. His eyes were dark and wide as he gave her another shrug and a goofy grin.

"You didn't feel like it? Since when don't feel like making an effort to keep your job?" Mulder avoided her pointed look and took another swallow of beer and dropped into the corner chair. "Mulder, what? What's going on?"

He shrugged and slouched back into the chair. "I've got the money, the investments my dad left me. I don't really need to work for the Bureau."

Scully managed to refrain from gaping. "But Mulder, what about everything else? What about the X-Files?"

Jo came to perch on the arm of the chair in which Mulder was seated, jostling him slightly. "If Mulder leaves the Bureau, he can concentrate on the work that's really important. The things he *wants* to pursue, without any... distractions." Jo gave Scully a pointed look. "You know, we've got our own organization."

Ignoring Jo, Scully leaned forward in Mulder's direction. "Mulder? Is this true? How in the world are you going to come up with the resources and manpower you have at your disposal with the Bureau?"

Mulder struggled upright in the chair. "We'll manage, Scully."

Scully shot Jo a look then shifted her gaze back to the man in the chair. "Mulder, you need to think this through carefully. You'd be throwing away a lot more than just resources and manpower. What about the years of work you put into the X-Files? What about Skinner? What about..."

Mulder interrupted. "Jesus, Scully, do you think I'm stupid? I *have* thought it through."

Jo looked at Mulder and nodded. "We've given it a lot of thought and decided it's for the best."

Scully dug the fingernails on one hand into her palm. She would remain calm. Rational. Mulder couldn't possibly be serious.

Mulder leaned forward, suddenly grave. "Now, I've got a question for you. What have you been doing with the files while I've been gone?"

Scully frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"I've got it on good authority that you've been... rearranging... things," he sounded accusatory.

Scully shook her head. "Mulder, no one is doing anything to your files," she looked him in the eye. "And, even if they were, now that you're apparently a free agent, why would you care?"

"Just because I'm heading for greener pastures doesn't mean I want to see all the work I've done tossed into the garbage because I'm no longer there," he snarled.

"Conveniently forgetting that I've put as much blood, sweat and tears into those damn files as you have?" Scully asked grimly.

Mulder scowled. "Just watch what you do, Scully. I'd hate to see all that information get... lost."

The weather had turned. Mulder's car rocked slightly, buffeted by a gust of wind. He hunkered down in the driver's seat, glancing up at Scully's apartment window. Late as it was, there were still lights burning, and Ritter's car still stood along the curb a few hundred yards ahead of where Mulder himself was parked. Two nights ago it had been Skinner's car.

Mulder shook himself. What the hell were they doing up there? It had been hours. He was cold and hungry and felt much too wired. Leaning over to the passenger seat, Mulder capped the thermos of coffee. Enough was enough. Coffee, anyway.

He blew on his hands and stuck them under his arms for warmth. Thoughts skittered around in his head. The things that Wendell had said. That Scully and Skinner were up to something. X-Files reports being purged and re-written. *His* reports, God dammit. His work. He didn't believed it at first. Despite what he had said to her, he hadn't really believed Scully would deliberately undermine his work. She wouldn't. But he had seen himself the paperwork being shuffled to and from Scully's apartment by Skinner and Ritter . Ritter, that son of a bitch. He was up there now doing God knows what. Tonight, he had brought not only an armload of files, but Thai take-out. Mulder had recognized the logo on the bag. The whole arrangement was too cozy for Mulder's comfort.

Suddenly angry, Mulder cranked the ignition and slapped the car into gear. He'd had enough of this crap. Hands shaking faintly, he pulled away from the curb with a squeal.

Scully met Langly, at his suggestion, at The Japanimation Extravaganza. She wandered through the cramped aisles looking for a blond man with a ponytail. She found rows of videos, stacks of books, electronic games and comic books -- even an under-lit corner that sported t-shirts and hats, but no Langly. She gave up and stationed herself near the front doors hoping for a precipitous appearance.

Several minutes later, he blew into the store surrounded by a gust of Autumn wind. A few leaves skittered in under his tennis shoes.      "Hey," he said, looking up and catching sight of her. "Got what you asked for right here. Sorry it took so long. Frohike's usual contact was out on maternity leave." Langly waved a brown envelope. "Don't know how much it will help, though. Cool shop, huh?"

"Yeah, cool," smiling slightly at his obvious glee.

"I can't believe I just found out about this place. I mean, it's been here for like, three years."

Scully nodded.

"Sorry, you probably don't want to talk about Anime, huh?"

"Not really. Sorry Langly."

"It's okay." He paused and cleared his throat. "So what, Mulder's really gone off the deep end this time?"

Scully shrugged. "Hard to say what's going on. I can't get much out of him. I'm not sure I trust these new associates of his."

"Even less impressive than we were, huh?"

Scully blew out a huff of air. "No comparison, Langly."

They walked slowly down one of the aisles filled with video games. Langly poked and peered at them as they walked. "So Frohike and Byers said to get the scoop from you. Umm, your point of view."

"My point of view? You mean as opposed to Mulder's"

"Something like that," he mumbled, paying careful attention to the shelf above her head.

"Mulder's been talking with you? What's he been saying?" She tried to keep the envy out of her voice.

Langly shrugged. "Just that he thinks you and Skinner are getting pretty tight, that he's heard you two are 'purging' the basement files and that the FBI can go fuck itself." He shrugged again. "That's pretty much it in a nutshell."

Unbelievable, she thought. "*Purging* the files?" Scully gave a short unamused laugh. "I cleaned out some old un- needed paperwork. Ritter and I rearranged a couple things. And *that's* pretty much it in a nutshell."

Langly looked apologetic. "Sorry, I'm just repeating what he said."

Scully waved a hand. "I know. I'm just... It's not..." Frustrated, she gave up.

"So, you and the AD aren't messing around with the files?"

"No. And for God's sake, why would we do that? Why would *I*? I've got as much invested in the X-Files as Mulder does, whatever his interpretation may be." The narrow aisle suddenly felt too confining. "I gotta go, Langly. Thanks for this," she waved the brown envelope as she brushed past him.

"Not a problem," Langly said, his eyes already searching the colorful shelves.

As it turned out, the Gunman didn't find much more information in the way of criminal wrongdoing than she had. The only useful bit was the record of the arrest of Marshall DeYoung for assault and drug possession when he was sixteen.

They had, however, found some information Mulder's new organization that she hadn't.

New Light, founded by Marshall DeYoung, was supported by donations from patrons and members. For the life of her, all Scully could see that members got for their hard won cash was a subscription to the anemic newspaper where Mulder had first seen the story on Josephine Sartini. The paper itself was big on conjecture and hearsay, low on facts.

The Gunman had come up with a list of patrons that had given donations to New Light. Scully ran her finger down the short list. One name stood out in particular. Warren Carin. She seemed to remember something, not a case, but something in connection with him.

She pulled up a web browser and set to work. A few minutes later she knew why Carin had seemed familiar. Warren Carin and his partner had run a trendy restaurant in downtown D.C.  Five years ago his partner had been indicted on some pretty hefty drug charges, but Carin himself had not been brought into it. Scully remembered the case vaguely. There had been rumors of Carin paying off certain officials. He still ran the same restaurant, sans partner.

She stared thoughtfully at the screen in front of her, tapping an index finger. She should make Mulder aware of the possible drug connection, if nothing else. She wasn't looking forward to it. She had an uneasy feeling that he wouldn't welcome any negative news regarding his new found friends.

Scully left Ritter in the car. They had been waiting outside Mulder's building until Scully could be reasonably sure of catching Mulder alone. What she had to say didn't need an audience.

"Want me to come with you?" Ritter asked.

"No. I think I better do this alone," she said and picked up the manila folder from the dashboard.

The ride up the elevator to the fourth floor and walk down the hall to Mulder's apartment had never seemed so long. The old floor boards creaked under her feet in the afternoon silence. Scully paused before number forty two and steeled herself. She rapped three times in quick succession.

Mulder yanked the door open. "Oh, it's you." He flicked his eyes up and down the hall, then returned his gaze to Scully. His eyes had a wide, hollow, listless look. "Did you need something?"

Scully nodded. "Invite me in?" she asked pleasantly.              "Yeah, all right." Mulder backed away from the door. "Come in."

The apartment was no cleaner than before, but at least the air was breathable. Mulder had the windows open. A soft breeze blew through the room.

Mulder flopped onto the couch, snagged the remote from his coffee table and clicked on the television. "What can I do for you, Scully?" he asked, his pinned his eyes on the flickering screen in front of him.

Still standing, Scully said; "I've got some information you should hear. About where the money for New Light comes from."

"I know where it comes from. Subscriptions. Donations. Me." Mulder concentrated on the television.

"Yes, but Mulder, some of those donations have been made by some suspect sources. I was thinking you might want to check it out a bit more."

"You were, huh? Thanks for your concern, Mom, but I think I'll pass."

"You don't need to be sarcastic, Mulder, I'm just trying to help," Scully said quietly, carefully controlling her voice.    "Whatever," Mulder shifted on the couch. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some serious T.V. viewing to catch up on. I've already missed the first half of today's 'Little House on the Prairie'."   Scully felt something snap. Moving quickly, she snatched the remote out of Mulder's hand causing him to blink in surprise. She powered off the television.

"God dammit, Mulder!" she rounded on him. "Sit up and listen to me! There is something going on here. I don't know what, but I will find out, with or without your help."

"Who made you my keeper? I don't need you sticking your nose into my business! I'm a big boy, Scully. Stay out of it."

"Mulder, please listen to me." Voice softer, Scully sat down carefully on the edge of the arm chair. "I had Ritter look at the evidence and he agreed that something is out of place. Just look at the file." She placed the folder she had been carrying on the coffee table.

"Oh yeah, I just bet Ritter agreed with you. He walks around with his nose so close to your ass that I'm surprised he can tear himself away to take a piss."

Scully swallowed her sudden flash anger. "Mulder, that was uncalled for. Ritter and I are working as partners since your suspension. You know that. He's a good agent. He has nothing against you."

"That's why he left your apartment last Friday, make that last Saturday, at five in the morning? Got a little quality 'partnering' time in, did ya'?"

Stung, Scully said, "No, Mulder. He was just... we were finishing up some work. You know how it is, when you're involved with something." He didn't need to know that the work they had been doing involved Mulder and New Light.

"What about Skinner? What excuse do you have for him? He's been a late night visitor, too. How many years has that gone on, Scully?" His voice was venomous as he leaned in close to her. She could see his pupils were dilated, his skin pasty.

"Mulder, none of this is what you are implying. You know it's not." Her voice was hard and clipped. "What have you been doing, spying on me?"

Ignoring her question, Mulder went on. "I know nothing of the kind. I'm just putting two and two together here and coming up with slut."

Stunned, she gawked at him. Her blood ran cold, then hot, at the measure of his venom. Clenching the arm of the chair to steady herself, she said, "You? You're shacking up with a girl barely out of high school and you have the gall to even imply that there is something unprofessional about my relationships with a couple co-workers? Even if I *were* sleeping with both of them, I don't see how it would affect you at this point, or why you would care."

Mulder opened his mouth, then shut it, and turned back to the television.

She stood for a minute more, unable to move. Slowly her breathing returned to normal. She glanced at Mulder who was once again prone on the couch. Barely controlling her anger, Scully turned and tapped the file on the table between them, surprised to find her hand wasn't trembling. "Just look at it, will you?"

She stood up, legs shaking, still clenching her teeth and walked to the door. Without warning, Mulder was behind her, speaking low into her ear.

"Don't come back here, Scully. I don't need or want you around anymore. I've got real friends now, friends who don't lie to me. Friends that don't cover up their collusion with pretty stories."

Hurt and angry, she turned to him. "I don't lie to you, Mulder."



Mulder spat out, "'I'm fine, Mulder. It's just a check-up.' Or how about, 'He slept on the couch.' I spoke with the freak with the talking tattoo, Scully. Didn't know that, did you? He admitted he slept on the couch, after you two screwed like fucking animals on the floor!"              A small wounded, choking sound escaped from the back of Scully's throat. "Mulder, please, that was years ago. I was..."

"Get out, Scully. Just leave." Simple words that hurt more than any gunshot wound.

Unsteady, Scully walked to the elevator. It would take her downstairs, away from Mulder, away from his unreasonable anger.           

She jabbed the button for the ground level. The big box lurched to life and she grabbed the handrail for support. Blinking rapidly, she exited and went outside only to find Ritter pacing in front of Mulder's building.

"I thought you were going to wait in the car," her voice was gruff.

"You took a long time. I was beginning to get worried." Ritter stepped closer to her the glanced up at the window. "What happened up there? You look like upset."

"He didn't want to hear anything I had to say. He wouldn't..." she suddenly lost her struggle for control and felt a tear slip down from the corner of her eye. She brushed is away brusquely, appalled to find another already sliding down her face.           Carefully, Ritter drew her to the side of the door. "What did he say to you to make you this upset? It's okay, we'll work it out somehow," he said. He brought a handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it to her. She took it and dabbed at her cheeks.

Gently, Peyton laid a hand on her arm and bent his head, murmuring words meant to comfort her.

There was a small, angry sound from the behind her. Scully looked up in time to see Mulder cast her a tight-lipped 'I knew it' look before the door slammed shut.

Mulder wondered if it were possible to become so small that you could fall all the way through to the center of the earth. Down through the layers, squeezing through the crust and mantle, bones and skull crushing. Then compressed, constricted and forced into the heavy middle core of airless density, being ground to fine powder. And, finally, slipping into the inner core now so small that you were infinitesimal, with nothing left.

Friday night, Scully discovered, after a long, hard week of work, was not the time to ruminate about Mulder's situation. She had a headache. She was tired. She was discouraged.

Scully pushed away from her desk, slunk to the couch and flopped down on her back. Headache, headache, go away, she thought. Frustrating as it was, she could think of no way to rectify Mulder's situation without Mulder's help. And she was not likely to get that. All she really had offer him was some information on sketchy money sources, a possible drug connection. Nothing, she thought, that would motivate him to take a good, hard look at New Light.

She needed to come with something that would catch his attention. She needed help. She needed to make a leap. She needed Mulder.

His absence settled in the pit of her stomach, hard and fixed -- a gap in her existence. She missed his presence in the basement office, his late night phone calls. She missed his voice and the way he ushered her into a room. She even missed his damn jokes.

Sighing and stretching, Sully considered calling it a night and starting fresh in the morning. She sank into the couch and let her eyelids drop. Just for a minute, she thought.

She dreamt that flying was beautiful. She was high, higher than the clouds. The air, cold and thin, rushed over her skin and through her hair, making loose clothing snap and ripple. She could hardly breath for the sheer exhilaration. Like the time she went parachuting, she was overcome by the splendor of being untethered and unleashed. She felt like she could die there, out in the stratosphere, happily.

Then the scene shifted, and she was dragged back to earth. She could feel the heaviness of gravity pulling her downward. She struggled to stay aloft. Flying was so beautiful...

Scully awoke to rapping. Disoriented, she sat up and scrubbed her face and ran a hand through her hair. She made unsteadily for the door wondering who had interrupted her dream. One thing for sure, she thought, it wasn't Mulder.

Assistant Director Skinner appeared to her in a fish-eye image as she looked through her peep-hole. Self-consciously, Scully straitened her shirt before opening the door.

"Sir," she said, stepping back to allow him admittance.

He nodded to her. "I hope this isn't too late, Agent. I noticed your lights were still on."

She blinked at him. "My lights... You were in the neighborhood, Sir?"

"Ah, yes. I had an engagement tonight in the area." Offering no other explanation, Skinner stepped past her into the apartment. Scully shut the door softly.

"Can I get you something?" she asked.

Skinner shook his head curtly. He had folded his arms across his expansive chest and was frowning slightly. Scully felt, for all the world, like a small child about to be rebuked for some thoughtless deed. She was suddenly and uncomfortably cognizant of the rumpled couch pillows and her probable state of disarray. 

Scully moved to the couch to straighten the pillows. Sensing the movement, Skinner looked up at her and nodded, as if he had just made his mind about something.

"I came to see if you could give me any more information on Agent Mulder." When Scully didn't respond immediately, Skinner went on. "It's getting more difficult for me to maintain his status at the Bureau... I need something more."

He stopped and ran a hand over his non-existent hair and said more softly, "Scully, I need to know what's going on. I know you've been looking into this. I talked with Ritter..."

Scully sighed. "There isn't too much to tell. What did Peyton say?"

"Not much. He mentioned something about some new organization supposedly focusing on the paranormal that Mulder has taken an interest in, and that you've been doing some checking up on them. I'd like to help. If I can."

Silently, she nodded. She walked to her desk and handed a folder to Skinner and nodded at the dining table. "Have a seat."

A few minutes later, Skinner looked up. "This is all there is?'

Scully nodded.

"Agent Scully, I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but this isn't much."

"I know. I know it isn't."

"A few loose connections and some suspicions on your part..." Skinner let his voice trail off.

Scully sunk down to the couch and rested her face in her hands.  Her words came out muffled.  "I know. I know what it looks like. Or doesn't, in this case."


"But there's more," she said, lifting her head. "I know that there's more. Something is going on. I can feel it. Mulder isn't himself. His behavior has been erratic."

Skinner snorted. "Mulder's behavior has always been erratic."

Scully smiled slightly. "Erratic, even for him."

He sat down carefully on the couch next to her. When he spoke, his tone was gentle. "Scully, I know how much you and Mulder have been through, but maybe," he paused, mimicking her position, elbows on his knees. "Maybe this is simply what it looks like. Mulder's fed up with the Bureau. He's got the money and is going to strike out on his own."

"I wish it were that simple."

"You're sure it isn't? That it isn't just... your... attachment to Agent Mulder that could be coloring your judgment?"

Scully flinched inwardly. Attachment. Aloud she said, "I understand your concern, Sir, but I *know* Agent Mulder. I know that there has to be more than meets the eye here. He wouldn't just up and leave the X-Files. Not after we just got them back. Not after all it took to get where we are now."

Skinner digested this for a moment. "All right, Scully. Then we'll just have to go at this in a different way. Any bases you haven't covered yet?"

End Three

Part Four

"So what it amounts to is that you need money?" Mulder was edgy, unable to sit still. Jo had made him a cup of tea, to calm him down. His fingers drummed the side of the couch.

Marsh gave him an easy smile. "Yeah, that broken window cost us more than we thought."

"And if I give you this money, then what?"

Marsh frowned. "Then we get our next edition out. I thought you were into this, Mulder. That you wanted to uncover the lies and deceit, like we do."

Mulder nodded and sipped his tea. "I do, Marsh, I just don't know why you need more money."

Marsh opened his mouth to reply, but Jo interceded, slipping onto the couch with him and laying a warm hand on Mulder's arm. "Remember, we talked about our sister organization out west? The one in Arizona? How they needed funds? We ended up sending them most of what we had saved up. Maybe we should have held onto it, but..." She let her voice trail off.

"If you really want New Light to be successful, one of you needs to start managing your resources better." Mulder took another sip from his mug. He let the warm liquid flow down his throat. He tensed his muscles, then relaxed, trying to ease the tension.

"Yeah, we know," Marsh said. "It's probably a good thing you're around. We can use someone with a good head on his shoulders to keep us in line."

"It's gonna take more than that to keep you solvent." Mulder rested his head on the back of the sofa. He felt looser now, more at ease. Jo leaned back with him and he stretched his fingers out to play with a lock of her hair. She smiled at him, her brown eyes crinkling at the corners.

Mulder closed his eyes briefly. A wave of drowsiness swept over him. The odd hours he was keeping were starting to get to him, he thought. Wasn't as young as he used to be. Not like Jo. Not like Marsh. At times, he wondered why they bothered to associate with him. He did have experience they lacked. Skills and contacts they needed. Other times, he wondered why he should continue to support them. Their goals were admirable, but the organization itself left something to be desired. Maybe, he told himself, that was reason enough to stay involved. He knew the authentic from the fake. And then, too, Jo would look at him like she was now. Like he was the best thing in the world. Like they needed him. Like she needed him.

Mulder smothered a yawn. "I suppose I could scare up a bit more cash for you. But we really need to work on some sort of budgeting, a fiscal plan, or none of the things we hope to achieve will ever happen."

"Yeah, okay, Mulder. You're the money guy. Whatever you say." Marsh gave him a sincere smile. "We appreciate all that you've done for us. We'd be lost without you, man," he said and got up to leave.

Mulder's apartment was dim. There were glasses and empty cans on most horizontal surfaces and newspapers were strewn around the floor. It smelled pungent. A quick glance told her the fish tank badly needed a cleaning. Her heart sank as she waded through the debris on the floor toward the back of the apartment. It had been bad before. Now it was worse.

Unsure of what she was even looking for, Scully moved into the kitchen. More debris, empty take-out cartons, beer cans and a half-filled bottle of orange juice sitting on the counter next to the sink. She resisted the impulse to put the juice in the refrigerator.

There was no garbage basket in plain view, so she creaked open the doors under the sink. Wrinkling her nose, she squatted down and pulled the plastic bin onto the floor. She patted her left jacket pocket and located a pair of latex gloves.

Scully reached into the rotting depths of the receptacle.

Three half eaten pizza crusts, six cigarette butts, a score of crumpled cellophane and a variety of other debris later, her search proved fruitful. The business section from an outdated newspaper was crinkled around the shards of an empty pill bottle.

Scully sifted through the bits of plastic carefully. The bottom part of the bottle was semi-intact and held remnants of a white powder. She hoped it would be enough. She slid what she had found into a plastic evidence bag and pocketed it. The rest of the kitchen turned up nothing of note.

Moving back into the main area of the apartment, she made a quick tour around the living room again before deciding to try the bedroom next. Tentatively, she placed her hand on the knob of the bedroom door.

The bedroom was no better, but no worse than the rest of the apartment. The air was stale, sheets and blankets in a heap on the bed, shoes and other assorted articles littering the floor. She moved toward the bed, tangling her foot in a discarded heap of women's clothing. She pushed it away, provoked. On the edge of the bed was a limp, white t-shirt with a small dark, damp looking stain. She leaned down and sniffed. Blood. Scully chewed her lip and considered whether or not the shirt would be missed. Deciding it might be, she looked around. Two hairbrushes lay side by side on Mulder's dresser. Bingo. She carefully extracted several lengths of hair from the one she knew belonged to Mulder and dropped them into a baggie she removed from a pocket in her jacket. She did a quick assessment of the room, then left quickly, closing the door behind her. She didn't want to push her luck. Best to get out now.

As she crossed the front room to the apartment door, a noise in the hall caused her to freeze in place, heart pounding. It wouldn't do at all for Mulder to find her in here. The footsteps receded. Heart still racing, she took a breath and moved rapidly toward the door and out of the apartment.

The door flew open with a crack. Not bothering to close the door behind him, Mulder paced across the small entry room and back again, this time slamming the door loudly. It gave him so much satisfaction he repeated the action, then whirled and marched into the other room. His couch waited. An old companion. A trusted companion. He dropped onto its worn surface and ran a hand over his face. He was over-reacting, he knew. The rising anger and injury he felt were unfair. He half-wished he could pick up the phone and call Scully. She would be calm and rational.

He dubiously eyed the cell phone that lay skewed on the coffee table. He couldn't call. This was a mess of his own making. Deep down, he knew that if Scully thought him in trouble or need of help, she would do what she could to make things right for him. But. But he couldn't bring himself to ask for help. Not from her. Not with this. The thought of losing her support, his ally in so many things, brought a bitterness to his mouth. Or maybe it was just the Goddamn stale air in this place. He rose with a jerk and pushed the window open further.

A baby.

And she wanted to keep it.

You need to get ready, she said. *We* need to get ready. Make arrangements. Plans. Talk about guardians and wills.

What the hell was she thinking? What was he thinking? Neither one of them was fit to be a parent. He could understand wanting to bring the baby to term, but adoption seemed like the logical choice. Give the baby to someone who actually wanted one. Someone equipped to be a parent. Not him. Certainly not Jo. Mulder had few illusions about the possibility of Jo changing her lifestyle to accommodate a dependant.

He just needed to think. To talk to someone. To figure out what to do. And though he longed for her organized mind, Scully was not an option. His head began to hurt, a vise squeezing his brain. That was another thing Scully could have helped him with. The headaches, the nervous twinges, the fatigue, the sleeplessness.

Stumbling into the bathroom, he splashed water on his face. He stared at the mirror and a face with sunken eyes stared back. His upper lip twitched. He looked like shit. Maybe he really was sick. The flu or something. He should eat better. Drink less coffee, eat more vegetables, more protein.

He drank a tall glass of water and tumbled into his bed.

He dreamt in black and white. Images flicked on and off in his brain. Scully in the morgue, standing over the body of what he knew was an alien and what she posited was something simian. Their first case. For some reason, her long hair was loose, not tied back, and fell to obscure her face as she bent over the body. When she looked up, Scully was gone and Jo stood incongruously dressed in scrubs, rib cutters in hand.

The scene morphed. He was standing outside, a backyard swing set before him. Samantha glided back and forth in front of him in a graceful arc. Her dark hair streamed behind her and she turned her head to give him a dazzling little girl smile. At the height of the arc, she let go of the chains that held the swing to fly through the air. She landed with a thud in a cloud of dirt. When the dust cleared, she turned and waved at him, hair now short, Jo's features imprinted on her own.

"Mulder, listen, I know you're still upset about this, but it makes sense."

Mulder looked at Jo, trying not to let his annoyance show. He had awoken groggy, still tired. "I'll concede that I need... *we* need to make some kind of arrangements, but I'm not changing my Power of Attorney."

"I don't get what the big deal is. Shouldn't I be able to have that Power of Attorney in case something happens to you? We're having a baby together." She stood at the desk in the living room facing the window. When she turned to look at him, the light diffused in her hair making her appear soft and vulnerable.

Mulder shook his head, more to shake the cobwebs loose than to signify disagreement, though disagree he did.

He tried again. "Jo, Scully has Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney. I think that's the way we should leave it."

"But, Mulder, if we're going to do this, you're going to have to share parts of your life with me," she took a step toward him. "Besides, I thought you weren't talking to her anymore."

Mulder winced. The light from the window was beginning to bother his eyes.

"No, we aren't exactly talking. We aren't exactly anything anymore, I guess."

"All the more reason to turn those responsibilities over to someone who you are talking to. Someone who is in your life. Someone who cares." Jo's voice had gone soft and had a slight quiver. She stepped forward again and laid a hand on Mulder's arm gently.

Mulder obstinately shook his head. "Jo, I know it's hard for you to understand, but even though we may not be on the best terms, she would still do what's right. For me and for you. And for the baby."

Jo backed away again, turning back to the window. "Well, you may be sure, but I'm not. She doesn't like me. She doesn't like being you involved with me or with New Light." Jo dropped her head to her chest, trailing her finger through the dust on the desk. "She's been checking up on you, you know. On us. On New Light. She doesn't trust you like you trust her."

Mulder maneuvered himself between Jo and the window. He peered into her face. "She's done some preliminary research, yeah."

 "It's more than that. She's trying to break us up. To separate us." Jo looked up at him.

"How do you know this?"

"Wen told me. He overheard her talking to someone." Jo shrugged. "Someone she works with, I guess. Wen said that they were talking about New Light and how to discredit it. How to get you away from the organization."

Mulder shook his head. "Why would she do that?"

"Because, like I said, she doesn't like me. She doesn't like that you've left the FBI and are working with a new group. She doesn't care about the work we're doing, only about keeping you away from us. Away from me." Jo reached out and laid her hand along side Mulder's neck. "I don't trust her, Mulder. She scares me."

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut tight. A faint ringing had begun at the base of his neck and was reverberating through his skull. It made him light headed and foggy. He needed room to think. Away from everything and everyone.

"Look, Jo. For now you'll have to trust me on this even if you don't trust Scully." He stopped and exhaled, long and slow. "I have to think about things, okay?"

Jo nodded slowly, her face a mask of thoughtfulness. "All right. I can wait." She tugged at Mulder's arm and drew him to the couch. "Want me to make you some tea or coffee? You look tired."

"No. I've been drinking too damn much coffee lately. I'm either drinking coffee and so buzzed up I can't sit down, or I'm so tired I can hardly stand up." The ringing in his head had increased. The world seemed too bright and too loud. The touch of Jo's hand on his skin abrasive. He shrugged her off.

"I need to get some air. I'm going out." He stood up, swaying with the sudden movement. He walked carefully to the door, stopping to pick his leather jacket up off the floor. He could feel Jo's eyes at his back.

Mulder stopped at the door, hand on the knob. "It'll be okay, Jo." He looked back over his shoulder at her sitting alone on the couch.

She nodded once, a quick bob of her head, and he left.

Mulder made it to the ground floor before he began to feel lightheaded and dizzy.

Dizzy, confused. A good way to describe how he was feeling lately. His world had slid sideways and here he stood, immobile and too lethargic to move. He had become an empty canvas, existing only to be painted by others dreams and desires. He wondered what Scully would say about that. About what the Gunmen would say.

The coffee warmed her hands, chasing out the cold she had carried in. Outside the grey day was losing ground to night. The wind knocked on the window along side Scully's booth and threw leaves and stray bits of litter against the glass. Scully didn't notice this seeming bid for attention or the chill coming off the window. She was absorbed in her reading. A thick file lay in front of her. She was a quarter way through a long series of notes when a presence at the side of the table caused her to look up.

"Mulder," she said, surprised and irritated at the same time. The last words he said to her still stung.

Mulder tilted his head toward the empty seat across from her. "Is it all right if I sit down?"

Mutely, she nodded. "How did you find me?"

"Just lucky, I guess. I went by your apartment, and thought I would check here before heading back. I know that you like to stop in here sometimes."

"It's a change from being home," she said and shrugged.

"Interesting case?" Mulder asked, nodding at the file.

"Not particularly," she said dryly. "I'm surprised you've deigned to honor me with your presence. I was under the impression you thought I was less than yesterday's trash."

"Yeah, about that." he fell back into the booth. The understated lighting draped his eyes deep in shadow.

She put her coffee down and waited. Mulder stared at the table top in soundless contemplation. Long, silent minutes passed before he raised his head.

"I just wanted to say how sorry I am."

Unable to breath, Scully didn't answer. She wasn't even sure she was supposed to.

After a moment, Mulder continued, "It's just... everything happened so fast. Sometimes, I don't know what to make of it." He slid out of the booth and stood abruptly. "I should go."

"Mulder," she hoped her voice didn't sound as hopeless as she felt. "I -- "

"It's okay, you don't need to say anything." he turned and strode out of the cafe.

"Mulder, wait -- " But the place where he had been was vacant.

He passed the window she was sitting next to, a dark blur in the twilight. Scully bit back her anger and tried not to cry.

She was lonely. She was lost. Absence, making her heart not fonder, but obsessive. Skinner thought she needed to step back. Scully thought she needed to try harder. Pulling in the threads, knotting the ends, carefully stitching a coherent argument, she plied the fabric of Mulder's new life only to find the seams were ripped and that it all fell apart in her fingers.

Getting the lab to do an unofficial analysis of the hair and powder residue she had found at Mulder's apartment had been easier than Scully thought. Either the labs were slow, or they had gotten used to the X-Files' unorthodox way of doing things and it no longer fazed them. Someone had even slipped an envelope under the office door marked 'Dana Scully' in thick green marker. Scully was grateful. It was late, and chances were there would have been no one left in the labs to get the results for her. She would have to remember to send her thanks.

She sat at Mulder's desk and pulled out the lab report.  The analysis confirmed what Scully had thought: the strands of hair she submitted were from both Mulder and an unknown person. Jo, she assumed.

The rest of the findings were dismaying. Tests done to Mulder's hair sample had produced positive results for both amphetamines and barbiturates. Specifically, pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, and dextroamphetamine, used in the treatment, among other things, of narcolepsy.

Either Mulder taking the drugs himself -- something she had trouble believing -- or someone was giving them to him without his knowledge. Marsh, Jo and Wen. All three or any one of them. For what purpose, Scully wasn't yet certain.

She leaned back in Mulder's chair and closed her eyes. The chair had a familiar creak. If she tried hard enough, she could almost hear Mulder's footstep coming down the hall. He would be coming in to tell her that they should grab some dinner.

A slight stirring of the air made her sit bolt upright.

"Dana? Everything okay?" Ritter stood in front of her, frowning. His tie was askew and she thought he looked painfully young.

"Hi. Sorry. You startled me." She pulled the chair closer to the desk and swiped at her hair. "What are you doing here so late?"

Ritter shrugged. "Just had some stuff to finish up. I needed to drop these files off before I left." He plunked several folders on the desk. "I didn't expect anyone else to be around. Eat yet? Wanna grab something?"

"No, thanks, Peyton. I'm going to head home, I think."

Ritter nodded, peering into her face. "You look tired. You should get a good night's sleep."

Scully smiled wanly. "Believe me, I'd like to. There has just been too much going on."

Peyton leaned over the lab reports. "These Mulder's?"

At Scully's nod he picked them up and scanned through them. He let out a quick puff of air. "So you think what? Is this something Mulder would do?"

"You mean take drugs? Not the Mulder I know."

"So... somebody is slipping him a mickey?"

"That's my theory."

"Those guys in New Light?"

Scully rotated her shoulders, trying to relieve the stiffness. "That would be my guess. What I don't know is why."


"That would seem logical, but how do they hope to get it? Just confuse him enough to make big donations to their organization?"           "I've heard of worse plans."

She let the waves of fatigue wash over her. She was tired, so tired, and frustrated. The weight of this recent knowledge just felt like too much.

Home. Bed. That's what she wanted. To pull the covers over her head and never come out, to just give in.

Dimly, she could hear Peyton rummaging around in the file cabinets. Then he was gently shaking her shoulder. "Hey, wake up and go home." She could hear amusement in his voice. "I'll need you to be sharp tomorrow. We have that meeting at 9:30 and I don't want to have to go alone."

"Yeah, okay Dad. Just a couple more minutes and I'll get up."

Ritter tugged Scully to her feet. "Don't give me that 'just a few more minutes bull'. I know how *that* works." He steered her to the door. "Come on, I'll walk you to your car."

"All right. Just let me grab some things." She walked over to a large shoulder bag sitting on the floor, stuffed with papers and files.

"Geez, better watch it. Someone might get the idea that you're a workaholic," Ritter teased.

Scully smiled slightly and bent to heft the bag. A sharp pain coursed through her abdomen. Her fingers loosened involuntarily and the bag fell back with a heavy thud to the floor. She pressed a hand to her left side and stifled a gasped.

Ritter paled. "Oh, God. Let me get that. I'm so sorry..."

"It's okay, Peyton. It'll pass."

"It's not that. I mean, I wish..." he glanced around feebly. "You don't know how much I want to take back what happened. Everything. Not just the shooting. I was so..."

Scully sucked in a breath, trying to maintain her calm. "It's fine, really. We're both lucky that more damage wasn't done."

"Yeah. Lucky." Ritter croaked. He pulled the bag up from the floor. "I'll get this. Lean on me if you have to."

Ritter had followed her home in his car. It was sweet, but unnecessary, she said. He had insisted. She was too tired to be driving, he said. The least he could do was make sure she got home okay. Scully was too tired to argue. She went into her building while Peyton looked for a place to park his car. He would bring the shoulder bag with her files up, he told her.

Something hot to drink and sleep. It sounded good. The only problem was the figure that slouched brashly against her door. His blond, shoulder length hair glowed dully under the hallway lights. At her approach, he quirked a smile Scully knew more than one woman would find charming. She wondered who he had sweet talked into letting him into the building.

"Keeping late hours, I see," he said by way of greeting. His leather jacket swung open and exposed a snug white t-shirt that stretched across his chest, revealing his defined muscles.

Scully bit back a retort and moved past. "Is there something I can do for you?"

That produced a bigger smile. "Several things, probably."

Scully waited.

Marsh finally sighed and said, "We need to talk about Mulder."

Scully raised her eyebrows. "Okay, go ahead. Talk."

Marsh shook his head. "Not out here."

"What's wrong with out here?"

"I'd feel better if we weren't is such a public place, wouldn't you?" The corner of his mouth tilted up slightly and he leaned in towards her.

"Not necessarily," Scully said. She looked Marsh over carefully. "Step back, jacket off," she said.


"Step back, remove your jacket. Toss it over to me, onto the floor."

Marsh did as she asked.

"Okay. Now, put your hands on your head and turn around slowly. Good. Now raise your pant legs one at a time."

"What's this all about? You're sure picky about who you let into your apartment."

"I don't know you. I don't trust you." Scully tossed the jacket back to Marsh. "Pick it up. It's clean."

"And the rest of me? Do I pass inspection?"

Scully eyed the snug fitting t-shirt and jeans. "Yeah, for now."

He followed her into her apartment without waiting for an invitation. "I'm Marshall DeYoung."

"I gathered as much," said Scully. She dropped her jacket and the leather case she had been carrying onto the couch and made her way to the kitchen.

Marsh leaned against the dining table and watched her fill the tea kettle with water. His leather jacket creaked slightly. "I stopped by find to out if you could see your way to letting Mulder go gracefully."

That stilled her. Shoulders rigid, she turned to face him. "Excuse me?"

"Well, I was just thinking, that if you were a bit more... flexible on this whole thing, that it would make things easier for Mulder. For all of us, really."

"And exactly in which ways is my inflexibility making things difficult for Mulder?"

Marsh lifted one shoulder. "It's an intangible thing at best. But he's holding back on us, and I think that you're part of that."

Scully turned back to the sink. She closed her eyes briefly and took a quick breath. Carefully, she placed the cover of the kettle and set it on the stove. She lit the burner underneath and watched the flames for a moment before answering.              "He seems pretty invested to me. I'm not sure that I can help you."

"You could help me and Mulder both by being on board with what he's doing." Marsh had moved into the kitchen and was standing too close.

"Mr. DeYoung, I can't be on board with something I think is a mistake." His presence was unnerving her. It was the fatigue, she told herself.

He laughed. The sound was clear and, in another situation, Scully would have said infectious. "Call me Marsh, okay?" He maneuvered around so that he stood even closer. "Maybe we should talk about what New Light does, so that you have more information. Would that help you to feel more comfortable?"

"I think I have plenty of information. Marsh."

"And I think that I could give you a more in-depth view of how we work. I wouldn't mind going over things with you. Personally."   "Agent Ritter and I have gathered quite a bit of information already on your organization."

"Yeah, I've seen you and the boy scout studying late into the night," Marshall smiled, almost smirked. "He can't give you the kind of information that I can." He leaned down into her. His eyes crinkled around the edges. He said conspiratorially, "You know, I just have this hunch. He's a nice boy, Dana, but a bit too nice for you. I get the feeling that you would really prefer someone a little rougher around the edges."

Startled, Scully moved back a fraction. Cursing herself for giving ground, she straightened her back. "I'm not sure where you're going with this, but I think it's time for you to leave."

"I'm just giving you a chance, Dana. Mulder's a big boy, he can make his own decisions. Cut the apron strings before someone cuts them for you." Marsh's voice was soft, but there was something dark behind the words.

Scully raised her eyebrows. "Are you threatening me, Mr. DeYoung? Because I don't respond well to threats."

Marsh nodded his head slowly, he locked eyes with her. The look was too intense, too personal, but Scully forced herself to hold it. He said, "I bet there are other things that you would respond to."

There was an startling, sharp rap on wood, and Scully carefully stepped back and of the kitchen. Peyton had poked his head in by the time she had gotten halfway to the door.

"Hey. Sorry, but it was unlocked. I brought this." He held up the shoulder bag. "What's up?" His eyes traveled from Scully to DeYoung.

"Just hashing things out with Dana," Marsh spoke up before Scully could say anything. He drew his jacket together and nodded to Ritter. "Be seeing ya'."

Ritter stared at the door for a beat, the turned to Scully. "What was that about?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure, really. Either he was trying to scare me off, or trying to reel me in." She paused. "Thanks for bringing the files up."

Ritter smiled. "Not a problem. How are you holding up? You've been a bit out of it, lately."

Scully laughed shortly. "A bit. Yes. That's putting it mildly. Do you want some tea while you're here? Coffee?"

Peyton's eyes scanned the room, then came to rest on Scully's face. "Yeah, thanks. Just one cup, though. You look like hell. You should get to bed."

Scully smiled wearily. "You don't look so good yourself, sailor." She turned back toward the kitchen. "Okay. One cup."

End Four

Achilles' Heel Part Five fran58@wonderhorse.net

Ritter tapped a nervous rhythm on the hard surface of Mulder's desk, a single, recursive pattern. Scully tried, for the umteenth time, to block the drumming out. Peyton had been edgy all day. Scully eyed the coffee maker. It sat innocuously on the small cabinet. Maybe she should sneak some decaf into their mix. Maybe they should switch to herbal tea.

Ritter probably just needed to get out of the office. He had been putting in long hours.

"I could use some air. How about you?" She looked at Peyton who was now flipping rapidly through a sheaf of papers. "Want to get some coffee or something?"

"We have coffee here." Peyton didn't even look up.

"Yes... but not latte's..." She hedged. "Come on, I'll buy you one."

"Okay. I guess I could use a break, but I don't want any coffee. I don't even usually drink it. I had one cup and I can't sit still." Ritter pushed back, stood up too fast, and tipped the chair over.

"Slow down, I won't leave without you." Scully was smiling, but the back of her brain prickled. She moved towards look at the coffee maker. "Do you take sugar in your coffee?"

"Yeah, why?" He came to stand near her. "What's up?"

"I don't know yet." Scully bent and picked up the green, plastic alien-head cup that served as a sugar bowl. It had been Scully's contribution. The cup had a hinged lid that formed the top of the alien's head.

"Hey, that's one of the Little Green Men from 'Toy Story'," Ritter said.

Scully smiled. "Yeah. I got it when I took my nephews to see 'Toy Story on Ice'. Seemed too good to pass up, considering."

Ritter let out a short laugh. "Well, it makes a good sugar bowl."

"Yeah," Scully looked at the makeshift sugar bowl thoughtfully, then squatted down to rummage through the interior contents of the cabinet. She pulled out a tattered, nearly empty bag of sugar.

"I'm going to have to give you a rain check on the coffee, okay, Peyton?" She was already half-way out of the door. "I've got something to check on."

Two hours later, Scully had her answer. The sugar had tested positive for an amphetamine substance. There were no particulars yet, but she didn't need to wait for those to draw her conclusions. Wen had been doping Mulder's sugar. He had probably been counting on its sweetness to overpower any lingering bitterness the powdered amphetamine might leave. No wonder Mulder had been so agitated.

Mulder was convulsing. His body shook uncontrollably and he fell to his knees, hitting the hardwood of the floor with a crack. He reached out a trembling hand to the wall, hoping to steady himself. His brain rattled, ideas careened about and collided with his skull. His last thought was of passing out.

The air crackled and the world was a tilted, crazy landscape of lights and white jackets. Mulder was laying on his side in the passenger seat of a car. He could see the windshield was covered with a spider web of cracked glass. A white blur was poking at his head, checking for wounds.

Mulder had a hazy memory of Jo dragging him into the vehicle. She was taking him to a doctor, someone she knew. She hadn't called a taxi or ambulance, but tried to drive him herself. He had been lucid enough, momentarily, to know she shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car -- she reeked of alcohol. Her response to his suggestion that she call 911 was "No. I know where we should go. Can't wait." He had asked for Scully, then, but got no response. Mulder didn't have the energy to argue the point. He blacked out again after that.

Strong hands were now pulling him out of the car and he was suddenly on a stretcher and sliding into the back of a vehicle. Ambulance, Mulder thought.  He tried to turn his head, to look for Jo but couldn't see her.

By the time they reached the hospital, Mulder was fully conscious, trying to sit up, and annoying the EMTs. He ran a practiced inventory of his aches and pains. He could move his hands and feet. He had a ripping headache, but was thinking clearly. He insisted the hospital staff admit Jo first, then refused admittance himself. He reasoned that he couldn't keep an eye on Jo if he was a patient himself.

However, it was, Mulder discovered, much harder to gain entry into restricted areas of the hospital without an FBI badge to wave about. On the couple occasions when medical staff had refused to let him see Scully, he had been able to get in to see her by using a combination of bureaucratic double talk, manipulation and browbeating. It wasn't working now. He was relegated to sitting in the waiting room with all the other left-behinds. He hated it.

Mulder fiddled with the controls on the television in the waiting room for the third time. The reception wasn't bad except for the one station he wanted to watch. Figured. He turned and squinted at the clock again. Almost two hours. What the hell was taking so long?

"Fox Mulder?" Mulder straightened at the sound of his name. A nurse in green scrubs motioned to him.


"You came in with Josephine Sartini?" The young man was bristle-haired and tall. Taller than Mulder.

"Yes, I did."

"You might want to go on home. Ms. Sartini will be here for the night."

"She's okay, though? What were her injuries?"

The young man consulted his clipboard. "She was lucky. No broken bones, but she's concussed. That's why we want to keep an eye on her tonight. If everything looks all right in the morning, she'll be released."

Mulder nodded. "Okay. Can I see her now?"

The nurse frowned, looking as though he had better things to do than check Mulder's request. "I'll see if she's been taken to a room yet."

Jo had a semi-private room on the fifth floor. Her hair looked even darker than usual in contrast to her pale face. Mulder felt a prick of guilt. If he hadn't needed a doctor, she would not have tried to drive him to the hospital in the first place. He knew the logic was off, but there it was, all the same.

Mulder bent down over the bed and straightened a loose lock of hair. He had done this for Scully. Hovered over her bed, watching for a twitch, a sign of consciousness. No more, he thought with regret. I've burned my bridges there.             **

Scully hadn't thought that Mulder might be in the room. He was huddled over the hospital bed, whispering platitudes. She wondered if he had done that for her. Probably. Mulder was a creature of habit, lurking about in hospital rooms would be par for the course.

She had a sudden memory of her last hospital stay. Waking up in the too white room. Her momentary panic and confusion. There was pain in her abdomen and something heavy on her ankle. From her prone position, she has craned her head to see the foot of the bed. Mulder's leather jacket lay there, black and grubby looking against the white, pristine sheet . She turned her head again to find Mulder slouched in the institutional chair parked in the corner of her room. He was unshaven and grubby himself and she had felt a surge of gratitude and comfort that was almost unbearable.

And now he was at someone else's bedside. Scully backed quietly away from the door and made her way toward the nurses' station. The Gunmen, of all people, had told her of Jo's admission. They had picked up Mulder's name on their police scanner and followed the trail to its logical conclusion. Scully wasn't even sure why she had come. Information gathering, she supposed. Maybe just to get another look at Jo.

The nurses' station came into view, a bright island as the hall opened up. Scully walked past, glancing at the staff behind the counter, weighing the situation. If she were lucky, there would be at least one inexperienced staffer that she could zero in on. Someone who wouldn't think to question her FBI credentials or her status as a non- practicing doctor not associated with the hospital. She took another turn down the hall and circled back to the station. It was almost deserted. A young man sat in front of a PC, diligently rapping at the keyboard. He would do, she thought.

No sign of drug use, other than high levels of alcohol. Nothing out of the ordinary. Scully quickly scanned the file. Not much information, but then, what had she expected? A note circled in red indicating the presence of barbiturates?

She smiled and leaned over the counter. Keeping her voice low she asked, "Do you think I could get a copy of this?"

The young man looked up at her from his keyboard. "Uh, yeah, I guess that would be okay. Back in a sec." He took the file from her and moved to the photocopier on the other side of the station. No one took notice of what he was doing. He chatted with a middle-aged woman who sat near the copier, leaning idly against a chair while the copies whizzed through the machine. When it finished, he gathered up the sheets, slid them into a large envelope and handed them over the counter to her.


The voice startled her. It was hoarse and gravelly, but unmistakable.

She shifted so she was face to face with him. "Mulder."

"What are you doing here?"

Self consciously she brought the envelope that held Jo's files closer to her side. "I came to pick up some information related to a case," she paused. "What about you?"

"There was an accident. Jo is down the hall. I was just in with her." He looked tired.

Scully nodded, not trusting her voice to be steady. After a moment's awkward pause, she cleared her throat. "Is she okay?"

Mulder nodded. "Yeah, she's doing okay for now. She has a concussion and isn't awake at the moment."

"Well, that's good. That she's okay."


Another pause. Scully felt as though the world had stopped all movement and she existed in a liquid bubble that encompassed only her and Mulder. The folder in her hand felt awkward and obtrusive.

"And how are you doing, Mulder?"

He shrugged. "I had a little incident earlier. I think I might need to get it checked out."

"What sort of incident?"

He shrugged again, this time grimacing. His eyes darted to her face and away. "I think I might have had a seizure or something."

Startled, Scully said, "You *think*? What happened, Mulder?"

He shook her sudden concern off. "I don't want to go into that now." She began to protest. Mulder scowled and continued. "As long as you're here, I do have something to tell you."

"Go on," Scully's voice was tight.

"I know you've said in the past that whatever arrangements I made were fine with you. That you didn't want anything from me. But, you know, you were in it, just the same." Mulder ran his hand over his already disheveled hair, leaving spikes where it passed through his fingers.

Scully frowned. "What are you talking about, Mulder?"           "I thought you should know that I changed my will. Some... things have come up."

"I see."

He eyed her. "So, it's all set up and done. That's the way it is."

Scully inclined her head. "So what you're saying is that the changes you made affect my status as a beneficiary."

"Yes," he eyed her again, as if he was afraid she might protest.

"Okay, Mulder. Are you... can I ask what prompted this?" The conversation had turned surreal. The bubble that held them suspended from the rest of the world shimmered and flexed.

"I told you. Things came up."

"Are you leaving all your worldly possessions to New Light?" Scully tried to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

"No, I'm not." He scowled at her. "I'm leaving them to Jo."

The bubble intensified, sucking the breath out of her. "I see."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, Mulder, I think I do."

Mulder took a warning step toward her. When he spoke, his voice was low and ominous. "No, you don't. I have other responsibilities now. She's pregnant."

The bubble exploded as Mulder whirled around. He strode away down the hall in the direction of Jo's room, fists clenched, leaving Scully standing a short distance from the nurses' station, sound and light erupting around her.

End Five

Achilles' Heel Part Six fran58@wonderhorse.net

It wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to be sitting alone in this hospital room. Technically, he wasn't alone. Jo lay in the bed, pale and unmoving. But Mulder felt alone. More alone than he had in years. The months after Diana had left, after the euphoria of discovering the X-Files had worn off, he had felt like this. He'd had a hollow, dark heart in those days. Without Diana to lean on, he floundered. After a respectable period of mourning, he managed to get back on track.

He was floundering again, and he knew it. He wondered if he couldn't just stop and start over. Extricate himself from the whole New Light business. His gaze turned back to the figure in the bed.

No, he couldn't extricate himself completely.

Mulder ran a hand through his hair. It fell almost to his shoulders in the back. He should do something about that. Blowing out a long breath, he rubbed his palms on his thighs, pretending not to notice how they shook slightly. The room seemed suddenly too warm. Sweat pooled beneath his arms and on his back, making his t-shirt sticky. He probably needed to eat. It had been more than a day since he'd had anything at all. The thought of food made his stomach pitch, however. Maybe just something to drink.

Mulder stood slowly on shaky legs. His blood sugar was low and a can of juice would do the trick. Soda, if there was nothing else. The room spun as he turned to leave. He closed his eyes and blinked rapidly. Cautiously, he moved toward the door. Good, fine. If he moved slowly, he would be fine. He just needed to reach the hall.

The hall outside Jo's room was no better. The lights and sounds disoriented him and caused his head to swirl. A few feet from the room, he stopped, struggling to maintain his bearing. A bank of outdated orange chairs stood along the hallway to his right. He made for them. He would just sit down for a minute.

As he stumbled toward the chairs, a familiar face lurched into view. Scully. What was she still doing here? Surely it had been hours. Her brow was furrowed and she was frowning. What had he done now?

"Mulder? What's wrong?"

"...just need to sit down."

"What's wrong, Mulder? Are you sick?" She put her hand up to his forehead. Her fingers were cool and soothing. The floor suddenly titled out from under him and he felt himself sliding down the wall.

Scully was yelling. The sound hurt his head. Something about an emergency. That was all he remembered.

If the world had been bleak before, it was now absolutely dismal. Mulder kept his eyes closed, not wanting to brave the bright whiteness that would greet him. He knew by smell, sound and the feel of the mattress that he was in a hospital bed. The last thing he remembered was stumbling away from Jo's room.

Mulder's mouth was dry and his tongue felt sticky. He wished he had the wherewithal to open his eyes to see if anyone had left a glass of water for him.

Voices murmured nearby. Outside his door, perhaps. He could just make out the ring of a telephone. He must be near the nurses' station. The voices sounded good to him. There was something familiar about the cadence. Or one of them, anyhow. Mulder lay still, content to let the voices wash over him.

"...and I'd like to see the notes from the doctor who is attending him," she finished firmly.

"Are you a family member, Ms. Scully?"


The nurse shook her head. "I know that you came in with him, but Mr. Mulder really shouldn't have any visitors at this time. Maybe tomorrow -- "

"I think if you'll check your records, you'll find that I'm listed as Mr. Mulder's physician."

"Okay..." Adjusting her glasses, the nurse took a seat in front of a computer monitor and pulled the keyboard into place. Bending forward slightly and pulling a lever on the side of the chair, she lowered the seat with a thump.

"Everyone is a giant here, except for me," she said glancing at Scully. "And you." Scully watched as the woman's fingers tapped across the keyboard. "All right, then. Fox Mulder. Physician is down as Dana Scully. That's you, huh?"

"Yes, that's me."

"I thought you said you were with the F.B.I.?" The woman looked up again.

"I am."

"You're an F.B.I. doctor?"

Scully forced a smiled. "Not exactly. I'm an agent, and I'm also a pathologist." The woman looked up in surprise. "It sounds stranger than it is."

"And Mr. Mulder has a pathologist down as his doctor because..."

"We were partnered for several years. Mr. Mulder isn't with the Bureau any longer." Scully kept her voice even. She didn't blame the nurse for being cautious, but she was becoming impatient.

"Okay, *Doctor*. Room 32." The nurse pointed over Scully's left shoulder. "So close, if you weren't paying attention, you'd fall right in. As for information on his condition... Well, that I can tell you."

Scully looked at her expectantly. "Yes?"

"Your friend had a seizure, probably due to the high concentrations of a barbiturate in his system."

"Pentobarbital," said Scully.

Surprised, the nurse said, "You know about his problem?"

Scully took a breath and said carefully. "I know that he has tested positive for that substance, yes."

"Then you know that a too quick withdrawal from barbiturates can cause convulsions?"


The other woman continued. "We figure it was either that, or his body just gave out. With those amounts we found in his system... well, the human body just isn't designed to take that kind of abuse for too long."

"No, it isn't."

"He seems to be doing all right so far. I expect that the docs will want to keep him for a bit, and then recommend some kind of treatment program. It's going to get worse, before it gets better." The nurse flicked her eyes over Scully's shoulder and then back to her face. "The withdrawal symptoms, I mean. It's going to be rough for him."

"He may try to check himself out."

"They usually do. We'll try to keep him here, though."

"Please do," Scully said, her voice husky. She turned to make her way to Mulder's room.              "Excuse me, uh, Doctor?"

Scully turned back to the nurse. "Yes?"

"He is going to need a friend right now. How close are you to him?" She flushed a bit. "I mean, are you a friend of his?"

Scully glanced back at Mulder's room, unsure of how to answer.

Scully paused just inside the door of Mulder's room. His hair and the stubble of his beard were stark against his skin. His arm twitched periodically, but other than that, he appeared to be sleeping. She was loath to wake him. His body had gone through enormous trauma and needed to rest. Perhaps the nurse was right. Tomorrow would be a better day. Just as she made up her mind to leave, Mulder stirred, opening his eyes slowly.

Scully didn't move, letting him orient himself first. Mulder rotated his head to the side and slowly propped himself up on one arm.


"Yeah. I'm here, Mulder," she said softly.

"Is there any water around? I'm parched."

She moved over to the side of his bed. There was a small pitcher on the tray attached to his bed. She poured Mulder a half glass of water and handed it to him.

"No bendy straw?" His voice was rough and he looked at her earnestly. "That's the best part, you know."

"Yes, I know, Mulder." She was already unwrapping the requested object.

"Thanks."                     "Don't mention it." Scully settled herself into the chair nearest the bed. "Do you remember what happened?"

"Not well. I blacked out again, I guess."

"Like when you were in your apartment?"

"Yeah. That's why we were in the car in the first place. I had some kind of seizure and Jo found me."

"So she put you in her car to drive you here?"

Mulder nodded. "That's the way I figure it."

"Mulder," Scully hesitated, then began again. "Mulder, you know, she had been drinking. Enough to impair her judgment."


"But you let her put you in a car? Why wouldn't she just pick up the phone? And why didn't *you* suggest she call an ambulance if you knew she'd been drinking?" Scully's voice was tight with restrained pique.

"You said it yourself, Scully. Her judgement was impaired. And I was in no position to suggest anything." Mulder put his glass down too quickly.

"Mulder, I'm sorry, but I'm concerned."

"Yeah." He laid back down unsteadily and sank into his pillow.

Scully tried a different tack. "How are you feeling?"

"Like shit. My mouth is dry. My hands are shaking, and I have a wicked headache. All in all, pretty much how I've felt for the last few weeks, only worse."

"I think there are some things you should know," Scully said quietly. "About Jo, and a possible explanation as to why you've not been yourself lately."

Silence. "Mulder?" Scully rose from her chair and peered over the side of the bed. A small smile played briefly over her features. Asleep again. Well, it was best, she thought. He was probably exhausted. His skin was still too pale, and he was too thin, but she hoped that once the drugs worked their way out of Mulder's system, he would regain his former health.

She reached out and gently straightened the blanket that he had pulled over his torso. Tentatively, she rested her palm on his chest and closed her eyes for a moment. She let the feel of his warmth and the beat of his heart fill her mind. No worries, no concerns. Only this lifeline that kept her here, at his side.

He awoke again to the sound of wheels on linoleum. Almost immediately, he wished he hadn't. He struggled into a sitting position. He needed water.

A glass sat half-filled on the tray near his bed. Mulder reached for it with one trembling hand. He gritted his teeth in an attempt to concentrate. His head throbbed.

"Here, Mulder, let me get that." Scully came into the room and deftly picked up the glass. "Lie back, okay?"

Mulder did as he was told. He hadn't the stamina to do anything but. He sipped greedily at the straw Scully held for him.

"God, I feel like shit," he mumbled.

"You don't look much better," Scully answered with a hint of a sad smile. "It will be a few days before you feel better. It's going to get worse, first."

"What is?"

Scully's mouth turned down. "Hasn't anyone been in to talk with you?"

"Talk to me about what?" God, his stomach felt bad. He was glad no one had offered him breakfast yet.

"I'd better let the physician attending you explain it," Scully hedged.

"Explain what? Scully, come on. Tell me what's going on." A sudden jolt of pain lashed up his leg into his abdomen. Mulder doubled over and squeezed his eyes shut tight. "What the hell was that?"

"I'm going to get your doctor, Mulder, just hang on." Scully rose and set the water back on the tray.

Mulder's hand shot out. "No, don't leave. I need to know what's happening." Another spasm of pain rocked his body. He gripped Scully's arm more tightly. "Tell me!"

"Mulder, let go. You're cutting off my circulation." There was a note of alarm in Scully's voice.

With effort, Mulder released her arm. "Please tell me, Scully. I want to hear it now. From you."

"You're going through withdrawal, Mulder. You have both dextroamphetamine and pentobarbital in your system. The first is an amphetamine, the second a barbiturate. There is more of the latter. Just trace amounts, at this point, of the first."

"Bull shit. I'm not on drugs."

"No, not bull shit. I've seen the test results myself." She hesitated. "I think it started several months ago, at the office. The Bureau's lab found dextroamphetamine in the sugar that you used in your coffee."

"It can't be," Mulder said. He had gripped the side of the bed in lieu of Scully's arm. Scully gently pried his fingers off the rail. Once his hand was free, she placed a pillow in it.

"I feel like hell."

"I know, Mulder. Just hang on. Squeeze the pillow."                   **

The air outside was crisp and sharp, the moon full and heavy. Scully breathed in the night air. It felt cold and fresh. Nearby street lamps cast pools of illumination on the sidewalk and splashed light into the now quiet street. The hospital was only a block away, appearing bright and aggressive from where she stood, in relative darkness, sheltered by the shadows. She was reluctant to return so soon to its hard edges and antiseptic corridors. She lingered a moment longer, then resolutely made her way toward the big building.

The sliding door whooshed open, sending a wave of warm air out into the night. Scully shivered involuntarily, suddenly aware of how cold it had gotten.

Coffee. Coffee would be good for her tired bones. Between her duties at the bureau during the day, and her tenure with Mulder in the evenings the last few days, she'd has little sleep.

Scully made her way across to the cafeteria. A line of glowing vending machines stood on the far wall. Scully wound her way through an obstacle course of tables and plastic chairs. There were few people in the room at this hour. She fed the vending machine its requisite amount and punched the selection for coffee. It was an old machine, with large, square, orange buttons. She scanned the choices, thinking she should bring something to Mulder. Tea, perhaps. She dropped a few more coins into the slot.

Mulder was awake when she reached his room, staring at the ceiling, covers thrown back. His left hand twitched against the starched bottom sheet. Scully stood silently for a beat, then walked into the room.


Mulder turned his head in her direction. "Hey, yourself."

"I brought you some tea."

"Stomach's not so good," Mulder said, sliding his right had over his mid-section.

"It's herbal, no caffeine," said Scully. "Maybe you'll want it later."

"Yeah, maybe." Mulder's voice was thin and tired. "They've got me on something." He nodded to the new drip bag that hung next to the bed.

Scully set the coffee and tea on Mulder's bedside table and turned the drip bag to read the label. "Mmm, it's for your stomach. Is it helping?"

Mulder, staring at the ceiling again, gave a half shrug.

"It'll pass, Mulder. Give it time."

"You keep saying that." He turned restlessly in the bed. "Why are you still here, anyway? Don't you have to be somewhere?"

"Mulder, it's Saturday."

"Then aren't you missing an appointment with Skinner or Ritter?" The words stung.

Scully pressed her lips together. "No, I'm not." She sat down in the chair near Mulder's bed. "Do you want me to leave?"

Mulder shrugged again. "I don't know. I don't know what I want. All the color's gone out of everything." He sounded deflated. "I don't understand how this happened."

Scully spoke carefully. "Someone was feeding drugs to you. It's the only way this would have happened, unless you were taking them voluntarily."


"No? To which part?"

"No to the whole thing. Just no." His left hand began to twitch more violently.

"Then how did the stuff get into your system?" Scully kept her voice low.

"How the hell should I know? Maybe someone was spiking my water again." Mulder jerked his sheet and blanket over himself.

"Not this time. Ritter checked that for me." He scowled at her. "Mulder, think about it. They fed you drugs to make you compliant, so you wouldn't question too closely information they gave you. New Light is just a front. They want something from you. Jo was sent in to play on your sympathies. It was deliberate. If it was the water, Jo would be affected, too."

"Maybe she was."

"She wasn't, Mulder. I've seen her records."

"You what? You had no right!"

Scully sighed. "Maybe not, but I looked at them anyway. She had a high blood alcohol level, but nothing else." The words she had just uttered suddenly struck her. Nothing else. She rose from the chair and went around to the foot of Mulder's bed. She had left belongings on the other room chair. Pulling the copy of Jo's file off the seat, she paged through it twice. A cold little ball settled in her chest.

"What is it?" Mulder was struggling to sit up in bed. "Scully?"

She breathed out a huff of air and ran her tongue over her lips. "Mulder..."

"What is it, Scully? Is there something wrong with Jo?" His concern touched her even as it made her stomach roil.

"No. I don't see anything wrong, Mulder. It's just that, according to this," she waved the file. "According to this, Jo isn't pregnant."

Mulder scowled. "That it can't be right. Someone slipped up."

Scully bit back her retort. Instead, she said, "I'll get someone to double check it, okay?" She pushed him gently back down onto the bed. "You should rest. Let me take care of it."

Mulder lay back down reluctantly, but without complaint. He was pale, his flesh appearing sticky and unhealthy.

"Just rest," she murmured again, absently stroking his forehead.

Mulder closed his eyes. "I'll try. Promise me you'll check."

"I promise, Mulder."

He nodded, pulled the sheet up to his neck and rolled into a ball.

Scully hesitated in the silence followed. Slowly, she got up and walked to the window. "What is it about her, Mulder?"

"About who?"

"Jo," she said. She gazed out the heavy glass and watched the lights burn in the night.

"I don't understand," he said.

Of course you don't, she thought. Out loud she said, "You seem to... draw in these... lost girls, Mulder. Only, some of them really aren't so lost. Like Jo. It's as if she saw you coming a mile away, and knew just how to play you."

"It isn't like that, Scully."

"Are you sure?" She turned from the window and walked to his bedside.

Mulder looked up at her, jaw jutting, lips pressed together. He didn't answer.

Mulder squinted into the light

Marsh leaned toward the hospital bed. "Jo's just anxious. That's all. She's worried about you. You know how she gets."

"If she's worried about me, why not just come by my room? We *were* in the same hospital."

"Yeah, except she said that they wouldn't let her."

"Who wouldn't let her?"

Marsh shrugged. "The hospital? Who else? You?"

"Not me," Mulder shook his head. "She could have come anytime."

"Your partner then. Maybe it was her."

"Scully? How would she do that? More to the point, *why* would she do that?"

Marsh shrugged. "She never cared for Jo -- for us -- much, you know. You said she was your doctor. She could do that, right? Being your doc and all."

Mulder began to shake his head and thought the better of it. It was more movement than he could take. "Even so, she wouldn't have... tried to keep you or Jo from visiting."

"You're sure about that? She strikes me as someone who will go to lengths to do what she thinks should be done."

Mulder grunted. "How would you know?"

"We went a round or two a while back. It was just the impression I got." Marsh grinned. "She's something else. I wasn't sure if I wanted to smack her silly or declare my undying devotion."

Mulder said nothing. That Marsh and Scully had ever met privately was news. It sat uneasily with him.

Marsh was bending over fiddling with Mulder's IV line and frowning. "It looks like this is blocked up. I'll get someone to take a look at it."

Mulder watched Marsh walk into the hall, thinking about what Scully had told him. Was Marsh trustworthy? Was Jo? Mulder yawned and stretched, trying to clear his head. He was getting sleepy again. He wanted to stay awake, but found his eyes closing.

There was no mistake.

"I've had them re-check the results. Same as before." The woman she had talked to earlier was again at the nurses' station. She had a colorful mosaic sweater of purples, greens and browns thrown over her shoulders.

Scully nodded. "Thanks. I appreciate your thoroughness." The other woman nodded back and returned to shifting a stack of files from one cart to another.

Scully walked slowly to Mulder's room. Still sleeping, she noted, relieved. He wanted the news as soon as she had it, she knew, but he needed his rest, she told herself, and he would not be happy with what she had to say to him.

She walked down the hall, casting sidelong glances into other patient's rooms. She had been so focused on Mulder, she had paid little attention to anything else happening on the floor. There was a small waiting room at the end of the hall. She paused briefly at the door. Cushioned chairs lined the walls and a mute television glowed in one corner. Two children were sprawled on the carpet, one reading by the light of a table lamp, the other had formed a ring of toy cars around a hapless plastic lion.

Scully moved on, gnawing absently at the inside of her cheek. She had received a letter the day before from Mulder's attorney, informing her that she no longer had Mulder's Power of Attorney. Normally, this wouldn't have alarmed her greatly. Given the current situation, it did.

She could only think that the fact Jo had lied to Mulder about her pregnancy was another strike against her. Unless the girl had honestly been mistaken, it didn't look good. With Mulder's Power of Attorney -- for Scully was sure Jo now had that -- New Light would have access to Mulder's finances. As a scam, it wasn't bad. Get what you could, and get out. That's what she would have done.

Scully found herself in front of the vending machines on one of the lower hospital levels. The sour cream and onion potato chips looked tempting. She shook herself. No more junk food. She had given in too many times late at night like this. She rolled her neck and stretched her arms out to the side. She was stiff from too much inactivity. She needed to get back into her old exercise routine soon.

With that in mind, Scully took the stairs back up to Mulder's floor. She had been gone longer than she meant. Visiting hours would soon be over. She strode past the waiting room she had passed earlier. It was empty. Surprisingly, so was Mulder's room. Scully stood, blinking, for a moment, then moved decisively to the closet. Nothing. Nothing in the bed side table's drawers either. Mulder hadn't come with much. It wouldn't have taken him long to dress and gather his possessions.

There was a new nurse on nurses' station. Scully had been hoping the previous woman was still on duty.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. I don't know when he left. There's been no activity since I came on a half hour ago." The nurse was young and apologetic. "Maybe he checked out?"

Scully blew out an impatient breath. "Thanks. I'll check." No point in mining for information when the source was obviously empty.

Exasperated, Scully slammed the car door and rammed her key into the ignition. God damn Mulder, anyway! Where was he? The hospital had no record of his leaving. His apartment was deserted, save for the congealed mess that made itself home there. She had checked with the Gunmen, who expressed concern, but denied knowing anything. She had even gone as far as to track down the whereabouts of Wilfred Fong's residence. It, too, appeared empty. The landlord had let her into the apartment on the strength of her badge. It appeared that Marshall DeYoung had been staying there, too. There was no sign of either.

Gone. Mulder was simply gone.

A long interlude passed while Scully sat in her car outside Mulder's apartment, listening to the rain. It often soothed her, the sharp tapping as drops of water collided with the metal of the car roof. Not so tonight. She had hoped, in vain, that Mulder or Jo might return to Hegal Place. She stared gloomily at the dark window of Mulder's apartment. She had searched it thoroughly for any sign of what might have happened or where Mulder might have gone. Or been taken. Ritter was running down some information for her, but she hadn't heard from him yet. At work, Skinner carefully avoided them, pretending he didn't know that she and Peyton were using Bureau resources.

She wondered if Mulder had left willingly. Perhaps Jo had persuaded him to leave the hospital. Perhaps he had left of his own accord, tired of Scully's interference. Fed up with her protectiveness. The thought defeated her. Long withheld tears stung her eyes. She blinked rapidly, hoping to dispel them, but something had split inside her skull. She cried, gripping the steering wheel with cold fingers and tried to swallow her sorrow.

End Six

Achilles' Heel Part Seven fran58@wonderhorse.net Mulder slept.

A hazy half-dream flitted across his mind. Sunny days disappearing into rain, rain transforming into frogs. Black umbrellas, long trench coats, false memories. A warm hand on his arm, the smell of clean skin and the sound of a voice pitched low.

Mulder drowsed.

Abruptly, he was jostled. His world lurched. The sound of crunching gravel filled Mulder's ears. He cracked an eye open. "What's going on?"

Mulder felt a sudden cold breeze and Marsh leaned over him shaking his head. "Should've stayed asleep, Mulder. This would have been easier."

There was a pinch to his left arm and the spiny pain of a hypodermic needle piercing his skin. Mulder tried to sit up, only to be pushed down by Marsh.

Mulder shook his dazed head once, trying to assimilate what had just happened then slumped back into the corner. He could feel Marsh hover, then mumble, "Good."

The car swayed and began moving again. The sound of tires on concrete played on Mulder's brain, dragging him into an uneasy sleep.

A blast of cold hit Mulder in the face. With effort, he opened his eyes. They had stopped again. The driver's door was ajar and Marsh was gone. Mulder reached for the back of the passenger seat and, wincing, hauled himself upright, trying to piece together what had happened. It came back to him in disjointed images. Pulling off the road, Marsh leaning over him, syringe hanging from his hand.

Mulder groggily looked around. A gas station. The van he was in was parked at a haphazard angle to a bank of gas pumps. Mulder doubted that a nozzle and hose would reach the car. Not refueling then. Mulder carefully turned his head. Marsh was headed into the convenience store.

Mulder moved slowly, testing his arms and legs. He glanced down. He was dressed in his street clothes. The ones he had worn to the hospital. Easier to explain a passed out buddy than a man in a hospital gown.

Mulder turned his attention back to the van's door and to the gas pump beyond. It was a chance. Shaking, he crawled heavily over into the driver's seat, opened the door and toppled out onto the asphalt. He would be partially hidden from anyone in the brightly lit store.   Mulder fumbled for his wallet with leaden, uncooperative fingers. After a millennium, he located a credit card. Struggling to his knees, he slid the card through the automatic card swipe on the closest pump. A wave of dizziness swept over him. He grasped the side of the van for support. Almost done, he told himself. With effort wedged the credit card into a crack between the gas pump and the pavement that surrounded it.

Now, all he needed to do was to crawl back into the van before Marsh noticed him laying on the ground. Piece of cake. He wished he had the time to rest. Woozy and tired, Mulder maneuvered himself back into the car.

He had another full minute before Marsh returned. Thank God for small favors, he thought, and sank into nothingness.

Time used to be something she employed to mark her day, to measure her world, to savor, if she got the chance. Now time, was a reminder of how much she had failed, a reminder of lost opportunities. If she could, Scully would gather the weeks and days of the last few months in her hands and reassemble their order, change their properties. Oh, to be able to stretch one portion out or to condense another. If she could stir the hours and minutes together, tweak a second or two, maybe her world would have remained intact.

There was a sound at the door. She turned to stare at it, the slowly moved across the expanse of her apartment. She opened the door to Ritter's eager face. "Any news on Mulder?" he asked, closing the door to her apartment behind him.

Scully shook her head and continued to pace. She and Ritter had done what they could. It was late, almost midnight, but Scully found it hard to remain still. Nervous energy coursed through her arms and legs

She moved anxiously to the kitchen and reached for the tea kettle.

"Would you like something? Tea or coffee?" She looked over her shoulder to where Peyton stood, still near the door.

Ritter walked her to the kitchen and laid a warm hand on her arm, stilling her. "Dana. Come and sit down. Getting worked up isn't going to help. You know it isn't."

Scully sighed. "I know, but I can't seem to slow down."

"Come on," Ritter tugged on her hand and led her to the couch and pulled her down. "Are you hungry? We could get some pizza, or carry-out. I'll even go get it."

"No, thanks, Peyton. I don't think I could eat anything."

Peyton nodded, leaned his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor. "Dana, I know you two were close." He risked a glance at her profile. "But, are you sure pursuing Mulder at this point is the best thing to do?"

Scully was curled in the corner of the couch. She sighed and closed her eyes. "I know what you're thinking. I've thought it myself. Wondered if I was overreacting, and I've tried to step back, to look at the situation objectively." She shook her head. "We know now that Mulder was being drugged, and I can't help but feel that his disappearance... it's not right. It doesn't feel right."

Ritter reached over and squeezed her hand. "Okay. We'll keep looking then." He looked at her earnestly "I can do this for you."

Scully's breath came out in soft puffs. She could feel the night wrap around her, a murky cocoon. She stirred and leaned infinitesimally closer to the man opposite her.

"Peyton, you know that you may be fighting for a lost cause here, don't you?" She paused, looked down at her hands twisted in her lap, then up again at Ritter. "I'm not talking about Mulder."

Peyton moved his hand up her arm and played with a lock of her hair. His eyes held immeasurable longings she didn't want to see, but couldn't turn away from. "Yeah," he said. "I know."

She felt possibilities collide with probability, and abstraction become potential.     **

Mulder shivered and rolled into a tight ball. He was covered in sweat and shaking. His mouth was dry again. It was too dark to see much. If he'd had the energy, he would have cried or screamed. He found one of his wrists was handcuffed to the headboard of the bed he lay on. With his free hand, he searched for something with which to cover himself. His fingers touched a length of fuzzy material. A thin blanket lie askew on the bed, twisted around his legs. He pulled it up to his chin.

He lay quiet for a while, still shivering slightly. His head still hurt and his hands shook, though not as badly as they had at the hospital.

He moved his head to the gingerly to one side. The carpet, what he could see of it, was a garish green. The walls looked insubstantial. Cheap motel room. He ought to know, he'd seen his share. Unfortunately, the bed seemed sturdy and not likely to yield to his feeble attempts to rattle any part of the headboard loose. A mediocre art print hung above the lone, inexpensively veneered table. It stood a few feet from the foot of the second bed, the one closest to the bathroom.

Dimly, he heard voices and turned his head too quickly. The room swam and his stomach lurched. Mulder took a slow breath and concentrated on the shadowy figures he could just make out through the thin curtains. They moved toward the entrance to the room.

The door knob rattled and Mulder pulled the blanket almost over his head lying as still as he could. The soft whish of a paper bag landing on a hard surface told him that someone had probably gotten fast food.

"Okay, cheeseburger for you, fish sandwich for me," Marsh's voice.

Mulder's heart sank a little with the next words. "Don't forget my fries." Jo.

He felt someone move close to the bed he was on. "Looks like Sleeping Beauty is still waiting for his prince." Marsh again.

Mulder's free hand twitched. Not yet, he cautioned himself. Marsh was moving about. Mulder cautiously cracked one eye. The other man had his back to him, only inches from the bed. When Marsh turned, Mulder caught the glint of light off a long silver needle. Without thinking, Mulder lunged and struck Marsh with his foot, sending him careening backward onto the other bed. Lashing out felt good. Well, for a minute, anyhow. Until the pain and nausea made Mulder's vision swirl.

"What the hell?" Marsh sat up and rubbed his side. "That was stupid, Mulder. Now I'm just going to up the dose." His gaze flicked over to Jo. "You're going to have to inject this while I hold him down."

Abortive heroics aside, Mulder didn't have much fight in him. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was definitely weak.  He struggled feebly while Jo pressed his arms down to the bed. The sting of the needle, and the lifeless black hollow of drug-induced sleep soon claimed Mulder.

**   Mulder's hand hurt. His wrist hurt, too. He had a raging thirst. It was several moments before he could place where he was. When he did, he wished he hadn't. His arm was stiff and sore from being held too long in one position.

He lay still for a bit, listening. He could detect no sound or movement in the room. Everyone must be out. He slowly struggled into a semi-sitting position to ease the strain on his arm and wrist. Slumping against the headboard, he massaged his aching limb with his free hand.

A figure sat in a chair tilted toward the wall, gun resting on one knee. "Go ahead and eat. Jo left that for you," Marsh said.

There was a saran-wrapped sandwich and a glass of water on the bed stand next to him. Mulder ate hungrily, and found that his stomach didn't protest as much as he thought it would.

The pink and white neon of the motel sign bathed the car in glaring light. Scully, parked in the shadows on the far side of the lot, checked the plates of the van against the plate number she had obtained for the vehicle belonging to Marshall DeYoung. A match.

The motel office was dark, and proved to be closed and locked. There was a doorbell marked 'Ring for Service' that Scully pressed, to no avail. Turning, she surveyed the parking lot. There were few cars, and only 12 units that she could see. She walked back to her car, thinking how to best approach the situation.

Scully slid into the driver's seat and reached for her cell phone. She had left messages for both Ritter and Skinner, telling them that she had a lead on Mulder's whereabouts, and that she would contact them later, when she had more information. As her fingers touched the hard edge of the cell phone, the door to number five opened. Two figures emerged, locked the door, and walked out into the parking lot and under the motel sign. Jo and Marsh. They stopped for a moment, then turned and continued on foot down the road. Scully recalled a bar and grill not too far from the motel, in the direction from which she had come. Her fingers stretched again toward the cell phone. It trilled sharply. Scully jumped.


"Agent Scully, just where the hell are you?"

"I'm at Jerry's Just Dropped Inn off State Route 600, not too far from Madisonville in Virginia."

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, then a light huff. "Any news?"

"Yes, Sir. I just now saw Josephine Sartini and Marshall DeYoung leave the motel. They're on foot. I was going to try to raise you and Ritter again before checking it out."

"You think Mulder's at the motel?" Skinner's voice was tinged with concern.

"I don't know. I hope so."

There was another pause on the other end of the line. Scully could almost hear the decisive nod before Skinner said, "All right. Do what you need to. I'll see if I can reach Ritter. With or without him, I'm on my way. I know this may be a moot point, but, be careful."

"Yes, sir. I appreciate your help in this. My main concern right now is making sure Mulder is okay." If he'll let me, she added silently.

Scully set the phone back on the passenger seat. She forced herself to wait a full five minutes before reaching into the glove compartment for the compact set of lock picks she had brought.

She hesitated for a long moment before exiting the car, almost afraid to find Mulder was indeed behind door number five. He might resent her intrusion.

Scully exited her car and skirted the shadowed fringes of the parking lot. She stopped on the brink of the pavement that ran in front of the plain motel room doors. Each had a yellow light hanging over the number that marked them. So much for remaining hidden, she thought.

The door to room number five had a long scar stretching diagonally from the top of the door to nearly the bottom. It was an old injury, dark with age and rounded at the edges. She stopped at the door knob and twisted it carefully. It was locked, and she could detect no sound.

She knocked on the door. "Mulder?" There was no answer. In the distance, a dog barked.

Scully reached into her pocket and curled her fingers around the lock picks. Breathing deeply, she knelt. The concrete was hard and cold beneath her knees. She hesitated briefly, and leaned her forehead against the door. A small noise made her stiffen and turn.

"Well, Dana. Fancy meeting you here. I would have thought you would be at home, all tucked into bed by now. Won't your partner worry when he finds out that you aren't sleeping safe and sound?" The silken voice could only belong to Marshall DeYoung.

"My partner is in there," she answered.

"Ex-partner," Marsh replied. "We came back because I forgot my wallet. Funny how things happen, isn't it?" His voice was in her ear and he spoke softly. "I'd be careful just now if I were you. I've got your ex-partner's gun in my pocket. Why don't you put both your hands on the door where I can see them? Jo will just make sure you don't have anything dangerous on you, okay?"

Her head throbbed and she didn't have the strength to open her eyes. The rigid chill she associated with concrete or metal pressed against her back. Tires hummed on pavement, and Scully fought back a wave of panic. Her breath came faster and she could swear her heart beat double-time. Duane Barry, bright lights and pain flashed across her consciousness. Not the trunk of a car. Please, not the trunk, she thought. She stifled a whimper, and abruptly there was someone next to her. A forehead pressing gently against her shoulder. The figure made a slight sound. Mulder. Gagged, Scully assumed, like she was.

Relief that she was not alone flooded through her, and feeling so, so tired, she leaned ever so slightly toward his warmth and drifted off.

They left the vehicles hidden in some brush and stumbled through blackness and over tree roots. To Mulder, the march through the darkness seemed to last hours. He was not thinking very clearly, however, and couldn't be sure. He tried to pay attention to where they were and the direction in which they were headed. Jo walked ahead of him, flashlight darting along the little used path. Scully was immediately behind him. He could hear her stumble occasionally. Like him, she was probably still half-drugged. Marsh brought up the rear. Both he and Jo carried backpacks.

They approached a mass of boulders. Still gagged and cuffed, Mulder slipped on some loose rock. He pitched forward and tumbled to the ground. Pain shot up one leg. He was dragged back to his feet by an unsympathetic Marsh.

Dawn was approaching when a cabin appeared suddenly in a small clearing. He and Scully were bustled inside to the rear of the building and pushed to the floor. Another prick of a needle, and Mulder's eyelids dropped.

The room was small, maybe 10 feet by 7, she calculated. The walls were rough hewn wood, the floor and inside wall of greying, uneven two by four board. One hand was cuffed to a metal ring that had been driven into the wall. Her gag had been removed. Thank God for small favors, she thought.

In the gloom, Scully could just make out Mulder's drawn face under his untamed hair. He was cuffed to wall like she was, on the opposite side of the room. The lone, tiny window in the room didn't provide much illumination, and it was difficult to make out the details. He was still unconscious. She was beginning to worry. He should have come out of his drug-induced sleep by now.

The knob of the door rattled. Marsh pulled it open slightly and peered into the room, Scully's gun in hand. He moved along the grimy floor toward her, causing puffs of dust to wobble in his wake.

"Hey, Jo, come here -- bring the gun." Marsh called softly. Jo appeared behind him. "Watch them. I want to make sure that Mulder is still really out and not faking it."

Marsh moved slowly into the room. With one booted foot, he nudged Mulder roughly. When Mulder didn't move, Marsh crouched down and lifted on eyelid. Apparently satisfied Mulder wouldn't be moving soon, he moved back toward Scully.

He looked at her. "You can make things easier on yourself, you know."

"Oh?" she asked.

Marsh nodded. "We don't want to hurt either of you, we're..."

"...just interested in the money," Scully finished for him.

Marsh smiled at her. "Exactly. And you can help us." He crouched down several feet from where she sat, balancing on the balls of his feet and spoke quietly. "Jo figures he has funds squirreled away in obscure places."

"I don't know anything about that."

"Maybe not," Marsh smiled. "But I bet those friends of his do. And I bet that if you called them, they would tell you what we need to know."

A sudden shaft of sun pierced the gloom. The light filtering through the tiny window lit the dust motes soundlessly swirling around Marsh's head. His hair gleamed gold.

"What friends?" she asked.

"Come on, Dana, you know who I'm talking about. Those three guys."

"What makes you think that they would give me any information?" Scully asked.

"From what Jo said, and what I saw the time I met them, I'm under the impression that they think highly of you," Marsh answered.

"They do?" Genuine surprise colored her voice.

Marsh stood abruptly. "Think about it. You get the information we need, you get your freedom and a cut of our take."

Scully studied him. "What happens to Mulder?"

"Mulder stays in one piece. He'll be poor, but unhurt. We just want the money."

Scully glanced from Marsh to Jo, who remained silent, gun clasped in both hands, in the door. "How much money?"

"How much money would you get?" Marsh asked. Scully nodded. "Well, initially, we were going to split it three ways. Me, Jo and Wendell. I guess we could cut you in for..." He looked at Jo. "...10 percent?"

"Ten percent of what total?" Scully asked.

Marsh flicked his eyes at Jo again. Other than a thinning of her lips, she didn't move. "You don't know?"

"No," Scully replied, her voice surprisingly steady.

Quiet filled the small room. Scully watched as Marsh shifted his weight from his right foot to his left. Finally, Jo broke the silence.

"At this point, we figure the total is about eight hundred thousand. Not including what we think are several hidden accounts," said Jo.

"And all I have to do is make a phone call?" asked Scully.

"You have to get the information we want. Then you get paid," said Marsh.

"Exactly how are you going to pay me? Write me a check and send me on my way?"

Marsh laughed. "Not quite. You'll have to stay here, of course, until all our plans are complete. We'll set up a bank account for you somewhere."

"And you'll let Mulder and me go?" she was skeptical. "Just like that?"

"You'll just have to trust me, Dana. After all, we'll find the money eventually. It'll just be faster and easier this way. The quicker we get what we want, the quicker you get out of here. All *you* have to lose, really, is a little dignity." He stepped back toward the door, watching her expectantly.

Scully nodded slowly and ran a dry tongue over her lips. "I'll think about it," she said. "Mulder can't know, okay?"

"Fine with us." He turned toward the door.

"Before you go, there's one more thing," Scully said. "We could use some ice for Mulder's ankle if you've got it."

"We don't have ice. I'll give you some pain killers."

"Anti-inflammatories. And something to wrap around his ankle," she said firmly.

Marsh nodded once and closed the door.

When they had left, Scully leaned back against the rough wall of the room and closed her eyes.

"So, you're selling me out for a quick buck?" His voice was gritty and rough.

Scully scooted forward as far as she could. "You're awake. Good. I was worried. You've been out a long time."

"Yeah, I'm awake. Barely."

Mulder pulled himself up. He took in the room, the turned toward the wall where a chink in the slat board let her see into the other room. "Well, this is convenient."

"What's out there?" Scully asked.

"Not much. A card table, a cot and a sleeping bag on the floor are all I can see. Marsh and Jo over near the door, so it should be okay if we keep our voices down." Mulder turned back toward her. "So, are you going to call the Gunmen?" he asked.

"I think you know me better than that."

"Theoretically." He was struggling to sit up now.

"You better lie back down. You're bound to have residual effects from the drugs they gave you. You may start to experience withdrawal symptoms again." Scully's voice was dry and somewhat detached.

"Oh, joy," Mulder mumbled. He fell heavily to the floor. His white t-shirt was grey with grime. "You know, you might call the Gunmen to buy yourself some time. There's a code word we've worked out. You could use that. They'd know something was wrong, then. If Skinner hasn't figured it out already." He glanced up at Scully. "He's been keeping pretty close tabs on you. He probably knows you're MIA."

Scully nodded. "He knows I was at the motel where you were. He'll find my car there, unless Marsh and Jo moved it."

"No doubt he wants to bring his little lost Sheba home."

Scully scowled in the gloom. "Whatever they gave you sure hasn't helped your disposition any."

Mulder grunted.

Scully had been allowed to wrap Mulder's swelling ankle and she had insisted he take the ibuprofen Jo had left for him. He spent most of the day elevating his ankle as much as possible to keep Scully from nagging him.

Jo brought sandwiches at one point and an armed Marsh escorted them one at a time to the outhouse. There were only two blankets, one apiece. Scully shivered. The floor was hard and cold under her shoulder. The night was thin and wintry.

The bitterness of betrayal hovered just outside her periphery. Bitterness that she struggled with. Bitterness she tried to subdue. It was not easily quelled, however. The more she tried, the more it surged to the surface. Scully reminded herself that Mulder had been the victim, not she. That he had been manipulated and drugged. She told herself that she was where she was because of her own carelessness, not Mulder's.

Still, forgiveness was slow in coming.

Wendell blew in the next morning like a thundercloud. Mulder pressed his face to the opening in the wall. The voices were quarrelsome. He could see Marsh, standing tense in the other room, and Wendell just beyond.

Wendell's voice was a low, angry hiss. "I risked my job! I'm in it as much as either of you. I won't be pushed aside."

"Hey, no one said you weren't," Marsh said.

"You were planning something."

"Nothing that concerns you."

"That's what I'm afraid of." Wen's voice was tight with anger.

"Look, Wen, Jo and are just deciding what to do when we leave this place. You always knew that she and I had planned on getting out together. No one is trying to cheat you." Marsh sounded reassuring, parental.

"Maybe I'll just come along, then."

Marshall laughed harshly. "Uh-uh. No way. This is our time, mine and hers. Don't even think about it. Got it?" Marsh leaned over the other man, pushing too close, one hand clenched. Wendell backed up, clearly frightened.

"Yeah. I got it."

Mulder sat in the cold, dusty room and waited. The voices were too quiet, and he couldn't make out many of the words. He and Scully were still prickly with each other, but now that she had been removed from the room, he felt odd, as if an integral part of his scaled-down world had disappeared.

He wished he could hear and see what was taking place on the other side of the wall. As it was, he would have to rely on Scully to give him an accurate portrayal of events. It wasn't that he didn't trust her, it was just that she wasn't the one with profiling experience. He was, and it grated on him to be left sitting alone in the dark.

The sound of the door opening jarred Mulder from his thoughts. Scully walked into the room, handcuffed hands in front of her. Jo cuffed her to the ring on the wall. The door was closed and locked behind her. She looked annoyed, Mulder thought.

Pitching her voice low, she said to him: "I still think that we should just wait until one of them is alone and get them to come to the room. Between the two of us we..."

Mulder cut her off. "You're kidding, right? We're handcuffed. Besides, when did you get so Clint Eastwood?"

"And when did you get so cautious?"

Mulder blew out a breath. "The idea here is to gain Marsh's trust. I'm in no shape to be jumping on people and crashing through doors even if we did manage to get out of these cuffs. And, I'm not sure how much my ankle will take yet. I think that the way we planned is better."

"And we all know how good your judgement has been lately, don't we," Scully muttered.

"If you have a problem, why don't you say something?"

Scully let out a short laugh. "I think I just did." Scully shook herhead. "I'm sorry, Mulder, that was uncalled for." She slid off herknees and onto the grey floor. "Undercover work is not my forte, it never was. Trying to get Marsh to think I'm going over to the dark side. I don't know if he's going to buy it."

"I think you underestimate yourself, Scully. It may not come easy to you, but I've seen you skirt the truth with the best of them."

"Well, that's a great endorsement."

Mulder sighed. The last thing they needed was to be at each other's throat's. He glanced at her. "So, Scully, don't you think it's a bit cliche to be held captive in a remote cabin in the woods?"

She looked at him sideways, pursing her lips. Apparently deciding to play along, she said, "I'm going to add ironic to that, since they're using our own weapons to keep us in place."

"You noticed that, huh?"

"Mmm. Yes, I did. I also noticed that they are using our handcuffs and that we're up the proverbial creek without a paddle." She twisted around and looked up at the window. "We're in the mountains, somewhere."

Mulder settled more heavily against the wall. He was experiencing tremors again and felt better propped against something. "Not much for ambience. Next time I want a better room."

"What do you think they are going to do with us?" asked Scully.

Mulder sighed and lay back on the wood floor. His still too-thin face fell into shadow. "I know what they want with me. You just got in the way. The original plan was probably to keep me out of circulation for a few days while they cleaned out my bank accounts. I don't think this cabin figured into original plans. We're here because they didn't know what to do when you showed up."

Scully closed her eyes briefly. "I'm sorry about that. I thought I could get into the motel room without detection. It was careless of me to not notice they had come back. I've been touchy, I know. And that's part of it."

With effort, Mulder pushed himself away from the wall and leaned toward her. "What's the other part?"                 Scully studied the floor. "I'm a bit aggravated with you. I keep telling myself I shouldn't be but, I am, anyhow."

"I really can't blame you."

She looked up at him. "Mulder, you were being drugged and fed lies by people who you thought you could trust. I can't imagine what it was like."  She dropped her eyes again. "But, on some level, I resent the fact that you didn't even seem to give any credence to what I was trying to tell you. I thought that, given all we've been through, I deserved more than to be brushed off like a telemarketer disturbing your dinner."

"And you did, but, I couldn't tell up from down. I really thought you and Skinner were trying to purge the X-Files in my absence. I was utterly convinced you were up to something. Ritter's presence didn't help." Mulder paused.  "So, tell me what happened out there." He jerked his head toward the outer room.

"We talked. I told Marsh that I would give calling the Gunmen a shot. Jo didn't seem too happy about it, I'm not sure I convinced her entirely. Marsh seemed okay, though. We're going to make the call from my cell. They have my cell phone, too, by the way."


"Soon," Scully relied. "Jo was agitated. They're discussing something. They should be coming to get me shortly."

"I'm surprised that neither one of them brought up the fact that the call might be traced," Mulder mused.

"Jo did. They debated a bit about whether or not the Gunmen could do that. I don't think either of them really understands what the Gunmen are capable of. Jo seems to think that they aren't much of a threat."

"Okay," Mulder nodded. "You'll need to work in the code word we have set up. You'll need to make them understand, somehow, that they need to provide some information to you, so things look good."

"I've got to work 'rhapsody' into the conversation," Scully gave a short laugh. "Oh, no problem."

End Seven

Achilles' Heel Part Eight fran58@wonderhorse.net

Outside the cabin, a cold wind mussed Scully's hair as the telephone twittered in her ear. After what seemed like ages, she heard Byers' voice.


"Hi, John, this is Dana," said Scully.

"Scu... Dana?" Byers' voice stumbled the slightest bit. "Hey, how are you? Melvin has been trying to get in touch, are you out of town?"  

Scully eyed Marsh, who was standing close, listening in. Jo was positioned near a dilapidated shed, gun trained on Scully. Wendell slouched against the cabin. "Actually, yes, I am. Took a few days off."

"It's good to get some time to relax. Are you having a nice time?" Byers was fishing.

"Yes. I'm at my aunt's. She has a hobby farm in the in the mountains."

"I bet it's pretty out there."

"It is, but I missed prime autumn leaf time, though. I hear it was a veritable rhapsody of color just a couple weeks ago." There was a significant pause on the other end. Scully hoped Marsh wouldn't notice.

Byers' voice finally came over the line again. "Ah, I see. Guess you'll have to pick your dates better next year."

Scully gripped the cell phone a bit tighter. "Guess so. John, I need a favor from you. Mulder's been hospitalized."


"Yes. He had some complications due to that seizure he suffered.

"Where is he? Maybe I'll stop in and see him."

"To tell you the truth, John, he's at a private facility. He isn't cognizant of much. This is why I need a favor from you."

"Oh," Byers voice sounded small and uncertain. "Have *you* seen him?"

"Yes, and... he should be fine, given time.  I need to make some arrangements for private care once he's released, as well as take care of a few other things."

"That's understandable. What can I do for you?"

Scully hit the 'end' button on her cell phone, and let out a long, relieved breath. Marsh raised his eyebrows. "Nervous?"

Scully raised her eyes to his and nodded. "I was afraid I would screw something up," she said truthfully.

Marsh, still standing to close to her side, said, "I think you were fine. He seemed to accept what you told him."

"Let's hope so," Jo's voice was strident. "And let's hope they get that money transferred to the account we set up pronto."

Scully turned to look at her. She had lowered the gun, but watched Scully carefully.

"They're going to contact me and let me know how to access the funds. When do I get my payment?" asked Scully.

"Don't worry. When the money is transferred, we'll send your share to a separate account," said Marsh. "For now, I guess we just wait."

Jo pointed her chin at Scully. "Okay, let's go. Back to your holding tank." She walked to the closed cabin door and pulled it open, motioning for Scully to go in ahead.

Scully entered the cabin and began to move toward the back room, but Marsh firmly took her arm. "Let's celebrate. I think Dana deserves a little reward. Mulder will be out for a while yet." He turned to Scully. "Let's you and I take a walk."

It began to snow. When she was a child, Scully had loved to watch the snow falling. Her favorite snowfalls consisted of big, fluffy flakes that caught on the wind and swirled around like a whirlwind dream.

Leaves swished and crunched under their feet. She wondered if it was too early for the snow to last in these hills. Marsh walked a few feet behind her. She wondered if she dared make a run for it. Marsh had, of course, brought the gun. She wasn't sure how good a shot he was, and it was hard to hit a moving target. Being taken out for a walk alone did not bode well for her. If she could elude him, she should be able to follow the dirt road leading to the cabin down to a paved road. All roads went someplace. Eventually, she would find herself in a town or city.

Of course, there was Mulder to consider. Both Marsh and Jo were edgy. The two of them argued in hushed tones that didn't carry well into the back room. Wen was increasingly morose, and seemed to know how to push Marsh's buttons with ease. Even if she managed to get away, what would become of Mulder?

 "Marsh, what are we doing here?" Scully turned to see him leveling the Sig Sauer at her. Her eyes widened slightly at the site.

"I just wanted a private word with you."

Scully nodded.

"We're set to leave no later than tomorrow. If you don't hear from those friends of Mulder's by tonight, I can't say what will happen." He looked at her evenly.

"Why are you telling me this?" Scully was surprised to hear how steady her voice sounded.

"In some ways, it's against my better judgement," he gave his head a slight shake. "But, the three of us agreed in the beginning that we would keep the violence to minimum. A body count is only going to make it harder for us to disappear."

"I understand," Scully said.

They started walking back to the cabin.

Scully closed her eyes briefly, casting about for some common ground. She needed to keep things with Marsh as friendly as possible. "I miss this, living in the city. The clear air and the open feeling."

"It's okay, for a bit," Marsh said.

"You don't like the mountains? The trees?"

Marshall's bell-like laugh ran through the air. "I like concrete better. And places where you can stop and get coffee and a bagel at midnight if you feel like it."

"You got me there. Must not be a Starbucks for at least three or four miles."

Marsh laughed again.

Mulder stirred and pressed closer to the wall. It seemed as if he was never warm enough. He pulled the blanket under his chin and sat up, putting his ear near the slight opening in the slat board.

He was bone-weary and trembling, but damned if he wouldn't try to find out what was going on. Scully had still not returned. He worried that this was taking longer than should have.

He finally heard the front door open, then Jo's voice and Marsh's laugh. If he closed his eyes, he could almost be back at his apartment, huddled on the couch, while Marsh and Jo talked in the kitchen.

He dragged his eyelids open, struggling to maintain wakefulness. He'd been a damn fool, letting himself be drugged and taken advantage of. He wasn't about to give any ground at this point. He heard Scully's low murmur. She sounded tense, but otherwise okay. Mulder relaxed marginally.

The door opened, then closed, and Scully was in front of him, hands cuffed. Wen stood at the open door. The room main room outside was quiet.

Scully glanced back at Wen. "I told Marsh I wanted a few minutes to check your ankle. They are going to separate us from now on."

Mulder thinned his lips and nodded. "What are they doing now?" he asked softly.

Scully shrugged. "They left for another private discussion, I assume." She knelt beside Mulder and carefully prodded his ankle.

"They had you out there a long time."

"Marsh took me on a walk."

"Gee, Scully, I think he likes you."       Scully scowled.

Wen made an impatient sound. "Cut the talk and hurry up. I need to pee."

Scully twisted around to face Wen. "It's okay if you want to go to the outhouse. I'm almost done here."

"No way. Marsh would kill me."

"I won't say anything. Just lock the door behind you. We're both cuffed, you have the gun."

Wendell glanced out towards the front. "Don't move. I'll be right back." He quickly shut the door. Mulder could hear the lock move into place.

Scully turned back toward him. "Mulder, what do you think the Gunmen are going to do? Really? I'm pretty sure Byers understood I was calling him under duress. Do you think they are going to actually transfer the money?"

"I'm sure they'll come up with something." Mulder shifted. "And how's The Mission going?"

Scully sank to the floor and pulled a blanket around her shoulders. "Stop calling it that. I guess it's going all right," she kept her voice low. "I don't think sucking up to Marsh is helping."

"But it isn't going to hurt," Mulder said. "Maybe he'll let you hold the gun next time."

"Yeah, that'll happen." Scully bent over Mulder's leg again to check the wrap. "How is your ankle? Any better?"

"I can move it a bit more."

"The swelling seems to have gone down." She looked around. "I see there are more blankets."

"Yep, and all thanks to The Mission."


"You don't like that name? We can call it something else."

Scully sighed. "How's your stomach? You're looking better, and you ate your breakfast."

"I'm okay. Still a bit shaky, but not bad."

"Okay," she said. "So, if the opportunity presents itself..."

"There you go with the Rambo stuff again."

Scully frowned. "I thought it was Clint Eastwood."

"All joking aside, Scully. If Marsh starts to see you as trustworthy, he might let down his guard. So, yeah. If the opportunity presents itself, we should go for it."

Scully nodded. "Agreed."

"Hey, Scully, feel like a game of twenty questions?"

Scully raised her eyebrows. "You're kidding, right?'

"Not really. I ran out of hypnotherapy dreams and the nightmares just aren't entertaining anymore."

The knob on the door rattled and Wen entered. "Time's up," he said.

At noon, in lieu of lunch, there was a fight. Hissed words became loud whispers which became shouts and threats. By the end of the scene, Wendell had struck Marsh. Marsh pinned Wen to the floor and screamed that he would kill him if he didn't stop acting like an idiot.

Mulder sat quietly in the dark.

Later, Wendell brought him sandwich. He sat in the doorway, gun pointed in Mulder's general direction.

Mulder chewed and watched the other man closely, thinking that if Wendell got a bit closer, he might be able to take advantage of the situation. The main room of the cabin was quiet, though Mulder knew Scully was handcuffed on the other side of the wall. After a minute, he said, "So, you think that Marsh and Jo might be trying to cheat you?"

Wendell remained quiet, then moved uncomfortably and leaned on the frame of the door. "We agreed that we would all have access to the bank accounts, so that we would all know what went in and out of them. But my access has been hampered."

"Doesn't sound good," Mulder said.

Wen shrugged and looked sulky. "What do you care?"

Mulder hitched a shoulder. "Just making conversation -- something to do. We aren't exactly living the high life in here, you know?"   "I can't wait to get the hell out of here."

"Well," Mulder smiled. "We could all go now..."

Wen snorted. "Yeah. And this would all have been for nothing, and you'd arrest me. No, thanks."

"Who do you think is blocking your access, Wen? Marsh or Jo?"

"Doesn't matter. Dealing with one is like dealing with the other."

"They're interchangeable?" he asked.

Wendell sighed. "They are... well, the just Are."

Scully was shoved into the back room. She stumbled to the floor.

Angry voices came from the other side of the wall.

"Ask *her* where the money is! We haven't done anything. You're being paranoid," hissed Jo.

"You've blocked my access to those accounts. We agreed, we *all* share. We agreed." This came from Wendell.

Marsh spoke, his tone reasonable. "Wen, put the gun down, and we'll talk about this, okay?"

"We've talked and talked. I want my share," said Wen, his voice firm.

Mulder pressed his eye to the chink in the boards, but could only make out Jo, looking flushed, standing next to the cot.

"Can you see anything?" Scully asked.

"Not much," Mulder answered.

"You'll get your share. We're just waiting for..." Mulder could imagine him sliding his bright eyes towards the back room. "It shouldn't be much longer."

"I don't believe you. I want the account numbers. Now." Wendell's voice was thunder cloud threatening.

Mulder saw Jo twitch and lunge.

"Uh-oh," he said. His words were obscured by the sound of a gun going off.

Jo fell to the ground, clutching her leg.

"God dammit!" said Marsh, and Mulder saw him flash past, making for Wen, he assumed.

Scully tugged on his arm. "Get down, Mulder. The gun might go off again."

He slid to the ground next to Scully, who lay face down on the floor. Marsh was screaming obscenities and Wen was telling him to stay back. Then there was the sound of splintering wood followed by silence.

Mulder knelt and looked out into the other room. "I think Wendell's down for the count," he said.

"God dammit. Damn, damn, damn. Jo, wake up! Please open your eyes," Marsh pleaded.

There was a scrambling at the door, and it was flung open. Marsh searched the semi-darkness for Scully. "You're a doctor." He nodded to himself. "Jo needs help." He turned to Mulder. "You. You stay here."

Scully grimaced. Jo was curled in a ball on the floor at the foot of the cot, shivering. Wen lay crumpled in the corner near the door to the cabin. His head looked angled wrong and he was bleeding. Scully couldn't tell if he was breathing or not, and started to move towards him.

"Uh-uh," Marsh pressed the gun into her back behind and pushed her towards Jo. "Her first."

Scully turned to face him. "If you want me to help, you have to listen. I'm checking Wen first."

Marsh's mouth thinned. "He's dead. I checked."

There was a moment of silence before Scully said: "Okay. I'm going to need some things -- a first aid kit, if you've got one."

"I've got yours. We went through your stuff and brought anything that seemed useful before we left," Marsh said, anxiously. He careened awkwardly toward the door. "Stuff's in the shed outside."

He jerked the front door open, then turned back toward Scully. "Don't let Mulder out. Don't try anything weird with Jo, or I'll kill the both of you." His mouth formed a grim line and he lurched out the door.

Scully moved over to where Jo lay on the floor. The wound bled little. Scully laid her fingers on Jo's neck. Her skin was clammy, but her pulse steady. There was a protrusion on the back of her head.

"Jo, can you hear me?" Jo opened her eyes briefly, looked blankly at Scully, then closed them again. Scully lifted each eyelid, checking the pupil size, then checked the wounded area again. She would have to cut the jeans away and clear any debris before she dressed the wound. Where was Marsh? She rose, and looked out the window positioned above the cot. Marsh was just opening the door to the battered shed. Taut with energy, Scully knelt down again. Quickly, she went through Jo's pockets. One hip pocket one contained a handcuff key. She slid it into her own front pocket just as the cabin door flew open to reveal a wide-eyed Marsh holding her medical bag.   He dropped it in front of her.

Scully withdrew a pair of scissors and carefully cut the material away from the wounded area. Marsh hovered uncertainly.

"The best thing we can do for her is get her to a hospital."

Marsh shook his head uncertainly. "Is the bullet lodged inside?"

"No. She's lucky. It really just grazed her."

"That should help, right? I mean, if you clean it good, there's less chance of infection that way."

"True, but there is only so much I can do here." Scully had some Battle Dressings in the medical bag and she withdrew one. "This will help stop the bleeding. We'll have to keep an eye on it. She'll be weak, but she hasn't lost too much blood."      She turned to Marsh. "You do understand that we should really get her to a hospital. Her leg could become infected. She also appears to have a concussion. She's only just recovered from the last one."

Marsh waved her off. "No hospital. Jo would be the last person to want to screw our plans up now. You'll have to make do. And do it well," he said giving Scully a look she thought would bore through her skull.

"I'll do my best," she said.

"You damn well better."

Scully spent an uncomfortable night handcuffed to one corner of Jo's cot. She slept little, and checked on Jo periodically. Marsh, it seemed, didn't sleep at all. He sat grim-faced in a folding chair, gun resting on his knee.

Morning came. Scully knelt by the cot and gently pulled the dressing back from the injured leg.

Jo stirred, opened her eyes, and glared at Scully.

"Get away from me!" Jo said through gritted teeth. "I don't want her anywhere near me, Marsh. Keep her away."

"Jo, listen, she's just helping. She took care of you last night. She won't hurt you. I'll make sure." Marsh's grip loosened on the gun as he spoke, and Scully felt her legs muscles twitch. The next moment, however, he gripped the weapon tightly again, and trained it on Scully. "Just do what you have to. Make it quick as possible."

Scully nodded. Hands cuffed, she reached awkwardly into the medical bag, still on the floor from the day before, and pulled out a clean battle dressing. She handed Jo a white pill which the other woman swallowed with some water. "I'm going to suggest that you find a walking stick for her. Something sturdy. She's going to need it. The sooner she is up and around the better."

"Okay," Marsh replied. He ran his tongue over his bottom lip -- a nervous gesture -- and glanced out the window.

Scully studied him in the morning light. His hair, normally well kept, was greasy. His eyes has a sunken look. "When's the last time you ate?" she asked.

Marsh shrugged. "It's been a while. Yesterday morning, maybe."

"You should eat something, and make sure Jo does, too," Scully said rising. "You won't be able to take care of her if you get sick."

Jo sneered. "Such concern. If I didn't know what a bitch you were, I'd think it was real."

Scully pursed her lips and bit the inside of her mouth. "I'm a doctor. I'm doing what I was trained to do."

Jo snorted at that. "Back to your dungeon, Herr Doktor. We'll take it from here." Her was already slurring slighty. The pain pill was kicking in.

"Jo, I think she should be kept out here with us," Marsh said.

"No, Marsh. I don't want her out here with me."

Marsh titled his chin towards the back of the cabin. He followed her and stopped to fasten her to the wall.

"Marsh, can I have a minute to check Mulder's ankle?"

Marsh glanced toward the figure on the floor and nodded shortly. "Go on," he said, and positioned himself near the door.

As Scully walked over to where Mulder lay, Jo groaned from the other room. Marsh frowned and looked over his shoulder. Scully could see Jo thrashing on her cot.

"What the hell?" Marsh looked at Scully and started back into the other room.

"It's probably just a nightmare. The narcotics in the painkiller might do that," Scully said as an explanation.

Marsh knelt down next to the cot and wrapped his arms around Jo's twitching form. "Finish up with Mulder. Quick."

Scully nodded.

Mulder was still asleep, dingy sunlight painted dappled shadows over his forearms. Scully took a breath and carefully knelt next to Mulder and nudged him. He shifted towards her restlessly, murmuring. She gently prodded him again. This time he opened his eyes.

"I've got a key. For the cuffs. We have to move fast," she whispered and glanced toward the open door.

Mulder blinked, the nodded.

"It's in my left front pocket. It's slipped down and I'm not going to be able reach it with the cuffs on. Your fingers are longer. You'll have to dig it out.".   "Oh, boy. If I were more awake, I'd make a suggestive comment about now," Mulder mumbled. He lurched to his knees and his long fingers slipped into the pocket. Scully could feel them wriggling around.

"Got it," he said. Scully took the key from him, inserted it into his cuffs and twisted. There was a click.

"So now what?" Mulder asked. "You're still hog-tied."

"When Marsh comes back, I think we should do the Rambo thing."

"Clint Eastwood," Mulder corrected her.     "Right. Eastwood," she murmured.

He launched his body at Marsh, and they fell to the floor with a crash. Once down, Marsh began struggling.

"Scully, get the gun!" Mulder tried to press his weight into the ground. He pictured himself heavy with gravity, an unmoving bulwark.

Scully ran forward and without stopping, kicked the weapon from Marsh's hand. She sprang on it, then leveled the gun at the two men on the floor.

"All right. Don't move, either of you. Marsh, keep your hands on the floor, palms down. Spread you legs and don't move them. Mulder, get up slowly."

Mulder inched around to where Scully stood, keeping well out of Marsh's range. Mulder picked up his abandoned handcuffs.

"I'm going to cuff you, Marsh. If you move, Scully will fire, understand?"

Marsh gave a muffled reply.

Mulder pulled Marsh's arms back. As he attempted to place the handcuffs on him, Marsh suddenly rolled, trapping Mulder's legs, and pinning him to the floor..

Mulder's elbow went up and caught Marsh on the side of the head.

"God dammit!" Marsh cursed.

"He said don't move!" Scully yelled. "Get up slowly, Marsh. I'm the one with the weapon. I don't need to get in close to do you damage."

Reluctantly, Marsh rose.

"Hands on your head," said Scully. "Step back and face the wall."

Mulder got up from the floor and retrieved the handcuffs. He secured them to Marshall's wrist with a satisfying 'click'. The other end he secured to the ring on the wall that Scully had been cuffed to. Mulder quickly searched Marsh's pockets and came up with the key to the cuffs Scully was wearing.

The outer room was filled with sunlight. Scully moved quickly to where Jo lay sleeping, and cuffed one wrist to the frame of the cot.

"Marsh is all tucked in, safe and sound," Mulder slid the bolt on the back room door.

"Good. My cell phone must be around here somewhere," she began to rummage through the half-opened packages of food that cluttered the lone table's top.

"Marsh had it," Mulder dangled the phone in front of her.

Scully took it from Mulder's hand and hit the speed dial for Skinner.

Seven-thirty on a Friday night, and Mulder was standing in her hall. She gazed at his fish-eyed image through the peep hole in her door. The door felt thick and impenetrable beneath her hand. She could stay here, not moving, soundless, and he would think she wasn't home.

Scully closed her eyes briefly, then reached for the knob. It was not a good time, she thought, but, she might as well get the whole thing over with.

She opened the door slowly, stealing a bit of time.

"Hey," Mulder smiled. "How's my favorite F.B.I. agent?"

"Well, if that's me, then, okay." Scully stepped back to let Mulder enter.

"I've got some good news," Mulder glanced at her. "At least, I think it's good news." Scully waited. "Skinner worked some magic, and, pending review, I should be re-instated in a few weeks." He voice was edged with excitement.

Scully smiled. "That is good news. I could use some help."

Mulder looked surprised. "What happened to Ritter?"

"He's been reassigned," she said.

"Back to New York?"

"No, actually, he'll be staying here. He's just been assigned to the Economic Crimes Unit."

Mulder blinked. "Really? You're kidding."

"Nope.  Securities and Commodities Fraud. He's got a background in it, apparently."

"Wow," Mulder said. "Who'd have thought." He looked at Scully carefully. "I'm interrupting, aren't I? You look dressed for something."

Scully let out a quiet breath. "Yeah. I'm going out for a while. A sort of celebration, you could call it."

"With Ritter?"

She shrugged. "It seemed like the thing to do."

Mulder was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Scully, how do we get back on track here? I don't know what to do."

She shook her head. "I'm not sure we do, Mulder. Not right away, anyhow." She ducked her head, then turned and walked to the window that overlooked the street below. Pin points of anger and frustration pressed against her insides, seeking escape.

"Scully, you've got to work with me here. If I'm going to be working on the X-Files again, we need to come to some sort of agreement."

"How about we just agree to work together? We can do that. We don't have to be... friends... in order to get the work done." Scully raised one hand and traced the window pane. The night looked dark and soft. It beckoned her -- a place of matte black skies and nameless longings that she could fall into.

"I don't know if I can work that way. Not with you," Mulder said.

There was a moment when no one spoke, then Scully's telephone rang. she moved away from the window and picked up the handset. "Hello? Yes," Scully went back to the window and glanced out. "I can see you now. Just give me a few minutes."

"Ritter?" Mulder asked.

Scully placed the handset back in the cradle. "Yes. I told him to call when he got here. No use trying to find parking when we were just going to leave right away."

"So, I guess you have to go," he said.

Scully studied him closely for the first time since he had knocked on her door. His color was good and his hair had been trimmed. His body spoke of liquid grace. She knew his arms would be warm.

Scully swallowed her ache. Ritter was waiting. Ritter was straight forward and sincere. There was no labyrinth-laden psyche to puzzle out. No ricocheting emotions, no lightening-fast leaps that left her amazed and astonished.

No lost girls.

No betrayal.

Scully tightened her lips. "Yeah, I have to go."

She turned and started for the door.

"Maybe I can wait," his voice was a whisper.

Scully stopped, turned and blinked. "What?"

Mulder cleared his throat. "I said that maybe I can wait."

"I don't understand."

"Tonight. I could wait. We can talk later." He moved closer to her. Close enough so that she could feel the heat coming off his body.

"I have no idea how long I'll be, Mulder. I may not even..." her voice trailed off, disappearing into the fragile atmosphere that surrounded them.

"That's okay, Scully. It doesn't have to be tonight." He held out his hands, palms up, then dropped them to his sides. He stepped back, giving her room. "You take your time. I'll just wait."


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