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Chapter 8

9:26 PM

Grey pulled the car smoothly to the curb and turned off the engine. "Home, sweet home." He peered between the seats. "Is it just me or did that four-hour trip feel more like twenty-four?"

Scully shifted her legs, grimacing at the pins and needles sensation in her feet. "Definitely not just you." She looked down at Mulder's slack, peaceful face. "Let's get him upstairs. Then, hopefully, we can all get some sleep."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

As Grey got out of the car, Scully brushed the backs of her fingers down Mulder's cheek. "We're home, Mulder. Time to wake up."

He didn't twitch, not even when Grey tugged the door open and let in a gust of cold air.

Scully shook his shoulder, raising her voice. "Come on, Mulder. Wake up."

He cracked open one eye and regarded her blearily for a moment before it slid shut. Levering him upright, Scully tapped his cheek. "Thought you didn't want to wrestle--remember?"

He squinted at her, brow furrowed. "Huh?"

"Never mind. Let Grey help you out of the car. We're home."

"'M fine. Don't need help." He waved Grey aside and crawled out of the open door, nearly tumbling onto the pavement.

Grey grasped his brother around the waist, hooking Mulder's right arm around his neck. "Humor me, little brother."


His brief flash of independence extinguished, Mulder sagged against Grey, chin dipping toward his chest and eyes at half-mast. Scully wormed her way under his limp left arm, adding her support, and together she and Grey steered him toward the front door of the apartment building.

Grey frowned at her over his brother's bent head. "He's asleep on his feet. What the hell was in those pills you gave him?" he hissed.

"Diazepam." At Grey's blank look, she clarified, "Valium. Dr. Hammond gave it to me along with the vitamins and antibiotic. Considering the likelihood of post-traumatic stress, he was afraid Mulder might experience more outbursts like the one during the MRI."

"Looks like he was right on the money."

"I didn't want to risk another flashback at seventy miles an hour."

"I, uh, see your point."

Scully fumbled for the door handle, barely maintaining her grasp on six feet of loopy Mulder. Rapid footsteps approached just as her fingers slipped and Mulder slid toward the ground. Peripherally, she saw a strong hand grip Mulder's arm above the elbow and haul him upright.

"Agent Scully, Grey. Seems like you could use a little help."

She looked up into Skinner's warm brown eyes. "Sir?"

"Well hey, Walt. You're a sight for sore eyes," Grey drawled as Skinner stepped in and snugged Mulder's arm more firmly around his shoulders.

Mulder stiffened. Blinking, he studied Skinner's face for a long moment before his wobbly head dropped onto Grey's shoulder and his eyelids fluttered shut. "Babe, I dunno what was in that pill you gave me, but all of a sudden you look exactly like Skinner. 'S scaring the hell outta me."

Skinner rolled his eyes. "Nice to see you, too, Agent Mulder."

Grey laughed silently. "Don't worry about it, Fox. Just relax and let us do the driving."

Scully held the door open and they manhandled Mulder into the foyer. She darted around them and pressed the elevator button.

Grey pulled up short. "Uh, Dana? You sure that's such a good idea? Maybe the stairs..."

Skinner frowned, adjusting his grip when Mulder nearly slithered out of his grasp. "Stairs?" He drew out the word.

"It'll be fine, Grey." She tipped her head toward Mulder and arched an eyebrow.

Grey took a good look at his brother. Fox's slitted eyes revealed only a hint of hazel, his body boneless. Odds were good that a trip in the elevator would fly right under his radar.

Scully stepped to the back, making room for Grey, Mulder, and Skinner. They shuffled inside, and Grey patted his brother's waist as the doors rumbled shut. "Hang in there, Fox. A few more minutes and we can all take a load off."

"Oh, Grey. I forgot about your back." Scully saw that despite Skinner's best efforts, Grey bore the brunt of Mulder's weight.

"I'm all right." Grey was silent a moment before continuing in a voice low and tight with anger. "He must be a good twenty pounds lighter than normal. Hell, I could practically carry him."

Scully bit back a reply. She and Dr. Hammond estimated that Mulder had dropped closer to thirty pounds.

The brief elevator ride passed without incident. Feeling as if she were nearing the end of a long race, Scully let them into the apartment and led the way to the bedroom, flicking on lights as she went.

"I can take it from here," she said, folding back the bedspread and motioning for Skinner and Grey to sit their charge on the mattress.

The change of position jolted Mulder awake. He panicked, flinching from the supporting hands with a low cry.

"Easy, Mulder." Skinner backed off a step, palms raised. "Everything's okay."

"We're home, Mulder." Scully moved around the men and into Mulder's line of sight. "Grey and Skinner just helped get you in from the car."

Mulder ran both hands over his face as if to scrub away his confusion. "Uh...no offense, sir, but when did you join the party?"

"I'm not joining, Mulder, just passing through. Don't mind me; you go ahead and get some rest." Skinner paused in the doorway, eyes crinkled with the suggestion of a smile. "And Mulder? If this your idea of a party, you need to get out more."

Grey squeezed his brother's shoulder. "Good night, Fox."

Scully ushered them out of the bedroom and shut the door. When she turned around, Mulder was nodding off, his chin dipping to his chest.

"Stay with me, Mulder. You can't sleep like that."

She stripped off his sweatshirt, guiding rubbery arms through the sleeves and tugging it over his head. Mulder, hair sticking up at all angles, managed only a pitiful imitation of a lecherous leer.

"Scully, please. Grey and Skinner are right in the next room and we both know how noisy you get."

She snorted indelicately, tipping him onto his back and setting to work on his jeans. "Me? Two words, Mulder. Mrs. Wendling."

"Low blow, babe."

"I told you to close the window."

"The woman is older than God and has hearing aids in both ears. I thought she'd be sound asleep. Besides, it was none of her business."

"It was middle of the night. You were moaning "Right there, right there" and "Harder, harder" loud enough to wake the dead." Scully popped open the last button and skimmed the jeans down his legs.

"At least I faced her with a plausible explanation. You, as I recall, hid in the bedroom."

"You told her we were hanging pictures, Mulder. At 2:30 a.m. I'd hardly call that plausible."

"It got her to leave, didn't it?" Mulder chuckled throatily, then yawned. "Mrs. Wendling is a shameless busybody with too much time on her hands. That was probably the highlight of her week."

Scully drew the covers up to his chest. Smoothing his hair back, she kissed his forehead. "Sleep."

He caught hold of her wrist as she straightened. "Leaving me? When I'm finally in a bed big enough for two?" The light, teasing lilt to his voice didn't match the tense set of his mouth and the painful pressure of his fingers.

She perched on the edge of the mattress. "I need to find out why Skinner's here. I doubt it's a social call."

He levered himself up on his elbows and pushed back the blanket. "I'll come with you."

"Mulder." She pressed her palm to his chest. "You can barely keep your eyes open. You were sleepwalking the whole way in from the car. Rest. I'll join you soon, I promise."

Mulder flopped back onto the pillows. Scully tucked the blanket back up around his shoulders and stood. Folding her arms, she studied his face. Mulder evaded her gaze, his teeth tormenting his lower lip and his body rigid.

"Talk to me, Mulder. What's going on?"

"Nothing." When she raised an eyebrow, he ground out through gritted teeth, "Nothing I can explain, or even understand." He made a weak shooing motion. "Go on. I'm fine."

Though she could see he was anything but, Mulder's strained smile pleaded that she not press the issue. She nodded and turned toward the door.

"Scully?" Mulder's sharp call froze her fingers on the light switch. His smile faded, leaving eyes that looked too large in his thin face. He glanced away, mumbling something too softly for her to hear.


"I said leave it on!" He flushed and lowered his voice. "Please."

Troubled, she left the lamp on and the door open. In the living room, Skinner and Grey were conversing quietly. She gestured for them to remain seated and dropped onto the couch beside Grey. Some of her discomfort must have shown on her face, because he broke off mid-sentence, a small line forming between his brows.

"Everything all right?"

"Everything is fine." She turned expectantly to Skinner.

"Scully, I know you're all tired, so I'll keep this brief. I thought you'd be interested to know that I had a forensics team from the Richmond office go over the area where those hikers stumbled onto Mulder."


"That part of the state had experienced heavy rainfall several days earlier. The ground was still saturated."

"In other words, in prime condition to retain evidence," Grey interjected.

"Exactly. They found two distinct sets of footprints that matched the hikers' boots, and the imprint from Mulder's body. Unfortunately, the EMTs and their equipment tore up most of the ground immediately surrounding it."

"But they did find something more."

Skinner nodded. "They were able to backtrack Mulder's trail to a small clearing three miles from where he was found."

"Three miles?" Grey choked out the words. "He could barely lift his arm. How in God's name did he make it three miles?"

"What did they find in the clearing?" Scully asked.

Skinner clenched his jaw. "You can probably guess what they found. Nothing. There was an indentation at the end of the trail, the size and shape indicating a body had impacted the ground, probably falling a distance of ten to twelve feet. No tire tracks, ruts, shoe prints--nothing to explain how someone apparently dropped Mulder into the middle of a field without leaving a scrap of evidence."

Grey blew out a long breath. "Bet that went over well."

One corner of Skinner's mouth twitched. "The agent in charge expressed...frustration."

"This only confirms what we already know," Scully said, her voice raspy. "Gratifying, perhaps, but essentially useless. We know who took Mulder. What we don't know is why."

"And for that, I'm afraid I have no answer." Skinner stood. "I'll let you get some sleep."

Scully followed him to the front door. "Sir, please don't think I'm not grateful for this information, but..."

"But I could just as easily have delivered it over the phone?" Skinner glanced down the hallway to the bedroom and cleared his throat.

Scully blinked. Skinner looked almost...sheepish.

"Let's just say I was in the neighborhood, Scully. Keep in touch."

Scully closed the door and leaned against it, bemused.

Grey shrugged. "Like I said, Fox may be a pain in the ass, but he grows on you."

A yawn stole her reply. Scully stretched, wincing when stiff muscles twanged. "You'd better hit the road if you want to catch Kristen still awake."

Grey ambled into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator. "Not a problem. I phoned her while you were in with Fox and let her know I'd be crashing on your couch."

Scully swallowed and took a steadying breath. "You are?"

"I already told you, darlin'. I'll be right here as long as you need me."

"It won't happen again." She said it with a confidence she didn't feel. Grey's carefully neutral expression told her he knew it.

She busied herself retrieving sheets and a blanket from the linen closet, then helped him make up the sofa. In the back of her mind, she acknowledged that she was stalling. Afraid--not of Mulder, but of whatever new nightmare might wear her face.

"Stop...hurts. Scully...no."

Grey took the soft cotton blanket from her restless fingers. "It's going to be all right."

"Will it?"


She mustered a smile as transparent as her earlier show of confidence. "Good night, Grey."

"Good night, Dana."

At the bedroom door, she heard him murmur, "Sweet dreams."

Squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed they would be.

Continued in Chapter 9