NEW: Full Circle (1/2)
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999

Title: Full Circle (part 0/13)
Author: Dawn
Email: sunrise83@comcast.net
Category: Muldertorture, ScullyAngst, MSR, MSSk friendship
Story Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Various - through early season 6
Archive: MTA - Others please ask
Summary: What if there was more to one of those bogus fertilizer checks
for Kersh? A routine assignment turns deadly for Mulder, and resurrects
painful memories from his childhood.
Author's note: This story popped into my head while watching "Drive." I
couldn't help wondering what would happen if one of those farmers really
did have something to hide. This was the result.
Feedback: I'd love it, but please be gentle with my fragile ego. This
was for fun! I've been a lurker for over a year - it was time to get my
feet wet.
Disclaimer: I know they don't belong to me. If they did, things on the
show would be very different. I'm just borrowing them from Chris Carter
and Fox studios for a little while, and I promise to give them back. No
copyright infringement is intended.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Full Circle (1/13)
by Dawn

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

Gundersen Farm
Somewhere outside Wichita
Wednesday 3:00 am

*This can't be happening.*

The thought continued to swirl through Scully's mind, an answer to every
question and a coda to every statement. Sometimes it was just a soft
whisper, a gentle insistence that things couldn't really be as terrible
as they seemed.

As she felt the tremors wrack her partner's lean frame and felt the heat
from his skin.
*This can't be happening.*

As his beautiful hazel eyes became glassy and no longer focused on her
own when she spoke to him.
*This can't be happening.*

As she felt the warm stickiness of his blood coating her hands and used
her sleeve to wipe the trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth
when he coughed.
*This can't be happening.*

But sometimes the reality, the horror of the situation slammed into her
like a freight train; and the soft whisper became an agonized wail that
echoed throughout every molecule of her being and blotted out all other
thought. Like now.

She'd dropped into a light doze, exhausted by the tension and lulled by
the harsh rhythm of his labored breathing, as strange as it might seem.
The wet rattle in his chest had deepened, and each breath he drew into
his damaged lung sounded the same - a wheezing gasp of air, a slight
catch, then an almost explosive sigh. It was as if the effort of pulling
the air into his lungs robbed him of any control when releasing it.
Wheeze, catch, sigh. Wheeze, catch, sigh.

He'd passed into a state of semi-consciousness. Breathing took too much
effort for him to sink completely into the darkness that hovered, but he
was limp and unresponsive when Scully tried to speak with him. So,
cradling him in her lap, her hand still pressed against the bullet wound
even though the bleeding had slowed to a trickle, she allowed herself to
drift just a little.

Wheeze, catch, sigh. Wheeze, catch, sigh.

Scully snapped back into full consciousness, her heart pounding.
Something was wrong. Mulder . . .

Then, with frightening clarity, she realized what had awakened her.
Silence. Total silence. Mulder was a dead weight in her arms (*not dead,
don't think dead*) and his chest was still.

*THISCAN'TBEHAPPENINGTHISCAN'TBEHAPPENINGTHISCAN'TBEHAPPENING*

"Mulder!"

Her voice was sharp, ragged with unsuppressed panic, and she gave his
shoulders a rough shake, heedless now of the bleeding wound and seeking
only a response - any response.

He moaned (the most beautiful sound Scully thought she had ever heard)
and began to emit harsh, wracking coughs that she knew must be akin to a
knife in his chest. Fresh blood ran from the corner of his mouth and she
mopped at it gently with the towel, which was already stained with
rust-colored streaks of drying blood from previous coughing bouts.

"Sc...lee."

So weak it was barely distinguishable from the ragged breaths that had
resumed once the coughs abated. His eyes struggled to find hers, but
they kept slipping away, losing focus and sliding shut only to open once
more as he fought to connect with her.

"I'm right here, Partner," Scully assured him, her voice as calm and
soothing as she could make it despite the trembling that had begun the
moment she realized he'd stopped breathing. She stroked her fingers
through his silky hair and blinked rapidly to dispel lingering tears.

His eyes struggled to find hers again and he licked chapped lips.
"Thirsty."

Scully hesitated only a moment, unsure if fluids by mouth were in his
best interest at this point. He licked his lips again and she reached
for the bottle of water. *What difference does it make now? He's dying.*
She immediately berated herself for the thought even as she carefully
poured a little into his mouth. He managed to swallow without succumbing
to another coughing spell, but turned his head aside when she tried to
offer more.

Scully saw Mulder's eyes begin to drift shut, and was seized with a
sudden sense of panic. He'd just come treacherously close to slipping
away from her forever, and she was determined to stop him from doing
that. Her rational, scientist's mind told her the facts. Mulder was in
incredible pain and barely taking in enough oxygen to survive. Infection
had set in, bringing with it fever and a whole new batch of miseries for
him. Their only hope of rescue rested on the promise of a criminal. It
would be kinder to let him sleep. To let him go.

Scully blinked furiously when fresh tears threatened. She didn't care if
the situation was hopeless. She couldn't let him go. Not because she
didn't feel his suffering - she felt it in a place much deeper than mere
physical pain could reach, and would willingly take Mulder's agony upon
herself if possible. Not because she trusted Gundersen, a man who had
already shown the brutal side of himself. And certainly not because she
thought Kersh would come through for them (what a joke) and somehow pull
off a rescue.

No, she couldn't let him go for one reason, and one reason only. Because
a life without Mulder was simply unthinkable. She remembered when, as a
child, her priest attempted to explain the concept of God. He'd said
that her finite mind was incapable of grasping the full measure of God's
power and majesty. Now her mind seemed equally incapable of grasping the
concept of a Mulderless existence.

"Stay with me, Mulder," she said sharply, gratified when his eyes
snapped open. "Don't sleep. I need you to stay awake."

"Tired."

The single word was slurred with weariness. Scully could see how
valiantly he fought to remain focused on her, the effort monumental.

"I know you are. But you have to concentrate on breathing, Mulder. I
almost lost you for a moment back there."

"H..."

Another series of coughs erupted, not as harsh but, judging from
Mulder's face, equally painful. Scully had the uneasy feeling that
Mulder's rapidly accelerating weakness was the only reason the spasms
were less forceful. She held onto him as firmly as possible without
causing him further discomfort, and waited. The hateful, maddening sense
of helplessness welled up in her again, and she felt it transforming
into a white-hot rage. All her training, all her knowledge, and when she
needed it most she was useless. The lock on the door, and the chain
around her ankle were Mulder's death warrant. She could go nowhere, and
though he was completely unfettered, neither could he.

*This can't be happening.*

But it was. And, like a child who can't stop picking at a scab, Scully
found her thoughts returning to the chain of circumstances that had
brought them to this point.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Full Circle (2/13)

Gundersen Farm
13 hours earlier

Scully turned off the engine, glanced over at her partner, and sighed
the sigh of a true martyr. He was faking, and he probably knew she knew
it. She was aware that Mulder had been sleeping even less than usual,
spending every spare minute behind a microscope, attempting to restore
files. It was tedious, painstaking work, and he'd begun coming into the
bullpen each morning with dark circles under his eyes.

But she also knew that Mulder's weariness went far beyond mere physical
or mental fatigue. It was a weariness of the spirit. "They" knew him
well enough to strike between the chinks in the considerable armor he'd
built up over the years. How do you break Fox Mulder? Not with official
reprimands. Not with the scorn and derision of his colleagues. But by
removing all challenges. By giving him rote, repetitive tasks which did
nothing to stimulate and stretch his complex brain. By causing his mind
to stagnate and removing any hope of making a difference in the world.

At least they were still partners. But Scully had to admit she was
feeling the burden keenly. Fox Mulder tended to be a needy individual
even during the best of times. Now he was often unbearable - sarcastic
and angry one moment, withdrawn and depressed the next. *Good times* she
thought wearily. *Are we having fun yet?*

"Come on, Mulder, let's get this over with," she said, impatience
creeping into her voice.

Mulder's eyes slowly opened and Scully braced herself for the hurt puppy
look that she knew was coming. Sure enough, he did the lip thing.

"Mulder, I am not doing this by myself."

"Sculleee..."

He's not cute when he does that, Scully told herself fiercely. It's 95
degrees and I just want a shower and an air-conditioned motel room.
Mulder's little boy pout is not going to make me do this crappy job
alone.

"I mean it, Mulder. If I have to check someone's manure consumption,
you're right there with me. Partners - remember?"

He must have heard the warning note in her voice, because Mulder sighed
heavily and got out of the car, looking extremely unhappy.

Scully's gaze softened. "Look, Mulder, I know you're bored. I know you
miss the X files. I miss the X files. But right now Kersh is holding the
end of our leash, and if we screw this up we'll never get them back."

Mulder adjusted his jacket, already feeling a thin sheen of perspiration
coat his body. "I never thought I'd say this, Scully. And if you ever
call me on it I will deny it with my last breath..." He sighed. "God, I
miss Skinner."

Scully grinned at him, knowing how much he actually liked and respected
their former boss. "Look at it this way, Mulder. This may be the nicest
thing you've ever done for him."

His brief grin at her remark quickly faded as they drew near to the
house, and he moaned.

"What?" Scully asked.

"The windows are open and so is the front door. They don't have air
conditioning - or if they do, they're not using it."

"Good, old-fashioned country living, I guess," Scully said brightly,
though in reality she was no more pleased than her partner.

Mulder shot her a look of thinly veiled hostility, but assumed his
professional G-man persona. When they reached the screen door Scully
began searching for a doorbell, but could find none. Mulder grinned at
her and stepped forward.

"Scully, you're forgetting where we are. Allow me."

He raised his right hand and rapped loudly on the wooden frame of the
screen door, calling, "Anybody home?"

Scully rolled her eyes, but his method did yield results. A boy in his
early teens appeared at the door, eyeing them warily.

"Can I help you?"

Mulder held up his ID, as did Scully. "Agents Mulder and Scully from the
FBI. We'd like to see Bert Gundersen."

Even through the screen they could see the boy pale. "Th..that's my
dad," he stammered. "Is something wrong?"

"Not at all," Scully replied, reassuringly. "It's just a routine check."

"That's right," Mulder agreed. "We just need to verify the details of
some of your father's purchases of sh...manure."

Scully shot Mulder a glare that would have frozen hot peppers, but the
boy barely concealed a grin and seemed to relax. With a sudden flash of
admiration, Scully realized that had been Mulder's intent. The slip of
the tongue was orchestrated to put the boy at ease. She hid her own
smile.

"My dad isn't home right now. He should be back any minute though."

"Could we just come in and wait?" Scully suggested, trying to ignore the
sweat trickling down between her shoulder blades and causing her silk
blouse to become plastered to her skin.

The semi-panicked look returned to the boy's face at her words. "Uh... I'm
not supposed to let anyone in the house when Dad's gone," he said
hesitantly.

Once again the Mulder charm saved the day.

"What's your name?" he asked casually.

"Uh... Robert. Robert Gundersen."

"Bobby or Robbie?"

"Robbie."

"Good. Bobby always makes me think of the Brady Bunch. Couldn't stand
that kid."

The boy actually grinned at Mulder. "Me neither."

"Look, Robbie, I'm sure your Dad has a good reasons for not letting
people in the house. But do you really think he'd want you to leave two
harmless FBI agents out in the blistering sun?"

Some of the fear had crept back into Robbie's face, but it was obvious
Mulder was winning him over.

"Well, I guess he wouldn't mind. I mean, you're like the police, right?
And you can't not let the police in if they come to the door."

"Unless they're selling tickets to a fundraiser," Mulder agreed, opening
the screen and stepping inside. Robbie allowed them entrance, and even
gestured to the sofa in the living room. Scully followed her partner,
instantly more comfortable in the relatively cooler interior. She
listened while Mulder kept up the soothing banter with Robbie,
impressed. *Mulder, you keep unfolding like a flower.*

Once they were seated on the comfortable sofa, Robbie actually offered
them a drink and went off to the kitchen to get iced tea. Mulder felt
Scully's eyes on him.

"What?" he asked defensively.

"Nothing. I just wouldn't have expected you to be so good with a kid his
age."

Mulder shrugged, looking almost embarrassed by her approval. "You accuse
me of being juvenile often enough, Scully. Maybe I relate to him on his
own level."

Scully arched an eyebrow, but her reply was aborted when Robbie
reappeared with two glasses of tea. She accepted hers gratefully,
sighing in pleasure after consuming a long draught. Mulder looked
amused, but turned to Robbie rather than remark on it.

"So, are you in middle school, Robbie? High school?"

"Middle school - seventh grade," Robbie replied a little shyly.

"Play sports?"

Instant transformation. Robbie's eyes sparkled and he lit up like a
candle from within. "Basketball, mostly. Some soccer." He seemed to
take in Mulder's lanky frame.

"You play basketball?"

Scully couldn't repress a snort of amusement, which Mulder chose to
ignore. Mulder and basketball - a hundred images shot through her head
at the words: countless times of retrieving him from the gym after a
pick-up game, being forced to endure the distraction of a Knicks game
when they were attempting to do paperwork, and a perfect basket made
from mid-court in an attempt to gain the truth from a killer.

"I played in high school," was Mulder's reply.

"Not college?"

Mulder grinned. "I went to college in England. Got sucked into soccer."

Robbie's eyes widened. "No kidding? England?"

"Oxford," Mulder said.

"Must have been awesome," Robbie sighed, a bit of a dreamy expression on
his face at the thought. "Someday I'm going to get out of this lousy
place. Somewhere far, far from here and..."

The sharp slap of the screen door shutting caused Robbie to jump
guiltily to his feet, words forgotten. Scully turned to speak to Mulder,
but stopped when she saw his face. It had turned from open and friendly
to a watchful mask. He was staring at Robbie intently, his expression
speculative. Confused, Scully turned her gaze back to Robbie to see what
had captured her partner's attention so completely.

"Robbie! Whose car is that in the driveway? You better not have anyone
in this house."

The voice was deep and rough, the anger plain. Just as plain as the fear
that she saw in Robbie's face. But why? Surely Robbie realized
everything would be all right once they'd explained. Wouldn't it?

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Full Circle (3/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

Gundersen Farmhouse
Somewhere outside Wichita
Tuesday 2:34 p.m.

Heavy footfalls on the hardwood floor, and a moment later a very large
man entered the room. Where Robbie was slight of build and dark in
coloring, this man was stocky and heavily muscled, his hair and skin
light in tone. A heavy beard, neatly trimmed, covered his face and his
brown eyes were sharp with annoyance.

Scully and Mulder rose to their feet, both pulling out ID at the same
time. When Scully glanced at her partner and saw the guarded expression
on his face, all emotion missing, she figured it was her turn to take
charge. Mulder may very well have a knack for 13-year-old boys, but
she'd been known to best his ability to soothe the disgruntled -
especially if they were male.

"Mr. Gundersen, I'm Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, and this is
my partner Special Agent Fox Mulder. We were sent here to check your
paperwork for several large shipments of manure you received recently.
Your son was kind enough to allow us some respite from the sun while we
waited for you."

Gundersen shot his son a piercing glare before stepping closer to Scully
to scrutinize both badges. Scully waited with an air of patience she did
not really feel, until the man nodded grudgingly. As she slipped her
badge back into her pocket, she couldn't help wondering about the
tension she felt coming off Mulder in waves. She could understand
Robbie's discomfort - he'd technically broken a rule by allowing them
into the house in his father's absence. Yes, he seemed to be
over-reacting, but kids could be funny that way.

It was her partner's demeanor that had her completely baffled. Mulder's
normally expressive eyes were shuttered, and she caught him gazing from
Robbie to his father and back again, his mind obviously working
furiously on something.

Scully sighed, but only inwardly, and turned her full attention back to
the senior Gundersen.

"I'd heard someone would be coming by, I just didn't realize it would be
today," Bert Gundersen said in what could only be called a growl. "I
would have made sure I was here. Robbie knows he isn't supposed to let
anyone in the house while I'm away."

"I'm afraid that's our fault," Mulder spoke up suddenly, turning his
gaze from Robbie to his father. "We assured him it would be all right,
under the circumstances. After all, it's not as if you have anything to
hide, right?"

Still confused by the cold and rather insolent expression Mulder was
directing toward Bert Gundersen, and attempting to smooth things over,
Scully added, "You should be proud of Robbie. He was the perfect host."

Gundersen looked at his son, his expression one Scully couldn't have
named if she tried. "I'll be sure to show him my appreciation. Later."

The words were innocuous, but Robbie visibly paled. "I. . .uh. . .guess
I'd better get busy with my chores. I've got some work to do in the
barn," he said quickly, backing toward the door, his eyes still locked
on his father.

"Good idea," Gundersen said coolly. "I'll go get that paperwork for
you," he said to the agents.

Mulder opened his mouth to tell Robbie good-bye, but the banging of the
screen door signaled he was already gone.

Scully leaned closer to her partner so she could speak in a low voice.
"What's the matter with you?" she said sharply, her brow creased with
annoyance. "You're acting like this guy is guilty of a crime! This is
just a routine check."

Mulder returned her glare calmly, and Scully was further confused when
she identified a new expression lurking in that gaze. Mulder was an
expert at masking his emotions when he wished, and only she knew him
well enough to see underneath. Hidden behind that carefully constructed
fašade was sadness.

"Maybe he is a guilty, Scully," he answered quietly. "Just not of the
crime you're thinking."

Scully arched an eyebrow at his cryptic statement, but before she could
ask Mulder exactly what he meant, Gundersen returned with the papers.

"Everything's in order," he told them sullenly. "I'm just a farmer, not
public enemy number one."

Mulder opened his mouth to comment, but was silenced by "the look" from
his partner.

"Why don't you go on out to the car, Agent Mulder," she suggested, the
honey in her tone barely disguising the steel that resided just beneath
the surface. "I can handle this from here."

Mulder opened his mouth once again to argue, then decided he placed too
high a value on his life. Scully was pissed off - there was no doubt
about it. And there were few things in life more dangerous than a pissed
off Scully, including liver-eating mutants. So he did the only sensible
thing. He snapped his mouth shut, returned her barely camouflaged glare
with an openly hostile one of his own, and retreated.

The internal temperature of the rental car had risen to at least 300
degrees, and Mulder stripped off both jacket and tie, flinging them into
the back seat and rolling up the sleeves of his white dress shirt. At
least I'll be cooler, he thought smugly. With that white silk blouse and
this heat, she'll never be able to remove her jacket. The rational
portion of his brain recognized the pettiness of his thoughts, but was
subordinated by the barely contained anger which had grown steadily
since Bert Gundersen had stepped into his home.

So Mulder leaned against the driver's door and waited, occasionally
mopping his brow with the sleeve of his shirt, until Scully emerged from
the farmhouse and strode briskly to the passenger door. Ignoring the
daggers her partner was shooting with eyes that had turned nearly black
in anger, she opened the door and slipped inside. After a moment, Mulder
did likewise.

He slipped the keys into the ignition and started the car, wincing when
his fingers contacted the hot steering wheel. Scully continued to ignore
the vibes he was emitting and leaned over to adjust the air conditioning
to full blast. Of course at the moment all it was blasting was hot air,
and Mulder turned the fan back down while making a grunt of irritation.

"Mulder! It's like a furnace in here!" Scully snapped impatiently,
reaching for the knob.

Mulder caught a glimpse of movement in his peripheral vision, and his
mind noted the fact that Bert Gundersen had exited the farmhouse and was
heading for the barn even as his hand shot out to seize Scully's wrist.
None too gently.

Scully's slight hiss of discomfort was enough to snap his attention back
to the interior of the car and cause him to release his hold as if
burned.

"What is wrong with you, Mulder?" she demanded, massaging the bones of
her wrist. With a deep sense of shame, Mulder observed the red marks
left by his fingers. "You haven't been yourself ever since Gundersen
came home! You were unprofessional, bordering on rude, and Kersh would
have your butt if he got a complaint from that man!"

Still seething with anger, but realizing it had nothing to do with his
partner, Mulder remained silent throughout her tirade, drumming his
fingers on the steering wheel and unable to keep from looking at the
barn.

". . .the heat? Mulder!"

Realizing he'd just completely missed whatever his justifiably angry
partner had said, Mulder turned his back on the barn and focused on
Scully. It was a feat that took no small effort. To his surprise, Scully
took one look at his face and the ire on her own seemed to evaporate.

"You didn't hear any of what I was saying, did you Mulder?" she asked,
but her voice was oddly gentle.

Mulder tore his eyes from hers, the rage he had felt now oddly defused
by her sudden tenderness. Once again, almost of their own volition, his
eyes found the barn.

Scully watched him silently. She sensed that something very profound was
happening to Mulder, but was at a loss for what to do about it. His eyes
just now had been. . .haunted. She noticed the way he kept watching the
barn, and intuitively concluded his sharp shifts in mood somehow
involved Robbie. Beyond that, she was completely baffled.

"Tell me," was all she said, but the two words held a wealth of unspoken
emotions. *You're my best friend. You mean everything to me, and I can't
stand to see you hurting. Let me help you.*

Scully wasn't sure what, if anything, she expected, but it certainly
wasn't the statement that finally exploded from her partner or the
barely restrained fury that returned just as suddenly as it had
disappeared. The words were clipped short, the harsh, ragged edges in
his voice a far cry from his normally mellow baritone.

"That abusive son of a bitch beats his kid!"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Full Circle (4/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

Inside the Car
Gundersen Farm
Tuesday 3:01 p.m.

Scully was never speechless. That wasn't to say she spoke unnecessarily,
but simply that her razor sharp mind was able to come up with a reply to
anything that Mulder happened to throw her way. She'd been at it for
over six years now, and she'd gotten pretty good at it.

"Are you trying to say that. . ."

Mulder, are you suggesting. . ."

"So your theory is. . ."

Yes, she'd had a wealth of experience responding to ideas that came
soaring at her like a fast ball from a major league pitcher. An always
entertaining, frequently annoying, slightly demented, incredibly
brilliant pitcher. And she'd never struck out yet. Liver-eating mutants,
beast women, mothmen, mind-controlling killers - her science hadn't
faltered in the face of life's most bizarre concoctions.

It all deserted her now. Dana Scully, master of the scientific
explanation, gaped at her partner as the gears ground to a screeching
halt.

"What?"
*Ooooh, brilliant response, Dana. That'll give him something to think
about* the little voice in her head said snidely. She ignored it.

Mulder's face had become blank, his gaze shuttered. He looked away from
her to stare at his fingers drumming on the steering wheel, but even as
she studied him while her thoughts tried to catch up, she saw his gaze
wander to the barn again.

The shock of his revelation wore off, and she ventured to reply, keeping
her voice calm and reasonable.

"Mulder, you barely spoke twenty words to that man. He barely spoke
twenty words to his son while we were there. How can you make such an
accusation?"

Uh-oh. "The Look" took over Mulder's face and Scully had to struggle
against the feelings it automatically produced in her. Those expressive
eyes darkened, brows drew together, lips thinned, and his head tilted
slightly to the side. It was the "I know what I just said is the gospel
truth while you, on the other hand, understand nothing" look. It pissed
her off.

She pushed the anger into a tiny corner at the back of her mind, another
ability six years with this man had given her, and decided to try again.
"Mulder," her voice gentler this time. "We've both been through a lot
this last year. I know you've been struggling. I know you're bored and
you're frustrated. I know it doesn't seem like things are ever going to
improve. When a person experiences that kind of stress in their life it
is perfectly natural for physical and emotional consequences to manifest
themselves - apathy, insomnia, nightmares. . ."

His head snapped back around at her words, his expression at first
startled, then wary.

"Mulder, the walls are thin and there's only a connecting door between
us. I know what you've been going through. It's been bad since
Antarctica, hasn't it?"

His only reply was to return his gaze to the barn, but she saw weary
affirmation in the slump of his shoulders and the fact that "The Look"
didn't return.

"All I'm saying is that I think you may be a little less able to look at
things objectively right now," Scully finished, reaching out to lay her
hand on his arm. The gesture was meant to be soothing, but she was
unprepared for the amount of tension she felt running through him like
live current.

"Somehow I don't think 'objective' is an adjective you'd use to describe
me, Scully. Even under the best of circumstances," Mulder said quietly,
but she caught the wry humor in his words.

She gave his arm a gentle squeeze before releasing it, smiling softly.
"Look, it's been a long day. This car is just beginning to lose its
sauna feel. Let's go back to that rat-trap motel you found us, get
cleaned up, and find someplace to have a nice dinner on the Bureau. It's
the least Kersh owes us."

Her words seemed to have the desired effect. Mulder didn't nod, but he
did put the car in gear and began backing them down the long, dusty
driveway. Scully was just beginning to congratulate herself on her
ability in partner diplomacy when he abruptly applied the brakes and
slammed the gearshift back into park. When he looked at her, it was with
determination.

"I can't do it. I have to go talk to him, Scully. It's my fault Robbie's
in trouble, and it will be on my head if he gets hurt."

Exasperation and the sweat trickling down her back killed the last ounce
of patience Scully had. "Mulder! I thought we agreed you were
over-reacting. There is nothing to indicate that Robbie is in any kind
of danger."

"The Look" again.

"No, Scully. You agreed. I know what I heard, and I know what I saw."

"Then enlighten me, Mulder. Because I was there too, and frankly, I saw
nothing but a slightly moody teenage boy and a grumpy father."

"Moody! Scully, he was terrified! Didn't you see how he reacted when the
man came into the house? He looked like he'd been caught committing a
felony instead of just letting a couple of FBI agents inside. He
couldn't wait to get away from his father! How many boys do you know
that would suddenly volunteer to go do their chores like that? And what
about dear old dad? Did you hear what he said, Scully? 'I'll be sure to
show him my appreciation later.' What exactly did you think he meant by
that?"

Scully couldn't help it - she rolled her eyes. "How about he meant what
he said? Maybe he appreciated the fact that we were praising the boy.
Maybe he was proud."

Mulder snorted, turning away from her, his manner casually dismissing
her rationale. He grasped the door handle and jerked it open, getting
out of the still running car and then leaning in the open doorway.
Scully was unable to name what she saw in his eyes when he looked at
her. For a moment she had the eerie feeling that she was staring at a
stranger and not the man she'd come to know and. . . Her mind neatly
sidestepped the rest of that thought, classifying it as dangerous
territory and relegating it to the same corner she'd sent her anger
previously.

"I don't want to fight about this, Scully," Mulder said, and his voice
sounded suddenly old, as if he'd aged thirty years. "God knows, we've
done enough of that lately. And I don't want to hurt your feelings -
I've done too much of that as well. But frankly, you don't know what the
hell you're talking about this time. Just wait here, and I promise I'll
be back in a few minutes."

He'd shut the door and was striding toward the barn before she had a
chance to decide if his words had angered her, insulted her, or worried
her.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Full Circle (5/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

Inside the barn
Gundersen Farm
Tuesday 3:13 p.m.

Mulder could hear Bert Gundersen before he'd even opened the door to the
barn. The man's coarse baritone voice was raised in an angry tirade, the
individual words distinguishable due to their volume.

"Don't you have a brain in that empty head of yours? I ask practically
nothing of you, and you can't even handle the small things! How could
you be so incredibly stupid? You must be the most worthless kid on the
face of the earth! I told you no one comes in the house when I'm gone!
Is that so hard for you to understand?"

Mulder paused with his hand on the rough boards of the door, closing his
eyes as the memories swept over him like a wave and threatened to
suffocate him with their intensity. "How could you let them take her?
Where were you, Fox? Did you even try to stop it? Or were you hiding
like the spineless coward I know you are? It should have been you, not
her! Samantha was worth ten of you."

Mulder swallowed in a vain attempt to rid himself of the lump in his
throat. He was an adult now. More than twenty-five years had passed
since Samantha had vanished, taking life as he knew it along with her.
How, after all those years, could the memories be so painful, the edges
sharp enough that he still bled inside?

"Scully," he whispered, struggling to regain control of volatile
emotions. "You have no idea..."

More than twenty-five years, and he'd thought all the coping mechanisms
were in place. Not dealt with, exactly, but relegated to a distant
corner of his brain where he could pretend he'd forgotten. Until Robbie.
He'd looked at the boy, seen the story told so clearly in haunted eyes,
and realized he'd come full circle - that scared, hurt, angry twelve
year old still very much a part of him.

Robbie's tearful voice cut into his thoughts. "I said I was sorry! I
thought since they were FBI agents it was different and would be
okay..."

The cracking sound of a slap cut off Robbie's protest. Shoving his own
pain aside, Mulder straightened and mentally donned his FBI persona.
Losing his temper was not an option. Robbie would be the one to suffer.

He pushed the door open, welcoming the screech of its rusty hinges. The
last thing he wanted right now was to startle Gundersen into reacting
defensively. Mulder wasn't sure if he could make a difference for
Robbie, but he knew he had to try. In all the years that his father had
battered him, both physically and emotionally, no one had ever tried to
stop it. Not even his own mother.

When he strode into the barn, the first thing Mulder saw was Robbie,
tears in his eyes and a trembling hand pressed to his left cheek. Bert
Gundersen swung around to face him, his expression still thunderous with
barely controlled anger.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded, striding forward. "I showed your
partner what she needed, your business here is finished. Now get out!"

Mulder was unfazed by the man's hostility, but something else lurked
beneath the anger. Something he struggled to put a name to until it
abruptly snapped into place with perfect clarity. The man was nervous.
The bluster he directed Mulder's way was a cover for a deep anxiety,
most likely due to the blow he'd just given his son. Child abuse in the
presence of a federal agent would make anyone nervous, Mulder reasoned.
All these thoughts passed through his brain in an instant, and he forced
himself to smile - though what he wanted to do to Bert Gundersen was
something entirely different.

"Relax, Mr. Gundersen," he said soothingly. "I just came back because I
wanted to be sure I didn't get Robbie into trouble. I used my badge to
convince him to let my partner and me into your home - it really wasn't
his choice."

As he spoke Mulder pulled his eyes away from Robbie's father, afraid the
man would notice the smile on his face was wooden at best, and that
looking for too long at the man would destroy his resolution to keep his
temper in check. Instead, he allowed his gaze to wander around the
barn's interior. It wasn't exactly fascinating scenery, but it provided
the necessary distraction. His attention was forced back to Gundersen,
however, when the man purposely got into his face.

"There's no trouble between me and my son, Agent Mulder, so you can
clear out," he insisted, punctuating his words by grasping Mulder's arm
just above the elbow and attempting to turn him back toward the door.

Trying hard to remember why he wasn't allowed to acquaint his fist with
Gundersen's face, Mulder wrenched his arm from Bert's grasp and refused
to be led. "That's not how it sounded when I walked in here, Mr.
Gundersen." He congratulated himself on the cool, unemotional inflection
of his voice. What he really wanted was to deck the creep for trying to
bully him the way he did his son. He looked over at Robbie and was
dismayed to see the boy more rigid with fear than before he'd gotten
involved.

"I'm fine, Agent Mulder, really," Robbie assured him, trying to cover
the livid red mark on his cheek. "Don't worry about me. You should
listen to my dad and leave." *Please* his eyes said *go now and don't
make things worse.*

Knowing that all was not well, yet torn by the pleading look on Robbie's
face, Mulder allowed Robbie's father to propel him closer to the door.
And it almost happened. He was so close to leaving, to giving both
Gundersens what they seemed to want from him by disappearing without
further fuss. But he turned back just in time to catch the panicked look
that Robbie shot at a pile of crates sitting in the corner near where he
stood. Almost without thinking about it, Mulder looked to see what was
obviously contributing to Robbie's anxiety.

And time slowed.

Some of the crates had writing stamped on their sides - large red
letters that were easy for Mulder to read, even from a distance. DANGER!
EXPLOSIVE MATERIAL - HANDLE WITH EXTREME CAUTION. And then his eyes
found a crate that was unmarked but partially opened, some of the
packing material pulled out onto the floor and a gleam of dark metal
just visible within. Guns.

A thousand thoughts flitted through Mulder's head in the instant his
brain identified the weapons, but only one took prominence. *Scully. I
have to warn Scully.*

But it was already too late. Although it had only taken a split second
for Mulder to identify the contents of the crates and realize the
danger, Gundersen noticed the slight pause and the change in his manner.

"I think maybe you'd better not leave us just yet, Agent Mulder," he
said shrewdly, his fist suddenly around Mulder's arm again but this time
in a viselike grip.

"I appreciate the hospitality," Mulder replied sarcastically, "but I
wouldn't want to put you to any more trouble."

"Oh, it's a little too late for that. You should have left the first
time, kept your nose out of other people's business. We'd all be much
happier right now." A gun appeared from where it had been tucked in the
waistband of Gundersen's pants, hidden by his blue work shirt. Gundersen
grinned wolfishly at him and gestured for Mulder to head toward where
Robbie stood, face pale.

"Over there," he ordered, relieving Mulder of his weapon and giving him
a shove to get him moving. "Robbie, go get some rope."

Robbie didn't move, frozen in place, his eyes locked with Mulder's.

"Robbie!" Gundersen snapped without taking his eyes off Mulder. "For
once in your life do something right! Go get some rope!"

Mulder returned Robbie's gaze calmly, trying to communicate reassurance
even as he wracked his brain for a way out of the trouble in which he'd
landed himself.

"Dad, please don't! I can't..."

This time his father did tear his gaze from Mulder to fix Robbie with a
murderous stare, roaring, "Don't look at him, look at me! I'm your
father and you'll do as I say or..."

Seeing Gundersen's attention waver, and realizing this was possibly the
only chance he'd have, Mulder lunged forward while twisting his body at
the same time to break the man's hold. He immediately spun around and
grabbed for the gun. By this time Gundersen had recovered from his
initial surprise, and Mulder found himself grappling desperately with a
man his own height and fifty pounds heavier. The result was that
Gundersen's arm - and consequently the weapon - was flung wildly about,
sometimes pointing at the roof, sometimes the floor, and all points in
between.

Mulder finally managed to get an iron grip on Gundersen's wrist and was
twisting, a tactic that seemed to be working, judging by the grunts of
pain coming from the man and the fact that his hold on the firearm
seemed to be loosening. Then Robbie emitted a small cry of distress, and
Mulder realized with sudden horror that the gun was pointed in the boy's
direction with his father's finger still wrapped around the trigger.

"Robbie, move!" he warned sharply. "Get out of here!"

The momentary loss of focus was enough. Just as Gundersen's brief
attention to his son had given the agent an opportunity to begin the
struggle, Mulder's momentary concern for Robbie was enough to permit
Gundersen to end it. The big man jerked his wrist free, at the same
moment shoving Mulder hard with his other hand. The sudden loss of his
hold coupled with the push robbed Mulder of his balance and he stumbled
backward, desperately fighting to stay on feet that wanted to tangle.
The single crack of the gun discharging, a searing burn in his chest,
and Mulder lost the battle, his legs crumpling beneath him. Somewhere
through the haze of crushing pain that enveloped him in its arms like an
old friend, Mulder heard Robbie scream.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Full Circle (6/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

Inside the car
Gundersen Farm
Tuesday 3:30 p.m.

*Mulder, you are going to pay for this.*

Scully heaved a sigh and turned off the ignition, causing the blessedly
cool air to cease. She'd had all three vents trained on various portions
of her anatomy, and was just beginning to feel cool, the last of the
sweat dried on her skin. The last thing she wanted right now was to go
back out into that inferno.

Scully jerked the handle of her door with open hostility, slamming it
noisily once she had exited the vehicle. Mulder had said he'd be right
back fifteen minutes ago. Somehow he'd managed to ditch her while she
was within 300 yards. After only a moment's hesitation, she began
stalking across the field toward the barn that held such fascination for
her partner. Even though she was wearing a pair of pumps with only
modest heels, they kept becoming mired in the dirt, causing her to
stumble drunkenly.

"You are in so deep, Mulder," she muttered under her breath, trying to
balance on the balls of her feet and feeling like an idiot. "You'll be
doing all the paperwork for this one."

Scully was within ten feet of the barn when the pop of a gunshot made
her instinctively drop to the ground. She held her breath for a moment
until she realized that the sound had come from within the structure. A
snapshot image of the rage distorting Mulder's face passed before her
eyes, and she heard his voice clearly in her mind. "That son of a bitch
beats his kid." The image that quickly followed originated in her own
imagination: Mulder walking in on Bert Gundersen in the act of abusing
his son, going ballistic, and...

He wouldn't...would he?

Scully slid cautiously to her feet, pulling her own weapon at the same
time. Protocol dictated that she should call for immediate backup if
shots were fired - but what if her partner had been the one firing? One
more incident, one misstep, and Kersh would have the excuse he needed to
bury Mulder. If Mulder had screwed up, she owed it to him to try and fix
things without involving others. Besides, Robbie was in there too.

Scully pushed the door open a crack and peered into the dim interior.
She could sense nothing, no movement and no voices. "Mulder?" she
called. "Are you all right?"

Silence. So deep it was tangible. Where the heck were the animals,
anyway? Wasn't a barn supposed to have horses or cows or something in
it? She was ready to pull out her cell phone when Robbie's voice, high
and trembling, stopped her.

"Agent Scully? It's Robbie. We need help in here, there's been an
accident."

*Oh God, he's shot Robbie's father* Scully thought, her stomach
clenching. She started through the doorway, but stopped abruptly. If
that were true, why wasn't Mulder answering her? Why Robbie? And where
was Mr. Gundersen?

"Robbie?" she called, staying just outside the threshold. "What
happened? Where's Agent Mulder?"

Silence again for what seemed like minutes but in actuality must have
been seconds. Then Robbie's voice again, more tearful this time, barely
clinging to control. "It was an accident, I didn't mean to..."

His words spurred Scully to action while her mind attempted to make
sense of them. Robbie caused the shot? Had he somehow gotten Mulder's
gun? Or perhaps a weapon belonging to his father? She was well aware of
the statistics regarding accidents with handguns.

She moved fully into the barn, her weapon still in hand but lowered. She
hadn't taken more than five steps when Bert Gundersen's voice stopped
her.

"Stop there, Agent Scully."

He moved catlike out of the shadows, a Sig Saur that looked suspiciously
like Mulder's pointed at her head. A moment later Robbie moved to stand
beside his father, face tearstained, eyes haunted.

Gundersen continued toward her, and Scully was struck by the profound
change in the man. This was not the simple farmer she'd met earlier.
This man moved with the confident grace of someone well versed in the
use of weapons. He smiled at her startled expression.

"What's the matter, Agent Scully? Haven't you heard the expression
'never judge a book by its cover?' Now put your gun on the floor very
slowly and kick it over to me. I've already shot one of you, so I have
nothing left to lose."

Scully complied with his orders, her mind reeling. He'd said shot, not
killed. Did that mean Mulder was still alive? She resisted the impulse
to blurt out the question, instead taking a deep breath to calm her
jangling nerves.

"Why are you doing this? Where is my partner?" she asked when she knew
her voice would remain steady. Gundersen calmly checked her for
concealed weapons, divesting her of the cell phone in the process.

"Your partner stumbled onto that," he gestured at the stack of crates
Mulder had noticed earlier, "while trying to advise me on how to raise
my own son. As for where he is - I'll be happy to show you," Gundersen
sneered. "Robbie, lead Agent Scully to Agent Mulder. I'll be right
behind you."

Robbie looked at Scully imploringly, and for the first time she noticed
the darkening bruise on his cheek. "I'm sorry, Agent Scully, I..."

"This is the last time I'm going to tell you, Robert," his father cut
in, voice quiet but deadly. "Shut the hell up and do as you're told."

Robbie turned quickly and led Scully to the back of the barn and an open
trap door in the dirt floor. A ladder led down into a cellar, dimly lit.
Robbie descended, and Scully followed him carefully. Her captor came
down one handed, skillfully keeping the gun trained on her.

Scully turned to scan the large room and practically tripped over her
partner. Mulder lay crumpled on the floor near the foot of the ladder,
half on his side, half on his back, with his left arm twisted beneath
him. What captured Scully's gaze and caused her breath to catch in her
throat, however, was not the fact that he had obviously been dropped
from above. It was the dark red puddle soaking into the earth beneath
him.

She immediately dropped to her knees beside him, her physician's eyes
noting that the back of his white dress shirt was intact. She rolled him
as gently as possible onto his back to assess his injury. In spite of
her care, her actions caused him to moan in pain, and his closed eyes
fluttered open.

"Scully."

It was more of a whisper than anything, her name only distinguishable by
the movement of his lips. Scully flashed him one of the 1000 watt smiles
she hoarded for extreme circumstances - like when he'd finally awakened
in a hospital in Dead Horse, Alaska, proving he'd cheated death one more
time. *Do it again, Mulder. Once more for old time's sake.*

"Hey," she said aloud, unbuttoning his shirt and moving the fabric aside
to expose the wound on his chest. She couldn't stop herself from
momentarily closing her eyes at what she revealed.

"Bad."

Scully met her partner's gaze, glassy with pain but lucid. "Pretty bad,"
she agreed softly. "I've seen worse, though."

"Corpses..don't count."

She tried to chuckle, but it caught painfully in a throat suddenly tight
with emotion. That he could joke while in what must be incredible
pain... She was overwhelmed by the sheer courage of the man.

Scully had almost forgotten about Robbie and his father, so intent was
she on Mulder's condition, but they were brought sharply back to her
awareness when Bert slipped what looked like a handcuff attached to a
chain around her ankle. The other end of the chain he locked securely
around a thick iron pipe that ran along one wall, slipping the keys into
his pocket.

He turned to his son. "Robbie, go back to the house. I'll be there in a
few minutes."

Robbie hesitated only a moment this time before nodding and climbing up
the ladder. When he reached the top he turned back to look down at
Scully and Mulder. He seemed about to speak, but his father turned
slowly to look up at him, his face as dark as the earth beneath their
feet.

"Now."

Robbie left.

While Bert dealt with Robbie, Scully took the opportunity to remove her
jacket and fold it into a square that she laid over Mulder's chest,
pressing firmly with both hands. Mulder moaned again, unable to stop the
sound from leaving his lips in spite of his wish to remain stoic in
front of their captor.

Gundersen shook his head. "One more day. One more lousy day and those
crates would have been gone and none of this would have happened. Now as
soon as those crates get picked up I'll have to relocate. All because an
FBI agent didn't know when to mind his own business."

"Sorry to...inconvenience you," Mulder said weakly.

"Only a minor setback. Don't flatter yourself."

"What about us?" Scully asked quietly.

"Contrary to what you might think, I'm not a murderer, Agent Scully.
You've just left me with very few choices," Gundersen said, holding out
his hand, palm up in a "what can you do?" gesture.

"I have no intention of causing you or Agent Mulder any further harm. In
fact, once those, uh, supplies are picked up and Robbie and I get out of
here, I'll even give the authorities an anonymous call and tell them
where to find you. You'll be out of here in 24 hours - 48 at the
outside."

"See Scully? And you said he didn't have a heart," Mulder whispered.

Ignoring Mulder's attempt at whistling in the dark, Scully concentrated
on keeping her voice level. "Mulder doesn't have that long, Gundersen.
You know that. He needs medical treatment now. He needs a hospital."

"'Fraid he'll have to make do with you," Gundersen replied cheerfully.
He turned and began ascending the ladder, pausing at the top to call
back down to them.

"Oh, Agent Scully? I wouldn't waste my energy trying to escape. Those
pipes go thirty feet down into the ground, no one's going to hear you
scream, and there'll be a padlock on this trapdoor. Concentrate on your
partner - he's going to need all the help you can give."

The trapdoor slammed shut, the faint click of a lock snapping into
place, and then silence.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
End of Part 1 of 2
On to Part 2 of 2