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

Full Circle (7/13)
By: RonDawnZemke <sunrise83@comcast.net>

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

Inside the cellar
Gundersen farm
Tuesday 3:57 p.m.

For a moment after Gundersen's departure Scully remained motionless,
despair settling over her like a heavy shroud. Her intellect knew that
she was allowing the man's words to rob her of any vestiges of hope, yet
feeling anything but defeat at this point seemed unrealistic. A
half-hearted tug on the chain around her ankle did nothing to raise her
spirits. It seemed the only course of action was inaction - to hope Bert
Gundersen meant what he said about calling the authorities. It was a
long shot at best, but just maybe Mulder could hang on...

"Bet that rat-trap motel's looking pretty good now."

Scully looked down at her partner, aware that his attempt at humor was
meant to counter the black mood he'd sensed from her. As she struggled
to offer him a weak smile, she was busily cataloguing Mulder's
condition. The bleeding from the chest wound had slowed a little under
the pressure of her hands, but her jacket was already becoming saturated
with his blood. His respiration was shallow and slightly labored. His
normally bronze coloring had gone a pasty white and his skin was cool
and clammy, though a fine sheen of perspiration had broken out on his
brow and upper lip. Shock, her doctor's brain diagnosed dispassionately,
even as she felt the fragile hope she'd begun to construct come crashing
down around her.

*Forty-eight hours? It'll be a miracle if he lasts twelve!*

"You knocking these fine accommodations, Mulder?" she said lightly,
searching the room for something to put under his legs to elevate them.
A half empty bag of feed was within reach and the right size. Though
Scully tried to shift Mulder's position as gently as possible, he
stiffened and bit his lip hard enough to draw blood.

"Sorry," Scully murmured. She used her thumb to wipe away the drop of
blood, then ran her hands soothingly through his hair to push it off his
sweaty forehead.

"'S o.k.," Mulder replied, and after a moment added, "Sorry Scully."

"For what, Mulder?" Scully continued her stroking, unsure if its purpose
was to soothe her partner or herself. "For being right? For trying to
stop that animal from brutalizing his son? Or for stumbling onto the
fact that Bert Gundersen has an illegal hobby?"

"For getting you into another mess. For always being a little too
slow...or a little too na´ve...or a little too self-absorbed to stop you
from being hurt," Mulder said hoarsely, his words punctuated by small
gasps for breath. "Your brother...is right."

Scully rolled her eyes. "I love my brother, Mulder. That does not keep
me from recognizing that he is an ass."

A startled chuckle of delight burst from Mulder, but quickly became a
violent cough. Scully could only hold his hand and watch impotently
until the spasms subsided. And though her own chest constricted with
horror when a trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth, she
calmly wiped it away with the sleeve of her blouse and said nothing.

Mulder panted, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, for several minutes. Just
as Scully was about to ask if he was still with her, he opened them.

"'m still sorry," he whispered.

"I know," she said, her thumb tracing small circles on the back of his
hand. She hesitated, then added, "Mulder, I want to ask you a question.
If you don't want to answer, I promise I'll understand."

"Boxers."

Scully snorted, pursing her lips to reduce the full-blown grin to a
smirk and arching an eyebrow. It was an unspoken game between them -
Mulder firing off jokes, she pretending not to be amused. "You think
that's a revelation, Mulder?"

"How did I know."

Scully nodded. "I saw what you saw - but I didn't."

Mulder's eyes skittered away from hers and refused to return. "You've
heard the old saying, Scully. Takes one to know one." His voice was
husky with repressed pain, but she would have bet it wasn't from the
gunshot wound. Then his eyes abruptly ceased their wandering and locked
back onto hers. Accusing. Rebuking. Imploring. "But you already knew
that, didn't you?"

Scully's voice was feather-soft. "I guess I've always suspected."
*Of course you have. Oddly enough, that's why you didn't believe him
about Gundersen. You thought he was projecting himself onto Robbie.*

Mulder closed his eyes and turned his head. She assumed the conversation
was ended, and found a portion of her was relieved. She was more than a
little startled when he continued to speak. In his voice she heard
countless broken dreams, countless unshed tears, countless wounds never
healed.

"My father was never a warm person. He didn't hug or kiss - well, except
for Sam." The corners of Mulder's lips turned up. "Hard not to when
she'd fling herself onto your lap and throw her arms around your neck."

Scully tried to swallow the lump that formed in her throat at his words.
She recalled Tina Mulder's cool aloofness only too clearly. Those
exuberant little sister hugs and kisses were undoubtedly the only ones
Mulder received when growing up. She couldn't help but compare her own
childhood in a home where physical affection was doled out liberally and
often.

"But after Sam was...taken, things...fell apart. Dad started drinking
heavily. Started the minute he came through the door after work. Didn't
stop 'til he'd passed out in the chair in front of the TV. He'd always
been tough on me...high expectations. But it got so...was impossible to
measure up. Nothing was enough."

"At first..tried to please him. Thought if I was good enough...good
enough student, good enough athlete, good enough son...he'd stop hurting
so much. Thought I could make it up to him. Thought he'd forgive me."

A single tear slipped out of the corner of Mulder's still closed eyes
and ran down until it disappeared in his hair. Scully resisted the urge
to wipe away the residual moisture, unwilling to risk Mulder claming up.
Instead, she continued stroking the hand she held.

"'f I made dinner it was overcooked. 'f I brought home A minus..shoulda
been an A. 'f I made ten baskets, shoulda been fifteen."

"Your mother...?"

"Crawled into a valium bottle and didn't come out." Mulder opened eyes
that had turned a slate gray color, and looked pleadingly into Scully's
blue ones. "She's never been a strong person, Scully. Dad wasn't
exactly...supportive."

Scully bit back the retort that wanted to leave her mouth. Somehow she
didn't believe Tina Mulder was as fragile as her son seemed to think.

"When your dad got angry, did he...?"

Another small smile touched her partner's lips, but this one was
sardonic rather than gentle. "Depended how many drinks he'd had. After a
few...he'd use words. 'F he'd had a lot...fists. Once I figured
out...couldn't please him...tried to avoid him. Didn't like walkin' on
eggshells...waitin' for next explosion. Always tried to be somewhere
else."

"Like Robbie."

Mulder nodded, but winced in pain. His breathing had become more labored
and he was forming words with more difficulty, speech slurred. "Had to
try...stop it, Scully. Times I...given anything...someone on my side."

He broke into another series of harsh coughs that sounded alarmingly wet
to Scully's trained ear. Fresh blood trickled down his chin and she used
her sleeve again, ignoring the feel of the warm stickiness against her
wrist. It was obvious his lung had been compromised, either by the
bullet itself or a broken rib. The pneumothorax would build until he was
no longer able to take in sufficient oxygen, and then...
"Gotta help me out here, Mulder," she said, gently stroking his
forehead. "You still with me? We've got to elevate your head so you can
breathe easier. You can lean against me."

Mulder opened his eyes, but they were vague and unfocused. "Donwanna
wrestle."

Scully favored him with a grin, in spite of the tears that flooded her
eyes. "And I don't want to sing. Now on the count of three, we're going
to sit you up and I'll pull you against me, okay?"

It was a made to order opening for some of Mulder's innuendo, and
Scully's crushing sense of fear only increased when he didn't bite.

"Mulder?"

"'Kay."

"One. Two. Three!"

Scully fully expected Mulder to moan in pain as she grasped him beneath
both arms and hauled him upright as gently as possible. Instead she
watched in eerie silence as the little bit of color he had left drained
from his face and his eyes rolled back in his head. Scully struggled not
to lose her grip on what was now 165 pounds of boneless Mulder. By the
time she'd dragged him over to where she could lean against the wall and
gotten him satisfactorily cradled in her arms, she was panting almost as
severely as he was.

Exhausted, she raised a shaking hand to his throat, relieved to find his
pulse relatively steady, though very weak. The bleeding, which had
slowed considerably, increased from the movement. The best she could do
about that was to refold her jacket and once again press it firmly
against the wound. Mulder whimpered, but didn't awaken.

"Shhh," Scully murmured, pressing a kiss to his forehead and trying not
to dwell on the fact that it was beginning to feel warm. Too warm.

"It's going to be all right, Mulder. You're going to make it out of
this, I promise. This time you have someone on your side."

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

Full Circle (8/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

In the cellar
Tuesday 9:36 p.m.

Everything hurt. It was really unfair, Mulder thought blearily. Being
shot in the chest should make your chest hurt - that was a given. But
right now every hair on his head hurt, and that just didn't make sense.
Not to mention the fact that his casual desire for a drink had turned
into an obsession that eclipsed all thought. How many times had he
blithely said, "I'm dying of thirst!" after a basketball game? It
appeared he was going to do just that - if the blood loss, oxygen
deprivation, and infection didn't get him first.

The fever was worse. His eyeballs felt as if they were being fried in
his skull, and although he was pretty lucid at the moment, things
slipped sideways into strange dreams where the walls crawled with giant
roaches and Scully's face morphed into that of his sister.

Scully slept, the arms that encircled him limp and her breathing deep
and even. As miserable as he was, being held by Scully almost made it
worthwhile. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. But it did feel right,
bringing him a peace somewhere deep inside his soul that the physical
torments couldn't touch.

Not for the first time, Mulder wondered what it would be like to be held
by Scully without bleeding from a gunshot wound or burning up with
fever. They'd come so close in his hallway before one tiny insect
completely derailed things. Why had they never resumed that
conversation? The one time he'd tried she'd dismissed his words, sure he
was stoned on pain medication. Well, maybe he had been, but it had only
served to lower his inhibitions.

Scully was a different story. At times Mulder was certain she shared his
feelings. She'd stood by him through some of the most horrific
experiences a human being could endure - her abduction, the murder of
her sister, her bout with cancer, Emil...

But that was part of the problem, wasn't it? Though he saw the way she
sometimes looked at him when she thought he didn't notice, and though
her personal life was as suspiciously lacking in significant others as
his was, it all came down to one very simple question. What did Scully
deserve? The answer was equally simple - so much more than Fox Mulder.
In spite of Scully's words, Mulder knew deep down inside that her
brother had hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was one sorry son of
a bitch.

Things became fuzzy around the edges again, and he'd almost slipped back
into a doze, when Mulder heard a soft, scuffling noise overhead,
followed by the rattling of the trap door. He struggled to sit up
without thinking, and paid for his folly when white-hot pain tore across
his chest and down his right arm. At the moan of pain that was wrenched
from his lips, Scully startled awake. She instinctively sat bolt
upright, which shifted his body enough to provoke a second wave of pain.
Black spots filled his vision and a loud ringing obliterated all sound
as he clutched at consciousness. Gradually the spots receded to reveal
Scully's face, creased with worry. Her lips were moving, but the ringing
in his ears made it impossible to hear what she was saying. He blinked
sluggishly, slowed his frantic pants for air, and her voice broke
through incrementally, as if someone had turned up a knob controlling
her volume.

"...hear me? You're scaring me, Mulder, I need you to answer me."

"'M okay, Scully," he said, the words raspy and barely audible. "'M
fine."

Both eyebrows arched at his blatant lie, but she smiled and her hand
cupped his cheek. Then her expression sobered and she glanced to their
left. "We've got company."

Mulder followed her gaze. Robbie stood at the foot of the ladder, one
hand still clutching a rung. He glanced up at the trap door and then
back at the agents, his eyes coming to rest on Mulder. The bruise on his
cheek had turned an ugly mixture of black and purple, and now his lower
lip was split and swollen as well.

"Robbie." Mulder tried to lick his lips, but couldn't generate enough
moisture. "You all right?"

The boy nodded, ducking his head in shame. "Don't worry about me. Dad
would never really hurt me."

"What do you call that?" Scully said incredulously, indicating his lip.

"Scully. Don't," Mulder said quietly, squeezing her hand for emphasis.
"Where's...father?" he asked Robbie.

"He went out, I don't know where. I wanted to make sure you were okay."

Mulder could feel the anxiety and anger running through Scully, though
her voice revealed nothing. "He isn't all right, Robbie. He won't be all
right unless he gets to a hospital."

Robbie's face crumpled at her words, but brightened an instant later. "I
brought you some stuff that should help."

He removed a large pack from his back, dropped it on the floor, and
crouched down beside it. He carefully pulled out the contents and
stacked them within Scully's reach: a first aid kit, two towels, a
blanket, three bottles of water and some granola bars.

"Don't suppose there's a gun or a cell phone in there," Scully muttered
under her breath.

"Give 'im a break," Mulder chided her, barely able to tear his eyes from
the water. "Thanks, Robbie."

Scully was less charitable. "It isn't enough, Robbie. You have to get us
out of here. At least unlock this chain."

Panic took over Robbie's face. "I can't. My father has the key. I only
got in here because he doesn't realize I know the combination for the
padlock!"

"Then bring me my cell phone - or call the police yourself!" Scully
pushed harder. "You owe it to Agent Mulder to try, you're part of the
reason he's laying here..."

"Shut up, Scully!" Mulder spat out the words furiously, only to collapse
as he was wracked with round after round of the hateful coughs, blood
splattering the floor as he doubled over. Scully's arms tightened as she
tried to support his ribs as much as possible.

When they finally ceased, he could only collapse bonelessly against her,
panting and blinking back involuntary tears of pain. He felt something
at his lips, and then something deliciously cool and wet slipped into
his mouth, obliterating the coppery taste of blood. Mulder swallowed
greedily, but after two gulps the bottle was pulled away. He couldn't
stop the small whimper of distress.

"Easy, Mulder. Too fast and you'll never keep it down."

He managed a slight nod, and after a brief respite she allowed him a few
more swallows. Robbie was babbling in the background.

"I'm sorry, Agent Scully, I'm so sorry! I know this is my fault."

To Scully's amazement, Mulder managed to respond. "NO, Robbie! Not your
fault."

With a pang of regret, Scully realized why her partner had reacted so
violently to her words. Like Mulder, the last thing Robbie needed was to
be assigned blame. He was good enough at doing that to himself.

"Mulder's right. It's not your fault, Robbie. Your father is the guilty
one. You know what's in those crates is wrong. You know the way he
treats you is wrong. You can stop it, Robbie."

"You think you understand, but you don't," Robbie said, wringing the
straps of the pack in his hands. "He wasn't always this way. Three years
ago a drunk driver killed my mother. The man barely spent six months in
jail. My dad went crazy. He blames the government for not punishing that
man."

"And you?" Scully asked quietly.

Robbie's hands stilled. "He blames me because she was coming to pick me
up. If it weren't for me, she never would have been in the wrong place
at the wrong time."

"He has no right, Robbie," Scully said, but though she was looking at
the boy, her small hand squeezed Mulder's. "I don't care how much pain
he's in, he shouldn't be taking it out on you. He's supposed to protect
you, not brutalize you."

"You don't understand! He used to be a good man. I'm sure he can be
again if I just give him time and make him proud of me!" Tears spilled
from Robbie's eyes and ran unchecked down his cheeks, reducing him from
a teenager to a small boy. "Maybe he's not perfect, but he's my father
and I love him. If I call the police to help you, they'll put him in
jail. I can't betray him like that."

"You don't...have to," Mulder said, the forceful statement he'd intended
coming out as little more than a breathy whisper. "Go. He finds you
here...you'll catch hell." He locked his eyes on Robbie's, allowing the
boy to see his own pain. "I understand."

Robbie swiped the tears impatiently from his eyes and returned Mulder's
gaze, comprehension gradually replacing confusion. "Sorry," he
whispered, and turned quickly to ascend the ladder. A moment later the
trap door slammed shut.

Mulder sagged back against Scully, the slight adrenaline rush from
Robbie's appearance completely depleted, feeling like a rag doll. The
pain in his chest was crushing, he was exhausted from fighting for each
breath, and his body once again decided it was cold. Feeling him shiver,
Scully snagged the blanket and pulled it around him.

"I need to clean and bandage the wound," she said, gesturing to the
first aid kit.

"Jus' gimme a minute," Mulder said, words slurred by a tongue that felt
thick and clumsy.

"No problem," Scully replied tenderly, holding the bottle of water back
to his lips so that he could manage a few more swallows. Her hand moved
to his sweaty brow and stroked the hair back, her fingers feather-light.
Mulder couldn't stop his eyes from drooping as her touch soothed the
pain just a little. He'd begun to drift off, when her voice, heavy with
tears, brought him back.

"We need Robbie to make that call, Mulder. You need it."

Mulder blinked, and looked up into her beautiful eyes, seeing grief and
...something else. *She does love me* he thought with something that
bordered on amazement. And on the heels of that: *I'm hurting her
again.*

"Can't," he said, straining to get the word past his lips. "Won't
sacrifice Robbie...to save myself."

Scully didn't speak as single tear, a perfect crystalline drop, slipped
down her pale cheek. She simply leaned over to brush her mouth against
his. No words were necessary. She resumed her gentle stroking, and
Mulder let her touch and the memory of her kiss carry him away.

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

Full Circle (9/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

In the cellar
Wednesday 4:30 a.m.

Scully carefully poured more water onto the towel and used it to bathe
Mulder's face. His skin was hot and dry to her touch, and he'd been
completely unresponsive for the last half-hour. She almost missed the
fever dreams that had plagued him earlier - at least they were a sign of
life. Now even his respirations had become quieter, at times the shallow
breaths barely causing the rise and fall of his chest.

She talked to him anyway. Determined to tether him to life in any way
that she could, Scully kept up a running patter of words coupled with
touches. Stories from her childhood, mostly. With four kids in a family
there were plenty of stories to tell. Especially when one of them was a
free spirit like Melissa.

"...So I let Missy talk me into keeping eye shadow and mascara in our
lockers. We'd leave the house looking like the fresh-faced Catholic
girls that Ahab expected us to be, only to hit the bathroom as soon as
we got to school. Then we'd wash it all off before we left at the end of
the day and return home with no one the wiser.

"Of course, we were doomed from the start. I don't know why Missy ever
thought I could pull it off, since I've always been a terrible liar. But
you know that, don't you?"

Scully paused, gazing at Mulder's still face and half expecting a
response. When there was none, she sighed and continued. "It was pure
chance that tripped us up. One day, just before lunch, Missy and I were
called to the office. Ahab was waiting for us. My grandmother had fallen
and broken her hip. Mom had sent him to pick all of us kids up from
school so that we could make the three-hour drive to be with her. I'll
never forget the look on his face when we walked through the doorway. He
never said a word, just signed us out and walked us to the car. I was
sure once we were behind closed doors Missy and I would get the full
force of his anger, but he just looked really sad. And he said four
words that I never forgot, that hurt worse than any spanking. 'You girls
let me down.'

"I promised myself at that moment that I'd never hear him say those
words again."

Scully pressed the towel to Mulder's forehead with her left hand, gently
stroking his cheek with the backs of the fingers on her right. "I never
realized just how lucky I was. No matter what I did, I always knew I had
my parents' love. It should have been the same for you, Mulder.
If...when we get out of here, I promise to make it up to you as best I
can. To show you that you deserve happiness just as much as Robbie does.
To stop being afraid to tell you just how much I love you..."

Scully's voice trailed off and she listened intently, suddenly certain
she'd heard a sound from above. Her suspicions were confirmed a moment
later when the trap door opened and a pair of sneaker clad feet
appeared. Robbie stood at the bottom of the ladder, eyeing her warily a
moment later.

"What do you want, Robbie?" Scully asked, her voice gentler than her
words.

"Dad's asleep. I wanted to see if you needed anything before he wakes
up. They'll be coming for those crates later this morning, and then he
says we're leaving the farm. He promised me we'd send you some help once
we're far enough away." Robbie's eyes were pleading, begging her to
believe him.

"We don't need anything, Robbie. Nothing you can give, anyway," Scully
replied dully.

"But Agent Mulder..."

"Agent Mulder is dying, Robbie!" Scully snapped, unable to feel regret
even when he flinched as if she'd slapped him. "There's nothing more you
or I can do for him. It may be there's nothing more anyone can do."

Robbie shuffled hesitantly closer, his eyes glued on Mulder's pale face.
When he reached Scully's side he knelt down, taking in the bloodstained
bandage and Mulder's shallow breathing. His hand raised slightly as if
he were about to touch her partner, but then dropped back to his side.

"Why?" he murmured, and Scully wasn't sure if the word was directed at
her or himself. His gaze never left Mulder's still body. "Why didn't he
try to make me call the police?"

Before she could begin to think of a response, Robbie turned his gaze to
her. For the first time she was struck by how much his eyes reminded her
of Mulder's. Not the color - Robbie's were a dark brown that bore no
resemblance to Mulder's ever-changing hazel. No, it was something much
less tangible. A weariness that went far beyond his years coupled with a
sadness that said things weren't going to change.

"He said that he understood. He was like me once, wasn't he?"

Scully felt her anger at the boy drain away. She managed a slight smile,
though it only touched her lips. In her heart, she was wailing with
grief at the injustice of a world that could treat fragile souls with
such disregard. She wanted to punish Bert Gundersen, Bill Mulder, and
all those like them who managed to take a bright, sensitive,
compassionate child and instill feelings of self-deprecation rather than
self-worth. But all she could do was answer, turning back to continue
stroking Mulder's cheek.

"More than you'll ever know, Robbie."

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

Full Circle (10/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

In the cellar
Wednesday 8:00 a.m.

Scully hadn't dared to hope that Mulder would regain consciousness, but
as usual, he remained unpredictable. She'd woken from a light doze, her
cheek resting on the crown of his head, to find that her left arm had
fallen asleep from the pressure of his body. In spite of the fact that
he'd shown no signs of awareness for hours, she'd tried to be gentle as
she shifted his torso to the right.

And almost dropped him when he moaned.

"Mulder? Can you hear me? Come on, Partner, open those pretty eyes for
me."

No response at first, but then his eyelids fluttered and his tongue
snaked out to moisten dry, chapped lips. Scully held the water bottle
for him, and to her delight he managed a swallow, though much of it
dribbled from the corners of his mouth.

"Timizit?" he mumbled, managing keep his eyes open, though only at
half-mast.

"It's about eight o'clock. Wednesday morning," she added when she saw
the bewilderment on his face. "How are you feeling?"

"Rode hard 'n put away wet," he panted, trying to look up at her, but
failing. His eyes looked sunken, and for the first time she noticed the
slight bluish tinge to his lips. She threaded her fingers through his
and brought them to her lips for a soft kiss, surreptitiously checking
the nail beds. Also blue. His blood oxygen level must be dangerously
low.

"You kind of checked out on me there for awhile," she said lightly,
lowering their hands but continuing to hold his. "Glad you decided to
rejoin me."

Mulder didn't reply for several minutes. The harshness of his breathing
seemed magnified by absence of other sounds, and she could feel how hard
his muscles were working just to draw in the pitiful amount of air he
was receiving.

"Wasted time," he finally managed, regret plain in his tone. "Shoulda
toldya. Now 's too late."

"You did tell me, Mulder. Anyway, I already knew."

"Damn bee."

Scully almost smiled at that. The corners of her mouth valiantly tried
to curve upward, but one look at his face stopped them. "I love you,
Mulder," she said instead, her voice fierce. "I was afraid in that
hospital room, but I'm not any more. It isn't too late. Once we get out
of here.."

His expression made the words catch in her throat.

"Mulder? Don't look like that! Don't you even think about ditching me,
do you hear me? We are going to get out of this, just like every other
time. You just have to hold on."

Mulder's eyes squeezed tightly shut, but she was still able to see the
moisture that sparkled on his lashes. "Donwanna ditchya, Scully. Just so
tired of hurting. Just wannit to go 'way."

Scully couldn't stop that sob that tore out of her chest or the torrent
of tears that followed. All she could do was hold him tightly, rocking
gently back and forth. "I know. I'm so sorry, Mulder. I know it hurts."

She'd regained some semblance of control and Mulder had begun to drift
off again, when the silence was broken by a loud pop, followed by two
more in rapid succession. Gunshots. Scully strained to catch any further
sounds, and was sure she heard faint voices moments later.

"Did you hear that, Mulder? Someone's up there, and I don't think
Gundersen or his cronies would be firing those guns. Mulder?"

His body was heavy and limp in her arms, animated only by rapid, shallow
pants for air. Scully struggled to move him so that she could stand,
and was terrified when he uttered no sounds of pain or protest. She
elevated his head as best she could with the sack of grain, and paused
to cup his hot cheek in her hand, the stubble of beard rough under her
fingertips.

"Don't go, Mulder. Please."

Staggering upright, fighting the pins and needles in her legs and feet,
she wrapped her fingers around the rough spindle of the ladder rung. The
hateful chain around her ankle would only allow her to climb the first
two. Over her head, through the plywood of the trap door, she heard a
cacophony of noise and motion. Shouts, running feet, and then another
gunshot. Scully ducked instinctively, then straightened when she
realized her foolishness. Above, all was now silent.

Her heart leaped into her throat. They couldn't leave! Whoever they were
- somebody, anybody was better than nobody. Time had run out for Mulder.
It was now or never.

"Hey!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Help! We need help!"

She lifted her clenched fist as high above her head as she could reach,
desperate to pound on the wooden door. Normally not one to bemoan her
small stature, she cursed it now. Her fist didn't come close to reaching
its target, and the chain around her ankle was cruelly unyielding as it
bit into the tender flesh of her ankle.

Scully had just reached the point where her dry throat could no longer
support the volume of her cries, when she heard voices approaching.

"...something over here. Kid said there was a cellar around here
somewhere."

"Over here!" Scully called frantically. The sound of rattling indicated
someone tugging on the padlock, then at last she heard the sweet sound
of another voice speaking to her.

"Hang on down there. We're getting a pair of bolt cutters."

"I'm a federal agent! My partner's been shot and he needs help!" Scully
called.

"The kid told us. EMTs are standing by."

The knot in the pit of Scully's stomach loosened just a bit at the
words, and she backed carefully down the ladder and returned to Mulder's
side. "Help is here, Mulder," she said, reaching for his hand...

Only to gasp, blood draining from her face.

Mulder's lips no longer held a bluish cast - they were blue. The short
breaths he'd been taking had ceased, his chest now silent and still. A
small trickle of blood ran from one corner of his mouth.

"Oh God, no. NO!" Scully wailed, flinging herself to the ground beside
him laying her head on his chest. No heartbeat. "Damn it, Mulder, I said
no ditching!" she said, choking on tears barely held at bay.

She grasped his chin, firmly tilting his head back and opening his mouth
to check for any obstructions. Pinching his nose shut she sealed his
lips with her own, refusing to let her mind acknowledge the taste of
blood. She followed several breaths with some chest compressions,
wincing at the thought of broken ribs. Then back to breathe for him. A
corner of her mind registered that his chest was not expanding properly
due to the pneumothorax, but she ruthlessly pushed the thought aside.
She was concentrating so hard on the CPR that she never heard the
rescuers until they were down the ladder and standing at her side.

A hand touched her shoulder and she looked up into the faces of a
policeman and two EMTs carrying their medical equipment. "He's not
breathing," she said unnecessarily, and reluctantly allowed herself to
be moved aside so they could take over. "Gunshot wound to the upper
right quadrent resulting in massive blood loss and a probable
pneumothorax - his breathing was progressively deteriorating before he
arrested. Due to the unfavorable conditions he's also developed a
significant infection of the wound. I'm a doctor," she added when the
technicians exchanged surprised looks.

And then she could only sag against the dirt wall, unable to take her
eyes from the flurry of activity, while everything possible was done to
save Mulder's life.

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

Full Circle (11/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

St. Joseph's Hospital
Wichita
Wednesday 11:52 a.m.

Scully was long past tired. She huddled at one end of the uncomfortable
couch in the waiting room, too exhausted to feel annoyed at the way her
cheek stuck to the plastic. They'd whisked Mulder into surgery over two
hours ago, and she'd yet to hear anything. She'd given up pestering the
nurses, retaining enough reason to realize that they had no news to give
her. The only good thing to happen so far was that the family of the
only other surgical patient, an appendectomy, had left fifteen minutes
earlier. They'd been a noisy bunch, but for some reason had given Scully
a wide berth.

Everyone had been so kind. Doug Barrett and Eric Caplan, the two EMTs
who had literally brought Mulder back from death not once but three
times, had stopped by on their way back to the station, promising to
call for an update on Mulder's condition. Her carefully constructed mask
of medical detachment had deserted her at their kindness, leaving her
barely able to speak around the lump in her throat.

The nurses had weathered her explosions of impatience with calm
reassurances of the quality of the hospital's care and the skill of the
surgeon. They'd brought her cups of coffee, and accepted her refusal to
leave the waiting area, even to get cleaned up.

Even Stan Bishop, the cop who'd brought the EMTs for Mulder, had
discretely left her alone, consenting to return later for her statement.

Now Scully just felt numb. So many factors were against Mulder even
surviving the surgery, let alone long term. The ordeal in the ambulance
on the way to the hospital had reminded her unpleasantly of Alaska, when
Mulder had nearly died of the retrovirus. At least then he'd only
crashed once. At least then she'd had something to do, a part in
ensuring his survival. In the ambulance she'd been a helpless observer.

She closed her eyes against the tears that threatened, but heard the
door to the waiting room open and the sound of purposeful footsteps
striding toward her. Since the doctor would have come from the doors
leading to the operating theatres, Scully left her eyes closed and
silently willed the intruder to go away and leave her alone.

"Agent Scully?"

At the sound of the familiar voice her eyes flew open in shock. She
struggled to stand, unconsciously reaching up to tuck her disheveled
hair behind her ears. "Sir..."

A surprisingly gentle hand on her shoulder stopped her before she could
rise, and Skinner took a seat beside her instead. "Don't get up, Scully.
You look like you've been through hell."

"I didn't expect... Sir, you were ordered to break off all contact with
us."

"Vacation time, Scully. The Bureau doesn't own my personal life - yet
anyway."

Scully meant to grin at his wry words but was horrified to find her eyes
flooding with tears instead. She pressed the backs of her fingers
against her lips in a futile attempt to hold in a sob, which broke free
anyway. Before she quite realized what was happening, Skinner had
slipped his muscular arm around her slight frame and her head was
resting on his broad shoulder.

"Let it out, Scully," he said softly. "God knows you deserve to."

And at his words, the wave of emotion that she'd tenuously kept at bay
for the last twenty-four hours crashed over her and knocked her
completely off her feet. The sobs that wracked her were frightening in
their intensity, but unable to be denied. The revelation of Mulder's
childhood abuse, his physical torment, her own impotence as she watched
him inexorably slipping away - each a building block in a tower of grief
that had finally come tumbling down.

And Skinner just sat there while she soaked his shirt with her tears,
silently rubbing her shoulder. When she'd finally tapered off to an
occasional hiccup, her eyes puffy and red, she knew she should be
feeling mortified with embarrassment. Yet what she did feel was a
cathartic kind of relief. Mulder was still clinging to life by his
fingernails and sheer will, but a great blackness had been purged from
her heart.

Scully straightened a little reluctantly, and Skinner gave her a brief
squeeze before removing his arm from her shoulders and gazing at her
solemnly.

"You okay?"

Scully nodded. "Sorry..."

Skinner cut her off, raising his hand before she could continue. He
studied her for a moment before handing her a handkerchief and saying,
"Wait here a minute. I'll be right back."

Scully watched as he strode out the door, surprised by his abrupt
departure but grateful for a moment to regroup. She dried her eyes and
blew her nose, but when she started to tuck the handkerchief away in her
pocket she stiffened. Skinner found her there a moment later, the
handkerchief forgotten in her lap as she stared, mesmerized, at the
bloodstains on her hands. Mulder's blood - in the creases of her
knuckles, under her fingernails, and on the cuffs of her blouse. There
were even rusty streaks on the handkerchief where she'd wiped her face.
No wonder that family had left her alone.

"Scully?"

She bit her lip and looked up at Skinner, dazed. He crossed the room to
kneel in front of her, and Scully saw he had a pair of pale blue scrubs
in his hands.

"Scully, I want you to go get cleaned up. The nurses said you can use
their shower - it's just down the hall on the right." He placed the
scrubs in her hands, dark brown eyes showing both compassion and
concern.

Scully shook her head, unable to shake the oddly disconnected feeling
that had begun with the sight of Mulder's blood on her hands. "I...I
can't. This is Mulder's blood," she said, her voice rising. "What if
it's all I've got left, what if he doesn't make it, if he..."
*Thiscan'tbehappeningthiscan'tbehappeningthiscan'tbehappening...*

"Scully!"

Skinner pitched his voice deliberately in a "chain of command" tone. It
worked. Scully's eyes snapped back to focus on his face, and lost their
blankness.

"Scully," he repeated quietly. "I talked to the nurses. They don't
expect him out of surgery for at least another hour. You have to take
care of yourself now. He's going to need you when he wakes up."

Skinner's use of the word "when" and not "if" wasn't lost on Scully. She
nodded, even managing a weak smile of thanks, and rose to her feet. When
she reached the door to the hallway, she paused and turned back.

"I'll be right here if anything happens," Skinner assured her before she
could even voice the concern. "I'm not going anywhere."

Scully nodded again, not trusting her voice. It wasn't until she was
walking down the hallway to the bathroom that it occurred to her - she
had no idea how Skinner had known what happened. For the moment, she
found she really didn't care. They'd come a long way since she'd been
prepared to name Skinner as the mole within the FBI, and she was a
little surprised and very grateful to realize she'd come to regard him
as a friend.

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

Full Circle (12/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

St. Joseph's Hospital
Room 312
Thursday 5:00 p.m.

Tactile impressions were all Mulder could comprehend at first. The
softness of a bed rather than a hard dirt floor. The crisp, slightly
scratchy feel of hospital sheets rather than the silk of Scully's blouse
under his cheek. The weightless, drifting sensation of really good drugs
instead of crushing pain.

Gradually sound made its way into his consciousness. Initially a
confusing jumble, soon they resolved into things he could identify. The
steady beeping was a heart monitor. The bursts of rapid clicks could
only be Scully typing on her laptop. And the rumbles, one high and one
low, must be voices.

None of the words made sense at first, and he was content to just drift
and let them wash over him. He'd been shot before, and was well aware
that the pain would eventually return full force, so he let himself
enjoy the present respite from it.

"...going to tell Kersh?"

"Only the facts relevant to the case." That was Scully's sweet voice,
and if he'd possessed a little more energy Mulder would have smiled. The
deeper voice spoke again, and Mulder was amazed to recognize it belonged
to Skinner.

"Who decides what's relevant?"

"I do, of course." The smirk in Scully's voice was plain.

"You've been with Mulder too long - you're starting to think like him."

"That's a little below the belt, don't you think, sir?"

Both were chuckling now. Mulder began to notice the foul taste in his
mouth and the sandpaper feel of his throat. Definitely a respirator in
his not-so-distant past. Time to join the party, if he could just force
his eyelids to cooperate...

He was able, through sheer determination, to pry his eyes open halfway -
enough to find that his head was turned away from Scully. Turning his
head proved to be a much greater challenge, and he couldn't help a small
grunt of discomfort at the motion. Scully was immediately at his side,
laptop discarded and a blinding smile on her face.

"Hey, Partner. Welcome back."

Mulder attempted speech, but it was difficult to talk and keep his eyes
from slipping shut. What actually came out was, "Wa..."

But, as always, Scully understood. "Not yet, but you can have some ice
chips."

She spooned a small amount onto his tongue and he let it slowly melt,
savoring the coolness as it trickled down his abused throat. After two
more spoonfuls he'd had enough and decided he was ready to dazzle Scully
with his snappy reparte once more.

"Day?"

"Thursday afternoon - about five. You got out of surgery about
one-thirty yesterday afternoon, and you were on a vent up until about
three hours ago. The doctor thought it best to keep you under until
then."

Mulder nodded, deciding he liked the doctor already. "Skinner's here?"
*Wow, up to two words now.*

Skinner moved next to Scully so Mulder could see him. "Didn't we just do
this Mulder?"

Mulder tried to think of a smart remark, but the cotton in his head made
it too much effort. Trying to roll his eyes only made them want to shut
again, so he settled for another question. "How soon...get outa here?"

Scully managed to roll her eyes quite expressively. "Mulder, only you
could be twenty-four hours out of major surgery and ask that. I have
absolutely no idea." She then launched into a detailed explanation of
his medical condition and Mulder found it was becoming harder to
understand her words and taking more and more concentration to master
those eyelids.

"'kay," he mumbled, wishing she'd stop talking so much and do that thing
she did with her fingers in his hair.

Scully and Skinner exchanged amused glances at his docile acceptance,
and he thought he heard Skinner say something about getting a doggy bag
of whatever drugs he was on.

Scully must have seen he was fighting sleep, because she lowered the
rail, perched on the side of the bed, and leaned over to place a soft
kiss on his forehead. He wanted to remind her that Skinner was standing
behind her, but then she started stroking the hair back from his
forehead and his eyes slid shut as if on command.

"Sleep, Mulder," he heard her murmur as the clouds rolled in and carried
him away.

Room 312
Friday 7:00 a.m.

He awoke to more pain, but felt truly lucid this time. Scully was
nowhere in sight, but Skinner was reading in a recliner beside his bed.
An Agatha Christie mystery.

"The butler did it," he offered, his voice still little more than a
croak.

"Now I know why you're with the FBI, Mulder. It's those keen powers of
deduction. You figure that one out all by yourself?"

While he was speaking Skinner had risen and poured some water into a
cup. He held the straw to Mulder's lips and he drank gratefully.

"Where's Scully?"

"I made her go back to the hotel and get some sleep. She was dead on her
feet," Skinner replied.

"Thanks. And not just for Scully. For coming out here when you know how
much trouble it could bring you."

"As I told Scully, they can't dictate what I do with my personal time,"
he replied. "You and Scully were there for me in the past - more than
once, as I recall. When I heard you were in trouble..."

"How?" Mulder broke in. His chest throbbed, but he didn't want to zone
out on painkillers before he got a few answers. "How did you know? How
did the police know to come to the farm?"

"They came because I sent them," Skinner replied. "And I sent them
because at about seven o'clock Wednesday morning I received a phone call
from a very scared young man named..."

"Robbie," Mulder finished.

Skinner nodded, understanding the deep sadness that settled onto
Mulder's face. Scully had explained a bit about Robbie. He'd learned a
little from what she'd said, perhaps more from what she didn't say. He'd
met Mulder's father, and had his own suspicions.

"He found Scully's cell phone and just started trying the preprogrammed
numbers. Number one was you, of course, and number two was Scully's mom.
He must have hung up or else gotten her machine. Anyway, number three
was my office and I happened to be catching up on some paperwork. I'm
not sure why Scully still had my number programmed instead of Kersh..."

"You're someone she trusts," Mulder said quietly. "Doesn't matter
whether we still report to you or not." He didn't add that Skinner's
number was still programmed on his own phone as well.

"Robbie figured out I worked with you and he just blurted it all out.
How you'd stumbled on the guns and his father had shot you. How you were
locked up and dying in a cellar under the barn. And all the while he
kept pleading with me to be sure no one hurt his dad. He was practically
hysterical."

"I didn't think he'd do it," Mulder said, more to himself than to
Skinner. "I didn't think he could. It must have torn him apart."

"I managed to calm him down and made him promise to stay out of the way.
Then I called the Wichita police. They'd actually been suspicious of
illegal activity at that farm for some time. They thought it was drugs,
though."

"Gundersen's in jail?"

"Yeah. He tried resisting arrest - actually got off a couple shots, but
no one was hurt."

"Where's Robbie?"

Skinner could hear so much in those words. Sorrow. Anger. Guilt.

"He's in a foster home, for now. They're checking for family. Robbie's
mom may have had a younger sister."

Mulder sighed, squirming a little to try to find a comfortable position.
"He doesn't deserve this. None of this was his fault."

Skinner looked at him shrewdly. He'd grown to admire Mulder in many
ways. He was smarter than anyone Skinner had ever known. His compassion
for the victim had nearly resulted in the loss of his sanity during his
time with VICAP. And though it was true that at times he came across as
unbearably cocky, it only served to mask the fact that he valued himself
so lightly. Mulder could see the worth of others so clearly. Why was it
so hard for him to see his own?

"These things happen every day, Mulder. You of all people should realize
that. Now how about I go find the nurse? You look like you could use a
little something for the pain."

Though he hated the way the drugs made him feel, Mulder knew he'd
reached the point of no return. The pain was quickly getting to the
stage of blotting out his ability to think. He nodded reluctantly.

Skinner got up, but paused in the doorway. "Robbie made his choice,
Mulder. In the end, I reallly think it's the one he'll be able to live
with.

He didn't hear Mulder's reply after he'd walked out the door. "Yeah. But
can I?"

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

Full Circle (13/13)

(Disclaimer in 0/13)

St. Joseph's Hospital
Room 312
One week later

Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, watching the door impatiently for
Scully. He was being discharged today: still weak, still in pain, but
the infection had cleared up and his doctor had agreed he could make the
trek back to D.C. Provided he remained in the care of his personal
physician, of course.

Mulder smiled to himself at the image that thought conjured up. His
Scully. He was actually beginning to give himself permission to think of
her in those terms. She was just down the hall now, signing the
paperwork that would give him his freedom - from this place anyway.
Scully had insisted - no, demanded - that he stay with her once they got
home.

Mulder knew that going home with Scully was the only valid option. Eight
days post-surgery and he could remain sitting upright for only short
spans of time. As for walking, well, the six feet to the bathroom might
as well be six miles from the way he ended up panting for air. Much as
he despised the idea of being dependent on Scully, he was wise enough to
admit that he wasn't ready to fend for himself yet. And if circumstances
dictated that he must let someone take care of him, Scully was the only
someone he wanted.

A goofy grin took over his face when he remembered her words to him in
the cellar, and since no one was around, he let it stay. She loved him.
Beautiful, smart, sexy Dana Scully loved aggravating, obsessive,
screwed-up Fox Mulder. Now that was an X file.

Those words tethered him to life when nothing else could. They'd
motivated him to resist the urge to let himself drift away from the
pain. They also terrified him. Knowing Scully loved him suddenly granted
him permission to acknowledge the depth of his own feelings - feelings
he'd been keeping carefully in check for six years. Once loosed, Mulder
knew he'd never be able to rein them in again. It would hurt so badly
when she left - and it was inevitable that day would come. Everyone left
him sooner or later.

Still, Scully had stayed by his side all week. Skinner had flown back to
Washington on the second day, returning just this morning to help Scully
get him home. Right now he was with the car, ready to pick them up when
his discharge was complete. But Scully was a constant presence in his
life - a life where nothing ever seemed permanent. She soothed him when
the pain meds wore off and it was too soon for another shot, smuggled
egg drop soup to him when he thought the sight of one more bowl of green
jello would drive him insane, and even held him when he woke screaming
from the nightmares. Nightmares not about Gundersen, but his father.
This experience had stirred up more than just his latent feelings for
his partner.

Scully appeared in the doorway just then, flashing him a brilliant
smile. "You have a funny look on your face. Penny for your thoughts."

"This is the 90s, G-woman. Can't take less then a dollar." Mulder
frowned a little, trying to see beyond Scully into the hallway. "So
where is it? For once even I can't argue with a wheelchair."

"I'll bring it in a minute. There's someone here who wants to see you
first."

Mulder sighed, exasperated. "Please tell me it isn't Osterman to go over
post-surgical care again! I've heard it all, Scully, and I promise I'll
be a good boy. Can't we just sneak out?" He knew he was whining, but his
patience quota with hospitals in general and medical personnel in
particular had been exceeded long ago.

Scully just smiled softly. "I think you'll want this visitor," she said,
looking over her shoulder and nodding at someone who waited in the
hallway.

A moment later Robbie Gundersen stood in the doorway, looking uncertain.

"Robbie!" Mulder said warmly, covering his surprise. "Come on in. How
are you doing?"

Robbie shuffled in and plopped onto the edge of the bed. When Mulder
looked back to the doorway, Scully was gone.

"I hear you're going to California," Mulder said conversationally,
feeling a little awkward himself. After all, he was indirectly
responsible for Robbie losing the only life he'd known.

"Yeah. My mom's younger sister lives in Santa Rosa. I've never met her,
but she seemed really nice on the phone." Robbie scuffed at a crack in
the tile with the toe of his shoe.

"I hope everything turns out well for you, Robbie."

The silence hung heavily between them, until Robbie blurted, "Are you
really going to be all right, Agent Mulder?"

"I'm going to be fine," Mulder reassured him, knowing that at the moment
he looked anything but. He took in the anguish written so plainly on the
boy's face and felt an answering ache in his own soul. "What made you
decide to do it, Robbie?" he asked quietly. "I know how hard it must
have been."

Robbie turned away from him to gaze out the window, blinking rapidly. "I
just couldn't let it happen. When Agent Scully told me you were dying...
You never would have been shot if it hadn't been for me! You tried to
stop my dad from hurting me. No one ever stood up for me like that
before."

He turned back, and for Mulder it was like looking at a mirror image of
himself not so very long ago. Scared, angry, ashamed. Hating what you
had, but so very afraid to lose it. Of finding out that for you, there
was nothing better. *Full circle* he thought to himself. *Does it always
come back to this?*

"It was more, though," Robbie continued, his voice dropping to little
more than a whisper. "You knew. I could see it in your eyes - the way
you looked at my dad, and the way you looked at me. You understood.
Sometimes I've thought I must be the only one. I couldn't let you die."

"I do understand," Mulder said, wishing he could make the pain disappear
for this boy, the way he'd been unable to make it disappear in his own
life. If Robbie was lucky, maybe his aunt could. "The reasons you named
- they're the reasons I had to come out to that barn in the first place.
I'm sorry things turned out the way they did."

Robbie stood up, swiping at his eyes with his sleeve. "Don't be. My mom
used to say everyone has two choices: you either make life happen for
you, or let life happen to you. I think it's about time I made a
switch."

If Robbie's aunt possessed even half of that kind of intuitiveness, he
might just be okay, Mulder thought to himself as he stretched out his
hand. Robbie shook it gravely.

"You saved my life, Robbie. I won't ever forget that, or you."

Robbie nodded, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I won't forget you
either, Agent Mulder. I think maybe you saved my life too."

Mulder watched him disappear through the doorway, a burden he hadn't
realized he'd been carrying suddenly lifted from his shoulders.

A moment later Scully returned, this time equipped with the hated
wheelchair. "Ready, G-man?" Her eyes softened at something she saw in
his face. "You all right, Mulder?"

She left the chair in the doorway and crossed to his side, studying him
closely. Mulder nodded, and held his hand out to her. When she took it,
he surprised her by tugging gently until she was seated in his lap.

"I don't want to hurt you," she protested, her body stiff.

"You won't. Just let me hold you a minute, Scully. Please."

Whether it was the words themselves, or the need in his voice, Scully
relaxed against him, laying her head against his good shoulder. His arms
cradled her gently but firmly, and she couldn't help thinking how good -
how right - it felt to be there.

"You arranged for Robbie to visit, didn't you."

It was really a statement, not a question, but Scully nodded. His gray
tee shirt felt smooth under her cheek and she could hear the steady beat
of his heart. Alive. It would take time before he could come all the way
back, but time was a luxury they had now. She offered up a silent prayer
of thanks.

"How did you know?" Mulder asked.

"Somewhere along the line - I think it was when Robbie was talking about
how he still loved his dad - I guess it all clicked into place. I began
to see the link you two shared, and why he was so important to you. Then
when you began having the nightmares... Skinner told me about the
conversation you two had about Robbie. I thought maybe there was some
unfinished business between the two of you."

Mulder's arms tightened around her. "Thanks. You are incredible, Scully.
I don't deserve you."

Scully sat forward so that she could turn and look him in the eye.
"Don't you get it by now? You deserve so much more than I could ever
give you - more joy, more peace, more love. But I'm going to try my
best, Mulder. I'll give you all that I have."

Tears filled his eyes at her words, but were quickly forgotten when
Scully leaned closer and placed her lips on his. The kiss was soft and
undemanding by necessity, but communicated the promise of much more.

"We should go, Partner," she said when they had parted, smiling at one
another like a couple of kids. "Skinner's waiting for us." But Mulder
noticed she made no move to get up or remove her arms from around his
neck.

"One more minute," he replied, pulling her back so that her head rested
on his chest once more. He pressed another kiss to the crown of her
head, then laid his cheek on her silky auburn hair. Robbie's words
suddenly echoed in his mind: "You make life happen for you, or you let
life happen to you."

*You were right, Robbie. Maybe it's time we both made a switch.*

At the moment, anything seemed possible.

The End