Experiment in Solitude

Chapter 4

April 22 - Mulder's Apartment - 11:15 a.m.

When Scully was released from the hospital, Frohike had volunteered to see her home and offer any assistance she required. Her first desire was to go to Mulder's apartment to check for clues. Frohike did his best to dissuade her, but she was insistent. Even with her left arm in a sling, if he didn't drive her, she'd simply drive herself. He could tell by the determined set of her jaw, that she would be true to her word. Aspiring to entrench himself within her good graces, Frohike reluctantly caved to her demands.

The crime scene tape that stretched across the front of Mulder's door caused Scully to falter. Frohike was there with a hand at her elbow to help steady her. She inhaled deeply; a simple task that apparently filled her with enough courage to proceed. She tore away the yellow warning tape, then inserted the spare key which Mulder had given her for emergencies. She pushed the door open cautiously. She had to bite her lip to keep from calling out Mulder's name. She knew he wasn't there, though she still prayed for a miracle.

Her escort waited near the entrance as Scully made her way into the living room. It looked fairly normal, although she was used to seeing the coffee table buried by files, research books, maps, and sunflower seed hulls. The room was a tad cleaner than it should be simply because so much had been taken away as evidence to be studied.

Scully glanced across the room and spotted the fish tank. She walked over to the aquarium and peered through the clear acrylic. Three swordtails were still alive. The skeletal remains of a fourth swordtail and two black mollies were evidence of the survival of the fittest. Scully picked up the fish food container and sprinkled the contents generously into the tank.

"He just got these a couple of weeks ago," Scully spoke with a hint of sadness. "He thinks of them as disposable pets. When I was a kid, we were able to keep our fish alive for a couple of years, at least. It definitely helps if someone is around to feed them."

Her attention turned from the surviving fish to Mulder's computer. Hoping to discover a message waiting for her, she sat down in front of it and turned it on. There were nine pieces of e-mail waiting for the owner but none for her. She deliberated reading any of it. She respected his privacy, but if there was a clue as to his whereabouts hidden within the electronic messages, it was her duty to investigate. She recognized all but one of the return addresses. Three pieces of mail were from The Lone Gunmen, three were departmental, and two belonged to a couple of adult internet services. No doubt Mulder's interest in adult entertainment had gone interactive.

Scully chose to read only the message with the unfamiliar author. It turned out to be someone she knew after all. She felt a pang of jealously at the name Bambi. It brought back the unpleasant memory of cockroaches and being covered with dung, but more importantly, her partner being smitten with another woman. Scully knew she had no right to be jealous. She had no romantic ties to Mulder, but she couldn't help but feel possessive of him. He was her partner, her friend, her Mulder.

Scully knew she shouldn't read the message but couldn't help herself. It was a brief note from Dr. Bambi to let Mulder know that she could find no merit in his theory concerning alien cockroaches from outer space invading the earth. She also suggested that he get professional help with his fixations. Scully smiled, but at the same instant tears trailed down her cheeks. A sympathetic hand rested gingerly on her uninjured shoulder. She was embarrassed to have demonstrated such weakness in front of Frohike. She was quick to wipe the dampness from her face.

"You know, he was really upset when you were first taken," Frohike spoke with such genuine sincerity. "We were all pretty worried about him. He was like a walking ghost. And when you returned in a coma, he was the only one who refused to give up on you. He loves you. You're like the little sister he's never been able to find. And if there exists any way at all for him to come back to you, he'll find it. He won't give up."

Scully appreciated the sentimental pep talk. She smiled up at the man who had proven once again to be a true friend to both her and Mulder. She turned off the computer and stood with a friend's help. Frohike would escort the lovely Dana Scully home, restricting himself to being nothing but a perfect gentleman in her presence. He would stay and keep her company if she preferred or park outside her apartment building and watch over her from a distance. It was exactly what his friend Mulder would want him to do.

April 25 - Location Unknown - 9:34 a.m.

Mulder stood back and regarded his creation with a discerning eye. Over the past couple of days he had become a culinary artist of sorts. It had begun with a bowl of Spaghettio's he'd been given for lunch. There were no meatballs. It angered him that they had expected him to eat canned pasta with no meatballs. In a childish fit, he threw the styrofoam bowl of little O's against the wall where most of it still clung, now dried and hardened. After Mulder had calmed down from his temper tantrum, he became fascinated with the design the food had left on the bland, sterile wall. He had inadvertently discovered a new pastime.

He was surprised that he had not been reprimanded for the mess. The food continued to come at its regular intervals of three meals a day. Whatever he found extremely colorful or completely indigestible, ended up on the wall. Tomato slices with their tiny seeds, cooked carrots and green peas among other perishables had been smashed onto the rough surface of the cinder blocks. Grape juice hand imprints added a more personal touch along with ketchup lip prints.

As Mulder stood, admiring his artwork, he realized that he had seen something quite similar to it before. In an art gallery somewhere, a new wave artist had also taken food, dropped and smashed it onto a canvas, then slapped a ridiculous price tag on it. He had unconsciously copied someone else's bad art.

"What do you think, Scully?" he asked the person he imagined was standing at his side.

"It looks like crap, Mulder," he heard her reply.

"Well art is subjective, Scully. But you're right. It is crap. If I put a frame around it and a price tag on it, then it becomes art."

Her voice had been so clear in his mind, that Mulder had actually expected to find Scully standing beside him. However, when he turned to look there was no one else there. Disheartened, he retreated to a corner where he sat down, drawing his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms about them. He thought idly of how flat his butt must be getting from sitting on the hard, tile surface. He wasn't exercising as much as before. He preferred jogging or swimming for keeping in shape. He wanted to be able to move about freely. He wanted to see the sun and stars again. Wanted the wind in his hair, the grass beneath his feet. He wanted to see faces and hear voices other than the ones in his head. He hated this place.

He stared absently at the dingy piece of percale wrapped about his hips. He had torn the sheet into four sections so that he would have a daily change of clothing. It was one of the ways he used to keep track of time. When he rinsed one out, he used its drying time to gauge the passage of hours along with the intervals between meals. His guess was that eight days had passed. He had tried to make the best of his solitude. He thought of holy men who would devote their time alone to search for inner peace. He had tried to search for inner peace but there were too many hurtful memories still gnawing at his soul. He could never find inner peace as long as his partner's safety was in question, and his sister's abduction remained an unresolved nightmare in his mind. God, how he hated this place.

April 29 - FBI Headquarters - 10:15 a.m.

It was Scully's first day back at work. Though her doctor suggested she take more time off, she forcefully requested and received the go ahead for half days and light duty work only. She busied herself with paperwork, once in awhile finding herself starring at the empty chair her partner should be occupying. He wasn't dead. She wouldn't allow herself to think that. She also hated the thought of him showing up unexpectedly in the hospital three months later near death and in a coma. She feared that what had happened to her was now to be his fate as well. However, she had made it back all the way, and so would he.

Her heart leapt in expectation when the door to the office eased open. She held her breath until she saw her visitor's full form. A.D. Skinner approached, the expression on his face, one of compassion and concern.

"I heard you strong-armed the doctor into letting you come back to work early."

"Light duty only, sir. I'm only working till one."

Skinner showed some hesitance before settling down in Mulder's chair. "I just got back from the Avery hearing. Without Mulder present to testify, the judge had no recourse but to kick the case out of court. So now, that snotty nose rich kid is doing the scot-free rumba down Main Street."

"You still think there's a connection with Avery's hearing and Mulder's disappearance?"

"It's number one on my list. I believe Author Avery bought his kid's walking papers with Agent Mulder's..."

He was going to say Agent Mulder's life, but stopped himself from uttering that last word. He didn't want to believe that Agent Mulder was dead. The man had already proven impossible to kill on several occasions. He either had nine lives or someone up there was truly watching out for him. Skinner looked into a pair of anxious, teal eyes, already swollen with unreleased tears.

"Don't worry, Agent Scully. You know how Agent Mulder has a habit of showing up alive, although not necessarily well."

Scully managed a smile at that. "Yes, he does have that habit, doesn't he?"

"At any rate, we will keep up the search. We'll be watching Avery closely and those he associates with. Maybe we'll get lucky and pick up a clue or two." Skinner rose from the chair and started to leave. "Don't work too hard," he added upon making his exit.

April 30 - Location Unknown - 1:30 a.m.

"Four-thousand, seven hundred, sixty-nine bottles of beer on the wall.
Four-thousand, seven hundred, sixty-nine bottles of be-e-eer-r-r-r.
Take one down, pass it around...
Four-thousand, seven hundred, sixty-eight bottles of beer on the wall."

Mulder sang without enthusiasm or enjoyment and barely any tone. His voice had grown hoarse from the previous five-thousand plus verses of the song he had used to entertain himself and annoy his captives - if they were still listening. Suddenly, making it down to that last bottle of beer no longer held any appeal for him. His musical interest had quickly taken the same route as his daily exercise, his literary recitals and his budding artistic endeavors.

Mulder lay curled on the bed, staring languidly at the door. His last meal still sat on the drop down shelf waiting for him. Hours old, he had no intentions of eating it, nor of playing with it or decorating the walls with it. He was so tired he didn't possess the energy to do anything. Of course, he had no reason to be tired. He had done nothing but lay in bed most of the day anyway, so he had no excuse to claim fatigue. But just pulling himself up off the bed to use the toilet seemed a tremendous effort. He knew what was happening to him. He had become lethargic. Depression and self-pity was weighing him down. He had given up.

"Is this what they did to you, Scully?" he spoke in whispered tones. "Is this what they did to Sam? Locked you up all alone until you're half out of your mind, then they took you to get your implants? How'd you guys manage? Sam's been gone for decades, and you were gone for months. It's just been a few days for me and I'm ready to start climbing the walls. You see, I've just got so much stuff trapped in my head... stuff that I never wanted to take time to really think about. Stuff that I've tried to bury... people I've tried to bury. But now... all my protective devices have been taken away... most importantly my work. Without my work to keep me going, I'm lost. No direction, no hope... nothing."

"You have me, Mulder," Scully's disembodied voice replied instantly.

He couldn't see her, but she sounded very close. "But you're not real," he replied lazily. "You're just my imagination working overtime."

"So? You can't let this place get to you, Mulder. You can't let them win. You have to fight the depression and the loneliness."

"But if they want to drive me insane, why not just go insane? The sooner I go insane, the sooner they'll let me out, right? What do you think they'd do if I started banging my head against the wall? You think they'd care?"

"Do you?"

"I think it's their job to keep me alive and well. If I started to hurt myself, they'd have to come in and stop me and take care of me."

"And what if they don't, Mulder? What if they just leave you here to bleed to death? Or perhaps they're not watching you as closely as you think they are. What if the night shift has fallen asleep on duty? You could have a hell of a headache for a very long time."

"So why don't you come and rescue me then? You always come to my rescue, Scully. I don't know how you manage it, but every time my ass is in trouble, you come along and bail me out."

"I'm doing my best, Mulder. I'm trying to find you. I'm doing every thing I can. You know that. You just have to hang on a little while longer. You have to be strong. Don't give up."

"But I don't like it here, Scully. I can't do my work, I can't help save lives or fight injustice. I can't... I can't be there for you. I promised I would, but I can't. I'm sorry, Scully. I can't be there for you."

The frustration came out in a stream of tears. Mulder buried his face in the mattress and covered his head with both hands. Scully's voice was no longer offering words of encouragement. She had become silent, replaced with his own self-reproaching demons.

"I just wanna go home," he whimpered. "I can't do anything here. I don't like it here. Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease. Let me go, let me go, let me go."

There seemed to be no reason to fight the encroaching madness that was threatening to engulf him. It was obvious that those in the outside world that cared about him had no clue as to where he was or how to get him back. It was also apparent that this would be his home indefinitely. He could sense Cancerman blowing smoke rings as he watched his half-naked, defeated nemesis on a monitor in a control room somewhere. He had finally won.

There were footsteps outside the door. Mulder had distinguished early on between two sets of footsteps that came with his meals. Day shift, bringing breakfast and lunch were solid, quick but short strides. He guessed it to be a female or a slight male. The night shift which brought dinner, was a hefty, tall man by the sound of his heavy, long steps. The footsteps he heard this time belonged to neither the day shift nor night shift. The new person paused outside his door for a moment, then slipped something underneath the door into the room.

Mulder glared at the small shinny object without comprehending what it was. The footsteps trotted off as quickly as they had come. Mulder continued to stare at the piece of metal on the floor, almost feeling too lazy to get up and investigate. Finally, he sat up in bed and threw his feet to the floor. How he wished he could simply wrinkle his nose and have the object float up to his hand. It didn't even sink in what a dumb wish that was. He pushed himself off the bed, dropped to his knees and crawled the short distant to the door. He didn't pick it up right away. He stretched out his long legs and put his weight on his forearms. He touched it with one finger to make sure it was real. After establishing that it was, he carefully pinched it between his thumb and forefinger.

"Looks like somebody's trying to tell me something," he spoke stoically of the razor blade in his grasp.

Only moments ago he had ceased to have thoughts. Now he was being bombarded by them, and all were centered around the high-tensile stainless steel he held between two fingers. Someone had just given him a way out. He turned his left palm upwards and considered the large vein in his wrist. He wondered if he sliced into it, would his captives allow him to bleed to death or would they come to his rescue.

Either they actually wanted him to take his own life or they simply wanted to test him, to see how far gone he really was. But it didn't matter what they wanted. It was what he wanted. Did he want to give up once and for all? Was escape from this place truly hopeless? Did he still give a damn about the world? About the truth? About Scully? He crawled under the bed into the shadow away from the view of the video camera. He'd keep his final decision to himself.


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