May 1 Scully's - Apartment - 2:23 a.m.
The ringing of her phone pulled Scully out of a restless sleep. She was used to only one person calling her at such an ungodly hour. Her heart raced with anticipation as she reached out to answer it.
"Agent Scully, this is Assistant Director Skinner."
She sat up in bed, fully alert, fearful of the news he might have to offer. "Yes, sir?" she replied in a calm voice, hoping to mask her nervousness.
"I've just received a call. He's been found. Someone dumped him off on the curb in front of FBI headquarters."
"Is he... all right?"
"He was found unconscious. That's all I know at this time. He's been taken to Georgetown Memorial."
Scully finally let out the breath she had been holding in since she'd answered the phone. "I'm on my way," she spat out the words before the tears of joy were able to choke off her reply.
"I'll meet you there."
Georgetown Hospital - 2:55 a.m.
Walter Skinner was surprised to have made it to the hospital before the better half of the most trouble-bound duo in his camp did. It gave him an opportunity to talk to the doctor in charge and find out more about Mulder's condition. The agent had arrived, heavily sedated and practically naked, but with no hint of trauma and very strong vital signs. There was nothing obviously wrong with him that a shower, shave and a comb couldn't fix. Skinner stood looking down at the young man who managed to look boyish in his sleep, even with two weeks worth of facial hair hiding his cheeks.
Scully entered the room and stood next to her superior. Her eyes were on her partner when she asked, "How is he?"
"Heavily sedated. But not by anyone at the hospital. This is how they found him. Apparently, everything else checks out ok."
"So someone kidnaps him, holds him prisoner for two weeks and then let's him go, just like that?"
"I'd say there's definitely more to the story than that. Let's just hope he's able to fill us in on the missing pieces when he wakes up."
Scully finally looked up at her boss. "Nothing was done to him physically. Do you think...?"
"I think a friendly face should be the first thing he sees when he wakes up. I imagine a shock of red hair wouldn't hurt either."
Scully smiled lightly and nodded. "I'm up for the night anyway."
Skinner spoke as he headed towards the door. "I'll have a man posted outside to keep an eye on things. Let me know how it goes."
Georgetown Hospital - 7:45 a.m.
The early morning sun filling the room with a warm light was what woke Mulder from his sleep. He stared at the half opened blinds and yellow rays that leaked through to highlight the adjacent wall and floor. It seemed so real, he thought. The white, crisp, clean smelling sheets that surrounded him, the soft hand that rested on his arm... it all seemed so real. But he'd had this dream before, or variations of it. He knew that when he turned to face her, she'd smile that smile and ask him that question again. He'd give her his standard reply, then something would go horribly wrong. Some terrifying force would yank her away from him, possibly hurt her, and he'd be totally inept at rescuing her. Then he'd find himself back in his prison cell.
He'd wake up soon. There was no reason to put himself through the torture, but he couldn't deny himself the opportunity to gaze into that lovely face even if it was only a dream. He slowly turned his head and saw the beautiful red-head sitting close by his bedside. Her eyes were closed and her head slightly lowered. Desperately fighting sleep, she suddenly snapped alert, taken aback at seeing her partner awake and watching her. There was that smile, wide and bright. She stood and moved closer to his side.
"Welcome back. How do you feel?"
He smiled lazily, the sedative still in his system. "You always ask me that," he murmured.
"You always give me reason to."
"This dream feels nicer. Can we just keep this one nice?"
"Okay." She gently brushed back his bangs away from the hazel eyes that were a little too glassy. "You know, Mulder, it was my turn to get all the attention. Why did you have to go and hog the spotlight?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"It's okay. Mulder, do you know what day it is?"
"It's... it could be Saturday. I had fish for dinner. Friday is fish day, right? So it might be Saturday."
"No, it's... Wednesday. It's been two weeks since you've been gone."
"Really? I tried to keep track. I had peas one day, but I didn't eat 'em. I used 'em to count the days. Sometimes I would sleep through meals, so I guess I lost track."
"Can you tell me what happened? Where were you?"
"In my room."
Scully dented her brows in confusion. "Your room?"
"It was smaller than this. It didn't have a window." He gave a minor nod towards the opening that allowed the realistic light to flow through. "Your room has a window. I like it better than mine."
"Mulder, you do realize you're in a hospital room, don't you?"
He gave a simple nod. "It has a TV. My room didn't have one."
Seeing that he was stuck on the one subject, Scully decided to pursue it. "Tell me about your room, Mulder. What was it like?"
"It was always daytime. It never got dark, except for when I got under the bed. My bed was bolted to the floor so I couldn't move it. I guess that's a good thing because I would've moved it if I could. I would've moved it closer to the door so I could eat right off the little shelf that dropped down on the door when the food came... And... and the tiny red light over the door was always watching me. I made it go away once, but that wasn't a good thing to do because then it got real hot and I couldn't wash or flush and the food wouldn't come until I made it appear again."
Scully wasn't quite able to decipher the full meaning behind all that, but she decided not to dwell on it. She moved on to something else. "Was there anyone else in the room with you?" she asked.
Mulder shifted his position on the bed, his body angled more towards his partner. His voice became stronger and the momentum increased as he continued. "No. No, you see that's the funny thing about it, Scully. There were no bugs or mice. In all the best prison movies you have your standard mouse pal or cockroach or spider friend to keep you company. I mean, even the birdman of Alcatraz had a pet. Hell, he had a whole menagerie! Or... or they give you a ball and glove like Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape." The damn Nazis gave him a ball and glove to play with. I know that wouldn't have happened in a real P.O.W. camp but all the best prison movies gave the prisoners something to do or someone to talk to. You know, like you'd hear someone singing a spiritual or playing the harmonica in the next cell. But I didn't have any of those things, Scully. It wasn't fair. Nobody ever talked to me, and nobody ever came to see me. Not even the ants, because I didn't have any Lifesavers in my pocket. I didn't even have pockets."
Scully's heart sank as he rambled on about the place he had called home for the past two weeks. He wasn't completely lucid in his speech, but it was clear enough to her that her friend and partner had been isolated almost to the breaking point. When he fell silent after his monologue, Scully could see the weariness in his features. He fell back into the plushness of his pillows and closed his eyes.
"Are you okay, Mulder?" she asked, a touch of anxiety to her voice.
He couldn't help but grin at the sound of those words, but he lacked the energy to reply verbally. He drifted peacefully off to sleep.
Several hours later, Scully had gone to stretch her legs and get some coffee. When she retuned to Mulder's room, she was surprised to find him awake and out of bed. He stood in front of the window, leaning over slightly with his hands resting on the window sill. He was apparently so enthralled with the bird's-eye view of early morning D.C., that he didn't realize that his rather short hospital gown was open and his backside was exposed. Scully wasn't totally opposed to this particular view of her partner, and she got in a good dose before alerting him to her presence. She cleared her throat loudly, but wasn't successful in gaining his attention. She thought about going out and coming in again, but decided that they were both adult enough to handle the embarrassment.
"It's a bit early for a full moon, don't you think?" she teased.
He was slow in reacting to her words, but finally drew the conclusion that he wasn't imagining the sound of her voice. He turned around as she approached him with a smile and a shy little, "Hi."
He couldn't help but think that she was the most beautiful vision he'd ever seen. Red hair flaming with the kiss of sunlight from the window, her tired eyes still managed to beam, and that smile... God, how he had missed her. He wanted to take her into his arms and practically pull her inside of him. But he was afraid if he tried to touch her, she'd turn out to be just another one of his dreams and simply fade away. To mask his fear, he adjusted the thin, cotton material to enclose his backside, then leaned his tight buns against the window sill. His eyes drifted down to the cup of coffee she was carrying.
"Is that for me?" he asked despite the lipstick stain he noticed on the rim of the cup.
"Maybe you should wait until the doctor checks you out first."
"There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine."
He used both hands to ease the cup from her grasp, allowing more contact with her delicate, soft hand than was actually necessary. He was still trying to convince himself that she was more than just his vivid imagination working overtime.
"How's the shoulder?" he asked before taking a sip from the cup.
Scully made a minor gesture to her wound and shook her head casually. "It's fine. A little sore now and then, but healing well."
"Sorry I wasn't around for you."
"You just wanted to get out of becoming my personal slave for at least a week."
"Actually, I was looking forward to that," he said rather suggestively. "You know, giving you sponge baths and tucking you into bed."
Scully tried to suppress a grin as a flush of color burned into her cheeks. Mulder sat the coffee cup down on the window ledge to his left. "How did you find me?" he asked.
"I didn't. Apparently, you were returned. Someone deposited you outside FBI headquarters about one-thirty in the morning. You had been drugged, but otherwise unharmed. Can you fill me in on the details?"
"Not really. I never saw a face, never heard a voice. How long has it been? My last count was twelve days."
"Two weeks ago yesterday. We had a massive search going on. I was afraid that..." She sighed deeply, unable to complete the thought. It wasn't necessary.
"I know," said Mulder as he reached for her hand and gently pulled her into a much needed embrace. As her arms tightened instinctively about him, he finally accepted the fact that she was real and his freedom was real. He fought back the desire to cry. Her warmth felt so good against his body, he was reluctant to let go. Scully felt the same way, however, after a moment, they were each able to disengage and resume a more casual air.
"What are the chances of getting me some scrubs to wear? I can't have you ogling my butt anymore."
"I've seen your scrawny butt on previous occasions, Mulder and I can't say I was all that impressed."
"Well, so much for your Christmas present," he spoke dryly.
Scully rolled her eyes at him, then turned and headed for the closet door. She opened it and pulled out a gym bag. Somehow she instinctively knew that he would be needing clothes whenever he happened to reappear. When she was at his apartment with Frohike, she grabbed a carryall and filled it with a set of sweats, underwear, socks and sneakers. She kept the bag in the trunk of her car until it was needed.
Mulder grimaced when he saw her produce the bag. "Oh no. Tell me you didn't go through my underwear drawer, Scully."
"Skinner ordered a thorough search of your place," said Scully as she placed the gym bag on the bed. "Mulder, everyone went through your underwear drawer. But don't worry. Your smut collection is still intact. Now go ahead and get dressed. I'll go find the doctor so he can sign you out."
Mulder insisted on driving. He could tell just by looking at her how tired Scully was, though she wouldn't readily admit to it. Since her partner had been released from the hospital with a clean bill of health, Scully had no choice but to surrender the keys to him. Although he seemed perfectly normal behind the wheel, Scully couldn't help but wonder about his mental condition. She uneasily recalled his prattling when he first woke up. She gathered that he had been totally isolated for the full two weeks he had been missing. While still under the effects of the drugs, his lonely imprisonment had been the utmost thing on his mind. Fully alert now, he had made no further mention of his ordeal.
Mulder drove slower than usual, taking in all the sights and sounds that had excluded him for a fortnight. He had thought about going straight in to work, but felt that Scully needed to get some rest. Besides, he needed to go home, change into a suit and shave the fur off his face. He also needed time to acclimate himself to his freedom. He was still silently marveling over the sights, sounds and smells of the city, and the feel of the sun's warmth on his paler than normal skin. He found himself smiling and waving at the little girl in the car next to him. He thought of how his world had been turned upside down, and now everything appeared to be completely back to normal. He managed to turn his attention back to driving and to his partner, who was close to dozing.
"So, Scully… fill me in. What have I been missing these past couple of weeks?"
Startled to alertness by the sound of his voice, Scully replied without missing a beat. "Well, besides my convalescing, the only other important event you missed was the Danny Avery hearing."
"Dammit! I did, didn't I? How'd it go?"
"With the only eye witness unavailable to testify, Mr. Avery walked. The judge held off as long as he could. They let him go just yesterday, as a matter of fact."
"Danny Avery goes free, and that evening, I'm given back my freedom. You believe in coincidences, Scully?"
"Yes, I do. But not in this instance. It's very likely that the elder Mr. Avery arranged to have you out of the way so you wouldn't be available to testify against his son. You're very lucky, Mulder. He could have just as easily had you killed."
"No. Dead bodies tend to leave behind evidence. Besides, he knew he'd be under suspicion and an investigation could endanger his plans."
"Of course, there are many others who would like nothing better than for you to disappear... permanently, that is."
"I'll talk to the D.A. when I get to the office. Maybe I can get him to reopen -"
"It's too late, Mulder. Avery's left the country already. We can't touch him."
It was discouraging news, but for once, Mulder had no intentions of blaming himself for something so far out of his control. He was merely thankful that his ordeal was finally over. By the time he had pulled to a stop in front of Scully's place, she had nodded off to sleep. He silently watched her for a few moments, her head resting against the window, her hair covering most of her features. Her angelic beauty shown through even with the small amount of her face that was visible. Mulder reached out to brush the hair away from her cheek. She jumped awake at his touch.
"You're home," said Mulder softly, pulling his hand away slowly.
Scully sat up, glanced out the window as if to check the validity of his statement. Her eyes drifted back to her partner who was still staring at her with a near, dreamlike quality. "You okay, Mulder?"
He snickered lightly at those words and replied with his standard line, "I'm fine, Scully."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
He wrestled with the idea for a moment, then shook his head. "You're dead tired. Why don't you go on in and get some rest. I'll call you later."
Scully knew there was no point in arguing. She could barely keep her eyes open anyway. She gave his hand a reassuring pat, then got out of the car. Mulder waited for ten minutes after she'd gone in before driving away.
May 1 - Scully's Apartment - 5:47 p.m.
As Scully awoke from her much needed nap, she stretched lazily in bed, then threw back the covers and swung her tiny feet to the floor. Her tummy rumbled, reminding her that she had skipped both breakfast and lunch. She hadn't done any grocery shopping lately, which was just as well because she certainly didn't feel like cooking. She'd order in some pizza or Chinese food, then give Mulder a call to see what he was up to. But first, she needed coffee.
She ignored her slippers and robe as she headed out into the hallway. She was surprised that Mulder hadn't already awaken her with a phone call. There was still a lot to talk about. There were things she knew he wasn't telling her about his abduction, probably never would.
When Scully stepped into her living room, she was confused at seeing the television set displaying cartoons. She didn't remember turning the TV on. She was further perplexed by the presence of a gray suit jacket and tie laid across the back of her favorite chair. The fact that she recognized the "Twilight Zone" tie immediately helped to quell her apprehension of an unwanted intruder. On her coffee table was an opened briefcase with Mulder's holstered gun and reading glasses lying atop several file folders. His shoes were on the floor under the table, paired neatly with dark gray socks. Scully picked up a bag of sunflower seeds from the end table and noted a pile of empty hulls next to the lamp. She scowled at the mess and allowed the bag to plop back down where she had found it.
"Why don't you just make yourself at home, Mulder," she chided in a voice loud enough for him to hear in the next room.
She had expected him to pop his head around from the kitchen, but as she waited a moment, he didn't show. She padded into the kitchen and looked around. Her unannounced house guest wasn't there. She knew he couldn't have gone too far, so she tried the bathroom next, finding the door closed and a light showing from beneath it.
"Mulder, I hope you're not stinking up my bathroom," Scully teased. When she didn't get a response, she tapped lightly on the door. "Mulder, are you all right in there?" Starting to feel some concern after still not hearing a reply, she called out once again. "Mulder, if you don't answer me, I'm coming in."
She waited a full five seconds for a reply but none came. Now she was starting to get truly worried. She turned the doorknob, feeling somewhat relieved to find the door unlocked. As she attempted to push the door open, she met with an obstruction on the other side. She managed to crack the door open a few inches and discovered Mulder lying on the floor of the bathroom, either unconscious or something much worse.