Experiment in Solitude

Chapter 6

"Mulder!" Scully yelled his name but got no response. She used all her might to push open the door, nudging his body to the side enough to allow her to squeeze through the opening. Dropping to her knees in front of him, she had expected to find her partner unconscious. To her surprise, his eyes were wide open, albeit in a catatonic-like state while curled up in a fetal position on the tile floor.

"Mulder?" Scully called his name softly at first but after receiving no reply, she spoke in a more insistent tone and was relieved to see his eyes blink at the sound of her voice. "Mulder, are you all right?"

Mulder blinked a few more times as if to recalibrate his brain and calculate his present situation. He raised up into a sitting position with his back resting against the doors of the vanity. "I'm fine," he professed, though non too convincingly. "I guess I must have fallen asleep."

Scully knew he had not been sleeping but she decided to play along just the same. "You let yourself into my home just so you could take a nap on my bathroom floor?"

"No, I rang the doorbell and knocked but I didn't get an answer. I got a little worried and let myself in. You were sleeping so soundly, I didn't want to disturb you. After a while, I came in here to… you know, and I got distracted by the floor."

"Distracted by the floor?"

"Yeah, the design," Mulder began to point out his discovery. "See how its four little black squares in the middle of the big white square? It reminded me a lot like where I was. Only, it was five small black squares, in the middle. Well, actually, only one black square in the middle, surrounded by the same size alternating black and white squares, and then the outside area was four large white tiles, which altogether made up one solid square foot. I counted them all. There were twelve-hundred, small black squares and seven-hundred and sixty-eight little white squares. Well, just a little less than that, really. I keep wanting to make up for where the toilet covers it. But anyway, six-thousand, nine-hundred and twelve square inches total... give or take. Yours, I didn't finish counting but it's considerably more than six-thousand. This is a pretty good size bathroom you've got, Scully. Plus your grout work is a little thicker."

Mulder had barely glanced at his partner since she first began interrogating him. His full attention had been focused directly on the floor. Finally he looked up from the tiles to make eye contact and found Scully staring at him as though his skull had suddenly grown twice its size and his skin had turned Reticulan gray.

"Mulder, do you not realize how odd it is that we are sitting on my bathroom floor discussing the number of tiles I may or may not have?"

Mulder gave it some thought and saw her point, though he refused to admit it. Instead, he leaned in closer to her and said, "Scully, do you not realize that at this angle, I could get as interesting a view of your front as you got of my rear this morning?"

Scully glanced down and saw how being on her hands and knees allowed her flimsy camisole to droop open and fully expose her breasts. She threw a protective arm across her chest and looked back to Mulder who had foregone the opportunity to sneak a peek and got to his feet as though nothing was wrong.

"Why don't you go ahead and slip into something a little less comfortable and I'll go get us some coffee brewing."

He walked out of the bathroom, leaving his partner mentally scratching her head over his behavior. Scully paused for a moment, staring down at the floor and wondering just how bored she would have to be to find counting the little black and white squares entertaining. Although he suffered no physical harm, being isolated for two weeks had obviously left him with some serious negative effects.

By the time Scully had made herself presentable in an oversized T-shirt and jeans, Mulder was back at work. He was sitting on the sofa, glasses on, poring over the contents of a file while sipping from a cup of fresh brewed coffee. He looked perfectly normal except for the bare feet parked under the coffee table.

"Finally," he stated of her presence. "You know we've got a lot of work to catch up on, Scully. The two of us out of commission like that..."

Scully went into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Have you seen Skinner?" she called out loud enough to be heard in the other room. Mulder was suddenly in the doorway of the kitchen to respond.

"Yeah. I stopped by the office for a few hours. You know, I believe that he was actually happy to see me. At least I imagine that's what he was implying when he said, 'Looky what the cat dragged in.' Then he gave me a ton of paperwork to fill out. Hey, you wanna go out someplace and eat?"

"Looking like this?" said Scully as she added cream and sugar to her coffee.

Mulder grinned slyly. "Hey, I know some places where you would be considered overdressed."

Scully scowled. "Spare me."

Mulder slipped off his glasses and blew off a loose eyelash from them. "Skinner wants me to talk to a shrink." He spoke those words in a matter-of-fact sort of way, but Scully could sense something hidden behind the statement. It was as if Mulder agreed with it. Scully sipped her coffee, not sure how she should respond.

"Just a formality, of course," Mulder continued when his partner offered no comment. "He wants to make sure I'm no more screwed up than I was before all this happened."

"Mulder, you talked to me some the first time you woke. I suppose you don't remember any of it. Some of the things you said didn't make much sense. Some of it did. You talked about being alone, about having no physical contact with anyone the whole time you were there. You seemed upset about not even having rodents or bugs around to keep you company. You were in solitary confinement in a room with no windows, and lights that stayed on continuously that gave no concept of day or night. What does a person with your intelligence do when all forms of mental stimulus is taken away?"

"I think that's what they were trying to find out."


"I don't know. But I felt like I was being studied. I felt as though I was a white rat in someone's science project. There was a video camera on me at all times."

"That must be the red light you said kept watching you."


"Until once when you made it go away and it got hot and you weren't able to wash or flush."

"I covered up the lens. As punishment, they turned off the air conditioning and water. When I uncovered the lens, everything was restored."

"It must have been maddening for you."

At that, Mulder simply shrugged and headed back towards the living room. He settled down on the sofa, slipped his glasses back on and picked up the folder he had been going through earlier. Scully curled up on the opposite end of the couch, facing Mulder and casually drinking her coffee. She noticed that Mulder was not paying the file in his hands any attention. Instead he was staring at the TV. A soap commercial was playing. Even with the sound turned down, the message came through clearly. The guy in the shower was ecstatic about how clean and fresh his soap made him feel.

"I know how he feels now," said Mulder with a small sigh. He looked to Scully, only a couple of feet away, waiting patiently. He knew she was dying to know all the facts. She knew it wasn't everyday that he waltzed into her home unannounced and promptly fell asleep in her bathroom. But she wasn't rushing him to tell all and for that he was grateful.

"Scully, about what happened in the bathroom... I hope I didn't scare or upset you any. My internal clock's a little off."

"So that makes it complete then," Scully teased. "You look pretty healthy considering," she added a bit more seriously. "I take it you weren't harmed physically?"

"No. Apparently, even through transport, a lot of care was given not to damage the goods. They wanted their lab animal in good condition."

"Are you saying that you think Avery had some mad scientist kidnap you and place you in solitary confinement, hoping for... what? That you'd go bonkers?"

"I've seen caged animals that went insane from lack of companionship, mobility and mental stimulus. Humans are no different. Albeit, I'm not exactly the friendliest guy in the universe and I pride myself for not being on anyone's party list, I do at times find the need to associate with members of my own species. I have so much stored energy, both physical and mental, that if anyone did want to drive me insane, total isolation and confinement would conceivably be the way to go. That and a television set that showed nothing but "Gilligan's Island" episodes."

Scully both grimaced and grinned at that particular kind of hellish torture. "But, Mulder, don't you think it's more likely that the reason you were placed in such controlled and isolated conditions was simply so you wouldn't be able to escape? That maybe no one was studying you or trying to drive you crazy? Perhaps they merely wanted to reduce the possibility of you identifying any of them later or the location where you were being held. Logically speaking -"

"Is what Mr. Spock did in the "Star Trek" series," Mulder cut her off abruptly. "And although it was necessary for plot development, it still drove Dr. McCoy up the sick bay wall."

Scully picked up on the coded message there and decided to abandon her logical thinking for the moment. "All right. So, since you didn't have a ball and glove like Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape" or anything with more than two legs to keep you company, what did you do to pass the time besides counting tiles?"

"Shakespeare. I acted out plays, recited sonnets, even told every dirty limerick and joke I knew."

"I'm sure that kept you occupied for awhile."

"Luckily, it did. I spent a lot of time going over some of our cases in my head. Even came up with a couple of good leads on some. Actually, the whole experience wasn't all that bad. It was like taking a forced vacation. I got plenty of rest - something you're always telling me I need more of anyway. I got a chance to just relax and take it easy. No pressures of work, no phones ringing, no e-mail to answer or paperwork to fill out, and no bad guys or alien life-forms to chase after. If I'd only had my TV and video collection, we're talking heaven."

Scully knew better. "You're a workaholic, Mulder," she reminded him. "You hate sitting still with nothing to do. Your mind is such that if you're not juggling a missing person case, an unexplained murder and a UFO sighting at the same time, you'd go buggy from the monotony."

She knew him too well. Mulder stared blindly at the photograph of a man's mutilated body he had been holding. When he spoke again, his voice had lost its playfulness. "There were times when I'd just sort of zone out," he admitted to the space between himself and the photograph. "I'd suddenly realize that hours had gone by because the food tray would be there and I wouldn't remember seeing it arrive, and the food would be cold, even dried out a little. My legs and shoulders would ache from being in one position for so long."

That sounded like what he may have experienced in the bathroom but Scully chose not to call attention to it. "Are you sure you hadn't merely fallen asleep?" she offered the sensible solution.

"I usually had dreams when I slept. Bad ones mostly. About you."

He was too self-conscious at that moment to look at her. He could feel her eyes on him, empathic, wanting to chase away his sadness. Her hand rested gently on his forearm, a subtle reminder of fathomless support and friendship. He somehow mustered up the courage to continue.

"After about a week or so of holding it together, I started to let it get to me. The solitude and silence I could pretty much handle. It was the not knowing that did it. Not knowing why I was there or who was watching me on the other side of that camera. It was the not even knowing if you were all right. I was so afraid that they had taken you from the hospital, and there was nothing I could do about it. I sort of let myself get a little depressed. I guess they noticed it too, because at one point they slipped a razor blade under the door. Now I may have done some things in the past that could be interpreted as suicidal, but I've never harbored the thought of actually committing suicide."

"Did you find yourself weakening, Mulder? Even briefly?"

The glasses came off again and his eyes shifted from the file in his hands to the person who had somehow moved closer to him without his knowledge. "You'll never know how much you helped me, Scully. I just kept hearing your voice telling me to fight it, to hold on a while longer, that everything would be all right. I trusted you, so I listened."

Scully arched a brow. "You actually listened to me? There's a first," she noted with a grunt.

"What do you mean? I listen to you all the time, Scully. I hear everything you say. Hey, sometimes I even respond." Mulder flashed a grin at his partner and patted the hand that still rested on his arm. "Why don't we order in a pizza or something?"

"I thought you wanted to go out."

"No. I don't think I'm quite ready for crowds. Besides," he added as he picked up another file from his briefcase and tossed it into her lap. "We've got a lot of catching up to do."

Scully leafed through the file and blew out a sigh at the sight of a decomposing corpse. "That's what I like about you, Mulder, you really know how to impress a girl."

Mulder picked up his sunflower seed bag and offered her the contents. "Seeds?"

"No thanks. I believe I'll just go order the pizza."

As she rose and started past him, Mulder reached out and gave her hand a firm squeeze. It was his way of saying "Thanks," for being there for him even though he hadn't been there for her, and for not getting mad at him inviting himself over because he feared the loneliness of his lifeless apartment. They exchanged knowing glances, expressing the deepest of emotions without uttering a word. Scully gave a simple nod along with a Mona Lisa smile. Mulder released his hold on her and immediately turned his attention to work, replacing his glasses and studiously perusing the file before him.

"Hey, Scully?" he stopped her before she had cleared the doorway heading into the kitchen for a menu.

"Yes, Mulder?"

"No anchovies, okay?"

"Yes, Mulder. I know.

Scully's Apartment - 12:57 a.m.

Scully's living room had begun to resemble the office in the FBI basement. The shiny wood of the coffee table was no longer visible. It was now hidden by open folders, scattered photographs of crime scenes and the life story printouts of several suspects. An open pizza box sat between the two agents on the sofa. Having gone all day without eating, both had sated themselves with side salads, iced tea and pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. No one was willing to fight over the last cold, stale slice of pizza still remaining.

She wasn't sleepy yet, but Scully had definitely grown tired of the endless search for clues among the ordered chaos surrounding them. She looked at Mulder who had immersed himself in some information he had downloaded on his laptop.

"I'm surprised, Mulder."

"Mmh?" he responded without tearing his eyes away from the scrolling words on the flickering monitor.

"These are the files we were working on before our forced vacation."

"Your point?"

"I had assumed that you would have gotten the files on Danny and Author Avery from the task force that was looking into your abduction. You do plan on investigating further, don't you?"

"Of course, I plan on investigating. But I won't need the files on the Averys. They weren't responsible."

"And how did you come to that conclusion?"

He took off his glasses and turned his full attention to his partner. "Because believing that they were responsible is the most obvious conclusion," he stated matter-of-factly. "And you know that I never focus on the obvious."

"So what are you focusing on?"

"This." Mulder picked up the slice of cold pizza from the box and held it briefly in front of Scully's nose. "What do you know about pizza, Scully?"

"A rhetorical question, I'm sure."

"What you may not know is that if smashed into the wall just so, it makes a pretty interesting looking Van Gogh-like design." Mulder smiled and fought back the desire to slap the pizza onto the pastel painted wall behind him. "I'll rephrase the question," he said as he let the food plop back into the box. "What do you know about pizza delivery?"

"Thirty minutes or it's free?"

"Twice, I was served pizza... with anchovies," he added with a frown. "But I noticed that it arrived hot and fresh."

"So wherever you were being held was within thirty minutes of a pizza parlor. Mulder, do you have any idea how many pizza parlors there are within the city limits alone?"

"A lot. But I'm only interested in the ones that are within a five-mile range of a mental hospital or clinic. I've already got Teresa in research checking it out. She's also coming up with a list of distributors of automatic sinks and toilets."

"Your cell had an automatic sink and toilet?"

"Installed within the past year or so, I'd say."

"What makes you think it was a hospital or clinic? It could have been one of those posh, minimum security prisons for politicians that get their hands caught in the bureaucratic cookie jar."

Mulder shook his head emphatically. "The place was spotless, Scully. Sanitized. I was kept like you'd keep a lab rat. You'd give it a clean cage to start and plenty of food and water. Then you sit back and monitor its reactions to the stimuli you give it... or don't give it."

Scully gave a minor nod of her head, indicating that she was willing to give his theory some consideration. "But you said you never heard any other voices or sounds. Wouldn't you have heard the other patients on the floor if it had been a mental institution of some kind?"

"I heard footsteps," Mulder spoke in a suddenly somber voice, his eyes focused somewhere on the pile of paperwork on the table. "I tried to imagine what the person looked like by their footsteps. I think day shift could have been a woman. She wears a white lab coat and turtle shell glasses, and keeps her graying hair pulled back into a tight bun. Night shift is a man. He's about my height but heavyset with bushy hair and thick glasses..." He looked to Scully again as he added, "I know what your footsteps sound like too. I listened for them, but you never came."

Scully wondered if he realized just how accusatory his eyes were just then. It hurt to think that he felt she had not done all she could to find and rescue him.

"You look tired, Mulder. Maybe we should call it a night."

Mulder glanced at his watch. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I should be going."

He spoke the words but made no attempt of actually following through. He stared at the still silent television screen which had yet to be tuned from the Cartoon Network. No sound was needed to see that Scooby Doo and Shaggy were being chased by someone in a monster costume. Scully watched Mulder watching the cartoon with solemn eyes. He grinned briefly at the antics of the heroes capturing the fake ghoul and uncovering the human villain beneath the disguise.

"If only it were that simple," said Mulder sadly.

"I'll get you a pillow and some linen. You can sleep here," said Scully as she rose from the couch.

Mulder didn't bother to object. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off, placing it on the back of the chair with his jacket and tie. The T-shirt came off next. He was working on removing his pants when Scully came back in with the linen. She had expected him to pull his trousers back up when she appeared, but her presence didn't seem to faze him. She had to avert her eyes when his boxers came off as well.

"I'm just gonna go use the bathroom," he told her as nonchalantly as he would have if he'd been fully dressed. Scully's mouth fell open in astonishment as she watched him with wide eyes, stroll out of the room, stark naked.


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