Wok & Roll Chinese Restaurant - 9:20 p.m.
As the day progressed, Scully was relieved to see her partner behaving more like himself. She didn't know if his talk with Dr. Nettles had anything to do with it or if he was naturally getting back into the swing of things. They checked out four more locations with no luck, but for Mulder, the visits to the mental facilities seemed less stressful than they had been previously. He didn't appear too disappointed at their lack of success either. There was still the entire south side to check out tomorrow.
"And what if we still don't find anything," Scully asked him over the remnants of her stir-fried chicken and rice dinner.
"We widen the search area. I also had Teresa run a check on any public or private research facilities in the area. She'll have a list of those tomorrow."
"You still feel that you were part of some kind of experiment?"
"Actually, I believe I'm the results of some kind of experiment."
"One that's gone horribly wrong?" Scully teased.
"And escaped from the lab. I wanna go back now and destroy my creator before he can unleash any more like me on an unsuspecting world."
Scully chuckled lightly, amazed that he could joke about his ordeal this way. Even though his grin was wide and his mood light-hearted, she couldn't help but notice how sad his eyes were. The hazel windows to his soul betrayed his outward bravado. When she made mention that it was getting late and that she would drop him off on her way home, Mulder's eyes registered both fear and confusion in a split second.
She knew he had yet to go home since his release from the hospital. He had let it slip unintentionally when he mentioned something about fearing that all his fish had died while he was away. If he had been home, he would have found them all accounted for, though he wouldn't have known about the three which had died and the replacements she had bought.
Scully had spoken with Dr. Nettles on the phone earlier when Mulder was out of the office. She told her that she thought her partner might not be able to handle being alone just yet. Dr. Nettles, however, decided it was best to cut the strings and give Mulder the chance to go solo. He knew that the moment had to come sometime, but by his expression, it was obvious to Scully that he still wasn't prepared.
Mulder's Apartment - 10:05 p.m.
Scully had offered to walk him up, but he graciously declined. He told himself that he was a big boy and that he didn't need a baby-sitter. He had managed a brave smile as he waved good-bye to her from the sidewalk. He felt a little embarrassed that she waited and watched him enter the building. But he had also felt grateful for her presence. He knew that her car would still be there on the street when he went to the window to look out, and it was. He waved to her again, a signal that he was all right and that it was okay for her to leave. After she pulled away, he closed the blinds and turned to face his home.
It looked the same as he remembered it. He was surprised to see that all his fish still lived. Scully hadn't mentioned feeding them. She probably didn't think it was a big deal, but he was glad they had survived. The place didn't seem quite so lonely with those tiny, aquatic bodies darting in and out of the holes of simulated driftwood. Mulder knelt in front of the tank and sprinkled some food into it. With his nose nearly pressed against the glass, he watched mesmerized as the fish gobbled up their meal.
After a few minutes of staring at the fish, he got to his feet and walked over to the answering machine. The indicator light showed no new messages waiting for him. He had called in from the office yesterday and earlier in the day to get the messages left during his absence. Most were of the, "Where the hell are you, Mulder?" variety from Skinner and the Long Gunmen. One was from the secretary of his new acquaintance, Dr. Nettles, reminding him of his appointment. A couple of hang-ups made him think of Scully. She had probably called in hopes that he would eventually be there to pick up. He had done the same thing many times when she had been the one abducted.
He took off his jacket and tie, then walked cautiously towards his bedroom. With his revolver pulled, he reached his hand in and switched on the light before entering the room. Though the light seemed relatively dim, the room looked very large compared to where he had been sleeping. He checked the closet for monsters, then knelt down and looked under the bed. There was an odd feeling of disappointment to find that it set too close to the floor and that he would not fit comfortably underneath it.
He stood up and crossed over to the bathroom. Pushing open the door, and flipping on the light switch, his eyes fell instantly to the floor tile. No black and white little squares to be found though. Instead, his was made up of pale blue, six-sided tiles formed into a honeycomb design. Resisting the urge to drop to his knees and start counting the six sides of each tile, he noticed the new shower curtain surrounding his tub. The opaque blue one that use to hang there and prevented him from seeing his attackers approach, had been replaced with a clear and blue stripped curtain. He was sure he had Scully to thank for it.
Next, he went into the kitchen to see what new life forms had taken root since he'd been gone. He found his garbage can empty, along with the sink full of dirty dishes he knew he had left behind. Scully must have really gotten bored, or perhaps disgusted with the mess and decided to do something about it. The refrigerator was pretty much the way he left it though, nearly empty. The orange juice was still three days away from expiring and there was no mold on the bread yet, so he was all set for breakfast in the morning.
After completing the inspection of his home, Mulder sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. He watched a bit of CNN, then lost interest in world news and began flipping through channel after channel until landing on a familiar movie. Steve McQueen was on a motorcycle, racing through the countryside with a myriad of German soldiers in hot pursuit. Mulder turned the sound down, then picked up the telephone. He pressed the button for a preprogrammed number and waited through three rings before it was answered.
"Just wanted to make sure you made it home all right," he said.
"Yes, I did. So, I see you made it home okay."
"Yes, Mulder. I'm a big girl now and I carry a gun."
"Well, you know, you can't be too careful nowadays."
"No, I guess you can't... Are you okay, Mulder?" Scully asked when her partner made no other comment.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Oh yeah, thanks for the shower curtain."
"Think of it as a welcome home present."
"Well, I guess I'll let you go. You're probably tired."
"A little." Scully waited a moment to see if he would say good-bye. He didn't. "My mom just called a few minutes ago."
"How is mom?"
"Great. She just got back from her cruise. I'm going over there Saturday afternoon to see her. She took her video camera and she says she's got a half-dozen tapes to view. She wanted me to invite you over, but I told her not to expect you to show."
"Why'd you tell her that? I like your mom. I'd like to hear about her trip. She'll be cooking, won't she?"
"I suppose so."
"Then I'll come with you."
"All right. I'll tell her."
"Steve McQueen just got caught by the Nazis."
"I'm watching 'The Great Escape' on cable."
"Oh. Well, while you're watching your movie, I'm going to go take a bath. Okay?"
"All right. Call me back when you're done."
Scully was somewhat taken aback by that remark. There was an urgent undertone to his voice that let her know he still needed to hear her voice again. She had a feeling this was going to be a very long night.
Friday, Scully's Apartment - 10:40 p.m.
Friday turned out pretty much like the day before. Scully found herself suppressing yawns throughout the day. She had stayed up late holding Mulder's hand over the phone. By two-thirty in the morning, he had finally felt relaxed enough to get some sleep, or at least let her get some. They began their day by checking out the remaining facilities on the list, but came up empty. Now, the plan was to expand the search to a wider area and include research facilities and prisons as well. But that would wait until Monday.
Scully settled down between the sheets of her soft, warm bed and fluffed the pillows up to a comfortable level that would allow her to sit up and read. She had plenty of sophisticated and enlightened material to choose from, but once in a while she liked to indulge herself in the fantasies of a good, gothic romance novel. Just as she was about to savor the rich, intoxicating words of the first page, the phone on her night table rang out.
She'd had Mulder's home, cellular and work number programmed into her phone so that when he called, she'd receive a special ring. Even if she hadn't had the service, she would have known it was him. He was going through a phase. Mulder had two main phases that he sometimes went through. One was when he was in a foul mood, not wanting to be bothered with her, not wanting to speak to her either on the phone or in person. He would ignore messages she left for him and leave her to worry over what had become of him.
Then there was the other phase; the one where he was perhaps feeling a bit lonely, a little insecure, or sometimes just plain bored and he needed someone to talk to. He was going through this phase now, calling her constantly, pretending to have something important to say but never quite getting around to the important part. He had already called three times since she arrived home. A few moments of nonsensical banter, then he'd let her go so she could eat or bathe, or whatever.
She picked up the receiver on the second ring and with a half-hearted sigh said, "What now, Mulder?"
"Scully? Is that you? I'm sorry. I must have hit the wrong button on my speed dial. Thought I was dialing 1-900-HOT-BABE. But, since I have you on the line, would you care to talk dirty to me?"
"Sure. But I warn you, I charge $5.99 a minute."
"Well, you get what you pay for."
"I'll save up." He listened to her chuckle lightly, knowing that he had disturbed her quiet time, and he was probably keeping her from brushing her hair a hundred strokes or painting her toenails or doing whatever a Dana Scully does just before bed. However, it didn't show in her voice that she was upset at him for the intrusion.
"Hey, Scully, did you know that there's a Bullwinkle and Rocky marathon on the Cartoon Network tonight?"
"No, I'm afraid I didn't catch that big headline grabber on the news."
"What, you don't like Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky the Flying Squirrel? Sandwiched in-between are episodes of Mr. Peabody with his boy Sherman and the Wayback machine. And it's all being hosted by Space Ghost."
"Mulder, it frightens me to think that there are fully grown people out there like you who actually need a twenty-four-hour cartoon channel."
"Well, truth be known, I could definitely live without the Care Bears and Smurfs, but I do happen to find Josie and the Pussycats very arousing. Then there's also Wonder Woman and..." Mulder paused in mid sentence, startled by a sudden knock at the door. "Hold on, Scully. There's someone at the door."
"This time of night?"
Mulder reached for his gun on the coffee table and undid the safety quickly. "If I'm not back in three minutes," he spoke to Scully in a whisper, "send in the troops." He then put the receiver down and headed for the door. "Who is it?" he asked, standing to one side of the door, ready to take defensive action. When no one responded to his request for an identity, Mulder cautiously peeked through the peephole. When he saw no one in view, he slipped on the safety chain, keeping to the left, then unlocked the door. He opened it as far as the safety chain would allow and checked for the appearance of a shadow the hallway light might cast onto the floor. He relaxed just a bit upon finding the immediate coast clear. Finally, he moved to the right of the door and peered out of the opening. He discovered only a package waiting for him on the other side.
He opened the door fully, giving the empty hallway a quick once-over before picking up the unmarked, padded envelope and taking it inside. After locking up securely, he put his gun away, then proceeded to investigate the mysterious package. Inside was a video tape. He used the tail of his T-shirt to protect the tape from his fingerprints. It had probably already been wiped clean, but years of following standard FBI procedures had conditioned him to take precautions.
Remembering that he had left Scully hanging on the phone, he picked up the receiver while heading towards the TV. "Hey, Scully, you still there?"
He heard her sigh in relief. "I was beginning to wonder if you were. What's going on?"
He popped the tape into the VCR as he spoke. "Somebody just sent me a new video to add to my collection. If you promise to bring the popcorn, I'll let you watch it with me."
"Are you sure it's suitable entertainment for popcorn munching?" Scully found herself waiting longer than expected for a response. "Mulder?... Mulder, are you there?... Mulder, what is it?"
"What?" he finally replied, his voice seemingly a thousand miles away.
"Mulder, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm fine."
"What's on the video, Mulder?"
"A naked guy... Listen, Scully, I don't think it's your kind of movie after all."
"What makes you think I wouldn't want to see a movie with a naked man in it?"
"Even if the naked man happens to be Frohike?"
Scully grimaced at the idea of Frohike prancing about nude in front of a video camera. "You know, Mulder, he only acts like a pervert when he gets around you."
"And who says I'm not a good role model?"
Mulder hung up the phone, then sat down on the floor in front of the television set. He hadn't lied to Scully about the naked man on the video, but he had intentionally led her to the wrong conclusion as to the man's identity. It was odd seeing himself there in that tiny, white room, seeing himself as his captors had seen him. There he was: a haggard looking, naked man with tousled hair and a three-day-old beard, sitting on the edge of a small bed tearing a twin-size sheet into quarters.
Mulder hit the pause button on the remote. He wasn't sure he wanted to watch this. He had never wanted to relive those solitary moments. He stood up and walked away from the image frozen in time. Was this still part of the experiment? Was there a hidden camera somewhere in his home watching his every move? He began a nervous pace back and forth in front of the couch, tossing about the cons and pros of watching himself on the video.
Someone had sent this to him. He thought of Mr. X. Either Mr. X, Y or Z felt that he should see it; felt that he could possibly learn something from it. Perhaps someone was trying to lead him to the truth. Or not. He stopped his pacing and went back to stand in front of the TV. His thumb must have pressed the play button, because the odd little documentary became unfrozen. Mulder sat down on the edge of sofa in order to watch the show. He kept his thumb poised over the stop button of the remote control, prepared to switch off the tape quickly if need be.