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XPHYLIA In a Darkened room.

The second in this compelling series of past and present Trauma revoliving around the life of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Title: IN A DARKENED ROOM

Author: X-Phylia (xphylia@yahoo.com)

Disclaimer: Hands in the air, CC! This is a robbery! Oh, btw, the title belongs to a song by Skid Row, it just seemed appropriate.

Rating: NC-17

Category: MS friendship evolving into MSR, MT, Angst.

Archive: Sure, just keep my name and disclaimer

Feedback: Always welcome

Spoilers: Several, but nothing serious. Some references to End Game, Anasazi, Pusher, Paper Hearts, Demons

Summary: Devastated after trying to profile a serial killer with a close-to-home MO, Mulder breaks down and tells Scully his darkest secret.

 

Author notes: This is a companion piece to my previous story "I'll be there for you", but it stands alone.

 

***WARNING***

If subjects like rape and abuse disturb you, don't go any further. If you do, don't flame me about it.

 

"In a darkened room"

Part I

by X-Phylia

 

This case was bad news since the beginning.

Serial killer. Brutally murdered teenagers. In the Capital, right in front of our nose.

And Fox 'Spooky' Mulder in the middle.

 

They didn't come to us immediately, they never do. The FBI high-ups never forgave Mulder for deserting Violent Crimes, and now they hate having to ask him for help when everything else fails.

 

I wonder what would happen if he just said 'no', but such possibility never crosses Mulder's mind.What the powers-that-be don't understand is that he does what he does to avoid more innocent victims, and not because he is afraid of the consequences of a refusal as they seem to think.

 

What nobody -except me, maybe- takes into account is that as easy as it is for him to get inside the head of those freaks, it's very difficult to find his way out. Of course, once he performs his magic, no one cares what happens to him. No one's there to pick up the pieces, to get him out of the darkness. That's usually my job, and it's very painful, lonely job.

 

So I am understandably upset when I learn we are joining the investigation to catch this SOB. Moreover, I am slightly worried about how it would affect my partner's emotional stability. Mulder is pretty much the same bright, funny, smartass and sometimes infuriating man I met five years ago when we are at work, but our personal relationship has evolved into something more complex than mere friendship. We are not lovers, but we spend a lot of time together outside the office.Those times we don't talk much. I sense Mulder's struggle to open up and speak his guts against years of silence and keeping everything to himself. It's when he feels the doubt burning inside that he seeks comfort in my arms, or asks me to stay and sleep with him.

 

If it had been for me, we would have had sex long ago. After all, I'm not made of wood. Let's face it: he *is* cute, he *is* attractive, and -yes, Dana, you can say it - I *love* him. I know he loves me too, I'm not blind, but I also know how scared he is. He's just not ready for the next step.Probably I'm not either. When he sobs in the night and curls against me I can't help thinking of him as a frightened kid who wants his mother. And it's hard to picture Teena Mulder getting up in the middle of the night to tend to her son. I doubt she even heard him. The thought of Mulder as a child crying alone in a darkened room makes me sick.

 

We always act professionally at the office even when there are no people around. We don't want to get used to an informality that would add fuel to the multitude of rumors that surround us. It's funny how I've grown indifferent towards what people might say. I think I might even laugh at their comments by now.

 

So everybody thinks we're lovers? Well, we actually sleep together, yes. And one of these day we're going to give them a good reason to gossip about Mr. and Mrs. Spooky.

 

I have been at the forensic department all morning, performing the autopsies on those kids, and I was pretty upset. It's hard to remain detached when it comes to kids.And Mulder has been out of his mind too, driving everybody crazy.

 

At least this time we are working in DC, and we can go home from time to time, but I've had a hard time dragging Mulder away from the office, from the pictures he stares at for hours, from the files in his computer.

 

Profiling never fails to bring the worst out of him, but this time I could swear he is not thinking straight. Almost a week has elapsed and he hasn't come up with anything yet. In most cases he only needs two or three days to start 'doing his magic', but not this time. I don't know what's wrong, but it's frustrating the hell out of him and worst of all, it's getting the rest of the Investigative Unit royally pissed off.

 

As I approach the office, I see Skinner walking my way. If his frown weren't enough of a warning, his mere presence in the basement is an omen itself.

 

"Agent Scully."

 

"Good morning, sir. I was about to bring you my report on the autopsies." He doesn't even bother to respond and goes right to the point.

 

"I need to talk to you about Agent Mulder." I raise my eyebrow, inviting him to go on, though I'm sure I'm not going to like what he has to say."Is Mulder all right, Agent Scully?"

 

The tone of his voice and expression suggest something more than simple annoyance, and I wince when I realize what it is. Worry.

 

"May I ask why, sir?"

 

Skinner enters and leans himself over Mulder's desk, putting away his glasses and rubbing his eyes. A cold shiver goes down my spine.

 

"Mulder is personalizing this case,and we can't afford that. They need him to stay objective and focused."

 

"He never takes it well when the victims are children this young, sir," I say cautiously, not sure of the direction he intends to go with this questions.

 

"SAC Johnson tells me Mulder is not making any progress with his profile and his behavior is far from acceptable... even for Mulder," Skinner apprises me. "He's been very nervous these last few days, hasn't he?"

 

This is not the first time someone approaches me with the sole intention of prying information about my partner, but it annoys me that it is our own boss doing it now.

 

"You should be talking to him, sir."

 

"I'm talking to you, Agent Scully, and you know perfectly well why. Mulder won't listen to me. He's asking for a lot of trouble. This is DC, he can't get away with the BS as easily as he does in the field. Here, people who can have his ass on a sling are just a phone call away," Skinner warns very seriously.

 

"Well, that's a lot more stress he doesn't need. Mulder always does his best, sir, his only interest is saving the victims."

 

"Oh, yes, that much I know. But for some reason he's having trouble with this case,and it won't do him any good to blow it."

 

I'm left alone to do some thinking.Of course I've noticed my partner's disturbed state of mind, but this is not the time to ask him questions. I know better than to get personal on him when he's profiling.But Skinner is right, though; there's something about this case that's bothering him very badly, and I don't think it is because this is happening in DC.Deciding this is a good time to check on him, I hit #1 in my speed dial.

 

"Hello?" an unfamiliar feminine voice answers.

 

"Who is this? I'm trying to reach..."

 

"Agent Mulder? This is his cell phone, indeed."

 

"This is his partner, Agent Scully. Who are you? Where's Mulder?" I ask, as a shiver runs down my spine.

 

"Are you Dana Scully? Thank God. My name is Terry Spinks, I'm an EMT. Your partner has suffered a collapse, we're taking him to Georgetown Memorial in a minute. We were trying to contact you."

 

"What happened to him? What's his condition? Is he conscious? Let me talk to him! I'm a medical doctor!"

 

"Whoa, take it easy! He fell in the restroom and banged his head. I believe he has a concussion, he was unconscious when we got to him ten minutes ago and he still is. We're ready to leave now, you can meet him at the ER in about... fifteen minutes."

 

It takes me a half hour drive to Georgetown Memorial in the middle of the rush hour, a couple of badge-flashings and all my Irish stubbornness to find someone who can tell me anything about Mulder.The first person I find turns out to be SAC Emmett Johnson, who is sitting at the waiting room outside the ER.

 

"Good evening, sir, I came as fast as I could," I shake his hand hastily.

 

"Agent Scully, I'm glad you're here.I understand that you're Agent Mulder's next of kin. His doctor will come talk to you any minute."

 

"Can you tell me what happened, Sir?" He shifts uncomfortably.

 

"Agent Mulder was... well, arguing pretty badly with some of my men. They were questioning his profile and Mulder went ballistic. He stormed out of the room and never came back, until someone found him unconscious in the restroom, some ten, fifteen minutes later." I bite my lower lip trying to keep my cool exterior. The man beside me adverts my distress, though.

 

"Agent Mulder hasn't been the easiest person to be around this last few days, but I truly hope he gets better," he asserts.

 

"Was he making any progress?" I probe him. This guy doesn't need to be aware that I know about my partner's work as much as he does,maybe more. Johnson scowls at my question.

 

 "I've seen him do better."

 

"What about the rest of the team? Did they get any clues on the UNSUB yet?"

 

"No, not yet," he admits unwillingly. "That's why we called Mulder in the first place." And you're here because you need him, you son of a bitch, not because you care. Fortunately, the doctor comes out and saves me from insulting the guy.

 

The doctor, a gray-haired wary looking man in his early sixties, introduces himself as Dr. Wilkinson.

 

"Nice to meet you," I greet,extending my hand and flashing my badge again. "I'm Dr. Dana Scully. Agent Mulder is my partner, and I'm also listed as his next of kin." The complete enunciation of my credentials usually gets results in cases like this, and boy, do I have practice.Dr. Wilkinson nods as he shakes my hand, but he looks clearly nervous.

 

"I'm glad you're here, Dr. Scully, maybe you could be of assistance. We have some... problems... with your partner," he says warily.

 

"What's his condition?" I ask, keeping my voice as even as I can muster.

 

"I don't dare to ask what he's been doing the last few days, but he's basically exhausted. He also has a slight concussion as a result of hitting his head when he collapsed, but I don't think it's serious. In fact, he's already come around and..."

 

"I want to see him, please," I interrupt as politely as I can. He turns and starts walking, I follow him.

 

"We hooked him to an IV and were about to run a CAT scan when he woke up and started screaming and thrashing about. He was very violent and tried to pull out the line." I clench my teeth.

 

"Did you sedate him?"

 

"No, I don't want to drug him until I run a CAT scan and rule out any damage from the concussion. We had to put him in restraints, though, but he's fighting them and no one has been able to calm him down. We took him to a private room and left him alone to see if he settles down by himself."

 

Oh shit. Damn! I'm almost running now, cold sweat covering my face. As we approach, I start hearing the high-pitched screams coming from his room. If Mulder was already over the edge when he collapsed, waking up alone in a hospital with people poking and prodding him must have been the final straw.

 

"Dr. Scully, if he doesn't calm down soon I'll have to use a sedative and risk the consequences," Dr Wilkinson warns, preoccupied.

 

"Just let me see him. Alone."

 

"All right. I hope you can get him to his senses," he says with obvious doubt.

 

I knew it was going to be bad and I tried to prepare myself, but it was no use. Mulder's body was twisting and writhing against the five-point restraints, screaming at the top of his lungs. I approach him quickly and place a hand against his shoulder.

 

"Mulder! Mulder it's me! It's Scully!" I shout.

I don't think he even registers me.

 

"Mulder, listen to me! It's OKAY, I'm here, I'm going to help you, just calm down, please!" I plead again, this time placing one hand behind his neck and the other against his cheek.This seems to work and the screaming stops, but he keeps on moaning and wrestling.

 

For an allegedly exhausted man, he has a lot of energy. He opens his eyes and looks at me. He's plainly terrified and he can't catch his breath.

 

"Mulder, it's OKAY, I'll get you out, but you have to relax" He tries to speak.

 

"Can't... breathe..." he pants. Indeed, his breathing is very shallow and irregular. I grab an O2 mask and put it in front of his eyes.

 

"I'm going to put this on so you can breathe more easily, OKAY? Now stop moving, you're hurting yourself," I tell him with a calmness I'm far from feeling.

 

"Off... off..." he pleads, pulling the restraints.

 

"I will, Mulder, I promise. But first let's breathe together, long deep breaths, come on partner, that's it. Long deep breaths..." I stroke his hair as I hold the mask in his mouth and nose. "You're doing great, close your eyes and keep breathing slowly. Don't move, just concentrate of your breathing..."

 

I kept repeating those same words in a low, soothing voice until he is quiet on the gurney. I am so focused on my partner that I forget about the doctor and the nurses, who are probably watching my exorcist act through the window with dropped jaws. After a few minutes his panic attack has subsided, but there is still a great deal of fear in his hazel eyes.

 

"Mulder, can you talk to me?" I ask gently, caressing his face.He nods under the mask.

 

"Head hurts," he muffles.

 

"You banged it," I search for the lump in his head. It's there, but for Mulder's proven hard head, it doesn't seem too serious.He tries to move again, but I put my flat palm against his chest and press him down.

 

"Mulder I know you hate needles, but it's there for a good reason,it's not the first time you're given IV fluids. If you're too uncomfortable, then I'll get it checked out, but you have to let it be." He stares at me with a defiant look, but he also knows I'm right and finally nods, defeated.

 

I free his legs first and then his hands, helping him sit down with his legs hanging out of the bed. I sit beside him and put one hand on his shoulder. He puts the oxygen mask away and takes a couple of breaths before ranting.

 

"Do you have any idea of how tired I am of waking up in hospitals completely naked, with needles stuck in my arms and tubes down my throat?" he seethes furiously.

 

"I can only imagine."

 

"Scully, I'm okay this time. And I'm not just saying it. I'm *fine*!"

 

"I'll admit you've been much worse, Mulder, but you were not *fine*. You passed out, banged your head and showed symptoms of dehydration and general exhaustion. The doctors didn't do anything out of the normal here," I explain, but to no use.He stares at me furious, pointing at the straps.

 

"You call this normal? Am I that lost or this isn't a psychiatric hospital? They have no right to tie me up like that!" He's starting to hyperventilate again.

 

"Relax, Mulder, it's over. You're okay," I reassure him, squeezing his arm.

 

"Don't patronize me, Scully. I'm not overreacting. They are!" he yells, pointing his gaze at the window.

 

"Why, aren't you really pissed off this time!" I can't help chuckling, but I immediately bite my tongue. Mulder is not in the mood for joking.

 

"I think I have every right to be. Why don't you try and put yourself in my skin for a minute? I'm sleeping soundly for the first time in days, and the next thing I know is I'm naked, in a room full of people, someone sticking a needle in my hand, and someone else poking and prodding all over me. If I had caught them trying to catheterize me, you'd be bailing me out of jail!"

 

His graphic description makes me shudder.

 

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I'll talk to them. It must have been scary," I pat his shoulder.The wind is quickly out of his sails as the adrenaline rush fades away.

 

"Can we go home then?" he pleads softly, and I hate myself for disappointing him.

 

"Not yet, partner. You have a concussion, you know you have to stay for a while, at least until they run de CT scan."

 

"Scully, I'm fine! You're making a big fuss over this. I just banged my head, people bang their head all the time and they don't end up tied down to a bed in the psych ward!"

 

"You scared them, Mulder, that's all. I can understand your frustration, but why were you so frightened to start screaming like that?"

Mulder looks away evasively, which fills me with the idea of something being very wrong.

 

"I hate being restrained," he admits softly.

 

"Are you okay now?"

 

"I'm tired."

 

"I know, but you can't sleep right now. Just hang on a little longer, then you can rest."

 

After the CT scan shows nothing relevant, Dr. Wilkinson takes the time to express his admiration for the way I talked my partner out of his fit.

 

"That was one hell of a job, Dr. Scully! I must admit I was a little skeptic at first. But you two must be very close. I've seen wives and husbands, mothers and fathers trying to do what you did with far less success." The implication of his statement leaves me speechless. Is that the impression people get from us?

     

"I didn't even say thank you for being here," Mulder says with a sleepy voice.

 

"Since *when* you have to thank me for being there, Mulder? I watch your back, it's my job," I smile.

 

"You do more than that." He gingerly rolls to his stomach, his expression getting somber.

 

"I need to talk to you, Dana," he slurs.

 

"About?"

 

"About... things.But not now. Later," his voice is barely a whisper now.

 

"OKAY, Mulder. Later. Now rest." It only takes him a minute to fall asleep, and I suddenly grasp what is it that seemed wrong: he only said he wanted to go home and that he needed to talk. He never mentioned going back to work.

 

We came back from the hospital to my place an hour ago, it's past 9 pm by now.I made Mulder lie down immediately and stay in bed as part of the condition for an early release. I thought that under the circumstances, it was the best thing for everybody. Mulder was evidently stressed and the staff at the hospital was starting to hate him. So now we are in my bed surrounded by darkness except for the dim light from the street. We are both silent, watching the shadows cast on the wall move and change.

He has told me earlier in the hospital he wanted to talk, I wonder if now is what he called 'later'.

 

I place my head on his shoulder, trying not to touch the sore bruised skin of his arm. Then I cross my own arm around his chest, drawing small circles with my fingers. I feel the firmness of his muscles under the soft fabric of his t-shirt, and I let my hand go up and down from navel to neck.

 

"Can we talk now, Scully?" he asks softly, almost whispering.

 

"Of course. I'm listening," I encourage him.

He props himself up to a sitting position and draws his legs against his chest in a clearly defensive stance. What is he trying to tell me?

 

"I don't know where to start."

 

"Take your time, Mulder. I'm not going anywhere," I say patiently,sitting down myself.

He waits and starts again.

 

"I can't profile this guy. I thought I could, but I just can't," he stammers.

 

"Do you know why?" He nods, as if he has lost his voice, and rests his forehead against his knees with his arms wrapped around.

 

I tentatively put my hand against the back of his neck, which happens to be my favorite spot. His skin is so silky and warm, the hair so soft.Before I hear them, I'm able to feel his sobs.

 

"Mulder, what's wrong? What happened to you?"

 

"I don't know if I can tell you this," he hiccups. "It's too hard"

 

"It has something to do with the murders we're investigating?"

 

"It has to do with me." I move a little closer to him and wait patiently. When he doesn't speak in the next five minutes, I try resume our talk.

 

"Mulder, you have been trying to tell me this for a long time now, haven't you? Even before this case started?"

 

"Yes," he admits. "But I still don't know how."

 

It's like I'm interrogating him and somehow it makes me feel uncomfortable. He's my partner and best friend, not some kind of suspect. I rub his back in order to erase that annoying sensation.

 

"You saw the bodies, Scully. You saw what that son of a bitch did to those kids. He tied them up and whipped them, and then he raped them over and over..." he sobbed. "It's not their death he's interested in, he just wanted them to suffer. Can you imagine what it must have been like?"

 

"Is that what you put in your profile?"

 

"They don't want to believe me. They think the UNSUB is just a cold-blooded sadistic killer with a taste for young meat. But it's not like that at all."

 

"Mulder, those kids died because he cut their throats. It looks like he used them for fun and then discarded them."

 

"No! He wants to punish them. Make them pay for their mistakes. All of them were in some kind of trouble. The rest of the team dismissed that information, saying that all teenagers have problems, that it goes with the territory."

 

"But you think it's important. Why?"

 

"Because he killed them as if he wanted to get rid of them once they were through with the punishment. He *has* to kill them, otherwise he could be identified. But that's not what he pursues." It puzzles me that Mulder is being so cryptic. He's usually very good communicating the reasoning behind his profiles, people listen to him mesmerized, often wondering why they didn't think of that themselves. It seems obvious that there's something else about this case that upsets him to the point of tears.

 

"I'm not sure I follow you, Mulder."

 

"I don't blame you. Nobody does."

 

"Maybe they have their own theories. Maybe they have another explanation for this killer's behavior."

 

"I am right, Scully."

 

"Because there's something else, isn't it? That's what you've been trying to tell me." He nods again and more sobs overcome him. I can't push him to talk, so I just let him cry, maybe if he lets whatever is bothering him out of his system, he'll be able to tell me why he's hurting so much.

 

A knots forms in my stomach as I watch Mulder. He's been slightly depressed lately. Not long ago we were watching a movie at his place and he started crying, he wouldn't tell me why.

I see him struggling to regain control of his emotions, which worries me a little. Then my worry turns into surprise when he gets up from the bed, undresses himself and lies back down on his stomach, still crying.

 

"You're scaring me, Mulder. Please talk to me."

He extends his right arm and turns on the night lamp.

 

"Look at me," he asks, but he keeps his face buried into the pillow. Jesus, what in the world does he think I'm doing?

 

"You *already* had my attention, Mulder."

 

"I mean as a doctor. Just look at me." Oh my God. Oh my God. How could I be so stupid!

The faint scars I've seen so many times. I trace my fingers across his back. The marks are worse in his thighs, and I wonder how bad his butt might be.I'm suddenly overcome with nausea as I realize the full implications of what I'm seeing and how it relates to what he just told me about the killer. He obviously expected my reaction.

 

"What held your curiosity in check, Scully? You're not only a doctor, you're a forensic pathologist. There's no way you could have missed a clue like that - and yet you never asked."

 

"I've always wondered. But since their meaning is pretty obvious, I wasn't sure if you'd take my questions well. I'd rather hoped that some day you'd tell me yourself," I explain carefully. The last thing I want is to give him the impression that I didn't care.He nods imperceptibly and shifts in the bed, like he can't make up his mind about what to do next. Then he settles down and speaks again.

 

"I have something else for you, doctor. Check these out." I wince as I see him lower his boxers, not because of what I'm about to see, but because it breaks my heart to see him going through this.Of all the times I've wished I was wrong, this one's on top. I figured the marks in his butt would be the worst, and in fact they are.

 

A dangerous cocktail of rage, sorrow and impotence threatens to overcome me. I've never noticed these before, they are well hidden in his anatomy. I can barely keep my voice even when I ask him the question which answer I fear most.

 

"Who did this to you, Mulder?"

 

"You know that too, Scully. You know it was my father." Now I can say that until the very end I refused to believe a man could do something like this to his own flesh and blood. I can't look away tonight. This can't have happened to someone so close to me. This is what happens to nameless victims whose bodies I slice and dice with professional detachment, never letting my emotions interfere with my work. But not to my partner, of all people!

 

Not to someone I love so much! And worse of all, I have this terrible foreboding that we have just scratched the surface.Another piece of the puzzle falls into place when I realize why he's been begging me to rub his back lately. He wanted me to notice the scars he knew this would be a shock to me, and he tried to make sure that I was prepared, because when this happened, he'd need me strong.I don't know if I should be glad or scared of his ability to manipulate and predict my reactions. What I do know is that he needs me, and I won't let him down.

 

"I'm sorry, Mulder," I whisper as I squeeze his shoulder lightly.He pulls himself up and leans on me, resting his head on my shoulder.I cry too as I hold him, desperate and vulnerable in my arms.

 

He manages to calm down a while later, but his control is tenuous, barely enough to allow intelligible speech.

 

"You never talked about this before, have you."

 

"No," he whispers.

 

"Now I understand why you hate it when I 'play shrink' on you." I sense the feeble smile against my chest.

 

"I don't understand. You're a psychologist yourself, Mulder. Don't you believe in what you know? Don't you think it could have helped talking to a therapist?"

 

"You have no idea of how hard it is going through stuff like this. I didn't have the strength. It was easier to bury it and move on. Being in Oxford helped me understand a lot just by myself."

 

"What about your teachers? Wasn't there one that you felt you could trust? Or someone who realized what you had been through?"

 

"I went to England to escape from all that. Back then I would have even denied it had happened at all. If I didn't have an eidetic memory, maybe I would have been able to convince myself it was nothing but a nightmare. But of course, I can't. Just my luck."

 

He snuggles against me like a small child, filling my heart with tenderness. He feels soft and warm in my arms. I run the pad of my fingers along his side, with feather-like touches, provoking gooseflesh, and he shivers slightly. I smile at the thought of his skin being as sensitive as his soul. I know that he'll stay where he is all night if I keep holding and touching him.

 

"I'd like to know what happened to you."

 

"Careful what you wish for."

 

"You don't have to protect me, Mulder." He stays quiet, again weighing his options, trying to make a decision. I promise myself that I won't press the issue if he doesn't want to talk, but I really hope he does, even though I know for sure it will break my heart.

 

A few moments later he changes his position. He curls up in the bed, clutching a pillow to his chest and resting his head on my lap. He often lies like this when he wants me to rub his back, so that's what I do. Then he gets up, turns off the light and goes back to where he was. Once he is comfortable, he speaks with thick and slightly unsteady voice.

 

"A few months ago I started having nightmares about this. I had been cheating myself all these years, telling myself that I was fine, that I was over it, so it was scary to have all this stuff back in my mind. It overwhelmed me."

 

So that explains his strange mood, why he seemed so eager to be comforted when before we used to keep each other at arm's length.

 

"I knew some day this was going to happen, though. I could hide it, but I couldn't make it disappear. I realize now that somehow I was trying to tell you."

 

"Yes, by showing me the marks on your back so overtly." He nods.

 

"And then this case falls on my lap... It all came back to me, like the Niagara Falls, and no amount of will would make the memories recede. My father... he was the first person I've ever profiled, you know. He also wanted to punish me. His intention was never to kill me, only to see me suffer for what I have done. I had lost his little girl, the light of his eyes. Sam was like that, she was the joy of the family. Always happy, always smiling. I can recall very early moments of my childhood, and my father was never as nice to me as he was with her. I thought it was because she was a girl, it was easier to love a girl. Especially one who wasn't a smartass who could quote him word by word when he promised something and then forgot about it."

 

He almost sobs at the last sentence, and waits until he settles before continuing. I never expected such a detailed story, but it seems important for him to explain it, so I just listen without interrupting.

 

"He used a cane, or a belt," he says, apparently changing subjects. "A few days later after Samantha's abduction, he demanded to know *exactly* what had happened to her."

 

      <I told you, dad, I don't know!>

      <Fox, you said you were playing with her. You must have seen anything! Did you hurt her?>

      <No! I'd never hurt Sam!>

      <Then tell me what happened, boy!>

      <I already told you! I can't remember!>

      <You little bastard! You're lying! You remember everything! You drive your mother and me crazy with that memory of yours and now you say you can't remember your sister vanishing before your eyes! Come with me, I'll help you refresh you memory!>

 

"Then he would take me to my room or to his study, whatever was closer and lock the door. He'd made me take off my clothes and stand facing the wall. He asked the same questions over and over, and every time I said I don't know or I don't remember, he would hit me with the cane. It became a routine, he'd come home, beat me up and then eat dinner. Of course my mother was usually too out of it to even notice I couldn't sit comfortably."

 

I'm glad the darkness allows me to shed a few tears without him noticing. This is another mystery revealed: why when he is upset his appetite is the first thing to go. Dinner at the Mulder's must have been hell. I'll bet they didn't have many visitors. My hands keep stroking his back, and my mind pictures him twenty-something years younger. He must have been a very good looking kid.

 

"I tried to make it up for him," Mulder reminisces between sobs, "but it was never enough. I did good at school, at sports, and I never told anyone what he did to me. But then it got really bad, I had to quit the basketball team. I loved the game, but the uniform showed too much bruised skin and that would raise questions I didn't want to answer. So I pretended I sprained an ankle and just left the practice. The coach told my father and he beat me for being clumsy, asking why I couldn't do anything right..."

 

He breaks into sobs this time and I turn him over to take him into my arms again. I hold him tightly, swallowing my own tears.

 

"What about your mom, Mulder? Was she aware of this?"

 

"She chose to look the other way. My father never hit me in the face or arms, so the bruises where easily hidden. I never cried or screamed, that only made him more angry. Mom's best friend was her Valium. She used to sleep between twelve and fourteen hours a day."

 

So it seems that sweet Ma Mulder has a career of being an absent mother. And I was surprised by her constant refusal to visit her son when he was sick or injured. Jesus, she had ignored him even when he was a helpless boy living in her own house!

 

"Didn't you have any other relatives who could help you? Aunts, grandmothers, cousins?"

 

"No, my parents rarely talked about their families. I never met them." He cries on my shoulder, all of him trembling. I pull the blanket and cover his almost naked body, tucking him against me. I wonder what we look like, a petite woman cradling a big man in tears.

 

I really hope he cries until he is exhausted and then falls asleep, but I can see that's not going to happen soon. Mulder is nervous, shifting in my arms, and I can't do anything to ease his distress.

 

"It's okay, sweetheart," I muse into his ear, and then startle myself. *Sweetheart*? Where did that come from? It just felt so natural.

Mulder stares at me, apparently not so far lost in his grief to notice the endearment and smiles through his tears, which in turn threatens to overwhelm *me*. I feel his eyes on mine, with tears welling up and rolling down his cheeks. He lets himself slide to his previous position, only this time he curls up around me, with his arms protectively wrapped around his chest and face against my stomach.

My discomfort increases, he's now almost choking in his sobs, struggling to find his voice. I have to lean over him to hear what he's saying.

 

"He raped me," he whispers. I command my brain to register his last statement as a mistake, so I don't react. "He raped me, Scully. My dad raped me..."

 

Oh Holy Mother of God. Rape. My mind fights the word, pushes it away, but it bounces back like a relentless monster. This is way more than I've had imagined. The physical and emotional abuse Mulder has described so far was disturbing enough, but sexual assault is in a whole new league on its own.I feel cold and slightly dizzy. The doctor in me tells me I'm going into shock, a luxury I cannot afford right now. I want to hug Mulder and get warm again, but I refrain, sensing his need to hide.

 

"I was sixteen years old," Mulder says amidst his weeping. "My father was on a drunken binge that night. I knew it was going to be bad, really bad, and it was. After he got tired of beating me, I couldn't move."

     

<Do you know what day is today, boy?>

      <It's Samantha's birthday.>

      <She should be here, blowing candles, not lost and suffering because her retarded brother wasn't looking out for her.>

      <I'm sorry, dad, I want her to come back too! I miss her too!>

      <Shut up! Do you have any idea of what might have happened to her? Do you?>

      <Yes...>

      <No, you don't. But I'm gonna show you. Oh, yes, I'm going to show you.>

 

"He started touching me all over. I wanted to fight him, I was big enough, but everything hurt from the beating... He climbed to my bed and straddled me, pinning my arms with his knees and..." I have my eyes closed, my imagination picturing clear images of everything Mulder is recalling, and I feel like puking. He reaches for my hand in a desperate attempt to gather strength to finish this horror tale.

     

<Someone could be doing this to your little sister right now, so you'll have a taste of it too. Now suck! Harder!>

<Please, dad, no more, please, I'm sorry...>

 

"I tried to fight him, but I couldn't. When he got enough, he turned me around and lowered my underwear to my knees..."

 

      <This is the real thing. You will remember this for as long as you live, boy, so pay attention.>

 

"It hurt so much, Scully. I cried, I begged him to stop hurting me, but he was drunk and wouldn't listen..."

 

"Oh Mulder, for Christ's sake..."

 

"I thought I was going to die. When he finished I *wanted* to die. That was too much. One time was one too many. I had been thinking about killing myself and decided to do it that same night. Not that anyone would miss me anyway. So once he was gone, I went to the drawer where I knew he kept his gun. The pain was horrible, and I had blood dripping down my legs. I didn't think about anything. I just aimed the gun at my head and pulled the trigger. I was so upset I never realized it had no bullets. So I went to the bathroom, locked the door and gulped down as many of my mother's pills as I could. I remember looking myself in the mirror, and I couldn't stand it, so I smashed it. This time they heard me, but by the time they were able to break into, I had cut myself pretty badly. I guess I lost consciousness then. I woke up in the hospital a few days later."

 

I've lived my years, been through a lot, seen more things than I would have liked. But nothing prepared me for this. This wasn't a stranger. This was Mulder. I break down and cry. I feel like I am failing him, but he is crying so hard himself he can't even raise his head. How could he live with all this?

 

All the times I was angry with him for being so reckless, for doing stupid things and putting his life in danger... how much was it really his fault, when he was led to believe by his own parents that he was worthless? I remember how easily he shot himself in the head under Modell's influence. He had done it before at least once. *At least* being the operative words.

 

But what kills me most is to realize how close I was of never getting to meet him. The most important person in my life, someone for whom I'd do -and in fact done- anything, could have died over twenty years ago, by his own hand, after being brutally abused by his own family. And yes, that includes his mother, who is just as guilty for allowing it.

 

I wanted to ask him how could he survive, where did he find the strength to go on. But instead I tell him how much I love him, and that he's going to be alright because we're going to deal with this together.

 

His raw desperation is starting to fray my nerves. I try to soothe him, but no amount of words is going to calm him down. Soon my pajamas are soaked from his tears and my own.

 

And to think he was so sad when his father was shot. Then I remember they were about to talk when Krycek killed him. Maybe he wanted to say I'm sorry to his son, maybe he wanted to explain. Maybe Mulder wanted to forgive him and heal his still bleeding wounds. But he never got the chance.

 

Damn you Bill Mulder, I hope you're rotting in hell.

 

When almost half an hour passes and he's still crying, I decide it's time to intervene. It seems like a week ago, but a few hours earlier Mulder suffered a concussion and crying like this can't be doing him any good.

 

When I get out of the bed he senses my absence and moans painfully, drawing himself into a protective fetal ball. I really can't stand to see him suffer another minute.I get my medical bag and fill a syringe with all the Valium I dare to give him.I approach the bed and leave the syringe on the night table.

 

"Mulder, please, answer me. Squeeze my hand. C'mon, squeeze my hand," I plead gently, stroking his forehead. He takes my hand and gives it a small squeeze.

 

"Mulder, I'm going to give you some Valium to help you relax, okay?"

 

"No! No needles! Please don't hurt me! Don't hurt me any more!" he begs brokenly.

 

"I'll make it stop hurting, just try to relax, it'll be over soon. Shh... it's okay, I'm not going to leave you. I'm here. Shh..."

 

Fortunately - well, that depends on how you look at it - I have practice giving him shots. I'm sure I didn't hurt him, but just in case I rub his hip where the needle went in, and then I lie down with him again. This time I tuck both of us under the covers, and I place his head in my shoulder as I hug him as hard as I can. Finally the medication is kicking in and I feel him relax in my arms. When he's asleep, I dry his tears with the sheets and plant a loving, tender kiss on his lips.

 

(End of part I)

**********************************************************************

 

"In a darkened room"

by X-Phylia

Part II

 

Watching Mulder sleep is something I can do for hours and not get tired; his peacefulness has given me strength to stay by his side all the times he's been hospitalized. I learned that in Alaska, when there was nothing I could do except hold his hand. Even when his health was so fragile and his body was invaded by wires and tubes, his expression remained peaceful.

 

We are lying on our sides, facing each other. I want my face to be the first thing he sees when he wakes up. The darkness is gone, there's plenty of daylight in my bedroom, but Mulder sleeps unaffected by it.Then my alarm goes off, startling him, and I let out a curse. It's 7 am on a weekday, I'm supposed to be getting up to work; but of course, that's not going to happen. There's no way in hell I'll leave Mulder alone today.

 

I didn't really know what to expect. I assumed Mulder would be a lot better after finally exposing his demons into the light. Guess I was wrong.As soon as he opens his eyes I realize this is going to be a very long day. He hides like he's embarrassed, or as if he weren't able to look at my eyes now that I know his secret.

 

"Hey, sleeping beauty. I'm sorry about the alarm, go back to sleep." He squeezes my hand in response.

 

"You going to work?" he slurs heavily.

 

"I'd rather stay with you, unless you need some time by yourself."

 

"No, stay with me, please. I don't want to be alone."

 

"Okay," I gently lift his chin, but he doesn't want to meet my eyes. "Don't be ashamed, Fox. I told you last night that nothing you could say would change the way I feel about you, but that's not true. My admiration for you and your courage has just made a quantum leap." He nods quietly.

 

"Thanks, Scully," he murmurs, petting my hair. I like it when he does that, so I get closer to enjoy the warmth of his chest.

 

It's 8:30 am and Mulder's sitting on the bed trying to get rid of the drug-induced stupor. His unsteady movements let me know how debilitated he is when he finally gets up and heads for the bathroom. I stare at him questioningly, but he keeps his gaze on the floor. I hand him a towel and then go get myself busy fixing breakfast. Fifteen minutes later he emerges from the bathroom with the towel around his waist, water still dripping from his soaked hair and quivering. He's lost in his own thoughts, oblivious. I have to pinch myself in order to accept that the barely dressed man standing there is the same Fox Mulder I know.

 

As I said, it's very hard for me to see Mulder suffer this much. Last night he dared to open old wounds, now he's bleeding all over again.

I tread on eggshells, I'm not even sure about how to deal with him.

 

"How are you, Mulder?" I probe as I walk to meet him.His lips won't tell me, but his tear stained eyes do. I lead him to the couch and grab another towel before joining him. I coax him to sit down and he lets me dry his hair, chest and shoulders without as much as a peep. I think he would even open his mouth if I approached him with a spoonful of soup, which wouldn't be a bad thing considering how much weigh he's losing.I cannot see what's going on in his mind, but his passive behavior gives me a clue as to how vulnerable he feels.

 

By noon I've already figured out that all he wants is to be with me, that he needs the physical contact. He's been crying sporadically, not wailing, but softer, choked sobs.After all the harrowing talk of last night I'm not surprised that he chooses to remain quiet today, and let his body do the talking. Mulder and I are usually comfortable in silence. We spend a lot of time together and we don't feel the need to be talking all the time, which I think is one of the reasons why we get along so well.I wouldn't know what to say to him anyway, other than the obvious things he already knows.

 

This has to be one of the hardest days of my life. I have this knot in my stomach, but I don't dare break down in front of him just yet. I observe Mulder with infinite sadness, and no small admiration. It doesn't take much to figure it's a tough day for him too.I'm doing a lot of thinking, but I haven't stopped touching him. At least we complement nicely today: his need for love and support matches my own need to comfort him. After all, I promised Mulder once I would be there for him. And here I am.

 

I try to make him eat something,but he refuses.

Knowing what I know now, the kind of hell his father put him through, I don't have the heart of getting angry at him for neglecting his health.Instead I decide to spoil him a little and hand him his favorite snack: iced tea and sunflowers seeds, earning me the first smile in hours. My doctor self is nagging me, though. He's still a little dehydrated.

 

"I won't fuss about food, Mulder, but you need the fluids." He drinks the iced tea greedily, but hardly touches the seeds.A few minutes later he's resting on my lap again. "Let's go back to the bed," I suggest. "This coach isn't as comfortable as yours."

 

I get up and he follows me docilely, like a lost puppy.I want him to sleep, so I massage his neck and shoulders to relax the tense muscles. And just when he gets very sleepy, he pulls me down to lie down next to him. He gathers me in his arms and holds me until his breathing evens out.

 

Peace doesn't last long, of course. It seems to have and extremely short half-life whenever Mulder is involved.He wakes up thrashing his arms and moaning. A nightmare. He didn't have any last night, but then again, he was sedated.

It's the middle of the day, though, and clarity helps him get a grasp on reality.

 

"Are you okay, Mulder?" I caress his face lying so close to mine and he leans into my touch like a kitten. I don't expect him to tell me what the dream was about, though by his distress it must have been awful.

 

"Hold me..." he asks softly. I sit up and hold him tight and once more he gives in to his tears. I try to comfort him by talking to him, telling him it wasn't his fault, that his parents were wrong to blame a 12-year-old for something out of his control. Not to say anything of the way he got punished for it.

I need to say this things to Mulder. It's important that he understands them, and I'm not so sure if he really does. He's a psychologist, so he must know in an intellectual, detached level, but emotionally? I have my doubts. I don't think he ever heard these words from other person. Being estranged from his parents, with no close relatives and virtually no close friends, I'm the only one who can tell him what he needs to hear.

 

"They had *no right* to treat you like this, Fox. They had no right. You were just a boy, for God's sake. Look at me, please," I plead.

He complies, I cringe at the sight of his face. Red, swollen eyes; dark, heavy eyelids, damp cheeks and trembling lips.I put my other hand in the back of his neck and stare him.

 

"Listen to me, Mulder. I need to know if you really understand it wasn't your fault. That your father was *wrong*, that your mother should have protected you," I say with an even, soothing voice, staring into his watery eyes.

He tries to speak, but finds himself unable to.

"Shh... it's okay, you don't have to talk right now. You're going to be just fine, Mulder. This is hard, but we'll get through it together."

He takes my hand in his and squeezes hard.

 

"Yes, together. But right now you just rest, I'll hold you for as long as you need to.You're not alone anymore, Fox."

 

"It hurts..."

 

"I know."

 

"Make it stop hurting. Please Scully, make it stop hurting." Now this truly breaks my heart. Mulder asking for something to kill the pain is unheard of.

 

"Do you want me to give you another shot?"

 

"Just make it stop hurting." I glance at the clock. 4 pm. A long day, as I said.I give him another shot, a smaller dose this time.

 

I can't help thinking for how long he will need medication to cope with the emotional pain. Not to mention that this time he asked for it himself.

 

"Don't go," he says quietly, as I leave the room to dispose the syringe.

 

"I won't, Mulder. I'll lie down with you in a minute. I think I need a nap too."

 

"I'm sorry I'm doing this to you, Dana..."

 

"Shh... don't say that. I should be thanking you."

 

"For what?" he asks puzzled.

 

"For trusting me this much," I grin, as he closes his eyes and falls asleep.

 

"You're the only one, Scully. The only one."

 

I wake up two hours later, my partner still slumbers.I take a shower, a hot, long shower, forcing my mind not to think too much. But it's no use. My mind is filled with images of Mulder as a young boy being beaten and sexually abused by his father, then with a gun to his head, then bleeding unconscious...

 

Despite his current depression, I have faith in him. If anything, Mulder is a survivor. I've seen him do so many stupid things when his family was involved in any way. Chasing a bounty hunter down to Alaska, transporting a federal prisoner without authorization, accepting unconventional medical treatment to retrieve his memories... He's so desperate he just can't help it. And yet, we all have our limits. I pray Mulder's are far beyond.

 

I let him sleep for a few hours, then I wake him up. At least he's getting a lot of much needed rest, but he also needs some nutrients. Getting Mulder to eat it's not easy, I can barely talk him into drinking. Which makes me remember that we need some supplies. Food and stuff from the pharmacy, just in case. I don't feel comfortable with the idea of leaving him alone, but I don't think he's in any shape to be around either.I watch him in silence.

 

 He's now sprawling on the couch, watching a basketball game. I take a closer look to the TV screen: the Knicks are playing. Good. Maybe that will keep him entertained while I go shopping.I ask him if he's going to be okay and he nods absently.

 

When I'm back an hour later(God-damned traffic!), Mulder is in the very same position I left him, and the TV is still on ESPN even through the commercials. If he's not zapping, it's obvious he's not paying too much attention to the screen. And the Knicks are playing, for God's sake!

 

"Mulder?" I call him gently, not wanting to startle him. After leaving the bags in the kitchen, I go back to him.

 

"I missed you," he murmurs.

 

"Did you?" I tousle his hair lovingly and grin to him. He responds by leaning his body against mine, seeking comfort.

 

"Why do you put up with me, Scully?" he asks after a while.

 

"You're making it look as if it were a sacrifice having you here. It's not. I care for you," I reply kindly as I kiss his forehead.

New tears roll down his cheeks as he considers my words.

 

"No one ever cared for me the way you do. I wish I had met you twenty years ago," he sighs.

 

"Oh Mulder..."

 

"It hurts, Scully. It hurts so much."

 

"Want to talk about it?"

 

"Can you just hold me? I don't want to talk."

 

I look through the window. The sun is about to set, this dreadful day will soon be over. Mulder holds on to me but he doesn't cry. It's not enough to make me feel better though, because it just means that he's either too tired or that his throat is sore. I don't understand how can anyone not love someone like him, so special and sensitive. How in the world did he manage to become the man he is? As much of a mess he is, how come he didn't turn out worse? He feels so much for someone who grew up with little or no love at all. His biography and profile eerily resemble the ones of a serial killer. Above-average intelligence, childhood abuse, emotional instability... what turn of fortune saved Mulder from being drawn to the dark side of the Force? Was it the hope of finding someone who'd love him for what he is, someone he could trust with his heart and soul? If that's the case, I hope I am that person.

 

Our very long day was followed by a very long night. Mulder's terrors came back with a vengeance. I lost count of the times he woke me up with his screams, I don't think any of us slept more than two hours straight. He also vomited a lot, which has me very worried. I wanted him to eat, so I let him order pizza. Perhaps it wasn't such a great idea.The morning comes as a welcome relief, but the night has taken his toll on my despondent partner. He looks sweaty and pale, his eyes are dull. He's complaining of a headache and cramps in his stomach, nothing too surprising after such a night.But the last thing Mulder needs is to get sick and earn himself another trip to the hospital, so I cautiously suggest that I hook him to IV fluids.I expect him to protest, but he looks at me as if I had grown a second head.

 

"IV? You keep IV equipment here?"

 

"No, I got it last night, just in case. You were already a little dehydrated, and I was hoping it could be settled orally."

 

"Maybe it still can. I'm a little bit tired of being stuck with needles everywhere," he moans.

 

"Mulder, you're vomiting anything that gets past your mouth." He sighs his acceptance.

 

"I'll take a shower first, then."

 

I know he belongs in a hospital right now, he needs some blood work done, see if anything's wrong aside from stress messing with his system. But I'm afraid of what it might do to him emotionally, so I'll postpone it as much as I can. I prepare the equipment while he's in the bathroom, but he takes longer than expected.

 

<He's fine, Dana, he can take a shower by himself... Damn it, what is he doing in there?>

I press my ear against the door, the water is running.

 

"Mulder? Are you okay?"

 

"I'm fine, Scully," he answers from inside, but his voice doesn't sound quite right.

 

"Can I come in?"

 

"Yeah." I open the door and find him in the bathtub, sitting with his head down over his legs and the shower spraying his back and neck.

 

"What happened?"

 

"I got dizzy.

 

"Why didn't you call me?" My voice sounds somewhat reproachful as I close the shower and squat beside the bathtub, and Mulder reacts defensively.

 

"It'll pass, Scully."

 

"Mulder, you learned very early in life to take care of yourself, but just for these few days, let *me* do it. Not because you can't, just because I want to. You don't have to prove anything to me, so if you need help, just ask."

 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry you. I'm not used to being the center of so much attention."

 

"You'd better get used to it, G-man."

 

"I don't know if I can," he whispers.

 

"Why not? What are you afraid of?" I put my palm against his wet and warm skin, making him shiver.

 

"I really appreciate all you're doing for me, Scully, but I can't expect you to be there forever."

 

"What are you trying to say, Mulder? That eventually I will get tired of you and your problems and leave you?" He unconsciously flinches at my harsh voice, and I regret snapping at him when his balance is so precarious, but it angers me that he thinks so little of me.

 

"I thought you knew me better than that, partner. I love you, I care about you. Why would I ever run from you?" He studies my eyes for a second and then lowers his head and his voice.

 

"Everybody else has."

 

"So that's your strategy. You won't allow yourself to really love someone because you're afraid they'll leave you. Including me."

 

His eyes are full of tears when he raises his head and stares at me again.

 

"But you'll stay, won't you? Please, tell me you'll stay."

 

"The real question here is: will you, Mulder? Or you'll let your fears take over and run away?" I hit a raw spot and he goes back to his hunching position. I know him too well for his own good, but I don't want to upset him more than he already is. I get rid of my pajamas and put my robe on, then I start to silently wash his back and hair, giving him time to regroup.

 

"How did you know?" he asks.

 

"Because I think you have every right to be scared of relationships. Have you ever been intimate with other women, Mulder?"

 

"Intimate as in sex, yes. Intimate as in allowing them to wash my hair while I'm naked and almost crying in a bathtub, no." There's a hint of humor in his statement that makes me smile.

 

"Does it make you feel uncomfortable that I see you like this?"

 

"Yeah, a little," he confesses. "But it's okay. I trust you. I know you wouldn't take advantage of it." That puzzles me.

 

"Advantage how? What are you talking about?"

He turns around and smiles at me, but there's sadness in that smile.

 

"That's what I love so much about you, Scully. You're such a good soul, you don't even know there are many ways to hurt someone, and I don't mean physically."

 

"I'm not that na´ve, Mulder. I've seen my share of crap too."

 

"I don't think you understand what I'm trying to say."

 

"Care to explain?"

 

"I will, but not now." Along with the saline, I administer him a dose of muscle relaxant to help with his cramps, and soon he's asleep. I'm also pretty tired, so after a quick late breakfast I go back to my bedroom and lie down beside my partner. I pull myself closer to him and close my eyes. Despite the bright light of the sun filling my room, I fall asleep immediately.

 

A few hours later, the sound of the phone ringing yanks me out of my peaceful dreaming. I know it's the middle of the day, but it's Sunday, and I'm too comfortable and cozy lying here in Mulder's arms to even consider reaching for the tube. Whoever it is, the machine can handle it. A familiar voice drones in the room.

 

"Agent Scully, this is Assistant Director Skinner. If you're home please answer the phone," he demands in his habitual commanding tone. I turn around to see if my partner is awake, but luckily he seems to be soundly asleep. What the hell. The little rebel in me decides that I don't really feel like talking to my boss right now.

 

"Scully, I need to reach Agent Mulder immediately, tell him to call me if you contact him. I'll call you back later. Have a nice day," he insists and then hangs up.It'll be a nice day as long as you're out of sight, sir, thank you. I embrace Mulder and drift myself to sleep again. Tomorrow's another day.

 

Earlier I moved the TV set from my living room to the bedroom, thinking Mulder might be more comfortable here than in my small couch. His mood is no better today than yesterday, except he's talking a little more. But most of the time we stay silent and in close physical contact. For a brief moment I think we look - and behave - like a married couple dozing in bed on Sunday afternoon. The thought amuses me, and oddly enough, I don't feel strange to the idea.

 

As if on cue, the phone rings again, reminding me that there is a world outside my apartment eager to get its claws on us.

 

"Hello."

 

"Agent Scully, at last. This is Assistant Director Skinner. I'm sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but I need to locate Agent Mulder. Is he with you?"

 

"Yes, the doctors at the hospital agreed to release him early under my care." I sound a bit defensive. Skinner doesn't seem concerned about that, his tone is very urgent and I get a nasty feeling in my stomach.

 

"Could you put him on the phone, please?" he demands.

 

"He's sleeping right now, sir, and I'd rather not wake him up. He's not feeling too great and needs his rest."

 

"Agent Scully, this is not a social call! Put him on the phone!"

 

"Can I ask why is this so urgent, sir?" I hear Skinner exhale deeply.

 

"They want him back, Scully. This is beyond me, believe me. The Director himself wants Mulder to be in charge of this investigation. Says we can't allow a serial killer get his way right in front of the Hoover Building, and the Bureau simply needs its best man taking care of this. Unfortunately, that means Mulder."

 

Oh shit. Shit. I look at Mulder's pale sleeping form and punctuate:

 

"I'm afraid he's in no condition to be working, sir, least of all profiling."

 

"They won't buy it, Scully. Johnson admitted that he needed a rest, but it's been three days now and they're going crazy. Besides, if he's so sick, why isn't he in the hospital?"

 

"I'm taking care of him. I'm a doctor, remember?"

 

"Listen to me, Scully. This whole thing is about to blow in our faces. The press has put a lot pressure on us. The Director is furious. He has already threatened to fire Mulder if he doesn't show up. If he's not sick enough to be in a hospital, then he should be here, at least to appease them for a while. My power to protect him is running very low at this moment."

 

Now I'm furious. Why can't they leave him alone? Mulder doesn't need this right now, he has enough problems.

 

"It's not fair, sir. Mulder doesn't even work for Violent Crimes anymore. I mean, can't they find anyone else to do the job? This is FBI, for God's sake!" I snap.

 

"It's not my call," he replies rather coldly.

 

"Well, whoever call it is, tell them that Agent Mulder is sick, and his doctor won't clear him for work," I declare in my best no-nonsense voice. Skinner is silent, seemingly considering my words.

 

"Agent Scully, you shouldn't be taking this decision for him. It could cost him his career." And *yours*, I think to myself. As his supervisor, he can go down too.

 

"All right, sir. But I don't want him around yet. Can you come here?"

 

"I'll be there in... say two hours?"

 

"That'll be fine."

 

"How are you feeling, sleeping beauty?"

 

"Head still hurts," he murmurs sleepily. "But the cramps are gone." I lay my lips on his forehead and they stay there more time than necessary to determine whether he has a temperature or not.

 

"I don't think you're running a fever. It will pass if you eat something and take some fresh air. And how's the IV? Hm, looks fine." I open the window and the room fills with a cool breeze.

 

"That's better, isn't it? I'll bring you some juice and aspirin in a minute." When I'm back, I notice he hasn't moved an inch. A pang of worry washes my body. He still seems lost, disconnected. I wonder if he'd be even talking at all if it was someone other than me around him.

 

"Here you are, partner," I hand him the juice and some tablets. I sit by his side again and I wait until he finishes.

 

"Skinner called an hour ago." He frowns.

 

"What does he want? Is it about the case?"

 

"Yes. There might be some trouble. He is on his way here," I say flatly.

 

"Let me guess: the kids in Violent Crimes are sad the clown left the party so early and they want him back."

 

"You're not a clown, Mulder," I smile caressing his hair. "*They* are."

 

"I can't do it this time," he simply states. "I won't."

 

"I know. I tried to tell Skinner, but he wouldn't listen."

 

"I don't want to see him, Scully. I don't want him to see me like this. He'll have me committed," he says, only half-joking.

 

"If you don't want to see him, then you won't have to. I'll tell him you're sleeping and that you don't feel alright."

 

"You won't even be lying," he croaks weakly.

I brush his silky hair again and he closes his eyes.

 

"How come you only do that when I'm sick, Scully? You can do it any time, you know. I won't bite you."

 

"I'll keep it in mind."

 

"I think I'd better talk to Skinner," he exhales resigned. "Things must be hectic out there, and sooner or later I'll have to face this."

 

Skinner shows up later. I play host with him, please come in, sit down, can I offer you a drink. He's not buying any.

 

"Where's Mulder?"

 

"I told you, sir, he's sick. He's resting, but I'll wake him up." Minutes later, Mulder comes out of the bedroom, clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt; he didn't want to receive the AD in bed. His left hand has a dressing where I left the IV needle so I don't have to put it back in later. Mulder's gauntness and evident air of fragility shock Skinner, who saw him relatively healthy only three days ago.

 

"Hello, sir," Mulder greets dryly. Then he sits down on the couch with all the grace his weakened body permits and patiently waits for Skinner to speak first. I'm so proud of him. Mulder never backs down, he's relentless. I wonder where he gets his strength from. If it were me, I would send packing whoever dares to bother me. But not him. He confronts everything with a brave face. AD Skinner studies him and concern shows in his eyes.

 

"How are you feeling, Mulder?"

 

"Like shit, sir. But thanks for asking." I have to repress a chuckle. Now *that* is the Fox Mulder I know and love.Skinner dismisses Mulder's sarcastic reply, which suggests that things are way too serious for small insubordinations.

 

"I'm sorry, I was told it was just a bang in the head. I didn't know you were so sick," Skinner apologizes, pointing his gaze at Mulder's bandaged left hand. "You look like you belong to a hospital, if you don't mind my saying it."

 

"I've been discharged under the care of Dr Scully. But you're not here to discuss my health, sir, are you?"

 

"No, but this is unexpected. I came here because the FBI needs you back in the case you were working on." Mulder's brave stance withers a little.

 

"I don't think I'll be of much help, sir. I'm not feeling so great."

 

"I can see that much. But the higher-ups won't be very understanding. They don't expect you to run after the suspect, just that you complete the profile."

 

"Why? Nobody agrees with it anyway."

 

"Agent Mulder," Skinner punctuates formally.

 

"I've read what you've produced so far. I don't know what you're up to, but *I* could have written that profile. I think they were expecting a little bit more from you." Mulder ducks his head and looks at me for support.It's my cue to intervene.

 

"Sir, I have no say on this as his partner, but as his physician I don't think Agent Mulder is fit for work. I'm willing to put that in writing if necessary." Mulder smiles his thanks, but Skinner stands up impatiently.

 

"I'm not asking any of you to go the office. I can bring you any material you need, and Mulder can e-mail me the profile once it's finished," he insists.Mulder bites his lower lip, a clear sign of anxiety and doubt. Our boss sees it too and uses it to his own advantage.

 

"This case is heating up, Mulder. The UNSUB is escalating. Another kid has been murdered matching the modus operandi, and two more have been reported missing. Jake LaGrange and Matthew Dobson," Skinner hands Mulder a folder with papers and pictures, and he passes them to me. The missing boys are good looking kids in their teens, one of them, Jake, is holding a girl, probably his girlfriend. I take a closer look at her. She has blue eyes and red hair, like me. A thought pops up in my mind and I stare back at Skinner wielding one of the pictures.

 

"Does this Dobson kid happen by chance to be related to Senator James Dobson?" I ask suspiciously.Mulder's eyes seek mine in our perfected silent communication that often makes Skinner feel left out of the loop.

 

"Yes. Matt is his grandson," Skinner admits ruefully. Mulder stays silent to all this, his attention is focused on the pictures he's holding. I take discreet glances at him and I don't like what I'm seeing. Skinner, on the other hand, takes it as a sign of interest and pushes Mulder even more.

 

"Mulder, these boys are in great danger. We need to stop this guy and you're their best chance. If not for me, or for you, do it for them. You don't want their deaths on your conscience knowing you could have avoided them, do you?" 

 

There's no way Skinner can understand the full impact of what he has just said. He doesn't know that Mulder is seeing himself in those pictures, or that this particular killer reminds him too much of his father.After what he told me, I think he should never be allowed to profile again. However twisted and complicated, Mulder is still sane; but that could change abruptly if he is forced to profile someone who does to kids what his own father did to him. It would drive *anyone* crazy.

 

We both stand still waiting for Mulder's reaction.He slowly raises his head towards me. God, he looks terrible.

 

"Scully...?" I rush to him and grab his hands. They're cold and clammy, and he's breathing is labored. I put my fingers in his throat and find his pulse racing.

 

"I can't breathe..." he chokes. He starts to tremble, scaring our boss, who has his cell phone ready to dial 911.

 

"Wait," I stop him. "Give me a minute. Mulder, look at me," I place my palm in his neck and coax him to face me. "It's okay, Mulder, calm down."

 

"Can't... breathe..." he gasps again.

 

"Yes, you can, just slow down. Listen to me, slow down. Long breaths, that's it. That's it, take it easy, it's okay. Put your head down between your legs. Easy, partner, you'll be fine..."

 

I keep talking and reassuring him, totally ignoring Skinner, until Mulder's pulse and breathing are within normal ranges again. Once the panic attack is over, however, he bursts into tears and collapses heavily against me, forcing me to sit down to hold him better.

 

"I'm sorry," he cries. "I'm so sorry..."

 

Skinner finds a chair and sits down, elbows on knees, his hands running his bald scalp. He's clearly upset about this unexpected turn on the events, and this is my turn to catch him off-balance.

 

"Sir, I'm truly sorry about those kids, I want that monster caught too, but this is not the way, least of all when the purpose is not totally focused on the victims, but on the public pressure put on the Bureau by some politician. Please, tell them to leave Agent Mulder alone," I plead as I rub Mulder's back.

 

"He's sick, he can't help you. He needs to rest." When Skinner speaks again, his voice is devoid of his stern tone and he sounds more like a caring human being than a hard-ass boss.

 

"What the hell is going on here, Scully?"

 

I don't know how to answer his question without giving away too much information, so I pretend it was never asked. Instead, I sweet talk Mulder into getting up and going back to my bedroom. He swaggers his way to the bathroom.

 

"Gonna be sick..."

 

There go all my efforts to make him eat, damn it! It isn't that much tough, but he keeps heaving until he's exhausted.

 

Skinner is a man of action who hates it when a situation is out of his immediate control. He's standing by, at a safe distance, willing to help but not wanting to intrude.And although we could use some privacy, I acknowledge that it will be a lot easier to move Mulder back to the bed if he helps me.

 

Once we settle him, I reattach the IV line to the needle in my partner's hand.

 

"Sir, there's a bottle of Gatorade in the refrigerator, would you please bring it?" That's his cue to leave, and being an intelligent man, he knows I meant to take his time before re-entering the room. Just because I'm not physically strong enough it doesn't mean that I have to allow him to watch Mulder's misery.

 

"I gotta to go, Scully, he's gonna hurt 'em really bad... Lemme go, I gotta help 'em, gotta save 'em..." he sobs brokenly.I don't even try to reason with him, what would be the point. But as I hold him tight in my arms, the message is clear: he's not going anywhere.

 

"Shh... don't do this to yourself, Mulder. Don't do it to me. They will find him, you'll see. They're going to be okay. You just try and get better yourself now," I mutter in his ear.

 

"I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." he repeats.

 

"Shh, none of this is your fault, no one will blame you this time. I won't allow it, Mulder. I promise."

 

Skinner shows up at the door just when I'm injecting Mulder yet another dose of Valium. At least this time I chose his arm, since his rear is pretty sore. He doesn't even complain, and doesn't fight the medication as he usually does when it's given without his approval.

 

I cradle him in my arms and rock him back and forth, running my fingers through his soft hair. Experience tells me that this simple action soothes him better than drugs sometimes.

 

I watch Skinner standing there with the corner of my eye, and he is in turn watching us in awe. He glances at the IV bag, the used syringe, the way Mulder is sobbing boneless in my arms, the way I'm comforting him. He seems to be having a hard time believing the scene in front of his eyes.

 

Twenty minutes later I'm back in my living room ready to confront a visibly uncomfortable Skinner.

 

"Well, sir," sarcasm fills my voice, "at least you got to see with your own eyes that I wasn't bluffing." Skinner gets up and starts pacing.

 

"Except that you said that Mulder was sick, not that he was suffering a nervous breakdown this serious! You never answered my question about what's going on here," he seethes.

 

"He *is* sick!" Skinner points to the door leading to my room and raises his voice.

 

"He's a little more than just 'sick', and you know it!"

 

"He told you he couldn't help you and you kept pushing him! You showed him those pictures, you told him those kids' lives where in his hands. What were you expecting?" I retort, refusing to give Skinner the real reasons behind my partner's breakdown.

 

"I expected him to come to his senses, Agent Scully! We're trying to save lives here!"

 

"Sir, when he said he was sorry, did you understand what he really meant?"

 

"He is sorry because he can't help us."

I shake my head sadly. "You're wrong. He's sorry for those kids, not for you, or the FBI, or Senator Dobson. He was holding the pictures you gave him, knowing he cannot help them this time, and that they're going to die and/or suffer horrible things because of that. That's why he fell apart. That's why I had to sedate him, because if not he'd beat himself over it for hours..." I have to stop because I'm almost crying myself.Skinner walks to me and softens his demeanor.

 

"Scully, I know you and Mulder are close, but I've known him for a longer time than you do. I've seen him in bad shape before, during his years at the BSU, but never so close to an emotional breakdown as he is now. What the hell happened to him?"

 

I collect myself before speaking.

 

"Sir, we all knew this was going to happen sooner or later. You've known him for longer, but no one knows Mulder as well as I do, he'll say so himself. The talent that makes him good at catching killers is a cross he has to bear, and it just got too heavy. Everybody knew he'd end up  breaking, but they kept hoping he could profile just one more monster. Well, this was one too many."

 

"Are you saying that he simply cracked? Out of the blue, just like that?"

 

"Sir, whatever the reasons, he needs help. I won't let the FBI destroy what little sanity Mulder has left. After what you just saw, do you insist on his going back?"

 

"As I told you earlier, I have nothing to do with this. I'm here only because I'm his direct superior. I can't interfere, and technically neither can you."

 

"Try and stop me."

 

"What are you going to do?" Skinner's seen me fight for Mulder in the past and knows I'm not going to let anybody touch him.

 

"If I don't tell you, you won't have to lie. Sir." I didn't mean to sound funny, but Skinner seems amused.

 

"You know, Scully, everyone should have a partner like you." As soon as Skinner is gone, I run back to Mulder. It's late, and I'm hungry, weary and tired of too much worry. These last two days have been strenuous to say the least. My heart aches for all the awful things my best friend has suffered. It is so unfair. I feel inside a need to compensate him for all the love he was denied, together with fear that once he's feeling better, Mulder will hide again behind his walls. And if he does, how can I blame him? Those defenses have kept him functioning through the years.I can only hope I'll give him the strength, if not the reason, to find his way out of his misery.

 

I guess he won't want to eat if I wake him, so I let him sleep. Besides, I need some time by myself to decompress and think about my next move. My idea is simple, it only takes talking to the right person. But, in order to be effective, I have to say the right words. I keep thinking about that while I cook, eat, shower and get back to bed. I can't help wondering if I'm doing the right thing, it could cost not only his career, but mine too.

Whatever doubt I might have is wiped away when Mulder reaches to me, still asleep, and spoons behind me. Then I know that whatever happens, we'll still be together.

 

Morning comes again at last and I wake up strong and ready for anything. My plan has been carefully prepared and now I'm about to execute it, but first I take the time to enjoy a moment of intimacy with Mulder, who looks a lot better after a good night's rest and all the fluids I kept pumping into him.

 

Only his sad eyes reveal the turmoil inside him.I can't resist myself and take him into my arms once again. It feels so good to have him close to me.

 

"You're looking better today."

 

"I'm still a little fuzzy."

 

"It'll pass. Remember to take plenty of Gatorade."

 

"Remember? Why? Are you going out?"

 

"Yes. I called my mom, she'll be here in half an hour."

 

"Geeze, Scully, I don't need a babysitter!"

 

"Think of her as a nurse. You need to eat, and I don't trust you to get any food by yourself. Don't complain, she'll probably spoil you with your favorite meals."

 

Mulder lowers his eyes and pouts, making that adorable puppy dog he often uses when he wants to get his way.

 

"What?"

 

"I like your mom, Scully, but... I think I'd like to spend some time alone."

 

"You don't have to entertain her or keep her company. I called her because I don't want to leave you all by yourself yet. You've been through a lot, Mulder, and I'll feel better knowing there's someone here in case you need anything."

 

"Scully, I *can* take care of myself. I've been doing it since I was a child." I kiss his forehead.

 

"I don't doubt that. But sometimes it's good to let someone else do the job, and God knows you deserve a break." Mulder nods quietly.

 

"Where are you going?"

 

"To work."

 

"I should go with you. Maybe it's not too late and we can save those kids..."

 

"Are you sure you're up to it? Profile this guy?" He goes pale and his eyes get bright with tears.

 

"They'll crucify me for this, Scully. It was the chance they were waiting for. And those kids are going to die if Violent Crimes keeps looking the other way."

 

"This might sound cold, Mulder, but it's not your problem. It's not your fault. You did what you could, now it's *their* job. You know, profiling and law enforcement are a lot like being a doctor. You do your best, but you can't save them all. You have to know and accept your limits. If you push them too hard you'll destroy yourself and then you won't be able to save the next victim."

 

Since I'm a doctor myself, he knows that I know what I'm talking about.

 

"I'm scared, Dana. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it again. Maybe this time I overstepped those limits." I hug him tightly.

 

"Yes, I think you have. Mulder, you need to stop doing this to yourself. Our jobs are dangerous and the possibility of losing you is something I have to accept, but not like this."

 

"It saves lives, Scully. You're a doctor, you know how that feels."

 

"Doctors save lives, but they don't compromise their own sanity in the process."

 

"That was never anyone's concern as long as the magic kept working."

 

"Well it's *my* concern now, magic or no magic. I'll go out there and try to stop this. Not just for you, Mulder, for both of us. I don't want to see you again in the kind of hell you've been these last two days." He burrows his head on my chest and kisses me. Suddenly a warm wave stirs inside me and I get up before I lose control of my emotions.He looks up and smiles through his tears.A genuine, larger than life smile.

 

I can't hold myself another second and kiss him again. A real kiss this time. In the mouth. I place my hand in his neck and deepen my tongue into him. We prolong it until we have to come up for air.When I speak again, my voice is very thick.

 

"I was thinking, maybe we should take a few days off. Go someplace far away, just the two of us... a well-deserved vacation."

 

"Huh? Vacation?"

 

"Yes, Mulder, vacation. It means the time when one doesn't go to work and enjoys himself in pleasant activities."

 

"Pleasant activities,Agent Scully? What exactly do you have in mind?" he grins.

 

I smile at his leer, and I feel immensely relieved to hear him talking like he usually does.

 

"I was thinking about going to some place nice. Any suggestions?"

 

"Hm, Yes. What about a place in the wilderness, in the middle of snowy mountains, a forest and a small, warm cabin?"

 

"A forest, Mulder? Did you forget what happened the last time we've been to a forest?"

 

"Nope. I'll pack my sleeping bag this time," he winks.

 

"Then make sure it's big enough for two, stud," I laugh.

 

"Well, you know, actually I was thinking about spending most of the time *in* the cabin."

 

"I'm glad you're finally coming to your senses, Agent Mulder," I fix my gaze into his deep, beautiful hazel eyes as I draw him closer and kiss him again.

 

I'm out of the darkened room and the fresh air feels glorious. I drive my way to my destination, then wander through a maze of halls, and finally knock on the door I was looking for. A tall, distinguished man in his mid-sixties offers me in, and I speak the first phrase of my studied speech:

 

"Senator Matheson, thanks so much for seeing me."

 

THE END (for now. The sequel is already written and it's waiting for you to ask for it. Begs, rants, comments, flames, etc are welcome at x-phylia@yahoo.com)


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