The Better Part of Valor
9/9

Pittsburgh Memorial Hospital
April 30th
3:07 p.m.

Mulder sat on top of his hospital bed, anxious for Scully to complete the release forms
that would free him from the torture chamber that everyone seemed determined to call a
hospital. He knew that he was supposed to stay longer because he hadn't yet reached his
ideal weight, but he had promised to take care of himself. Also, since the flight to D.C.
wasn't until the next day, Scully had assured the doctors that she would personally look
after him until then.

He remembered awakening in the same room as he had earlier that day, only to find that
Jackie was furious. Mulder knew that if Scully hadn't been with him the first two days,
she probably would have left Mulder without an arm or a leg.

As it was, his left leg had been broken, only to have been displaced in the tumble outside
of the church. He had other scrapes and bruises, but they had healed- or were healing-
nicely. His leg was wrapped tightly in a cast, which had caused problems for Mulder
when he was trying to fit into his jeans. Luckily Scully had found a pair large enough to
slide over the cast without causing him too much pain. He also wore an oversized forest-
green sweater that brought out his hazel eyes and complimented his dark brown hair. He
hadn't wanted to wear it, but it was either the sweater or a few more days in the hospital.

"Okay, Mulder," Scully announced. "You're free to go."

Mulder grinned broadly and stretched his hands out to the crutches that were just out of
his reach. He looked over at Scully, who was fighting to keep an amused smile off of her
face.

"Uh, Scully?" he asked. "When you're finished laughing at me, do you think you could
help me out?"

Scully gave in to her laughter and crossed the room. She took the crutches and was about
to comply when three newcomers entered the room.

Suzie Parker ran up to Mulder and looked shyly up at him. Her parents, Tom and Linda,
smiled their greetings.

"We heard you were being let go today, so we decided to come by before you left to see
you," Linda explained. "Suzie wanted to give you something."

Mulder lifted Suzie onto the bed beside him. He was glad to see that she was none the
worse for wear from her experience.

"I drew you a picture." Suzie handed him a paper containing two stick figures, a tall one
holding a smaller one. Both had brown hair and eyes and red mouths. The big figure
held one hand out to a small drawing of orange triangles that appeared to be fire.

"It's you and me," Suzie continued. "Thank you for saving me from that bad man."

She reached over and gave Mulder a hug. Mulder was speechless as she kissed him on
the cheek.

"Thank you, Suzie," Mulder managed to say.

Suzie grinned and hopped down from the bed, returning to her parents. Tom lifted her
into his arms. "We can't thank you enough for what you did . . ." he said.

Mulder held up the picture. "You already did," he replied.

Linda hugged Mulder, then Scully. Tom shook hands with them, and the three of them
left the room. Scully watched them go and turned back to Mulder. Mulder was staring
down at the picture, tears swimming in his eyes. Scully moved closer to get a better look
at the drawing.

"I think it's an incredible likeness." Scully poked Mulder's abdomen to further illustrate
the joke.

Mulder smiled and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

"You okay?" Scully asked.

"Fine." Mulder sighed and pocketed the picture. "Let's get out of here."

Slowly hobbling away on his crutches, because he refused the wheelchair, Mulder
managed to make it out the front door. Since his head was done, eyes searching for
obstacles, he was taken completely by surprise when dozens of microphones and tiny
cassette recorders were shoved into his face. He looked up at the cameras and expectant
reporters blocking the way to freedom. A quick look at Scully told him that she was
equally stunned.

"Agent Mulder, is it true that you were the one to write the profile to catch Joel McKay?"

"Agent Mulder, is it true that you solved the case after only three days?"

"Agent Mulder . . ."

Mulder raised his hand for silence. "I don't know exactly what you've been told, so let
me set some things straight," he announced. "A.D. Skinner, Agent Scully, and myself
arrived a week ago to offer our assistance on the case. The entire team is responsible for
the apprehension of McKay, not any one individual. The fact that McKay was caught
shortly after our arrival is little more than a coincidence. That's all. We're all glad that
we were able to bring the families of those unfortunate children some peace of mind."

He ignored the reporters' protests as he pushed his way through the crowd. He heard
Scully wave them away and felt her supporting hand on his back. It wasn't until they
reached their rental car that he saw Skinner holding the front passenger door open.

"You could've really embarrassed the agents down at the field office," Skinner
commented.

Mulder gave him a weary look. "There would have been no point," he replied. "I do my
job because I feel good about helping people. I know I do good work. My head doesn't
need to get swelled any bigger."

He climbed into his seat, surrendering his crutches to Scully. "Let's go back to the hotel.
I'm exhausted."

Mulder closed his eyes and was asleep before Skinner started the car and drove back to
the hotel.

Room 317
6:57 p.m.

Mulder was roused from the depths of sleep by several knocks on his door. He groaned
and buried his face into his pillows, hoping that whoever it was would get the hint and go
away.

Scully poked her head through the doorway that connected their rooms. "Aren't you
going to answer your door?"

"If it's Tina, or Cindy, or Beth, or one of the other girls on the staff, tell them we're
married or something," Mulder's muffled voice replied. "Ever since they saw me on the
news I never seem to have enough towels."

Scully laughed and walked the rest of the way into the room. "Come on sleepyhead," she
coaxed. "You have to see this."

Mulder lifted his head and looked at Scully. "See what?"

Scully shook her head.

His curiosity piqued, Mulder retrieved his crutches from the floor by his bed. He'd been
too tired to put them anywhere else, or even change. He'd just flopped onto the bed and
immediately fell asleep.

Mulder opened the door. Seeing no one behind it, he looked down the hallway to find it
empty. He was about to ask Scully if he was the victim of some kind of prank when he
glanced down at his feet.

A basket sat on the ground, containing an assortment of flowers, fruit, candy, a stuffed
brown bear, and many thank you and get well cards. Some cards were bought; the rest
were handmade.

Scully gently pushed him aside so she could lift and carry the basket into the room and
set it on the table. Her face bore a large grin.

"Kevin delivered them," she explained. "Skinner and I got baskets, too. They're from
the families of the children that were murdered. Kevin said that these were the Parkers'
idea."

Mulder sat in a chair as if in a trance. His expressive eyes were filled with surprise and
appreciation. "But they didn't have to . . . Like I told Skinner-."

"Did it ever occur to you, Mulder, that sometimes you might need to feel appreciated?"
Scully gently interjected. "That's every bit as important as the rest of your job."

Mulder grew thoughtful for a minute before nodding. "Where is Kevin, by the way?
And how did those reporters find out so much?"

"Well," Scully said. "To answer your first question, Skinner wanted to finish some
business at the office before we left, and Kevin gave him a ride. I don't know what kind
of business, but we're going to meet them for dinner in about an hour. As for your
second question, Kevin gave me a videotape. He said that you might find it interesting."
She rose and slid the tape she had taken from her room into the VCR and turned both it
and the TV on.

"What's on it?" Mulder asked.

"Watch," Scully replied. "You'll see."

On the screen was a news report of the events as they took place at the church. Mulder
and Scully watched as they saw Mulder and several other agents enter the church. When
the scene of Mulder and Suzie tumbling to the ground ended, the image was replaced
with one of White and the anchorperson. White was explaining to her and the camera
who Mulder was and how he, Scully, and Skinner and spent their every waking moment
working to catch the killer and find Suzie. He refrained from mentioning the difficulties
that the D.C. agents had been having with the Pittsburgh agents, but his tone of voice told
another story. The report ended with promises of updates on Suzie's and Mulder's
conditions, and the screen went blank.

Scully ejected the tape and turned to see Mulder holding the stuffed bear and gazing at it.
Scully pushed her chair closer to Mulder and sat down. She touched his forearm,
capturing his attention.

"What's wrong?" she asked softly.

"Nothing," Mulder replied. "Just thinking."

"About what?"

A pause. "About how different everything could have turned out. Not just if I had taken
the case, but if I had stayed in the hospital."

"Skinner and Suzie might not have made it," Scully told him.

Mulder shook his head. "Douglas sent men in after Skinner. He would have survived
anyhow. What's bothering me is that . . . I completely forgot about Suzie. After the
second explosion I almost left without her."

"Mulder, that's perfectly understandable," Scully said. "Don't be so hard on yourself.
No one thought to get Suzie. No one even tried. But you did. You saved her life.
You're a hero, and you're just going to have to accept that."

Mulder smiled faintly. "No choice, huh?"

"Nope." A thought struck Scully. "Speaking of leaving the hospital, how did you
happen to make your way to the church? 'I didn't feel like waiting in the hospital' might
work with Skinner, but I know better."

Mulder shrugged. "Let's just say that I had a feeling that you guys needed me, and keep
it at that."

Scully nodded, knowing there was more but deciding not to press further. She stood.
"We have less than an hour to shower, dress, and get to the restaurant. I suggest we
move."

"Where are we going?" Mulder asked, struggling to stand.

"Somewhere a little nicer than our usual restaurants," Scully replied. "Kevin said it has
good food and a pleasant atmosphere." At Mulder's grimace, she quickly added, "Don't
worry, you can wear your jeans. It's still casual. Just don't use your slum-wear."

"I don't have slum-wear," Mulder said indignantly. "My clothes are comfortable."

"Mulder, I wouldn't wear your clothes to go take out the garbage in the middle of the
night," Scully stated, heading back to her own room.

Mulder snickered. "So when would you wear my clothes?"

Scully's only response was to reach around him, grab a pillow, and smack him in the
head with it. Mulder took his other pillow, and within minutes the two were deep in the
midst of a pillow fight. They finally dissolved into fits of giggles, collapsing on the
ground to rest.

"How old are we?" Scully asked.

Mulder only laughed. Scully joined him, then stood. "We'd better hurry, or we'll be
late."

"Scully?"

Scully paused at the door to her room. "Yes, Mulder?"

"Thanks. For everything."

Scully smiled. "Anytime, partner. Anytime."

As she disappeared into her room, Mulder remained where he was, lost in thought.
Scully called out from behind the door.

"Are you gonna shower, or do I have to bathe you myself?"

Mulder tossed a suggestive grin at the door. "Is that an invitation?"

"Get in there, Mulder! And might I suggest a cold shower?"

end 9/9
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