An X-Files story
by Rachel Smith Cobleigh
parasite (par'e-sit) [Gr. parasitos] 1. A plant or animal which lives upon or within another living organism at whose expense it obtains some advantage. See symbiosis. 2. The smaller, less complete component of asymmetrical conjoined twins, which is attached to and dependent on the autosite. [Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, (London: W. B. Saunders Co.), 1994]
Mulder pulled his blue Ford Taurus up to the curb and cut the engine. He sat back against the seat for a moment and closed his eyes, letting the fatigue of the five previous days finally catch up with him. His T-shirt clung to his skin—it was warm and sticky in Washington D.C., and had been for the past week. Summertime in the nation's capital was usually cooler, but a heat wave was hanging in the air, waiting for the Atlantic to blow in a fresh breeze. The weathermen were predicting another weekend of the heat before things cooled off.
He pulled the keys out of the ignition and reached across the seat for his holster and his leather jacket, gathering the hot folds under his arm as he pushed the door open. The sun glared down on him, and he could feel beads of sweat trickling through his hair, making his scalp itch. He stepped out slowly, feeling old and overheated, wishing he could just peel his jeans off and run up the apartment steps in his boxers.
He smiled to himself as he pushed the car door shut and moved slowly around to go up the walk, imagining his partner's face if she drove up and saw him doing something that undignified. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully would probably not be amused. He glanced around the quiet street—everyone else was inside, keeping cool.
Special Agent Fox Mulder had been investigating an X-File—unofficially. He'd gotten a lead on a possible downed UFO, and had followed it to the mountains of Virginia. Unfortunately, he'd found nothing, and he knew Scully wouldn't be all that happy when she saw him, because he'd ditched her again. It's for her own good, he told himself, but it didn't banish the nagging guilt. He knew she deserved better than that, but he felt helpless in the face of her cancer diagnosis.
As he turned up the sidewalk, he caught sight of her car parked farther down the street. He stopped for a second and frowned at it, shading his eyes from the sun's glare. What's she doing here?
He sighed. He had turned off his cell phone while he was in Virginia for two reasons: he didn't want its shrill beeping to interfere in any delicate situations, and he didn't want Scully coming after him. Well, now that she was here, he might as well face the music. He turned back to the apartment building and walked up the sidewalk, hoping to finish the argument quickly, so he could take a shower.
When Mulder pushed his apartment door open, he frowned. The living room was strangely dark, given the bright sunlight outside. It was also odd for the lights to be out, if Scully were inside.
"Scully?" he called out, moving his hand up to flip the light switch on. He stopped short, frozen for a moment. Scully was seated on his sofa, silent, her profile outlined by the light in the window behind her. He could only see part of her figure; the rest was blocked by the shadowed shapes of three men—boys, actually. She sat in an eerie, motionless silence, and as his eyes adjusted to the strange darkness of his apartment, he let his hand drop to his side. Mulder took a step forward.
She still didn't respond.
He moved closer, edging around the nearest boy, a young teen. The three figures were standing in a semicircle around his partner, staring at her with an unblinking focus. A chill crawled over his skin despite the warm, stagnant air in the room. As he moved to view Scully unobstructed, he stole a sideways glance at the nearest boy—and stopped with a sharp inhalation.
He lives down the hall—46! What's his name...?
The boy's eyes were dark, his pupils dilated in the low light.
"Hey...Jeremy? What are you all doing in my apartment?"
No one answered, so Mulder finally looked down at his partner's face—
Her eyes were gone.
Her beautiful face, pale and pristine, was silent and unmoving... without eyes.
His mind reeled in horror and he suddenly couldn't draw in a breath. He stared, unable to look away, feeling as though he were being suffocated by the nightmare.
The whole scene was surreal and he shuddered, abruptly angry. He forced air into his lungs with a growl. He was sick of suffering sleepless nights from these vivid, gruesome dreams!
This wasn't a dream, though. His leather jacket was still hot on his arm, the weight of his 9mm still rested in his palm, and he could hear Scully's breathing. It sounded forced for some reason, and his mind took a sharp turn. As quickly as he had become angry, his anger dropped away and fear took its place.
He shoved his way around the nearest boy and dropped to a crouch next to his partner, his knees coming to rest against the sofa's edge. Reaching up, he grabbed her shoulders as he fought horror and revulsion at the sight of her face. He squeezed her arms through her business suit, shaking her forcefully, desperately.
"Scully! Scully, wake up! C'mon!"
He saw her eyes—or sockets—suddenly begin to mist, a swirl of tiny pixels that abruptly swam into view and coalesced into solid eyeballs, pupils dark and dilated. His stunned mind didn't have time to process the unbelievable transformation because her arms suddenly flew up, knocking his trembling hands loose. As he lost his balance, she lifted one hand and viciously backhanded him to the floor. Too shocked to defend himself, he didn't break his fall, and the back of his head crashed against the edge of his oak coffee table, making him cry out. Sparks exploded across his field of vision.
Lying on the floor, he tilted his head up slightly, the back of his skull starting to pound.
"Scully?" he croaked, trying to see her through the black spots dotting his vision.
She looked down at him for a moment, her cool blue eyes impassive. Then she made a small hand motion and stood up.
Mulder suddenly felt several hands grab his hair and shirt and haul him up.
"Ow! Hey!" he cried. "What are you—? Scully!"
He struggled to see what she was doing, but she simply walked past him without a backwards glance. His view was blocked by the three boys dragging him across the room. His gun—he'd dropped his gun! He twisted in their grasp, trying to free himself.
The boys let go of his hair and clothing and he fell heavily to the floor, letting out a cry of pain. His whole head started pounding and he winced, trying to get his bearings.
Suddenly, a foot came out of the darkness and connected with his stomach, knocking out his breath and sending waves of nauseating pain through him. He could feel bile rising in his throat and tried to cough, but a kick from behind sent excruciating pain into his kidneys and he convulsed backward.
"Scully...wait...!" he gasped, reaching out. Another kick. He curled forward, trying to protect his stomach, and groaned, half-unconscious. A fist grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head up, then slammed it back down onto the floor. Darkness started to cover him, but he continued fighting, trying to roll over, to move, to block the attacks. He couldn't prevent them all, though. Too many kicks and blows continued to rain down, fists and feet pounding, unrelenting, until he finally succumbed to the blackness.
Mulder walked into his kitchen and tossed his leather jacket onto the back of a nearby chair. He wandered over to the fridge and opened the door to look inside. Grabbing a carton of milk, he took a couple of gulps and glanced around the shelves, trying to think of something to make for dinner. Cold Chinese. Yuck. He wondered vaguely how long it had been in there. Grimacing, he tossed the carton back over his head, where it bounced against the wall and fell neatly into the trash bin. There were some carrots in the vegetable drawer and a package of grated cheese on the top shelf of the door. He crouched down, putting the milk carton on the floor, and went in search of some ham or sausage, maybe a pepper, somewhere in the recesses of his fridge.
Aha! Sliced ham! He picked out various items from the back of his refrigerator, his trepidation growing with each old carton or lump he found. What is some of this stuff?
After several minutes, he managed to find enough to make an interesting omelet, and carried it all to the kitchen table. Grabbing the carton of eggs, he found a bowl in a cupboard and rummaged in the drawer for the whisk.
One by one, he cracked the eggs on the side of the bowl and dropped them in. As he picked up the last egg, he felt something move inside it. Frowning, he paused, but it lay still in his grasp. He sighed and shook his head. Must have been my overworked imagination.
With a self-deprecating smirk, he held the egg to the side of the metal bowl and cracked it open, but no egg whites fell out. He lifted up the egg halves to see inside—
A red snake! White teeth! It leapt up at him, and he yelled and jumped back, dropping the eggshell halves on the floor, where they shattered.
He blinked. Eggs don't shatter.
The red snake hissed, its thin tongue flicking out, and twisted towards him. He was suddenly horrified to realize that he wasn't wearing any shoes or socks, and the snake was streaking towards him! He grabbed at the whisk, whacking wildly at the snake until he finally hit its head, stunning it. As he picked it up, it squirmed madly, trying to bite his hand, and he flung it into the trash. He watched in horror as it thrashed at the plastic sides of the bin, threatening to break out—
Mulder woke up curled in a tight ball on the floor, and he blinked slowly in the low light. Why was he sleeping on the floor? He hadn't been that tired. His skin itched as a vague memory of the desire for a shower trickled in, and he realized how hot and sticky he felt. He made a move to get up, but collapsed a second later as pain flooded through him and his head began to pound.
"Uuhhh...feel like I've just been mugged," he muttered. "That's what you get for sleeping on the floor, G-man."
He made another move to sit up, grimacing as the pounding increased, then decided to lie back for a second and close his eyes instead. There was a dull ache in his cheek, and he searched his memory for the reason why. A sudden image of Scully's hand flying towards him flashed into view, and then everything else swam into place in painstaking detail, but none of it made any sense.
He groaned. Just another bad dream. Get up, get up, get up...
Feeling old and heavy, he forced himself to sit up and tried to push the pain away. Scully would never hit me—shoot me, maybe...
He tried to pull out a vague memory as to why he was really lying on the floor, aching all over, but nothing new occurred to him. The back of his neck hurt, and it felt oddly cold and stiff. He put his hand up, meaning to wipe away the sweat, but stopped short as his fingers touched something dried and hard on his skin. He scratched it, then winced at a sudden sharp tear of pain. Pulling his fingers away, he stared in horror at the blood clinging to them.
Groaning, he pushed himself to a standing position, aching in every joint, sharp pains shooting up his back and making his headache increase tenfold. He swayed slightly and fought to remain standing, to see through the haze covering his eyes and brain. Stumbling forward, he caught his palm on the wall to keep his balance, but the forceful contact sent pain shooting up his arm. After pausing a moment to take a few deep breaths and wait for the wave of pain to subside, he pushed himself off the wall and found his way to the bathroom. Flipping the light on, he braced his hands on the sink and squinted at the bathroom mirror.
Ooh, you look great, Spooky.
A fresh, angry bruise covered his right cheek, and assorted cuts and scrapes adorned his face. Dried, dark brown blood covered the sides of his neck and streaked down his sweat-stiffened T-shirt. Reaching down, he twisted the faucet and hot water splashed into the sink.
Gotta clean up, take a shower, call Scully...
Maybe she would know what had happened to him. Had he been mugged and stumbled home, nearly unconscious? A flash of her impassive face came again, and he pushed it roughly away.
Bad dream, resulting from some outside trauma...
He ran his hand under the water, not caring how hot it was, then bent down gingerly to wash his face and neck. As the crusts came off, washing into the clean water of the sink, they stained the white sides a dull pink. He closed his eyes and continued to wash the dried pieces off until he touched wet, fresh blood. Starting to feel lightheaded, he straightened up again. It seemed that he had a cut on the back of his head, and that it had reopened. He started to twist to get a better look at it in the mirror, but stopped with a groan when his body protested loudly.
Gotta call Scully...
No, he didn't want to do that. He was a grown man, he could take care of himself. Besides, he didn't know what time it was, and he didn't want to wake her up. She lived forty minutes away, in Annapolis, and he didn't want to ask her drive all the way over to put a Band-Aid on a cut. Resolving to clean himself up, he pressed his fingers against the cut, opened his medicine cabinet, and pulled out the box of Band-Aids that held gauze and tape. Fumbling to open the box, he knocked it off the edge of the sink and swore. He dropped to the floor to pick up the box and his head responded with another wave of pain.
He waited a moment, steadying himself against the toilet, then rose slowly, lowered the toilet seat cover, and sat on it, the box of Band-Aids in one hand and his other hand pressed to the back of his head. He squinted down at the box to pull out a gauze pad and some tape, but had to relax his face—his bruised cheek throbbed.
After a couple of excruciating minutes, he managed to pull the gauze tight over the cut and tape it securely. He pushed himself up and looked in the mirror again. He was a sorry picture, and he smiled slightly—though it quickly turned into a grimace. Sighing, he reached down to peel off his sweat- and blood-stained T-shirt. Every muscle in his torso and arms ached or screamed as he struggled to pull off the shirt without catching it on the gauze on his neck.
As he pulled the shirt over his head and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he was horrified to discover even more bruises on his stomach and sides. He twisted slowly around, but despite being unable to turn his head far enough to see his back, he knew there were angry bruises there, too. The memory of a painful kick to his kidneys sprang up, and he groaned, trying to push it away.
Maybe I crawled out of a car wreck without realizing it...mind reacted with a dream...
Shaking his head in disgust, he threw the T-shirt into a corner of the bathroom and immediately received a spike of pain up his arm in response. He turned on the shower with a sigh and gingerly undressed, wincing, before stepping into the stream. He hissed as the hot water hit the cuts and stung, but he eventually relaxed, letting the water run down his back and alleviate some of the aching. He was able to keep the gauze from coming undone; the surgical tape held it tightly in place. When the heat eventually became unbearable, he used the shower to cool off.
Fifteen minutes later, he stepped out and found a towel. Wrapping it around his waist, he walked slowly into the den and picked up the phone to dial Scully's number, listening as the phone rang nine times before he finally hung up. Her answering machine was off. That was odd. He glanced at the glowing clock in the corner: 6:29 a.m. He frowned, then instantly regretted it when the bruise on his cheek began to throb again.
Where is she?
It was strange for his partner to be gone at this hour. And she was a light sleeper; if the phone rang, she would always pick it up.
A feeling of dread crept into his chest. What if she was attacked, too?
There was a sudden knock on the door and he twisted around, his hand still on the phone. He quietly laid the receiver down. Where was his gun? In his leather jacket, right. Where—ah. It was beside the sofa.
He ignored the ache in his muscles, crouching down as he reached for his 9mm. Another knock. Standing up straight, he pointed the gun at the door, dismayed to find his hands shaking slightly.
"Who—" his voice was rough, so he stopped, cleared his throat. "Who is it?"
"Skinner," came the muffled reply.
Mulder narrowed his eyes, ignoring the sting of the scrapes on his forehead. He braced his arms and did his best to steady his aching legs.
"The door is unlocked," he called. "Come in slowly, with your hands where I can see them, then close the door behind you."
"Mulder, what is thi—"
"Just do it!"
"Okay, okay... I'm going to count to three, then come in. Relax."
"I am relaxed."
Mulder heard a muffled, low-voiced comment in response to that. After a moment, Skinner began to count.
"One. Two. Three."
The doorknob twisted, and a crack of dim light shone in from the hallway. It slowly widened, and Mulder watched as Assistant Director Walter Skinner's well-built outline edged in, hands splayed out. Skinner came in all the way, then pushed the door shut behind him. He put his hands up, searching for Mulder in the darkness of the apartment.
"Mulder? I'm not here to kill you. You can put that away."
"Prove what? Why is this place always so dark?" Skinner started to lower his hands and move towards Mulder.
Skinner sighed. "Agent Mulder, I order you to lower your weapon and let me explain."
"You explain first."
"After all this time, why don't you trust me?"
Mulder was silent.
Skinner gave an impatient sigh. "All right. I came here looking for you because my...sources said you were back in town, but when I tried to call you, you didn't answer either of your phones."
"What did you want from me? Are you planning on dropping the book on me for taking off again?"
"No." The older man's voice became quiet, softer. "Mulder... I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Agent Scully is..."
Mulder drew in a sharp breath.
"...missing. Her neighbors reported some strange sounds early last night, and when the local PD went to check it out, she was gone. When I found out, I immediately went over there. Her place looks fine, but she's disappeared without a trace. I need your help to find her."
Mulder released his pent-up breath as the ache in his body returned in full force. He let the gun drop to his side, his arms sagging. As Skinner lowered his own hands, Mulder sank back onto the desk behind him with a soft groan and laid the gun down. He started to drop his head, then pulled it up again—painfully—when the back of his neck became tight and sharp.
Skinner turned on the lights in the apartment and saw Mulder wince, squeezing his eyes shut. The impatient words Skinner had been about to say died on his lips when he caught sight of Mulder's weary form leaning against the desk, partially silhouetted by the rising sun behind him.
Skinner hadn't slept all night after he'd found out about Scully's disappearance, and his own arm sagged under the weight of his suit jacket. It was beginning to get warmer after the cold of the night, so he laid the jacket on a nearby chair as he crossed the room. Something about the way Mulder was watching his movements without getting up from the desk—he was wearing only a towel, really—made Skinner take a closer look at him. Even with the lights on, the apartment seemed dim. He saw the dark bruise on Mulder's cheek and frowned, his gaze quickly taking in the other scrapes and the bruises covering much of the younger man's body.
"What happened to you?"
Mulder closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, grimacing at the pain the small movement caused.
"I don't know," he whispered.
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I woke up...on the floor..." he trailed off. Skinner eyed him silently for a moment. He caught sight of the bandage taped to the back of Mulder's neck and saw blood seeping under the already-dark gauze pad. When he moved over to look at it, Mulder opened his eyes.
"It's bleeding," Skinner observed.
Mulder reached up and touched his neck gingerly, feeling the gauze pad.
"You need to get that looked at."
Mulder shook his head, grimaced. "I'll be fine."
Skinner frowned, reaching up to pull back the tape, but Mulder shied away from him.
"Hold still. It's bleeding, and I want to look at it."
"Don't argue with me," Skinner barked, and Mulder stilled. "Hold on, this might hurt—"
"Just add it to the list," Mulder replied.
Skinner took hold of the edge of the tape and yanked, pulling it off halfway. Mulder sucked in a quick breath, then smirked.
"What's the diagnosis, Dr. Skinner?"
Skinner frowned as he eyed the split at the base of Mulder's skull. Dried blood crusted the surrounding skin, and fresh blood was working its way out. Skinner pulled the pad back down and reapplied the tape.
"You need stitches."
"I was hoping you wouldn't say that." Mulder grimaced.
"Can you walk? Get dressed. I'm taking you to get that sewn up." Skinner reached out to take Mulder's arm, but Mulder pulled back.
"I'm fine. Give me a few minutes."
"Fine. I'll wait here until you're ready."
Mulder nodded with a wince and pushed himself up from the edge of the desk. He moved slowly, looking as though he were an old man, and walked around the corner.
Skinner stood still for a moment, glancing around the small apartment.
Mulder could afford better than this, Skinner thought, his gaze moving over the worn furniture and dim lighting. A leather jacket lay in a heap on the floor at the edge of the sofa, and the coffee table was pushed sideways, skewed. It even had coffee stains all over the edge—Wait a second. Coffee doesn't look like that.
Skinner moved over to the edge of the table and squatted down for a closer look. The dark reddish-brown splotch on the table's edge wasn't coffee, it was blood. Probably Mulder's. Skinner looked around the scene, at the floor, at the spots and swipes of reddish-brown on the thin rug. He frowned at the coffee table, thinking, and heard a small crash in the other room.
"Everything all right?" he called.
"Yes, sir," came the answer, after several seconds. Skinner looked back at the floor, studying the markings. He didn't stumble in here, hurt, he suddenly realized. He was beaten here. Anger flooded through him as he considered it. And whoever did this is probably responsible for Scully, too! What did Mulder do to anger the Consortium now? Where has he been for the past five days? Why did they only beat him, leaving him alive?
He looked up as Mulder came into the room, wearing dark sweatpants and a sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves.
"Yeah," Mulder replied, slowly moving over to the sofa. He winced as he bent to start rummaging in the pockets of the leather jacket. Skinner straightened and stood up.
"You really don't remember what happened here, to you?"
Mulder paused a second. "I'm not exactly sure, sir."
With a curt nod, Skinner started past him. "Maybe it'll come back to you in the hospital. Am I allowed to ask where you've been for the past several days?"
Mulder sighed, pushing his wallet, keys, and FBI ID into his baggy pockets.
"Wandering aimlessly around southern Virginia chasing a possible UFO sighting. Nothing happened."
He put his gun into the holster and handed it to Skinner. Frowning, the Assistant Director accepted it, then collected his suit jacket and tucked the gun beneath the folds. They walked out, silently locking the door behind them.
Mulder was sitting in a plush chair off to the side of one of the FBI crime labs, a phone up to his ear. He had changed into the spare suit he kept down in the basement office, sans tie. Twelve stitches and a butterfly bandage only allowed him to move his neck stiffly and precluded ties entirely, much to his delight—relatively speaking. He turned his head slightly as Skinner came over to the nearby desk and sat down on the edge.
"...yeah," Mulder continued. "I want an APB put out on a beige Chevy Acura, plate number TFX-359. Last seen in the Washington D.C. area yesterday afternoon, about four p.m."
Mulder looked up as Skinner put down a sheet in front of him. One quick glance at it made his eyes widen.
"Uh, Danny—hey, cancel that. We've found it already... Yeah, you too. Bye."
Mulder put the phone back in its cradle, and looked down at the sheet.
"I placed that call while you were getting your stitches," Skinner explained. "Her car's already been spotted at the Gregson Mental Health Center in Linsenton, half an hour outside of D.C."
"Mental Health Center?" Mulder got to his feet, resisting the answering aches. "I'm going down there." He reached back to pick up his suit jacket.
Skinner frowned and stood up beside him. "I don't think you're well enough for field work, Mulder."
"Sir, I can't just sit behind a desk all day, not with Scully missing."
Skinner finally nodded, his mouth pressed into a flat line. "I'm going to send a few men down with you."
"No, sir. I think it will be easier to keep the situation under control if we don't flood the Center with agents. If there even is a situation." Mulder paused. He had told Skinner earlier that Scully had been at his apartment, but that she had left, angry about something to do with his trip to Virginia. That was crock and he knew it, but he was concerned for her, and he didn't want her being chased down by half the Bureau. If she was in trouble, he would call in help; if she wasn't, she wouldn't appreciate a panic attack over her. He was hedging, not sure of his own memories, whether they were nightmare or reality. "I think she just went down to investigate an X-File, sir."
Skinner frowned. "I didn't receive a 302 from her requesting an assignment yesterday, and you know that she prefers not to work on them alone."
"Maybe it was a fresh lead, and she didn't have time to file."
Skinner considered that for a moment. He finally nodded, albeit with obvious reluctance.
"I'm sending Rutherson with you, just in case. Don't try anything heroic, Agent Mulder. If you encounter any trouble, contact us. Understood?"