Wood Creek 3

Wood Creek 3

- - - -

Pulling herself together Scully started planning. Her mind was now working with startling clarity. She was good like this, good in a crisis. She swept her eyes around the room a plan already formed. There were a few things here she needed. Where were they? Where would he have put them? The usual place?

Scully opened the top drawer of the bedside cabinet. Yes, thank god. They hadn't taken it. But they couldn't have could they if they wanted it to look as if he wandered off. She put the gun in her pocket then searched the rest of the drawers. In amongst some revolting handkerchiefs she found the other thing she was looking for, Mulder's pocket knife.

Scully moved quietly back across the hall to her own room as she worked out the details. So much unfortunately would have to rely on chance. She changed her clothes, putting two pairs of tights on under her trousers, a tee shirt of Mulder's under her warmest shirt with a woollen sweater on top.

Sitting on the bed she used nail scissors to open a careful hole in the lining of her coat. Wrapping the weapon in a hanky so that it wouldn't clank she dropped it and the pocket knife in the hole and settled them in opposite corners of the hem. She tried the coat on and it seemed to hang alright, or not noticeably differently. She turned around and around in front of the mirror. It was okay.

Next she unplugged her phone from where it had been recharging by the bed. It had been there about five hours now. It should be fully charged by now. She just wasn't sure how long it would last.

Nearly ready. She checked her own gun, went to the bathroom and had a large drink of water. Then she put her coat on, drew breath and called Skinner.

When he answered his phone her boss was at the airport. He was just about to get on the evening's last flight to Denver. He sounded embarrassed about coming out but Scully was touched. She knew he thought a great deal of Mulder but it hadn't occurred to her that he would actually come out to Colorado when he was missing. He had never done that before. Mind you, Mulder had never wandered out into the snow while delirious with chickenpox before. However that wasn't what had happened. There wasn't time for that now.

Scully started explaining the situation as it now stood, both her suspicions and her concerns for Mulder's safety. She concentrated on giving a clear, concise report. She needed the AD to believe her now.

Bless him, he did. Before she'd even finished the telling he was ordering someone in the background to use another phone and get on to the station chief in Denver, to cancel his ticket and get him a jet chartered NOW. The boss was on his way. Scully sagged slightly with relief.

Then she told him what she planned to do. He didn't like that at all.

Back downstairs Scully searched for Shareen. She worked hard on looking woebegone, slumping her shoulders and dropping her head. The house was full of men again. Another search party had come back. Captain McCall spotted her and came over.

'Agent Scully, I'm afraid there is very little we can do now until morning. We've just called the search off for the night, we'll resume again at first light.' He took her hand. 'I'm very sorry.'

'Thank you,' Scully mumbled. She daren't say any more.

And then Shareen was there, her arm around her shoulder. 'Hi,' she said in a voice dripping with concern. 'Couldn't sleep, I'm not surprised. Do you want coffee?'

'No,' the catch in Scully's voice was not feigned at all. 'Shareen, could you show me where... where the footprints go? Where he went. I need to see.'

'Of course. Sure I will. Just hang on will you, I'll get my coat.'

Scully sat on the arm of the sofa and waited. The men were leaving and Shareen farewelled them before coming over with her coat. Her mother Scully noticed was no where in sight and she was sure she'd been there earlier.

They went down the steps from the terrace, Scully's eye caught by the vomit now frozen in the snow, and all it implied. All the lights were on. It was as bright as day around the house but the woods were completely black. It was crisply, fatally cold and she tried not to think of a warm body lying somewhere in the snow. The actual footprints had long since disappeared under countless others and she cursed herself for not having examined them properly when she'd had the chance. Too late now.

Shareen took her down below the house to the left and stopped on the riverbank. She made a show of looking into the water, shining her torch around at the trees. No sign of Mrs Murphy Scully noticed. She couldn't wait any longer.

'Okay Shareen,' She shone the torch in her eyes, had her gun trained on her before she could move. 'Where is he? What have you done with him?'

'What,' she blustered. 'What do you mean? Dana you don't...'

'Cut the shit!' Scully could hardly contain the anger that suddenly boiled through her. 'I thought you were my friend. Now - what - the fuck - have you done - with - him?' She advanced on her, the gun aimed at her forehead the whole way.

Shareen spread her arms wide, she was cool. 'Dana, I am your friend, but you're going to ruin it like this.'

'Drop your gun.'

Very carefully she pulled it from the holster and dropped it at her feet.

'That's better, now turn around and walk back to the cars.' She turned. 'Slowly, keep you hands up, behind your head.'

'Okay. Look Dana, you've got this all wrong.'

Scully ignored her. 'I'm going to ask you some questions Shareen, and you're going to answer. Where is Mulder?'

'Aw come on?'

'Alright, let's try another one. Are you gay?'

'What?'

'Are you a lesbian?'

'What if I am?'

'Yes or no?' Scully was scanning the trees, the side of the building. She couldn't see anyone.

'Yes. Next question.'

'Which one of the Polech brothers did your mother serve up for dinner last night?'

'What? You're joking right?'

'Let's try an easier one. Is Mulder still alive?'

But she never heard the answer for the shadows moved. She turned instinctively but - too late. The blow caught her on the side of her head just behind her ear. The world roared with pain and she crashed into the snow.

She was only out for seconds. Scully came to, fighting the nausea and the body that was kneeling on her neck. She didn't stand a chance. They tied her hands behind her back then Shareen yanked her to her feet. Scully's head was exploding and she nearly collapsed again, but Shareen had tight hold of her. Scully looked at her through eyes blinded by tears, not so much of pain as rage.

'Such a shame Dana,' Shareen said. 'You were too bloody clever. I liked you too.' Mrs Murphy cackled like a demented rooster. If Scully could have spat she would have.

The truck ride was shorter than Scully was expecting. She estimated they turned off the main road on to a rough track only a couple of miles out of town. The truck bounced, throwing her around in the back with no way to anchor herself. She tried to pillow her sore head on her shoulder but could do nothing save herself from crashing onto the hard floor every few seconds. She distracted herself by listening to Shareen and her mom arguing in the front about how they were going to stage her disappearance. It did nothing to cheer her up. It seemed that she would be overcome by grief and take to her bed. The search teams would be moved back into town. That would give the culprits at least twenty four hours before anyone became suspicious.

Oh yeah, Scully thought. But then the next thing she heard made her blood run cold. The kill would have to take place before dawn so that the searchers wouldn't notice everyone moving around.

Everyone? Who was everyone?

Mrs Murphy suggested that they left the others out, but Shareen didn't like that idea. It was what held it all together she said. Their all being present and all taking part. They talked so matter of factly that Scully had trouble believing they were talking about murder. Then came the worst bit... Mrs Murphy would have to pack the meat alone. Shareen couldn't afford anyone else to be out of sight, not as she said, since the place would be crawling with FBI by lunch time.

Scully's brain refused to believe what she'd heard. Horror, fear and her head injury combined and she was sick. Part of her was pleased about that. By the time they stopped she'd made an awful mess of the back of Shareen's truck.

Hauling Scully out of the back of the vehicle Shareen seemed to have lost all humanity. Scully had trouble keeping on her feet. Her head spun and she fought for control, determined not to collapse. She needed her wits and she needed as much information as she could gather. Unfortunately it wasn't much. The night was dark as a coal mine with the barest hint of trees surrounding them. A building loomed in front of her and she was being dragged towards it. Her foot caught on something and she stumbled before Shareen jerked her upright. She bit her lip, using the sharp pain to keep the focus from the pain in her head.

Mrs Murphy was opening the door to what proved to be a tumble down barn. Shareen gave Scully a shove and she stumbled across the threshold. 'Before dawn then Shareen?' Her voice was hoarse and she had to clear her throat. 'That's how long I've got?'

'Yep.' Shareen didn't seem to be in the mood to talk.

'And then what? Meat packs, is that right?'

'Yep. Expensive meat.'

'And that's what it's all about?'

Shareen gave a truly evil laugh and shoved her captive into the darkness. 'Partly. Only partly.'

It was totally dark in the barn, all except for where Mrs Murphy was crouched on the floor pulling at something by torchlight. Shareen pushed Scully again and she stumbled forwards. And then she fell. Down.

She screamed.

She fell forever, or no time at all, the fall of nightmares. Then she landed, awkward, hard, on something yielding. Something she instantly recognised as a body even as a white hot pain shot from her ankle to every nerve ending in her body. 'MULDER!!'

Sobbing with pain she desperately tried to nudge him into life but there was no response. She was too late. 'NO!'

A torch beam suddenly shot down the pit, showing the sheer walls about ten feet high and the pitiful crumpled figure Scully had landed on. 'Dana,' Shareen's voice asked. 'Do you love him?'

'What?' The pain was making her stupid.

'Do you love him?'

Scully looked up but couldn't see the person behind the light. 'Yes.' Question asked and answered. Of course she did. There had never been any question of that.

'Thought so,' Shareen snorted in disgust. 'Guess what,' she didn't wait for an answer. 'You'll be our first woman. You've got till dawn.' She stood then something heavy crashed over the top of the pit. The darkness was complete and for the shortest moment Scully gave in to despair. She shut her eyes and let out a moan of absolute pain. She was desolate, a great emptiness roaring through her. Her body shook and she collapsed across Mulder's body. He was so cold, so still. 'No, oh no. No, please Mulder, no.'

Oh Christ. Her heart nearly stopped. She froze, her head on his chest. At first she didn't dare believe it. There under her ear, faint and erratic, his heart was still beating. 'Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus thank you.'

Now she had to work out how to help him. She had to calm herself. Some deep breaths forced her own heart to calm. She wriggled to a better position and listened to his chest, awkward, her hands behind her back. There were hardly any breath sounds. His breathing was terribly shallow. Then she remembered what she'd seen in the torch light. A gag. He was slowly suffocating.

She had to turn her back to reach it with her hands. The way her hands were tied made it awkward to get hold of the edge of the tape. Her fingernail scratched at his cold skin until she wriggled a corner free and got a finger under the tape. Then she could rip it off. She groped blindly until she had whatever was in his mouth and yanked it out. It was slimy and smelt. He gagged and gasped and started to choke.

Oh Christ. With her back to him she reached for his shoulder, taking a handful of his tee shirt and wrenching him over onto his side. It was enough. Thank god, it was enough. He coughed weakly, gasped and continued to breathe. Scully burst into tears.

She took a minute, adrenaline was running out fast and she was aware how badly she hurt. Her head wasn't so bad any more but she was bruised all over and her ankle was a white hot pain that flared at the slightest movement. She didn't have the luxury of giving in to any of it. Mulder didn't have the luxury. She sniffed and still crying set about getting herself free.

It was a struggle. She didn't need situations like this to remind her that she wasn't as flexible as she used to be. It took a lot of wriggling and a far amount of pain from her damaged ankle but she eventually managed to get her hands underneath her bottom then down her legs. The next bit was excruciating and she had to steel herself to do it. She wasn't sure she could do it but a quick check of her ear to Mulder's chest convinced her to try. Taking a big breath she wrenched her ankles between her wrists and brought her hands to the front.

Inspite of herself she screamed. Nausea grabbed her and it took her long seconds to recover, her body shaking and chilled. She just hoped Mulder, in whichever place he was in, hadn't heard her scream.

Once she had control again then it was relatively simple to get the knife. She said a little prayer of thanks that they hadn't thought to search her. Cutting the rope was harder. She could open the knife but she couldn't hold it and move it against the rope. The thought of dropping it on the uneven floor in the dark wasn't pleasant either. In the end she held it in her mouth, desperately sawing the cord against the blade until it parted.

Then finally she could see to Mulder.

It didn't take long to realise that she wasn't going to be able to free him from his bonds. He was handcuffed tightly, wrist and ankles. And he had been cuffed by a professional, someone who knew to lock the cuffs with the key so they couldn't be knocked free.

It took even less time to realise that he was gravely ill. How long until dawn? She estimated the time at about 1 am, she still had no watch. He wasn't going to make it.

Mulder's lungs were full of fluid. He was barely getting any air to the tiny aveoli where gas exchange occurred. Scully guessed he must have been taken pretty much straight after Shareen had left her in her office in the afternoon. That was about 2.30. That meant that he'd been gagged, barely breathing since then and it had taken a terrible toll on him. His lungs, already congested from illness hadn't been able to cope. He had been unable to take a deep breath or cough for 11 hours. Fluid had collected which he couldn't clear. Oxygen depletion would have affected all his organs. She had no way of telling how badly this had happened, but he was deeply unconscious and that gave her a clue. It was a very bad sign.

She took her coat off and wrapped it around him, tucking it underneath in an effort to insulate him from the icy dirt floor. He was cold now, exposure to cold and lack of oxygen to fuel his metabolism cancelling out the fever. She sat down then, behind him, lifting his dead weight up against her chest. She pillowed his head on her left shoulder and hugged him tight. 'Keep breathing Mulder, keep fighting.'

He seemed so much smaller than she remembered, so very fragile as she wrapped her body around his. Oh god she couldn't go through this again. She couldn't loose him now. Not after everything they had been through. This was the end this time. Whatever happened tonight this was never going to happen again. She argued with him, crooned to him, shared her warmth, and her breath, and her heart.

- - - -

Deputy Director Skinner had spent one of the worst nights of his life. He had heard Agent Scully attacked, heard her scream in fear and pain. He had heard her agony as she thought her partner dead, and for the last two hours he had heard her share her most secret thoughts with her unconscious partner as she struggled to keep him alive.

Now at last he had something to tell her.

'Scully,' he said into the phone. 'Agent Scully. It's AD Skinner. Can you hear me?'

- - - -

'Scully,' a voice said in the silence.

Scully started out of a doze.

'Agent Scully. It's AD Skinner.'

The phone!

'Can you hear me.'

'Hold on sir. Hang on.' She had to untangle herself from Mulder and then find her way into the coat lining. Finally she found it.

'Can you hear me? Scully? Hello.'

'Yes sir, I'm here.' Her heart was pounding and her ankle was protesting at the sudden movement.

'Good.' He didn't wait for preliminaries or "how are you"s. After all he knew since he'd been listening since Scully began the call in the bedroom 2 hours ago. 'The assault team is assembled. They can be with you in 15 minutes.'

Scully sagged in relief. 'Thank God.'

'We've got a doctor and intensive care team standing by. They'll have him in Denver in less than an hour.'

'Ssir.' Scully stopped him. 'How long till dawn?'

'About another four hours.'

'Sir. We catch the bad guys right?'

'That's not always the most important thing Agent Scully.'

'I know sir, but what if we can do both.'

- - - -

Mulder woke slowly. It was like dragging himself from a warm heavy puddle, slowly surfacing, reaching for the light. There were quiet voices, hands lifting him, his body heavy and quite limp.

His eyes eased open and he couldn't fathom what he was looking at. A fuzzy view of what seemed to be an abundant cleavage between two large chocolate coloured breasts floated in front of him. Heaven, he mused, surely not. He whimpered. The next thing two lively dark eyes were smiling at him and things came into focus. A nurse, it was a nurse bending down, her arms under his body. 'Hello there,' she whispered. 'Just lie quiet honey. We're just turning you over. Shh,' as he tried to speak. 'We don't want to wake your friend.'

Turn him over they did. Quietly and efficiently they moved him, bits of tubing and numerous pillows. One minute he was facing one way, the next minute the other and it made him dizzy. When he opened his eyes again it was to see the concerned eyes of the dark nurse in front of him. His vision expanded to show a fairly typical hospital room. 'How are you doing sweet?' She stroked his hair. Tucked tubes back up his nose.

Mulder didn't know how he was doing. His mind seemed to have lost the ability to process more than the most basic things. Mainly he could see and hear and remember to breathe but he couldn't fathom how to reply. He bit at his dry lips and she brought some water and a straw. He barely had the strength to suck, could hardly remember how. The nurse moved to put the glass down and behind her Mulder saw Scully. She was curled, sound asleep in a battered recliner armchair, a blanket pulled up to her throat. He'd never seen anything so beautiful.

'Scully.' Her name was an automatic reflex. His voice barely stirred the air. His throat constricted and his eyes filled with tears.

'Hey sugar?' the nurse wiped his eyes.

'I thought she was dead.'

'No sweet, she's not dead. She's not left your side since the morning you got here. You're a lucky man.'

His brain tried to work. 'How long?'

'Four days now. You were very ill.' She motioned towards Scully. 'Dana here has done all your cares that we'd let her. She'll be cross that we didn't wake her to help do the turn, but she's not slept much lately.'

'Scully.'

'Okay there. You want I should wake her to say hello? I don't think she'd mind.'

He shook his head an infinitesimal amount. 'No.' More tears were flowing and he couldn't stop them. Scully looked beautiful. He could gaze at her forever. Why had he thought she were dead? He couldn't remember now. What had he done to deserve her devotion? He didn't know that either. 'Let her sleep.' He couldn't bear the thought of waking her up.

- - - - - - -

The next time he awoke, it was to the awareness that someone was holding his hand.

'Scully.'

But when he opened his eyes he found himself looking into the concerned and slightly embarrassed eyes of not Scully but Walter Skinner.

He was facing the other way again. He'd obviously slept through that "turn" and wondered vaguely if Scully had helped. It was full daylight.

'Agent Mulder?'

Mulder looked past him. 'Scully. Where's Scully?' His voice came out as a barely audible croak. Skinner seemed to know what he said.

'She's fine Mulder. They brought in Shareen Frost this morning. I told her to go, I'd sit with you.'

A suspicion entered his brain. 'Do I need sitting with?'

Skinner grinned. 'No. But it makes Scully feel better.'

Mulder smiled but his tongue stuck to the roof of his dry mouth. His teeth were thick with goo. He grimaced.

Skinner saw. 'Water?'

Reluctantly he nodded. His boss filled a cup and held the straw to his mouth. He sucked thirstily drinking it all. It was exhausting. Lying back on the pillows he closed his eyes for a moment. His brain was working enough to be uncomfortable with his boss seeing him this weak. He opened his eyes and noticed the scabs and bruising on his wrists. The handcuffs had been very tight then. He realised he could remember something of what had happened but he wanted to know more. 'Tell me what happened.'

'I don't want to tire you.'

'Dammit Sir. I'm already tired. Just tell me.'

'Mulder you only just got off the critical list last night.'

That was interesting news. He thought he'd recognised the sore throat that indicated he'd been intubated not long ago. Mind you he'd had a sore throat before he was kidnapped. Still his boss had just given him some leverage. 'So you don't want me getting upset. Tell me.'

Walter Skinner knew all about this agent's stubbornness. He also recognised that Mulder was going to wind himself up until someone told him what happened. Damn. He really needed Scully here to keep him under control.

'Please sir. What happened? I need to know.'

Walter Skinner made a strange grunting noise in the back of his throat. He was in a no win situation. So he told him. He told him how he'd disappeared, supposedly lost, delirious in the forest. Mulder nodded, he hadn't known how they'd covered his disappearance. Then the AD told him about Scully's phone call and how she had convinced him that he'd actually been abducted. Scully was convinced that Mulder was about to be killed in a nasty manner, if it hadn't happened already.

He didn't want to say it so Mulder filled in the space. 'I was supposed to have been carved up and sent all around the country as meat packs.' He ignored his boss' uncomfortable look. 'I heard them talking.'

Skinner swallowed and nodded. 'It looks like they had a thriving mail order business. They took orders for "types" of meat.' He still couldn't really believe that fact and yet the discovery of meticulous records proved it all. 'Mulder, they had an order for "FBI".' His voice raised in horror. He held up his fingers to show a pinch of air. 'You were that close.'

Mulder closed his eyes and fought to swallow the bile rising in his throat. This wasn't easy to hear. A comforting touch on his hand surprised him and brought him back to the present. Skinner was holding his hand.

'I'm okay.' He opened his eyes. Now they'd got this far he wanted to know it all. 'So what about the Polech's, the ones in the motel?'

'Complicated. We think they had heard of the...,' Skinner couldn't think of the word, '...arrangement, and had come to see. Maybe they wanted to get involved. They weren't very nice guys. Their records are pretty nasty.'

'But they wouldn't have stood a chance of being let in on it.' Mulder's voice was fading.

'That's right, mainly because they were men.' Skinner glanced at him in concern. Mulder had started out quite perky but was now looking grey with exhaustion. He needed to wind this up. He smiled grimly. 'So they ended up in pieces.'

Mulder took a deep breath. Scully had eaten some of them for dinner, shit possibly two dinners. His hand flew to his mouth. Oh No. Shit. Just like it had days ago when he tried the casserole his stomach rolled. He could feel the meat in his mouth. He heaved. Fluid spilled down the pillow as most of the water he'd just drunk came back. He didn't have the strength to move out of the mess.

'Mulder!' Skinner was reaching for the call button but Mulder grabbed his hand and stopped him. The retching slowed, it wasn't too bad. It was lucky he'd not eaten anything yet. He kept his grip on his boss' arm as he recovered, if the nurse came there would be no end of fussing and he would never get to the end of the story. His eyes were closed and he felt slightly faint but he was getting himself under control. Deep breaths helped.

He felt Skinner wipe his face with a cloth and then ineffectually dab at the damp spot on the pillow. It was useless. 'Lift your head.' He slid the pillow out and replaced it with one off Scully's chair. Mulder nodded his thanks. He hated this.

'Mulder you should rest.'

They hazel eyes opened. 'They were bait weren't they.'

Skinner groaned. 'Yes okay. Yes the Polechs were bait. Bait for us, for you. For the FBI'

'Well you'd better tell me the rest now.'

'What rest?'

'How Scully found me.'

He didn't want to. Mulder was fairly sure his boss was feeling guilty about something. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like what he had to say but he wanted to hear it anyway.

'She phoned you,' he prompted.

'Yes. She had this wild plan...' He took a deep breath and plunged into the telling. Scully Mulder was told had set out to get herself captured. Jesus Christ, he closed his eyes in pain. Only Scully... Skinner fumbled on quickly. He hadn't been happy about it but it had seemed the only way to get to where Mulder was being held with any certainty. She was fairly sure that Shareen would never take her there, even if threatened. She had a good idea by then of how much Shareen had to loose. But she hadn't done it completely alone. She had phoned Skinner and they had left the phone line between them open and the phone in the lining of her coat. It had been possible to track her through the satellite. Plus, Skinner said, and Mulder wondered at the strange look on his face, he had been able to hear everything that was going on. They had known the phone battery would last long enough to get a fix but it had actually stayed working long enough to let her know when the assault team was ready to come to the rescue.

Mulder knew there was an awful lot he wasn't being told but fatigue was setting in. It would be easier to get it from Scully later than prise it out of the boss now. His eyes were drooping and he didn't even have the energy to feel angry at Skinner for letting her do it or mad at Scully for giving him no choice. Scully had done it for him and that made his insides crawl.

Skinner was continuing his story. It hadn't taken long to get a fix on Scully's phone and work out where they were being held. They had that information before he had even landed in Denver. What took the time was assembling the assault and medical teams and getting them into place. Scully's original plan had been for then to hold off until Shareen and crew came to kill them off and catch them red handed. She was fairly sure there was more than just Shareen and her mother involved and she wanted them all.

However, Skinner said, Mulder had been too ill to leave any longer. Mulder could tell from his boss' body language just how ill he must have been. He remembered the feel of the gag in his mouth and shuddered.

So they had brought the rescue forward taking Mulder out but Scully insisted on staying. Mulder lay there speechless during the telling of this. She talked some poor dope who looked a little like Mulder into stripping to tee shirt and his shorts, cuffed him, and made him wait with her in that freezing pit until they came.

What could she have been thinking of, Mulder fumed? Just what? A worry worm niggled at his tired brain. How come if he was that ill, she could have let them take him away and not come?

The first part of the trap had worked. The women had arrived, sneaking in before dawn, unaware that the building was surrounded by agents. Once they realised what was happening however a fire fight erupted. Shareen had gotten away. A couple of women were injured, and one agent, Skinner said. The team had ended up taking about a dozen women, all from the village. Scully was fine.

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut trying not to imagine Scully under a hail of bullets. What had she been thinking of? But he didn't need to use a great deal of intellect to work it out, she had been betrayed by Shareen and she was angry. And Scully angry was awesome.

He opened his eyes to realise Skinner was looking at him with some concern. He stood up. 'I'll leave you now. You really do need to rest. Scully will have my hide if you're too tired to see her later.' He patted his hand. 'Take it easy Mulder. Don't be too cross with her. She did it for you.'

'Me?'

'Yes you dope. Because of what they did to you.' He looked at him incredulously. 'Don't you get it Mulder. Scully fights for you like a mother lion protecting her cubs. Always. From anyone, even me.'

Mulder just gazed at him as his heart turned flip flops. God he was so tired. He couldn't think.

He heard Skinner speaking through a haze but could no longer hear what he said. He seemed to float back down into the dark. Somewhere, sometime in the dark it finally registered. She loves me, he thought. She does.

- - - - - -

Sometime during the afternoon he came near the surface because he was aware that Skinner had had a phone call and had hurriedly left. He didn't wake again fully until they turned him again around four. He was beginning to understand why they kept turning him over. He was completely incapable of moving himself in the bed at all. He didn't think he had ever been so weak. Well not in the last few weeks anyway.

Scully still wasn't there. Surely she must be coming soon. He lay there trying to compose what he would say to her. 'Scully I love you.' sounded so stupid when he tried it out. 'Scully, Skinner says you love me,' was truly pathetic. 'Scully, I'm not worthy of you but I love you with every part of my miserable body. Stay with me forever,' was much more his style and likely to send her shooting straight back out the door. It was ridiculous. He'd had the chance to say this before. In fact he had said it. Or had he? After they'd made love, before they made love, he'd said it. Hadn't he? He wasn't sure if the words had ever actually come out. Surely she knew though. Didn't she? Hell the only time he was ever sure he's said it had been in another hospital room nearly two years ago. He got so worked up that he jumped every time footsteps came near his room.

At five someone did come in. A nurse with a message. Dana had phoned. Something had happened that she had to deal with. Don't worry about her, she would probably be a while.

He lay there and deflated.

At five fifteen someone came in with some jello. It tasted great.

He slept some more and woke to the cheery face of the nurse from last night. 'Hi there sweet. It seems since Dana's not here that its up to me to get you washed and settled for the night.' She started filling a bowl with water, setting out towels. 'We're not used to looking after you.'

It seemed ludicrous to talk of settling for the night when he couldn't have been any more settled if he'd tried. His body seemed moulded to the bed. Then the rest of what she said sunk in. Scully had been caring for him more than the nurses. Oh Scully.

'Where is Scully?'

The nurse stopped in the process of drying his face. Her name tag was right in front of his eyes. Janice Howel, it said, Staff Nurse. 'You did get her message didn't you?'

'Yes. I just thought she'd be here by now.'

'Well I'm sorry but I don't know anything more than that.' She pulled the hospital gown off and threaded it carefully up the IV tubing and over the bag. Then she washed his chest, arms and hands, dried them, rolled him over and did the same for his back. It was blissful. He looked down at his body. All but a few of the spots had dried and faded to a dull red colour. Only a few scabby ones were still itchy. Missing the itch was the only benefit he could think of in having been unconscious for four days.

'Dana bought you some pyjamas. Do you want to put them on?' She held them up and Mulder burst out laughing. They were navy blue satin with a superman print. It felt good to laugh. They weren't his usual bed wear but he was tired of hospital gowns and obviously Scully was trying to tell him something. Washed and dressed he lay there and tried to stay awake but he didn't have a hope.

The sound of quiet voices woke him later. It was quite dark, the only light in the room coming from the small lamp above the bed. Scully was sitting in the recliner chair, stretching out and putting her feet up. Janice was crouched beside her as they chatted quietly. They didn't seem to be aware that he was awake. 'Scully' he croaked.

'Hey there.' She turned starting to get up, and Mulder gasped with horror. Her leg was in a bright pink fibreglass cast.

'Scully, you're hurt!'

She groped for a crutch that he now noticed leaning against a chair and hopped over to the bed. Mulder's eyes were wide as he stared at her. Oh God, was she all right? His mind was racing. That's where she must have been all day. She'd broken her leg and had it set and now she was going to sleep in a chair!

'I'm all right Mulder. It's good to see you awake at last. How are you feeling?'

'But your leg? Doesn't it hurt.'

She sat wearily on the edge of the bed. 'It does a bit now but that's because I've been on my feet most of the day.' She smiled that tender smile reserved for showing him she really cared. She took his hand. 'It's okay Mulder. It happened days ago. I broke my ankle when Shareen pushed me into the pit.' She laughed, 'I landed on you, that's what did it.'

'You broke your leg when you fell into that pit.' he repeated dumbly.

'That's right. It's okay. It will be fine in a few weeks.'

But it wasn't okay. Not by a long shot! 'You stayed to trap them! With a broken ankle. Are you mad?'

'It's all right Mulder.'

He barely looked up as Janice waved goodbye and left the room. Another thought struck him. 'You've been looking after me. You've been doing more than the nurses.'

'I wanted to. I needed to. It's all right.'

'No it isn't. It isn't all right. I don't want you to do it any more.'

'What?'

'I don't want you to look after me any more.'

'Mulder?' She looked hurt and sad.

'Don't you see.' He reached out and touched her cheek. 'You need looking after. I want to look after you.'

'Aw shit,' she breathed. 'Shut up Mulder. I was so pleased you were awake, and here we are rowing again.' She reached across and pulled out all the pillows behind him. 'Move over.' Before he could protest she'd put her arms under his hips and shunted him across the bed. Then she climbed in beside him and lay down. Mulder was speechless. And delighted. Scully breathed a sigh of relief. 'God that's good. I know it's not hospital policy but I've had such a bad day. I don't think anyone is going to mind. I'm so tired.'

'Scully?' Mulder reached out tentatively and put his hand on her arm.

'Shh.' She stroked his hand and then ran her hand up and stroked his cheek. 'We can talk in the morning.' He could feel her grin against his chest. Her hand moved from his face to his shoulder. She stroked the smooth satin top. 'I like the pyjamas.'

'So do I.' He snuggled against her warm body, immensely comforted. Whatever troubles they had they weren't beyond fixing. Her being here proved that. Everything would be all right. He slept.

He woke again to the heart stopping realisation that Scully was in bed with him and she was crying. She was lying quite still, but a quiver ran through her body giving her away. Her head was nestled in his armpit, her body curled towards him and he was quite, quite sure she was crying. 'Scully?' Tentatively he stroked her hair.

'Mmmph,' she sniffed.

Oh god you're stupid, he told himself. She said she'd had a really bad day and all you've done is argue with her. With his free hand he groped for the tissues on the locker but the IV tubing tangled and nearly knocked the glass off. He fumbled, caught things and finally got the box.

'What are you doing Mulder?' Scully asked wearily.

Damn. Lancelot he wasn't. He handed her the box. 'Are you alright Scully?' He was at a loss here. He wanted to sweep her into his arms and hold her tight but he didn't have the strength. He wanted to find where it hurt and kiss it better but he knew he couldn't. Nothing could fix what hurt her any more. It was way too late for that.

'Scully? What's wrong?'

She blew her nose.

'Scully?' Then he remembered something. 'Is it to do with Shareen? Skinner said they brought her in.'

'Yeah, sort of.'

Mulder held back a sigh of relief. Shareen he felt he could help with. He stroked her hair. 'You must be pretty angry at her.'

'She's dead Mulder.'

'What! When?' She was in custody wasn't she? 'How?'

Scully moaned. God it must be bad. 'She chewed through her own wrists and bled to death in the cell.'

'Oh yuck!' Christ, that was over the top.

'Yuck? Yuck!' Scully sat up. 'Is that the best you can do?'

'I ... I...' Personally Mulder thought it sounded like a perfectly fitting end for the bitch but it had obviously upset his partner.

'Jesus Mulder! I pronounced her dead!'

Oh. He could picture the scene in the cell and it wasn't pretty. He reached for her and drew her back onto his chest. 'Shhh. Lie down Scully.' She grabbed a handful of satin and worried it. Mulder held her and stroked her. He remembered how comforted he had felt when she had done this for him after he'd nearly turned inside out being sick. For once in his life he had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

Scully was muttering to herself, nearly growling. For a moment Mulder was afraid he might get bitten. 'Aw shit Mulder,' she finally said. 'I liked her.'

'That's alright Scully. She made you like her.'

'I know she did,' she said through gritted teeth, 'but I should have seen through it. I should have stayed objective.'

How to answer that and say the right thing? He searched around for the right answer. 'She was very convincing,' he tried.

'Mmm.'

Relief.

She turned to look up at him. In the near dark she looked like a small unhappy child. 'Oh Mulder. You don't get it.'

No. No he didn't. He was very tired.

She lay down again, released the shirt and proceeded to stroke it instead. Mulder let himself relax a little. 'I went to her interview this morning.'

He kept quiet. He reached up and stroked her hair, his rhythm matching hers.

'She was completely unrepentant. She was full of hate. Hate for men. Hate for you.' Her hand stopped for a moment. Mulder kept his moving and in a minute she joined in. 'Hate. She really hated... everything. You'd have had a field day with her. I was amazed she'd functioned as well as she had, so "normally" for so long.'

She shuddered. 'Anyway, it was horrible. I guess we got finished about one and the sun was out so...' she paused guiltily. 'I knew you'd woken in the night. I guessed you'd probably be awake again but...' Once again she was scrunching a handful of shirt. Her mouth was pressing deeper against him and Mulder had to struggle to hear her.

'But you'd had enough of hospitals for a while?'

'Yes,' she gulped. 'No. There was more to it than that.' Mulder felt his heart plunge. He wasn't sure he wanted to know about what had been happening in her head.

'I had to think.' She was going to tell him.

Mulder was thinking too and he afraid he knew where this was going. Somehow he forced himself to keep stroking. Scully's hair was so soft, it's strands like silk, or he amended, satin under his fingers. He couldn't bear the thought that this might be the last time she let him touch it. He swallowed, listened, but she'd stopped talking.

The silence stretched out and he couldn't think of anything to say.

'Mulder?' Softly. Finally. 'Have I been that wrong before?'

Mulder's breath whooshed out of his chest. Oh god, there was a lot more to that question than there seemed. He moved his hand and wiped tears from her cheeks. There were so many answers he could give, so many references to times her belief in the goodness of the world had been wrong. But he was tuned in to her now, in this moment in time and it was the essence she needed now, not the truth. 'No Scully.' He dropped a kiss on her head. Scully grabbed at him and started to sob.

'Scully.' He knew what this was about and it was up to him now. Come on Mulder, take control. Oh Jesus, you can do this? 'Scully. Listen to me.' He gave her a little shake.

She moaned a little.

'Here look.' He fished around until he found the tissues again. 'Blow you nose please. Listen to me.' Something in his voice must have sunk in. She lifted her head and did as she was told.

'Good. That's better.'

She lay down again.

'Do you want a drink of water or anything?' Mulder stalled.

He felt her smile against his side. 'No thanks.'

He took a deep breath. Held it. Let it out. 'Scully, you're worried aren't you, that you might also have misjudged how I feel about you.' A pain stabbed in his chest. He'd said it. 'Is that it?'

She went still. Slowly she nodded.

Mulder forced his hand to sit still on her head, not to do to her hair what she'd been doing to his shirt. 'Scully.' They'd been here before. But this time it was vitally important he get it right. He couldn't do this again. 'I'm quite rational, okay?' Once again he took deep breaths. He could feel his heart rate starting to hit the danger level and was amazed the alarms on the monitor weren't going off. 'My temperature has been fine all day. The only drugs I'm on are antibiotics and oxygen, and that makes me think clearer.' That was a dumb thing to say.

She patted him gently. 'Go on,' she said.

He had no choice now. After that build up his bridges were burned. There was nothing else to say and suddenly he found he was quite calm. 'I love you Scully.'

He held his breath waiting for her reply... and had to let it out. He breathed some more. She didn't move, didn't make a sound. His calmness was rapidly leaving in the face of her silence and God he was tired. He felt himself starting to sink back into the dark.

'Scully.' His voice shook. 'Please can you say something before I fall asleep.' Tears were starting to prick at his eyes.

'Oh Mulder.' She wiggled up the bed until her head was on the pillow next to his. Her thumbs wiped his tears. She kissed him on "that" spot on the forehead. 'Shh, it's alright.' But it wasn't. Not yet. 'I was quiet because it was just so nice, lying here like this, hearing you say that.' She put her finger to his lips to stop him speaking. 'I made a decision today. Actually I made it five nights ago but what happened today made me think it through further.'

'Oh God!' He gasped. A decision made lying in a freezing pit with a broken ankle watching him die. He knew what it had to be. She'd had enough. His heart squeezed in pain.

'Mulder. Shush. It's alright. Here,' the tissue box hit him on the nose, 'you listen to me now. Okay.'

He gulped and blew his nose. Imperceptibly he nodded. He willed her to get it over with.

She felt around and found his hand. 'I've had enough Mulder. I can't take this any more.'

Something large and solid slammed into his chest. He had trouble taking a breath. Being prepared didn't make this any better. The darkness at the edge of the room seemed to pulse. He must have groaned.

'Shh Mulder. It's alright. Come back to me. Listen to me.' Scully was holding his face. 'Come on Mulder. Take a breath. That's right. Let it out. And another. That's good. It's alright.'

Slowly he got his breathing under control and managed to look up at her again. 'That's good,' she soothed. 'It's okay. Really. I'm sorry I didn't mean that to come out like that. It's alright.' Mulder gave a sudden sob and she lay across him and wrapped him in her arms. 'I'm not going anywhere Mulder. I'm not leaving you. I love you too and you've got me for keeps. Shhh. Calm down. It's okay.' Awkwardly his arms came around her and he clutched on to her like a drowning man.

When he'd finally got himself under control he was exhausted again. But he couldn't allow himself to sleep. Not yet.

'What do you mean?'

'Marry me Mulder?'

'What did you say?' He jolted with shock.

'Fox William Mulder, will you marry me?'

He gaped at her. 'How does that fix anything?'

'It proves I love you and I want us to spend the rest of our lives together.'

'You don't mean that?'

'I do too.'

'But what about the X Files?'

'What about them Mulder?' She looked him square in the eye. 'Think about monstrous video games and snake charming preachers. How would our lives suffer from not dealing with those?' She didn't give him a chance to answer. 'I have had enough of wondering if you will survive till morning. I have sat by far too many hospital beds. You have brought down the Consortium and you've found what happened to your sister. It is time to stop.' She drew breath but not long enough for Mulder to interrupt. 'I am ready to stop Mulder but I won't make you if you don't want to. You know I wouldn't do that. But I might be able to make you open up to some extreme possibilities.' She grinned. 'If we were married you know you'd be coming home to me every night. We'd be together Mulder. Properly. No more sneaking. You and me. That's what is important. We can work out the details later. Okay?'

Now she stopped and looked at him expectantly. He looked shell shocked. 'Well? What do you say?'

A mile wide smile spread across his face. 'Yes,' he said. And then he couldn't fight it any longer. He fell asleep.

END

Authors notes:

Do cell phone batteries last that long? I have no idea. Maybe high tech FBI owned ones do.

This is a rewrite of the original posted about a year ago. No one seemed to have read it but I always thought it was a reasonably good story. The actual story hasn't changed, it has another day added for the sheer joy of increasing the MT component, and it is much better written (I think). I have also updated it. It seemed to fit so well after the silliness of FPS and the way Scully must have felt towards Mulder after that. I also assumed now, and I hadn't then, that they are sleeping together. And finally, I lost the ghastly saccharin ending of the original. Back then I didn't know the characters very well.

Chicken pox in adults is truly awful. I don't recommend it to anyone.