The Consequences of our Actions

consequences

TITLE: The Consequences of Our Actions

AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter

EMAIL ADDRESS: Jolassi555@cs.com

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Two weeks exclusive on VS13. Then post anywhere. Thanks.

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters created by Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions. Characters used without permission. No infringement intended.

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: S, R

SUMMARY: Is someone out to get Mulder?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: M&S are an established couple.

THANKS: To Vickie, for the great beta and for all her ‘suggestions.’ Thanks especially for whacking me upside the head (but very gently) until I got Maggie Scully’s character right. I needed it. A lot.

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Teaser

Thursday, February 9

Maggie Scully’s House

6:10 p.m.

“Hi, Mom.” “Hi, Maggie.” Scully and Mulder greeted Scully’s mother as she gestured them into her home.

“Hello, Dana… Fox,” Maggie returned, as she gave each a peck on the cheek. “It’s so good to see you both.”

Mulder smiled. Scully’s mom always made it sound as though she hadn’t seen them for years.

“Come on through to the dining room. Supper’s all ready.”

After hanging up his heavy winter coat, Mulder started to lead the way when Scully’s hand on his arm pulled him up short. He gave her a questioning look.

“We forgot the wine in the car,” she told him. “Would you mind getting it?”

Since he found it hard to deny her anything, he smiled and said, “Not at all.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then slipped back into his coat. “Be right back.”

Leaving the door slightly ajar so he could get back in, Mulder approached the car, aiming the remote and pressing the button to deactivate the alarm system and unlock the doors. Just as he reached the driver’s side door, he noticed movement out the corner of his eye. Before his eyes could lock onto the figure and the switchblade it was wielding, the knife flashed in the light from the street lamp, and Mulder found himself on the ground cradling his right arm.

Even though he heard the swiftly-retreating footsteps, Mulder still looked around to make sure no other attacker was in sight. Only when he was sure he was alone did he inspect his wound.

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Grateful that he’d elected to wear his heavy coat for the short walk out to the car, he sighed in relief at the relatively shallow cut he could see beneath the cloth. Even so, it hurt like a son of a bitch.

Now that the shock of finding someone monkeying around with Scully’s car had worn off, Mulder wondered just what nefarious deed he’d interrupted. Still wary of who might be lurking about, Mulder checked the area where his assailant had been hiding and found the tire flat, punctured no doubt, by the same blade used on him.

After finding no other damage–Mulder figured he’d made his appearance just as the man was getting started–he retrieved the wine from the back seat, and reset the alarm.

He entered the house and went through to the dining room without removing his coat; he wasn’t sure how deep the slice was, and he didn’t want to bleed all over Maggie’s rugs. “Scully, can you call the police?” he asked as he placed the wine bottle on the table. “I caught someone trying to use your tire for a pincushion.”

Her head whipped up from where she’d been helping herself to a slice of chicken. “What?” Her eyes latched onto the bloody fingers clutching his arm, and she dropped the serving fork with a clatter. “Are you all right?”

He shrugged. “I think so. Cut me a little, but my coat took the brunt of the attack.”

“Come on, Fox,” Maggie said, nudging him gently. “Let’s get you to the bathroom and let Dana take a look.”

Mulder wasn’t about to argue. “Okay, but someone should call the police. If I didn’t go out there when I did, he might have done some serious damage to your car,” he told his partner.

“Screw the car, Mulder,” she said. “Let’s make sure you’re okay first.”

“You take care of Fox; I’ll call the police,” Mrs. Scully said, heading to the wall phone.

“Okay, Mom,” Scully said, leading Mulder up the stairs to the bathroom.

Once there, she helped him out of his overcoat, then his suit jacket. Both were torn and bloody, but when he saw the damage to his favorite shirt, he almost cried; the sleeve was soaked. That blood stain would never come out.

“Oh, Mulder,” Scully said in a particularly forlorn tone. “I love this shirt on you.” Even in his distress, it was hard to suppress a smile–Scully’s feeling was precisely the reason it was his favorite shirt. “I’ll just have to find you another one exactly like it,” she said as she helped him out of it.

Even though she was being careful, it still stung when she pulled it away from the wound, and his chuckle turned into a hiss.

“Sorry,” she apologized, as she maneuvered him to the sink. She adjusted the water temperature to her liking, then took hold of his arm. “This is going to hurt,” she told him, looking into his eyes.

He knew it would. “It’s okay. Go ahead,” he said with a nod. Then he gritted his teeth, trying his best to be manly and not gasp and groan, which is what he really wanted to do.

As the water cleaned the residual blood away, Mulder could see that the slice measured about four inches–a little longer and deeper than he’d originally thought. Not deep enough for stitches, he hoped. He didn’t relish the thought of spending an evening in the emergency room.

Scully studied the injury for a minute, then said, “It doesn’t need stitches, but I’m going to bandage it up. You’re up-to-date on your tetanus shots, so we won’t need to go to the hospital.”

Happy with this diagnosis, Mulder nodded and dutifully held his arm under the running water while she left to get the first aid supplies. He balked when she wanted to dry the still-bleeding cut with one of her mother’s towels, but Scully assured him that this was one of the towels her mother kept on hand for just this sort of occasion. Upon closer inspection, he noted the faded stains of cuts, scrapes and skinned knees gone by.

After she’d dried his arm, she sprayed it with an antibiotic, and applied the bandage, snug but not too tight. “Does that feel all right?” she asked him.

He nodded. “Yeah. It’s good.” He gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks,”

She patted him lightly on his other arm. “You’re welcome. I wish I didn’t have to put you back together so often, though.”

Even though this time it really wasn’t his fault, he felt a little ashamed by the sentiment she’d expressed. “I know,” he said in a quiet voice, meeting her eyes briefly, then glancing quickly away. He shivered from the chill air on his bare arms.

If Scully noticed his discomfort, she didn’t comment on it, devoting all her attention to putting the first aid kit back in order and stowing it back in the bathroom cabinet. When she finished, she gave him such a smile of affection that his goosebumps fled as quickly as they’d arrived. “So what happened out there?” she asked.

He recited the events as he recalled them, ending with, “I don’t know if he hit any other cars. I didn’t think to look.”

“Good,” she said. “There may have been more than the one you surprised.”

He nodded. “The cops can check to see if any other cars were damaged.”

She tapped him lightly on his arm. “Come on. Let’s see if they’re here yet.” She handed him a long-sleeved, button-down shirt. “Don’t ask,” she said before he could even formulate the question.

As she helped him into it and buttoned it for him, he was relieved at how loosely it hung on him. That meant it had belonged to Bill, not Charlie. He almost laughed; a few years ago, he would *never* have thought of Bill as the ‘good’ brother.

When they got downstairs, Maggie hurried over to them. “How are you doing, Fox?” she asked him, then looked to her daughter for the answer.

Amused, Mulder let his partner respond. “He’s okay, Mom. His arm’s sliced a bit, but it’s not too bad. He doesn’t even need stitches.”

Scully’s mother smiled at him. “That’s good.” She glanced at the front door. “The police are here. They found a few other cars damaged, and they’d like to speak with you, Fox.”

Nodding, he headed for the door, but Scully stopped him. “I’ll ask them to come inside since your coat’s not wearable at the moment.”

Not too eager to go outside without his coat or even his suit jacket, Mulder readily agreed. “Okay.” He hung back while she went outside, then returned a few minutes later with a police officer.

Mulder gave his statement and as much of a description as he could of his fleeing attacker; fifteen minutes later, the police left and Mulder, Scully and Maggie finally sat down to dinner.

After the exciting start to the evening, they enjoyed a quiet meal, then Scully drove them home, and Mulder fell asleep in the car.

**

Thursday, February 9

Near Maggie Scully’s House

6:12 p.m.

The woman watched from the shadows as the boyfriend interrupted her hired thug’s task. The minimal damage to the car was disappointing, but when the boyfriend fell to the ground clutching his arm in pain, inspiration–and not a small amount of exhilaration–struck.

Damage to mere inanimate possessions no longer interested her. Personal damage was a much more satisfying plan of action.

Dana Scully’s latest conquest was her target now. If the woman didn’t know anything else about Dana, she knew that Dana would suffer for the harm wrought upon someone close to the female agent, especially when Dana discovered that Dana was the source of that harm.

For Dana had harmed someone who had loved Dana, someone the woman had loved. Dana had not loved him back, but the woman could forgive her that. But he had loved Dana more than he had loved the woman.

And for that Dana could not be forgiven. For that she would suffer.

**

Act I

Saturday, February 11

Baltic Ice Skating Arena

Baltimore, MD

9:47 a.m.

“Hey, Matty… You been holding out on me, buddy?”

The little boy skating beside Mulder looked up at him curiously. “What do you mean, Uncle Mulder?”

“You told me you’d never been on ice skates before, but here you are skating like a pro.”

Matthew’s face lit up. “D’you really think so?” Then the smile changed to fear. “Honest, Uncle. This is my first time. I didn’t lie to you.”

Mulder skated them out of the line of traffic on the rink. “Hey, easy, buddy. I was only kidding.” He knelt down so that he was eye level with Scully’s nephew. “I’m not mad at you. I was only putting you on.”

Matthew nodded solemnly, and Mulder could tell he didn’t fully understand. He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I only meant that I’m proud of you. You’re doing a great job of skating for your first time.”

Mulder got a glimpse of Matthew’s broad smile before the boy threw his arms around the agent’s neck and hugged him for all he was worth.

Caught a little off-guard at first, Mulder quickly returned the hug, pleased that Bill’s son didn’t harbor the disdain that Bill had so freely displayed toward Mulder. He enjoyed spending time with the boy, and was almost desperate for Matthew to like him, too. Although initially wary of his presence, Matthew was growing more and more used to ‘Uncle Mulder’s’ being a part of his life.

“Hey, you two.” At his partner’s voice, the man and boy separated, both grinning at each other before giving their attention to Auntie Dana.

“Uncle Mulder said I’m doing real good!” Matthew said, beaming.

“I know! You are!” Scully smiled at her nephew. “I was watching.”

She knelt beside Mulder. “I came to see if you boys wanted to join me in a cup of hot chocolate.”

Mulder winked at Matthew. “I don’t know, Scully,” he said. “Are you sure the three of us will fit in that little cup?”

The young boy giggled at that, and Scully tousled his hair. “Come on, you two. Let’s go see how big those cups are.”

Mulder straightened, wincing when the boy bumped against his sore arm. He was grateful when Scully didn’t say anything, although he was sure she noticed. Scully had wanted him to skip the day they had planned with Matthew, but Mulder had convinced her that he’d be fine, and she’d eventually given in. Neither of them had wanted to disappoint the little boy.

“You two go ahead,” Mulder said. “I’m just going to visit the men’s room.” He looked at the child. “Matt? You need to go?”

Matthew shook his head. “I wanna go to the snack bar.” He was practically bouncing out of his skates with excitement.

Mulder chuckled. “Okay. I’ll meet you there.” He took off ahead of them, heading for the opening to exit the ice. As he was rounding the far side of the rink, he looked up when he heard a gaggle of loud voices coming off to his left. His mind had no sooner registered the group of teenaged boys shoving and pushing at each other when they ploughed right into him, bashing him into the boards and then landing on top of him.

As they peeled off from him, he couldn’t prevent a cry of pain. Squeezing his eyes shut against the pain from his injured arm and from his wrist, he lay there panting, listening to the boys’ laughter as they fled.

“Mulder!” He heard Scully’s voice not too far away.

Knowing Matty was with her, and not wanting to frighten the boy, Mulder opened his eyes and forced a smile onto his face.

“Are you hurt?” his partner asked.

He heard the anxiety in her voice and saw Matthew standing stock-still, his eyes wide open, staring at Mulder. Motioning his partner closer, he whispered, “My wrist. And I think my arm’s bleeding again.”

“Are you all right, sir?”

The voice came from behind Scully; Mulder recognized the muscular man dwarfing his partner as one of the rink guards. “I think I sprained my wrist,” he told the man. As the guard knelt at Mulder’s side, the agent said softly to his partner, “Scully, why don’t you take Matthew to get that hot chocolate?”

“I’m not leaving you here, Mulder. You could be seriously hurt–”

“I’m a registered EMT, ma’am,” the man said. He glanced at Matthew, who looked scared to death. “Perhaps it might be better for the boy if he didn’t see his dad in pain,” he said in a gentle voice.

Both Mulder and Scully opened their mouths to protest that statement, but when their eyes met, they agreed to let it slide.

Scully nodded and led Matthew away. “Come on, Matty. We’ll let…” She looked at the man questioningly.

“Larry,” he said.

She smiled at Larry. “We’ll let Larry help Uncle Mulder up. He’s much too heavy for us.”

Mulder stuck his tongue out at her, and Matthew laughed. Then the boy became serious once again. “Are you okay, Uncle Mulder?”

“Sure am, buddy. I’m just gonna let Larry look me over. It’s the rules, you know. You and Auntie Dana go get a hot chocolate, and I’ll see you in a few minutes. Okay?”

Matthew nodded. “Okay.”

Scully looked upset to be leaving him, but what could they do? Matthew had already been traumatized by his father’s death; now that he was growing closer to Mulder they didn’t want to put him through seeing his friend suffering.

As they skated away, Mulder asked Larry, “Can you give me a hand up?” Between his already-injured right arm and the sprained wrist on his left, he was finding it hard to lever himself off the ice. He took in a group of teenaged girls who giggled behind their hands as they skated by his prone form. “Besides freezing my ass off, I’m not too thrilled at being the center of attention.”

The medic’s eyes scanned Mulder’s body. “Are you sure you’re not hurt anywhere else?”

Mulder shook his head. “Just the wrist. And I think my arm’s bleeding, but that’s from an injury I already had. The fall reopened the wound.”

Larry nodded, then grasped the arm Mulder extended. To Mulder’s relief, his extraction off the ice and out of the rink was handled with a minimum of pain–both physical and mental. Once he was upright, aside from a few cursory glances, his exit went largely unnoticed.

After checking him over, the medic wrapped an ace bandage around his wrist and applied a fresh dressing to his arm. Mulder was grateful for the sling the medic insisted he wear; his wrist was killing him, and he knew from past experience that it would feel better in a raised position.

When Mulder came out of the small infirmary, he found Scully and Matthew waiting for him. He let them help him to the nearest bench, where Scully removed his skates and replaced them with his sneakers.

As she went to tie them for the one-handed Mulder, Matthew asked, “Can I do it?” He looked at Mulder and then at his aunt. “My dad taught me how to tie my shoes right before…” He looked away and swallowed. “You know.”

Mulder exchanged a glance of sympathy with his partner. “Sure, Matty,” Mulder told the boy. “I’m sure he taught you real good.”

The agent waited patiently while the boy very carefully tied his sneaker, and then tied a double-knot. Mulder looked at Scully, and they shared a smile. When Matt finished the other sneaker, he gazed up at Mulder. “There! Now you won’t fall and get more hurt, Uncle Mulder.”

Mulder felt his eyes filling; he turned his head and blinked rapidly, trying to clear the water away. He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Thanks, Matty,” he said sincerely.

“You’re welcome,” the boy said, smiling shyly.

Mulder returned the smile, then looked at Scully’s and Matthew’s sneaker-encased feet. “You didn’t have to change out of your skates,” he said, feeling embarrassed at ruining Matthew’s day. “I’m all right. Why don’t you go and skate some more?”

The child squeezed onto the bench beside him. “But we want to take care of you, Uncle Mulder.” The boy inched his small hand into Mulder’s larger one, and Mulder grasped it gently. The agent looked helplessly at his partner, no idea what he should say.

“Uncle Mulder is sad because he thinks we aren’t going to have any fun because he has a sore arm,” his partner told Matthew.

“But I *did* have fun,” Matthew insisted. “I learned to skate, and Uncle Mulder told funny jokes that made us laugh.” He looked up at his aunt. “And you tickled Uncle Mulder and made him laugh, and we had pancakes with whipped cream in a real restaurant, and we had hot chocolate in the middle of the day!” The little boy smiled at Mulder. “I had lots of fun with you and Auntie Dana.” The small hand in Mulder’s grip tightened. “But I was scared when those bad boys crashed into you.”

Mulder swallowed. “I know, Matty. I’m sorry.”

Matthew snuggled against Mulder. “But you’re okay, right, Uncle?”

Mulder studiously ignored the throbbing pain in his wrist. “You bet, buddy.”

“Come on, boys,” Scully said, giving Mulder an unnecessary hand up, which he appreciated nonetheless. “I know at least one young man who needs a nap.”

Mulder smiled. She could have been referring to her nephew, but he was pretty sure she wasn’t.

He acquiesced gracefully and followed her out the door.

**

Tuesday, February 14

Mulder’s & Scully’s Duplex

Georgetown

10:43 p.m.

“Whew! I’m bushed. All that dancing was nice, and I hope you enjoyed your Valentine’s Day, Scully, but I am so wiped.” Mulder unlocked the door and followed his partner inside.

“Oh?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Barely remembering to close, let alone lock the door behind him because he knew what that combination of eye plus ‘oh’ meant, Mulder suddenly perked up. “I stand corrected,” he informed her. “My second wind has just kicked in.” Sidling up beside her, he asked, “Did you have something in mind?”

“Mmm hmmm.” She touched a finger to his collarbone and slid it down slowly; when she reached his belt she brought her smoky–he swore they were smoky–eyes to his. “Something…” she said in the voice that always caused an immediate reaction in what she said was her very favorite body part.

He looked down at said body part. “Well, I’m ready.”

She followed the direction his eyes had taken. “I can see that.”

When she made no move to take this further, Mulder almost whined his dismay. While this particular game annoyed him, it also aroused the hell out of him. Another few seconds and he’d start trembling from trying to restrain himself. Oh, the hell with it, he thought. “Sculllly…” he whined.

Apparently she’d been waiting for it, because she burst out laughing. “God, I love you like this, Mulder.”

He was so whipped because he knew she did and even though it was torture for him, he endured it because he also knew that it turned her on, and that was always a good thing.

“I’m glad your wrist wasn’t sprained after all, because what I have planned for you might be a bit… strenuous. And you’ll need all your body parts in good working condition.”

Oh, yeah, this was worth the expensive dinner and the dancing until he thought his feet would drop off. A happy Scully was a playful, energetic, and dangerous Scully.

And, as Mulder so often thought of himself, he was *made* for danger.

**

Wednesday, February 15

Rock Creek Park

Georgetown

6:16 a.m.

The sun was getting ready to make its appearance when Mulder noticed the headlights. The pick-up was approaching from the west, and from the way it was weaving all over the narrow road, he watched it rather warily. There was nothing more dangerous to a jogger than a vehicle with an impaired driver at the wheel.

As the truck drew closer, it veered away from him, but he kept an eye on it nonetheless; about fifty feet from his position, it careened right toward him. In his desperation to get out of harm’s way, Mulder lunged for the side of the road, not unaware that he was hurtling himself over the side of a steep hill. Still, Mulder thought, grunting from the impact of protruding rocks against his torso as he tumbled down the incline, it was better than the damage the car would have inflicted on him if he’d been hit.

His plunge came to an abrupt halt when he ploughed into a large oak, his head bouncing off like a three-pointer to the backboard. The brilliant sunrise hurt his eyes only a moment before it dissolved into blackness.

**

Mulder’s & Scully’s Duplex

Georgetown

7:05 a.m.

When Scully emerged from her shower, she was surprised to find no trace of her partner.

“Mulder?” Her inquiry was answered only by silence. Figuring he must have fallen asleep after his run, she dried off and dressed, deciding to let him sleep a little. Although they’d both been up late due to the evening’s ‘activities,’ Mulder had still been up and out the door when she’d cracked open an eye to peer at the clock.

She’d groaned at the numbers displayed before her; there was no way in hell she’d ever be out for a jog at 5:30 on a winter morning. Yet Mulder went, religiously, every day. Out by 5:30, back by 7. What a disappointment not to find her naked partner waiting by the bathroom door for his turn at the shower today.

“Mulder, you’d better get a move on if–” She stopped short when he wasn’t in bed like she’d expected him to be. “Mulder?” Quickly checking the rest of the house confirmed the fact that he wasn’t there.

A glance at the clock showed the time as 7:20, not overly late, yet late enough that she felt justified in calling him. When she received no answer, she began to worry in earnest. His phone wasn’t there, so she knew he had it with him. She knew he just might not be hearing it, but that coupled with his lateness was all the reason she needed to go out and look for him. She grabbed her medical bag before she made her way to the car.

Grateful that she’d gotten his route out of him for just this occurrence, she put the car in gear and headed for Rock Creek Park.

**

Rock Creek Park

7:31 a.m.

Mulder’s first thought upon awakening was if he’d gotten the number of the truck that had hit him. His eyes popped open when he remembered that that was pretty close to what had happened.

Upon realizing that the sun was fully risen, he checked his watch and swore. Relieved to find his phone still in his pocket *and* working, he pulled it out–taking note of the five calls he’d received from his partner within the space of ten minutes–and punched in Scully’s number.

“Mulder, where are you?” had never sounded so good.

“In the park,” he told her. “I fell down a hill.”

“You fell?” He was grateful for the disbelief in her voice.

“Well, dove is a more accurate term,” he said, trying not to groan as he climbed to his feet.

“Are you all right? I’m going to honk my horn. Can you hear it?”

It sounded so loud, he jumped. “Yeah! You’re right on top of me, Scully.”

“Are you injured?” she asked.

He tested his limbs, and everything seemed to work, so he told her, “Just a few bruises, and one hell of a headache.”

“Did you hit your head?” He saw her coming into view and waved to her.

“Yeah. I was out for about an hour.”

“You were unconscious that long? Stay right where you are,” she ordered.

He waited until she was by his side, then clicked off as she did the same. “Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” she returned, gently pushing him back to the ground. “Any dizziness, nausea?” she asked, probing his head with her fingertips.

“A little,” he admitted, feeling a slight fluttering in his stomach at almost the instant she asked. The dizziness he’d been fighting off since he woke, but now that he allowed himself to relax a little, it became more pronounced. He was glad he was already sitting down.

He’d been gritting his teeth while she’d been examining his head, and he breathed a sigh of relief when she finally stopped. “How’s it look?”

“You’ve got a pretty good-sized lump there,” she told him as she did the finger-tracking thing. “Hm. Pupils are a little sluggish. You know what that means.”

He sighed. “Concussion. Hospital. Great.”

She helped him back to his feet, and then kept hold of him as they made their way back up the hill. He was able to hold it together until they reached the top, and then he collapsed to his knees. He was shaking, his head hurt, and he needed to throw up.

“Are you all right?”

Afraid to open his mouth, he shook his head, which only served to crank up the headache–and the nausea. He lost last night’s dinner right there in front of her. Too miserable to be embarrassed, he accepted her strength as she supported him, then her comfort after he’d crumpled into her arms.

She let him rest a few minutes, then settled him in the car, telling him she was driving them straight to the emergency room. For once, Mulder didn’t argue.

The hospital had all the best drugs.

**

Act II

Thursday, February 16

Mulder’s and Scully’s Townhouse

2:14 p.m.

“So what do you think, Scully?”

Her partner’s sleep-roughened query sent a tingle up her spine while concurrently giving her heart failure. She’d been in the process of tucking a blanket around his reposing form when he decided to scare the life out of her.

“Jesus!” she declared, jerking back and holding a hand to her chest. “I thought you were asleep!”

“I was, for a minute, but I can’t get comfortable here.” Rolling carefully to his side, he grunted his way to a sitting position on the couch, then leaned back into the cushions. “God, I’m just one big black and blue.”

Scully studied him for a moment; he wasn’t too far off the mark, really. Someone was chipping away at him, piece by piece; they’d agreed on that after the car incident. “Do you know who could be doing this, Mulder?”

He shook his head. “I can think of any number who’d want to kill me, but none who’d want to just bruise me.” He looked up at her. “It’s kind of weird, don’t you think?”

It was, but she had a theory about that. “Maybe it’s someone who has some sort of grudge against you, but isn’t a killer.”

“You mean someone who has enough screws loose to cause physical harm, but not enough to go all the way?”

She frowned at the analogy he’d used, then nodded. “Who have you pissed off lately?”

He looked surprised and hurt. “Why do you assume that I’m the antagonist?”

She immediately felt remorseful. “I’m sorry,” she told him, walking over and sitting beside him. “It just makes sense that it would be someone you’ve had contact with recently, someone you rubbed the wrong way, for whatever reason.”

While he was absorbing her words, she very gently stroked his back between his shoulder blades. God knew, she loved him, but not too many other people felt the same.

Finally, he let out a weary sigh. “I don’t know, Scully. I can think of any number I may have ticked off, but not to this extent.” He brought his gaze up to meet hers. “But somebody who’s gonna do this probably doesn’t need much incentive.”

“Well, we’ll just have to limit their opportunities to get at you.”

“How are we going to do that?” he asked around a yawn. “We don’t have any proof that these weren’t unrelated events. We don’t have any information about the driver of that car, those boys might have picked me at random, and the guy outside your mother’s didn’t even know I was coming back out.”

Scully thought it over. As unlikely as she thought it was that these were unrelated, she knew he was right. They had no proof that anyone was out to get her partner. Still…

“I don’t care. I’m going to ask Skinner for protection for you. If he says no, we’re no worse off than we are now.” Mulder sighed; she knew how he hated being babysat, but an unhappy Mulder was better than a dead Mulder. “It won’t be for too long,” she told him. “Just until we find out who’s doing this to you.”

“Can’t you be my bodyguard?” he asked in a dejected voice.

“For the most part, I will be. But I’d like someone sitting outside watching the house. Maybe whoever’s doing this will think twice if they realize we’re aware of the threat and, consequently, that we’re actively investigating these attacks.”

Mulder nodded. “Okay. I can live with that.” With a groan, he rose to his feet. “Where do you want to start?”

His actions belied his words as he shuffled to the bedroom. She could tell his head was still killing him by the slow, careful tread of his step. Stealing a glance at the VCR clock, she noted that he had another half hour before he was due for his pain meds. She caught up with him and guided him into the darkened bedroom. “I’ll call Skinner, and you lie down until you can take another Percocet.”

“Uh, huh,” he said around a grimace, as he settled onto the queen-sized bed.

“Are you okay?” she asked, concerned by his compliance.

“I have the mother of all headaches,” he said in a voice that was so filled with pain, it brought tears to her eyes. She was tempted to disregard the timetable and just give him a pill, but she knew that the span of time between doses was there for a reason. As a physician, she’d been trained to respect and adhere to those types of rules; as a woman, though, she couldn’t stand to see Mulder suffering.

She’d blow off the half hour this once, but if it became a common occurrence, she’d have to request something stronger. Of course, if his head hurt that much, she’d have him back in the hospital so fast his head would spin, as well as hurt.

“I’m going to get you something for the pain, Mulder.” She patted him gently on his shoulder. “Be right back.”

He didn’t open his eyes, but she heard the croaked out, “Uh, huh.”

Upon returning, she found him with his arms wrapped around his head. After calling his name a couple of times brought no reaction, she tapped him lightly on his arm.

“Scully?”

“It’s me,” she said softly. “Come on. I have something that should help with that headache.”

Removing both arms, he gazed up at her through squinted eyes. “Oh, thank God. I thought I imagined it.”

She smiled sadly. “You didn’t.” She held the pill out. “Open.”

When he complied, she placed the pill against his lip, and he took it into his mouth. His hand was trembling, so she guided the glass of water to his lips, and he swallowed enough to get the pill down.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

She sat with him, massaging his temples, until he fell asleep.

**

Tuesday, February 21

Baltimore, Maryland

12:25 p.m.

It was very frustrating. After her successful encounter at Rock Creek Park, Fox Mulder had become virtually untouchable.

Someone was always with him, and she was dismayed to discover that his home was under surveillance. She knew that eventually the security would relax, but she had no desire to wait it out.

Revenge would be hers, and she was not about to wait for it.

**

Tuesday, February 21

X-Files Office

4:46 p.m.

“Whoa. Slow down, Mom. I can’t understand you.”

At the anxiety in his partner’s voice, Mulder looked up from the file he’d been reviewing. Cases from the past few years had yielded nothing, so now they were digging back into cases from five and six years ago. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

She held up a finger for silence, and he watched his partner’s countenance change from curiosity to alarm. “Is she sure? She didn’t arrange for a neighbor to meet them, and Matthew went off to get a soda or play video games or something?”

The mention of Scully’s nephew’s name brought Mulder’s full attention to his partner’s conversation.

“All right… Yes… Okay, Mom. Stay put. Mulder and I will be right over.” She flipped her cell phone shut and looked up, her face a picture of shock.

“What is it, Scully?” he asked, rising quickly and walking over to her. “Did something happen to Matthew?”

His partner nodded dully. “Tara took the kids to the mall after she picked up Matthew from school. They were in the ladies room… Tara was changing the baby’s diaper…” She looked up at him. “She turned away for a minute, and when she turned back he was gone.”

Mulder’s investigative skills kicked in. “She didn’t hear anything? He didn’t make any noise when he was taken?”

Scully shook her head. “She said no. She does remember the outside door opening and closing, but no one came in or went out. At the time she thought it was strange, but she was distracted with the baby. She figured whoever it was didn’t want to come in because of the smell from the diaper.” His partner took a breath. “That’s what took her attention for so long. The baby was a mess.”

“What about at the mall? Didn’t anybody see anything?”

“Uh…” Scully seemed to forget the question for a minute, but then she focused. “I couldn’t get any more details out of my mother. She was near hysterical.”

“I don’t blame her,” Mulder said sympathetically. He grabbed their coats. “Come on. Let’s go.” He slipped his coat on, then helped his shell-shocked partner into hers.

A horrible thought occurred to him as they waited for the elevator. Was he somehow responsible for Matthew’s abduction? Had this person taken Matthew because he couldn’t get to Mulder? If the same person was responsible for what happened at the ice rink, that person would be aware that Matthew somehow meant something to Mulder.

The elevator dinged its arrival, and he ushered Scully inside, hyper-aware of his fingers on her back. What would she think if her only nephew had been abducted because of her relationship with Mulder?

She should hate him for it. She should rue the day she ever laid eyes on him, and wish she’d never met him.

Yet she wouldn’t. She’d tell him that no one blamed him, and no one hated him, and it wasn’t his fault.

She’d be wrong.

**

Wednesday, February 22

En route from Baltimore to Georgetown

1:06 a.m.

Scully was exhausted. Although Tara had called the police and given her statement almost immediately after Matthew went missing, the two trained investigators knew they needed to hear the story for themselves. When they arrived at Tara’s, however, they were confronted with two hysterical women; a brief second of eye contact was all the communication they’d needed to know how they’d proceed.

Mulder sat in the living room with Tara while Scully tried to comfort her mother in the kitchen. Once she’d settled her mom at the table with a cup of tea, they’d paid more attention to what was being said in the other room than to each other.

Scully hoped the gentle timbre of her partner’s voice helped to calm Tara’s nerves a little; she knew it did wonders for her own nerves, and it seemed to be working on her mother, too. When Tara’s frenzied responses quieted down enough that Scully could no longer hear them, she knew that Mulder had succeeded in assuaging Tara enough that she could more clearly think through what she could remember.

After about half an hour, Mulder had come to the kitchen to ask her mother to stay with Tara while he and Scully discussed their next step. They’d decided that it would be in their best interests to check in with BPD, and let them know of Mulder’s and Scully’s personal involvement in this case and their intention to pursue an investigation.

The police lieutenant they’d spoken with had been more than happy to let the Feds take over the investigation. Overworked and understaffed, the police department wasn’t about to turn down an offer of help. After clearing it with Skinner, the case was theirs.

They’d gone to BPD to retrieve witness statements–which boiled down to an elderly couple recalling a boy of Matthew’s description walking hand-in-hand away from the ladies room with a woman of around thirty-five. Not much to go on, but the couple recalled how frightened the boy had looked, although he went with the woman willingly. After having been shown a picture of Matthew, they thought it might be him but they couldn’t be sure.

But it was the best lead they had, and Mulder had told her his gut said it felt right. And then he’d told her why.

Since she’d learned to trust Mulder’s instincts, she went along with his belief that whoever took Matthew did so because he couldn’t get to Mulder. She hated that she believed that, but it made sense.

She glanced at her partner, then kept her gaze on him as they took the on-ramp to the beltway. He was beating himself up over this, and no amount of support, no heartfelt assurances that she still loved him, would penetrate that thick skull of his. No one did self-flagellation like Mulder.

Yet, she’d try anyway. He’d acknowledge it, and he’d appreciate it; he just wouldn’t believe it. And Scully would get frustrated and angry and shut him out. And Mulder would accept it because it’s how he believed she should feel toward him. Which would only increase her frustration because she’d proven him right.

Maybe she’d try another approach this time. No support, no heartfelt assurances. Just two agents striving toward finding one little boy.

“Do you think our perp is a woman?” she asked him.

“What?” She’d startled him out of his thoughts, and he took a moment to regroup before nodding. “Yes. I do.”

“Someone you know? Or knew?”

He blew out a breath. “I’ve been trying, but I can’t think of anyone who would do this.”

“No one you’ve spurned in the past few years? Maybe this has nothing to do with any of our cases.”

He drew in a breath, then let it out slowly. Pursing his lips, he shook his head. “I haven’t been close to a woman in years, Scully. Except for you.”

She couldn’t help but smile at that before her mind returned to business. “Maybe someone had a crush on you, made a pass at you that you didn’t reciprocate?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. How would I know? God, I’m so tired I can’t even think any more.”

She had to chuckle. “Mulder, all you do *is* think.”

He allowed a small smile to crease his face. “Maybe. But it’s not very productive thinking.” He glanced at her before turning back to the road. “Mostly, it’s *de*structive thinking.” Another shrug. “You know.”

Indeed she did, but she wasn’t about to fall for that encouragement trap crap. “Yup,” she answered simply.

The surprise on his face was almost comical; were it not for the serious nature of the subject matter, she would have laughed out loud. He looked thoughtful for a minute before his expression changed, and he nodded his head in understanding. “You’re trying a different tactic this time.”

It was her turn to shrug. “You’re going to feel the same regardless of what I say or do.”

He ducked his head as if trying to hide from her. “It’s not intentional, Scully. I can’t help the way I feel.”

She nodded. “I realize that.”

He drove in silence for a few miles, the sound of their breathing the only sound in the car. “I know you love me, no matter what,” he said finally.

She looked hard at him. “Do you? Do you really know that, or are you telling me what you think I want to hear?”

He took in a shaky breath. “I know it. Even when you don’t want to, you do.” Taking his eyes off the road, he turned pleading eyes upon her. “But I don’t know if that’s right, Scully. I don’t know that you should love me sometimes.” He looked away. “I don’t know if I want you to.”

She closed her eyes and sighed; so much for changing tactics. This man could try the patience of a saint. Just when she thought she’d broken him of that ‘I’m responsible for every bad thing that happens in Scully’s life’ mindset, he finds a new way to prove that she hasn’t. Did he truly think she should stop loving him whenever things went wrong? Did he think it now?

“And is this one of those times?” she asked him.

He almost smiled, shaking his head. “No. I don’t think that this was a direct result of anything I did. This perp may be fixated on me, but I think a lot of it’s in her mind.” He glanced over at her. “You’re probably more aware of women noticing me than I am. Has anyone seemed… I don’t know… enthralled by me lately? Anyone looking when I wasn’t?”

Scully didn’t have to think too hard. She noticed any time some woman cast an appreciative eye Mulder’s way. Of course, she wasn’t about to let on to him, so she waited a respectable fifteen seconds before answering. “Oh, twenty or thirty, but that’s nothing new.”

At Mulder’s startled look, Scully laughed. “What? Are you going to tell me you didn’t know?”

Mulder shook his head, then a blush colored his cheeks. “Well… not that many.” He gave her a sideways look. “Are you sure you’re not padding that figure a little?”

She smiled at him. “Not really, stud. Everywhere we go, women’s gazes linger over you. One glare from me, though, is usually enough to back them off.”

He looked like he didn’t believe her but he smiled anyway. “Thanks. I think.” He stole a glance at her. “So… anybody glare back?”

“Nope.” She met his glance. “I would have remembered.”

He blew out a breath. “So we’re back to square one.”

Ashamed that they’d been joking while poor Matthew was going through who-knew-what, Scully dipped her head. “Yeah. No suspects and no leads.”

“I guess we’ll have to hope that whoever has him still wants me, and contacts us.”

Her head snapped up at that. “Contacts you, you mean.”

He shrugged. “Whatever.”

“No,” she said, knowing exactly what he would do when that call came. “You will not go off on your own. You will not sacrifice yourself, even for Matthew.”

He had the good grace to look properly chastised. “I won’t,” he said without an ounce of conviction in his voice.

“Mulder…” she said in a warning tone. “Promise me you’ll tell me if you get a call. Promise me you won’t take off and leave me in the dark as to your whereabouts.”

“Scully…” She knew he was loath to promise because he was afraid that when the time came, he would disappoint her. Yet she knew that if she got him to commit to a promise, he would at least consider her feelings before he went off half-assed and did something they’d both regret. So getting him to promise was important, and she would not back down.

“Promise me, Mulder,” she pressed. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t go, I’m just saying I want you to let me know. I want to be able to cover your back if anything happens.” She frowned. “Which we know usually does.”

He took a deep breath, then nodded his head. “I promise. I’ll call you right after I get the call.”

She squeezed his knee gently. “Thanks, partner.”

Mulder didn’t say anything; he just nodded his head solemnly and laid a hand over hers.

They drove the rest of the way in silence.

**

Wednesday, February 22

X-Files Office

4:20 p.m.

When the call finally came, Scully wasn’t with him. She had gone to church to pray with her mother, and when Mulder phoned her, he got her voice mail. Assuming she had turned the ringer to silent, he could do nothing but leave her a message.

He gave her the address he’d been given, even though he knew it would not be the final destination. The caller, who was not a woman, he noted, directed him to leave his gun and cell phone at home, and to be at the address provided–a pay phone, he suspected–in fifteen minutes. Mulder knew the location and knew that he had no time to spare to call his partner. He called her anyway.

Since he took the call on his cell in the basement office, Mulder was certain that the kidnapper could not see him, especially since he was told to leave his phone and gun ‘at home.’ Still, he didn’t know what resources this person had, and he didn’t want to take any chances with Matthew’s life, so he did as instructed and left his weapons and his phone on top of his desk.

He took a second to grab an item from his bottom desk drawer before he ran out the door.

**

Act III

Outside of St. Theresa Catholic Church

Baltimore, MD

4:49 p.m.

“Damn!” Scully swore after she’d listened to the message.

“What is it, Dana? Did something happen to Matthew?”

She heard the fear in her mother’s tone, and chastised herself for reacting as she did in front of her. “No, Mom. I’m upset because the kidnapper called Mulder, and he’s gone off to meet her alone.”

“Why did the kidnapper call Fox?” Mrs. Scully asked.

Oh, damn. She really didn’t want her mother to know that Matthew was taken as some kind of vendetta against Mulder. They’d followed standard kidnapping procedures, enlisting the aid of a team who were standing by at Tara’s home, waiting for the ransom call. That the call would most likely come to her partner had never been disclosed to her mother or Tara.

“We…” She hesitated and took a breath, glancing at her mother, but unable to maintain eye contact. “We think Matty may have been taken by someone who knows Mulder.”

“What do you mean, Dana? Why would a friend of Fox’s take Matthew?”

Oh, God, this was going to be hard. “She’s not a friend of his, Mom. She’s…” How could she put this so her mother wouldn’t blame Mulder? “We think some woman… some woman who Mulder might not even know… has been attacking him or having him attacked. When we put him under protection, we think she took Matthew to get to Mulder.”

“What? Some… She took…” her mother spluttered. Then she grabbed her daughter’s elbow, forcing her to face her. “You’re telling me this is because of Fox? Some crazy woman took my baby because she wanted Fox?”

Although she didn’t want to, Scully nodded.

Mrs. Scully released her and turned away. When she started speaking in a low voice, Scully had to strain to hear her. “I don’t know whether or not Fox is responsible for this atrocity, Dana. And I know it’s not fair to him, especially since he’s gone to try to get Matthew back…” Her mother spun back around to face her. “…but sometimes I wish you’d never met him. Sometimes I think we’d all be better off if you’d never brought him into our lives.”

Scully felt her eyes sting with tears. It hurt to hear it, hurt to find herself agreeing with her mother. And it hurt that Mulder was well aware that she sometimes felt this way, sometimes wished he’d never crossed her path. Yet if they hadn’t met, she couldn’t help but feel that she would have missed out on the most enriching experience of her life by not knowing him, not being loved by him, not loving him.

It was true that his presence had at times hurt her, but she knew without a doubt that his absence would kill her. So she was sorry about her sister, her brother and her nephew, but she’d never be sorry Mulder was in her life.

Even when he was.

**

Unknown Location

7:05 p.m.

An old hand at blindfolds, Mulder fought against the claustrophobic effect the hood was beginning to have on him. He estimated an hour and a half had passed since he’d been ordered to strip naked and change into a whole new set of clothes; it had almost killed him to trade the Armani for the ever-elegant hospital scrubs and slippers. They wouldn’t even let him keep his own socks and shoes!

As he bid adieu to another article of clothing, his hands were tied behind his back and the heavy burlap sack was unceremoniously dropped over his head. The cloth was thick and smelled of rancid water buffalo, and his first breath in caused him to gag. As he tried to prevent himself from vomiting, it hit him that that’s what the smell was: someone had already beaten him to it. For the next few minutes, he was occupied with keeping his lunch where it belonged.

By the time he’d adjusted to the odor, and he’d given his mind a good talking to about dwelling on the pure ickiness of what he’d been forced to wear, they were well under way and he hadn’t a clue in hell as to which direction they were heading.

He’d congratulated himself for recognizing the clothes switch scenario from an old McGyver episode, but the throw-up in the hood was pure genius. Of course, more than likely it wasn’t intentional and was provided by a previous ‘guest.’

Mulder froze. The ‘previous guest’ was probably Matthew. Poor kid must have been scared to death to… “Hey!” he addressed his ‘escorts,’ two men.

“Whaddaya want?” came a gravely voice from the front seat.

Mulder ‘looked’ toward the voice. “Did you take the kid?”

After a beat, ‘Brutus’ answered, “Yeah. What about it?”

“Is he okay?” Mulder asked. “Was he hurt or sick?”

“Kid puked in the car.” A chuckle. “But you probably guessed that.”

Well in control of himself now, Mulder said, “Yes, I did. But was he okay after that? Why’d you have to put the hood on him anyway? He’s a little kid. He wouldn’t know where he was.”

“The broad said he doesn’t see where he’s going, and she’s payin’ the big bucks, so we covered ‘im up.”

Mulder nodded. It would do no good arguing with them over the method they’d selected. It was over and done with now. “So is he all right?”

“Kid’s fine.” Mulder felt the car stop. “You can see for yourself in a minute.”

When he got out of the car, Mulder listened intently trying to get a fix on what kind of setting they could be in. He heard a brook or stream running nearby, and a few wild birdcalls. It was a cinch they were in a wooded area; the smell of pine was strong, even through the stinking sack, and he could feel the needles beneath his slippered feet. And Brutus and the phantom cursed a blue streak about having to ‘schlep in and out of the freakin’ jungle.’

He had to give them credit, though. They didn’t push or manhandle him during their trek; each took an arm and guided him unerringly through the forest. As seeing-eye dogs, they were a credit to their profession.

After about five minutes, they stopped, and Brutus rapped on the door. “It’s us. Open up.”

The door opened a few seconds later. Mulder was led inside, and the hood was pulled off. Finally. Blinking from the sudden onslaught of light, he took a few gulps of fresh air, savoring the sweetness of it until he spotted Matthew lying on a bed, asleep. After ascertaining that he was in good shape, he faced the woman who had planted herself about a foot from where he was standing.

“So you’re him.” She looked him up and down, almost timidly.

Mulder stared hard at the frail-looking woman, wracking his brain for some sort of recognition to pop into his brain. Nothing. Who was this fruitcake? “Do I know you?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “No, Mr. Mulder.” She gave him a grimace that he guessed was supposed to be a smile. “I don’t know you, either.”

Mulder was totally confused. “Then why…” He gestured toward Matthew with his chin. “What have I done to you?”

The woman sighed. “Not a thing. It’s not you who’s responsible. It’s *her*.”

Mulder didn’t know about whom she was speaking. His mother? His sister? What could either of them have done to this woman that she’d hate him so? “I don’t understand,” he said. “Who are you talking about?”

“*Her*.” She practically spat the word out. “He thought I was *her*.” Her eyes were full of loathing when they met his. “He would call for her. He always called for her.” He didn’t think it possible, but the hatred in the woman’s eyes grew stronger. “But she wasn’t there. I was there, and still he called for her.” As she looked back into her mind, her expression softened. “But I was there for him.” She looked at Mulder. “I pretended to be her, and I pretended it was me he loved.” She looked away again. “But it wasn’t me he loved. It wasn’t me he wanted.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, feeling this woman’s anguish. “But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The woman pushed him into a chair. “Your lover. Dana.”

Mulder was stunned. “Scully? You’re talking about Scully?”

The woman’s upper lip curled up in a sneer. “Yes. For years I took care of him. Not out of a sense of duty, but out of love. And when he died it wasn’t his daughter he said goodbye to. It was his lover.” She stabbed him with her eyes. “*Her.* Your lover.”

Mulder just stared at the woman who vacillated between heartbreakingly vulnerable and heart-stoppingly scary. He had an idea of whom he might be dealing with now, and it gave him no measure of encouragement. For clearly the woman detested his partner, and whether or not those feelings were justified was irrelevant. She obviously felt they were, or he wouldn’t be here right now.

“What happened?” he asked softly. Then he added, “Maggie.”

Her head jerked up, and she stared at him in surprise. “She told you? About my father?”

Mulder nodded slowly. Scully had told him all about her affair with Daniel Waterston, Maggie Waterston’s father. About how he came into her life again after ten years, and how she left father and daughter to mend the bridges between them. And in the middle of finishing her tale, she’d fallen asleep on his couch. It was the first night they had slept together.

He looked at the woman standing before him. It seemed that things didn’t work out nearly as well for her as they had for him.

“Did she tell you that she broke up their marriage? That my father left my mother and followed her to Washington? That he moved there to be near her?” The woman looked calm, so Mulder answered honestly.

He shook his head. “She told me that she loved him, but she didn’t know he was married when she started a relationship with him–”

“That’s a lie!” Maggie screeched.

Mulder’s attention was drawn away from the furious woman by a whimpering sound off to his left. Maggie’s shriek had woken Matthew, and the boy was cowering under the covers. When he spotted Mulder, he scrambled out of the bed and ran to him, throwing his arms around Mulder’s middle. “Uncle Mulder!”

The agent wanted so much to hug the frightened child, but his hands were still bound behind his back. “Hey, buddy. You okay?”

Not giving any indication of letting go, Matthew nodded into Mulder’s stomach.

“Oh, for cripes sake!” Maggie forcibly pulled Matthew away from Mulder, and threw him onto the bed.

“Uncle!” Matty screamed, and Mulder’s heart clenched at the terror in that small voice.

“Hey, what’d you have to do that for? He wasn’t doing anything wrong.” He looked at Matthew. “It’s okay, Matt. You’ll be home soon,” he tried to soothe the terrified boy.

When Mulder looked back at his captor to ask her to take it easy on the kid, he sucked in a breath when he saw the malice in her eyes. A nod from her, and he was seized by Brutus and the phantom. “For God’s sake,” he pleaded with her, “do whatever you have to to me, but not in front of him.” He indicated Matthew with his head. “Don’t make him watch something like this.”

Maggie seemed amused by that. “Let him go,” she told the men, and they complied. Mulder sighed in relief at the reprieve, however brief it might be.

“Just what it is you think I’m going to do to you, Mr. Mulder?” she asked in a mild tone that scared the shit out of him.

“Uh… Beat me up?” He swallowed hard. God, he hoped that’s all she planned to have done to him. This woman was so off her rocker.

“And you don’t want her child to see that?”

Wha…? “He’s not her child. He’s her nephew,” Mulder corrected. Maybe she’d let Matthew go if —

‘I know that!” she yelled into his face, splattering him with her spittle. “He’s her brother’s son, so he’s of the same blood. That makes him hers.” She tilted her face in curiosity. “And yours?”

Having no idea what she was getting at, Mulder let his gaze slip away to the boy huddled in the corner, and he shook his head. “No. We’re not related.” He had a sudden thought that might garner him a little kinship with the crazy woman. “I have no family left.”

She studied him carefully, reading his face. “Neither do I,” she finally said softly.

“I’m sorry,” Mulder said sincerely.

“Me, too,” she said, turning around to gaze wistfully at Matthew. Suddenly, she pivoted on her heel and cracked the back of her hand across Mulder’s cheek. Totally unprepared for her attack, Mulder lost his balance and landed flat on his back, stunned. When he could think again, he found her towering over him, enraged.

“She said the same thing. To me. And to him. Right before she left him.” She lifted her booted foot and kicked him in the side with all the might of the truly insane. “She left! But he didn’t. He stayed, waiting for her to come back.” She looked down on him with distaste. “But she wasn’t coming back, was she?” She spat in his face. “Because she was with you.”

Mulder was beginning to get the picture; ignoring the wetness dripping down his face, he said, “But you didn’t want her to come back, did you, Maggie? You were glad when she didn’t return.”

“That’s right. She didn’t deserve him.”

“But it didn’t work out the way you thought, did it? He still wanted her.”

Maggie nodded. “He waited. For five years, until he got sick.” She looked at him, then helped him back up to his feet. “Alzheimer’s. He deteriorated pretty rapidly.”

Afraid that saying anything would trigger another outburst, Mulder just nodded.

“I kept him with me. Took care of him.”

Again Mulder nodded. He backed away when he saw the change come over her.

“When he was out of his mind, he thought he was with her. When he came back to reality, I could see the disappointment in his eyes.” She stabbed him with her eyes. “Do you what that feels like? Your own father disappointed because you were there and not some floozy!”

Mulder had to laugh at that. Oh, yeah, he could relate. “As a matter of fact, I do,” he said, and immediately wished he could take it back. Christ! When would he learn to keep his big yap shut?

“You don’t know anything!” she shouted at him.

“Right. Right. You’re right. I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he tried to backpedal.

“Don’t patronize me!” she shrieked.

He backed away, but it was right into the waiting arms of Brutus and the phantom. “Mr. Mulder is concerned about the boy’s delicate feelings.” She nodded approvingly at him. “Very commendable.” Her gaze shifted back to something resembling sanity. “I have nothing against you personally, Mr. Mulder. But your suffering will cause her to suffer.” She glanced back at Matthew. “I took the boy as bait. He won’t be hurt.”

Mulder nodded. “I’ll hold you to that.”

She chuckled, shaking her head. “It’s too bad you chose the wrong person to love, Mr. Mulder. If it wasn’t for that one flaw–and it’s a big one, mind you–I think I could go for a charmer like you.”

Mulder tried to suppress the shudder that thought produced. God, why did he attract all the loonies?

With a tilt of her head, she indicated the door. “Take Mr. Mulder far enough away that the boy won’t hear his screams.”

Mulder nodded his gratitude even as he pondered upon the absurdity of thanking the person who was giving the order to beat the living shit out of him.

**

6:16 p.m.

Scully stormed into the basement office and headed straight for Mulder’s desk and the bottom drawer.

Damn it, she’d wasted a good half hour mollifying her mother and trying to explain to Tara–and the agents at her house–why the call came to Mulder and not Tara. Surprisingly, her sister-in-law took the news much better than her mother, assigning the blame not to Mulder but to the woman who had fixated on him. She told Scully that she was glad it was Mulder rather than some nameless agent who went after Matthew because she knew that he’d do whatever it took to protect her son.

Scully felt a little better at that, even though she was worried out of her mind at just what lengths Mulder would go to to protect Matthew. Because he felt responsible for Matthew’s kidnapping, he was sure to call the brunt of the woman’s wrath upon himself and away from Matty.

Which is why she was in such a frenzy right now. Mulder’s message had told her where he’d been directed to go, but he also said he was certain it was only the first of many stops. And he’d left his phone and both his weapons–and his badge–behind. She nodded her approval; if the accomplices didn’t know Mulder was F.B.I., they might be more compelled to keep him alive.

She opened the desk drawer and rummaged around inside until she came up with the item for which she had been searching. It had been sort of a semi-serious joke gift from the gunmen to her when she and Mulder had informed them that they were officially a couple.

They’d taken her to the back room and presented her with what they called a ‘Mulder tracker.’ Simply put, it was a highly-sophisticated, almost undetectable electronic bug that was designed to be attached to the skin behind the ear. Painted a Mulder-matching flesh tone, it was near impossible to see once he put it on.

She’d loved it, he’d pretended to be insulted by it, but they both never thought they’d ever have to use it. It had been stuck in that bottom drawer for so long that she’d forgotten it had ever existed; trust Mulder’s steel-trap mind to remember it.

Taking the calculator-sized tracer out and placing it on her desk, she turned it on. A second later, she was rewarded with a red blip.

Mulder.

The trouble was, she didn’t know how to make heads or tails out of what she was seeing. She guessed she should have taken the gunmen up on their offer of lessons.

Digging through her purse, she brought out her phone and hit speed button 4, marveling that three paranoid geeks merited a number higher than her doctor or her hairdresser. “Turn off the tape,” she said automatically.

“Scully?” John Byers asked.

“It’s me. I need your help.”

Byers’ “Anything” brought a smile to her face. She could always count on her geeks.

“Long story short, Matthew’s been kidnapped, Mulder’s gone after him, and he’s wearing the bug.” She eyed the device. “I need your help to find him. I don’t know how to work the tracker.”

“Okay, Scully. We’ll be right over. Where are you?”

“In the office. How soon can you be here?”

There was a pause of about ten seconds, during which Scully tapped her foot impatiently. “Give us half an hour.”

She checked her watch. “Right. I’ll be out front.”

Disconnecting the call, she turned off the tracker and went to inform Skinner. She and the gunmen would lead the way, but the troops–and an ambulance–would be right behind her.

**

Unknown Location

7:47 p.m.

“I don’t care what she’s paying us. That broad’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal.”

When Mulder looked up at the strange voice from where he was lying among the pine needles, he was blinded by a bright flash. Blinking his eyes to rid them of the spots marring his vision, his fuzzy mind focused upon Brutus and the phantom. Did the phantom just speak?

“Yeah, she’s as batty as a fruitcake,” Brutus ground out, “but she’s rolling in dough.”

Even through his pain, Mulder spluttered a laugh. These two were the embodiment of ‘all brawn and no brains.’

“Somethin’ funny?” Brutus asked, looming over him.

Mulder breathed in, gasping at the sharp pain with which his ribs rewarded him. “Just agreeing with you,” he lied. “Maggie’s missing a few buttons on her remote control.”

The phantom snorted in amusement. “You got that right, partner. Look, don’t let on to the whacko that we went easy on you.”

Mulder stared up at the man. This was going easy on him? His eye was swollen shut, he had several broken ribs, and he was pretty sure at least one tooth had been knocked out. He didn’t want to think about what they would have done to him if they had given it their all.

He nodded his compliance, though, in case they had been considering round two. At least they had untied him before they pounded the crap out of him.

“Look, I gotta take another picture,” Brutus said. “Try to look a little more beat up, will ya?”

Mulder blinked in confusion. “Picture?”

Brutus pointed the small digital camera at Mulder. “Crazy lady’s orders. Rough you up, then take a bunch of pictures from all different angles.” He shrugged. “Hey, everybody’s got a fetish.”

“Just do it, will ya,” the phantom growled. “She’s alone with the kid again.”

Mulder’s senses perked up at this. “Why? What does she do to him when they’re alone?”

Brutus scowled at him. “Nuthin’, man. She just don’t like the kid. Says he looks at her all the time.”

Mulder breathed a sigh of relief, his imagination having gone wild for a moment. “He’s just scared. He was probably looking to her for comfort.”

The phantom grunted. “Well, he’ll never see it from her. That’s got to be the coldest bitch I’ve ever seen.”

“Did she hurt him?” Mulder asked.

“Nah. Mostly she ignores him. We give the kid his meals and take him to the bathroom. She don’t want nothin’ to do with him.”

“Think she’ll let him go?” Mulder asked hopefully.

“Not a chance,” Brutus answered. “She hates that Dana chick, and really gets off on how the kid’s goin’ missing, and now you, are making her crazy.” The man chortled. “Like she should talk.” He shook his head. “Nutty broad.”

A couple more flashes, and Brutus put the camera back into its case, then slung the strap over his shoulder. “Well, let’s get you back, pal.”

When they finally got him to his feet, Mulder thought he might pass out; he’d forgotten how very much broken ribs could hurt, and his side was killing him. Letting the two men support him, he began the long trek back to the cabin. They let him take his time, neither manhandling him other than to keep him from falling flat on his face. ‘Pros,’ Mulder thought, and wondered how someone with Maggie’s background had ever found them.

As they approached the cabin, the door was yanked open before they could reach it. “Get him in here and over there with that kid. He’s driving me crazy.”

“That’ll be a short trip,” the phantom muttered, taking the words right out of Mulder’s mouth.

“Hurry it up,” she said, waving an arm toward Matthew’s cot.

“What’s the rush?” the phantom asked.

“Did you take them? Where are the pictures?” she asked instead of answering.

“They’re right here,” Brutus said, unslinging the camera bag from his shoulder and holding it out to her. “In the case.”

“Good, good,” she cackled, grabbing it and scuttling over to the counter beside the sink.

Mulder exchanged a look with the phantom, and Brutus whispered, “She really needs to get a life.”

Mulder’s laugh quickly changed to a grunt of pain when the men lowered him to the bed. He lay still with his eyes tightly closed before he remembered about his audience. “Hey, Matty,” he said, forcing his eyes open to find the child watching him anxiously.

“Uncle Mulder,” the boy choked out, taking in Mulder’s black eye, the only visible sign of the beating he had just been dealt. “Did Jim and Jock hurt you?”

Mulder blinked. Jim and Jock? He’d been calling them Brutus and the phantom for so long now he’d forgotten that those were not their real names. Well, whoever they were, at least they’d cared for Matthew, much more so than that bitch in the kitchen. For that and ‘taking it easy on him,’ he owed them.

“Just a little bit,” he told Matthew.

“She made them, didn’t she?” Matt asked, eyeing the woman distastefully. “She’s mean.”

Mulder nodded. “Did she do anything to you? Hurt you?”

Matthew shook his head. “She doesn’t talk to me. She talks to them to talk to me.”

Mulder patted the boy’s hand. “That’s probably for the best, Matt. She’s a little… unbalanced.”

“You mean she’s crazy,” Matthew said, surprising Mulder. “I already know that. Jock told me. He told me to just do what I was told and be quiet, and she’d leave me alone.”

“And you did, right? You didn’t do anything to make her mad at you?”

Matthew shook his head. “Even when Jim and Jock were gone for a long time and I had to go to the bathroom real bad, I didn’t say anything.”

Mulder smiled. “Good boy.” He made the mistake of shifting just then, closing his eyes and biting his lip until the pain was bearable. “Oh, God,” he uttered when he could breathe again.

He found Matty’s eyes glued to him, tears tracking down his cheeks. “What’s wrong, Uncle Mulder? Does your eye hurt real bad?”

Mulder decided not to lie to the boy. “Uh… Well, yeah. But my stomach is hurt, too.”

“Why did they hurt you?” Matthew asked. “I didn’t think they were mean like her.”

“They aren’t,” Mulder hastened to reassure him. Mulder didn’t want the boy any more frightened than he already was. “They work for her, though, and she told them to hurt me.”

“But they didn’t have to! Couldn’t they tell her no?”

“I don’t think so, Matty. When you work for someone, you have to do what they tell you if you want to get paid.”

“Even if it’s something bad?” he asked. He looked at Mulder, appraising him. “You wouldn’t do something bad if someone told you to, would you, Uncle?”

Mulder sighed. “Probably not. But I’m not the same as them.”

Matthew sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “I want to go home.”

“I know, Matty,” Mulder said, gathering the child into his arms even though it hurt like hell. He could withstand a little pain, and Matthew needed the closeness.

And, if he was truthful with himself, so did he.

Come on, Scully, he thought, as he found himself slipping into unconsciousness. Find us.

**

Outside the Hoover Building

6:59 p.m.

“You’re late.”

“Traffic was a bitch,” Langley said as he helped her up and into the van. “Do you have it?”

She settled herself into the front seat across from Frohike, who was driving. “No, I left it in the office,” she said, as she handed it over.

“Nice,” Langley said, his tone indicating that he meant anything but. “You’ve been hanging around with Mulderman too long. Picking up some of his more nasty habits.”

Scully felt properly chastised; after all, it was she who’d requested their help. “Sorry,” she said. “I just need to find them.”

“We know, Scully,” Byers, sitting across from Langley in the open back compartment, said. “We want to find them too.” He tilted his head, and she read puzzlement there. “”Do you know why your nephew was kidnapped?”

“To get Mulder.” She sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“It’s going to be a long trip,” Langley said. “I’ve got a fix on them, but they’re about two hours away, in Virginia.”

Scully settled herself in more comfortably, and began her tale.

**

Somewhere in Virginia

9:22 p.m.

Mulder awoke with a scream when someone pushed on his side. Through the rushing in his head, he heard a woman’s voice. “Wake up, Mr. Mulder. The boy keeps calling for you, and he’s getting on my nerves.”

Looking around groggily, Mulder found Matthew curled into his side, crying. Oh, God, he’d passed out on the kid. “Matty. Hey, Matty, c’mon, buddy. I’m sorry I fell asleep on you.”

“Uncle?” Matthew crawled up closer to Mulder and laid his head on Mulder’s shoulder. “I was scared.”

Mulder wrapped an arm around the boy, snuggling him to his side; he gritted his teeth against the agony just that small movement produced. “I know. I’m sorry, buddy. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“I couldn’t wake you up,” Matt sniffed. “Jim and Jock left, and the lady yelled at me ’cause I was crying.”

Mulder perked up at this news. “They left?”

Matthew nodded. “She doesn’t like me,” he whispered. “So when Jim and Jock left I tried to wake you up, but I couldn’t, and I was scared and I started crying, and she yelled at me.”

“I’m sorry, Matty. I won’t fall asleep again. I promise.” He hoped that was a promise he wouldn’t break, but he felt truly awful. Whatever was wrong with him, it was much more than a few broken ribs. Sneaking a peek over at Maggie, he found her sitting at the kitchen table, carrying on a conversation with a laptop computer. God, she was getting battier by the minute. He wondered how long he was out, and whether Scully was here yet.

“Matty, was I asleep for a long time?” he asked.

The boy nodded vigorously. “A real long time.”

Mulder sighed. He supposed to the scared boy, anything over five minutes was a long time. How he wished he had his watch; he was kind of glad, though, that he’d left it back in the office. At least that was one thing he wouldn’t have to replace.

Shifting around, trying to see if there was a clock in the place, Mulder was pulled up short by an excruciating stabbing in his side where Maggie had kicked him earlier. Using the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Matthew, Mulder felt down his side and almost cried out when he reached the spot. Oh, crap, it was soft and squishy and it hurt like blazes. That was so not a good sign.

Goddammit, Brutus and the phantom worked him over for a good ten minutes, and the bitch lands one lucky blow and damages a kidney. How very heartening to find that the Mulder luck was still in full force. Christ, would he *ever* catch a break?

“Does your stomach hurt, Uncle?” He looked up to find Matthew watching him with a sympathetic look on his face. Damn if his expression wasn’t the mirror of his aunt’s! For a brief second, Mulder allowed himself to wonder if their children would look like Matthew, and he smiled.

“Yeah, but it’s okay, Matty. When your aunt Dana gets here, she’ll get me fixed up.”

“Auntie Dana’s coming?” he asked excitedly, keeping his voice down. Smart kid, Mulder thought, impressed that he’d had the sense to keep his voice quiet.

“Any time now,” he said, and hoped it was true. As much as he wanted to keep his promise to Matthew, he could feel himself disconnecting from this plain of existence. It was only Matty’s presence by his side, and the fear of leaving him alone with Maggie, queen of fruitcakes, that kept him conscious.

Suddenly, the door was kicked in, and blue-coated F.B.I. agents swarmed into the interior of the cabin. Mulder strained to find his partner, breathing a sigh of relief when he spotted her shoving her way through the sea of men to get to him.

“Mulder! Matthew! Are you all right?” She took in both their appearances anxiously.

“I’m okay, Auntie Dana,” Matthew said, launching himself into her arms. “But Uncle Mulder has a hurt eye and a hurt stomach.”

With Matthew now by her side, Scully approached him on the bed. “Mulder? Where are you hurt?”

“It’s not too bad, Scully,” he said, indicating the boy with his eyes.

She caught on right away. “Matthew, I’m going to take you to stay with some friends of mine for a few minutes while I look at Uncle Mulder’s injuries. Their names are John, Melvin and Ringo. Okay?”

Matthew looked fearfully first at Scully, then at Mulder. Mulder smiled encouragingly at him. “Don’t worry, Matt. They’re great guys, and they’ll take really good care of you until your Aunt Dana and I come to get you.”

“Okay,” he said, still unsure.

Scully smiled, and started toward the door when she came upon two agents who were escorting a cuffed Maggie Waterston to the door. Scully stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh, my God. Maggie?”

“You!” Maggie shrieked upon seeing Scully. “It’s all your fault! But I made you suffer for it. I made you suffer like you made me suffer.”

“Maggie, what?” a still-stunned Scully asked the woman.

“He’s dead,” Maggie said, calmly. “I had to suffer, and you had to suffer. That’s all there is to it.”

Scully stared at her for a second. “Daniel? Your father’s dead? When? How?”

“Not that you ever cared, he died two weeks ago. In *my* arms, calling *your* name.”

“Oh, my God. Maggie, I’m so sorry.”

“You always say that!” she shouted. “But sorry doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t make my father love me instead of you. It doesn’t do anything!”

Starting to fight against her captors, the agents nodded to Scully and hauled the struggling woman outside.

Scully glanced at Mulder, letting her eyes slide away. “I’ll be right back,” she said in a dazed voice, taking Matthew’s hand and leading him outside.

She returned five minutes later with two paramedics in tow. Mulder lay as quietly as he could while they took his vitals and got him ready for transport. They’d confirmed the damaged kidney, along with three broken ribs and a few assorted cuts and bruises. They said they weren’t too concerned with the ribs, but they wanted to get him to the hospital as soon as possible because of the internal bleeding. An I.V. and a couple of bandages later, and he was in the back of the ambulance, partner by his side.

“I can’t ride with you, Mulder,” she said not meeting his eyes. “I have to take care of Matthew.”

Now that Matty was safe, and Scully had come to their rescue, Mulder felt that it was okay to let go. Besides, whatever was in that I.V. was making him drowsy as well as dulling the pain. “I know, Scully,” he slurred. “I’m gonna sleep now anyway.”

“We’ll meet you at the hospital,” she said, climbing out when the attendant indicated they were about to leave.

“Okay,” he agreed, watching the doors close through heavy lids.

Nighty-night, he said to himself as he drifted away.

**

Act IV

Thursday, February 23

Western State Hospital

Staunton, Virginia

12:46 a.m.

“Dana!”

Scully lifted her head from where it had been resting atop Matthew’s to find Tara and her mother rushing toward her. The gunmen, who had been scattered amongst the chairs in various forms of repose, sprang to their feet as her family approached. “We’re going to stretch our legs, Scully,” John Byers told her softly. “We’ll be back later.”

Scully nodded and looked up at her mother. “Shh,” she shushed, holding a finger in front of her lips and indicating the sleeping boy with her gaze. “He’s exhausted.”

“I should think so,” Maggie Scully huffed, sitting beside her daughter while Matthew’s mother took the chair next to her son. Tara apologized with her eyes as she took her son’s weight away from Scully and onto herself. Scully smiled and relinquished her hold on her nephew.

“How is Fox?” her mother asked, the usual warmth toward her daughter’s partner noticeably missing.

“In surgery,” she answered. “He came in with blunt trauma injury to his kidney, and the IVP–that’s the test to determine the extent of damage–showed some bleeding. They’re repairing it now.” She glanced at her sister-in-law and found her listening raptly. “He’ll have to stay here about a week; when they assess the functioning of the kidney after a couple of days, if it’s improving, he’ll be released to bed rest at home.”

“That’s good news, Dana,” Tara said. “I’m glad he’ll be okay.”

“Thanks, Tara,” Scully said. She looked over at the sleeping boy. “Mulder watched over Matthew for you,” she said quietly.

Before her sister-in-law could reply, her mother said, “I suppose it’s the least he could do, considering this was all his fault.”

“Maggie!” Tara rebuked her.

“I’m sorry, Tara, but you know that none of this would have happened if Dana wasn’t involved with Fox. That woman wouldn’t have known about Matthew if she and Fox hadn’t taken him skating that day.”

“And *you* know that it wasn’t Mulder’s fault that this woman fixated on him.”

Maggie shook her head and looked at her daughter. “I’m sorry, but this is the last straw. I love Fox like my own son, but I have to place the blame this time squarely where it belongs.”

“On me,” Scully interrupted.

Her mother sighed. “No one’s blaming you for this, Dana.”

“No one’s blaming Mulder, either,” Tara said sternly with a meaningful look at her mother-in-law.

“I am,” Maggie said. “Matthew could have been hurt or–”

“But he’s not,” Tara interjected. “He’s my son, and I don’t blame Mulder for this. If anything, I’m grateful to him for putting himself in harm’s way to save Matthew. My God, Maggie, the man is in surgery, and Matthew doesn’t have a scratch on him!”

“Mom?” a sleepy little voice asked.

“It’s me, Matty honey. Are you okay?”

“Uh, huh. I was scared, but then Uncle Mulder came and I wasn’t scared anymore.” The child scrunched up his face. “Well, I was once when Uncle Mulder fell asleep and I couldn’t wake him up. But then he did, and I wasn’t scared anymore.” Looking up at his mother, he asked, “Can we go home now?”

“Of course, sweetheart,” his grandmother answered. “You can sleep in the car, and when you wake up you’ll be in your own bed. How’s that?” She smiled at the boy.

He returned the smile. “I like that.” He looked at Scully. “Isn’t Uncle Mulder coming?”

Scully started to answer, but her mother beat her to it. “No,” she said so coldly Scully wondered what had happened to her sweet mother. “He’ll be staying here for awhile.”

Matthew nodded gravely. “Uncle has a hurt stomach. Is that why he can’t come home with us?” he asked his grandmother.

“I really don’t know, Matthew.” Scully heard the unsaid, ‘And I really don’t care.’

She closed her eyes. “Mom, there’s something you should know.”

Maggie shook her head. “I really don’t care to,” she said. “Someday I may be able to forgive Fox, but this isn’t it.” She looked into her daughter’s eyes. “I can’t stop you from seeing him, but I don’t think I want him around us for awhile.”

Scully’s mouth dropped open. “Mom… You can’t mean that!” God, she had to set this straight right now, whether her mother wanted to hear it or not.

“I do, Dana. I’m really so angry at him right now, he’s better off–”

“Mom, she was after Mulder because of me.”

Maggie stopped in the middle of her tirade, staring at her daughter. “What?”

“That woman didn’t know Mulder. She knew *me*. She was trying to get at me by hurting Mulder.”

“Dana, you’re not making any sense. What are you talking about?”

“When I was in med school, I met a doctor… that woman’s father. He and I were seeing each other until I found out he was married. I broke it off, and didn’t see him again until a few years ago. I found out from Maggie–that’s his daughter–that he had followed me to Washington, and had been living here for ten years, hoping that we might rekindle what we had. He left his wife and his daughter, and followed me.” She looked into her mother’s eyes. “Are you getting what I’m saying, Mom? This woman kidnapped Matthew and put Mulder in the hospital because of an indiscretion of mine fifteen years ago. So if you want to blame anyone, blame me.” She took a deep breath. “Because I do.”

“No. Dana, you…” Maggie looked disbelievingly at her daughter. “You were always such a good girl. You wouldn’t go out with a married man. You wouldn’t do that.”

“Well, I did, Mom. And Mulder’s paying for it.”

“Dana, honey, it wasn’t your fault. That woman… Clearly, she’s not well.” Maggie laid a hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

Scully laughed mirthlessly. “Not my fault. All is forgiven.”

“Of course, honey. You couldn’t know this would happen. You were young; you made a mistake. No one’s going to hold that against you.”

“Of course not, Dana,” Tara said, and Scully was grateful for the sincerity and understanding in the other woman’s voice.

“Come on. Let’s go home,” her mother said, taking Scully’s arm and starting to walk toward the door.

Scully resisted her mother’s pull and shrugged free. “You don’t think I’m leaving Mulder, do you?”

Mrs. Scully’s mouth opened in an ‘oh.’ “No, of course not. Um…” She looked back at her daughter. “Dana, about what I said about Fox… I’m sorry. I just thought…”

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“You thought what Mulder is so afraid you think. That everything bad that happens to us is because of him, that you really wish he’d go away and never come back, that we’d all be better off without him. Do you know it would kill him if he ever found out what you really think of him? He adores you, Mom. And Matty, Tara, and the baby. We’re all the family he has, and you wanted to take that away from him.” She focused her gaze on the floor. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that.”

“Dana…” Scully heard the tears in her mother’s voice. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I was harsh to judge Fox the way I did, but I can’t help the way I felt. I was so scared we’d never see Matthew again. And it was because…”

“Of me. It was because of me. Not Mulder. Me.”

“I’m sorry, Dana.” Her mother stepped up to her and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you.” She looked toward the operating room doors. “Both of you. Tell Fox for me.” She met her daughter’s eyes. “Please.”

Scully sighed. “Okay, Mom.” Normally, she’d say, ‘I love you, too,’ but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. She didn’t know when she would.

“Bye, Matty. I’ll see you in about a week, okay?” Scully kissed her nephew and gave him a big hug, which he returned.

“Okay, Aunt Dana.” His gaze slipped toward the doors behind which they’d taken her partner. “Uncle Mulder, too?”

“I don’t know,” she said, with a glance at her mother. Her mom’s pronouncement about not wanting Mulder around them still stung, and she didn’t actually retract it. But Matty didn’t have to know about it just yet. She forced a smile for her nephew’s sake. “We’ll have to see how he behaves. If he’s a good boy and takes all his medicine, I *might* let him come.”

Matthew giggled. “Tell him to be good.” Then he turned serious. “Did Uncle Mulder get hurt because of me?”

Scully stared at him in surprise. “Of course not. What made you think that?”

“Um… nuthin’.” He scuffed a shoe against the tiled floor.

“Did you hear us talking, Matty?” Tara asked, gently.

He hunched his shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Scully tilted his head up so she could see his face better. “Matty, listen to me. Uncle Mulder didn’t get hurt because of you. He got hurt because of me.”

Matthew gazed into his aunt’s eyes. “Because that lady didn’t like you?”

“That’s right.”

“She didn’t like me, either,” he said softly.

Scully placed her hands on the boy’s shoulders. “But she didn’t like me because I did something bad. You didn’t do anything bad, Matty. She knew that.” She hugged him to her. “Uncle Mulder knows that, too.”

When she let him go, he smiled. “Okay, Aunt Dana.” Then he joined his mother where she was waiting next to Maggie.

Scully waved and said her goodbyes, and went back to waiting for word on Mulder.

**

Western State Hospital

Staunton, Virginia

2:33 p.m.

When Mulder woke and didn’t see her, Scully could almost taste his disappointment, it was so palpable. At this point in time, however, she wasn’t sure she deserved so deep an emotion from him.

“Mulder,” she called softly from the other side of his bed. He gave no indication that he’d heard her, so she stood up and laid a hand on his cheek. “Hey, partner.”

He closed his eyes, and she could feel his smile beneath her hand. “I thought you might have taken Matthew home.”

“And leave you here alone?” She shook her head. “No. Tara and my mom came here. Tara left the baby with a neighbor.”

Mulder nodded. “What about Matthew? He okay?”

“Matthew’s fine,” she was quick to assure him. “Because of you.”

“Not me. You. You’re the one who got us out of there. All I did was present myself as a convenient target.”

“Thereby taking the focus off of Matthew and onto yourself.”

He shrugged. “It’s what I do, Scully.” Taking in all the lines and machines attached to him, he added, “And so well.”

She took his free hand in hers. “I’m sorry.”

His look was one of confusion. “Why? What’d you do?”

“It’s my fault. She fixated on you because of me. She hurt you because of me.”

He frowned. “When you thought it was someone who was trying to get back at me, you tried to convince me that it wasn’t my fault. Why is it now that the roles are reversed, all of a sudden it’s your fault?”

“Because it is. Mulder, what I did hurt this woman. Hurt her enough to drive her to kidnapping and hiring professional muscle.”

Mulder turned his hand over where it lay beneath hers and grasped her hand. “You made a mistake, Scully. God knows, I’ve made enough of them. But you didn’t make her father not love her. Hell, you tried to get them to reconcile. If there’s any blame to be placed for what happened to Maggie Waterston, it belongs to her father.”

“Mulder, he was sick–”

“For a short time, yes, he was. But he had years to prove to his daughter that he loved her.” He squeezed her hand. “But he didn’t.”

“Oh, Daniel,” Scully mourned.

“And what about Maggie herself?” Mulder asked. “She’s a grown woman. She chose to remain in her father’s home instead of pursuing a life of her own. She’s not the only child who grew up in a home where love was given sparingly, if at all.”

Knowing that he counted himself among those unloved, Scully nodded. She saw his point. She really did. “Okay, Mulder. Your arguments are valid.”

“I know you’re not convinced, Scully. I wouldn’t be, either. I know what you think, and I know what you feel because they were my thoughts and feelings until…” He stopped short, pressing his lips together.

“Until you found out you weren’t to blame.”

He let out an exasperated sigh. “Yes.” A thoughtful expression came over his face. “I kind of want to thank you.”

She tilted her head in bewilderment. “For what?”

“For showing that you can screw up, too, ’cause I have to tell you–I was beginning to get a complex.”

That made her smile. “Glad I could help.”

“You did,” he said, gazing at her with fondness. “Now when can I get out of here?”

She laughed out loud at that. “I think that’s the only thing about you that’s predictable.”

“Really? Well, I’ll have to work on that.” Then he lost his playful demeanor. “Seriously, though, Scully, I know it’ll take time, but you need to forgive yourself. I have.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think you have.”

“Scully…” he started to protest.

She held up a hand for silence, and he closed his open mouth. “You haven’t forgiven me because I know that you never blamed me.”

His ‘caught’ smile appeared on his face. “I didn’t think you’d want to hear that. I didn’t think you’d believe me, actually.”

She hoped that the smile she gave him showed him how very much she loved him. “I can read you like a book, Mulder. I’d have believed you.”

He gave her the goofy lovesick grin that she positively adored. “So are you okay with this now?”

She sighed. “Not yet. But I will be.”

“You’re sure about that?”

Instead of answering, she moved her face closer to his, so that they were eye to eye.

After a moment, he smiled. “Yes. You’re sure.”

**

Thursday, March 2

6:15 p.m.

Mulder’s & Scully’s Duplex

Because he’d recuperated so well, Mulder was released to bed rest at home two days earlier than scheduled. Which meant he’d been home for two days and was now bored out of his mind. Which meant that he’d had too much time to think.

During his stay in the hospital, Scully and the gunmen had been his only visitors. Granted, it was a long haul to the hospital, but now that he’d grown closer to Scully’s family, he’d anticipated a visit or at least a phone call from her mother. He shifted on the couch as he heard a key in the front door lock.

“Scully,” he asked the second his partner walked in the door after a day at work. “Is your mom okay? She’s not sick or anything, is she?”

The slight hesitation before she removed her coat alerted him that something was not right. “Did something happen?” he asked with dread. “I know your mom is aware of the circumstances concerning Matthew’s kidnapping, but I haven’t heard from her once since this whole thing was resolved. Is she mad at you?”

When Scully didn’t answer but continued fiddling in the closet, something horrible occurred to him. “It’s me? She’s mad at me?” Feeling heartsick, he asked softly, “What did I do?”

His partner shut the closet door and walked swiftly to the couch, keeling by his side. “You didn’t do anything, Mulder.” She rested a hand on his chest. “Mom and I had… words. She said some things, and I said some things, and she may feel that a call from her wouldn’t be welcome.”

“What did you ‘have words’ about?” One look at his partner’s face, and he knew. “It was about me, wasn’t it?”

Sighing, she nodded. “When I listened to your message, I was outside the church with her. I had to explain why the kidnappers called you and not Tara.”

Realization struck suddenly. “Oh.”

“I didn’t have a chance to explain what really happened until they came to pick up Matthew. But before I could, she said some things…”

Mulder felt numb. “Oh.”

“I sort of lost my temper, and… that may be why she hasn’t called. Not because of you, Mulder, but because of me.”

He nodded, barely aware of the action. For Scully to have lost her temper with her mother, Maggie had to have said some awful things about him. Mulder didn’t want to hear them, but he couldn’t help himself. “What did she say?”

His partner looked distressed. “Oh, Mulder. You really don’t need to know. She apologized, and said to tell you that she loves you.” She tried to smile. “I did tell you that in the hospital, remember?”

“Yes,” he said softly. At the time, it had warmed him that Maggie would send him that message. He felt kind of cold now, though. What had Maggie thought before she knew the truth? “What did she say, Scully?”

“Mulder…” His partner looked like she was about to cry.

“Please. I have to know,” he whispered.

Scully took a breath, then let it out. “She was upset that Matthew was taken because of you. She… said she didn’t want you to come around for awhile.”

Only Scully’s announcing that she no longer loved him could have hurt more. Mulder was no fool; he knew that ‘awhile’ really meant ‘forever.’ He closed his eyes, feeling tears prickling beneath his lids. He really should have known that he wasn’t destined for a life of family picnics, little league games, and dance recitals. But, oh, how he’d looked forward to it.

Scully brushed a hand through his hair. “I don’t think she feels that way any longer, Mulder,” she said gently.

Even if she didn’t, he wasn’t altogether certain she was wrong; he’d brought nothing but grief to her family.

A knock on the door interrupted his misery, but he couldn’t muster up the energy to open his eyes just for another visit from the lone gunmen.

He was, therefore, so shocked to hear Maggie Scully’s voice that he sat up much too quickly for his recovering body to handle. Catching only the briefest glimpse of Maggie, Tara, and the children before he fell back down, Mulder bit his lip to keep from screaming out.

“Mulder!” he heard Scully cry, and the next conscious thing he was aware of was Scully by his side. Behind her, he could see the entire family looking on. “Mulder, come on, talk to me.”

He coughed to clear his throat. God, how embarrassing was this? “Uh… sorry,” he apologized, feeling better now that his insides had stopped trying to beat their way out.

Maggie caught his eye. “How are you feeling, Fox?” The question was asked hesitantly, uncertainly, as if gauging her right to ask.

Mulder, equally unsure of where his relationship with her stood, replied with a neutral, “Fine, thank you, Mrs. Scully.” Only after he’d voiced it was he aware that he’d reverted back to his more formal addressing of his partner’s mother. His eyes skittered to Scully’s, looking for some sort of guidance.

“What are you all doing here?” she asked. Mulder noted that although she included the whole family, she directed the question to her mother.

Tara answered instead. “I called the hospital on Tuesday, and they said that Mulder had been released.” She looked at Mulder. “We thought you might not be up to an outing, but maybe you wouldn’t mind some visitors…” She held out a bag. “…bearing dinner.”

Mulder’s eyes lit up as they took in the familiar shape of the Chinese take-out bag. He looked hopefully at his partner.

She sighed, taking the bag from Tara. “You can have some,” she told him. “Thanks, Tara. This is great,” she said with a smile. “Mom,” she nodded, and Mulder noted the strained smile on both women’s faces.

Excited though he was by the prospect of eating real food, he tempered his enthusiasm, settling for a much toned-down version of his “yesss!” which made Matthew giggle. “Hey, buddy,” he called to the young boy. “How are you doing?”

“Okay,” Matty answered. After looking to his mother, Tara released Matthew’s hand, and the boy bounded over to Mulder, arms outstretched. Mulder looked on, horrified, preparing himself for a very painful bonding.

“Matthew!” three alarmed voices rang out, and the child stopped dead in his tracks, inches from his target.

“Easy, Matthew,” Tara chided him gently. “Uncle Mulder’s not healed yet.”

Matthew studied Mulder for a few seconds, then asked. “How come you’re not better yet, Uncle? Why did they let you go home from the hospital if you weren’t all better?”

“I *am* better, Matty. I’m just not all the way better. You can still hug me, but easy. Okay?”

Matthew smiled and leaned in very carefully for his hug. Then he stood up and sniffed. “Can we eat now?”

Scully laughed, leading the way into the kitchen.

Mulder stayed where he was. He’d learned his lesson tonight; no sudden moves for him. Closing his eyes in preparation for rising, he was surprised to feel a hand grasping his arm, helping him to a sitting position. His eyes popped open to find Maggie Scully watching him. Her scrutiny made him nervous, and he froze for a moment before he found his tongue. “Mrs. Scully. Thank you.”

“I suppose from the way you’re acting, that Dana told you some of our conversation.”

He nodded. “A little.”

She nodded as well. “I was very angry at you, Fox.”

He ducked his head in shame. “Yes, ma’am,” he said softly.

He felt the couch dip where she sat beside him. “Fox, look at me.”

Conditioned to obey the parental command voice, he complied, even though he was afraid of what he’d see.

“It was unfair of me to judge you so harshly for Matthew’s kidnapping, especially when you actually had nothing to do with it.”

He wanted to cry. What he was going to say next was going to break his heart, but he had to let her know. “But you were right,” he said softly. “Everything you said, everything you thought… It all still applies.”

“Oh, Fox…” She took his hand in hers and held on to it. “You’re a good man. Of that, I have no doubt. Dana wouldn’t be so fiercely loyal to you if you weren’t.” She pierced him with her eyes. “But you hold yourself responsible for much of the bad that happens to this family. Granted, you are sometimes involved in some way, but I don’t hold you responsible for any of it.”

He was surprised, to say the least, and looked up at her. “Why?”

“Because I know you would do anything in your power to prevent harm from coming to this family. And that whatever did happen was beyond your control. How can you be responsible for something over which you have no control?”

Oh, he knew. “By just being here. By allowing myself to share in your family. By allowing ‘Them’ to see that I care. It’s something they can use against me, and I’m so damned selfish that I keep on doing it even though I should stay as far away from you as I can.” He gazed imploringly into her eyes. “But I don’t. And I can’t. To lose any of you would…” He swallowed another of those damned lumps. “It would just hurt so damned much.” He took as deep a breath as his ribs would allow. “So you see, Mrs. Scully. I am responsible.”

“You’re not the only one who has enemies, Fox. I know Dana does, as did Bill. If we live every second of our lives in fear of what could happen, we’re not really living, are we? We’re keeping guard, staying safe, but for what? Life is taking risks, and if you’re ours, then we’re going to embrace you, and we’re going to love you.” She paused until he looked into her eyes. “Because we do love you, Fox.”

He blinked away tears. “Thanks, Mrs. Scully.”

“What happened to ‘Maggie?'” she asked.

“I… wasn’t certain I was allowed that privilege any longer.”

She rose to her feet, helping him up as well. “No one in our family calls me ‘Mrs. Scully.’ And you’re family, Fox.” She pulled him to her and gave him a gentle hug. “Don’t you ever forget that,” she whispered in his ear.

He was nearly overcome by the love he felt for this woman, and the love she had shown him. “I won’t,” he vowed.

“Good boy.” She let him go, then she started toward the kitchen. “I’ll just give you a moment alone,” she said with a gentle smile.

He needed it. The emotional rollercoaster hadn’t quite come to a stop, and he didn’t feel quite ready to face the family. He smiled. His family.

“Mulder?” He hadn’t realized he’d been standing there with his eyes closed until Scully touched him. “You okay?” She glanced toward the kitchen and her mother. “Everything all right?”

He pulled her toward him. “Look into my eyes.”

The End

43

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