Disclaimer and summary iin Part 1.

Revolution Part 2

**********
Margaret Scully's Residence
10:59 a.m.

Mulder peered through the car's window at the two story house looming before him. It was beautiful property, surrounded by a huge field dappled with trees, a blanket of snow covering the ground. The closest neighbor was a mile away, so it seemed that they were isolated in the middle of nowhere, and it was where he would be living for an indeterminate amount of time.

"Are you *sure* I'm not imposing?"

"Fox, how many times do I have to tell you that it's my pleasure to have you stay?" Maggie admonished. "Besides, I operate under the premise that *family* is always welcome."

Mulder's mouth dropped open, his eyes wide in shock. Did he just hear what he thought he heard? He looked at Scully and the expression on her face was similar, though slightly less extreme. Yep, he'd heard right. Margaret Scully considered *him* part of her family. After all he'd done, after all the anguish he'd put her through.

The woman was a saint, that's all there was to it.

Dana's hand slipped between the front seats to cover his, squeezing lightly, a smile playing at her lips. Tears sprang to his eyes and he wiped them away hastily, not wanting to distress either of the women with an emotional display. Did they have any idea how much this meant to him? No, probably not. But he vowed to make sure they found out.

Scully unbuckled her seatbelt and exited the car, her mother following suit. "Mom, could you get the bags?" Maggie nodded and moved to the trunk while Dana opened the back door. She leaned in and offered her shoulder to Mulder, helping him out.

It took a bit of maneuvering and a lot of effort but he was finally standing on the walkway, his limbs shaking. He frowned. How could a car ride, where he did nothing but sit, tire him out so easily? Scully shook his elbow to get his attention. "Give it time, Mulder."

She lifted his left arm and draped it over her shoulders, putting her right arm around his waist. "Lean on me, Mulder, don't be afraid you'll hurt me." He looked away, chagrined that she saw through him so easily. She knew that he would try to do as much as he could on his own, not wanting to burden anyone else.

They started walking to the porch, one step at a time. By the time they got there Margaret had already brought the luggage inside and was holding the door open for them. Mulder nodded his thanks as they passed, then turned his attention back to moving his legs. His limbs felt like Jell-O and he was beginning to get a bit dizzy. They stopped in front of a set of stairs and Mulder visibly paled.

"Don't worry, G-man, we'll let you rest some before we tackle the stairs." Scully veered him towards an archway that led to the family room. It was well furnished, aesthetically pleasing and yet still had a comfortable quality about it. But best of all were the two soft-looking couches in the middle. He sank down onto one gratefully, closing his eyes and sighing in relief.

"Mulder? You okay?"

He kept his eyes closed and nodded. Right now he just wanted to revel in the feeling of being stationary. Damn, he hated being this weak. Hated having to rely on others for simple things. His father would have been so ashamed. A memory of his dad and the ever-present belt appeared and his eyes snapped open, not wanting to re-live the past.

He found Scully staring down at him, a concerned expression on her face. He smiled and patted the cushion next to him. She sat down slowly, careful not to jostle him. He put his arm around her and pulled her close, ignoring her protests that he might hurt himself. "When was the last time I told you how much I love you?"

She grinned, looking at her watch. "About fifteen minutes ago, if I remember correctly."

"Well, that's too long."

She couldn't help but laugh. He bent down to capture her lips with his own, telling her without words exactly how much he loved her. She returned the kiss passionately and he leaned closer, then gasped. She broke away, her eyes filled with worry.

"I'm sorry."

"No, no, I'm fine. Just got a tad out of my depth." He gave her a sly look. "For now."

"I can't wait." She nudged him playfully on the shoulder. "I'm going to go help Mom unpack, you stay here and rest."

"Yes, Ma'am." He mock saluted and then lay back on the couch, practically asleep before his head hit the cushions.

Scully smiled and got up quietly, not wanting to wake him. She headed up the stairs, noting that the door in the middle of the hall was open. She peeked around the corner and found her mother busily moving about the room, humming happily to herself.

"Can I do something to help?"

Maggie dropped the shirt she was holding and whirled around. "Oh Dana, you startled me! Um, let me see." She bent to pick up the clothing and then turned in a circle, determining the readiness of the room. "Actually, yes. Would you set up whichever bed you want Fox in?"

There were two beds in this room, the one Dana and Melissa had shared. She and her mother had agreed that it would be best if she slept in the same room with her partner in case he needed anything during the night.

She picked the bed closest to the bathroom so he wouldn't have to walk far and began to prepare it, heaping pillows next to the headboard.

"So, have you and Fox set a date yet?" Maggie called from the bathroom.

Dana froze. "Excuse me??"

Margaret walked into the room and gave her daughter an undecipherable look. "I said-"

"I know what you said, I'm just trying to figure out why. Mom, Mulder and I are just starting out, that's a long way off from marriage."

Maggie put her hands on her hips. "Starting out?? You two have been in love for years."

Dana flopped down on the bed, clutching a pillow to her breast. "Has it been *that* obvious?"

Her mother came over and sat next to her. "To me it was. Ever since..." She left the sentence unfinished.

Scully glanced sharply at the older woman. "Ever since what?"

"Ever since you were... taken. Fox visited me often, bringing me updates on how the investigation was going, offering his hope and support. I don't think I could have made it through that without him. And I know he wouldn't have either if I hadn't been there for him. He was so lost, like half a person trying to find the rest of himself.

"He stopped eating, stopped sleeping, stopped doing anything other than working on getting you back. It broke my heart to see how badly it hurt him. After a while, he stopped coming and I got worried. I called his work number but no one answered. Then I tried his cellphone and still no luck. When I called him at home, I got the answering machine. I listened to the message and I just got this bad feeling. So I went to his apartment, using the key that he had given you.

"I found him on his couch, his gun in his hand. Oh Dana, he was going to... Thank God I got there in time." Scully raised her hand to her mouth, vividly picturing what would have happened had her mother not gone to her partner's home. Maggie continued, "He saw me but he didn't drop the weapon. Sensing that he wouldn't let me get too close, I sat in the chair across from him. I asked him why he hadn't been by to see me.

"He said that he had been taken off your case, that they were not considering it a priority any more. He blamed himself for not trying hard enough, for letting you get taken in the first place. It took me half an hour to convince him that I didn't hate him and that I actually cared about him. Eventually he calmed enough that I was able to move over next to him. Another fifteen minutes and I took the gun out of his hand. He collapsed into my arms, sobbing his heart out. It was then that I knew he loved you."

Scully didn't know what to say. She always knew that she meant a lot to Mulder, that he was willing to die for her. But he was willing to take his own life? She looked out the doorway, imagining the man downstairs, and bit her lip.

"Dana, I didn't tell you this to scare you. I just wanted you to know that what you two have is special. That even though you have just now acknowledged your feelings for each other, that you've had those feelings for quite a long time."

"I know. I just... it's still so new for us though. We're going to take it slowly. Oh, I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with Fox Mulder, but we have to get used to the idea of being together first. And he's a bit skittish when it comes to matters of the heart. He's been hurt so often by those he's loved that he has trouble accepting love, fearful of being hurt again." Dana sighed forlornly.

"Just another reason for him to be here with us. We will make sure that Fox understands we care about him, that he can trust us with his heart. I'm sure *you* will cure him of that right quick."

Dana laughed, wiping at the tears on her face. "Mom, what would I do without you?"

Maggie grinned. "You'd have a nervous breakdown. Now c'mon, let's go make lunch."

*************
12:06 p.m.

"Mulder. Mulder, wake up." She ran her fingers lightly up and down his arm.

"Hmmm?"

"Mulder, it's time to eat," she whispered in his ear.

One eye cracked open and squinted at her. "Eat?"

"Yes, Mulder, it's lunchtime."

Both eyes opened. "What's on the menu?"

"Tomato soup."

"Yummy," he said sarcastically.

"*Mulder*," she warned.

"When do I get to eat food I can chew?"

"Not until Doctor Morgan says so. But you'll like this soup, I promise."

He threw her a skeptical look and she smiled knowingly. She reached over and put an arm behind his back, helping him sit up. "You want to eat in here or in the kitchen?"

"In the kitchen. At least it will give me the illusion that I'm a normal person," Mulder grumbled.

"You *are* a normal person." She paused and looked thoughtfully at him for a moment. "Actually, I take that back. You definitely can't be defined as normal. I think 'unique' is better. But your physical condition doesn't make you any less of a person. You have to give your body a chance to heal."

"Scully, you know patience isn't one of my strong points."

She sighed. "Don't I know it. But in this case, patience will do you a world of good. Now let me help you up so you can have the best tomato soup you've ever tasted."

Together they managed to get him off the couch with a minimal amount of pain and into the adjacent dining room. Scully had brought a cushioned chair from upstairs for Mulder to sit in, while she and her mother used the regular hardwood chairs. She sat on his right, her mother across from them. A huge steaming bowl of soup was set in front of him.

He picked up the spoon and eyed the bowl hesitantly, trying to gauge exactly how much his shrunken stomach could handle.

Scully read his mind. "Just eat what you can, leftovers are always useful."

He shot her a grateful look and then plunged in. Putting his mouth around the warm spoonful, he swallowed quickly and dipped his spoon again. Scully was right. This *was* the best tomato soup he'd ever had. He managed to down more than he expected, a little over half. The entire time he was eating, he noticed Scully casting furtive glances his way.

Finally he'd had enough and directed a pointed glare at her. "What??"

She blinked, unaware that she had been staring. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You've been looking at me like I've got horns growing out of my head and I want to know why?"

"Um..." Dana was caught at a loss. She looked at her mother only to find that Margaret was getting up from the table.

"I'm going to do the dishes," she said by way of explanation. She knew that these two needed some time alone to talk about what was bothering Dana.

"Thank you, Mrs. Scully, that was delicious." Mulder smiled and handed her his bowl.

"Thank you, Fox. And please, call me Maggie." She liberated Dana of her bowl and disappeared into the kitchen.

Scully started to get up to help her mom, but Mulder's hand on her wrist stopped her. "You're not going to get away that easily. Answer the question."

Dana slumped in her chair. "Mom told me about... About your state of mind while I was gone. When Duane Barry took me."

She had tried to state it vaguely, to imply rather than to state. Mulder understood immediately. "She told you that I was going to kill myself." He said it quietly, his voice flat.

Scully didn't have to answer, her eyes affirmed it. "Why?"

He took a deep breath. "Don't you understand?" He laid one hand over hers, the other moving up to brush a strand of hair from her face. "I love you more than life itself. It was my fault you were taken, either because I let Barry live or because They did it to discourage me. No matter how you look at it, I am the one to blame for your abduction and your cancer. Just like it was my fault Samantha was abducted. I let it happen again.

"I guess some of it had to do with shame. But mostly I couldn't comprehend my life without you, I didn't want to live a life like that. I thought I was doing everyone a favor, but then your mom turned up and she showed me that at least one person would mourn for me. She gave me hope. I'll never be able to repay her for that. There have been so many hard times that I wouldn't have gotten through without remembering her words to me.

"I only forgot once. When you told me that They gave you the cancer to make me believe, I forgot everything your mother had said. I almost went all the way that time. If Kritchgau hadn't called me, it wouldn't have been that DOD agent's blood staining my rug."

Scully was shaking her head. "No. No, you wouldn't have." But she knew that was a lie. He would have. "Mulder, if anything should ever happen to me I want you to promise to go on. Please, promise me you won't take your own life."

He stared at her for a moment. "I can't do that, Dana, I cannot make a promise that I know I could not keep."

She bit her lip and thought about the personality of the man next to her. He was driven, stubborn, impassioned, and so emotionally fragile yet with a strength most didn't possess. There was no way she could ask this of him. "All right. But, God forbid, if something were to happen to me, you would allow my mother the chance to talk you out of it first."

He smiled softly. "Sure."

Margaret chose that moment to re-enter the dining room. "Either of you want something to drink?"

"No, thank you," they chimed.

Maggie grinned. My, but those two were a pair. "Suit yourselves. Fox, I made up the couch so you'll be more comfortable there."

"Thanks, Mrs. Scully." He recognized the glare she gave him. "I mean, Maggie."

Dana was grateful for the change in subject and stood from the table. She offered her hand to Mulder. "Want some help?"

For a moment he looked like he was going to refuse, but then he just rolled his eyes and took her hand. She hauled him to his feet and he slowly made his way back to the couch. Once he was settled, he took up the remote control and turned the TV on. He flipped through all one hundred and twenty-five channels three times before dropping the remote.

"There is absolutely nothing on. Just talk shows and soap operas. No wonder I work during the day, how could anybody stand to watch this garbage?"

Scully chuckled. "You would be surprised at how many people do." She cast a knowing glance at her mother.

Maggie waved her hands. "I only watch 'Days of Our Lives', that's it. Honest."

Dana raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh, whatever you say. Well, I'm going to go into town to pick up some supplies, can I get you anything?"

"Yes, I have a list on the refrigerator, let me get it." Margaret went off to fetch her paper.

"What about you, Mulder?"

"Sunflower seeds."

"I don't think so. Anything else?"

He sighed. "How about some videos to watch? Not *those* kind, Scully, so don't give me that look. Something like all four Alien movies, that should last me a while. At least until the good shows come on later."

"There's *four* of those movies? I thought Ripley died in the third one."

"She did. You'll just have to watch 'Alien Resurrection' with me and find out how they brought her back." His mouth settled into a line. "I should pay for some of this stuff." He ignored her protests. "It'll make me feel better, knowing that I'm contributing to my 'recovery fund'."

"Well, if you insist."

"I do. My wallet is in my duffel, just use my ATM card and withdraw whatever you need. My code is a five number sequence and that's all I'm going to tell you. But you better figure it out quickly, because after the third incorrect try the machine eats the card."

"And what if I don't get it right?"

He smiled broadly. "I trust you."

She pursed her lips but then returned the smile. How could she be annoyed when he was being so playful? Maggie returned with her list and handed it to her daughter. "Just a few groceries. We'll have Fox eating like a horse in no time and I want to be prepared."

"Be careful what you wish for, Mom. I've seen him eat when he's hungry and it's not a pretty sight."

***********
2:46 p.m.

This was impossible. She had groceries in the trunk and it was cold standing outside. Luckily there was no one behind her because she had been standing at the ATM machine for over five minutes. Nothing fit. She had tried her own birthday first but with no luck. Every other significant date she could think of in Mulder's life had six numbers, all names were too long or too short.

She was beginning to get angry. Couldn't he have just told her? This was worse than trying to figure out a mathematical equation. That was it! 27828, Napier's constant! She punched in the numbers and was thrilled to see a new display on the screen, indicating that she choose a withdrawal amount. She entered fifty dollars and finished the transaction.

Scully was smiling to herself, pleased that she had figured it out. Only Mulder would use the same code for his ATM as the Consortium did for that huge vault of files at the Strughold Mining Company. She grabbed the receipt the machine spit out at her and started back to the car. She absently looked at the receipt and stopped dead in her tracks.

This couldn't be right! There had to be glitch somewhere in the system. Maybe it was some sort of practical joke Mulder was playing on her. No, how could he have done that? A honk to her right reminded her that she was standing in the middle of a parking lot. She hurriedly got out of the driver's way and made it to her car quickly. On her way back home she couldn't get it out of her mind.

What if it was correct? It was none of her business really, but she couldn't help but wonder. Why did he live in such a small apartment, why did he eat in second rate restaurants? She thought of the expensive suits he wore, how he never seemed bothered by the fact that he ruined them all the time on a case. That made sense if this was true. She wouldn't ask though, that would be impolite, not to mention the fact that she shouldn't have snooped.

Her plan to just pretend it never happened was shot to Hell the second she handed Mulder his receipt. Maybe her face had been to guarded, or not enough. Maybe her eyes held the question or maybe her stance was shifted a little too far in one direction. Whatever it was, he saw it and he knew.

"Can you imagine how fast the other agents would change their tune if they knew?"

She sat on the couch net to him, stunned. "Mulder, you're... you're..."

"Practically a millionaire?"

"Well... yes."

"And you're wondering how? Why I live like I do?"

Her chin bobbed vigorously.

"Well, a lot of it is my father's. He left pretty much everything to me. I sold two of the houses we never used and auctioned off the furniture. The rest of it is what I've saved up, since I don't really have a lot of expenses. And I live the way I do because that is what I'm comfortable with. I don't need to flaunt the fact that I'm financially well off."

"How come you never take me out to dinner at a nice restaurant?"

"I didn't want you to think I was treating you differently out of deference to your gender."

"How thoughtful."

"I try. So, now you know how I can afford my wardrobe."

**************
8:02 p.m.

They sat together on the couch watching Alien movies, Mulder adding bits and pieces of his own dialogue that had Dana clutching her stomach in laughter. After the second one was over, they had dinner, which consisted of vegetable soup. Mulder was thrilled with the tiny bits of carrot and peas. At least it wasn't just liquid.

All three watched Jeopardy after that, yelling at the contestants as though it would help. To Margaret's astonishment, Mulder answered all but one question correctly. He only missed that one because he had dozed off for a moment.

"Fox, that is amazing! How can you possibly know so much on such a wide variety of subjects?" Maggie exclaimed.

Mulder sighed. "Photographic memory. I hear or see it and it's stuck. Useful at times, annoying at others. I must say that it would be useful if I was ever on that game. You know, I've kept track over the years on how much I would have won from all the shows I've watched. So, including this one... let me see... eleven million five hundred and sixty-two thousand dollars. I think I'm in the wrong line of work."

Scully feigned hurt. "What, and deprive me of a partner? Perish the thought."

Margaret watched the interplay between the younger couple and smiled contentedly. "Well, it's been a long day, I think I'm about ready to turn in."

Scully noticed Mulder trying to smother a yawn. "Yes, I think that's a great idea."

"I'm not tired," Mulder insisted. Scully quirked a brow. "Okay, maybe just a little."

"All right then, let's get you upstairs." Dana helped him off the couch and they walked over to the bottom step. She held his elbow on one side and her mother was stationed on the other. "Here we go."

Four steps later, Mulder felt like just sitting down where he was. The world was beginning to sway before his eyes and his abdomen ached with every movement. "You want to take break?" Scully asked.

He avoided shaking his head, leery of what effect that might have. "No, let's get this over with." It was as slow and arduous a journey as he had ever made, the trip across the Antarctic included. By the time they reached the top he was out of breath and wobbled precariously. Dana was afraid that he would collapse soon and she gestured to her mother to hurry. Together they practically carried him into his room.

He was too weak to do little more than sprawl on his bed and stare at the white popcorn on the ceiling. Scully positioned him in the middle, pulled off his sneakers, and drew the covers up over him. She brushed the hair from his brow and bent to tenderly kiss him. "Good night, Sweetheart."

He grinned sleepily. "You sure you want to sleep all the way over there? Plenty of room right here."

"There is a time for everything, Mulder. Now is not that time. Go to sleep." She moved away and headed for the door.

"You're not staying?"

She wasn't sure, but she thought she detected a hint of fear in his voice. She returned to the bed and lowered herself down next to him. "I have a few things to do and then I'll be back. You're safe, Mulder, you don't need to worry."

He licked his lips and his eyes drifted towards the door. "You'll be downstairs, you won't go anywhere?"

"No, I won't. My mom is just down the hall and this won't take more than forty-five minutes. Okay?"

"Yeah." He still sounded uncertain.

"Would you like it if I stayed here until you fell asleep?"

"Please?"

"Sure." She settled down on her side and propped her head up with an elbow. "Close your eyes." He did as he was told and she began lightly running her fingers through his hair, humming faintly. She continued well past the time his breathing became deep and even. Finally she managed to drag herself away and went back down the stairs, her thoughts lingering on the man above.

He was trying to be so strong, put up a brave front. But he was still scared of being alone. Just another item to add to her list of worries. As she was passing the front door, a knock resounded on its heavy surface. Who could it be at this time of night? She stood on tiptoe to look through the peephole.

A big man with brownish-red hair on a high forehead was standing on the porch, a suitcase at his side. Dana opened the door, a surprised expression on her face. "Bill?"

His look mirrored hers. "Dana?"

"What are you doing here?" they asked in unison.

Scully answered first. "I'm staying with Mom while I'm on leave. Oh jeez, come in Bill, it's freezing out there." She held the door open as he passed through, stamping snow off his shoes.

He took off his coat and hung it on the rack in the entryway. Then he whirled around and swept Dana into a huge bear hug, lifting her off the ground. "How's my baby sister doing?"

She giggled. "Put me down Bill, before you drop me."

"I would never drop you, you weigh next to nothing," he said indignantly.

"You really know how to flatter a girl, don't you?"

"Dana? Who was at the door?" Maggie asked as she made her way down the stairs. When she saw who was standing with her daughter, she happily received his exuberant hug. "Bill, what are you doing here? Where's Tara and little Matty?"

"Tara's at her mom's, showing off Matthew. I came up here for some boring officers' convention and thought I'd see if my favorite hotel was open for business."

"Always. You can sleep in your old room." They walked as a group towards the family room. "Dana and Fox are right next door." It took a moment for the two women to notice that they were just two. They turned to see Bill standing a few feet behind them, staring up at the slightly closed door to Mulder's room. His face was an exquisite shade of red.

"Fox? You mean that sorry son of a bitch is here??"

"William Daniel Scully Junior, you watch your mouth." Margaret's tone was deadly. "How dare you come into my house and insult my guest? I taught you better then that, young man. Fox was seriously injured on a case and he and Dana are staying with me while he recuperates. I will not have you harassing him, do I make myself clear? You will be civil and you will treat him with respect or you can find somewhere else to stay."

Bill's mouth had dropped open. His mother was siding with that lunatic. She would kick her own son out of the house in favor of the asshole who ruined their lives?? But he took her at her word and so he nodded solemnly. "I understand." He gave them a half-hearted smile. "I'll do my best."

"Good. Now, come in the kitchen and tell me all about how my grandson is doing."

***************
9:37 p.m.

Dana had finished up the tasks she had set out for herself earlier that day and returned to her room. She was glad to find that Mulder was still asleep, not awakened by the bit of commotion downstairs when Bill arrived. She knew her brother didn't like her partner, but he didn't have to be so vocal about it.

She quickly checked over Mulder, making sure that everything looked and sounded okay, then changed into her pajamas. It was too chilly to wear her usual silk top and bottom ensemble, so she settled for a pair of sweats and a flannel shirt of Mulder's. One last kiss to Mulder's forehead and she crawled into her own bed, letting out a deep breath. Bill was planning on staying for the next two days.

This was going to be a long forty-eight hours.

*********
Friday, January 29
1:13 a.m.

"No! Stop!! Scully!"

Dana shot up in bed, her hand automatically going to the night stand for her gun. She panicked momentarily when she couldn't locate the weapon. Then she remembered that she was at her mother's and that she had left her gun at her apartment.

"Please! God, no!!"

She rolled out of bed and rushed over to her partner's thrashing form. She grabbed his flailing wrists and called his name. "Mulder! Mulder, it's me, it's Scully. You're okay, you're safe."

It was like reciting a script, she had done it so often, this pulling Mulder from the depths of a nightmare. His eyes were wild and his chest was heaving. Her words finally got through to him and he stopped struggling. "Scully?"

"I'm here, it's okay." She held him and rocked him back and forth until the trembling diminished. "Now, let me check you over, make sure you didn't reopen anything." She piled some pillows behind his head and he leaned back on them, still a bit dazed.

She unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it open, lifting up a long white bandage to reveal the scar that ran horizontally across his belly, black stitches a dark contrast against the pale scar tissue. A loud gasp behind her drew her attention. Her head snapped around and she found Bill standing in the doorway, his face a mixture of horror and disgust. She ignored him.

"Everything looks good here, Mulder. Would you like some warm milk to calm your nerves?"

He nodded absently, still caught up in the afterimages of the nightmare. Replacing the bandage, Scully buttoned his flannel and went out the door, brushing past her brother. He followed her down into the kitchen.

"What do you want, Bill?"

"I was woken up at one in the morning by a scream that took a year off my life. I want to know what the hell is wrong with that guy."

"His name is *Mulder*, not 'that guy', and it is none of your business." She reached into the cupboard for a glass.

"Excuse me? None of my business? Dana, the guy has ruined the lives of everyone in this family! Melissa is dead because of him, you almost died too, that pretty much makes it my business."

"It is *not* Mulder's fault that Melissa was killed, nor is he to blame for my cancer. It is too complicated to explain all the details, so I am not even going to try." Scully had to keep herself from slamming the cupboard door.

"There you go again, defending him. I don't understand you, Dana. You treat him like he's a fucking national treasure! Are you sleeping with him?"

"What??" Dana was starting to feel her control slipping.

"That's the only thing I can think of that would make you stay with him. He has brought nothing but pain and misery to our lives, yet you're still with him. You're staying in the same room for Christ's sake! All I can think of is that he's screwing you."

A slap echoed loudly off the kitchen walls. "How dare you!"

It took him a second or two to digest the fact that his sister had actually hit him. The anger rose quickly after that. "How dare *I*?? How dare he! He admitted to me himself that this 'quest' of his has gotten nowhere. Because of that God-forsaken quest, I have lost one sister and almost lost the other." If Bill had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Dana's face had grown red with rage. Then he would have known to stop. But he wasn't paying attention. "He's guilty, I can see it in his eyes. But does he step away? No. And that tells me that he doesn't give a shit about this family. Yet you act like he is the most important thing in your life! I want to know why!"

Her fists were balled at her sides and her body was quaking with anger. "Because I love him, that's why!"

Bill was silent, his face visibly paled. He opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. He closed it and swallowed, his mind whirling. When he was ready to try again, he didn't have the chance. An angry voice behind him caught the siblings' attention.

"What is going on down here? Do you two have any idea what time it is?" Margaret stood with her arms crossed, a scowl gracing her lips. She had been awakened by Fox's cry but recognized it for what it was and had tried to go back to sleep. But then a loud argument erupted and she came down to see what it was about. She had heard most of the last part of the quarrel and was definitely not pleased.

Before Bill could explain himself, the front door slammed open and a huge shape hurtled through it. Another shape followed and kicked the door shut. By the time Scully realized what had happened, she was staring down the barrel of a gun.

**********

The Middle

**********

A pair of steel gray eyes peered down the sights of the gun. "Move and I'll blow you all away before you can even blink." Without shifting his attention from the trio in front of him, he directed his next words at the shape behind him. "Bobby, put him down and get over here."

The large shadow suddenly separated into two and one of them came forward into the light. It was a young man, his shaggy brown hair flopping into his eyes, his face a portrait of Norman Rockwell innocence. "Yes, Wade?"

Scully was following their conversation closely, making mental notes of names and faces for later identification. Assuming they got out of here alive. Wade, the older one, was obviously in charge and from the adoring look that Bobby was giving him, she assumed that the youth was a devout follower. Wade was fairly large, about as big as Bill, his face lined from unkind years, his black hair cropped close to his skull. Both were wearing clothes that looked like they hadn't been washed in a month, a few holes decorating a knee or elbow. The still unmoving shape in the background was another man but Scully didn't know if he was dead or just unconscious.

"Find some rope and tie 'em up. Good knots now, I don't want them getting loose. You understand me, boy?" Bobby nodded his head eagerly. "Then stop standing there!" Wade growled.

Bobby jerked into motion, dashing through the door just off the kitchen, leading to the garage. Scully glanced at her mother and Bill, assessing how they were handling this. Margaret was pale, but she stood firmly, her eyes glaring at their captor. Bill was impassive, not a hint of emotion graced his stern features. No one was terrified and she was grateful for that, as it could be used to their advantage.

She was an FBI agent, trained for situations like this, and Bill was a Navy officer, well versed in hand to hand combat. They had a chance, but only if they weren't restrained. She had to think of something fast, because at this point they were unaware of Mulder, and keeping his presence unknown to them was her first priority. Maybe she could keep them distracted long enough for Mulder to call the authorities. Assuming that he heard what was going on downstairs. Her eyes flitted around the room and came to rest on the form laying on the carpet just within the archway of the family room. Bingo.

"Is that man injured?" she asked tentatively, not wanting to startle Wade.

He shifted his weight to his left foot and she could see the muscles in his hand flex. "Shut up. Unless you want to see someone's brains splattered across the floor, you don't talk until I say so."

She thought this over. There was a chance that he was serious but her instincts told her that it was just a threat brought on by annoyance. She had to risk it. "I'm a doctor, I might be able to help him."

Margaret laid her hand on Dana's arm, silently begging her to stop pushing. Scully ignored her, she was too busy watching for what Wade's reaction would be. He was staring at her through narrowed eyes, his jaw working in circles. "Bobby!"

Everyone jumped at his bellow. The youth scrambled in from the garage, a handful of cord dangling from dirty fists. "I found something that might work, but I don't think there's enough."

"Fine. Change of plan. Just do the guy, leave the women free." He jutted his chin out in Scully's direction. "This one's a doctor and she's gonna help us fix up Nathan."

A huge smile split Bobby's face, transforming him into a child who had just been given a puppy for his birthday. The sight made Dana sick. He couldn't be more than twenty years old for Christ's sake. She started to move toward the injured form, apparently known as Nathan. But before she could take more than one step she heard the hammer being pulled back on the gun.

"Not yet, Doc, not until we have big brother here tied up." He grinned at the look of surprise that flit across her face. Like he was blind- the family resemblance was readily apparent. "You done yet, Bobby?"

The kid looked up from where he was kneeling in front of Bill, his fingers deftly intertwining the rope. "Yeah. He's not gettin' out of this, that's for sure."

"Good. Now sit down, Bro, right over there." His gun flicked to the right and Bill obediently complied, however slowly. "You next, Ma." Margaret couldn't help but blanch at the man's tone and she moved after her son, sinking down on the sofa next to him.

"Now, Doc, you help Bobby get Nathan on the other couch. And don't be gettin' any ideas, 'cause one wrong move and I'll give you another patient." His aim wavered towards the two seated hostages. "Got it?"

She swallowed and nodded, carefully moving forward, her hands in front of her in a placating gesture. She reached her destination and knelt by the injured man's side. Bobby appeared in her vision and he copied her movements, crouching down at Nathan's head. He grabbed the man's shoulders and looked at her expectantly. She surveyed Nathan with a practiced eye, quickly assessing his condition. Gunshot wound to the shoulder, not life threatening but more than a graze. Moving him was no danger.

With her supporting his ankles and Bobby his torso, they carried him to the couch, Scully propping his legs up on the arm. "I need my medical bag."

"Where is it?"

She opened her mouth to say 'upstairs' and then shut it again, her eyes flicking upwards for a second. That was somewhere she didn't want them going. Margaret sensed her daughter's mistake and quickly moved to help. "There's a first aid kit in the bathroom."

Wade was looking at them both suspiciously. He'd noticed their hesitation and he knew that they were trying to hide something from him. Something upstairs. "Bobby, go get it."

The kid bounded away, eager to fulfill his mentor's every whim. He went down the hallway and found the bathroom, switching on the light. He looked in the medicine cabinet, discovering nothing but a few pill bottles and some toiletries. Next he rummaged around in the cabinet beneath the sink, letting out a cry of triumph as he pulled out a white plastic case, a red cross boldly displayed on its lid.

He rushed back to the family room, forgetting to close the cabinet or turn off the light in his haste. He handed the kit to the doctor and then returned to Wade's side. "Now what?"

"Now I want you to go upstairs." He grinned ferally with satisfaction as he saw the muscles in the little redhead's jaw twitch. The older woman's eyes went wide and he knew that he was right; there was something up there. The brother didn't react at all and Wade wasn't sure of what to make of that. He shook his head, it didn't matter. "Go up there and look around, see if anyone else is home."

Bobby took off, his gangly legs taking the steps two at a time. His thoughts were a tumult of pleasure and fear. Pleasure that Wade was treating him like a man and fear that he wouldn't be able to live up to it. And he wanted so much to live up to Wade's expectations. It was the older man who had taken Bobby off the street, made him into something, given him a sense of purpose. He owed Wade everything.

It had been great for a while, Wade teaching Bobby everything he knew about burglary and getting away with it. Breaking and entering, safe cracking, alarm disarming, where the best loot was hidden, what to do if someone saw them. Then Nathan showed up and ruined it all. Nathan was smarter than Bobby, he learned faster. And so he became Wade's star pupil and Bobby was left behind, treated as nothing more than a nuisance, instead of a partner. Wade didn't even trust him with his own gun. But now, now Bobby was being given his fair share of responsibility, being given all the jobs that once would have been delegated to Nathan.

He chuckled deep in his throat. Almost being caught by those guards was the best thing that had happened to him. And it wasn't even his fault, it was Nathan's. Mr. Perfect was the one who hadn't noticed the lasers, walking right through them and setting off the alarm. The guards had an amazing response time. They were running for their lives in less than thirty seconds, bullets flying past them. Deserved Nathan right, getting shot; it was him who had gotten them into this mess.

They should be at the docks by now, boarding a boat that would take them to Jamaica, a million dollars richer. But nooo. The light flurries that the news had predicted suddenly turned into a raging storm during the night, making traveling by car impossible. On foot was slow but it was better than waiting around for the cops to catch up. Then Nathan collapsed and they had to find shelter. Now they could add kidnapping to their list of crimes.

His fingers touched the metal doorknob of the slightly open door just to the left of the stairs and he focused his attention on the present. He couldn't afford to mess this up, he had to prove to Wade that he was just as good, if not better, than Nathan. He glanced at the other two rooms, their doors wide open, offering unhindered views of what was inside. There was no one in either and so that left this one. He pushed the door open slowly, holding his breath, waiting for someone to jump him. Nothing happened.

He heard a small moan and he followed it with his gaze, coming to rest on someone in the bed closest to him. It was a man, his body only half covered by the blankets. He was pale, his brows drawn together, his eyes shut tight against the demons of sleep. Bobby figured that the guy didn't look too healthy.

He smiled. This was going to be easy.

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

He couldn't move. The chains holding him to the floor were biting into his wrists, slick with his warm blood. A foul odor wafted over him and he found himself staring into the ugly visage of Gene Kearns. The madman was laughing, a long knife glittering in his right hand. Kearns leaned forward, the blade coming down, coming ever closer to Mulder's belly, his eyes glinting with pure ecstasy.

The knife entered and he cried out. Jesus, it hurt, it hurt so badly. He had to get away, but he couldn't, he couldn't move. Where was Scully? Pain jolted through him and he felt the need to retch but was too weak to do more than cough. Scully, make it stop! Scully! Scully?

Suddenly Kearns dropped the knife and grabbed Mulder's shirt, shaking him violently, the madman's voice forming garbled words. The shaking grew and Mulder opened his eyes, expecting to find Kearns' sneering face. Instead he saw a boy.

What? Where was Kearns? What was going on? Scully? He must have said this out loud because the youth stopped shaking him.

"Get up."

Mulder blinked. What? Get up? Who the hell was this? Where was everyone? He turned his head from side to side, fear clenching his stomach when he discovered that he was alone.

Bobby sighed in frustration. This was taking too damn long and Wade was waiting. He dug his hands into the man's shirt and jerked him forward.

For an instant, Mulder thought he would pass out. His vision grew black around the edges and sounds wavered in and out. He blinked furiously until things were once again clear. His abdomen was screaming its anger at being so rudely handled, throbbing in time to his heartbeat.

Bobby tugged again and this time Mulder's hands came up to encircle the kid's wrists. Bobby was getting tired of the man's slowness. He heard his name called from downstairs and shouted back over his shoulder, "Coming, Wade!" He turned back to Mulder. "You had better move it if you want to live through this." And with a mighty heave, he dragged the man out of bed into a standing position. Unsteady, but standing.

Bobby moved around to Mulder's back and pushed him forward, grinning as he stumbled slightly. Mulder was still having trouble focusing on what was happening. He had been violently pulled from one nightmare into another and things seemed surreal, the effect heightened by his lack of balance. He shuffled forward, his hands using any piece of furniture within reach as support. It felt as if all the weeks he had spent in physical therapy had suddenly vanished and he was back to being dependent on stationary objects to hold him up. His stomach was still aching, though not quite as much and he thanked the powers that be for small blessings.

The two emerged into the hallway and Mulder was greeted with a sight that made his heart freeze in his chest. He stared down over the rail at a scene straight from one of his many nightmares. Dana was kneeling next to a man on the couch, wrapping his shoulder in white gauze, Margaret and Bill Scully watching from across the room. A part of him groaned at the idea of Bill being here, but considering what seemed to be happening, that was the least of his problems. Because standing across from the three Scullys was another man who was holding a gun, its barrel pointing steadily at the pair sitting on the sofa.

The kid's high pitched voice broke him out of his shock. "Look what I found, Wade!"

The man with the gun looked up at them and chuckled. "I knew it. Good boy, Bobby."

Bobby beamed with pride. Mulder looked down again and saw the fear in Scully's eyes as she stared up at him, knew what she was thinking. Would he able to handle this? God, he hoped so, if only for her sake. He walked to the stairs, his hand firmly gripping the banister as he took the first step. Shit. This was harder than going *up* the damn stairs. His next step was slower, more calculated, but it still sent needles of pain across his stomach.

"Hurry up!" Bobby nudged him from behind and Mulder had to hold onto the railing with all his might to keep from toppling forward. He heard an angry gasp down to his left and he turned to look into Dana's eyes. He nodded, telling her that he was all right, that they were going to make it through this.

Or so he hoped.

Bobby had reached the limits of his patience. "I said move it!" He pushed Mulder in the back with more force, and this time there was nothing the weaker man could do to keep himself upright. The world tilted crazily and he couldn't tell up from down, gravity defying its own nature.

Instinctively he put his hands out in front of him as he fell and that simple act was what saved his life. If he hadn't reacted that way, he would have landed right on his injury. As it was, he tumbled head over heels down the stairs and came to an abrupt halt on the landing, his back and head slamming into the wall.

Once again his vision darkened, joined by dancing spots, his ears ringing loudly. It felt as though an explosion had just gone off in his head. But that was just a minor ache compared to the fire spreading across his belly. His arms wrapped around his torso and a groan escaped his lips, his breath catching in his throat.

He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the darkness to abate and opened them again when he felt something wet underneath his hands. He lifted his trembling arms away from his body and looked down at himself. It took a moment for him to comprehend, but when it did finally get through the fog in his mind, it sent a wave of fear over him.

He was bleeding.

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

Scully was just wrapping the last bit of dressing around Nathan's shoulder when she heard footsteps overhead. She looked up to see Mulder standing in the hall, both hands holding on to the railing. Behind him Bobby was grinning triumphantly. "Look what I found, Wade!"

Wade gave a small laugh that chilled her to the bone. "I knew it. Good boy, Bobby."

She saw Mulder's eyes widen as he took in the situation, even from this distance she could tell that his unsteadiness wasn't just due to physical weakness. He turned and started down the stairs, flinching at the first step. She grimaced with him, knowing that he was fighting to do this. Another step, another flinch. Then Bobby pushed at him and Scully drew in a sharp intake of breath, fury rising in her. She almost got to her feet, willing to risk everything to go to her partner's side. But then Mulder's eyes met hers and she saw the determination and love in them.

She inclined her head slightly, letting him know that his message was received, loud and clear. Then Bobby pushed him again and time slowed for her. She watched in horror as Mulder lost his balance and teetered for a moment before pitching forward, rolling down the stairs to ram into the wall at the landing.

"Mulder!" she cried and shot up, racing towards him. She was almost there when a big hand grabbed her upper arm and yanked her back.

"Whoa! Where do you think you're goin', Doc?"

She glared at Wade, jerking on her arm. "He's hurt, let me go to him."

He whirled her around so that both his meaty hands were clamped around her biceps. "Listen to me real good, 'cause I'm only gonna tell you once. You don't do anything unless I say so. We will stand here all night and watch your friend bleed to death if that's what I want. Understand?"

Dana was breathing loudly through her nose, her jaw clenched too tight to do anything else. This bastard thought he could keep her from Mulder? No one and nothing in this world had that power. She was about to prove this when she heard a soft sound behind Wade. She raised her chin to look over his shoulder and saw her mother, head shaking back and forth, eyes wide with fear.

All thoughts of retaliation fled from Scully's mind. She had to think of what her actions would mean for her family. So she swallowed her anger and simply nodded.

"Good. Keep that in mind and we'll all get along just fine." He let go of her and waved in Mulder's direction. "Now you may go to him."

He was only halfway through his sentence by the time she reached her partner's side. One hand went straight to Mulder's throat for a pulse check, the other to his shoulder to keep him still. "Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?"

He was staring at his stomach, completely oblivious to everything else. She watched his Adams apple bob up and down as he swallowed convulsively. "Mulder, look at me. Come on, I need to know if you're still with me." She cradled his face in between her hands, directing his head towards her.

His lids shut for a moment then opened again. "Scully?"

"That's it, focus. Mulder, do you know what happened?"

"My parachute didn't open."

She smiled humorlessly. "No, it was sabotaged. Okay, I want you to not move, I have to see what damage has been done." Fear flashed in his eyes but disappeared as quickly as it had come. A quick caress of his cheek before she went on to unbutton his shirt. The flannel stuck to the wound, blood and stitches catching at the fabric. She tried to pull it away as carefully as she could and although Mulder made no sound, she could tell that it was sheer torture.

The scar was about eight inches long, perhaps a half inch wide. The last inch or so on the left had been pulled open during the fall and blood was steadily seeping from the area. From what she could see, it wasn't deep, certainly not enough to threaten the stability of the rest of the wound, but it would still have to be stitched back up. Next she felt up and down his limbs, checking for broken bones, mumbling apologies every time Mulder flinched when she hit a sore spot.

All the while she asked him the standard questions. "Did you lose consciousness? Do you know where you are? Do you know what time it is? What day?" He answered all of them correctly with clipped sentences, not wanting to give his voice a chance to betray his fear or pain. She told him to track her finger with his eyes, her palm underneath his chin so that she knew he wasn't moving his head. Next, she had him squeeze her hands and move his feet, making sure that he had equal strength in each and that he had sensation in all four extremities.

When she finished her cursory exam, she sat back on her haunches and sighed. "Well, we can rule out concussion, but you're going to have a headache for a while. Nothing is broken but I do want to stitch up that tear to keep the wound clean." She patted his knee and turned around as she stood up. "I need my medical bag. It's in the upstairs bathroom."

"Well, that's a shame, isn't it?" Wade sneered. "You just conveniently forgot about it when poor Nathan needed fixin'. I think yer boyfriend will have to make due without it."

Dana clenched her jaw. "I have to stitch up the wound and my suture kit is in the bag."

"Fine, you can have the kit. But that's it, nothing more."

"But I need something to numb the area!" she protested.

"Any more back talk from you and I'll change my mind." He waited to see if she was going to argue some more. When she didn't, he gestured at Bobby, who was still standing halfway down the stairs. "Take the Doc to get her kit and make sure that is *all* she gets."

Bobby nodded animatedly. "Sure thing, Wade. C'mon, Doc." He grabbed Scully by the arm and started pulling her up the stairs.

She let herself be dragged along, not wanting to antagonize her escort. When they reached the top, she was released and she moved into the room that Mulder had just vacated. Keeping one eye on Bobby, she walked quickly over to the bathroom and found her bag. She rummaged around in it until she found the suture kit and pulled it out, showing it to the youth. "Please, let me take a local anesthetic. It won't cause you any problems."

"No problems?" Bobby scoffed. "Wade would give me hell and *that* is a problem. So you can just forget it. Now move." He waved at the door, waiting for her to precede him.

Meanwhile, Wade remained standing a few feet away from Mulder, towering over the downed agent. "What's wrong with you, huh? Got yourself in a car accident or something?"

"Hazard of the job," Mulder replied angrily.

"And what, pray tell, is that?" Wade sneered.

"Crash test dummy."

Wade couldn't help the guffaw that escaped. "Wiseguy, huh? Well, you just keep it up, buddy, `cause you're gonna need more than a few stitches if you try to make a fool outta me."

"Too late," Mulder mumbled. Luckily, Wade didn't hear him. Mulder kept his eyes on the doorway to his room, his ears straining to catch any sounds from above. If that kid laid one hand on his partner, he was going to rip the little snot in half, injury or no.

Wade noticed how focused the prone man was on the room. "Whatsa matter? `Fraid Bobby'll take some liberties with the Doc? What is she, yer girlfriend?" He grinned as Mulder's face grew red with anger. "Maybe I should tell Bobby to take his time, he needs his practice before he gets his own girl."

Mulder wanted nothing more than to choke the life out of the man before him, but every time he bunched his muscles, ready to throw himself at Wade, pain lanced up and down his nerves. Instead, he tried to melt the bastard with his eyes. Damn. Didn't work. Where was Cecil L'Ively when you needed him?

Behind Wade, two pairs of eyes watched the discourse with interest. Bill glanced at his mother when Mulder mentioned his job. "You think they'll find out about them being FBI?" he whispered.

"Oh Lord, I hope not. I don't think Wade would react too well to that bit of information." Maggie's eyes flicked upwards to the room her daughter had gone into. "Dana doesn't have her weapon with her and I'm pretty sure Fox didn't bring his either."

"Well, I suppose that's a good thing then, since it would give them away. Though a gun would come in pretty handy right about now. What we've got to do is get Wade's away from him. I'm fairly sure I can take him one on one and Dana can deal with the kid." Bill sized up their captor, noting his build, the way he held himself. Wade was an experienced thug, someone who knew how to handle a gun and wouldn't be surprised easily. But so was Bill.

"Bill, don't take any risks. I don't want you or anyone else getting hurt." She watched Fox shift uncomfortably beneath Wade's glare. "Poor Fox, after all he's been through and now this."

Bill snorted but kept his thoughts to himself. Poor little son of a bitch got himself beat up and now he had to make all their lives miserable by expecting them to take care of him. Bill's conscience reminded him that Mulder's scar looked more serious than a simple beating and that maybe the guy deserved the benefit of the doubt. Bill ignored his Jiminy Cricket wannabe.

"Is there anyone we can signal for help, any new neighbors who live closer than a mile?" Bill was trying to think of anything that might get them out of this predicament.

Margaret shook her head sadly. "My only neighbor is Mrs. Miranda, but she just moved into a rest home. I'm afraid we're on our own."

At that moment, Dana reappeared on the walkway above, small package in hand. She descended the stairs hastily but careful not to alarm Wade or Bobby with any suspicious movements. She flashed Mulder a reassuring smile, aware that he had been worried about her being alone with Bobby. Then she directed her gaze at Wade. "We need to move him to where I can lay him down."

Wade narrowed his eyes but couldn't find anything wrong with her request. "Bobby, help the Doc get her boyfriend on the La-Z-Boy."

Always excited when asked to do something, Bobby jumped into action, roughly pushing Mulder forward so that he could get his arms around his torso. Before Scully could say something, the young man heaved upward, yanking Mulder into an upright position. The injured agent groaned at the new pain that surged across his belly, the tear aggravated by the sudden movement.

"Please be careful," Dana murmured, knowing that it would do little good. She knew a devotee when she saw one and she knew that Bobby would carry out with zeal every task Wade set him. She picked up Mulder's feet and together they transferred him to the recliner. She could tell that all the jostling was causing him great discomfort, but there was nothing she could give him for the pain, nothing she could do but hope that things got no worse.

Bobby returned to Wade's side and the older man shot a glare at Dana. ďDonít try anything other than stitching with that needle, Doc. Iíll be watching and if you donít do as I say, Iíll make sure yer boyfriendíll need more than a few stitches.Ē He turned back to face Bobby and the two of them spoke in hushed tones, their eyes constantly flicking over at their captives. Nathan was still unconscious, Maggie and Bill were sitting in the sofa perpendicular and to the other couch, and Mulder was now situated in the La-Z-Boy recliner to Bill's right. Everyone was close together and easily kept within eyesight.

Scully folded the open edges of Mulder's flannel over the arms of the chair and pulled off the bandage, baring his wound for all to see. Next, she opened the sealed sterile packet and removed the suture material with its curved needle. Her nose wrinkled at the idea of doing this without gloves, but that was her only option. A few swabs of hydrogen peroxide from the first aid kit and there was nothing more to do. "Mulder, I'm going to start now," she said by way of warning. He looked at her, his eyes full of understanding and acceptance. Feeling as ready for this as she could, she rested one hand lightly beside the tear and then lowered the needle.

Mulder jumped slightly as the sharp point of the needle penetrated the sensitive skin of the scar, a tiny moan escaping his tight throat. As she pulled the thread through, he tried his damnedest to remain still but he couldn't help writhing as sparks of pain exploded on his belly.

"God, Mulder, I'm so sorry. I know this hurts, Sweetheart, I know. But we need to do this. Please try to hold still." She continued to pull on the needle and she could see Mulder's muscles quivering with his effort to not move. This was not going to work. "Excuse me, Wade?"

The big man nudged Bobby aside and strode over to the foot of the reclined chair. He put his hands on his hips, his face in a perpetual scowl. "This better be good."

"I can't do this without anesthetic, he's in too much pain."

"Tough." Wade waited for her to beg some more or maybe argue, but he received neither. They stared at each other in a battle of wills, a tiny redhead and lumbering ex-convict trying to make the other back down with nothing more than a glare. Suddenly Wade looked away. "Fine. Have Big Brother over there hold him down while you sew him up."

"But-"

"Or I *could* have Bobby do it." The kid's head snapped up at the sound of his name, his eyes alight with what Scully could only call unmitigated glee.

"No, Bill can do it," she responded, knowing that any help Bobby provided would do more harm than anything else.

"Good." Wade walked over to Bill and pulled a pocketknife from his jeans. "Gimme your hands." Bill complied and was soon released from his bonds. Then Wade turned and sauntered back to his protege, re-entering the discussion that Scully had interrupted.

"Bill?" she asked, her voice laden with hesitancy.

Slowly, Bill got up and moved next to his sister. "What do you need me to do?"

Dana was a bit surprised by his willing response. "I need you to keep him from moving too much as I do this."

"All right." He walked around to stand on the opposite side of the recliner and leaned over, placing one hand on Mulder's chest, the other on his thigh. He didn't understand what all the fuss was about, it wasn't like Mr. FBI was in serious condition or anything. If it really hurt, wouldn't he be moaning and groaning, whining and whimpering? Bill always considered Mulder a pansy and expected nothing less. He refused to look at the face of the man under his grip as his sister returned to her task.

Bill felt Mulder's muscles tighten as Dana began, trembling ever so slightly. Willing himself not to look at Mulder's face, Bill kept his eyes focused on what Dana was doing. It was fascinating and sickening all at once. Now that he was up close, he had a better view of the injury and was able to make a more detailed analysis. White and pink skin crisscrossed in a thick line, a few reddish spots occasionally surrounding one of the black stitches. Dana was sewing up a section that was open, blood seeping from the wound. He could hear the sound of the needle entering flesh, watched the damaged skin being tugged together.

That's when it hit him. This wasn't a scratch, it wasn't a cut or a bruise. This was a life threatening injury that Mulder was recovering from. And it must hurt like hell. Bill looked up at Mulder's face and found that his eyes were clenched shut, his jaw tight, his breath being sucked in through his nose. This was like being awake while someone was operating on you. "Jesus," he whispered. And Mulder was taking it, was enduring this torture with little more than a twitch or two. Newfound respect began to replace scorn as Bill watched this man suffer through being pieced back together.

"How are you doing, Mulder?" Dana asked gently, almost finished with her ministrations.

"Peachy," was his clipped answer. Bill grinned at that.

*********
3:26 a.m.

Two hours after her home was invaded, Maggie Scully had drifted off to sleep, unable to keep her eyes open, despite her attempts to resist it. Bill had pulled her into his arms and she dozed in his embrace, comforted by his strength. Dana had stayed by Mulder's side until he had succumbed to his body's need for rest and then checked on Nathan. The wounded man appeared to be doing well and was just sleeping, not unconscious. She had taken a seat on the other side of her brother, one hand crossing the space between the couch and the recliner to rest on Mulder's forearm, and joined her mother in slumber.

Bill took it upon himself to take watch. Not like he had much of a choice. Wade and Bobby had taken up residence at the dining table, one always keeping an eye on their captives. They kept their voices hushed and their dialogue was just barely audible to the Navy officer.

"Can you hear what they're saying?"

Bill jumped at the low voice. He kept his own voice just as quiet, "Jesus, Mulder. I thought you were asleep."

"Without the good drugs? Fat chance." Mulder shifted uncomfortably in the La-Z-Boy, the corners of his eyes creased in pain.

"You want me to wake Dana?" Bill offered.

Mulder shook his head. "No, don't. She needs the rest and there's nothing she can do about it anyway. So, can you hear them?"

"Yeah, sort of. I can catch a few words and phrases. From what I can tell, they just tried to rob a bank and their friend," Bill motioned to Nathan with his chin, "botched it. They were trying to make it to the coast to find a boat that'd take them to the Caribbean but the storm got too bad so they tried to get there on foot. Apparently they didn't get far before they had to find shelter. Voila, we're hostages." A deep sigh signaled Bill's frustration at the absurdity of the situation. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mulder closed his eyes and thought over what he had just been told. "That's a pretty thorough story from bits and pieces of a conversation. Good work, Bill."

Bill tried to tamp down the feelings that Mulder's words of praise had stirred in him. Why should he care what the son of a bitch thought of him? "When the storm clears up, they'll be on their way. Right now, they're trying to decide what to do with us. Wade thinks a hostage would be useful but Bobby is too scared of dragging someone around."

"Doesn't matter what Bobby thinks, it's up to Wade."

"Yeah, I noticed. At least he's only got one gun."

"He doesn't. He has another one tucked in the back of his jeans, underneath his jacket." Bill's eyebrows rose. "Hey, I get paid to notice these things. Well, they can't go anywhere until their friend wakes up. Did either of them mention which one of us they'd use as a hostage?" Mulder tried to look over his shoulder at the two men but couldn't see over the top of the recliner.

"One of the women, I think. I'm obviously the last choice and you'd be a pain in the ass to carry around," Bill said absently, staring at the two sleeping forms on either side of him.

"I'm a pain in the ass, period."

That actually elicited a grin from the male Scully. "No arguments here."

"Why don't you get some sleep," Mulder murmured. "You're going to need to be alert in the morning."

Bill was about to argue that he was just fine and didn't need advice from a sorry excuse for an FBI agent, when he realized that he *was* a bit tired. "Someone has to stay awake."

"I'll keep watch, I don't think I'll be able to fall asleep again." He saw Bill's look of disbelief and tried to reassure him, "I'm an insomniac at the best of times and I've had my fill of nightmares tonight, so unless you have a hypodermic of morphine hidden somewhere around here, I won't be sleeping any time soon."

Bill thought it over for a moment and decided that he might as well get some shut eye. If anything was going to happen, he doubted that it would happen while they were sleeping. He nodded at the other man and closed his eyes, almost feeling sorry for the physical and psychological pain that made Mulder avoid the dream world. Almost.

**********
4:48 a.m.

"Bobby, go lay down somewhere and take a nap."

"But, Wade, I'm not tired."

"Yes you are, you're falling asleep at the table. They're all sleeping like babies, so I can watch them by myself. I'll wake you and take my turn in a few hours." Bobby opened his mouth to complain and Wade cut him off, "Don't argue with me, boy. Do it."

"Yes, Wade." Bobby pushed himself back from the table, the legs squealing loudly as they scraped against the tile. Bobby winced at the noise and looked over at their hostages None of them seemed to have moved and he sighed in relief. Walking into the family room, he searched for a comfortable spot to lay down.

Damn. There weren't any. All the chairs and the two sofas were occupied by dozing people. He pursed his lips and weighed his options. One of them would have to move, it was that simple. Nathan? No, Wade probably'd get angry if he made Nathan worse. The man and two women? No, too many to deal with. The guy who was hurt? Yeah, why not, what could the guy do?

Wade stepped up to the recliner and looked down at Mulder, startled to find the prone man's eyes open. "Good, you're awake. Move."

"What?" Mulder hissed.

"Move. I want to sleep here." The kid motioned to the La-Z-Boy.

"Where do you want me to go?"

A finger pointed to a hardback chair against the wall. "There, is just fine."

Mulder nodded, not willing to start a fight over such a trivial thing. Scully would be mad as hell when she woke up, but it was safer than risking making Bobby violent. He tried to sit up, his arms trembling with the effort. He only made it halfway before he collapsed back, his breath going out of him in a whoosh. Bobby was frowning at him impatiently. "Gimme a minute," he muttered. This time when he tried, he managed to sit completely erect and he pushed the footrest down, levering himself to his feet as he did so. The world swayed in front of him and he had to squeeze his eyes shut, waiting for the sensation to pass.

Apparently, he had waited too long and Bobby was tired of it. He shoved Mulder towards the chair and flopped into the recliner, not bothering to look to see if the injured man had reached his destination. Mulder stumbled from the push, his weak limbs struggling to keep him upright as he reeled towards the wall. His hands met the wall first and he leaned his body against it, reveling in the feeling of something stable. He pushed himself along the wall until he came to the chair, moving gingerly to sit in it. It wasn't comfortable and the pressure on his stomach was distracting, but at least it was somewhere to rest his aching body.

His eyes passed over the room, taking in all the sleeping forms, pausing as his gaze rested on the three Scullys. He had to make sure they came out of this all right, no matter what. He couldn't forgive himself if anything happened to them. Maggie was like a mother to him, more than his own mother had ever been, and they shared a special bond forged by the tragedy of Dana's disappearance. Bill was an asshole, but he was Dana's brother and she loved him, therefore Mulder felt the responsibility to keep the Navy officer safe as well. And most important, was Dana herself. He didn't even take the time to think of the implications her death would have on him because he knew that the second she died, he went with her.

Taking a deep breath of determination, he continued to look over the others. Nathan still hadn't woken up, but blood loss and shock could keep someone under for a while. Bobby was out like a light, softly snoring into the cushion of the recliner. Mulder raised his eyes to look past the couches and into the dining room, where Wade sat, staring back with cold eyes.

Wade seemed to be able to read Mulder's gaze and he grinned ferally, shaking his head. He knew that Mulder wanted to kick his ass, maybe even kill him. Go ahead, his eyes were telling the agent, come and get me.

Mulder just stared back, a promise of the future.

*******
8:37 a.m.

"I'm hungry."

"Me too." Actually, Bobby had been hungry for quite a while, ever since he had woken a half an hour ago, but he didn't dare tell Wade that.

"Go in the kitchen and see what you can find." As Bobby scurried off into the other room, Wade yelled after him, "And don't bring back any health crap!"

Wade's shout woke both women and Bill, who jerked in surprise at the bellow. "Who? What? Huh?" He shook his head, trying to clear the sleep from his mind.

Dana pushed away from his chest and blinked several times, Maggie mimicking her daughter's movements. Scully's hand instinctively reached out for Mulder, and when her fingers brushed up against nothing but air, she panicked. Her head snapped around in the direction of the recliner and what she saw made her blood run cold. He wasn't there.

"Scully." A hoarse whisper from across the room.

She looked over towards the entertainment center and scanned along the wall until she came to the figure seated in an antique chair. "Mulder," she breathed, tension seeping out of body instantly. "What are you doing over there?"

Mulder shrugged. "Bobby needed a place to sleep and elected to trade places with me."

"Why didn't you come back when he got up?" she murmured, keeping her voice low to avoid gaining the attention of the men in the dining room.

"Um..." Mulder didn't know what to say that wouldn't worry Dana. The truth was, he was too stiff from sitting in this chair for the past four hours and didn't think he'd make it to the recliner without falling over.

It didn't matter that he didn't say anything, Scully read him just like she always did. She made sure that Wade and Bobby were sufficiently occupied before she got up and walked quickly over to her partner. "Here, let me help you." She slung his arm over her shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Together they made their way back to the center of the room. Scully gently deposited her charge back in the La-Z-Boy and knelt next to him, tugging at his flannel. "I want to check the stitches," she said by way of explanation.

"And here I thought you were getting fresh," he quipped. He tried to relax and let her fulfill her doctoring instinct. He looked over at the couch, finding both Bill and Maggie looking back. He shot them both a lopsided grin, "Good morning." Bill snorted and Maggie gave him a half smile. "Well, it could be-" he sucked in his breath as Dana prodded his abdomen, "worse."

A loud groan caused Scully to look at Mulder, but then she realized the sound hadn't come from him. Another moan and she was able to pinpoint the source. She turned around and looked at Nathan, who was squirming on the couch. She re-bandaged Mulder's midsection and squeezed his knee in a gesture of comfort. Then she stood and cleared her throat. "Wade."

The big man looked up from the bag of chips he was devouring ravenously. "Wha?" he said through a mouthful.

"Nathan's waking up."

"Bobby! Quit foolin' around in there and get back here!" Wade barely waited for his protege before striding into the family room. He pulled the hidden revolver from behind his back and handed it to Bobby, instructing the boy to use it if any of the hostages moved, making sure everyone heard. Next, he stood over Nathan, calling the man's name.

"Wade?" Nathan lifted his sandy brown head and blearily took in his surroundings. "Where are we?"

"We're safe, for now. Storm got too bad and we had to find a place to stay until it blows over. As luck would have it, one of the people who lives here is a doctor and she fixed your shoulder right up."

"People?" He finally noticed the four strangers sitting some feet away. "We kidnapped a house full of people?"

"What, would you rather be outside in the snow? You'd be dead by now," Wade growled, angry at having his decisions questioned.

"No, Wade, it was a good idea. I was just gettin' things straight in my head." The younger man was trying not to dig himself deeper. "I feel good as new. Is there anything to eat, I'm starving."

Wade laughed and slapped Nathan on the back, causing the other man to wince. "Always thinkin' of your stomach first, Nathan. C'mon, me an' Bobby were just rustling up some breakfast."

"Wait, Wade. I should check him first, before he gets up," Scully said, her tone implying that it was purely optional, being sure that he knew that she wasn't challenging his authority.

"Sure, Doc." Wade swept his arm through the air, indicating that she was free to examine her patient.

She hurried to the other couch, her face serious as she inspected the gunshot wound. "You'll be sore for a few days, but otherwise, you should be fine."

"If all doctors were as pretty as you, I'd be throwin' myself in the line of fire more often." Nathan leered at Dana, his hand catching her wrist. "You sure you don't want to check the rest of me? Make sure *everything* is in working order?"

Everyone in the room tensed, knowing exactly what Nathan was implying. Both Mulder and Bill were a bright shade of red, while Maggie was white as a sheet.

"Forget it, Nathan," Wade instructed. He saw that Nathan was continuing to look Scully up and down, undressing her with his eyes. "You touch her without my permission and I'll rip yer balls off and feed `em to you, you got that?"

That got Nathan's attention. He swallowed hard and nodded, tearing his eyes away from the petite redhead. Scully backed away, controlling her movements, struggling not to turn and run from the lecherous eyes of that man.

"There's food in the dining room, so get your lazy ass off that couch," Wade ordered.

Nathan complied, only cringing slightly as he flexed sore muscles. He headed from the family room and snatched the revolver out of Bobby's hand as he passed the youth. "Gimme that before you shoot yourself in the foot," he sneered.

Bobby's eyes narrowed and he clenched his hands into fists.

A pair of hazel eyes were the only ones that noticed the boy's anger.

**********
9:02 a.m.

"Dana, no."

"Mom, I am not going to let them bully us out of even the most primary of functions," Dana reasoned.

"Yeah, Mom. You know I hate to argue with you, but Dana's right. And I gotta go." Bill shifted in his seat to illustrate his need.

Margaret sighed in frustration. "All right, but be careful."

Scully gave her mother a reprimanding look. When was she ever *not* careful? She got up and walked towards the dining room. Her movements drew the gazes of the three men sitting at the table.

"Now what do you want?" Wade was starting to tire of this woman's demands.

"We need to use the bathroom," she stated matter-of-factly.

"Too bad," Nathan scoffed.

Wade cocked his head as he weighed the pros and cons. There was little the hostages could do, no way for them to escape. If he had Bobby clear anything even resembling a weapon from the bathroom, what harm could it do to let them use the toilet? Either that or let the house stink up like a God damn sewer. "Fine. But one at a time and only for two minutes each." He swiveled around to face his two comrades. "Bobby, go clean out the bathroom, make sure there ain't anything they can use against us."

Bobby, thrilled that he was still being given responsibility even after Nathan was awake, leaped to attention. "Right away, Wade." He scrambled off to perform this duty, leaving Scully to trail behind.

She rejoined her family and announced the decision. "What about you, Mulder?"

"I'm fine."

Her left eyebrow arched at his response. "Are you sure?"

Actually, he was anything but. However, he wasnít about to tell her that he didnít think that he would be able to make it to the bathroom. "Yeah. I haven't had anything in my stomach for awhile."

Dana frowned. He had last eaten the same time she and her mother had. Of course, his digestive system was still finicky after the surgery, so it wasn't necessarily a bad sign. "Okay, but let me know when you *do* have to go."

"I will," was his quick reply, his eyes cast downward.

"Mulder." It was a warning.

"I said I will." He knew not to mess with her when she used that tone.

Just then, Bobby reappeared, razors, hairspray, curling iron, and an assortment of other items bundled up in his arms. " 'Kay, pee break," he announced.

Everyone looked at each other and then Bill was off the couch and on his way.

*********
10: 23 a.m.

"I need some *real* food," Nathan complained as he wiped his hands on his jeans, scattering potato chip crumbs on the floor.

Wade couldn't agree more. "Hey, Ma!" he yelled to his left. "How `bout some good ol' fashioned home cookin'?"

Maggie looked at her daughter, unsure as how to handle the situation. Dana nodded and Maggie stood. "I'll see what I can do," she said politely.

Margaret strode into her kitchen, her mind whirling. She couldn't believe this was happening. Here she was, being held hostage in her own home, and she was about to cook brunch for her kidnappers. She would have laughed at the preposterousness of it if the situation wasn't so serious.

"Bobby, stay right by her and make sure she doesn't hide a knife or something in her nightgown." Wade chuckled as Maggie clutched her flannel gown to her body, suddenly self conscious of what she was wearing.

Overhearing the conversation, Dana realized that they were all still in their nightwear. The day was getting colder and they needed to change into something more substantial. However, she didn't relish the thought of mentioning this in front of Nathan. She felt dirty every time he looked at her. She saw movement in the corner of her eye and found that Mulder was shivering, trying to hide it from her by huddling into the recliner. She made up her mind instantly.

"Bill, would you go ask Wade if we can change into some warmer clothes?"

Bill looked confused at her request, wondering why she had decided to delegate. He glanced at the family room and saw Nathan eyeing his sister. Oh, that's why. He caught her eye and nodded, letting her know that he understood. He pushed himself up from the couch and took a few steps toward their captors. "Hey, guys."

"I'm really getting tired of these interruptions." Wade waved the gun in Bill's direction, reminding the man standing in front of him of who was in charge.

Bill swallowed nervously. "Yeah, um, sorry, but it's getting a bit cold and we were wondering if we could get some warmer clothes."

Wade was about to answer negatively but hesitated. It was getting colder and he himself could use a sweater. "All right. Nathan, take the Doc upstairs to find us all something warmer." He watched his friend get up eagerly, a lustful grin on the man's face. Nathan was ruled by his hormones and would probably end up with his pants around his ankles if Wade sent him up there with the Doc. He had a tendency to get carried away when he took a woman. In fact, that was what had landed him in jail more than a few times. The last thing Wade needed was to deal with Nathan's libido. But he couldn't send Nathan up with Big Brother, the man looked like he could break the slighter ex-con in two, armed or not. The boyfriend was his only other option.

"Never mind, Nathan. Take the Doc's boyfriend instead." Disappointment was plain on Nathan's face and Wade just smiled, having reasserted his dominance.

In the meantime, Dana had crouched next to her partner and laid her right hand on his shoulder. "Mulder?"

"Yeah?" His voice was slightly shaky from his shivering.

"You okay?"

"S-snug as a b-bug in a rug."

Scully's lips were pushed into a thin line. She brought her left hand up to brush the bangs from his forehead, feeling the warmth of his skin. "You're running a fever."

"Why? I'm n-not sick." He was angry at his body for making things worse.

"It's from shock most likely, your body needs to deal with the trauma its been through. Don't worry, it's not high and it should go down as soon as we get you warm and more comfortable."

Nathan trudged into the family room, preceded by Bill, and shot Scully a lewd expression. She ignored him. "Okay, Boyfriend, let's go."

Scully started to protest, standing up from the couch. Bill laid a hand on her shoulder and kept her from launching herself at the other man. She glared at her brother, accusing him with her eyes. He almost let go, but reminded himself of what could happen if he let her attack Nathan. Nothing good, that was for sure. "What good will you be to Mulder if you're dead?" he whispered in her ear.

She refused to look at him. "You'd rather *he* die." It wasn't a question.

Bill was taken aback by her statement. Of course he'd rather have the sorry son of a bitch die than watch his sister be raped and probably killed in front of him. It wasn't like Mulder had brought them anything but misery and... Bill's train of thought drifted away as he was hit by a realization. Dana would risk her life for Mulder without hesitation. Not because she was his partner. Because she *loved* him. Sure, she had said so earlier, but he hadn't believed it. Now he knew it was true. And there was nothing he could do about it.

"Come on, I haven't got all day." Shifting his revolver to his left hand, Nathan grabbed Mulder's right upper arm, pulling him out of the chair. A stifled moan and dead weight was all he got from Mulder. "Stand up!"

Mulder locked his knees, willing himself to stay upright. "Okay, okay, I'm up, I'm up."

"Good. You lead the way." Nathan pointed at the stairs.

Mulder shuffled forward, moving as fast as his body would allow him. His escort appeared to have realized that he wasn't in prime condition and didn't push too much. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Mulder placed his right hand on the newel post, his eyes traveling up the steps. Shit. He'd forgotten how many there were. Well, as they say, take it one step at a time.

Keeping with that philosophy, he made it to the seventh step before dropping to his knees on the eighth. A small cry to his right marked Dana's dismay and he absently waved a hand in her direction, focusing on his breathing.

"Damn it, do I have to carry you??" Nathan prodded him in the back with the revolver's muzzle.

"Give me a minute," Mulder gasped out between breaths. He put both hands on the next step and leaned his head down, concentrating on banishing the pain. A violent shiver shook him and he closed his eyes, bidding the fire across his belly to abate.

"Time's up, now move." A rough grip pulled on the back of Mulder's shirt, bringing him to his feet. Nathan's painful grasp on his shoulders propelled him up the stairs faster than he would have liked, not giving him a chance to pace himself.

He half staggered/half fell into the closest room, which was his and Scully's. Bracing himself against the wall, he made his way to the closet, pushing the door open with his weight. He reached up and pulled two of his sweatshirts from their hangars and laid them across his arms, then pulled down two more. "Here." He tossed one to Nathan. The other three were for himself, Bobby, and Scully. Of course, Scully had her own clothes, but Mulder figured that his larger sweatshirt might make her less of a target for Nathan's wiles.

Next, they moved to Bill's room, procuring an extra large sweater for Wade, another for Bill. Maggie needed both a pair of sweats and a sweater, and soon Mulder was laden with clothing, his balance even more severely compromised by this added burden. Going back down the stairs was a harrowing ordeal, but considerably less painful than the last time.

Once they made it to the bottom, Nathan relieved Mulder of the garments and threw them at each person in the room. Then he went into the dining room and handed Wade a sweater, holding up the remaining clothes. "These are for Bobby and the old lady."

"Speakin' a which, where's my food??" Wade yelled in the direction of the kitchen.

Maggie appeared a moment later, bearing a tray of steaming pancakes. "Here you are, I'll be right back with some plates." Soon, the table was set with butter, syrup, and glasses of milk. It almost looked like it was a normal Sunday brunch, not a hostage feeding three criminals.

"May I take some to my family?" Margaret asked.

"Whatever, but no silverware. Eat with your bare hands." Wade waved her away.

Maggie took a second stack of pancakes into the family room, her change of clothes tucked under one arm. She set the plate on the coffee table and went to the bathroom to change. Nobody said anything, so she figured she wasn't being forbidden a bit of privacy. When she emerged, now dressed in sweatpants and a thick sweater, it was to see her children munching on the pancakes, regardless of the lack of utensils.

She joined them and couldn't help the smile that crossed her face. "You two are actually enjoying the fact that you're allowed to eat with your hands in my house."

"C'mon, Mom, give us a break," Bill complained, his voice on the verge of a whine.

Dana hid her smirk by turning away. But her grin disappeared as she noticed her partner. He was sprawled in the recliner, his eyes shut, his mouth open as he took deep, even breaths. "Mulder?"

His eyes remained closed. "Yeah?"

"Do you think you can handle some food?"

"I don't know, what do you think?" He wasn't all that hungry.

"It's more solid than I'd like, but you need to keep up your strength. Try it and if it's too much, we'll see if they'll let us reheat some soup." She picked up a pancake and passed it to him.

He took the proffered food and managed a small smile. "I was hoping that I'd get to eat something more solid soon, but this wasn't exactly how I'd pictured it."

*********
11: 56 a.m.

*Brrriiing*

Everyone jumped at the shrill noise. Wade woke from the couch, ready to pummel whoever it was that had interrupted his sleep. Bill, Dana, and Maggie were huddled on the other couch, Mulder still in the recliner, and Nathan and Bobby were at the dining table. All of them stared at the phone as if they didn't recognize it.

*Brrriiing*

"Let the machine get it," Wade instructed.

Everyone sat still as the phone recorder answered. "Hi, you've reach Margaret Scully's residence. I can't come to the phone right now, so please leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you and have a nice day." *Beeeep*

"Hi, it's Denise, I'm doing my daily duty and calling to see how you all are doing. Looks like I caught you when you were out, though I have no idea what you are doing driving around in this weather, shame on you. I'm at work right now, so don't call me, I'll call you back in a few hours. Take care `til then." *Beeeep*

Dana's shoulders slumped in dejection. If only she could have talked to her friend, maybe she could have somehow warned Denise, let her know that they were in trouble. She felt pressure on her arm and looked over to find Mulder's hand resting by her wrist.

"She'll call back," he said confidently. His underlying words were, `There's still hope.'

Wade couldn't hear the interaction between the two agents, but he as he watched them, he realized that he need to decide what to do with the hostages once the storm let up. "Nathan, give your gun to Bobby and come with me."

"What about me?" Bobby whined.

"You watch them. Nathan and I need to discuss a few things." Wade cast a patronizing glare at the young man. "You know, grownup talk." With that, he left the room, not waiting to see if his companion followed. Nathan snickered and handed his weapon to Bobby as he traced the footsteps of his boss.

For an instant, Bobby was tempted to shoot Nathan in the back as he walked away. Just for an instant. He could imagine the rage Wade would be in if he ever did anything without Wade's say-so. Sighing forlornly, the kid flopped down on the empty couch, as far away from everyone else as possible.

A few moments passed in silence until a soft voice broke the stillness. "Why do you let him treat you like that, Bobby?"

"What?" Bobby stared at Mulder.

"Why do you let Wade treat you like a slave?" Mulder kept all accusation out of his tone, trying to get the youth to open up.

Bobby sat up straighter. "He doesn't! Wade's my partner, he respects me."

"Then why won't he include you in all his plans? Aren't you wondering what he's talking to Nathan about that he won't share with you?" When Bobby didn't reply, Mulder continued, "I know you believe Wade respects you, but why does he respect Nathan more?"

"Nathan's an idiot, I'm much smarter than he is!" Bobby exploded. "We were better off when it was just me and Wade. Wade's taught me things, he's protected me, he's showed me I never have to be afraid of anything again."

"Like your father?"

"Shut up!" Bobby shot to his feet. Scully tensed, ready to come to her partner's aid if the kid got violent. She knew what Mulder was trying to do, let him do it, knowing that he was doing what he did best - profiling.

"You follow Wade because he's never hit you, has never raised a hand to you in anger. You look up to him and, for the first time in your life, you feel like you're somebody that matters."

"Damn it, why don't you just shut up! You have no idea what my life was like!" Bobby raised his revolver to point it at the man in the recliner.

"I may know more than you think. I know what it feels like to be betrayed by someone you loved and trusted, the pain you feel when a father you idolized slaps you in the face for the first time. You tell yourself that it was your fault, that he won't ever do it again because you'll be good. But it *does* happen again, doesn't it? At first it's a slap upside the head, or a cuff in the arm. You dismiss those, promising that you'll be better and then he won't hit you. And even though you try to be the perfect son, the pain keeps coming. Then it becomes a kick in the ribs, a lashing with his belt, beatings that don't stop until you're lying senseless on the floor."

Mulder's eyes had become deep black pools, his sight turned inwards, to the past. "You want to call for help, to beg him to stop, but you don't. Because that would only make him angrier. So you hide your bruises from the world, wearing long sleeves in the summer, blaming your black eye on falling out of a tree, keeping to yourself so that no one will find out. You lie awake at night, wondering what you did wrong, what it is that you could have possibly done to make your own father *hate you*." His voice cracked on the last two words, a tear escaping and trickling down his pale cheek.

Dana listened to her partner in despair, her own eyes brimming with tears for the pain that he had gone through. She had always known that Mulder's childhood was not a happy one, but she had never known to what extent. She watched him relate this story to Bobby, saw him struggling with the memories, and knew it was costing him a lot to say these things. She wanted to go to him, to comfort him and make the pain go away. But she realized that she never could - it was a pain too old, too deep. She reached over and entwined her fingers with his, trying to imbue him with her strength. His expression didn't change, but his fingers tightened around her own.

Maggie had brought her hand to her mouth and was biting her knuckles, forcing herself to remain seated and to not rush over and pull Fox into her arms. To rock him back and forth like she did when her own children were young and hurt, to prove to him that not all parents were cold and uncaring or hateful.

All Bill could think was, `No wonder he's so screwed up.'

Bobby had lowered the revolver, listening intently to Mulder, seeing that the man *did* understand, had lived through a similar hell.

"I can tell you're a smart kid, Bobby. If you weren't, you'd still be at home, letting your old man beat the shit out of you. But don't you see? Wade is just like your father, he doesn't care about *you*, he's using you and when he's done, you won't matter anymore." Mulder took a deep breath, readying himself to deliver the final blow. "Wade isn't a good man. He doesn't care if he hurts people, doesn't care about anyone but himself. Do you really want to be like Wade?"

Bobby raised his hands to the side of his head, shaking it back and forth. "No, no, no," he muttered again and again, unwilling to listen to words that shattered his fantasy, tears streaming down his face as the rational part of his mind strove to accept them.

"Bobby. Bobby, look at me." Red-rimmed eyes move up to meet dark hazel ones. "You don't want to become your father, do you?

***********

In the garage a different and yet just as serious exchange was taking place. Nathan was sitting on the hood of Margaret's car, staring at Wade, who was leaning against the door frame that led to the kitchen.

"So you want to kill them all? Not even one hostage?"

Wade shook his head. "No, too much trouble. Besides, no one will even know we were ever here unless there's a body missing. They'll just think that the fire in the fireplace got out of hand and burned the place down. No fingerprints, nothing."

"Yeah, good idea. But that little redhead is so-"

"I said *no*. Don't forget who bailed you out last time you took a fancy to a girl. You'd be in jail right now if I hadn't gotten rid of the bitch." Wade glared at the man in front of him. "Now get your ass back in the house and do as I say. We'll wait `til the storm is past before we torch the place."

Nathan nodded in defeat and hopped off the car. Together they strode back into the house, moving directly into the family room. They were surprised to find Bobby huddled on the end of the sofa, his face buried in his hands, revolver pointed at the ceiling.

"What's going on?" Wade demanded angrily.

Bobby jumped to his feet, hastily wiping his eyes. "Wade, I -"

Suddenly the lights went off, plunging the room into darkness.

"What the hell? Nobody move!" Wade shouted, holding his gun in front of him as he waited for his eyes to adjust. "Damn it, the storm must have blown a fuse. Where's the fuse box?"

"In the basement," Maggie volunteered.

"You know how to fix it?" He stepped towards her.

"I do," Bill answered quickly.

Wade shot him a dirty look but it was lost in the dim light. "Okay then. Nathan, take Big Brother downstairs to fix the fuse. First, get the flashlight we saw in the garage."

After much stumbling in the darkness and cursing as he bumped into furniture, Nathan managed to make it to the garage and find the light, returning with only a few less mishaps. "Lead the way," he ordered.

Bill stood slowly and navigated carefully through the room, still banging his shin on the coffee table. He grunted at the sharp pain and glared at Nathan. It would help if the asshole held the light so that he could see where he was going. On their way past, Nathan relieved Bobby of the weapon dangling from his limp fingers and muttered something about kids not playing with guns.

They walked down the hallway to the right of the bathroom, stopping before a door at the end. Bill twisted the knob and opened it to reveal a black pit. Nathan held both revolver and flashlight on Bill's back, so the bigger man had to feel his way down the steps. He let out a breath when he reached the bottom and waited for Nathan to join him. "It's over there." His arm swept to the left.

Nathan automatically shifted himself in the direction Bill was pointing, taking his aim off of his hostage in the process. Just as Bill had planned. He continued to turn left, putting his whole weight behind the right fist that followed in a roundhouse punch to Nathan's face. With a squawk of dismay, Nathan stumbled backwards, dropping everything in his hands. Bill tried to see where the gun landed, but couldn't trace its path through the air. He grabbed the flashlight and searched the ground frantically.

"Looking for something?"

He whirled around, the beam of the flashlight coming to rest on Nathan, who was wiping his bloody nose with one hand, holding the revolver with his other.

"Nice try, tough guy. Now fix the fuse and then we'll go upstairs and let Wade decide what to do with you."

*********
12:43 p.m.

Though they were expecting it, everyone was startled as the room was instantly bathed in light. They heard the bang of a door down the hallway and turned in unison to watch the two men return. Bill came first, his expression sullen and his shoulders slumped. Nathan followed, blood pouring from his nose and the corner of his mouth.

"Damn it, Nathan, can't you even handle a simple job without screwing it up?" Wade jeered.

Nathan flushed at the reference to his part in the failure of their robbery.

"Maybe you should have done it yourself then."

Mouths dropped open around the room. Wade gawked at Bill. "What did you say?"

"If you didn't think he was up to it, you should have done it yourself." Bill was upset and getting angrier by the second. He had had enough of this bullshit. He distantly heard his mother softly calling his name but ignored her. "What, were you afraid that you wouldn't be able to beat me in a fair fight?"

"You had better shut your mouth right now, Billy Boy, or I will shut it for you," Wade threatened.

"Oh yeah, I'm scared of a guy who has to bully women and an injured man to make himself feel important."

Wade was pointing his gun directly at Bill's chest, his finger tightening on the trigger. "One more word out of you and I'll-"

"You'll what?" Bill sneered.

Everything happened so fast that no one knew what happened until it was over. A gunshot echoed throughout the house and Bill felt himself being thrown to the side as something slammed into him. He landed on his right shoulder, letting out a pained "Oomph" as a heavy weight fell on top of him. He laid there for a moment, trying to figure out why a gunshot would feel so odd. When he opened his eyes, he found himself face to face with Fox Mulder.

Dana was off the couch and by their sides immediately, heedless of whether Wade gave her permission or not. All she could think of was that there was blood on the floor and it was coming from someone she loved. But which one? She picked the most obvious. "Bill, are you all right?"

"Yeah, he must have missed me." Bill was pushing at the body covering his. "Get off me, Mulder, what do you think you're doing?"

"Saving your ass," was the strained reply.

Bill's fingers came in contact with a moist warmth and he pulled his hand back to look at the offending substance. Blood. His brain had to replay his movements several times before he finally figured out where the scarlet liquid had originated from.

Dana had figured it out much faster though. "Bill, stop moving. Mulder, where are you hit?"

Mulder's voice was muffled against Bill's sweatshirt. "Left upper back."

"Okay, Bill, I want you to carefully lift Mulder up and slide out from under him. Try not to move him more than necessary," Scully instructed.

Doing as told, Bill pushed against Mulder's shoulder's, holding the man up as he slithered backward into a sitting position. Then he lowered Mulder to the ground, holding his breath until he had removed his hands from the injured agent. He was now able to see why Mulder was bleeding.

The green sweatshirt had a large tear in it, running horizontally across the shoulder blade area, and through it, Bill could see that the flannel shirt also had a similar tear. Surrounded by this valley of fabric was a long, shallow gash tracing across Mulder's scapula. Apparently, the bullet had just grazed him.

Dana sighed in relief as she came to the same conclusion. "Well, Mulder, you've got a nasty laceration, but I don't think you'll need stitches."

"Good. Then you can get him off the floor and out of my way." Wade stepped over Mulder's sprawled feet and glared down at Bill. "Next time, no one is going to stop me from blowing your brains out." He tramped into the dining room, Bobby and Nathan, who was apologizing profusely, at his heels.

Scully didn't give the trio a second thought as she turned her attention to her partner. "Mulder, can you sit up?"

A moment passed in silence before Mulder shifted, bringing his arms underneath him. He took a shaky breath and began to push himself off the floor. He got no more than an inch from the ground before he dropped back down, his breath hissing out between clenched teeth.

Dana cursed under her breath. Mulder's weakened condition was getting worse as his body was subjected to constant trauma, given no time to recover from all he had been through. She didn't know how much more he could take before total collapse. She gently rolled him over, wincing with him as the wound on his back stretched taut. She put a hand behind his neck, the other on his chest, and helped him into a sitting position. Then she crouched in front of him, encircling him with her arms, and pulled him up. She staggered as Mulder swayed precariously, his hands groping for her shoulders to steady himself.

Bill was getting exasperated as he watched his tiny sibling trying to support the weight of her partner. He let out a `Harumph' of disgust as he stepped up beside the pair. "Let me." He took Mulder's right arm and drew it across his shoulders, wrapping his own arm around the other man's waist. Mulder weighed less than Bill had thought and he had no problems keeping the agent on his feet. Dana offered him a thankful smile and let go of her partner, letting Bill take over. They shambled forward slowly, Mulder leaning heavily on the bigger man. Bill could feel the trembling of Mulder's muscles and realized that the effort it had taken to move so suddenly and shove him out of the way of the bullet had seriously drained the man. "Why did you do that?"

Mulder was watching his feet, making sure that they were still moving. "What? Try to become The Human Shield?"

Bill's look made it clear that he wasn't in the mood for humor.

Mulder sighed. "Because Dana loves you and I love her. She has already lost a sister and a daughter, I refuse to let her lose a brother. And also because I respect you. I know that you love her very much and you just want what is best for her." He halted his forward shuffle, causing Bill to stop as well. "I know that I don't deserve her. Each and every day I wonder when I am going to wake up and find that she has left me, finally seeing that she could do so much better than me. But I love her, Bill. I love her more than life itself. I can't make you trust me, but I swear to you, I will never, ever, knowingly hurt your sister."

Bill stared into the hazel depth's of Fox Mulder's eyes and saw nothing but the truth. He inclined his head in acceptance and was surprised to find that he really did believe what Mulder had said. He licked his lips and took a huge step towards trust. "Thank you. Thank you for saving my life."

********

Pure exhaustion was the only reason Mulder had finally succumbed to the persistent call of sleep. He was resting in the recliner, his body at a slight angle as he unconsciously kept weight off his injured back. Scully had pulled over the chair that Mulder had used during the night and sat positioned by his head. Her fingers ran through his hair as he drifted off to sleep, assuring herself that everything was going to be okay. As long as they were together, they would be all right.

A cleared throat brought her focus back to her surroundings. She turned to see Bill's belt buckle in her line of sight. She tilted her head back slowly, her eyes traveling up her brother's barrel chest to his face. She raised her eyebrows in askance.

Bill's chin jutted out towards Mulder. "What happened to him?"

Dana cast a surreptitious glance at their captors, who seemed content to leave everyone in peace for the time being, enmeshed in their own conversation. Deciding that it was safe for them to talk, albeit quietly, she waved Bill to sit next to her. He lowered himself down to the coffee table and waited expectantly.

He didn't know why, but he wanted to know more about the man his sister had worked with over the past five years, about how Mulder fit into her life. He knew that it would take much longer for Dana to recount all the past adventures that she and her partner had shared, so he settled with inquiring about their most recent.

"You know the general facts behind the case, right?"

Being from the West Coast, he knew fairly little about the `East Coast Executioner' case. "Um, the guy killed people and cut them open?"

Scully nodded, not wanting to go into much further detail, in case Bill was squeamish about that sort of thing. Maggie, who already knew more than she wanted to about the circumstances that brought the pair of agents into her home, closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep to the sound of her daughter's voice.

"Mulder and I were asked by the VCS, that's the Violent Crimes Section, to reject the idea that the killer was performing anthropomancy, which is divining the future from the emplacement of intestines. We quickly discounted that theory and our involvement should have ended then and there. But it didn't. Within the VCS is a subdivision called the ISU, Investigative Support Unit, which does behavioral models of criminals and applies them to a case in order to find the killer. They wanted us to stay on the case and work with them toward this end."

"I thought you two only dealt with little green aliens?" Bill cocked his head in confusion.

A grim smile crossed Dana's lips. "No, not often. We commonly deal with a wide assortment of subjects, from genetic anomalies to unexplainable disappearances. Aliens and serial killers only occasionally grace our repertoire."

"Then why did they want your help?"

"Mulder used to work in the ISU as a criminal profiler. He was good. He was *very* good, the best in fact, and they wanted him to work up a profile on their killer. I got the unenviable task of doing several autopsies. We had been assigned to the case for about a week, and we were getting close. It was already a media circus when we had been brought aboard and now the reporters hounded us everywhere we went, demanding statements and spreading unsubstantiated rumors.

"Mulder eventually worked himself sick and had to go home after spending forty-eight hours straight at the office. Profiling is hard on him. Think of it this way: a killer's mind is a deep pool of murky water and profiling is like going swimming in that pool, looking for the coin at the bottom that will lead you to the suspect. Only problem is, if you go to deep, you can drown. Even if you don't, you come out soaked in the muck, haunted by the thoughts of a deranged mind. Mulder has a tendency to swim without a life jacket, if you get my meaning."

Bill chewed on the inside of cheek, sorting out the implied message in Dana's explanation. He nodded slowly, his mind racing as he tried to make sense of it all.

"Well, apparently the killer had seen Mulder on the news, during a report that claimed we were close to catching the UNSUB. Sorry, UNknown SUBject. Anyway, Eugene Kearns, who we later learned was our perp, thought that if he took out Mulder, he'd be safe. He kidnapped Mulder from his own apartment, but not before Mulder had put the pieces together and sent his updated profile to our Agent in Charge. It led us straight to them. We found Kearns," Scully paused to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat as she remembered the events she was describing, "kneeling over Mulder, with Mulder's... um, entrails, in his hands."

Color drained from Bill's face as he listened with rapt attention. He shot a look over at Mulder, his eyes automatically staring at the wound he knew was hidden by fabric and bandages.

"To make a long and gruesome story short, we took Kearns into custody and Mulder to the hospital. About a week in Intensive Care, another two in the Surgical Ward, and then he came home with us to recuperate. You know the rest." Dana waved her hands around in a defeated gesture.

Bill looked stunned. "You mean he was... deintest-, debowel-, disemb-," he struggled with the word.

"Disemboweled? Yes."

Wade's head snapped up as sudden movement in the family room caught his eye. He watched in puzzlement as Bill Scully dashed for the bathroom and could be heard losing the contents of his stomach.

*********
2:01 p.m.

The phone was ringing again. Wade wanted to have the phone recorder answer it once more, but Scully wouldn't let the opportunity go by a second time.

"We're supposed to be home, whoever it is might get worried and come over, or even call the police," Dana argued.

"You got some real paranoid friends, Doc. All right, but you don't say anything that might even hint at your situation. I'll be listening." He yelled at Nathan to bring him the portable phone from the kitchen. "Pick it up."

Dana reached over to the end table at the corners of both couches and lifted the phone from its cradle. "Hello?"

Wade pushed the button on the phone in his hand and put the receiver to his ear.

"Hi, Dana, it's Denise. Just checkin' up on you, makin' sure everything is going well. How's Mulder?"

Dana swallowed, hope flaring in her as her mind formulated a plan. "He's doing fine. If I could get my hands on the drunk driver that did this to him, I'd wring the man's neck."

Silence on the other end signaled Denise's confusion. Scully knew that Wade would get suspicious if her friend didn't say something soon and was beginning to regret her hasty move. Luckily, Agent Chandler was quick on the uptake. "Well, at least the cops got a partial on the license plate. Is Mulder giving you much *trouble*?"

Dana noticed the way Denise stressed the word `trouble'. "*Yes*, he won't stop complaining about my mothering him."

"Some men you just have to hold *hostage* to get them to take their medicine." A forced chuckle followed that statement.

"*Yeah*, tell me about it."

"*How many* times has he tried to escape your doctoring?"

"*Three*, but I managed to keep him under control."

"What about you're mom, how's she doing?" Denise's tone was light, giving no hint of the underlying discussion that was going on.

"She and my brother Bill are fine, though Bill and Mulder are starting to annoy me with their sports talk."

"Yeah, men. Can't live with `em, can't *kill `em*."

"Well, *if* I had a gun, I just might reconsider that."

Wade started making a rolling motion with his hands, signaling her to wrap it up. She nodded and her mind raced as she thought of what to say next. "Well, I've got to go, Mulder's moaning and groaning over his aches and pains and I'd better *hurry* and *help* him if I don't want to listen to him any more."

"Okay, Dana. Tell everyone I said hi and I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Bye, Denise." Dana hung up the phone, her breath whooshing out of her in relief.

Wade was eyeing her, trying to decipher if there was anything amiss with the conversation he had just heard. Not being able to discern anything, he dismissed it. Women talked about the strangest things.

*********

A calm and collected voice spoke into the phone, "Assistant Director Skinner's office, how may I help you?"

"Kim? It's Denise Chandler. I have to talk to AD Skinner, it's an emergency."

"I'll put you right through, hold on."

Denise could hear her heart hammering in her chest as she waited for the phone to be picked up.

"Skinner," an authoritative baritone answered.

"Sir, it's Denise Chandler."

"Yes, Agent Chandler, what can I do for you?"

"Sir, I think Agents Mulder and Scully are in serious trouble."

Skinner straightened in his chair. "What kind of trouble?"

"I just called Dana, to make my daily check-in, and she said some very odd things." Denise was thinking back on their verbal intercourse, to reassure herself that she wasn't just imagining it.

"Like what?" Skinner prodded.

"She said that she'd like to get her hands on the drunk driver that hurt Mulder. At first, I thought she was kidding, but when she didn't say anything else, I got concerned. I asked her if Mulder was causing her trouble, emphasizing `trouble' and she said `yes'. I tried to think of what kind of calamity could have possibly befallen them and all I could think of was that they were being held against their will. So I commented on having to hold Mulder hostage to make him take his meds, and she agreed. Then I asked `how many times' or something like that and she said `three'. Next, we talked about men and I mentioned the old saying about `can't live with `em', but she said that *if* she had a weapon, she would kill `em. Then she told me that everyone was fine but that Mulder was complaining about his aches and pains and that she'd better hurry and help him." Denise paused, having related all that with one breath. "To me, it sounds like they're dealing with three subjects, but neither Dana or Mulder have their weapons. Her brother Bill and Maggie are fine, but Mulder isn't and we'd better hurry and help them if we want to see them alive again."

Taking his glasses off, Skinner pinched the bridge of his nose. He had spoken with Denise Chandler a few times regarding the Kearns case and during Mulder's recovery. She did not seem to be the type of woman to exaggerate or take off on flights of fancy. Her account of her conversation with Dana was vague and it left quite a bit to speculation. It wasn't much to go on, but it was more than enough when Mulder or Scully was involved. "You may be right. Based on what you've told me and considering Mulder's propensity to draw trouble like moths to a flame, I'd say we have one hell of a situation on our hands."

********
2:47 p.m.

After the phone call, Wade had decided that it was time to keep everyone in the same room and was now seated next to Nathan on a couch. Bobby sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television set, looking like a kid ready for Saturday morning cartoons. The Scully family was once again crowded on the other couch.

"Turn on the news channel, I wanna see if there's anything on about us," Wade ordered. "That and an update on how much longer this storm is gonna last."

Nathan found the remote and switched the TV on, flipping through the channels until he found the twenty-four hour news station. He tossed the remote control to Wade and settled back into the cushions.

The picture they were greeted with was that of an overweight man in a sweat-stained dress shirt, standing in front of a six by six foot map of the eastern United States. "As you can see, the cold front is moving southwest and should pass us by mid-afternoon. After that, we can expect clear skies and crisp temperatures. Back to you, Jean."

The screen changed to a woman sitting at an anchor desk, her hands folded neatly in front of her. She smiled into the camera and picked up the papers under her hands. "Thanks, Phil. Now for an update on the serial killer who terrorized the coast from Virginia to Maryland. The hearings for Gene Kearns, the notorious `East Coast Executioner' responsible for five murders in the Washington area, begin today. Having pleaded guilty, Kearns' trial is expected to last only a few days at the most. Kearns may be facing the death penalty, depending on the testimony of the FBI agents who apprehended him. The capture of Kearns is attributed to the behavioral profile written by Special Agent Fox Mulder, who was seriously injured by Kearns. According to our sources, we..."

Wade was staring at the picture on the television, the photograph hovering above the news reporter's head. His thumb twitched and the TV screen went black, plunging the room into silence. No one moved as he turned to look at the man lying in the recliner, his eyes wide and dark.

"F....B....I?" Standing slowly, his brows scrunched together as he sounded out each letter. "You're FBI?" He sounded incredulous.

"What?" Bobby squealed, jumping from his seat. "Oh, Wade, what're we gonna do? He's an FBI agent, God, we're holding an FBI agent captive, we are in such deep shit, what are we gonna-"

"Shut up, Bobby!" Wade shouted, one meaty hand flying through the air to connect with the boy's mouth.

Bobby stumbled backwards and fell back, his eyes wide in shock. Wade had hit him. *Wade* had *hit* him! But Wade would never hit him. Not after he had run away; nobody hit Bobby. Wade certainly wouldn't. But he *had*.

Wade wasn't looking at Bobby anymore, instead he was stalking towards Scully. "Who was that on the phone, Doc? Was it a cop friend? Huh? You were talking to her in some sort of code, weren't you? What does she know??" He was almost upon her. "Did you think I was too stupid to notice, you bitch??"

Mulder could see the danger his partner was in and he desperately tried to call Wade's attention away from her. "Apparently you are too stupid, because you didn't notice until now."

Wade whirled around, his teeth bared like an animal. "I'm gonna kill you, FBI man!" He leaped across the room and grabbed Mulder by the shirt, hauling him out of the La-Z-Boy and onto the floor, the edge of the coffee table catching him under the ribs and robbing him of breath. "You think I'm stupid??" he screamed, lashing out with his feet at the downed agent. "You think you're smarter than me, is that it??"

Mulder tried to curl into a ball, to protect his battered body from the rain of blows landing on his chest and upper arms. It was proving impossible for him to take a deep breath, his chest tightening painfully. Wade was ranting and raving, his mind set upon the task of inflicting as much discomfort as possible on the man at his feet. His leg swung back and forth again and again, reveling in the sounds of suffering that he was causing. Wade's trajectory had moved lower and his toe rammed into Mulder's midsection. Directly on his wound.

Mulder's body exploded in pain, everything on fire at once and he felt a warm wetness spread across his stomach, dripping to the floor. Sounds began to drift in and out, his vision tunneling as wave after wave of agony washed over him. The light started to swirl away into darkness but was held back by the sharp report of gunfire.

********

Everyone was paralyzed, watching in horror as Wade pummeled Mulder's body mindlessly. Everyone, that is, except Dana. She launched herself at Wade, clawing and hitting him as she desperately tried to stop him. But he hardly even noticed her in his rage, taking but a moment to shake her off him. She staggered back into Bill's arms, which locked her in an embrace, preventing her from another kamikaze attack.

"Wade, stop! Wade, stop it, you're killing him!" Bobby yelled. "Wade!"

*BANG*

Wade froze, his foot halfway in the air, and turned to gape at Bobby in bewilderment. The boy was holding a revolver, pointing it at the ceiling, which now sported a bullethole. Quickly bringing the weapon down from above his head, Bobby pointed it at his mentor. "Don't hit him anymore, Wade."

"Bobby, where'd you get that gun?"

Bobby laughed. "First trick you ever taught me - pick pocketing."

That was when Nathan realized that his own weapon was missing. "Why you little-"

"Jealous, Nathan? I always *was* better than you." Bobby shifted his gaze back to Wade. "I'm sorry, Wade, I can't let you kill him. I can't let you kill any of them. You've hurt enough people already."

Wade put his hands out, palms up in a placating gesture, though he still held his weapon on the youth. "Bobby, you know I would never hurt *you*."

The boy's free hand rose and brushed against the red mark on his swelling cheek. "Yes, you would."

"You know, Bobby," Wade looked down at the gun in his own hand, "you're right."

*BANG*

Bobby's eyes went wide as he stared down at the hole in his chest, blood staining his shirt. A tiny cry of consternation escaped his lips and he toppled to the floor, right beside Mulder. He lay there, gasping ineffectually as his life drained away.

Mulder, barely conscious himself, dragged his broken body a few inches closer, so that his face was level with the kid's. "Bobby," he murmured.

The boy's glazed eyes focused on Mulder.

"I'm proud of you."

A look of peace passed across Bobby's face at Mulder's words. He tried to nod his head but couldn't. The darkness descended upon him and he let himself be pulled into its comforting depths.

He died with a smile on his face.

********

Someone was shouting. But the blood was pounding so loudly in Mulder's ears that he couldn't decipher what the voice was saying. He rolled over as far as he dared, to see Wade, pacing anxiously across the room, his arms flailing about and bellowing at the top of his lungs. Everyone's eyes were riveted to the man's ranting and Mulder, even through the dull haze of pain, saw it as an opportunity. In everyone's shock of Bobby's death, they had forgotten one crucial thing - his gun.

Rocking his body back onto its side, he forced his quivering arm to reach out and pull the weapon from the boy's lifeless fingers. He dragged the revolver across the floor, trying to hide the action with his body. Knowing that he couldn't take the chance of using it when he could hardly lift a muscle or see straight, he also realized that he couldn't hide it for later use either. That left one other option.

His fingers fumbled for a few moments until he managed to open the cylinder of the revolver, removing the remaining five bullets from the chamber. As fast as his muscles would let him, he pushed the gun back over to lie next to Bobby's hand. He then took the bullets and tucked them in the deep pocket of his sweatpants.

Just these conservative movements were enough to bring him back to the edge of consciousness. He rolled all the way onto his back and let his head drift to the side, his eyes automatically searching out his partner. She was still encircled by Bill's arms, her blue eyes wide with fear, her mouth open in a silent plea. He blinked lethargically and tried to smile. It always made her feel better when he smiled, didn't it? A sort of non-verbal `I'm fine'? Bill released her and moved out of Mulder's line of sight, Scully remaining where her brother had left her. He could hear muffled sounds that he could only assume were voices and suddenly a pair of feet appeared in his vision. He felt himself lifted and he might have cried out, though he wasn't sure, his body being carried and then laid on the couch gently.

His eyes were squeezed shut against the pain, his heaving chest only succeeding in pulling in small gulps of air. His arms were wrapped around his midsection and he could feel sticky wetness oozing between his fingers. Without warning, he felt a hand on his arms, tender fingers brushing his cheek. He knew that touch. He dragged his lids open and he saw her mouth moving, and, in spite of the fact that he couldn't understand what she was saying, he was comforted. Her face was stained with worry, her features drawn in fear. He wanted to tell her it was all right, but his voice refused to work.

"...ulder, you've got to... me look at... please." Her soft timbre was wavering in and out and it took all of his concentration to interpret what he heard. He finally understood that she wanted to look at his wound. Well, she didn't need his permission, did she? He felt a hand tugging at his arms and it eventually hit him - he had wrapped his arms so tightly about himself, that she could not gain access to the injury. His muscles instantly relaxed and her small fingers curled around his forearms, lifting them away from the site of all the blood.

His hearing began to clear up at last and he was able to make out her words. "I know it hurts, Sweetheart, I'm going to make you feel better as soon as I can." He realized that he had been muttering incoherently for the past few minutes and he clamped his mouth shut, not wanting to distress her any further.

Dana, for her part, was fighting to remain calm, to hold back impending tears as she watched the man she loved struggle with the pain, his most primal senses eluding him. She pulled up his sweatshirt and unbuttoned the lower half of his flannel, amazed that her hands weren't shaking like the rest of her. She lifted the blood-soaked bandage from his stomach and a small moan escaped his lips. The entire scar, with the exception of the last inch that had just been re-stitched her mind noted hysterically, had been reopened. No. Not after everything they had just endured, she would not allow him to eviscerate.

A level tone, a competent mind, "Mom, I need the first aid kit." *Doctor* Scully was definitely in.

Maggie handed the white box, which had been positioned under the coffee table since its extensive use earlier, to her daughter, her eyes filled with compassion and encouragement. She laid a hand on Mulder's shin, the closest body part to her. "Fox, Honey, I want you to listen to me. Dana is going to be cleaning your wound and I want you to concentrate on the sound of my voice."

Scully nodded gratefully at her mother. She opened the kit and used some sterile gauze to dab away the blood so she could get a better look at the injury. Mulder squirmed minutely and whimpered as the cloth came in contact with torn flesh. He focused on Maggie's words.

"Fox, when this is all over and you're feeling better, I am going to take you and Dana camping at my Uncle Rick's cabin. We can go fishing, hiking, sailing, whatever you want. There's a valley with..."

Dana tuned out what he mother was saying, diligently dabbing at the copious amount of blood pooling on Mulder's stomach. After clearing enough away, she could feel some of the fear ebbing. The wound hadn't completely reopened. The scar had torn and some of the underlying muscle, but it wasn't deep enough that evisceration was a possibility. She closed her eyes briefly and sent up a silent thank you to God. Returning her attention to the first aid kit, she removed the brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide and some more gauze. She soaked the gauze and began to daub to ragged edges of the wound. Mulder arched his back and groaned, falling back onto the cushions, panting rapidly.

"Why doesn't he just lose consciousness?"

Scully flashed her brother a baleful glare but saw that he had spoken without malice or disdain. Her look softened as she saw real concern etched in his face. "He won't until he knows we're safe or until he doesn't have a choice."

She worked as quickly as she could, her heart painfully constricting each time her partner flinched or cried out. She finished in a record amount of time, re-bandaging the wound tightly to discourage bleeding. She hadn't sewn up the tear, deciding that was better left to the doctors at the hospital. No anesthetic for a few stitches was one thing, for an entire wound was another. The pain could kill him in his weakened state faster than any infection.

"All done," she announced, her voice awash with relief.

Mulder's hand groped in the empty air and she immediately took it, thinking he was looking for comfort. When he started to fumble with her hand, she became confused. He held her so that his palm was against the back of her hand, his sweat cool against her skin. He guided her hand down towards the side of his leg and pressed it to his thigh. After several attempts, she felt several hard objects nestled in his pocket. She made sure that Wade and Nathan were still arguing in the corner before she reached into Mulder's pocket, closing her fist around small metal items. Pulling her closed hand out, she furtively looked at what she held. She was surprised to find five cylindrical bullets cupped in her palm.

"You sly fox," she whispered.

He grinned at her and it took a moment for her to realize what she had just said. When she did, she couldn't help the soft laughter that made everyone look at her as though she had gone around the bend.

********
3:43 p.m.

Skinner squinted his eyes as he peered through the binoculars. "I can only see two, I thought you said there were three."

Standing next to him, dressed in a Kevlar vest and white jumpsuit, Denise shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you, Sir. Dana specifically said three."

Having used the time he was forced to remain on the ground wisely, Skinner had mobilized a team of agents who were prepared to leave the second the storm cleared up. The team consisted of ten men, hand-picked by the Assistant Director himself, and one woman, who insisted on being involved. None of the agents questioned the validity of Denise's suspicions, Skinner's seriousness in handling the situation allaying their doubts.

Once the snow had abated enough for a helicopter to fly safely, they, along with two paramedics, had loaded up and were on their way. Landing at a discreet distance, the team had hiked the rest of the way to the edge of Margaret Scully's property. Now they were positioned around the house, at a range of about one hundred feet, hidden behind the tree line.

Skinner let out a large breath, a white cloud forming in the air. "I can't see Mulder either, but I think he's on the couch, judging from what I can see of Scully. I don't think we have much time left, we're going to have to move, regardless of whether there is a third unknown subject somewhere in the house."

He put a gloved hand to the headset he wore. "Get ready to move in on my command."

*******

Cradled in Scully's lap, Mulder had slipped into delirium. Blood loss, shock, exhaustion, fever, internal injuries; any of them could have been the cause. He was now tossing and turning, muttering disjointedly.

"No, stop... need the... can't... Scu-... make it st-... why..."

"Would you shut him up! I can't hear myself think!" Wade shouted.

Dana complied by placing three fingers on her partner's moving lips, shushing him softly. They were hot to the touch, emphasizing the fever raging within. She knew that their time was running out. The storm had abated about a half an hour ago and she could tell that Wade was getting antsy. He was the only one who was armed, though Nathan didn't know that, and she had to think of a way to use their small advantage.

Wade stopped abruptly in his frantic pacing and Scully knew that this was it. Their time was up.

"Nathan, take Bobby outside and cover him with snow. I want the body hidden so that by the time it's found, we'll be long gone. I donít want to leave anything behind thatíll make the cops think it wasnít an accident." Nathan obeyed, scooping up the cooling corpse and heading for the back door. Wade directed his weapon at his hostages. "Okay, Billy Boy, I want you to tie up your family. Use the rope over there," he gestured at the twine Bobby had brought in from the garage early that morning. "No tricks. If anyone gets loose, I'll shoot you and then them."

Bill grimly dipped his head in submission and moved to get the cord. He brought it back and sat beside his mother, his eyes asking forgiveness for what he was about to do. She smiled sadly at him, letting him know that she didn't blame him. He set about binding her wrists, his face grim as he used his knowledge of sailor's knots to make the rope secure but not tight enough to cut off circulation.

Finished, he crouched next to Dana, waiting for her permission. She looked over at Wade instead. "Please, leave me free so I can take care of him." She indicated the man in her lap. "I promise I won't try anything."

"Promises are worthless, Doc." He gestured to Bill. "Tie her."

Scully put her hands in front of her and let her brother wrap the cord around her wrists. As he did, Nathan came in from the back of the house, wiping his dirty hands on his dirtier jeans. "All done."

"Good, now go back out there and gather some firewood, then see what you can find in the garage to use as fuel."

Nathan disappeared once again in search of the items requested. Dana's mind was whirling with the implications of Wade's words. "You won't get away with it, they'll know it was arson."

"Eventually, I'm sure. But they won't know until we are out of the country. Besides, there is nothing here linking us to you."

Bill was trying to catch up, his eyes going wide as he registered what they were talking about. Wade was planning on burning down the house - with everyone in it.

"What about Bobby? They'll find his body."

"Doesn't matter. Nobody knows he existed except his father and do you think that man gives a shit about his son?" Wade laughed harshly at his cleverness.

A loud thud signaled Nathan's return as the garage door slammed shut. He staggered into the room, his arms loaded with wood, a can of paint thinner precariously balanced on top. He dropped his burden onto the floor next to the hearth with a noisy crash. Kneeling next to his pile, he began to set up the wood for the fire.

"Please, don't do this," Maggie said quietly, her eyes pleading with their captor. "Please don't hurt my children."

"Aw, how touching. Sorry, Ma, but that's the way it's going to be." Wade picked up the can of paint thinner that lay at his feet. "Nathan, tie Big Brother up."

Standing from his place by the hearth, Nathan jutted his chin at the couch where Maggie was sitting. "Let's go."

Bill squeezed Dana's hand before complying, slowly treading over to the other couch. He sat heavily next to Maggie, his eyes blazing in anger. Nathan made quick work of trussing Bill up while Wade began emptying the contents of the can onto the rug, soaking a trail from the fireplace all around the room. When there was not a drop left, he tossed the can onto the logs. "You ready, Nathan?"

Nathan looked over his shoulder and nodded. He stood up and walked the few feet to the second couch, towering over Dana. He reached out and ran his index finger across Scully's cheekbone, a lascivious grin on his face. She didn't give him the satisfaction of flinching, though her skin was crawling at his touch. "It's a pity, Doc, we could have had fun, you and me." He stepped over to join his friend in front of the fire place.

Wade pulled a long match stick from the selection in a cubby alongside the hearth and the book of sandpaper next to it. Dana was beginning to panic. She couldn't throw herself at Wade, not with Mulder still in her lap, and she couldn't tell her family that Nathan's gun was empty without giving their only advantage away. She cursed herself for not telling them earlier, when she had the chance. It couldn't end like this, not after everything they had been through, had fought so hard to achieve. They couldn't fall victim to a random act of violence. She held Mulder tighter and leaned down to whisper in his ear, though she doubted he could hear her. "I love you."

With a loud rasping sound, Wade lit the match.

Then all hell broke loose.

********

The End

********

A deafening series of crashes reverberated off the walls as windows broke and doors were kicked in. Men dressed in white jumpsuits piled through the openings, guns ready, voices shouting. "FBI! Freeze!"

Nathan brought his weapon up to fire but never completed the action as ten bullets slammed into him. He pitched to the carpet, dead on impact, his gun skittering across the floor and under the sofa.

Wade darted across the room, trying to escape, but Bill lurched off of the couch, ramming into the other man with his shoulder. They were both knocked off balance and fell to the floor in a heap. Bill, whose hands were still tied, wasn't able to break his fall and had the wind knocked out of him as he landed. Wade was more prepared and rolled as he hit the ground, coming to rest behind the other couch. He lost his gun in the process but he didn't let that disable him. He reached over the top of the sofa and grabbed ahold of the nearest person - Dana Scully.

He wrenched her from her seat, spilling Mulder onto the floor as he did so. Pulling Dana over the back of the couch, he held her against his body, one arm wrapped around her throat. He groped under the sofa for Nathan's weapon and crowed triumphantly as he found it, bringing it to Scully's temple. He raised himself to his full height and glared at the team of agents facing him. His back was to a wall, no one had a clear shot.

"You come any closer and she dies!"

Dana was aware that she was in no real danger, but it wasn't as readily apparent to everyone else. No one knew about Wade's lack of ammunition except Mulder, who was still lying insensate on the floor. She couldn't let anyone know either, Wade's hold on her was too tight to allow speech.

"Still need to threaten a woman to make yourself feel like a man?"

The low growl was weak but it was still threatening. Dana's eyes enlarged as she watched Mulder push himself up from the ground, using the couch as support. All vestiges of delirium were gone and he was astonishingly lucid. The only evidence of his fever was the light sheen of sweat covering his face.

"One more word outta you and yer girlfriend dies!" Wade's grip tightened and Scully flinched.

Mulder ground his teeth together as he beheld the discomfort of his partner. He wanted so badly to throw himself at Wade, to rip the gun from his hand and beat him to a bloody pulp with it. But the sheer effort it took to remain on two feet was enough to dissuade him of such an action. He couldn't let anyone else know that the chamber of the revolver that Wade held was empty for two reasons: one, because Wade would panic and might try something desperate, harming Scully in the process, and two, the agents might open fire, with the same result. He had to get Wade to point the gun away from Dana, give her a chance to retaliate.

His voice was hoarse and his harsh breathing was making it hard to talk, but he managed. "I knew you weren't smart enough to pull this off, a man whose only followers are a two-bit criminal and a kid who was barely old enough to shave."

"Shut up, FBI man!Ē Wade's handhold on the gun was so strong that his knuckles were white, a stark contrast to the red of his face.

Mulder took a step forward, he arms out to his sides. His legs were shaking and the room was beginning to undulate sickeningly. Mulder bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, trying to focus himself. The other agents in the room watched the scene unfold, their attention held by the tableau before them. Maggie was frozen on the couch, her gaze never wavering from the trio behind her. Bill was still on the floor, propped up on one elbow, his eyes also trained on the show.

"What? You want to kill me, don't you, Wade? Well, go ahead, prove that you're a *real* man. Or are you afraid?"

A scream of rage and Wade flung his hand out, pointing the gun at Mulder.

*Click*

Wade's shock registered on his face an instant before his features crumpled in an expression of pain as a sharp female elbow was driven into his stomach. A chop to the back of the neck, a kick to his legs, and he was down, sprawled on the carpet. The two closest agents charged over and held him there, handcuffing his hands behind his back.

Mulder's knees buckled beneath him and he collapsed, the adrenaline that sustained him to that point disappearing. Dana waited only long enough to have her bindings cut before rushing to his side. She rolled him onto his back and pulled him into the cradle of her lap. His breathing was shallow and his face pinched with pain. Tears began to stream down her face. Tears of relief that it was over, tears for the fear of what was to come.

"Get those paramedics in here!" a deep voice bellowed. Dana looked up to see AD Skinner striding towards her, compassion etched onto his face. "It's going to be all right, Scully, we've got a chopper to fly him to the nearest hospital."

"Dana?"

She turned bleary eyes to the person squatting next to her. "Denise?"

"Yeah. You okay?"

"Uh huh." She couldn't think, it was as though all the gears in her head had gotten stuck. She finally figured out what she wanted to ask. "How's Bill and my mom?"

"They're fine, just a few bumps and bruises."

Dana nodded, returning her attention to the man in her arms. She rocked him back and forth, humming tunelessly to him. The two paramedics had arrived and moved to load Mulder onto a stretcher. Scully clutched him tighter, not letting them remove him from her grasp. "No! No, don't take him!"

Skinner's and Denise's mouths dropped open, stunned by Scully's reaction. Maggie, who had been talking with the AD, calmly approached daughter, kneeling down beside her. She put a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "Dana, Honey, you have to let them have Fox. They won't hurt him, they're here to make him better."

Scully licked her lips, wanting to believe her mother. After a little more coaxing, she allowed the medics to transfer Mulder from her arms to the stretcher. Maggie gathered her daughter into her arms and held her close, letting her cry. The other agents turned away, giving them some semblance of privacy. After a few moments later, Dana pulled herself together and wiped at the tears on her face. "Thank you, Mom," she whispered.

"You're welcome." Maggie smiled at her little girl. "Go to him."

Scully scrambled to her feet and hurried out the door, presumably planning on accompanying Mulder to the hospital.

Skinner, who was seriously worried about his agent's demeanor, rested a large hand on Margaret's forearm. "Mrs. Scully, is she going to be all right?"

"Yes, she'll be fine. As soon as she knows Fox will be."

************
Northeast Georgetown Medical Center
5:31 p.m.

The waiting room was crowded. Skinner, Denise, Maggie, Bill, and Dana were among a milling group of FBI agents, everyone anxious to hear the outcome of Mulder's surgery. Suddenly, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, allowing a man dressed in scrubs to pass. He walked straight up to Scully and pulled off the face mask.

"I am thrilled to report that all my hard work was not completely undone."

A smile lit up Scully's face. "Dr. Morgan! I am so glad that you're here. What happened? How's Mulder?"

"Well, we had to rewash the wound and stitch it up again, so there's no need to worry about evisceration. There was some internal bleeding, but it stopped on its own and should heal up just fine. He has three fractured ribs, a deep cut on his back, and a slight concussion to add to the list. All in all, I'd say he'll live. I want to keep him in the ICU overnight to monitor him, but we should be able to move him to the surgical ward tomorrow morning."

"Can I see him?"

"Knowing you, I don't think I could stop you." Morgan swept a hand in front of him, encouraging her to lead the way.

"No, I don't think you could," Dana stated and walked past him, her head held high. Chuckles filled the room as she headed down the corridor.

****************
Saturday, January 30
8:59 a.m.

As odd as it sounded, it was good to see Mulder with tubes stuck in him. That was because there were very few of them. There was no Triple Lumen Catheter and no jejunostomy/gastric tube. He did sport a cardiac monitors, a pulse oximeter, and an arterial line however. It was a refreshingly small number of machines hooked up to her partner.

Dana was slumped in a chair, arms folded across her stomach, her chin touching her chest as she lightly dozed. A soft timbre brought her awake.

"You have got to be kidding me."

Without opening her eyes, Dana grinned. "Hi, Tasha. Miss us?"

"Yes, but I was willing to sacrifice my needs if that meant you wouldn't be back so soon. Wait until I tell Bassam." Tasha set about her tasks, replacing the IV bag, checking monitors and so forth. "So, what happened *this* time?"

"Dana, I brought you some- Oh, hello, Tasha," Margaret said as she entered the room. She had taken a half hour for breakfast as was now returning to Fox's room, bag of croissants and coffee in hand.

"Hi, Maggie. Dana was just about to tell me why we've been graced by your presence once again."

Thinking back on the previous day, it was as if remembering a vivid dream it was so surreal. Maggie snorted, "I'd like to know *why* myself."

************
Tuesday, February 2
12:19 p.m.

A tall, dark-haired man walked into the room, a bright smile on his face. He opened his mouth to offer a sarcastic remark but was stopped by the raised hand of the figure in the bed.

"Not one word," Mulder ordered. "If I have to hear from another person about how *I* need to be more careful so as not to be hospitalized so often, I am going to choke them with my IV."

Bassam burst out laughing, shaking his head in empathy. "Mulder, I wasn't going to say anything except welcome back."

Mulder grinned evilly and they both broke into laughter. Outside the room, Dana was conversing with Dr. Morgan.

"That soon?"

"I don't see why not. He is almost in the same condition as he was the last time he was discharged. I think three more days until release is plenty of time to reach that point. In fact, I would even attempt to say that he is doing better." Morgan wasn't talking about physically.

Scully pursed her lips, reviewing the past four days. "Yes, he is, isn't he? As strange as it may seem, he's been having less nightmares than before. Something happened to help him get past whatever it was that had been haunting him. At least *something* good came out of the ordeal."

The doctor placed a friendly hand on her shoulder. "You're all alive, Dana, *that's* a good thing."

She smiled her thanks and turned to go back into Mulder's room. A familiar face caught her eye. "Bill?"

Scully hadn't seen her brother since the moment she left her mother's house. She thought that he was avoiding seeing her, or more specifically, Mulder.

"Hey, Dana. I'm sorry I haven't stopped by sooner." He offered no explanation for his absence and she didn't ask for one. "My plane leaves today and I wanted to say goodbye."

Her eyebrows raised in surprise but she kept her counsel. "Mom's in with Mulder."

"Oh, I won't be interrupting or anything, will I?"

"No, not at all." She refused to give him a reason to back out.

"Oh, okay." Bill took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Inside, he found his mother, sitting in a chair and talking to a guy dressed in nurses' attire. The man was holding one of Mulder's legs in the air and was bending it at the knee.

"Bill, I'm so glad you came!" Maggie was out of her chair and hugging her son. "I was hoping I would get to see you before you had to leave."

"Of course I would come to say goodbye." He glanced over at the man in the bed. "I wanted to talk to Mulder as well."

Bassam heard the undertone in Bill's voice. "We can finish this up later. Don't look so happy, Mulder, I *will* be back." He gently placed Mulderís leg back on the bed and pulled the sheet up over the patient.

Maggie stood on tiptoe to kiss her son on the cheek, whispering in his ear, "I'm proud of you."

Bill smiled down at her in gratitude and thanked God for giving him such an understanding woman for a mother. She patted his arm and followed Bassam out the door, leaving Bill alone with Mulder.

Bill cleared his throat, his eyes downcast. Mulder was just as uncomfortable, plucking at the sheet covering him and staring at the foot of the bed. Bill traced a circular path on the floor with his toe. "Mulder, I-"

He stopped, unsure of how to continue. He brought his clear blue eyes up to meet hazel ones and his resolve returned. "Mulder, I want to thank you for saving my family's lives." Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but Bill waved him silent. "No, wait, hear me out. I know I haven't been the most... *understanding* man when it comes to you and my sister, but I want you to know that I will respect your relationship."

"Bill, you are just as responsible for saving them as anyone. You kept a level head and you did your best. A lot of men wouldn't have had the presence of mind to do what you did." Mulder took a moment to gather his defenses. "About my relationship with your sister... what we have is hard to explain. Dana is so special. She completes me, makes every day worth living, brings such joy into my life. I am selfish for wanting to be with her, knowing that she could have so much more, but I would rather die than live another day without her."

"You really love her, don't you?"

The answer was immediate. "Yes, I do. With everything that I am."

"Then that is enough for me."

*********

Bill walked out of the room, a thoughtful expression on his face. He was greeted by two redheads, both with questions in their eyes. He pulled his mother into an embrace and kissed her on the cheek. "Goodbye, Mom, I love you. Take care and I'll call you when I get into Los Angeles, okay?"

She nodded and gave him another quick hug before releasing him. Then he walked the few paces to where Dana was standing. He put his arms around her and pulled her close. Kissing her on top of the head, he murmured, "Take care of him, Dana, he needs you."

She craned her head up to look at him, her eyes brimming with tears. "Thank you, Bill."

He smiled down at her and squeezed her tightly. He let go and turned on his heel, marching down the hallway in a determined fashion. He didn't look back.

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

The Beginning

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

Friday, February 5
10:13 a.m.

True to his word, Dr. Morgan had Dana sign the release papers three days later. Mulder was sitting on his bed, pulling a sweatshirt over his head as he spoke to the woman standing in front of him.

"I'm sorry, Maggie, it's nothing against you. I just don't think I can do it again."

"Fox, the chances of that happening a second time are..." Margaret shrugged to indicate her inability to express how impossible it was that anyone would invade her home once again while Fox was there.

"I know, but there's no point in tempting Fate. I'll be fine at Dana's and I know you're welcome to visit as often as you like." He took both her hands in his own. "It would mean a lot to me if you did."

Maggie smiled widely and at that moment, Mulder knew where Dana got her looks from. Margaret pulled her hands free from Mulder's grasp and put them on either side of his face. She brought his head forward and kissed him on the brow. "Fox, please call me Mom."

A look of pure and utter astonishment was replaced by an earsplitting grin as Mulder considered this woman. "Absolutely, *Mom*."

"All right, Mulder, here we are." Dana came in the room, pushing a wheelchair. "Hop aboard."

Mulder rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. "Do I have to?"

"Well, unless you want to walk to the elevator, stand during the five floor ride, hike through the lobby, traverse down rows and row of cars in the parking lot, tramp through-"

"Okay, okay, you win." He pushed himself off the bed, Margaret at his elbow because he was still a little wobbly. He settled himself in the chair and they were soon on their way. Having said their good-byes earlier to the staff, it was a less eventful exit than the last time.

Maggie accompanied them to the parking lot, where she kissed them both and insisted that she bring dinner the next night. With that, they went their separate ways. Contrary to what Scully had said earlier, they didn't need to traverse the parking lot. She had pulled her car up to the ramp of the exit, making it easier on everyone to transfer him to the vehicle. She made sure he was comfortable before moving around to get in on the driver's side. Fifteen minutes later and they were on the expressway leading to Georgetown.

"Mulder?"

"Hmm?"

"Why do these things keep happening to us?"

"Just lucky, I guess." He head lolled to the left. "Do you regret it?" He wasn't just talking about their ordeal over the past month.

"Never. Because it has brought me more rewards than I could ever have imagined. It brought me you." She removed a hand from the steering wheel and brushed her knuckles against his cheek. "I love you, Mulder, that is all that matters. Everything else is in the past, it's over."

He laced his fingers with hers and kissed the back of her hand. He didn't tell her that the past was never completely gone, that it *did* matter. It may have seemed like it was over, but he knew that there was still much to come.

Because, from every end, there was born a new beginning.

********
END

Thatís it, itís finished! To quote Mulder, ďThank you, Jesus.Ē Now, feedback only takes a moment, but it is appreciated forever. XScout@hotmail.com

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