Disclaimer: Mulder and all the Scullys aren't mine. They're CC's (Though apparently Mulder won't be for much longer) and 1013's as well as Fox's. Everyone else mentioned, though there aren't many, are mine.
Author's Note: Please read the other four installments of the Grace Series, otherwise this story won't make a shred of sense. Send all feedback to XScout@hotmail.com. Thanks so much.
"Ouch! Damn it, I hate this thing," Mulder mumbled under his breath. He tossed the hated item on the couch and flopped down next to it. Nudging the cane over, he reached across to the coffee table and grabbed the remote. He flipped on the TV to CNN and leaned back into the cushions, glancing at his watch.
Seven-fourteen. Scully was late. He hated waiting. If there was one thing Fox Mulder wasn't, it was patient. Well, that wasn't quite true. He was willing to wait for suspects to resurface, clues to come to light, victims to give their statements and for little children or the elderly. He could handle waiting as he drove for five hours to a case, sitting in Skinner's office as the AD vented on their latest mishap, or long nights on a stakeout. Of course, if someone's life was in danger, all bets were off. But that certainly wasn't the case here. He had no problems waiting for Scully, he would wait for her until the end of time, so he wasn't annoyed with *her* specifically. He hated waiting when there wasn't anything to keep his mind busy, nothing to occupy him.
His eyes flicked to the cane lying next to him. And what he had the least patience with was his own body's rate of healing. It had been almost three weeks since he was discharged from the hospital and he was still dependent on his cane for mobility. The doctors had said that it would take a few more weeks before he would have full use of his leg. At least they were allowing him to return to the office, though only for light work. That was why Scully was taking him out to dinner tonight - to celebrate.
A sharp knock on the door interrupted the reporter's droning voice. Speak of the devil. Pushing himself up off the couch and grabbing the cane, he hobbled over to the door. Turning the dead-bolt and opening the door with a bit of difficulty, he said, "I was starting to get worried, what took you so-"
Scully was standing in front of him, face flushed, hands balled into fists, breath smelling of alcohol, red hair disheveled, and wearing very rumpled clothes. A hand flashed up and grabbed Mulder roughly by the collar, propelling him back into his apartment. Mulder stumbled as he was forced to backpedal quickly, pain lancing up his leg as he put his full weight on it.
"What-" He didn't even get to finish his question before a harsh voice interrupted.
"You think you can just waltz in, take over my family's life, put my sister's life in danger, and expect me to just stand by and let it happen? You really believe that she wants to be with you? Hell, she just feels sorry for you, running around chasing lights in the sky and crying about your long lost sister to anyone who'll listen. She feels guilty about leaving you because she's loyal to a fault, but if you would just let her go, maybe Dana could make something of herself!"
Mulder tried to wet his dry throat. "Bill, you're drunk, you need-"
"Don't you dare tell me what to do! And I know what I need; I need to see you kneeling on the floor, begging me for forgiveness. I want you to tell me that you are sorry for the pain and suffering you have put my family through and then I want you to let Dana go." Bill Scully prodded the other man with a pointed finger as he outlined his wishes.
"Listen, Bill, if you want me to apologize, then I'm sorry. I feel guilty every single day for bringing Dana into the X-files and for what it has done to her. But I am also grateful every single day for exactly the same thing. I have told her to leave me a thousand times and she keeps telling me that she is with me because she wants to be. I-"
"Bull shit," Bill spat. "Let's decide here and now which one of us is going to have her. Prove to me that you're not the coward I always took you for and fight me!"
"Christ, Bill, I'm not going to fight you! Dana is not some object that you can just pass ownership of her around! She's her own woman who makes her own decisions. I care about your sister very much and I sure as hell am not going to fight you to prove anything. Call me a coward if you want, but Dana is too important to me and if that means my manly pride being injured, then so be it." Mulder stood as firmly as he could, his expression one of calm surety.
Bill's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I don't give a damn about your pride; I am doing this because I love Dana."
Careful to put as much strength into his next words as possible, Mulder said, "So am I."
A look of confusion crossed Bill's face, quickly changing to shock as he realized what Mulder was saying. For a moment it looked like the FBI agent had gotten through the alcoholic haze over Bill's brain, but it was only for a moment. The navy officer's expression clouded and his eyes burned with hatred, his body trembling in rage. "Noooo!" he screamed, hand snatching the cane from Mulder's grasp and raising it above his head. Mulder tried to move out of the way, but he no longer had any support and could only manage an awkward retreat.
The cane swept through the air and connected with the side of his head with a loud crack and suddenly he found himself on the ground, staring at the wood grain of his floor. A heavy weight slammed into his left side on his lower ribcage, interrupting his efforts to stand. Several more swift kicks followed, Bill grunting with the force he put behind them. Mulder had to work through his muddled thoughts to form a coherent sentence. "Bill... agh... stop!"
The agent's words only seemed to infuriate the other man more. Bill brought the cane, which until then had been forgotten in his hand, down on Mulder's lower back, splintering the hard wood. Mulder gasped at the pain that radiated from the point of impact and desperately tried to crawl out of Bill's reach. The bigger man gave a hysterical laugh and pinned his victim to the ground with a heavy boot on the same spot he had broken the cane on. Grinding his heel in Mulder's back, Bill actually appeared to revel in the sounds of pain the agent was making.
Once he was sure that Mulder wasn't going anywhere, Bill added a few more kicks to the downed man's ribs for good measure. Through the hollow ringing in his ears, Mulder could hardly make out what his attacker was saying. "Don't...ver come... my sister... you sorry son... itch." Suddenly two strong hands rolled him over and hauled him into a sitting position so that alcohol-drenched breath was just inches away. Mulder's head exploded at the movement, his ribs and back crying out in agony. "You hear me?? I want... let her go or... kill you myself."
Mulder blinked hard against the blood running into his eyes and the darkness threatening to swallow him. Bill's face wavered in and out of focus, his features contorting in ways that were making Mulder nauseous. He groaned as he shut his eyes to block out the sight and Bill must have taken that for an answer because he released his hold on Mulder's shirt and let the injured man fall back onto the floor. The collision of the back of Mulder's head with the ground was the final straw. The last thing he heard was the slamming of his front door and Bill's footsteps fading away.
Sounds returned slowly; the tick of the clock, the gurgle of his fish tank, the voices from the television all grew in volume until they came together to bring Mulder back to consciousness. He brought his arm up to his throbbing head and felt the stickiness of blood. Looking at his hand, Mulder moaned softly and pushed himself upright with extreme difficulty. The room showed little evidence of the fight, the cane discarded against the wall and a small pool of blood where his head had been resting were the only two telltales of what had just happened.
Thought processes hindered by what was certainly a concussion, Mulder could only comprehend the fact that Scully would show up at any minute. He had to get cleaned up or she would be angry with him for not being ready even after she had given him extra time by being late. He looked dazedly about him for something to wipe up the blood with and saw nothing within reach. He decided that he would have to use whatever was most available - his shirt. He pulled his T-shirt over his head, whimpering softly as the muscles of his torso burned with pain. The simple effort left him gasping for air and every breath caused his chest to constrict tighter. He dropped the shirt over the scarlet puddle and waited for the room to stop swirling.
Then, sluggishly and painfully, he pulled himself to his feet, clutching the wall for support. He half staggered-half dragged himself into his bedroom and then to his bathroom, using every piece of furniture to make his way there. Finally in the bathroom, he leaned forward against the sink and turned on the water. It was getting harder to think and he was gasping for breath, his body quivering with the struggle to keep him standing. All of a sudden there was a knock at the door and he turned his head quickly in response. The movement sent fire behind his eyes and he collapsed onto the cold tile, his mind registering that it must be Scully.
And he still wasn't ready.
Dana waited patiently for a few moments, glancing at her watch again. She knocked a little harder this time, calling out to her partner. "Mulder, you in there?" No response was forthcoming, so she decided that he was probably in the bathroom and couldn't hear her. She took out her key to his apartment and soon had the door open. She stepped inside the gloomy apartment and shut the door behind her. Didn't the man believe in lights? She moved forward, noticing a dark blue shirt lying on the floor. She sighed disgustedly. Men.
She wandered into the living room and, finding that it was empty, moved on to the bedroom. Upon entering, she heard the water running in the bathroom and the door was slightly ajar. Ah hah. "Mulder? Hey, sorry I'm late, there was a bad accident on the freeway and we were detoured around practically the entire city." She sat down on the bed and leaned back on her elbows, continuing to speak loudly so that he could hear her. "I tried calling, but I forgot to charge my cel. I haven't had to use it much, what with you being gone and all."
There was no answer from the direction of the bathroom and Scully wondered if her partner was mad at her. "I really am sorry, I hope you weren't worried. Listen, I'm definitely going to make up for it with dinner tonight. Does Italian sound good? 'Cause I'm taking you to the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast."
Still nothing but the shooshing of water. Something in the silence set off the alarms in her mind. She pushed off the bed and headed towards the bathroom. "Mulder, you okay in there?" she asked as she tapped lightly on the door. "Mulder?" She tried opening the door some more but there was something blocking it. She shoved harder and was rewarded when the door opened enough for her to poke her head inside. Doing just that, she was shocked to find that the object blocking her entrance was the prone form of her partner.
"Mulder!" she exclaimed, driving herself against the door so that there was room for her to get through. The tiny bathroom seemed to be filled with his sprawled body, blood staining the sink and the floor beneath him. His legs were behind the door, his upper body between the sink and the toilet. Dana crouched down beside him and her fingers frantically sought the pulse point on his neck. It was there, rapid and unsteady, but there. She got up and dashed out of the room, almost diving over the bed to reach the telephone on the end table. She dialed 911 and gave them the address, adding 'officer down' to add to the urgency of the situation.
Finished, she hurried back to Mulder's side. He was lying at an angle, his back tilted towards the floor and his arms over his stomach. A quick look at his head revealed that he was bleeding from a wound on his left temple and the odds of his not having a concussion were nil, but there didn't appear to be any trauma to his neck. Scully felt his arms to make sure nothing was broken, then moved them so that she could check his back. She was greeted with a large bruise that was steadily darkening into a purplish black shade. Leaning over, she discovered that the bruise continued around his ribs and spread across his back. Gently checking for spinal injuries, she ruled out the danger of moving him.
Pushing on his left shoulder with one hand and pulling on his right with the other, she managed to roll him onto his back with a minimal amount of effort. She counted his pulse again then checked the dilation of his eyes - definitely concussed. She opened the cupboard beneath his sink and grabbed a clean washcloth, using it to mop up the blood covering his face while murmuring to him. "Mulder, I'm here, please wake up. I promised Italian and I know how you love manicotti, so why don't you open your eyes and yell at me for being late." She felt a pang in her heart when she realized that if she had not been late, then Mulder wouldn't be lying here broken and bleeding. She wasn't there to watch his back. A wave of guilt threatened to overwhelm her but suddenly a thought occurred to her. Mulder was attacked. This was a crime scene. "Mulder, I'm going to be right back."
A quick call to the FBI and she had a team on its way over to deal with the scene. She returned to sit with her partner and had been there for approximately three more minutes before there was a banging at the door. She reassured Mulder before leaving him and then hurried to let the paramedics in. She updated them on his condition, mentioning that the apartment was the scene of a crime and they were to disturb as little as possible. Having been used to removing victims from crime scenes, the EMTs simply nodded and went about their business. They loaded Mulder onto a gurney and bustled him out of the bathroom, informing Scully that they were taking him to GWU. She nodded shortly, torn between wanting to follow and having to stay until the FBI unit arrived.
She stood in the hallway until the elevator doors closed and then she turned and went back into the apartment. It was then that she again noticed the shirt on the floor. Nudging it with her toe, she saw that it was covering a puddle of blood. She pulled her foot back quickly and turned in a circle, surveying the room. She found the cane lying against the wall, broken almost in half. It appeared like she had found the attacker's weapon. From what she could tell, the UNSUB had hit Mulder on the head with it, knocking him semi-conscious, and the proceeded to beat her partner senseless. She hoped that the cane had broken on something other than Mulder's head or else there might be some serious brain damage. What bothered her was why she had found Mulder in the bathroom; his missing shirt left sopping up a pool of blood?
She didn't really want to think about it, let the FBI team deal with it. As though her thoughts materialized, the room suddenly began filling with agents from the crime scene unit. Quickly briefing the team leader on what had happened and her subsequent conclusions, she was out the door and waiting impatiently for the elevator. Checking her watch, she discovered that almost ten minutes had passed since Mulder had been taken to the hospital. Looking again at the floor indicator, which still rested at Floor One, she swiveled on her heel and plowed through the door to the stairs. Taking the steps two at a time, she tried to focus on the fact that her partner was being taken care of and not to worry that she wasn't with him this time.
Besides, he was probably still unconscious or else so out of it that he wouldn't even notice her absence.
En Route to GWU
"Hold him down, he's going to rip the IV right out!" Cory shouted, grabbing the flailing arms of his patient.
"Damn it! Took me forever to get it in, don't let him lose it." Cory's partner, Gina, finished hanging an IV bag. "Okay, that's one liter saline in him and another one hanging. You got him?"
The other paramedic was holding onto the struggling patient, talking soothingly to him. "Come on, Buddy, don't do this to me. Calm down." Cory glanced across the ambulance at Gina. "Yeah, he's starting to quiet down but he's still tachy and his breathing is rapid. Blood pressure's beginning to come up."
"Good. Let's get him on oxygen, sixty-percent by face mask," Gina ordered as she inspected the bruises along Mulder's side. "Looks like we're dealing with some broken ribs but no pneumothorax evident."
"He might have had one a few weeks ago. Take a look at this." Cory pointed at the long pink scar decorating Mulder's upper chest.
Gina's eyes followed her partner's finger. "Thoracotomy and pretty recent too." Her eyes traced several other scars that had long since healed. "This boy's been around the block a few times already."
"Must be a popular guy. What's he do for a living, night clerk at the Stop-and-Rob?"
With a shake of her head Gina laughed a bit. "No, remember the doctor lady who met us? She's FBI, so's he. Must be 'in the line of duty' stuff."
Cory did another check of Mulder's vitals. "A bona-fide hero right here in our bus? Damn, wait'll I tell my kids."
Gina chuckled. "Yeah, but they'll never believe you. Remember the time you tried to convince them that we had the President ride with us once?"
"He *was* the President!" the big man insisted. At his partner's condescending look he finally gave in. "All right, so it wasn't *the* President, but he was an impersonator who did a really good job."
"Cory, the man had a heart attack while doing a show for the kids in the park, I don't think he was enough of a look alike to perform for more mature audiences."
"Whatever." Cory waved his hand in dismissal. "Still, you can back me up, tell them about the FBI man here?"
"Sure. The same FBI man who has been trying to tell us something for the past five minutes while you jabbered on," Gina interjected. She leaned closer to the patient. "What is it, Honey? What are you trying to say?"
Mulder was tossing his head, muttering incoherently through the oxygen mask. "Scully, don't... no, don't do this... can't... Scully..."
"The FBI lady, his partner. Don't you pay attention?" Gina focused on Mulder." It's all right, Honey, she's on her way, she'll be with you soon," she murmured.
"Think maybe the blow to the head is making him delirious?" Cory offered.
"Possibly. Let's hope that it's just a bad concussion and he's still neurologically intact. Probably the shock talking."
Nodding, Cory called up to the driver, "How much longer?"
"ETA in two minutes," was the reply.
He scrunched his eyebrows in thought. "Think we should write down what he's saying, take a statement or something? He was attacked and the police will want to talk to him, he might be saying something important."
Gina couldn't help but laugh. "You're always looking to make things bigger than they are. He's calling for his partner, not identifying his attacker."
Cory looked disappointed. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
George Washington University Hospital
Dana arrived just in time to find Mulder already situated in a room and a woman with a lab coat standing by his bed, clipboard in hand. "Dr. Shirley?"
The woman turned, offering a smile. "You must be Agent Scully." At Dana's raised eyebrow, the doctor explained, "One of the nurses told me that if Mulder was here then you wouldn't be far off. You two seem to have a reputation."
Scully nodded grimly and moved to her partner's bedside. He had the standard IV, an automatic blood pressure cuff on his arm, and was receiving supplemental oxygen. He was hooked up to an EKG, a Foley catheter, and pulse oximeter, but none of the other instruments that indicated a life threatening injury. Laying her palm lightly on the side of his bruised face, she asked, "How is he?"
Shirley hugged her clipboard to her chest. "We're waiting for the lab work to come back. We ordered a CBC and chem 7, did a cross match and got a urine sample. As soon as we get them, we're sending him up to radiology for x-rays on his head, chest, and pelvis, and a total body CT scan. From the bruising on his chest and back, we are concerned about his kidneys as well as the condition of his previous injury. No, don't worry, it doesn't look like the effects of the last surgery have been undone. All we can do now is wait, so I suggest you pull up a chair and settle in."
Scully's mouth was slightly open. "You're going to let me stay? Usually the doctors insist that I go back to the waiting room."
"What can I say?" Shirley shrugged, "You have a reputation."
"Dana. Dana, Honey, wake up."
Scully's head slipped off of her hand and her head jerked up. "Mom?" She blinked rapidly to clear away the fuzziness around the edges of her vision. "Mom, what are you doing here?"
"Well, if you don't want me here, I could always leave," Margaret chided jokingly. She sat down in a chair next to her daughter. "I needed to get ahold of you and when I couldn't reach you I tried Fox. An FBI agent answered the phone and told me what happened so I came as soon as I could. Bill wasn't home yet so I had to make sure that Tara and little Matty were all settled in."
It took a moment for Scully to register her mother's words. "Bill's here?"
"Yes, he came up for some hearings on Naval base funding and is staying with me. I didn't tell you about it because you were away on a case when I found out and then Fox was injured and every time I saw you I was so eager to hear about his progress that I forgot to tell you."
"I'm glad you forgot. Last thing I needed was any more stress," Dana said sulkily.
"Dana Katherine, if I didn't know any better I'd say that you were angry with your brother." Maggie raised an eyebrow in a way that demonstrated which parent Scully had received that particular trait from.
"He treated Mulder terribly last time they were together, Mom. He blamed Mulder for everything bad that has happened to me and he calls me every week to try and persuade me to quit the FBI. He thinks he can run my life and I'm sick of it."
"Have you told him so?"
"I've tried but he just won't listen. He has it in his head that Mulder is forcing me to stay with the X-Files against my own free will and I can't change his mind no matter what I say." Dana sighed, her eyes drifting to the clock on the wall. She suddenly stood up and started pacing. "What's taking so long?"
Margaret ignored the sudden switch in subject; she would file it away for later discussion. "Is Fox in surgery?"
"Yes. He was stable but his condition worsened just as they finished the CT scan. They found out that his kidney was bleeding rapidly and had to repair it surgically. Add to that two broken ribs and a concussion and Mulder's got himself another nice stay in the hospital." She stopped her pacing and stared down at her feet. "Sometimes I wonder if..." she trailed off.
Maggie stood as well and moved to her daughter's side. "Sometimes you wonder if what?"
Scully pursed her lips, refusing to meet her mother's eyes. "I wonder if Mulder would be safer if I left the X-Files."
Maggie drew back in surprise. "Why ever would you think that?"
"Well, half the injuries he sustains are from protecting me. Mom, it's been on my mind constantly since he was shot. He purposely took that bullet to protect me because he believes his life is forfeit to mine and when I asked him about it later, he refused to give me a straight answer as to why he feels he deserves to die. He almost died saving my life; what if next time he doesn't make it?"
Maggie wrapped her arm around Dana's shoulders. "Honey, come sit down, I want to explain something to you." They walked back over to the chairs they had vacated and sat. Maggie faced her daughter, their knees touching, and laid her hands over Scully's. "Dana, I want you to think back over the past seven years that you have been Fox's partner. He's been injured a lot, I know, but how many of those times would he have died if you hadn't been there? You have had such an impact on his life and you don't even realize it.
"Fox is a complicated man, as I'm sure you know, who is trying so hard to keep everyone he cares about safe that he neglects to take himself into account. It's the way he is and there's no changing that; it makes him the empathetic man that is special to us both. The more he cares about someone, the more he tries to protect them. Dana, if you decide to leave the X-Files because you don't want Fox to be injured so badly that he dies, you are fooling yourself. He might be safer physically for a while, but he would eventually get himself killed. And he wouldn't care because he would already be dead inside."
Dana was staring at her mother, trying to process the meaning behind Maggie's speech.
"Honey, don't you understand what I'm telling you? Don't you know why Fox thinks your life is worth more than his?" Maggie couldn't help the tiny grin that formed as she watched her daughter shake her head in confusion. Sometimes her children could be so dense. "Dana, Fox loves you."
Margaret Scully's Residence
Jesus Kee-rist! It felt like a freight train was rumbling through his head. With a loud grunt Bill rolled over and opened his eyes, the bright light from the window sending sharp counterpoints to the bass drum in his skull.
Never again. He would never get drunk again. He couldn't remember what had happened after he left the bar and then he had slept badly, plagued with odd dreams that seemed a mixture of nightmares and fantasies. Now he had the mother of all hangovers and his mouth tasted like something died in it.
He slowly sat up and looked around the room. Where was Tara? He swiveled his legs off the bed and pushed himself into a standing position, grimacing when he realized he was still wearing yesterday's clothes. Stumbling into the bathroom he began to clean himself up. Showered, teeth brushed, and hair combed, he finished up the task with a quick shave. As he dragged the razor across his skin his mind wandered back over his strange dream. He had gone over to see Fox Mulder and had beaten the pathetic excuse for a man with a cane. He'd forced Mulder to apologize and threatened him with death if he ever went near Dana again.
Being a firm believer that dreams were simply a reflection of life, without deeper meaning, Bill tried to reconcile his nightmare. It was easy enough, since he had thought about Mulder more than once since he arrived for the conference. He hated Mulder for what the man had done to his family and always wanted to do what his dream had depicted. Wishes played out at night, that was all. One thing bother him though - where did the cane come from?
Dismissing the thought, Bill put some aftershave on and then went in search of his wife. He found her downstairs in the kitchen, feeding Matty breakfast. "Morning, Honey, where's Mom?"
Tara didn't look up from her task of spooning cereal into the toddler's mouth.
"Tara?" Still no response. He stood directly across the table from her, placing his hands on his hips. "Did I do something wrong?"
"I don't know, did you?" Tara's words were ice.
Bill shook his head. "What do you mean?"
His wife let out a long exasperated sigh and set down the spoon with exaggerated care. She turned to her husband, her eyes fiery. "You don't even remember, do you." It was a statement, not a question. "I have asked you time and again that you quit drinking, that you stop getting so wasted that you can't remember what you did. You are out boozing and brawling until all hours of the morning then you come home and expect me to be okay with it?? I've had to go down to the base brig three times now to get you out of the drunk tank because you'd started a brawl. For God's sakes, we're staying with your mother and you still can't behave like a responsible adult!"
"What the hell are you talking about?!" Bill shouted, ignoring the fact that Matty was beginning to cry.
"You got home at 3 in the morning, Bill. You dropped your jacket by the door and then came upstairs and passed out in bed. When I picked up your jacket this morning it had blood on it. I know it's not yours, I checked." Her voice was steely as she turned her attention to her son. "Shh, Matty, it's okay, Sweetheart.
"It's a good thing your mother wasn't here, or you would be excommunicated from the family."
"Where is she?"
"She had to go to the hospital last night to be with Dana." Tara's expression softened slightly as she saw the look of panic on Bill's face. "She's all right, it's not Dana who was admitted, it was her partner." Tara expected to see the usual face of contempt Bill wore when Mulder was mentioned but was surprised to find that he was instead wearing a face of shock. The color had drained from his face and he began to sway. All anger melted away and Tara was next to her husband instantly. "Bill, are you okay? What's wrong?"
Bill blinked several times and had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could speak. "We have to get to the hospital."
This time the groan was louder. "God, my head hurts."
"Just be glad you still have the opportunity to feel it hurt." Scully leaned over and placed a hand on his cheek. "Other than that, how do you feel?"
"Like I got run over by a Mack truck. What happened?" He tried to sit up but the pain in his back forced him to remain still.
Dana's smile faded. "I was hoping you could tell me. What is the last thing you remember?"
Mulder closed his eyes and took a deep breath, searching his memory. "I was watching TV and there was somebody at the door. I thought it was you so I answered it and Bi- a big guy wearing a ski mask was there. He grabbed my cane, whacked me upside the head with it and then proceeded to kick the ever-living shit out of me, if you'll pardon the expression. It gets really hazy after that but I remember thinking that I had to clean up before you got there so I managed to make my way to the bathroom. I must have lost consciousness soon after because that's all I can recollect."
Dana nodded at several points during his description as some of her questions were answered. "I had a team go over your apartment, check to see if we could get anything from your attacker. They're very optimistic about evidence on the cane."
Mulder's eyes widened slightly and he swallowed nervously. "I... um, I doubt it. I'm pretty sure he was wearing gloves."
Scully noticed her partner's hesitation but didn't call him on it. "Who do you think it was? Past case?"
"Maybe." The response was quiet and thoughtful.
They sat together in silence for a few minutes before Scully cleared her throat. "Mulder, I want to apologize."
His brows came together. "For what?"
"For not being there when you needed me. If I hadn't been late then none of this would have happened." She reached over and clasped his hand with her own.
"It wasn't your fault, Scully, there was no way either of us could have known. It's not like we're on a case or out in the field."
"I know, but still I-" a sound behind her made her turn. "Mom, come in, look who's awake."
"Fox, I'm so glad to see you're doing better, we were so worried about you." Maggie sat down next to her daughter, smiling at the man in the bed.
"Don't worry about me, I'm used to this by now." Mulder chuckled and then winced in a combination of pain and the realization that his joke was too on the mark to be funny.
Scully's face darkened. "That's something I want to talk to you about, Mulder."
Margaret stood and offered the agents another smile. "I'll leave you two alone; be back in about half an hour." She shut the door behind her as she left.
Scully turned back to find Mulder slumped farther down in the bed, as though he knew what the impending conversation was about. She decided to put him out of his misery. "I wanted to ask you something that has been bothering me ever since the Wrangler case. You deliberately drew Dolby's aim. Yes, it was off of me and I can understand that you didn't want me to be shot, but I don't understand why you didn't have any qualms about yourself.
"We've been partners for over six years now and I know that we count on each other to watch our back or to come to the rescue if needs be. That's what partners do - they look out for each other. What they do *not* do is willingly put their own life at risk in a foolhardy attempt to save the other without even the slightest chance of survival."
"But-" Mulder started.
"No, I'm not done yet. Yes, you did survive. This time. But Mulder, this is not the first time that you have put your life on the line in order to save me and I have no doubt that it will not be the last. I wouldn't be worried if you showed some speck of self-preservation in the process, but as far as I can tell, you don't give your own safety a second thought. What if next time is the last?"
Mulder's eyes were downcast and his fingers were twined in the sheets. "You risk yourself for me, too."
"Yes, but the difference is that I risk my life with the knowledge that there is a good possibility we'll both make it out alive. Making a known serial killer take his gun off you and aim it straight at me, when I'm wearing no Kevlar and have nowhere to go, is not what I call a good possibility."
When no response was forthcoming, Dana softened her tone. "Mulder, I just want to know why you put so little value on your life."
Raising his eyes to meet hers, Scully was shocked to see them shimmering with moisture. "I..." He swallowed and took a deep breath. "I can't lose you."
It was no more than a whisper but Dana heard the pain behind his statement. "Oh, Mulder." Her own voice was choked with emotion.
Mulder closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. "I don't disregard the value of my life. In fact, I would do anything in my power to keep it safe. Don't you see?" He looked back at her. "*You* are my life."
This epiphany, paired with her mother's earlier declaration, was enough to leave Dana stunned. She leaned forward and enfolded Mulder's hands within her own. "Mulder, I-"
Before she could continue, the door opened and someone entered the room. Out of sheer automatic response after years of conditioning herself to keep her feelings for her partner hidden, Scully let go of his hands and leaned back in her chair. Her guilt only lasted a second when it turned into surprise at seeing her brother standing in the doorway. Glancing back at Mulder to see his reaction, she was shocked to find fear in her partner's eyes. It was so fleeting that she could almost pass it off as her imagination. Almost.
She got out of her chair and walked over to her brother, looking up into blue eyes that mirrored her own, searching for any clue as to why Mulder reacted the way he had. All she found there was more fear. What the hell was going on?
"Dana, Mom wants to talk to you."
Scully's head jerked back slightly at the tone in Bill's voice. "About what?"
"I don't know," he answered shortly. "She's in the cafeteria and sent me to sit with Mulder while you're gone."
Dana scrunched her eyebrows together and deliberated over this for a moment. Then she turned back to her partner. "Mulder, I'll be right back, okay?"
He nodded, only taking his eyes off Bill for a second. Scully gave both of the men one last scrutinizing look before heading out the door.
Silence reigned for a few seconds until Bill slumped into the chair his sister had vacated. "So, what happened this time, Mulder?"
An eyebrow raised. "I think you know perfectly well what happened."
Bill's eyes closed and a grimace passed across his face. "Damn. I was hoping it had been a dream."
Bill opened his eyes and stared at the man in the bed. "So, what are you going to do?"
"Nothing." Mulder waited until that statement sunk in before continuing. "I told Dana that I was attacked by a man in a ski mask."
Blue eyes widened in shock. "Why would you do that?"
Mulder sighed, wincing slightly. "Because I know that your sister and your mom would be very hurt if they knew the truth. Your family wouldn't be the same again. I won't let that happen." He paused to take a breath. "You're right, Bill. I have caused your family a lot of pain in the past. I would do anything to take it all back, to bring Melissa back and make it so that Scully never had cancer. But I can't do that. All I can do is make sure that I don't cause them any more pain. I love your sister, Bill, and I refuse to let this tear her family apart."
For once in his life, William Scully Jr. was at a loss for words. Finally, after long minutes of stillness, he spoke. "You really love her, don't you?"
"Yes, Bill, I do."
"That is your one saving grace."
Mulder was sleeping peacefully in his hospital bed, drugged into painless slumber, while Dana sat by his side, reading a thick novel. Maggie had gone home with Tara and Matty for a nap and something more edible than hospital cafeteria food. Bill had elected to stay to keep Dana company and was currently trying to find a decent cup of coffee.
Mulder's kidney hadn't hemorrhaged since the surgery, his concussion and broken ribs would heal in time, and he had confessed his love to her. All was right with the world. Well, as right as it seemed to get in her and Mulder's convoluted lives. Scully was daydreaming about her planned response to Mulder's confession, the book in her lap forgotten, when someone clearing their throat startled her.
She twisted around in her chair to find two FBI agents standing just outside the doorway. She gave Mulder a quick glance to make sure he was still asleep before joining the agents. "I'm sorry, but Agent Mulder is sleeping, you're going to have to come back later if you want a statement."
The taller agent, one Scully recognized as John Wiesnicki, shook his head as Dana spoke. "I'm afraid we're not here to get Agent Mulder's statement. We got the results on the fingerprints taken from the cane."
"Perhaps we should go somewhere quiet, so as not to disturb Agent Mulder," the other agent, a Michael Woodsburrow, offered.
"Why? What did you find out? Whose fingerprints were they?"
"Agent Scully, where is your brother?" Wiesnicki prompted.
"What does my brother have to do with this?" Scully demanded, her voice getting louder with frustration. Suddenly the meaning of Wiesnicki's question dawned on her. "Oh my God."
The two visiting agents gave Scully a minute to assimilate her revelation. "Do you know the current whereabouts of your brother, Agent Scully?"
She looked around as though confused by the question. "Um, yeah. He... he went for some coffee. He'll be back soon."
"Would you mind if we waited here for him." It wasn't a question.
She nodded dumbly, her mind still reeling. A noise behind her told her that Mulder was waking up. "Agent Wiesnicki, Agent Woodsburrow, would you mind waiting outside for a few minutes?"
Woodsburrow looked like he was about to protest but Wiesnicki elbowed him slightly. "Certainly." They both inclined their heads in parting and left the room. Scully closed the door behind him and turned to face her partner.
Mulder was blinking his eyes rapidly, trying to clear the sleep away. "Who was that?"
"Agents from the Bureau. They got the fingerprint results." She leaned over and took his left hand in her two. "Mulder, it was Bill."
Instead of the surprise that she expected to see, Dana was shocked to find simple acknowledgment on his face. "I'm not going to press charges."
"Scully, I can't have your brother arrested! Besides, he was drunk and didn't know what he was doing. He thought it was all a dream."
Stunned silence was followed by anger. "You *knew* it was him?! Mulder, why didn't you tell me? How did you know?"
Mulder chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "He wasn't wearing a mask." His heart broke at the hurt expression on her face. "I couldn't tell you it was him. I mean, what was I supposed to say? 'Hey Scully, your brother assaulted me, a federal officer and therefore a federal offense, and beat me to a bloody pulp because he was trying to protect you from me'? And what about your mom? She's very special to me and I don't want to have her suffer through her son going to jail. I would just end up hurting your family worse than I already have."
Dana didn't know whether she wanted to kill him or to hug him. She just stood there, mulling over which one. True, she didn't want her brother to go to jail, but she couldn't just let this slide. Bill had to take responsibility for his actions; otherwise she would never be able to trust him again. She didn't want to have to choose between her partner and her brother. Because she knew that, if she was forced to, her partner would win.
Bill sipped at his steaming hot mocha latte and smiled. It had taken him almost half an hour, but he had found a Starbucks just down the street. He had even thought of Dana while he was there and picked her up something as well, knowing that she would most likely be in need of some caffeine. He turned the corner to the hallway that led to Mulder's room and was surprised to see two men sitting outside the door. They were both wearing suits and had a look about them that screamed government.
He hesitated a moment, then decided that they were probably just there to ask Mulder questions or something. But as he got closer they stood, turning to face him. "William Scully?" the taller one asked.
The suit pulled out a badge. "You're under arrest for the attack on Agent Mulder." Next came some handcuffs.
"But I-" he stammered.
The shorter man pulled Bill's hands behind his back. "You have the right to remain silent..."
As Woodsburrow read Bill his rights, Wiesnicki knocked on Mulder's door before opening it partially. "Agent Scully, we'll be taking the suspect now."
"Wait!" Dana cried. She jumped out of her chair and hurried to the door, opening it all the way to reveal Woodsburrow and her brother. "Wait, don't take him. Agent Mulder has decided to drop all charges."
Wiesnicki's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "Excuse me?"
"I don't wish to press charges," Mulder repeated loudly from his bed.
The other agent's jaw dropped open. "But Agent Mulder, this man almost killed you."
"No he didn't. Bill had come over to help me move some things in my apartment and he must have touched the cane. The man who attacked me was wearing gloves."
Wiesnicki eyed Mulder, trying to ascertain whether he was being told the truth. Unable to discern Mulder's sincerity, he turned to his partner. "Let him go, Mike."
"But all the evidence-" Woodsburrow protested.
"Mike, I said let him go."
Without any further objections, Woodsburrow removed the handcuffs and stuck them back in his pocket. Wiesnicki swept his eyes over everyone, encompassing them all in his next statement. "I'm sorry for the misunderstanding. We'll let the boys in charge of the investigation know about this new information and we'll re-evaluate our search parameters. Agent Mulder, I hope you feel better." With that, Wiesnicki whirled around and strode down the hallway, his partner scurrying to catch up.
"I think I pissed him off," Mulder said dryly.
Bill chuckled. "Yeah, don't know if he'll live that one down. False arrest and all."
Dana spun around to face her brother. "How dare you! How dare you do this to my partner! To mom and me! How could you?? Being drunk is no excuse and you know it. I don't care if you were too wasted to remember your name; it is going to take a long time for me to forgive you. If ever."
"But Dana, I-"
"But Dana nothing! You could have killed Mulder! You practically tried!" Scully stopped to take several long deep breaths. "I am going to go along with this charade on one condition."
"You are going to join AA."
"Alcoholics Anonymous?" Bill stuttered. "But I'm not a drunk!"
"When you are able to become unaware of what you are doing and allow yourself to physically harm another human being, you need help. I know about your brawling and Tara having to bail you out. This isn't a one time incident, Bill."
Bill looked down at his feet, shifting them back and forth like a little boy being admonished for being caught red-handed stealing cookies from the cookie jar. "Okay, I'll go." His head snapped up, his eyes wide. "You're not going to tell Mom, are you?"
Scully pursed her lips. "I don't know. It depends on whether you keep your word. Telling Tara is up to you though."
Bill thought over the conditions and nodded. "Only fair."
"It's more than fair," Dana replied icily. "Now I want you out of here."
"C'mon Dana," Bill whined.
"Don't push it. It is going to take a long time for me to forgive you. I will be civil to you at all family gatherings for Mom's sake, but you are no longer my brother until the day you can prove that you are the same kind and understanding person I grew up with." Scully turned away from him, ending the conversation there.
Bill swallowed the lump in his throat and faced the man in the bed. "Mulder, I want to apologize for what I've done and I also want to thank you for handling it so well. You really do care about my family and I want you to know that I respect you for that. There's no one I'd rather have watching out for my sister."
Mulder inclined his head in acceptance of the apology and with that, Bill walked out the door. Mulder reached out and laid a hand on Scully's forearm. "Dana?" She raised her eyes to meet his. "I'm so sorry about all this."
"It's not your fault, you didn't cause this to happen, no matter what Bill says." She looked over her shoulder at the door. "You're a much more forgiving person than I am."
"He was just trying to protect you."
"By killing you?"
"I would kill to protect you if there was good cause," Mulder admitted.
"But you're also willing to die to protect me," Dana accused.
A wry smile flitted across Mulder's face. "True."
"I don't want to lose you, Mulder. Not because you threw your life away trying to assure my safety." She paused to underline the importance of her next comment. "I love you, Mulder and I don't want to spend my life without you."
A warm glow descended upon Mulder's face, tears welled up in his eyes and his lower lip trembled with emotion. He opened his arms wide and Scully fell into them, muttering a quiet "sorry" when he grunted in pain. She snuggled into his warm embrace, breathing in his distinct scent. He bent his head forward and kissed the top of her head, murmuring "I love you too" into her hair.
Dana tilted her head up so that their faces were mere centimeters apart and looked into his hazel depths. "Promise not to leave me?"
He smiled down at her. "I promise." He leaned forward and captured her mouth in a gentle kiss.
Then all was truly right with the world.
To Be Continued in Grace Series VI