Title: Fade To Midnight
Author: TexxasRose
Written: November 20, 1999
Classification: Mulder/Scully married, EXTREME Muldertorture in this one, folks, so if you don't care for that, bail out now--I don't want to hear later that you thought it was too violent.
Disclaimer: If I owned Fox Mulder I'd keep him much too busy to solve cases. If I owned Dana Scully she'd be my shopping buddy. I don't own Skinner either, obviously. They all belong to Chris Carter, and 1013, and Fox Broadcasting, and all those other lucky entities. Jess, Dulexy and Sylvia are all mine.
Spoilers: No major ones that I can think of, a minor one for Pine Bluff Variant.
Rating: R for language and graphic violence.

MAJOR thanks to my long-suffering beta-reader, Julie, who makes the stories intelligible.

Summary: It's been ten years. The Mulder family is happy. You just knew it couldn't last...Sequel to Ahead of Twilight.

Author's note: This is a sequel to my novel Ahead of Twilight, and while it isn't absolutely necessary that you read it to know what's going on in this story, it will make more sense to you if you do.



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TUESDAY 2:47 a.m.
-------------------------

Mulder jumped as the heavy door slammed shut behind him. He'd known it would turn out this way, had tried to warn them but they had refused to listen to him, stupidly insisting that the police would never arrest him for Zachary Morrow's murder after Mulder had shot the man. Shot him in cold blood, his mind insisted, but Mulder refused to allow his conscience to go that far; the man had been about to rape his wife, after all, and then probably dispense with them both. On the other hand, if they'd been able to hold Zach off for a few more minutes, Walter would have arrived and there was a possibility nobody would have had to die. Just a possibility.

They'd continued to insist, all the way to the police station, that Mulder wouldn't be taken into custody, but Mulder had known the truth. He knew how justice worked, having already been falsely convicted of the murder of one man. This was different. This time there actually was a dead man in Mulder's bedroom with Mulder's bullet in him. They would ask Scully for her statement, and what could she do but tell the truth? He had shot her ex-husband in the head. It didn't look good. No matter the circumstances, it just didn't look good.

Mulder turned and saw Scully's sorrowful eyes watching him before he was led, handcuffed, down a long corridor filled with individual cells. He got one last glimpse of her before they rounded a corner, and knew he had seen that look on her lovely face before--on the day, all those years ago, when he had received his first guilty verdict. Oh yeah--he'd been here before, all right.

Now he was being escorted, hands cuffed behind his back, farther and farther away from his very soul. A man would have to be crazy to willingly abandon his soul, and whatever else he may be, Mulder was most assuredly still in his right mind. With a sudden wrenching motion, yanking free of the guard who had been firmly grasping his upper arm, Mulder turned to race back toward her, toward the face, the comfort, the life that had sustained him for as long as he could remember. He simply could not be parted from her again. He saw her waiting for him, holding out her arms with a welcoming smile, and felt his feet begin to move faster as he approached her.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, he was set upon by more guards--five? six? seven?--he couldn't count them. They dragged him to the floor and flipped him over onto his back. Mulder yelled and fought against them, but was unable to elude their hands grasping him, holding him, pinning him down. He ceased his struggles abruptly when he looked up into a pair of sadistic eyes, and realized with a jolt that it was the guard who had beaten him nearly to death when he'd been in prison. Cold shock invaded him and all the fight left his body at once.

Even as he opened his mouth and began screaming, some small part of him felt relief, for at that moment he knew it was only a dream.

"Mulder!"

His eyes flew open and he stared at her face, bathed in the moonlight that streamed in through the open curtains.

"Huh?" he managed, feeling the trembling in his body and realizing he was breathing heavily. "What? Oh, shit." He remembered all in a rush, swiping his hands over his face as if to banish the last remnants of the nightmare.

"You okay?" she asked, brushing hair away from his sweaty brow. "You were thrashing around in the bed and mumbling something in your sleep."

"I'm fine, Scully," he answered, sitting on the side of the bed and reaching for his boxers, which had quickly been ripped from his body and discarded on the floor soon after they'd gone to bed the night before. "Just the standard bad dreams. Nothing to worry about."

"I'd have thought after the workout you had earlier, you'd have slept like a baby," she teased as she watched him pull them on.

He grinned. The 'workout' had consisted of relieving too many days worth of pent-up frustration. Emmie had had several of her girlfriends over to spend the last long weekend before school started, and after dealing with four fifteen-year-old girls for three days, Scully had been exhausted. Mulder, on the other hand, had been working just as hard to get his office and his notes ready for the first day of school, and between the two of them they'd only had energy to look hungrily at one another for over a week. The scene that had ensued in their bedroom once they'd finally retired there had been quick, savage and immensely satisfying for them both.

"I think I'll get a glass of water," he told her. "I seem to have lost a lot of fluids somehow and I'm just going to replenish. You go on back to sleep."

Instead, she snickered at his remark and followed him to the kitchen, pulling her robe on as she made her way down the darkened hall. She watched Mulder put ice in a glass with hands that still trembled, and shook her head ruefully. It had been ten years. Would he be tormented forever?

Scully waited while he filled the glass and took a seat beside her at the kitchen table, then reached out to grasp his fingers tightly.

"This one was bad," she commented, and he said nothing, draining half the glass in one swallow. "Want to talk about it?"

"Not likely," he muttered, then gave her a small smile to erase the sting from his words. "It was nothing, Scully. Just one of my old standards. It was about...that day."

Scully sighed. Even after all these years, Mulder still found it hard to trust anyone in uniform, and his fear of law enforcement personnel had become almost a joke among their friends and family. Almost a joke until something like this happened, she thought with a flash of irritation, and then she was the only one around to pick up the pieces.

"Mulder, you haven't had one in such a long time. If you're going to start having nightmares again, I really think Jess--"

"I don't need Jess, Scully. I know exactly what caused this." Jess Coslow Skinner had been Mulder's therapist after he'd been released from prison, and Scully's too for a while. For the last nine years, she had been Mrs. Walter Skinner, and a close family friend. Mulder knew Jess was always a phone call away, and for that he was eternally grateful, but this particular dream had a definite catalyst, one which Mulder had no trouble identifying.

At Scully's quizzical look he went on sheepishly, "I got pulled over for speeding today. I didn't want to tell you, but I guess I can't keep a secret very well."

She smiled in exasperation. "Speeding! Mulder, you're fifty-one years old. When will you learn?"

"I may be fifty-one, but I still manage to keep you happy," he smirked, and she nearly laughed out loud, stifling the sound to avoid waking Emmie.

"Yeah, but I'm getting old too," she pointed out teasingly. "Maybe it takes less to keep me satisfied these days."

Scully didn't realize she'd thrown down a challenge until it was accepted.

"I'll show you who's getting old," he announced, rising from his chair and pulling her against his warm, bare chest in one swift motion.

Before Scully knew what had happened, she was backed against the nearest wall with his large frame almost covering her.

Scully stared, eyes wide and luminous, as he threaded his fingers through her hair purposefully and pulled her closer. She knew he was going to kiss her, she wanted him to kiss her, and after one nervous glance toward the hall where the bedrooms lay, she allowed herself to melt against him. He came closer and closer, but instead of claiming her lips with his as she wanted him to, he teased her, planting tiny kiss after tiny kiss on her mouth until she was ready to scream with frustration. She wanted more, and she ground her lower body against his as he maneuvered her more firmly against the wall. She was trapped between the hardness of the cool wall and the hardness of Mulder, long and lean and obviously wanting her as well.

She moaned, and tried to capture his bottom lip between her teeth, but Mulder was in a playful mood tonight and evaded her with a chuckle.

"Patience, Scully," he teased, beginning to torture her neck now, an activity which experience had taught him would have her whimpering in passion within seconds. "You have...to wait...for the...good stuff."

Two could definitely play this game, she decided, and her hands circled his waist slowly, then roamed downward to slip beneath the waistband of his boxers, the only garment he wore. Scully knew just how to get to her husband. She traced a fingernail lightly over the skin at the curve of his behind and he yelped.

"Damn it, woman, no fair tickling me!" he insisted in the low, seductive voice that always gave her chills. Swiftly he grabbed her wrists and pinned them to the wall above her head. She struggled lightly against him, almost helpless with silent laughter, but she had never been a match for his size and strength. He slipped his free hand tantalizingly through the folds of her robe and cupped first one breast, then the other while his mouth continued to do illegal things to her throat, lapping here, nipping there, placing first a gentle kiss and then sucking furiously, leaving his mark on her skin.

Mulder in what she thought of as his "masterful mode" could always bring her to the verge of total meltdown, and by the time he relented and allowed a real kiss, her laughter had turned to moans of need, and Scully was writhing under his assault, abandoning resistance and straining toward him urgently. His thumb teased her nipple while his tongue explored her mouth, desperately seeking the sweetness he always found there.

"Mulder!" she gasped when he drew back to let her to catch her breath.

"Yes?" he purred sweetly, grinding her further against the wall until Scully thought she would scream if he didn't take her right then. "You want something from this old man?"

"Mulder, we are *not* going to have sex here in the kitchen!"

He grinned against her neck. "I think we are, Scully," he contradicted, beginning to nibble again at her collarbone.

"Emmie--"

"Would sleep through a nuclear blast, and you know it," he finished, quickly unbelting her robe and beginning to slide it down her shoulders.

Her only answer was another moan. He carefully lowered them to the floor, hastily spreading out the terrycloth robe.

"Mulder," Scully interrupted, regaining some of her senses while he fooled with the robe. "If we're going to do this here, *you* get to lie on the cold floor."

She gave him a gentle push backwards, and he caught himself, grinning in good-natured defeat and letting her settle him, with the bathrobe beneath his head and naked back. He winced a little as the coolness seeped through the fabric, and Scully immediately set herself to warming him up.

He raised his hips in order to allow her to slip his boxers down his legs, revealing his desire for her in the darkened room. Scully began to explore him with her fingers, reminding herself of every plane and contour of his body while he took up where he'd previously left off, continuing to push her toward the brink of insanity. Her lips teased his flesh, her tongue lapped at his throat and with satisfaction she heard him draw a sharp breath.

"Now!" she commanded, and Mulder, having been trained in the art of pleasing his wife for just over ten years, obeyed immediately. He positioned her above himself and soon they forgot time, forgot space, forgot that they had a teenage daughter sleeping down the hall.

"Come on with me, Scully, now!" he commanded softly. Scully, with her last bit of sanity, said a brief prayer that they wouldn't be discovered in this compromising position, and then the sanity was gone and he took her over the edge with him.

Knowing her habits, Mulder muffled her cry with his mouth as she convulsed against him; he had discovered years ago, to his immense delight, that Scully was quite vocal in the throes of passion. Nothing gave him more satisfaction than wrenching those noises from his usually calm, sedate wife.

Now she stared blissfully down at him, satisfied and lethargic. Reluctantly, he nudged her aside, rose and helped her to her feet, shaking the kinks out of his back and grinning as she did the same. They were both older, but they still had it, he reflected smugly.

"Damn, Scully," he whispered, unaffected in no small way himself. "You sure know how to drive the nightmares away!"

Scully smiled a self-satisfied smile as she belted her robe securely around her body. How many fifty-one year old men could do that twice in one night, she thought proudly. Of course, she had given him several hours to recover after the first time. Maybe tomorrow night she'd see if he was up to the task again.


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TUESDAY 7:23 a.m.
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Emmie stumbled sleepily into the kitchen, giving a mock glare at her parents, who looked entirely too chipper today. She sighed as she opened the refrigerator, reaching for her usual carton of yogurt and the low-fat milk to pour on her cereal. A girl had to keep her figure in mind, she always told Fox when he chided her for not eating enough, and took great delight in pointing out how badly his own eating habits compared to hers.

She stepped back and turned toward the kitchen table. A puzzled look crossed her face and she picked up her foot, examining the bottom of her sneaker.

"What?" Scully asked, seeing her daughter's odd behavior.

"There's something sticky on the floor," Emmie replied as she started to set down her breakfast and reach for a paper towel. "Didn't Mrs. Hankins clean yesterday?"

"I'll get it," Scully said quickly, rising to take the paper towel from Emmie's hand. When Emmie gave her a strange look, Scully explained, "You need to eat breakfast so you don't miss the bus."

Emmie sat down and stared suspiciously at Fox, who was working hard to stifle his laughter.

"What's up with you two?" she asked as she popped the top from the yogurt container.

"Nothing," Scully told her brightly, rising from the floor where she'd mopped up the 'sticky stuff'. She didn't dare look at Mulder, for she knew he realized, as did she, that the 'sticky stuff' was in the exact spot where they'd made love the night before while their daughter slept.

"What are you laughing at?" Emmie demanded, staring at Mulder over the cereal box.

"Comics," he managed, trying desperately to get himself under control.

Emmie sighed. "You haven't even opened the paper, Fox," she pointed out patiently.

Mulder gave her a dazzling smile and a wink. "I'm just remembering the ones I read yesterday," he lied as he reached for the morning paper.

Emmie rolled her eyes in typical teenage-girl fashion and continued eating in silence while Scully sat down to finish her coffee.

"Mom, can I have a pool party
FRIDAY night?" she asked suddenly, after she had scooped the last bite of raisin bran from her bowl.

Scully looked up in surprise. "Don't you think this is kind of sudden?" she asked.

Emmie, seeing her mother about to refuse, turned to the man who had been her personal slave for most of her life. "Please, Fox?" she cajoled. "It won't be much trouble. I'll just invite a few friends, and we'll grill hamburgers or something. You won't even have to do anything."

Mulder looked at his step-daughter's pleading brown eyes and melted immediately, exactly as she'd hoped he would. "Scully," he said, turning to his wife, "it wouldn't a problem, would it?"

Scully looked from her husband to her daughter and knew she'd been had.

"How many friends are we talking about?" she questioned.

"Um...ten?" Emmie asked hopefully.

"Make it five and you've got a deal."

Emmie pouted for a moment, and Scully found herself wondering if she'd been practicing in the mirror--the pout looked so similar to Mulder's that it was almost funny.

"Well...but is it all right if Ellery spends the night?" the girl pressed.

Scully smiled. She had known that would be the next request. Emmie and her best friend, Ellery Monroe, had been almost inseparable since the third grade. With such similar names, teachers had often sat them together in alphabetical order, and the girls also shared a striking resemblance to one another. Both had dark brown eyes and brown, wavy hair which they wore in identical styles. They often dressed alike and had taken to calling themselves 'almost twins'. Both girls were around so often that she and Mulder had practically begun to think of themselves as having two daughters instead of one.

"All right, Ellery can spend the night, but everyone else is out of here by ten, got that?" Scully stated as she rose to put her empty cup in the sink.

"Got it. Thanks, Mom," Emmie beamed as she jumped up. "I think I hear the bus."

She gave her mother a kiss on the cheek and returned the bear hug Fox bestowed upon her.

"Have a good first day at school," he said as she left the room.

"You too," she called over her shoulder.

"I'll try not to embarrass you in front of your friends," Mulder yelled after her, laughing again at the muffled, "Oh, Fox!" that drifted through the front door before it closed.

"She is a treasure," Scully murmured quietly, her fingers rubbing the spot where Emmie's lips had touched her. "How many fifteen year old girls still kiss their mothers?"

"Maybe she lost so much when she was younger that she learned to appreciate what she has," he commented, folding the newspaper and laying it aside. "But the real question of the morning is, do we need to fire Mrs. Hankins and hire a better housekeeper?"

She ignored his laughter, silently shaking with her own as she started for the shower. Mrs. Hankins had been coming in once a week to clean for them for three years now, and her work was always stellar.

"It's not Mrs. Hankins' fault that you're an animal," she replied when he entered the bathroom. "She can't be expected to follow us around and clean up after us every time you're overcome with passion."

Mulder snorted. "*I'm* an animal?" he retorted. "I seem to recall you were rather insistent that we do the wild thing then and there."

"Nonsense." The words came around the closed shower door, and seconds later Mulder heard the water start. "I was simply trying to take your mind off your nightmare. And your speeding ticket," she reminded him, poking her head out the door of the shower stall to give him a wicked smile.

"Careful, woman, or you'll find yourself up against the wall of that shower stall," he threatened, putting the stopper in the tub drain and beginning to run his own bath.

"You're all talk, Mulder!"

"And don't hog all the hot water!" he continued, ignoring her jibe.

"I got here first!"

It was a race they engaged in every morning. Mulder still refused to take showers on a regular basis, although he had shared one with Scully on occasion, preferring the dubious psychological comfort of a bath. Scully, on the other hand, thought that baths should involve candles, scented bubbles, a good book and lots of relaxation time. In the morning, she whipped through a shower in fifteen minutes flat. Several years ago they had remodeled the bathroom, adding a separate shower stall and a larger water heater, in order to alleviate the arguments about who would go first in the morning. Now they could both be content.

"Do you think she knew what that stuff on the floor was?" Mulder called as he slid into the steaming tub of water and reached for the shampoo.

"God, I hope not," Scully answered. "She's only fifteen."

"I'm amazed at how early kids become sexually active these days," he told her. "It's scary."

"Not our daughter," Scully said with mock severity, peeking around the curtain at him once more. "I won't consider the possibility, do you hear me? We've dealt with enough trouble in our lives--this is one thing I refuse to endure."

He stared at her for a moment, then shouted with laughter. "I'll tell the fates you have so decreed," he informed her before slipping beneath the water.

"You do that," she replied grimly.


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FRIDAY 4:02 p.m.
-------------------------

"What's wrong?"

The question rang through the silent car, his tentative attempt to broach the wall Emmie seemed to have erected between them since the night before. She'd spoken to her grandparents on the telephone the previous evening, and ever since that conversation Emmie had been quiet and withdrawn around him. It was obvious something was bothering her, and although Mulder had initially resolved to let her bring it up in her own time, the continued silent treatment was beginning to bother him.

"Nothing," she muttered. "I'm fine."

As a verbal jab, it was promising. She had been privy to more than one argument between Fox and her mother over the years concerning that very phrase, and knew how it irritated him. If she saw his wince, she ignored it.

He reached across the seat for her hand, but she pulled away, and after a moment he quietly returned his to the steering wheel.

"I can't apologize if I don't know what I've done wrong," he told her quietly.

She remained in her sullen silence for another few minutes, then turned to him and said deliberately, "Game, Fox."

He felt his heart begin to race. Game. It was his own invention--well, not really; the concept was old, but putting it into the form of a game was his idea. You got to ask the other person anything you wanted, and they had to answer perfectly honestly. The catch was that, in return, they got to subject you to the same scrutiny. He'd found it a useful tool to use with his students, and had also discovered that the revelations he made about himself, things he normally wouldn't have revealed to anyone, actually helped strengthen his bond with them. It had helped him get to know Emmie far better than most parents knew their teenagers.

All it took was for one of them to speak the word 'Game'-- it meant difficult secrets would be revealed.

He swallowed hard, wondering what rack she was about to place him on, and then said, "All right."

"Remember the rule."

He nodded. The only rule to the Game was that of honesty. Everything spoken must be completely truthful.

Emmie turned her eyes out the window, unwilling to face him now. "Grandma told me last night that today would have been my dad's birthday."

Mulder was stunned by her remark. Of all the things he thought she might say, bringing up Zach hadn't even been on the list. Zachary Morrow was almost never spoken of in their household, and he hoped by now that Emmie had come to think of him as her dad. Apparently he'd underestimated her devotion to her biological father.

"Okay," he answered, hands tightening imperceptibly on the wheel. "What do you want from me?"

She took a deep breath, gathering her courage, then bravely turned to look at him, fixing him squarely with her dark gaze.

"I want to know about my father's death. I want to know what happened."

He stopped breathing for a moment, hoping the car would crash, killing him but leaving Emmie miraculously unscathed, or that he might suffer a sudden, fatal heart attack, hoped, in fact, for an entire host of things, none of which occurred. She waited, still silent, for him to answer.

"No, Emmie, please," he begged softly. "Don't ask me to tell you about that."

"Game, Fox," she reminded him coldly. "It's *your* game, remember? Did you think it could only work to your advantage? You and Mom have always avoided the questions I've asked about my dad. I'm fifteen now. I'm not a kid any longer. I want you to tell me."

And in the end, he really had no choice.


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FRIDAY 5:50 p.m.
-------------------------

Justin Dulexy drove slowly down the quiet neighborhood street, casting his eyes about for anything out of the ordinary. He'd been down this street four times in the last hour, trying to determine the best course of action to carry out his plan. He'd already decided to grab the Mulder kid, now all he needed was an opportunity. He knew where he would take her, when he would make the call to her parents, and how much money he would demand for her return. The only unpredictable thing in his entire plan was just exactly when the snatch would be carried out.

As he turned the corner, circling the block one more time, he saw her. She must have walked home from school, because she was carrying a backpack over one shoulder and walking quickly toward the Mulder house. As he drew closer he saw her initials in green fabric on the blue denim backpack: E.M. He smiled. Most people in this neighborhood weren't home from work yet, and the street was quiet. He could make the grab without being seen if he was even remotely lucky.

Ellery strode quickly toward Emmie's house, her swimsuit and towel in her backpack. She'd gotten home and done her homework in record time, but then her mother had made her eat supper and wash the dishes afterwards, so she was running late. Finally, her parents had left for their weekend away, and Ellery had escaped. The party was supposed to start in half an hour, and she wanted to be wearing her new one-piece suit by the time Mark arrived. Then, later tonight, she and Emmie would spend hours talking and giggling about the boy they both had a bit of a crush on. She was looking forward to seeing him in his swimsuit.

Her thoughts interrupted by the sound of an automobile engine, she glanced up at the truck coming toward her. As she watched, it slowed and then stopped. Ellery kept walking, feeling slightly uneasy when the passenger side window was lowered.

She intended to continue walking without giving the driver even a glance, but he called to her.

"Hey, little girl, can you help me out?"

His voice sounded friendly, and unsure, and Ellery thought maybe he just wanted directions or something. Her mother had always warned her about climbing into cars with strangers, but surely if she just stood here on the sidewalk and talked to him, it would be all right, wouldn't it?

She gazed in at the driver. He was a large man, bigger than her father, and something about him bothered her, something she couldn't pinpoint. She shook off the feeling. It was silly, and no doubt stemmed from her mother's horror stories.

"Yes?" she asked in a voice that trembled only slightly.

"I wonder if you could tell me how to find this street," the driver said, pointing to a map that lay on the seat.

"What street is it?" she asked nervously, taking one tentative step toward the truck.

"I'm not sure how to pronounce it."

Ellery bit her lip in indecision.

"Hey, I understand. You're not supposed to talk to strangers, and that's very smart. I shouldn't have asked you." The guy waved his hand carelessly, with a friendly smile. "I'll just find a grown-up--"

At that Ellery bristled inwardly. Grown-ups. Adults thought they knew everything. This man wasn't going to hurt her, he was nice. He just needed a little help, and she could give it to him. Ellery had spent her whole life in this neighborhood and knew every street in a half-mile radius intimately.

"Let me see," she interrupted, stepping up to the truck and peering in the window, caution forgotten. A split second later she knew why her parents had taught her not to talk to strangers.

The gun glinted, silver steel, against his jeans as he pointed it at her, keeping it in his lap so any passersby would be unaware of its presence. She sucked in her breath and felt her body go weak with fear.

"Get in. If you scream, or try to run, I'll kill you. Just open the door and quietly get in." She hesitated for a moment, until he made a motion toward her with the firearm, and then obeyed him, climbing in to sit beside him on the seat, her face completely white.

"Good girl," he told her, his grin not quite so friendly now. "Put your hands right here on the dash, right where I can see them." He gestured with the gun and she obeyed, clutching at the vinyl with hands that trembled.

He drove with one hand, keeping an eye on her at all times, for several miles until they reached a less-populated neighborhood. The houses here were widely spaced, and he stopped the truck on the side of the road at a safe distance from the closest one.

"Turn around," he ordered, and she did, her entire body shaking now.

"Please," she said as she felt him pull her arms behind her back, "please don't hurt me."

He quickly tied her hands behind her back, then made her scrunch down so she was sitting on the floor. She was crammed into the small space so tightly that she couldn't make any sudden moves even if she had the courage to try. When he had her settled, he started the truck again and drove off.

"Don't worry, Emmie," he told her reassuringly. "If you behave yourself, I promise I won't hurt you, and in a couple of days you'll be safe at home again."

Ellery's eyes widened when she heard him call her by her friend's name. He'd goofed! He hadn't wanted her at all, it had been Emmie he was after! She wondered if she should correct him--it might make him mad enough to hurt her. If he found out he had the wrong girl, would he let her go? Or would he kill her so she couldn't identify him, and then go back for Emmie? Still shivering, Ellery closed her eyes and began to pray for answers, and for safety.


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FRIDAY 7:13 p.m.
-------------------------

Mulder sat in the shadows cast by the house, watching from a distance as Emmie and her friends dove and swam in the pool. Ellery hadn't yet arrived, but all the other kids were there and the party was in full swing. Scully periodically brought out more food and sodas from the kitchen, but true to her word, Emmie and the kids had done most of the work.

His heart ached as he watched the dark-haired beauty he and Scully used to refer to as 'Nymph'. She meant more to him than anything else in the world, she and Scully, and if he were to lose her love, her respect, Mulder knew it would just about kill him. Nothing else mattered to him if he didn't have the two of them in his life.

Scully plopped down into the chair beside him, interrupting his scattered thoughts, and handed him a paper plate loaded with hot dogs, chips and dip. She popped the top on a can of diet soda, took a swig, and sighed deeply. Snitching a chip from the plate he was now balancing on one knee, she surveyed his face carefully.

"All right, Mulder, spill it," she commanded, and he turned to her, startled.

"What are you talking about, Scully?" he tried, even knowing she wouldn't be fooled. He was correct.

Scully sighed again, and only barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes as Emmie often did. He was trying to be difficult, but Scully was in a 'no bullshit' mood tonight, and wasn't going to play his game.

"Look, Mulder," she said curtly. "I've had a long day, capping a very long week, and I'm tired. Something is obviously bothering you, and I don't have the time or the patience to try and coax it out of you. Tell me what I want to know, or I'm going to have to inflict pain. What's wrong?"

Her words were softened a bit by the concern in her eyes, and after a second of shaking his head in denial, Mulder gave in. There was no use fighting her anyway; he'd never won in all the ten years they'd been married.

"Emmie asked me about Zach today," he said at last.

Scully's eyes widened as she took another chip. "What did you tell her?" she questioned.

He made a small noise of disgust. "Everything, sanitized for the consumption of a fairly innocent fifteen-year-old girl. I had to, Scully. She hit me with the Game."

"And you were caught in your own trap." Scully shook her head ruefully. "I told you not to give her that kind of power," she commented mildly, "but you're the Child Psychologist, and you refused to listen."

"And I told you, Scully, kids have to feel they have some control in this world where, really, they don't." He gave a short, bitter laugh. "A lot of good that Psychology degree is doing me now, though. She won't even talk to me."

"Mulder." She put her hand comfortingly on his arm. "You know she's just upset, and you know she'll get over it. If you told her that you're the one who killed Zach, you gave her a great shock. She's a level-headed girl, though, and eventually she'll realize that you had no choice. Did you tell her what Zach was trying to do? That he wanted to kill us both?"

He nodded, handing her back the plate and standing. "I did, and I know you're right, Scully, but still..."

"I know," she sympathized. "It's hard. But Emmie still loves you, Mulder. This isn't going to destroy her feelings for you. Deep inside, you know that."

"I know. Intellectually, I know. But it's different when it's your own relationships in question."

"I've known about that difference since the first time you were injured and I had to care for you as a doctor, instead of your partner and friend. It's always hard to look at the situation objectively when it's one of your own that's hurting."

He opened his mouth but his answer was cut off by the ringing of the telephone inside the house.

"I'll get it," he muttered, hurrying away before she could lecture him further. "Maybe it's Ellery." The last thing he needed right now was to be reminded of the basics of human behavior. He knew all that, knew it as surely as he knew his own name. It was the living it that was difficult.

Mulder managed to catch the phone on the fourth ring, before the answering machine picked up.

"Hello?" he said, expecting to hear Ellery's breathless voice explaining why she was late--Ellery, in his experience, was always late and always breathless, a quality he found both annoying and endearing.

"I have your daughter, and if you want her back you'd better cooperate."

Mulder stared at the phone, hearing the silence of a broken connection. What the hell had that been all about? Quickly he checked the Caller ID box, but it yielded no information other than that the call had been from someone wishing to remain anonymous. No surprise there.

"Was that Ellery?" a cold voice behind him asked, and he turned to see Emmie waiting, her face a mask of indifference that mirrored his own.

"No, I think it was a wrong number," he told her, and she was out the door before he even finished his sentence. He sighed again, biting his tongue to keep in the angry words that wanted to form, and stuck his head out the kitchen door. "Scully, could you come here a minute please?"

She joined him in the kitchen moments later, her face changing from curious to concerned when she saw his confusion.

"What is it, Mulder? What happened?"

"I'm not sure," he replied slowly. "That was a...very weird phone call."

She checked the box herself. "Anonymous? What did they say?"

He repeated the single sentence the caller had spoken, and they stared at each other. Almost simultaneously, realization dawned on their faces and they both spoke at once.

"Ellery!"

Mulder snatched up the phone and called the Murray household, receiving no answer at all, which worried him even more. "Her parents should be home, shouldn't they?" he groused, and Scully gasped.

"I forgot to tell you--they received a sudden invitation to spend the weekend with Adam's brother. They asked if they could leave Ellery here until Sunday and I told them that was fine. She was supposed to walk over after she finished her homework--Mulder, she should be here by now!"

"Damn!" he ground out. "Scully, you stay with the kids. I'm going to walk toward Ellery's house and see if I can find her, or...anything."

"Shouldn't we call the police, Mulder?" she demanded as he disappeared down the hall.

"Not yet," he called back. "They can't do anything yet, and we don't really know what's going on, do we?"

She hurried after him, catching up with him at the front door. "We have a phone call from a possible kidnapper," she argued. "Do you really think that's a coincidence?"

He put his hands on her shoulders to steady her. "Just give me half an hour, Scully. Let me look for her. If we call the police now, we could be endangering her even more. And," he went on, nodding toward the back of the house, "we can't let these kids know anything's wrong until we're sure."

Reluctantly, she nodded and watched him start down the street toward the Murray house. Closing the door, Scully silently whispered a prayer that Ellery would be found safe and sound, and that the phone call had been a horrible mistake or a bad joke. Then she headed purposefully back to the poolside. She needed to see Emmie, make sure she was all right.

Mulder walked the entire way to the Murray house, and knocked on the door but received no answer. He tried the front door and found it locked. There was no trace of Ellery.


-------------------------
FRIDAY 10:02 p.m.
-------------------------

This time when the phone rang, Mulder lunged for it.

"Yes?" he said tersely, trying hard to keep his voice in check. He couldn't explain why he felt guilty that Ellery had been kidnapped instead of Emmie, but he did.

"I have your daughter, Rich Man."

The voice on the other end caused a sudden yanking at his memory, and Mulder's face paled slightly as he listened. He knew he recognized the voice, but from where? His memory refused to cough up the answer just then, but it did supply him with a feeling, an absolute certainty that Ellery was in grave danger.

"You have the wrong girl," he said slowly, forcing himself to stay calm. If they were to get Ellery back unharmed, he would have to remain cool throughout this ordeal. "Why don't you just let her go, and we can forget all about this?"

The voice turned to gruff laughter. "I don't think so, Rich Man. Not without a little cash incentive."

"Look," Mulder explained patiently, "the girl you kidnapped is not my daughter. Her parents aren't wealthy, they can't give you what you want. If you let her go now, you can still walk away from this."

The voice was silent for a few seconds. Finally, it growled, "You know this kid, don't you? If you lie, I'll hurt her."

"She's my daughter's friend," Mulder answered quickly, clenching his fists in helplessness. He saw Scully grab for her cell phone and lunged to stop her. Shaking his head violently from side to side, he ignored her look of angry bewilderment.

"Then you pay."

"What?" It wasn't what Mulder had expected.

"You pay to get her back, Rich Man. I want two million dollars for the kid."

"You're not getting a dime from me, you bastard."

The voice laughed again, a sound that sent chills down Mulder's spine. "I'll give you a little while to think about it," the kidnapper answered. "When I call back, you'd better be prepared to pay up, or the little lady bites it."

"Don't--" He grimaced when he heard the click of the disconnection. Mulder stood still, think hard for a second before Scully interrupted him.

"Why didn't you let me call the police?" she demanded. "They might have been able to trace the call!"

Mulder shook his head grimly. "He wouldn't have stayed on the line long enough for that. If he knew we were involving the police, Ellery might be hurt." Or killed, his mind nudged, but he refused to voice that thought with Emmie present.

She wasn't fooled, however. "Fox, what did the man want?"

Mulder sighed. "He wanted ransom. Two million dollars."

"And you said no?" she asked incredulously, disbelief all over her face.

"Emmie--"

"It's just money, Fox! How many times have I heard you say that?"

"Emmie, we can't negotiate with kidnappers, we have to call in the experts," Scully interjected gently.

"You *are* the experts!" she yelled. "You're both always telling me those hotshot FBI stories, surely you know what to do! You could have just agreed to pay him the money. If Ellery dies, it will be your fault, Fox. Are you going to kill every who's important to me?"

Emmie ran from the room, tears of anger streaming from her eyes, and didn't see the look of intense pain that crossed Mulder's face at her words.

"It'll be all right, Mulder," Scully said, putting a detaining hand on his arm when he tried to follow the girl. "She's just upset. She'll calm down later, after she has a chance to think about it."

Mulder sighed again, heavily, and reached his fingers beneath the lenses of his glasses to rub his eyes.

"We should call Walter," he said, and Scully agreed. She placed the call while Mulder paced the den, gnawing on his lower lip.

"They're on their way," she told him, hanging up the phone and standing in front of her husband so that he was forced to stop his trail. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she made him look her in the eye.

"It will be all right, Mulder," she insisted. "Between the four of us, we'll figure something out. Walter can make sure that everything is handled quietly, and with a little luck the guy won't even know we've called in the FBI."

"I sure hope he doesn't," Mulder confessed, pulling her close so she could wrap her arms around him comfortingly. "It's just..."

Scully pulled back to look up into his face. "What?"

He shook his head quickly, biting down on his lip again, deep in thought. "I can't place it," he told her, "but I know that voice."


It didn't take long for Walter and Jess Skinner to arrive, and soon all four adults were gathered in the Mulders' den. Emmie's guests had been sent home, and she had locked herself in her bedroom. Occasionally, sounds of sobbing could be heard from that direction, and Mulder's face would whiten a little more. None of this was lost on Skinner, who knew that Mulder's women had him tied up in knots at the best of times.

"Mulder," he said sternly, using his best AD voice, "settle down. Emmie will survive. Our job now is to make sure that Ellery does."

"I know that, Walter. I just feel so helpless."

"Tell me everything the caller said," Skinner ordered.

Mulder swallowed, moistening his dry throat, and thought back to the call.

"Well, obviously he thought he'd kidnapped Emmie. He must have been watching us, planning this for a while."

Skinner nodded.

"Once I convinced him he didn't have my daughter, he asked if I knew Ellery. When I said I did, he told me he wanted me to pay two million dollars to get her back. I'd already told him her parents weren't wealthy."

"Anything else?"

"He kept calling me 'Rich Man'. And Walter, I know that voice."

Skinner perked up. "From where?"

Mulder shook his head slowly. "I don't remember, but I know it wasn't good."

"From prison?" Jess asked quietly from across the room, and Mulder started. He'd forgotten she was there.

"I'm not sure," he answered tentatively. "Maybe. He sounded as if he was trying to disguise his voice, and not doing a very good job of it."

"Think back," Skinner said. "Try to hear in your mind the voices of people you knew there."

"Walter--"

"Jess, it may be the only way to identify this person," Skinner argued. "Our first thought has to be for Ellery's safety."

Mulder closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair, forcing himself to allow voices of the past to invade his memory. He'd worked through a lot of his troubles with Jess years ago, but some things simply didn't bear remembering, and he knew this would be both painful and frightening. Mulder felt a hand cover his and looked up to see Jess sitting beside him, an encouraging expression on her face.

"Good, Mulder, go ahead and shut your eyes again," she said gently, and he did, hiding the despair that showed in them. He didn't want to have to travel this road again. "I'm right here with you," she went on, and he grasped at her fingers, a known, trusted lifeline.

Deliberately, Mulder called up as many people as he could recall, trying to hear their voices in his head. Cellmates had come and gone, and there were those men who had cornered him in the exercise yard--refusing to go there, not even for Ellery, Mulder backed quickly away from that memory. He hadn't known their names anyway.

Scully watched, concerned, as her husband's torment played out over his face, until finally he opened his eyes and looked up at Jess.

"I just don't remember," he said helplessly.

"Mulder, could it have been someone from before? Someone you once sent to prison perhaps?" Skinner asked.

"Maybe," Mulder agreed. "I'm sorry, Walter, I know I've heard that voice before, but it's just not coming to me."

Skinner sat back, disappointed. "It's okay, Mulder. Maybe it will come to you later."

Mulder shuddered inwardly. He didn't want it to come to him later. He knew that voice meant something horrible, and he didn't want to dredge it up again. On the other hand, he really had no choice. It might be Ellery's only hope.

Before he could send himself into a maelstrom of memories again, the phone rang. Skinner whipped out his cell phone immediately, motioning for Mulder to answer.

"I want two million dollars in cash, left under the gazebo in Soldier Park at midnight tomorrow," the voice said without preamble. "I want you to leave it, Rich Man. If I see anyone else around, or if anyone but you tries to make the drop, the little girl dies. I know you're trying to trace this call, so I'll make this quick. Two million. Midnight tomorrow. Soldier Park. You. Alone."

The kidnapper hung up before Mulder was even able to respond.

"Damn!" Skinner swore, stabbing the button on his cell phone viciously.

"He knew we were trying to trace," Mulder said.

"That means either he knows we've involved the police, or he's been watching our family for some time and knows we're friends with the Skinners," Scully observed. "If that's the case, he'd realize the FBI would be involved from the beginning."

"But in that case, why would he grab the wrong girl?" argued Skinner.

Scully shrugged. "You've seen Ellery, Walter. You know how much alike she and Emmie are. If he was spying on our family from a distance, it would be an easy mistake to make."

"He wants me, and only me, to leave two million dollars beneath the gazebo in Soldier Park tomorrow at midnight," Mulder told them. "He said if he sees anyone else around, or if anyone else brings the money, he'll kill her."

His words hung like a chill in the air.

"What do you intend to do?" Skinner asked at last.

Mulder ran his fingers restlessly through his hair. He knew Scully wouldn't be happy with his decision, but in the interest of Ellery, not to mention his future relationship with Emmie, he felt he had to follow his instincts on this one.

"I think we should do as he asks."

All three of them stared at him, stunned. Scully was the first to speak.

"Mulder," she said gently, moving closer to him and sliding her arm around his waist, "I know how you feel about the police, but--"

"This has nothing to do with that," he interrupted. He wanted to be angry at her for believing he could be that shallow, that he'd put his own fears ahead of a little girl's life, but he knew that his past actions had made it a valid suspicion.

"Scully, this guy knows who we are. And I know him, although I can't remember how just yet. It's very likely that he knows we're both former FBI, it's very likely that he knows one of our closest friends holds a high position with the FBI. He's going to be on the lookout for any sign that we've tried to entrap him."

She stared into his face, knowing he was right but unwilling to allow him to place himself in the path of a kidnapper, especially one that might be holding a grudge against him. Her inward attempt to find a way to dissuade him from this course was rendered unnecessary by Skinner's next words.

"I can't let you do that, Mulder."

Skinner spoke in the stern, authoritative voice that he used on his subordinates, the one that could still rattle Mulder after all these years. Tonight, however, Mulder was not deterred.

"Walter, I called you because you're my friend. I haven't officially called in the FBI. You don't have the right to make that decision."

"Neither do you, Mulder," Jess interjected softly. "It's for Ellery's parents to decide."

Mulder dropped his eyes to the floor and sighed. "They don't know yet," he confessed, and Skinner stared at him in disbelief.

"You haven't told them?" he demanded. "Mulder, what the hell--"

"They're out of town, Walter!" Scully said sharply. "They called earlier this evening and asked if Emmie could spend the weekend here while they were away. We've called the place where they're supposed to be staying, but as of an hour ago they hadn't yet arrived."

"Try them again," Skinner said gruffly. "This is their decision."

Mulder obediently dialed the number, and was at last connected with Ellery's father.

"Adam, it's Fox Mulder. I've been trying to reach you."

"Oh, hello Mulder. We were a little late arriving. Is everything all right? Nothing's happened to Ellery, has it?"

The concern in his voice made Mulder feel two inches tall. How was he supposed to tell this man that his daughter had been kidnapped by mistake, that once again the Mulder family past was hurting those around him?

"I think--I think you and your wife had better get back here as quickly as you can," he said gently. "There's been...something's happened."


-------------------------
SATURDAY 2:13 p.m.
-------------------------

"Mulder, I'm going, whether you like it or not, so stop arguing," Skinner insisted, a note of finality in his voice. "I'll keep the backup unit well away as you've asked, but I'm not letting you go in there alone."

Mulder sighed heavily and, removing his glasses, ran his hands over his haggard face. He hadn't slept at all the night before--indeed, none of them had. Adam and Carolyn Monroe had arrived at their house in the wee hours of
SATURDAY morning, and the six of them had argued all the rest of the night, attempting to hash out a plan on which Mulder and Skinner could agree.

"Let me do it his way, Walter," Mulder had argued. "It's more important to get Ellery back safe and sound. I don't want to lose two million dollars, but it certainly won't break me. If they catch the guy, I'll get it back. If not..." he shrugged.

"But what's to stop him from taking your money and then killing her anyway," Skinner countered, at which Carolyn had broken into soft weeping.

Adam put his arm around his wife, comforting her silently while they both watched Mulder and Skinner. They'd known the Mulder family for six years, ever since their daughters had become fast friends, and Adam knew that Mulder would figure out the best approach to take. They were less acquainted with the Skinners, but still knew them to be trustworthy. Right now he didn't give a damn about Skinner's procedure or Mulder's money--he just wanted his daughter back alive. He was trusting Mulder to take the lead, because in the past, the man had shown himself to be extremely competent in an emergency. Mulder was ex-FBI, Dana was ex-FBI, Skinner was *still* FBI. This was their world; Adam knew when he was in over his head.

"Your backup unit will be there to assure that doesn't happen. They should move in and catch this guy as soon as he tries to retrieve the money."

"And about that money," Skinner went on. "Can you even lay your hands on that much cash at this hour on a
SATURDAY?"

Mulder's jaw tightened almost unnoticeably. "I can if I have to," he said positively, but Skinner had his doubts.

"If you're not going to let him get away with the money anyway, why not give him something else?" Scully suggested. "Stuff a suitcase with blank paper or something so it looks about the right weight. Our squad should grab him before he gets a chance to see it."

When Skinner had suggested hiding his unit in the trees and bushes surrounding the gazebo, Mulder had flatly refused. "If he sees them, he's liable to follow through on his threat," he argued. "We can't take any chances. I'm going in alone."

It was finally agreed, although Mulder still had reservations, that a backup squad would be concealed at some distance from the drop point, unfortunately out of sight of the gazebo, but the layout of the park made that obstacle impossible to overcome. As soon as Mulder left the suitcase and got out of there, the professionals would move in quickly and silently, lying in wait for the kidnapper to make his move.

Skinner was finally able to arrange things to Mulder's satisfaction, but when Mulder saw Skinner readying himself he protested.

"Just me, Walter."

"Mulder," Skinner said obstinately, checking his weapon, "I refuse to let you go in there completely alone. Too many things could go wrong. I'll head over to the park now and conceal myself in a position where I can keep an eye on you. I'm just one man. He'll never know I'm there."

At last, seeing that Skinner would not be persuaded to change his mind, Mulder had reluctantly consented, and Skinner had taken his leave. Jess had watched her husband go with a mixture of pride and fear; normally he worked at a perfectly safe desk job, which suited her just fine. She wasn't accustomed to seeing him endanger himself.

Scully, who had quite a lot of experience seeing her own husband place his life in peril for the good of others, merely hugged Mulder tightly, praying that by this time tomorrow Ellery would be home, the kidnapper would be locked up, and they could all get back to their nice, normal, boring lives.


-------------------------
SATURDAY 5:30 p.m.
-------------------------

Dulexy entered the room where the little girl was tied, huddled in a corner, frightened out of her wits. She gazed up at him with huge, scared eyes as he approached, and he tried to smile in order to let her know she needn't fear him. It came out more as a grimace.

In one hand he held a glass of water, and in another, a small white tablet. She watched as he knelt beside her, but drew back when he tried to place the pill on her tongue.

"Don't worry, little girl, it won't hurt you. It's just a sleeping pill. I need you to take a nice, long nap."

When Ellery kept her lips clamped shut, Dulexy sighed patiently, put down the glass, and pried her mouth apart with both hands. He tossed the pill down her throat, shaking his head a little when she choked on it. Holding the glass up to her lips, he waited while she drank about half the water. He noted with relief that after a short bout of coughing, she seemed to swallow the pill without further mishap.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he said gently. "If your friend's dad does as he's told, you'll be back home tonight. Just go to sleep and don't worry."

"What if he doesn't do as he's told?" she whispered.

He smiled, a real smile this time, and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "He will," Dulexy promised.

She nodded, confused at his kindness toward her when he clearly didn't have her best interests at heart. He wasn't a good guy, she reminded herself as he left the room, no matter how nice he seemed now. He'd kidnapped her, and he'd wanted Emmie so he could get money for her. He'd pulled a gun on her and tied her up, and he hadn't given her anything to eat. Tears beginning to slip down her face again, Ellery closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall. Unused to drugs of any kind, she soon fell into a deep sleep.


-------------------------
SATURDAY 7:32 p.m.
-------------------------

Dulexy watched in amusement as the man crept around the shrubs bordering one side of the area, looking for a good hiding place. From his vantage point, hidden in a heavy copse of trees, he'd seen the man arrive on foot, dressed all in black, a suspicious bulge beneath the arm of the jacket he wore even though the weather was still comfortably warm.

He'd been angry when he first saw the spy, and had carefully and quietly scoped out the area, believing there might be more, but as far as he could tell, there weren't. He knew the identity of the man, of course. It was Walter Skinner, Assistant Director of the FBI and close friend of Fox Mulder. At first, he'd wondered if the FBI was officially involved--if he was going to be forced to kill his hostage--but careful snooping had revealed no other interlopers. Skinner was apparently here alone, sent to watch Mulder's back. That was fine. He'd simply make certain Skinner and Mulder never had an opportunity to take him. That shouldn't be too hard, since he was forewarned.

He glanced over at the girl sleeping in the seat next to him. Just a few more hours and he'd be on his way, he thought. But the arrival of the interloper had forced a slight change in plans. Now, instead of waiting until Mulder left and simply picking up the money, he was going to have to confront Mulder. He'd make sure the man in the bushes never had a chance at him, but one way or another he was getting away with his money.


-------------------------
SATURDAY 12:00 midnight
-------------------------

Ellery had been awake for half an hour, sitting quietly, as the man with the gun had ordered. He'd wrapped duct tape around her wrists, and she sat with her hands in her lap. He told her she'd get to go home soon, and while part of her was afraid he was lying, she made herself believe in his words. She wanted to see her mom and dad again. She wanted to see Emmie. She wanted to sleep in her own bedroom, with the stuffed animals on the bed and the pictures of Ricky Martin on the wall. And she never wanted to be on the wrong end of a gun again for as long as she lived.

The kidnapper, who had been keeping one eye on her while he also carefully and constantly surveyed the area, suddenly stirred.

"Time to go," he said, pulling her by the arm across the bench seat and helping her climb out onto the ground. "Be perfectly quiet," he growled in her ear, and she nodded. He made her stand in front of him, keeping one arm around her waist, and guided her out of the trees toward the gazebo.


"He's putting the suitcase in place now." Skinner spoke quietly to Scully, who was in the car with the squad leader, on his cell phone. "Just a few more minutes and he'll be out of the way, and you can tell the men to move in."

"Almost time," Scully said to Frank Rockway, the officer in charge, and he nodded, motioning to his men to get ready.


Mulder approached the gazebo cautiously, keeping a sharp eye on his surroundings in case the kidnapper happened to be nearby, watching him.

He slid the suitcase all the way beneath the gazebo, holding the loosened wood out of the way, then drew back, letting the cover fall into place. Mulder glanced around, saw no one, and rose from his crouched position. Still brushing dirt from the legs of his jeans, he turned and froze. Of all the faces he'd never expected to see again, this one was at the top of the list.

"Dulexy," he said, just a hint of sarcasm coloring his voice. "Did you escape, or did some poor idiot actually let you out?"

Dulexy ignored his needling comment. When Mulder took a step toward him, Dulexy jammed the gun into Ellery's temple and hissed, "Stop right there." Ellery stiffened, and tears began to roll down her cheeks.

Mulder stopped immediately, his eyes on Ellery's frightened face.

"Glad to see you can follow orders so well, Rich Man," Dulexy grinned. He held Ellery in front of him, shielding his body with hers. She stood right between Skinner and a clear shot. The gun Dulexy held to Ellery's head glinted in the bright moonlight. "Put your hands up where I can see them."

SHIT! Mulder screamed inwardly. The addition of Justin Dulexy to the mix had made an awful situation suddenly turn unthinkable. Mulder remembered Dulexy well, still remembered how helpless he'd felt as he'd struggled in the big man's grasp, held by arms as strong as banded steel while he was beaten nearly senseless. This man would kill him, and Ellery too if he felt the urge, with no compunction whatsoever. Right now his best option was to cooperate, and hope to hell the cavalry arrived soon. He forced himself not to glance toward the bushes where Walter was hidden.

"Why not let the girl go?" asked Mulder steadily as he raised his hands. "You never wanted to hurt her anyway, did you?"

Dulexy studied him carefully for a moment, searching for signs of a trap.

"Sure," he agreed, approaching Mulder from the side until his gun was at the other man's temple. "She can go. In exchange for you. Because if there's not two million dollars in that suitcase, someone's going to suffer. Will it be her, or you?" Mulder nodded his assent, and Dulexy let Ellery go, keeping Mulder carefully between himself and Skinner's gun.

Mulder, moving slowly so as not to provoke an attack, took Ellery by the shoulders. "You have to go now," he told her gently, wiping the tear streaks from her cheek. "It'll be all right."

"But Dr. Mulder--"

Mulder ignored her, pointing her casually toward Skinner's hiding place, praying she would run in that direction. "Go, Ellery," he commanded, and with only a slight hesitation she obeyed. He saw with relief that she was running directly to Skinner.

"All right, *Dr.* Mulder," Dulexy sneered. "Show me the money."

Mulder's jaw clenched, the only outward sign of his nervousness. He hoped Skinner could find a way to take Dulexy out before Dulexy discovered the fact that the suitcase under the gazebo held nothing but blank paper.

"You can still walk away from this," Mulder said in what he hoped was an encouraging voice. "The police haven't been called. If you get in your car and drive away, nothing more will come of this."

In answer, Dulexy jammed the gun harder against Mulder's temple and, jerking a little on the arm he held behind Mulder's back, gave Mulder a slight shove.

"Get the money, Rich Man," Dulexy growled, and with another hard swallow, Mulder began slowly approaching the gazebo, Dulexy still holding him in front protectively.

Mulder hoped to bend down at the gazebo in order to give Skinner a clear shot, but realized Dulexy must be on to them when the other man crouched with him as he pulled the suitcase from its hiding place.

"Open it!" Dulexy ordered gruffly when he hesitated, and with a barely audible sigh, Mulder obeyed.

Dulexy's eyes, which had grown wide and sparkling with anticipation, suddenly turned hard.

"You fucking bastard!" he hissed, and before Mulder could react, the world went completely black for him as Dulexy struck him full-force on the side of the head with his firearm.

Skinner fired immediately but he was unaware that he'd been spotted. Dulexy dropped to the ground as quickly as Mulder's limp form, and Skinner's shot went high. Skinner raised his gun to take aim again, and dropped it in the next second when Dulexy's shot tore through his middle.

With a loud groan of pain, Skinner was knocked to the ground.


"Go!" Scully yelled when she heard the first gunshot shatter the stillness of the park. Almost simultaneously, a second shot rang out and a loud groan erupted through the cell phone. "Walter? Walter, what the hell happened?" she demanded into the phone, but there was no answer.

Seconds later, sirens split the night air with their screaming as the backup units raced to the rescue.

"Shut off the sirens!" Scully screamed, and they were immediately silenced, but she knew the game had already gone all to hell.


Hearing the sirens, Dulexy swore once again and hoisted the unconscious Mulder to his shoulders. Moving with incredible speed, considering his burden, he threw Mulder into the truck and climbed behind the wheel. The tires spun for a moment before gaining traction as Dulexy put the pedal to the metal, and seconds later they were gone, disappearing down the small utility road Dulexy had taken before the backup unit ever got in sight.


Skinner opened his eyes to see Ellery standing over him, his gun in her hand, pointed in Dulexy's general direction.

"Ellery, no!"

His weak cry was drowned out by the deafening roar as Ellery pulled the trigger. She jerked at the unexpected recoil and gave a little scream at the noise.

When she seemed about to fire again, Skinner ground out, "Ellery!" He jerked in pain as the effort sent a lightning bolt throughout his body.

Dreamily, Ellery turned to face Skinner.

"Have you ever fired a gun before?" he asked, softly now, unable to yell again even if he'd thought it necessary.

She shook her head slowly from side to side, as if just beginning to realize the horror of the situation.

"Then don't. Just put it down. They're gone, you can't help him now, and you might hurt someone." His gentle tones reached her consciousness, and in a trancelike state, she bent and placed the gun beside him on the dirt.

"That's good. You're doing good. You're a brave young woman." He winced again, and asked, "Are you all right?"

Ellery suddenly seemed to snap out of her trance, becoming a scared teenager again right before his eyes. She heaved a shuddering sigh and wiped her face with her grimy hands. Her wrists were still bound with the duct tape, and Skinner tried to reach a hand up to help her, but his limbs wouldn't obey his commands.

"I'll be ok, Mr. Skinner." Noticing for the first time his condition, she looked guilty. "We need to get you to a hospital."

He managed a weak smile, clinging furiously to consciousness. "Scully will come," he whispered.

Ellery looked around worriedly, wondering where Mrs. Mulder was and why Mr. Skinner thought she would come. All she could see was police cars with their lights flashing, but she wasn't certain the police had noticed them yet. She pushed aside the torn bit of shirt that covered his wound and examined his injury with an almost critical eye. Her face whitened slightly, but she continued, clumsily bunching up the ragged pieces of fabric and attempting to cover the bleeding hole in his abdomen.

"Uh," Skinner grunted when she pressed down, feeling the pain renewed.

"Sorry," she muttered, readjusting the cloth in a vain attempt to make him more comfortable. "You're really bleeding a lot."

"Where'd you learn to do that?" he asked, trying not to gasp for breath.

She gave a slight smile, meeting his eyes only briefly. "My mom's a nurse."


"Another shot! Where are they?" Scully screamed frantically as they rounded the corner. The shot had resonated through the phone in her hand, and she wondered exactly who had been firing. She could make out Ellery's form in the bright moonlight, kneeling over a man on the ground. Realizing as she drew closer that the man Ellery was hunched over was Skinner and not her husband, Scully scrambled from the police car to approach them.

"Where's Mulder?" she asked, kneeling beside Ellery. "Are you all right, Ellery? Where's Dr. Mulder?"

"The--the man took him," Ellery stammered, and Scully could tell the girl was going into shock. Ellery shivered lightly, and Scully put her arms around the young woman in an attempt to warm her.

Scully looked up, her eyes racing over the landscape, but she could see no trace of Dulexy, or the vehicle in which he must have escaped with her husband. Some of the backup officers were combing the area on foot while others were trying to determine which of the several roads out of the park Dulexy might have taken.

Shaking her head partly in anger at Mulder for getting himself in trouble yet again, and partly in wonder at the capacity things had for going wrong in her husband's orbit, Scully pulled out her cell phone and dialed for an ambulance.
-------------------------
SUNDAY 7:27 a.m.
-------------------------

Sylvia Stiles looked up from her coffee when the back door of her farmhouse opened. The house and adjoining acreage had been left to her after her mother died, and she'd lived here first with her husband, Alfred, and alone in the six years since Alfred had gone. The property had been in their family for over a hundred years, and Sylvia swore to die in the same house in which she'd lived her entire life.

Her brother, Justin, approached and wordlessly poured himself a cup from the pot on the counter. Since Justin's release from prison several months earlier, they'd had nothing more than stilted conversation in their infrequent meetings. They'd never been close as children, Sylvia being eight years older than Justin, and now they had nothing in common and nothing to talk about. This morning, though, Justin seemed different.

"Where'd you come from?" she asked, lifting her cup to her lips for another sip.

"Sylvie, how'd you like to leave this place?" he asked, the excitement barely discernable in his voice but his eyes sparkling.

She shrugged. "Been living here my whole life," she commented to the coffee in her cup. "Put down roots. Have lots of memories. Don't see any reason to go."

Dulexy took the chair next to her and turned it around, straddling it and resting his arms across the back.

"What if I said I knew a place where we could get lots of money?" he demanded, and noticed with satisfaction that his sister showed a bit more interest. Money had been tight for her, he knew, after that bastard of a husband had walked out on her to take up with the slutty sales clerk down at the hardware store.

"Money?" she questioned tentatively. "Where? And how much?"

"Three million dollars," he said pointedly.

Sylvia coughed on her sip of coffee and set the cup down quickly. She folded her hands in her lap and stared at him, waiting.

"I have something that could bring us three million dollars," he confirmed, watching as her face took on a thoughtful expression. "And all I need from you is a little help."

"What do you need me to do?" she asked after a moment. The things that Justin asked were never easy. He'd been a demanding little boy, and over the years she had watched him grow into something more, something utterly frightening as he approached adulthood. He was a tall kid, solidly built, and when Justin was seventeen, he'd beaten a man to death with nothing but his fists. After thirty years in prison her brother had been released, and as far as Sylvia could tell, the only changes in him had been for the worse.

Dulexy stood, holding out his hand to her.

"Come with me," he said, and she found herself following him in spite of her better judgement.

They climbed into Justin's truck, a sixteen year old Ford that he'd picked up from God-knew-where after he'd been released from prison. Sylvia was surprised when, after driving down the dirt road that led to her house for half a mile, he turned back onto her property, taking a seldom used trail barely wide enough for the truck to clear.

"Where are we going?" she asked, clutching at the door handle as the pickup navigated the bumpy path.

"Grandma and Grandpa's old house," he said slyly, giving her a sidelong glance. He wasn't sure how Sylvia would react to his news that he was hold a kidnap victim for ransom on her property, but he'd already decided if the old bitch gave him any trouble, he'd just cap her. She hadn't done him any good lately that he could recall. When he'd arrived on her doorstep after being freed from prison, she'd given him some money and essentially told him to get the hell out of her life. It had only been in the last month that she'd allowed any beginnings of contact with him. But for all her high and mighty ways, he reflected, she was far from a saint herself. He knew for a fact that she hadn't filed an income tax return since Alfred had walked. Stupid old bitch probably didn't know how.

Dulexy stopped the car in front of the small, dilapidated farm house that had once been the pride of this property. His great-grandfather had had the house built before the turn of the century, and for all of Dulexy's childhood it had been the place his mother's parents had resided. When his mother and father had married, old grandpa had built his baby girl a house half a mile away, partly as a wedding gift and partly as a way of keeping an eye on his little girl. Anne Conklin Dulexy had been very much her father's daughter, more so than most realized. So much so that at times, Justin Dulexy wondered just who his biological father had been. Anne and her daddy were *that* close. Of course, that was a carefully guarded family secret, one which was never discussed and would have been met with a stony silence had any member of the community dared put it into words, but Justin knew. It didn't take much, once he reached his teens, to figure out just what those looks his grandpa gave his mom really meant. After Justin's father, James Dulexy, had died in a farming accident, (one which the fourteen year old Justin had often wondered, especially as he grew older and more jaded, if his grandfather had had a hand in), Anne and her father grew even closer.

Unfortunately, the old man found that his years of alcoholic excesses finally caught up with him, and he was found dead one morning in the barn, crashed on a pile of hay, an empty whiskey bottle still held loosely in his lifeless fingers. Not long after, Anne had been forced to put her mother in a nursing home, and the drain on the family finances had been great. Justin had been twenty-three and already in prison when his mother died of lung cancer, and by then the farm had gone to hell. Sylvia lived on in the house her mother had left her, and 'Grandma and Grandpa's place' had been abandoned, left to decay at the nonexistent mercies of nature.

"What are we doing here, Justin?" Sylvia asked suspiciously as she made her way up the front steps with caution. She hadn't been here in years, and it was evident that the house was beginning to collapse in several places. The front porch sagged dangerously, and one of the five steps leading up to it was completely disintegrated.

"I want to show you something," he replied, grabbing her arm to keep her from tumbling down the stairs when her foot slipped. "Come on. The floor's sturdier inside."

Sylvia followed him into the room that had been her grandparents' bedroom, just down the hall from the living room through which they'd entered the house. Most of the furniture and personal belongings had been removed from the house over the years, but there was still the odd piece here and there. Her grandfather's large easy chair still stood, alone, in the main room, and Sylvia shuddered when she saw it, a half-remembered image of herself as a young girl sitting on Grandpa's lap while he slipped his hand beneath her dress flitting through her mind. Anne hadn't been the only Conklin descendent with whom Grandpa had been intimately acquainted.

When she entered the bedroom she stopped, shocked into stillness at the sight that greeted her. A man, slightly older than Justin from the looks of him, yet smaller in stature than her brother, sat bound with ropes on the floor in front of her. His arms were pulled tightly behind him and his feet were tied together. His head slumped forward over his chest, and Sylvia could see blood matting the unconscious man's greying hair. It had trickled down his face to his mouth and dried there, giving him an almost circus-clown-like appearance. She turned wide eyes to her brother.

"Who is that?" she asked in awe.

Dulexy grinned. "An old buddy of mine from prison," he told her, watching to gauge her reaction.

"He don't look like no ex-con to me."

He snorted. "He wouldn't, Sylvia. He's been out for ten years."

"And he kept in touch with you?"

Now Dulexy laughed outright. "Not quite. Let's just say we had a chance meeting and leave it at that. The point is, Sylvie, he's loaded. Worth millions. And if we play our cards right, some of those millions can be ours."

Mulder, hearing the laughter through the cloud in his brain, stirred and moaned softly.

"Justin--kidnapping?" She turned fearful eyes to him. "You'll go back to jail!"

Dulexy held to his patience by a thread. If he was going to pull this off, he'd need her help.

"Sylvia, as long as you keep your head together, I won't be going anywhere, except to California after I collect the money for Mr. Millionaire here."

"What exactly do you want me to do, Justin?"

"Keep quiet," he answered promptly. "All you have to do, Sylvie, is keep your mouth shut. If the police come to question you, be cooperative, but remember--you don't know anything. And I need you to be convincing; don't give them a reason to search the property."

She nodded, wondering if she was a good enough actress to pull all that off, when her attention was drawn to the man on the floor.

Mulder moaned again, and tried to raise his head. When Dulexy saw the look of concern that crossed his sister's face, he decided he'd better think fast. Having Sylvie spoil the bastard wasn't in his plans, but given the opportunity, she'd want to dress his wound, and feed him and take care of him. Dulexy had other ideas.

"He's the reason I spent so much time in isolation that one year, Sylvie," he said in his best little-brother voice. He knew Sylvia had been told about the weeks he'd spent in solitary after helping a guard beat Mulder. He'd held the smaller man, helpless in his iron grip, while a guard had taken to him with a steel pipe. If all had gone according to plan, Mulder would be dead now and Dulexy $500 richer, but they'd been interrupted before the job could be completed.

Sylvia stared at Justin, then back at Mulder. Then she walked deliberately over to where Mulder sat helpless, tied to the bed, and raised her foot. She delivered one sharp kick to his ribs, watching as he whimpered once and fell back into unconsciousness. Regardless of how nice the man looked now, family was family, and if their prisoner had been responsible for Justin's long stretch in isolation, then he was her enemy as well.


-------------------------
SUNDAY 11:03 a.m.
-------------------------

Mulder opened his eyes slowly, aware that something was wrong but unable to quite pinpoint the difficulty. He swallowed, lubricating a throat that felt as rough as sandpaper, and turned his head to look around. A sudden rush of pain and nausea convinced him further movement was a bad idea, so he cast his eyes about instead, taking in his surroundings.

He was in a sparsely furnished bedroom, one which smelled of must and decay, and guessed the room had not been used in a good long while. An enormous bedframe stood in the center of the room, its fine wood long since ruined by the rain that would doubtless blow in through the broken windows during bad weather. The bed still held a mattress and box springs, and Mulder wondered idly whether mice nested there. It seemed a good place for mice to nest.

Shaking his head to clear it of the fog surrounding him, Mulder had to bite his lip to keep back a groan. Someone had inserted a cannonball in his skull while he was out, he noted carefully, and any future movement must be slow and careful if he was to avoid puking his guts up. Also, it was apparent that he'd either been hit or kicked in the ribs, since his entire left side felt bruised, and breathing was painful. Willing the feeling of nausea to diminish, he took slow, deep breaths until he felt confident the meager contents of his stomach were going to remain in place, at least for now.

Taking stock of his situation, he discovered that the pains in his head and ribs were not the only misery his body faced--they were merely the most apparent. His arms were drawn behind him painfully, tied around one heavy leg of the bed frame. He sat on the chilly floor, his legs tied together at the ankles. He wasn't gagged, he realized suddenly, and wondered if that meant there was nobody close enough to hear him if he yelled for help.

Straining again to raise his head, very slowly this time so as to avoid another wave of illness, he tried to peer out the nearest window. The window was too high from his awkward position on the floor, so nothing was visible to him except an empty field, and the tops of trees that looked to be about two hundred yards away. There was no sign of life, and listening carefully, Mulder heard no sound other than occasional birdsong.

He settled himself carefully back against the bed, trying to loosen some of the tension in his shoulders, and set his befuddled mind to figuring out his predicament.

They'd tried to fool the kidnapper, who had turned out to be Justin Dulexy, of all people. With a sigh, Mulder wondered if his past would ever let him be. Skinner had been there; had he escaped? And more importantly, was Ellery safe? If Skinner had apprehended the suspect according to plan, Mulder guessed he wouldn't be in this position now, so it was a safe bet to figure that Skinner might have been hurt. Or worse. Mulder refused to allow that thought to even form completely before shoving it away. If Walter had been killed and he somehow managed to survive, Jess Skinner would take him apart bit by bit until there was nothing left worth saving, he knew that without a doubt. Jess would probably be furious with him anyway, for leading Walter into this mess. If Skinner had managed to get away there was a chance that he might be rescued as well, but if not--Dulexy had said someone would suffer if he didn't get his money. How much suffering was Dulexy willing to put him through? And would he eventually release Mulder if Scully paid up, or was this finally the end of the line? As the pounding in his side and head continued, Mulder wondered which, given the choice, he would go for.

Mulder didn't know how long he had been there, stretched uncomfortably on the floor, before he heard the footsteps approaching. Turning his head carefully toward the bedroom door, he waited to face his captor.

Dulexy had spent several hours considering his good fortune. All in all, he thought himself an okay guy; he'd never intended to hurt the little girl, even when she turned out to be the wrong one. All he'd wanted was his payoff and he'd have let her go, unharmed. Finding himself in possession of his old prison buddy, however, was an entirely different matter. Fox Mulder had always irritated Dulexy, with his smart college-boy's mouth, his Fed background and his ratting ways, and now Dulexy saw his chance to even the score a bit. He still wanted money, and he'd damn well get it, but the chance to have a little fun with his prize was too good to pass up.

Now he approached the bedroom, knowing Mulder was probably awake and wondering what was to become of him. Dulexy heard a slight groan coming from the room where his prisoner lay, and smiled to himself. Mr. Rich, Oh-So-Fine Mulder had no idea the turn his life was about to take.

"Dulexy," Mulder rasped when the larger man appeared in the doorway. "How nice to see you after all these years. We should get together sometime, do lunch."

Dulexy smiled even more broadly and walked to the window. Without a word he yanked down the metal curtain rod that hung there, stripping off the decaying fabric that still clung to it in places. He turned back to Mulder and, without warning, struck him hard with the rod across his abdomen.

It might not have hurt so badly if his ribs hadn't already been aching, but as it was, the impact felt like fire. Mulder made an 'oof' sound and sucked in his breath, waiting for the next blow, but it didn't fall.

"I always wanted to wipe up the floor with your smartass self, Mulder," Dulexy told him. "Looks like I'll get my chance."

"I thought it was money you wanted." Mulder tried to keep his voice steady, but he was rapidly growing more afraid. If Skinner and Scully didn't arrive soon to get him out of this one, there was no telling what Dulexy might do to him. //I am too old for this// his subconscious whispered. //Too old to be at the mercy of a lunatic.//

Dulexy laughed. "Oh, I do want money. Lots of it. In fact, the asking price has gone up. I figure the little woman will be willing to pay more to help you avoid getting hurt." He placed the end of the hollow metal rod at Mulder's throat and caressed it slowly down his body. "I think she'll come up with the cash to get you back...what do you think?"

Mulder grimaced inwardly as the rod approached his groin, but kept his face impassive. Suddenly he was wracked by pain as Dulexy pressed it into his crotch, hard.

"I said, what do you think?" Dulexy flared, and Mulder fought to remain in control.

"I think you'd better return me to her undamaged, you son of a bitch, or she'll cut your balls off and stuff them up your ass," he managed before Dulexy raised the rod and struck him so hard across the stomach it drove the breath from his body.

"Before I'm through with you, you'll lose that smart mouth, asshole," he heard his captor growl through a haze of pain.

Mulder didn't respond; he was too busy gasping desperately for air. Dulexy tossed the metal rod into a corner and left the room. As soon as he was gone, Mulder began frantically working the knots that held him tied, twisting his wrists this way and that in an attempt to loosen them enough to free himself. For it was becoming increasingly clear to him that he might not survive this encounter with this particular slice of his past.


-------------------------
SUNDAY 2:52 p.m.
-------------------------

Scully stuck her head quietly in the door of Skinner's hospital room. Jess was dozing, sprawled out in the room's only chair, her dark head thrown back against the vinyl upholstery.

"Jess?" Scully said quietly, touching her friend's arm, and waited while Jess roused herself.

"Hi, Dana," Jess said sleepily, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

"I'm sorry to wake you."

Jess shook her head to clear it. "It's okay, I've been asleep for a while."

Scully inclined her head toward the man in the bed. "How is he doing?"

A tiny smile flickered over Jess' face, then disappeared, replaced with lines of worry. "Not bad," she replied. "The doctors say he's going to pull through, but I'm a little worried that he hasn't come out of it yet."

"That's normal, Jess. He took quite a lot of damage, and with the drugs they gave him during surgery coupled with the painkillers--he probably won't wake up for hours yet."

Jess did smile this time. "I know, Dana. It's just...really hard to wait."

Scully hugged the woman briefly, and felt Jess' arms tighten around her waist, seeking support.

"I do have some news," Scully said when they'd pulled back. "Ellery was able to identify the man who kidnapped her from photographs."

Jess' eyebrows shot up questioningly.

"It was someone Mulder knew in prison, someone he shared a cell with for a short time."

Jess shook her head wonderingly. "What do you suppose he's going to do?" she asked. "Will Mulder be...?"

Scully's face was grim. "I have to find him, Jess, and soon. This man--Justin Dulexy is his name--he's not just a former cell mate of Mulder's." She paused for a moment, fighting the horror of the words. "It's the man who held him while that guard beat him. This man tried to help murder Mulder once before. I'm afraid..." She bit her lip. "The police want to handle it their way, but I'm afraid they'll just make him more angry, and that Mulder will pay for it."

Jess glanced at her husband's sleeping form. "Is there anyone at the FBI that you could call on, Dana?" she questioned slowly. "Someone who might help you?"

Scully sighed. "I don't know, Jess. Maybe I can do a little snooping on my own and find out something useful, but without the Bureau's resources at my disposal...at any rate, I'm going to explore that possibility right now. I just wanted to check on the two of you first."

Jess smiled again her face tired and worn. "We're fine," she assured her friend. "I still have my husband, thanks be. Now, you go and find yours before it's too late."

Scully nodded, and giving Jess another friendly hug, left the hospital. Her first destination was a local library to dig up copies of old newspapers.

Two hours later, Scully sat back and yawned, stretching her sore muscles. Sylvia Styles. Justin Dulexy, whose release from prison had garnered a small article in his local newspaper, had a sister named Sylvia Styles who still lived in the area. It took Scully only a matter of minutes to find a phone book and track down the woman's address.

It took a little longer to actually locate the Styles property, nestled in an isolated, rural area twenty miles from the nearest town. When she did arrive at what she was fairly sure was the right house, she stopped the car and looked around cautiously before emerging. The house was old and unkempt, but the yard was mowed, and someone had planted a bed of fall flowers beside the sagging front steps. It looked as if the residents at least tried to keep the place looking nice, and Scully wondered if Ms. Styles had a husband around to help with the work.

She was greeted before she reached the top of the porch steps by a woman in a faded house dress and white sandals. She appeared neat and clean, if poor, and again Scully was taken by the baffling paradox between the rundown property and the apparently unavailing efforts to counteract the appearance of shabbiness.

"Ms. Styles?" she said tentatively, wondering if the woman would receive her graciously or run her off the property.

"Yeah?"

"My name is Dana Mulder. Would you mind if I spoke to you for a few minutes?"

"Mulder?" The name apparently drew the woman's attention, and Scully felt her heart leap in her chest. It sank a moment later when Sylvia continued, "The police was already out here this morning about a Mulder. Said they thought my brother might have taken him."

"Did you talk to the police, ma'am?" Scully asked politely, all the while screaming inside for this woman to just tell her where she could find Mulder.

"Yeah, I talked to them. Couldn't tell them nothing, though."

"Have you seen your brother since he was released from prison?"

Sylvia shrugged. "He comes and goes. Mostly he's gone. I haven't seen him in a while." She crept a little closer to Scully and studied her face carefully, taking note of the deep shadows under the younger woman's eyes and the lines of worry around her mouth. "That Mulder person--he your man?"

Scully nodded sadly. "Yes, he's my husband. We have reason to believe that your brother kidnapped him last night. I was hoping..."

Sylvia nodded sagely. "I know, you were hoping I could help you find him. Well I'm sorry about your man, and I'm sorry I can't be of no help."

Scully turned her head briefly, fighting back the tears that tried to come. She'd had such high hopes for this visit. With a sigh that shuddered only slightly, she responded, "Thank you, Ms. Styles. I appreciate you talking to me."

As Scully spoke, her eyes roamed the landscape, and when they lit upon an old barn not far from the house, hope blossomed on her face.

"Is it possible that your brother might be hiding here on your property without your knowledge?" she ventured cautiously.

Sylvia followed Scully's gaze and grinned, revealing a set of teeth yellowed and crooked, but intact. "You think Justin might be hiding your man in my barn?"

Scully said nothing, but held the woman's gaze, a look of almost pleading in her eyes.

Sylvia shrugged again. "Well, come on then, let's go have a look around that barn," she said, beginning to walk in that direction. "Funny you should mention that, you know," she confided as they made their way toward the ramshackle structure. "The police never even asked to look around when they came out this morning. They just asked me if I knew where Justin was, and then took their leave."

Scully's mouth tightened at what she considered inept investigative techniques, but reminded herself sternly that she no longer had any authority to be doing what she was doing. With Walter laid up, they were at the mercy of local law enforcement.

The two women reached the barn, and Sylvia lifted the heavy wooden latch that kept the doors closed. One door hung slightly askew, and hinges creaked as the doors were pulled open.

"I just use this for storage now," Sylvia told her. "I haven't had any livestock on the property in years."

Scully stared at the stacks of boxes and pieces of broken furniture that littered the barn. "Do you mind if I just take a look around?" she asked, and Sylvia nodded for her to go ahead.

Scully peered into every possible nook and cranny of the building, climbing carefully up the ladder to the hayloft, avoiding the missing rungs and mindful of a couple of weaker ones. A thick layer of dust lay over everything in the loft, and it was obvious that no human had been there for a very long time. Disappointed, she made her way back down to the ground.

"Satisfied?" Sylvia asked, not unkindly, and Scully nodded.

"Thank you for letting me look around," she said, extending her hand in a friendly gesture, and after an odd look the other woman clasped it briefly.

"You're husband--he knew Justin in prison?" she asked curiously.

"Yes."

"That's funny. You don't look like the wife of an ex-con."

Scully's shoulders straightened a bit at that. "My husband was wrongfully accused of murder," she said tightly. "He was released when the real killer was brought to justice." //But not before your brother nearly killed him!// her mind screamed, but she clamped her lips tightly shut to keep that thought inside. She couldn't afford to alienate this woman.

Scully stopped beside the porch and before Sylvia could climb the steps, pulled a card from her purse. "If you don't mind, ma'am, this is my cell phone number. Could you just...give me a call if you see or hear anything?"

Sylvia took the card and examined it closely, then tucked it in the pocket of her dress. "I'll do that," she affirmed, and watched as Scully crossed the yard to the driveway.

"I sure hope you find your man safe and sound," Sylvia called to her as she climbed into her car, and Scully gave a short nod of thanks before backing out of the driveway and heading for home. She had to find another avenue of exploration, and soon.

Sylvia looked at the card again when she got inside. The woman seemed nice enough, and few people called her 'ma'am' these days without a tone of sarcasm in their voices. In fact, Sylvia thought, she had actually liked the wife of Justin's hostage. Liked her very much. With a thoughtful look, she opened a kitchen drawer and tucked the card beneath the silverware tray inside. She didn't plan to betray Justin, but couldn't bring herself to throw it away. Justin had asked her to keep quiet about the man he was holding, and about the fact that there was another house on the property, invisible from the road and forgotten by many of the locals, and Sylvia had done that. It didn't do to eliminate your options, she decided as she went back to her television program. Especially when you were dealing with the likes of Justin Dulexy.
-------------------------
SUNDAY 3:07 p.m.
-------------------------

Mulder shifted his uncomfortable body as much as he could, trying to ignore the way his bladder was yelling at him to empty it. His hunger was raging and his thirst was worse. He must have been here for over twelve hours now, and there was still no sign of rescue. He'd worked the ropes binding his wrists until blood from his torn skin stained the fibers, but to no avail so far. Once, he'd thought he felt the knots beginning to give a little, but finally decided it had been wishful thinking.

Dulexy had returned to his prisoner just once more during the day. He'd been drinking from a beer can, and Mulder had gazed at it longingly as he licked his dry lips. Water was preferred, of course, but at this point any fluid at all would be welcome. On the other hand, he reflected, remembering his tortured bladder, perhaps liquid wasn't a good thing right now.

He'd even gone so far as to ask Dulexy to release him to allow him to use the bathroom, but Dulexy had only smiled coldly.

"Piss yourself," he'd said succinctly before leaving the room, and Mulder wondered miserably if it would come to that after all.

Now his muscles were screaming, his abdomen still ached where Dulexy had struck him--which didn't exactly help the bladder situation any--and Mulder began to wonder how long he could last if Scully and Skinner didn't arrive soon. He wasn't as young as he used to be, he reminded himself, and even though he was still in good shape, a fifty-one year old body simply can't tolerate the things a thirty-five year old one can endure.

He closed his eyes, praying inwardly that he would be discovered before too much longer, and eventually fell into a restless sleep.


-------------------------
SUNDAY 6:00 p.m.
-------------------------

She snatched up the phone on the first ring.

"Yes?" she barked.

Dulexy laughed. Apparently his delay had had the desired effect--the bitch was anxious.

"I have him."

He heard her breathing heavily for a few seconds.

"Is he hurt?"

Dulexy smiled to himself. "Oh, he's not in the greatest shape, but he'll live. If you cooperate."

"What do you want?" she demanded, and he was pleased at her courage.

"Three million dollars."

"Three?" Her voice was cool. "I thought it was two."

"Price went up while I waited." He tapped his finger on the table, awaiting her response.

"How do I know he's alive? I want to talk to him."

His eyebrows shot up at her answer. It wasn't what he'd expected. He'd thought she would be so frantic with worry over her husband by now that she'd promise anything he asked just to get Mulder back. No, not what he expected at all. She hadn't appeared to be the 'tough as nails' type when he'd surveilled them from a distance. Apparently he had been mistaken.

"Look, lady, I make the rules here. Now either you pay up or he dies. And it ain't gonna be no quick, easy death either. Is that really what you want your pretty rich man to go through?"

Scully's hand tightened painfully around the phone. She watched Officer Allen's face, waiting for the sign that the call had been successfully traced. It hadn't come yet.

"I don't think you'll go through with it," she said calmly, desperate to keep him talking. "I don't think you want to be found guilty of murder again. You'll get the death penalty this time, you know."

He laughed again, a deep, guttural sound.

"I know what you're doing, lady, and it won't work. If you care about him, you'll leave the police and FBI out of it from now on. I'll call back again, but I warn you, he's going to pay for this."

The click in her ear sounded so final.


-------------------------
SUNDAY 6:15 p.m.
-------------------------

Dulexy paced back and forth across the room, tossing furious glances at Mulder. Mulder watched him warily, the agony in his beaten body almost enough to make him pass out, but afraid to give up consciousness while his captor was nearby.

"That bitch wife of yours is going to learn not to fuck with me," Dulexy growled, and Mulder suppressed a shudder. He'd surmised from his kidnapper's behavior that Dulexy had demanded money, and Scully had probably been less than cooperative. While a part of him realized that Scully was afraid Dulexy would kill him as soon as the money was secured, another part wished she'd just pay the damn ransom so he could get the fuck out of here. One way or another. He couldn't fault her planning though--she was trying to buy time, which Mulder knew meant she was searching furiously for him.

"You must not mean a whole lot to her, Rich Man," Dulexy taunted. "Married you for your big bank account, didn't she? I'll bet you can't even keep a woman like her satisfied. Maybe after I'm done with you, I'll give her a taste of what a real man feels like."

Mulder's lips compressed with his rage, but he was determined not to be taken in by Dulexy's obvious psychological tricks. He tried not to whimper as Dulexy approached him again with the curtain rod, but the look in the other man's eyes was terrifying. He squeezed his own eyes shut and waited for the first blow to fall. When it did Mulder was unable to suppress a scream of pain. Before long, his entire mid-section was bruised and battered, one mass of tortured nerve endings, and he didn't know how much more he could take. His crotch still throbbed with the memory of the blow that had fallen there earlier in the day, but mercifully, Dulexy seemed content to avoid that area now.

"Let's hear you beg me, Mulder." Dulexy grinned as the metal rod fell relentlessly, again and again in the same spot until Mulder thought surely he would die from the agony. He was certain his insides must be useless mush by now, as often as Dulexy had attacked his gut, and he found himself wondering why the man didn't hit him somewhere else. "You're not so high and mighty now, are you, Mr. Rich Motherfucker, layin' here in your own piss? Beg me to stop and I'll consider it."

"I'll die--before I'll beg--you for anything, you sadistic bastard!" Mulder managed to gasp between blows. His wrists jerked at the ropes that held them captive, and his hands itched to ball into fists and ram directly into Dulexy's ugly face, but all he could do was squirm in a fruitless attempt to elude the rod that kept raining torture down upon his mid-section.

Finally, Dulexy seemed to grow tired of his game, and tossing the curtain rod aside once again, he grabbed Mulder by both sides of his head and raised him up painfully, until they were nose-to-nose. Mulder felt the muscles in his arms screaming in protest at the position, but he said nothing, staring into Dulexy's black eyes with all the courage he had left.

"Before I'm finished, you'll beg," Dulexy said confidently, the touch of a cold smile curving his mouth. "You'll do anything I say before I'm done with you."

He let go and Mulder's head dropped back against the wooden bed frame. Breathing heavily, Mulder stared up at him, refusing to answer.

"Maybe your bitch would be more convinced if I started cutting pieces off you and sending them to her. A finger, maybe, or a toe to start with," he mused, and this time Mulder was unable to hide his shudder of fear. Dulexy smiled wider.

"I think I've hit upon a plan," he gloated. "Just the thing to convince her that I am not playing games."

"If she pays you, and doesn't get me back alive, she'll hunt you down and kill you." Mulder managed to grind out the words in spite of the burning pain that consumed most of his body.

"She'll get you back alive," Dulexy replied, starting for the door. "It's up to her how much of you is left, though."

He disappeared down the hall, chuckling to himself.

Mulder felt the wetness on his bloodied wrists and hands, wincing at the pain there, and then resolutely began to twist against the ropes once more. He had to escape. Even if Scully and Skinner were looking for him, they might not find him until it was too late. Dulexy was a lot meaner than he'd been in prison, and he'd been frightening even then.

At least his bladder was happy, even if his clothing wasn't, and a flush of shame colored his cheeks as he remembered finally letting go, the mixture of relief and disgust he'd felt. Dulexy had found the entire situation humorous, of course, but what worried Mulder more than the humiliation of having wet himself like an infant was the hunger and most of all, the incredible thirst plaguing him. He hadn't had anything to eat or drink in over twenty-four hours, and by now his inner voice was ruthlessly reminding the rest of his body of that fact.

He was also well aware of the numerous bruises Dulexy had inflicted on him with that damned curtain rod. Mulder was amazed that such a flimsy-looking instrument was capable of causing so much pain. On the other hand, the rod wasn't strong enough to cause any serious damage--at least he didn't think it was...his abdomen was still very tender but Mulder hoped it was merely from external bruising and not something worse. He was pretty sure a rib had been broken from whatever had happened to him before he'd awakened. It felt as if someone had kicked him in the side, and he was pretty sure that was exactly what had occurred.

Ignoring the pain from his torn wrists, Mulder again grimly set about attempting to free himself. He had to get away before Dulexy followed through on his latest threat.


-------------------------
SUNDAY 11:32 p.m.
-------------------------

He heard footsteps approaching again. Lighter ones than Dulexy's this time, and for a moment he almost allowed himself to believe that Scully had come for him, but these weren't her footsteps--he'd know them anywhere. Scully walked lightly, quickly, and purposefully. This person had a heavier tread than Scully (although not as heavy as Dulexy's plodding gait) and was moving slowly and carefully. This person, Mulder realized, was sneaking.

It was a full two minutes before he saw the face at the door, illuminated in the bright moonlight. It was a woman, somewhere in her mid-fifties, her long silver hair captured in a ponytail at her neck. Mulder stared, unspeaking, as she approached him quietly. She put her fingers to her lips, and he nodded slightly to show he understood. Very slightly. The pain in his head had receded, but it was far from gone, and he didn't want to awaken it again.

His body was still but his heart swelled; salvation at last! All his hours of working at his bonds had only served to turn his wrists to ground round. Tugging futilely at the ropes now, he silently begged her to release him. She knelt beside him, slowly lowering her body until they were eye-to-eye. Before his lips could form the pleading words, he caught sight of heaven in her hand. A glass of water.

"Justin's passed out," she whispered grimly. "I just brought this over to you. If he finds out, there'll be hell to pay."

"Please," he whispered back weakly, his eyes still pinned to the glass, "If you could just untie me--"

His heart sank when her head began to shake furiously from side to side. "I can't do that!" she answered, her barely audible voice still managing to sound fearful. "Justin'd kill me!"

"Please, ma'am," he begged, his eyes beginning to fill with the hot tears of frustration. "Please, he's going to kill *me*."

She guided the glass to his mouth, holding the back of his head gently with her other hand, while he slurped anxiously at the water. When the glass was half-empty, she pulled it away.

"No..." he moaned, leaning toward it.

"Shh!" she whispered fiercely. "If you wake him..."

Mulder bit his lip in frustration, but then the glass was back and he was allowed to finish the water. When he'd drained every drop he could from the glass, she pulled it away again, wiping his mouth with her hand.

"Thanks," he muttered quietly.

"I'm only doing this because your wife was decent to me this afternoon."

Mulder almost gasped in shock. "Scully was here?"

She cocked her head. "I never heard that name. She was a little-bitty redhead and she said her name was Mulder. Same as yours."

He nodded frantically once, then clenched his eyes tightly against the pain in his head.

"Please...please tell her where to find me."

There was no answer. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the woman had risen. She had begun to stealthily make her way out of the room when his voice stopped her.

"Ma'am?"

She turned.

"Could I please have something to eat?" He kept his voice low, terrified that Dulexy would awaken and discover his benefactress.

She regarded him for a moment, then shook her head regretfully. "I can't risk it," she told him, and in the next instant she had disappeared down the hall.


-------------------------
MONDAY 8:04 a.m.
-------------------------

"Agree to whatever he demands," Officer Allen ordered, handing her the phone. "We'll be there to intercept."

Scully nodded, unsure of the plan but unable to come up with a better one on her own. Walter was still unconscious and these men were not impressed with the fact that ten years earlier she had been a noted FBI agent. To them, she was merely the wife of a kidnap victim, less hysterical than some, but still a civilian.

"Hello?" she said cautiously into the phone, and waited while the sound of heavy breathing filled her ears. She needed to try and keep Dulexy on the line longer this time in order for them to trace the call.

"You want to see him again?" The voice was harsh, somewhat slurred, and it occurred to Scully that Dulexy had been drinking. That could make her job easier--for the first time, she felt hope.

"Yes. Is he all right?" She tried to let just the right amount of concern slip into her voice, hiding from Dulexy the fact that she was hanging on by a thread. She simply wasn't conditioned for this type of stress any longer. There was a time she'd have taken it in stride, considering it part of the hazards of day-to-day living, but in the last ten years Scully had grown used to normalcy.

"Well...he's not very happy, but he's alive."

"What have you done to him?" she demanded.

He ignored her. "If you want him back, you'll have to follow my orders. No games this time. I still want three million."

She hesitated for a long moment, as long as she dared. "Okay," she breathed, "three million it is."

"Leave it the same place as before--under the gazebo in Soldier Park at noon today. There shouldn't be anybody around in this rain. If I see any cops around, your pretty boy is going to pay dearly."

He hung up before she could respond, and Officer Allen shook his head regretfully at her inquiring look. Scully bit back the obscenity that wanted to cross her lips. Losing her temper wouldn't help Mulder now.

"Same place. Noon," she said shortly.

"Noon?" Allen asked with a bark of laughter. "What is this guy, an idiot?"

Scully glared at him. "Whatever he is, he still has my husband," she reminded him coldly. "Let's not screw it up this time."

Allen nodded, and immediately began issuing directions for his people to position themselves in the general area of Soldier Park.

Watching from a distance as the undercover cops began to unobtrusively take their places, Dulexy, who had been there already when he made the call, shook his head in amazement at the stupidity of some people, He quietly crept back to the place he'd concealed his truck. This fucking bitch was either going to learn to play it his way, or he was going to have even more fun with Mulder than he'd originally planned.


-------------------------
MONDAY 1:05 p.m.
-------------------------

Dulexy was returning.

Mulder heard the front door slam, rattling the entire house, and he shuddered. Slowly running his fingers along the ropes that still held his mangled wrists captive, he gave one half-hearted tug. It was no use. He no longer had the strength to try and free himself anyway. He found himself hoping that, whatever Dulexy was angry about, he was angry enough to kill his prisoner.

He closed his eyes, unwilling to watch as Dulexy stormed into the room, but they flew open again when his hair was grabbed and twisted painfully in Dulexy's fist.

"That bitch!" The cold black eyes glittered as they stared down at Mulder, helpless and exhausted.

Mulder simply watched him, certain that whatever he said would only bring him more suffering.

"That *bitch*!" He said it again, this time eliciting a yelp from Mulder as he emphasized the word 'bitch' with a sharp slap to the side of Mulder's bruised ribcage.

Dulexy gazed at his captive, a thoughtful smile creeping over his face. Mulder stared dully back at Dulexy, fighting for breath, and grew cold, wondering what the smile could mean. No good for him, he was sure of that.

"I think," Dulexy said after a moment, his head cocked to one side, "it's time to give her something to remember you by."

He left the room quickly, and Mulder suddenly found renewed strength to begin working on his bonds. This did not sound good. No, not at all. With growing strength fueled by a sudden rush of fear, Mulder realized that he wasn't quite ready to die. Not yet.

Dulexy returned too soon, before Mulder even had a chance to bloody his wrists again, which was probably a good thing, Mulder thought in retrospect. If Dulexy had seen that he was trying to escape, he might have plunged the scissors into his heart instead of merely cutting off his hair.

The ex-con held Mulder's head steady by placing one big hand on his captive's chin and pressing him hard against the bed. Mulder could barely breathe, so great was the pressure, but his biggest concern was the sharp scissors in Dulexy's hand, drawing nearer and nearer to his head. For one horrifying moment, Mulder actually thought Dulexy was going to cut out an eye, but Dulexy just gave him that chilling grin again and began unevenly lopping off his hair.

Mulder held perfectly still as he received his impromptu haircut, knowing that if he moved, and Dulexy cut his scalp, medical attention would not be forthcoming. The last thing he needed to add to his list of injuries was a bleeding head wound. Dulexy turned his head this way and that, cutting off as much of the hair as he could, sometimes right up against the scalp, sometimes leaving half an inch on Mulder's head. Mulder sighed inwardly. The small part of him that still thought he might emerge from this ordeal alive knew how pissed off Scully was going to be over this. She'd gone ballistic a few months ago when he'd had his hair cut in a buzz, and it was only now growing back to her satisfaction. He'd only done it in order to be cooler during the hot summer months, he had defended, but she had pointed out that she liked to be able to run her fingers through his hair while they were making love (an observation that had gone straight to his groin), and when he heard that he'd vowed never to cut it so short again.

Now he sat quietly as Dulexy gathered the locks of gray-tinged dark brown silk that littered the floor. Dulexy left the room briefly and returned with a small cardboard box.

//A Church's Fried Chicken box, Mulder. Your hair is going to smell like stale, greasy chicken the last time Scully sees it.//

Dulexy carefully placed all the hair in the box and, with another of those coldly evil smiles, started for the door.

Dulexy paused in the doorway and turned back to look at his shorn prisoner. He shook the box in his hand lightly, and Mulder could almost hear the hair fibers moving against the cardboard.

"If this doesn't convince her to give me the money, I think I'll chop off a finger next," he said casually. He watched for a reaction, but the impassive face of his prisoner gave him no satisfaction in that regard. With another shake of the box, he left the bedroom. He had to prepare his gift for mailing.

Mulder kept his eyes carefully on Dulexy until the man disappeared, and then allowed himself to glance at the floor beside him.

Dulexy had forgotten the shears.

They lay taunting him, their chrome glinting in the sunlight. Quickly, Mulder considered what he should do. If he hid them beneath the bed, Dulexy would spot them easily. The bed was old-fashioned, standing at least a foot off the floor, and there were no blankets or sheets to shield hidden contraband. If Mulder managed to get the scissors near his hands or behind his body, Dulexy would probably also see them. The only thing to do, he finally decided, was to try and get them underneath himself so that he was sitting on them. With a little luck (and his luck simply had to kick in sometime, didn't it?) he would be able to effectively conceal them from Dulexy's often-drunken gaze.

First up, though, was the problem of exactly how he was going to get his hands, or feet, or whatever, on the shears. Dulexy was right-handed, and he'd knelt on the floor to Mulder's left in order to cut off his hair. When Dulexy had finished, he'd placed the scissors on the floor to his own right, which meant that now they were a good two feet away from Mulder. Twenty-four little inches that seemed insurmountable. Discouraged for a moment, he almost considered giving up before reality slammed home.

//You are going to die here, Mulder// his subconscious insisted. //You'll never see Scully again, never see Emmie again, never get out of this filthy, nasty, lonely place. Unless, my friend, you take this opportunity to do something about your situation.//

Swallowing hard, Mulder realized his subconscious was right; Dulexy had no intention of letting him go, even if Scully paid the ransom. The man had killed before, and he'd kill again, and Mulder suspected Dulexy would take great delight in killing *him*. It was now or never.

Since his hands were useless, and his shoulders had long since fallen numb from being yanked into such a taut stretch, Mulder decided his legs were his only hope. His feet were tied together, but other than that his legs were not secured. He could still move them. Experimentally, he shifted a bit, and bit back a gasp at the sharpness of the pain in his side. The rest of his injuries were somewhat superficial, he knew, although still agonizing, but there was no question in his mind now that a rib was broken. He felt it every time he moved.

Slowly, taking deep, steady breaths and keeping one eye on the door, Mulder worked on twisting his body to the side in an effort to get at the scissors. He finally decided the only way was to gradually move his bound legs toward the shears. He could only manage it in short jerks, so weakened was he from hunger, thirst and his injuries, but little-by-little the prize became more accessible.

Finally, after many tiny gains, he had reached the scissors with his feet, stretching his body until he was practically lying on his side. His exultation died a quick death, however, when he heard the footsteps. Dulexy was approaching the bedroom where he lay in this incriminating pose, his legs barely concealing the shears. Swallowing a whimper, Mulder froze, knowing he didn't have enough time to return to his previous spot. If Dulexy found him now, he would pay dearly.

The footsteps drew closer, and Mulder held his breath, eyes clamped shut against certain death, until he realized the sound had ceased. He peeked from beneath his lashes, fully expecting to see Dulexy standing in the doorway, breathing fire, but he was still alone. Then the footsteps sounded again, receding this time, and Mulder gave a *whoosh* of relief. Safe again for a few moments.

Renewing his efforts, he managed, little-by-little, to drag the shears toward himself with his feet, wincing at the slight sound they made as they slid across the wood floor. He paused again, listening, but apparently Dulexy hadn't heard. Another good pull and they were almost beneath him. He couldn't draw his legs any closer to his body, so after painstakingly working himself back around to his original position, Mulder tried reaching for the scissors with his fingers.

Too far away. He needed another inch.

He tried to wiggle his butt over toward the scissors and this time the gasp did escape. His efforts had exacerbated the ache of his broken rib, and now he leaned back against the bed frame, sweat pouring down his face, hungrily sucking in air. Glancing down at the scissors that were still visible to anyone standing at the bedroom door, Mulder made a conscious effort to sublimate the pain. Biting down on his lower lip hard, hoping the hurt there would distract him from the greater one in his side, he forced his body to give a tiny hop toward the shears.

He was able to suppress his yelp when he impacted with the hard floor, but tears formed in his eyes, falling this time before he could stop them. He'd made progress, though. He was closer to his goal than he had been before. Mulder allowed himself another few seconds, then hopped again, almost crying out when his bottom landed square on top of the metal scissors. The sudden rush of adrenalin from his victory gave him the strength to maneuver himself back into the position in which Dulexy had left him, and then he collapsed, thoroughly exhausted.

He felt wetness trickling down his fingers and realized, just before losing consciousness, that he'd started his wrists bleeding again.


-------------------------
MONDAY 8:57 p.m.
-------------------------

Mulder raised his head weakly as Dulexy entered the room. He wondered what had happened now, and how Dulexy would make him pay. His drink of water the night before had been too little, not nearly enough, and his thirst and hunger were now raging again. His eyes widened in fear when he realized that Dulexy was in a deep, drunken fury. He'd apparently abandoned the curtain rod as well, for in his hand was clutched a heavy steel pipe, about two feet long. It was nearly identical to the one--

As Dulexy approached him with the weapon, Mulder suddenly flashed back to his prison days. Dulexy was a big man, much bigger than he, and he'd been helpless in Dulexy's grasp. The guard, also a pretty huge guy, had approached him with a look of almost glee in his eyes. Dulexy had covered his mouth with one enormous hand and Mulder had watched in horror as the pipe had risen and fallen again and again on his defenseless body, until finally he had slumped against Dulexy, sinking into oblivion, certain it was the end of the line.

He felt that way now as he swallowed hard with the bit of saliva his dry mouth generated from the fear. He couldn't go through that again, he just couldn't.

Dulexy towered over him, his eyes glittering with rage. His mouth twisted in a sneer as he hefted the pipe.

"Looks like we're back to square one, old friend," he said softly, and raised the pipe high above his head.

Mulder winced and tried desperately to squirm out of the way as the steel began to fall, but moving was strictly prohibited, and he was a perfect target for Dulexy's anger.

The first blow struck him across his already pain-wracked abdomen, and the scream that should have erupted was silenced when all the breath was knocked from his body. Before Mulder could inhale, the pipe fell again, this time across both thighs. He threw his head back reflexively and banged it against the bed. Tears came to his eyes, falling easily as Dulexy concentrated on his stomach again, bringing the pipe down over and over on his inflamed belly.

The last blow before Mulder lost consciousness was straight to his groin, and again there was no sound, only a silent scream of agony as he slipped into the welcoming chasm.

----------------- TUESDAY 7:33 a.m. -----------------

Slowly, wincing at the light, Skinner opened his eyes. He moaned lightly and immediately felt a cool hand smooth his brow.

"Walter?"

Forcing his eyelids up further, he was confronted with the smiling face of his wife.

"Jess?" he managed weakly through his parched throat.

"Shh," she whispered. "It's good to see you again."

He gave a brief smile, then grimaced as his body began to register the pain it was experiencing.

He felt Jess squeeze his hand, her fingers stroking his lightly. All he wanted was to sink back into the well of blackness he'd been in, the one where he couldn't feel the fire in his belly, but first he needed information.

"Ellery?"

"She's safe at home with her family," Jess assured him.

He forced his eyes to open once again. "Mulder?"

Skinner knew something had gone wrong when he saw Jess' expression go bland, but then, something had gone horribly wrong anyway, hadn't it, he reminded himself, or he wouldn't be here now.

"Mulder?" he asked again, insistently.

"The kidnapper took him," Jess confessed. "He hasn't been found yet."

"How long?"

"Walter--"

"How long?" he demanded, and she sighed at his harsh tone. She knew Walter--he wouldn't go back to sleep until she'd told him everything.

"Three days."

"Damn him," Skinner muttered. "Damn him for doing it, and damn me for letting him. I should have known--"

"Walter, don't. Don't blame yourself for this. We all know how stubborn Mulder can be. If you hadn't agreed to help him, he'd have just gone off and done it alone, and then where would he be? You couldn't have stopped him in any case."

"I should have told Scully to drug him and tie him to their bed," he groused.

"That might have worked," she agreed, pushing the call button for the nurse. "We'll try that next time."

"Who was he?"

Jess stared at him, puzzled, until she realized he was talking about Mulder's kidnapper.

"You were right, Walter, it was someone Mulder knew from prison. A Justin Dulexy. Apparently he and Mulder shared a cell for a time."

Skinner winced. He recognized that name, but through the fog of drugs and pain was unable to dredge up its meaning.

The nurse entered, a syringe of pain medication already prepared.

"I thought you might be ready for this soon, Mr. Skinner," she smiled. "Are you doing all right except for that hole in your gut?"

He almost grinned. Nodded once. Watched while she prepared his IV port to receive the drug, and then remembered. He had to warn Scully.

"Wait," he commanded, and the nurse froze. Skinner looked up at his wife's concerned face. "Scully," he said weakly. "Dulexy. I know that name. He's the one."

Jess Skinner's face registered her shock as she grasped his meaning, then softened. She nodded and brushed her fingers lightly over his cheek. "I'll tell Dana," she promised. "She'll find him, Walter." Her lips replaced her fingers, bestowing a soft kiss. "Now please, let her give you the medication so you can rest."

Unable to resist his wife's pleading eyes, he muttered, "'kay," and seconds later the world went black.


-------------------------
TUESDAY 12:00 noon
-------------------------

Her ears were waiting for trouble, and she heard the scuffling at the front door before the bell rang. Scully had spent the night tossing fitfully on the couch--that old leather couch that had been part of Mulder's surroundings ever since she had known him. She had nestled herself into its thick cushions sometime after midnight, after finally getting Emmie settled down, and had lost herself in thoughts of Mulder.

Emmie had gone through a rough time the previous evening--guilt had settled on her young shoulders like a boulder, and she'd suddenly been overwhelmed. She had buried her head in Scully's shoulder, just as she'd done when she was a very small child, and cried her heart out.

"Shh," Scully had soothed. "None of this is your fault, Emmie."

"Yes it is," Emmie had argued. "If I hadn't accused him--Mom, I said such horrible things to him!"

"Emmie Mulder, you know Fox, you know what he's like. He didn't try to save Ellery because of what you said to him. He knew you were just upset and angry. He did it because it was the only thing he could do. In all the years I've known him, I've never seen him sit back and do nothing when somebody needed help--not even if it meant sacrificing himself in the process. He's a very special man, and he loves you very much."

"Tell me about you and him, Mom," Emmie said after a bit, her crying beginning to slow to occasional sniffles. She still held tightly to her mother's waist, her face against Scully's shirt which she'd soaked with her tears.

Scully smiled sadly. "What do you want to know?"

"I want to know about when you fell in love with each other."

Scully was silent for a long time. "I never really knew when I fell in love with Mulder," she said at last. "It just snuck up on me, and one day I realized that there was nobody else in the world for me, and that there never could be."

"But you married my dad."

Her arms tightened around Emmie briefly. "I did. And I probably shouldn't have, but if I hadn't married him, you wouldn't be with me today, now would you?"

"What about Fox? When did he decide he loved you?"

Scully clenched her eyes tightly shut against the sudden wave of pain that hit her heart. "I don't know," she managed. "You'll have to ask him about that."

The child breathed against her for a few minutes more, and Scully thought at last that she'd fallen asleep, but then she spoke again.

"You two aren't very romantic, are you?"

"What do you mean?" Scully asked, surprised. She'd never really thought about it.

"Well," Emmie said carefully, "Jessica's mom and dad are always doing romantic things together, like going off on dates. He brings her flowers a lot, and he always buys her really nice presents. But most of the time, they just fight. You and Fox both forget your anniversary if I don't remind you of it."

Scully smiled again; it was true.

"He would never think to bring you flowers, and the two of you don't do all that sappy talking to each other that some couples do."

"I guess you're right, we're not very romantic. But we do love each other, you know that, don't you?"

"Yeah," Emmie said, stifling a yawn. "That's pretty obvious."

"I don't need flowers from Mulder, I just need him to be here."

Emmie squeezed her tightly. "He'll be back, Mom. I know he'll be all right."

"You're right," Scully answered, trying to sound positive in the face of her growing despair. "He'll be home again soon, safe with us."

And she'd turned out the light and left Emmie, already half asleep. That was when she'd made her way to Mulder's couch and let the tears come--not many, for Scully wasn't a woman given to shedding tears, but a few drops, evidence of her fear and frustration, made their way from beneath her eyelids.

She'd let Emmie stay home from school the day before, but today the girl had insisted on going. Emmie had said she couldn't afford to miss another day of classes, but Scully suspected the atmosphere around the house, coupled with boredom, had driven her back to the comfort and dubious safety of her friends.

It was just as well Emmie wasn't here now, she thought as she held the brown-paper-wrapped parcel in her hands. The young boy who had delivered it had been questioned by Officer Allen, who had practically taken up residence there, but had yielded no useful information. A man had paid him twenty dollars to deliver a package to this house. He'd stopped the boy outside a local mall (he'd ditched school) and given him this address, then driven away in a large black pickup truck. It was Dulexy, of course, they had no doubt of that, but they still had no clue as to his whereabouts, or Mulder's.

They'd found no fingerprints on the packaging, and although Officer Allen said there could be some inside, Scully doubted it--and what good could it do anyway? They knew who they were looking for. Scully had been holding the parcel for the last ten minutes, afraid to open it. She had no idea what would be inside, but it was clear that the kidnapper was trying to terrorize her into meeting his demands. Whatever was contained in this package, Scully was sure it had been obtained at some cost to Mulder.

Finally, able to stand the suspense no longer, she carefully slit the tape with a knife held in trembling fingers, and withdrew the small yellow box. She gripped it by the edges, pulling it from its wrapping and discovering the fried chicken logo written on it with a sort of detached attention. Church's Fried Chicken. Their suspect ate at Church's Fried Chicken.

"Officer Allen?" she called.

He came from the corner, where he'd been talking on his cell phone, to see what she wanted.

"We should find out how many Church's Fried Chicken restaurants are in this general area. Maybe someone who works there will remember Dulexy as a customer in the past few days." It was a slim clue, barely a clue at all, but for now it was all they had.

Taking a deep breath, recognizing that she was stalling, Scully finally slipped her fingernail beneath the lid of the box and revealed its contents.

She stared at the locks of hair nestled at the bottom of the box, feeling her eyes beginning to tear up again, and closed the lid quickly. Mulder's hair. His beautiful hair, hair that she loved to touch, that she longed to be able to run her fingers through right this minute--defiled by a madman. Forcing herself to get a grip on her emotions, she opened the box again. Examining the hair closely, Scully bit her lip hard when she saw the blood matting some of the strands.

"That could be from when Dulexy hit him," Allen offered, and she nodded. "It's possible that he's not too badly hurt."

She nodded again, and rose quickly to get herself a drink of ice water. It was true--Mulder could be relatively unharmed at this point, but somehow she doubted that was the case. This was a warning, and a very clear one.

She had just downed the last of her water when she heard Officer Allen call to her from the other room.

"Yes?" she asked, going back to him, averting her eyes so she didn't have to see her husbands locks spread out on the paper where Allen had dumped them.

"There's something else here," he informed her reluctantly. "A note."

"A note? What does it say?"

He held up a small piece of paper, carefully gripping its corner with a pair of tweezers. Scully leaned closer to make out the small, spidery handwriting on the note. It contained one sentence.

'Next I'll start sending you pieces of him.'


-------------------------
TUESDAY 9:30 p.m.
-------------------------

"How long has it been now, Mulder?" Dulexy asked casually as he sipped at the glass of ice water in his hand. "How long since you had a good, cold drink of water?"

It had been two days (two fucking *days*, you sonofabitch!), but Mulder wasn't about to give Dulexy the satisfaction of a response. Instead, he closed his eyes and turned his head away weakly, but opened them again when the pipe battered his flaming stomach. Dulexy didn't like it when Mulder didn't pay attention to his taunts. Closing his eyes was likely to bring on another assault, and Mulder knew he now had more than one broken rib--one from whatever had happened to him before he regained consciousness and at least one more from Dulexy's drunken assault on him with the pipe the night before. He'd heard the distinct *crack* and had felt the instant pain. It was familiar; he'd had broken ribs before. Ignoring Mulder's discomfort, Dulexy took another long swallow from the glass, seeing the way his prisoner's eyes were fixated on the water. "Want some?" he asked, with what could almost have been mistaken for kindness, holding the glass above Mulder's sandpaper-dry mouth, just out of reach.

Involuntarily, Mulder found himself raising his head, even while he knew that Dulexy would just pull the glass away, unable to resist reaching for the life-giving sustenance that tortured him. A bead of condensation pooled at the bottom of the glass, hanging there forever before it looked like it would finally let go. Mulder stared at it, mesmerized, feeling every second tick by as he silently begged the drop of water to fall on his cracked lips.

"Oops," Dulexy said, swiping at Mulder's precious drop just before it descended. "Wouldn't want you to get wet."

Mulder's head fell back weakly, and he fought hard to keep back the tears of frustration that wanted to flow. It had almost been his...one more second...

"Please..." he heard himself whisper, forcing the word past his aching throat.

Dulexy's face took on a look of concern and he leaned closer.

"Is that--is that *begging* I hear?" he asked with mock sympathy.

Mulder lay silently, willing the tears not to course down his face until Dulexy was gone.

"You know, Mulder," Dulexy commented, taking another sip from the glass, "your stubbornness won't get you anything. You, my friend, are completely at my mercy--or haven't you figured that out yet?"

He grinned, and Mulder turned his head away. Angrily, Dulexy grabbed Mulder's chin and forced him to look up into his face.

"You give me what I want, or you get nothing," he snarled. "And right now, Mulder, what I want is to hear you beg me for a drink of water."

Mulder's eyes locked with Dulexy's for a long moment. He wanted the water, oh yes he did, so badly he'd be willing to do almost anything to get it--but not if it would only be drawn away at the last second like before. At least, he beseeched his inner self, let me keep my pride intact.

//*Pride!*// his inner self screeched in response. //My friend, you have lost your hair and pissed yourself like a baby. How much pride do you think you have left? And what the hell good is it doing you anyway? If the man wants to hear a few harmless words from you before he gives you a drink, go ahead and say them. Words mean nothing.//

He attempted to swallow, to lubricate his voice, but there simply wasn't enough spit to go around and his mouth wasn't willing to share with his parched throat.

"Please," he said again, hearing his voice crack. "Please ...water."

Dulexy lowered the glass again toward Mulder's lips, and again pulled it back at the last second, smiling gleefully at his prisoner's expression.

"I don't think that was enough," he said mildly. "I want to hear you use the 'b' word, Mulder."

"I--I'm--begging," (you motherfucking bastard), but he added the last silently, knowing that to voice that thought would end any hope he had of getting a precious sip of water.

Dulexy smiled again. "That's better."

And then, miraculously, he kept his promise, allowing Mulder to drink from the glass pressed to the trembling lips.

Mulder sucked frantically at the coveted water, feeling it dribbling down his chin from his clumsy efforts in this position. He'd barely gotten his throat wet when Dulexy pulled it away again.

"No, please..." Mulder whispered as Dulexy withdrew his supporting hand. This time the tears did come, regardless of his efforts to suppress them; he simply couldn't bear the disappointment. Dulexy hadn't played fair. He'd only barely given Mulder a tiny sip.

"If you drink more, you'll just upchuck," Dulexy told him, and Mulder watched through his tears of rage and disappointment as Dulexy poured the remainder of the precious liquid out on the floor. "You don't want to be covered with piss *and* puke, do you?"


-------------------------
Wednesday 8 p.m.
-------------------------

"Do you believe now that I'll hurt him?"

The voice on the phone sounded coldly cruel, and Scully closed her eyes against the mental image of Mulder in pain. It had taken Dulexy a long time to contact her again, and she had no idea what Mulder had been forced to endure in the interim.

"Yes."

She heard his breathing, heavy and labored, and the sound of footsteps. She guessed he was pacing, wherever he was.

"I don't think you do," he said at last.

"No, I--I believe you." She tried not to sound frantic, but Dulexy didn't even hear her; he had put the phone down. She heard his voice in the background.

"Want to talk to your wife, Mulder? Convince her I mean business?"

Instead of Dulexy putting the phone up to Mulder's ear, as she'd expected, Scully heard scuffling, followed by a muffled scream that she recognized as her husband's voice, hoarse and weak, but still definitely Mulder.

"Dulexy!" She yelled into the phone, gripping it so tightly it was in danger of snapping in her hand.

More scuffling, and Dulexy was back.

"Would you like to know what I did to him?" The calm amusement in his voice was Scully's undoing.

"What did you do, you sonofabitch?" she gasped, fighting herself furiously for control. She couldn't lose it now, if she did, she'd never be able to find Mulder.

"I broke your pretty rich man's finger."

Tears spilled down her cheeks. She wondered vaguely if it had been the same finger those terrorists had broken all those years ago. This time, she wasn't available to ice the break and provide comfort, and she felt the loss like a knife through her heart.

"I'm going to kill you, you bastard." She whispered the words fiercely into the phone, but Dulexy just laughed.

"Tell you what, little lady. Let's try this again. Are you willing to play the game *my* way yet?"

Scully bit down hard on her lip, almost hard enough to draw blood. She could hear soft moaning in the background and imagined Mulder, alone and in pain, waiting for her to rescue him. It was only money, after all. She'd lived without money before but Scully knew she could never, never live without Mulder again.

"I'll give you the money," she answered, more control in her voice than she'd expected. "When and where?"

"Meet me at the intersection of Bogoda Drive and Eastern Lake Road."

The location he'd chosen was isolated and desolate, she knew. No chance for backup assistance to hide nearby and come to her rescue if necessary. It would truly be just she and Dulexy, come what may.

"I'll be there. When?"

"Midnight. Oh, and Dana? For every hour that I don't have my money, I'm going to break another bone in your sugar daddy's body. Don't be late."

"Wait! You can't--" But he was gone.

Scully sank to a chair, shaking with nervous energy now that the call had ended. Four more hours until the meeting--three more broken bones Mulder would have to suffer. Would it be more fingers? She hoped it would be that and nothing worse. Fingers, at least, were relatively easy to set and usually healed rapidly. And who knew what Dulexy had done to Mulder already? At least she knew he was still alive. Biting back a sob, Scully began her preparations.


"You can't do this alone, Scully, don't you dare!" Skinner's gruff voice, dampened only a bit by his weakness, rolled off her like water.

"I have to, Walter," she insisted stubbornly. "Every time we've disobeyed this man's orders, Mulder has suffered for it. This time I'm going to give him what he wants. I don't care about the money, I don't care if they catch him, and at this point I don't give a damn about justice! I just want Mulder back alive."

He swore weakly as Scully disconnected, and Jess took the phone from his hands and placed it on the bedside table.

"Don't worry about her, Walter. If anyone knows what she's doing in this situation, it's Dana. You just concentrate on your recovery."

"How the hell can I do that, Jess?" he demanded angrily. "We're going to lose them both if she's not careful."

Jess took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. "We are not going to lose them--either of them. Now you relax, or I'll have the nurse in here pumping your ass so full of Morphine you won't wake up for a week, do you understand me, Walter Skinner?"

He met her stony stare for a minute, then gave in. There was really nothing else he could do. Not when he was being watched this closely.


Mulder stared warily at Dulexy as he entered the bedroom. His broken finger throbbed, adding a tympani cadence to the symphony in the rest of his body. His capacity for ignoring the pain had long since abandoned him; his entire world was now comprised of hurt, hunger and thirst.

Dulexy was carrying something, and as he set it on the floor near the bedroom entrance, Mulder saw that it was a large clock. The hands revealed that the current time was 8:07 p.m.

"You have until nine o'clock to keep the rest of your body intact, Mulder. Then I get to break another piece of it. I wonder which piece it will be this time?"

Mulder stared at the clock, mesmerized, as Dulexy whistled his way down the hall, back to his chair and his beer. Less than an hour to go before Dulexy would hurt him again. Trying to disregard the pain in his left hand--(it had been the thumb this time, and Mulder could report with some accuracy that having your thumb broken by a pissed-off ex-con hurt a hell of a lot worse than having your pinkie broken by a pissed-off terrorist)--Mulder felt around for the scissors. He could actually feel the spot on the rope where he'd been making progress. Carefully working the blade into the proper position, mouth set in grim determination, he began sawing at the ropes again.


Nine o'clock came, and Dulexy sauntered into the room carrying his pipe. Mulder had hidden his scissors again, and now he waited, body taut with expectation, for Dulexy to hurt him. He expected taunts and jeers before it happened, but Dulexy surprised him. He knelt down at Mulder's feet and removed both shoes and socks from his prisoner. Then he stood, and without hesitation, swung the pipe with all his force directly at the top of Mulder's right foot. Mulder heard the bones crack, felt them give, at the same time he screamed. Then the world went blissfully gray.

Nine o'clock, and Scully stared at the clock on the mantle, her hands tightly clenched in her lap, and prayed that Mulder would survive. Tears streamed down her face as she imagined his torment. She had sent Emmie to her mother's to spend a few days, and as soon as she'd kissed the girl goodbye and locked the front door, Scully had begun to formulate a plan of action. Now, she considered the weapon in her purse and wondered if she would really carry it out.


Ten o'clock arrived, and Mulder awakened suddenly when he heard Dulexy's footsteps approach. Smelled the liquor on Dulexy's breath when his captor knelt beside him. Inwardly cursing himself for losing consciousness, wasting the precious hour he could have been working on his escape, Mulder tried hard to return Dulexy's stare, but felt his questionable composure slipping when Dulexy produced the pipe. He clenched his eyes shut, not willing to watch as Dulexy attacked again, and was thus completely unprepared when the steel bar came crashing into the right side of his ribcage. This time, a rib punctured his right lung, and Mulder, who had suffered this once before as well, felt a familiar sharp pain invade his side and back, and the accompanying loss of air capacity. He realized instantly, in some dim part of his mind that still cared about such things, what must have happened.

Mulder's mouth opened and a scream tried and failed to emerge. Just taking in enough air to survive at that point became the most important thing in his life.


Ten o'clock arrived, and Scully knew for a certainty that she would kill Dulexy for what he was surely doing to Mulder at that moment. Her tears were gone; a white-hot anger had replaced them. Dulexy was a dead man.


The clock showed eleven, and Mulder began to feel tears of pain and helpless rage slipping down his cheeks. When Dulexy entered the room this time, he stood with his hands on his hips and surveyed his prisoner. Mulder looked like shit. There was still blood on his face from days ago, that face which now held a sickly grey pallor. The head wound was no longer hidden by the dark hair, which now clung to Mulder's head only in occasional tufts. He breathed through his mouth in an effort to stay alive for one more hour. His abdomen, visible through his torn shirt, was dark and swollen with the bruising. His right foot was also swollen, hugely so, and behind his back Dulexy knew his left thumb was in the same condition.

"Time for one more, Mulder," Dulexy said pleasantly, tapping his chin with one finger. "I wonder where it should be this time?"

"Please...no more..." Mulder tried to form the words but his lungs wouldn't let him put enough air behind them to make a sound. He shook his head slowly from side to side, no longer feeling shame at his condition, or at his tears, feeling nothing but the familiar suffering, coupled with a burning desire to do or say anything--absolutely anything--Dulexy wanted in order to avoid further damage.

Dulexy knelt beside Mulder and gently brushed a bead of sweat from his victim's brow. "You look bad, buddy," he said sympathetically. "And unfortunately for you, it's time again."

"...please...beg...don't..." The words finally forced themselves past his lips with some volume, barely there but still discernable, and Dulexy gave a satisfied grin.

"Well if you're going to put it that way," he began, and watched Mulder's face take on an almost grateful look of relief. Then watched it disappear into despair as he finished his sentence. "...I think I'll go easy on you and just break another finger. The right hand this time."

Then, to his amazement, Dulexy pulled a pocket knife from his jeans and sliced the ropes holding him to the bed.

Mulder immediately slumped over to his left side, the feeling completely absent from his newly freed limbs, and instantly realized what a horrible mistake it had been.

The scissors now lay in full view.

Mulder watched out of the corner of his eye as Dulexy picked them up, turning them this way and that with a crafty look on his face. Then, to Mulder's surprise, Dulexy burst out in a rich, deep laughter.

He picked up the ropes and examined them, noting the spots where the fibers were partially sliced, and realized what had been happening.

"I have to give it to you, Mulder, you are one tough bastard," he said, almost admiringly. "Anyone else would have given up by now, but you just keep taking every chance, don't you?"

Mulder lay quietly on the floor, wishing he could move, wishing he could take this chance to wrest the scissors from Dulexy and plunge the sharp blades into the man's heart. He still had no sensation in his arms, and the position in which he was slumped made breathing still more difficult. He concentrated on staying alive, grateful that Dulexy hadn't flown into a rage when he'd discovered Mulder's secret.

In the fear caused by the discovery of his escape plans, Mulder had forgotten what was on the agenda. Until Dulexy picked up his right hand.

Mulder whimpered and tried to pull away, but hadn't the strength left to make a serious attempt. He felt Dulexy separate his index finger from the others, pulling it into an unnatural angle, and before he could even plead with Dulexy not to hurt him again, he heard the distinct *snap* sound as the fragile bone was broken. He tried to scream and again was cut off by lack of oxygen. Tears streamed steadily down his face now, and Mulder didn't care if Dulexy thought he was weak, didn't care what anybody thought. All he wanted was for the endless torment in his battered body to stop.

"Well," Dulexy said, picking up the scissors that still lay on the floor and tossing them aside, "time to go meet up with your bitch." He stood, regarded the man on the floor for a moment, and then deliberately kicked the scissors into a far corner. Moments later, Dulexy disappeared down the corridor, laughing to himself again.

Mulder stared at the scissors. They were a good eight feet away, and in his current condition it might as well have been eight miles. He tried to reach out a hand toward the instrument that could help him gain his escape, and wept in despair when his arms refused to obey his commands. The chance for freedom from this monster was so close, but he knew for certain now that he was going to die here. Scully hadn't been able to find him, and even though Dulexy had left his hands untied, escape in his condition was impossible. Dulexy would meet Scully, rape and kill her, take the money, and then return to finish him off. His whole body shuddered at the prospect.

With a plea for her forgiveness on his lips, Mulder slipped away.


Eleven o'clock arrived and Scully left the house, suitcase full of money in one hand and her purse over one shoulder, prepared to kill Dulexy. She would never let him walk away from this alive.

All her intentions came to nothing when her car skidded off the road, made slick with the rain, as she tried to avoid hitting the car that had suddenly swerved in front of her. She ran headlong into a telephone pole, and if she'd been driving faster she would have been killed. As it was, she was knocked unconscious, and never even knew when the other driver called for an ambulance and she was transported to the nearest hospital.


-------------------------
WEDNESDAY 11:31 p.m.
-------------------------

The sting in his arms was what woke him. The blood returning to his numb limbs felt like tiny needle pricks over every inch of skin, and it forced Mulder to leave that dark, comfortable place where he'd retreated and face reality again.

Reality sucked.

With a groan, Mulder opened his eyes and took in his current situation. He was sprawled on the floor, his all-but-useless arms tormenting him, his legs still bound at the ankles. Broken foot, broken ribs, broken left thumb, broken right index finger, an abdomen that was inflamed and excruciatingly painful. And eight feet away, barely visible in the shadows, lay the scissors Dulexy had left behind. If he could get to them...

Mulder tried to lift himself up by his hands and gasped at the pain in his fingers. Both hands were swollen to twice their normal size, and the left one was a dark color, appearing almost black in the dim light cast by the moon. He was able, with a good deal of hurt, to prop himself on his elbows, but he was too weak to hold himself up like that for long, and soon collapsed back to the floor, tears of despair once again streaking his cheeks.

Dulexy would be coming back soon, either with or without the money, and all Mulder had to do was wait. One way or another, Dulexy was surely planning to finish him off before long. He could simply lay here, maybe slip into blissful oblivion again, and Dulexy would eventually remove the burden that his life had become from him forever. Scully would grieve, of course, but she had lived without him before. Emmie would miss him--she'd already lost one father--and for that, Mulder was truly sorry, but he couldn't, no more strength, no more courage, no more--

But maybe, just maybe he could pull himself over to the corner if he worked it slowly. He'd be able to get the shears, cut the ropes binding his feet, and perhaps crawl out of the house and hide before Dulexy returned. Did he have enough time?

//Not if you lie here feeling sorry for yourself, asshole// that pesky inner voice stated firmly. //Get moving.//

Taking a deep breath, but drawing it in very slowly, mindful of his punctured lung, Mulder raised up commando-style on his elbows. Ignoring the screaming in his ribs, he dug his right elbow into the floor, grateful that the wood was old and rough and gave decent traction, and pulled himself forward. He managed to move three or four inches before he had to stop and rest, gasping for breath that didn't ever seem sufficient, unable to decide which throbbing piece of his body hurt the worst.

When he'd recovered from the effort, he gritted his teeth, raised up again, and made his left arm do its share of the work. Another few inches gained. Determinedly, focusing only on the glinting silver shape that lay ahead of him, he ordered his arms to do their part in the rescue effort. They were the only thing he could rely on at this point. Sweat broke out all over his body, and the swelling in his hands and foot made him want to cry out in agony, but he moved forward yet again. At least his tears were gone.


Dulexy, for his part, waited until Scully was an hour late, and then left their rendezvous point in the blackest of moods. Mulder was going to pay the ultimate price for this, he decided. He was tired of fucking around with this family. He might not get the money he'd been after, but he was going to have a good time exacting revenge for his trouble. Oh yes, Mulder, he thought gleefully as he drove toward home, you and I are going to play all night long.


-------------------------
THURSDAY 2:26 a.m.
-------------------------

Mulder's eyes flew open at the sound of the slamming door. Again it shook the house, and Mulder trembled when he remembered how badly he'd been hurt the last time Dulexy was this angry. "Shit," he whispered, biting back a sob. "Shitshitshit!"

He'd only closed his eyes for a moment to rest, but now he began sawing frantically at the ropes again. It had taken him almost two hours to reach the scissors, and once he'd obtained his treasure he'd been exhausted and steadily weeping with the pain. He'd managed to sit up and prop himself in the corner, and had begun working on the ropes in earnest.

Using a pair of shears when you had broken fingers on each hand was nearly impossible, and Mulder's clumsy efforts had already resulted in one deep gouge in his left foot which was bleeding enthusiastically. He'd tried to staunch the flow with a piece ripped from his shirt, but hadn't had much luck. He'd only managed to cut through about half of the thick rope when he heard Dulexy's angry footsteps stalking down the hall toward his prison.

A soft moan of desperation escaped him as he renewed his efforts, keeping an eye on the door, already knowing it was a useless endeavor but unwilling to abandon the victory for which he'd worked so hard and which was so close.

Mulder stopped when Dulexy entered the room, glancing around furiously for a second before spotting him huddled in the corner. The man came over and knelt beside him, eyes glittering in the moonlight.

"So, you thought you could get away from me," Dulexy stated, and Mulder smelled the familiar drunken odor on Dulexy's breath.

He stared back silently at Dulexy. There was nothing to say; denying the obvious was silly. He wondered what had gone wrong this time, but it didn't really matter, did it? Dulexy was drunk, and angry, and surely this time Dulexy would finish him off.

Instead, to his amazement, Dulexy gently took the scissors from his ruined hands and, being careful not to cut Mulder's skin, released him from the ropes. Mulder's mouth dropped open in surprise, but before he could utter a word Dulexy stood and, grabbing him by his broken foot, dragged him roughly back to the center of the room. Mulder screamed.

"I'll be right back," Dulexy said with a wink, "and then we'll discuss your behavior. Don't go nowhere."

Mulder scrabbled to crawl back to his corner, foolishly thinking it might afford him some protection, but before he could even turn over onto his stomach, Dulexy had reappeared, this time bearing the steel pipe.

Mulder whimpered deep in his throat, his swollen hands grabbing at the floor for purchase, instinctively trying to back away but unable to move even an inch.

"I've been fucked around by her for the last time," Dulexy announced, beginning to swing the pipe back and forth. "Now I'm going to kill you. And then I'm going to kill her. And then maybe I'll have some fun with that pretty little girl of yours before I slit her throat."

He felt his bile rising at Dulexy's words. The idea of this sonofabitch laying a finger on either Scully or Emmie sent a surge of adrenalin throughout his body, but unfortunately, his body was too broken to make use of it. He watched wordlessly as Dulexy swung the pipe around his head a few more times, and so was not totally unprepared when Dulexy smashed the steel rod into his right leg with such force that the bones below the knee were snapped.

He heard the now-familiar sound before slipping into the darkness.

A few minutes later he was brought back to the surface of the suffering when Dulexy threw a pan of icy cold water directly into his face.

"You're not getting away from me that easy," Dulexy informed him. "I want you to die with the image of what I'm going to do to your wife and daughter on your mind. Maybe you can watch from hell while I torture them."

Sputtering, Mulder licked the water from his lips, wishing Dulexy had managed to get more of it into his mouth and less on his clothes. He tried to focus on Dulexy's words, but they didn't make sense in his jumbled mind. They were merely nonsensical sounds strung together, forming into incoherent batches that were only recognizable as sentences by the punctuating pauses. Then the sentences stopped, and Mulder gasped for breath, unable to speak or even scream out his pain and fear when he saw Dulexy raise the pipe again.

It was his other leg this time, in roughly the same location, and Mulder did manage to scream, punctured lung be damned. Actually, it was more of a loud groan, and he felt his ribs protest when it emerged.

"Maybe I'll tie your wife up and force her to watch while I play with your daughter a little bit. Is she a virgin, Mulder? Has any boy ever touched that hot, wet part of her? Have *you*, Mulder?"

Again the words made no sense, which Mulder was currently unable to appreciate as the blessing it was. Had he understood Dulexy's taunts, it would only have served to increase his helpless rage.

Dulexy raised the pipe once more, and Mulder found himself begging, with no thought to the humiliation, or even the probable outcome of such an action. His mind was focused on nothing but the agony he was experiencing, and he was willing to do whatever was required to make it stop.

"Please...no more...," he cried weakly. "Please just shoot me...Dulexy...ohgodpleasenomore!"

He was cut off when Dulexy brought the pipe down hard on his right arm, shattering it below the elbow. His scream this time was high-pitched and girlish, and he barely heard it before he passed out. Dulexy brought him back with the cold water again and, ignoring Mulder's pleading whimpers, repeated his task on his victim's other arm. Then he stood back and surveyed his work.

The battered, broken man on the floor lay there moaning softly. A long, pathetic sound of distress broke the night that had otherwise fallen silent, interspersed with panting breaths that didn't bring in enough oxygen. Mulder wasn't long for this world, it was apparent, and for a moment Dulexy considered bashing his head in and putting the man out of his misery. Then, with a wicked smile, he decided otherwise. It might be interesting to see just how long it took Mulder to finally die. He thought he might just watch.


-------------------------
THURSDAY, 2:53 a.m.
-------------------------

Sylvia Stiles sat huddled in her bed, trying hard to ignore the pathetic wailing that made its way through the clear night, in past the curtains blowing at her bedroom window and lodging in her brain without mercy. Justin had said he wouldn't hurt the man too badly, but it was apparent that Justin had lied once again.

She wanted so badly to go to him, help him, pull Justin away from him, but she didn't dare. If Justin found her tampering with his plans, he'd kill her in an instant--she had no doubt of that. It was bad enough she'd given the prisoner a drink of water, but to actually try helping him escape...well, she was just lucky Justin hadn't discovered that drink, or it might be she who was wailing and moaning in pain now.

At last, the awful noises stopped, and Sylvia wondered if the hostage had finally given up life. She sniffed angrily--Justin hadn't needed to kill him. He looked like a nice man, even if he had been in prison once, and his wife was one of the few people who had treated her with respect for as long as she could remember. She hated to think of that sweet little woman without her husband.

A thought struck her, and she crept from her bed, feeling her way purposefully to the kitchen without turning on any lights. It wouldn't do for Justin to discover she was awake. When she reached the kitchen, she opened the top drawer beside the refrigerator and felt near the back until her fingers closed over the small white card the man's wife had given her. It had a cell phone number printed on it, she remembered. First thing in the morning, she was going to call that number. She didn't care if Justin went back to prison. She didn't even care if she got in trouble for hiding him. She didn't want to live with that poor man's death on her head...she couldn't take that again. Mama and Justin had always thought Grandpa died of the alcohol, and Sylvia had never told a soul that she knew more--quite a bit more than she'd ever let on. Grandpa had just hurt her once too often.

She padded slowly back to her bedroom, and as she climbed under the covers, the wailing started again. Sylvia covered her ears with her hands, and buried her head beneath the pillow.


-------------------------
THURSDAY 3:47 a.m.
-------------------------

Mulder was pulled from his blissful oblivion when Dulexy again doused him with water. Again, Mulder lapped hungrily at the droplets that fell on his lips. Through the haze of pain and fear that surrounded him, he was dimly aware that Dulexy had perched himself on the bare mattress of the bed and was watching him. Dulexy continued to taunt him with meaningless words and phrases, but they were lost on Mulder. The only thing he could focus on was the unbelievable level of agony he was experiencing, and the fact that whenever his body would give up and slip into the darkness, Dulexy brought him back with the water.

Eventually, Mulder came to terms with the hurting enough to produce coherent thought, and when he did, it was to marvel at the persistence of life. If he'd been watching the scene from the outside, Mulder would have bet the farm that the man on the floor wouldn't have lasted the night, but as the light of dawn slowly began to seep in through the broken window, he realized he was still alive, against all odds.

The water that Dulexy had continued to douse him with had actually improved his situation somewhat, although in bringing him back from the brink of death by dehydration, Dulexy had only managed to fully awaken the nerve endings in his extremities. Mulder had suffered broken bones before and hadn't thought it all that bad, once he made it past the initial pain, but this...he was fascinated to note that the pain increased exponentially with each additional break.

His mind tried to focus on that math problem, to add up all his broken bones and increase the total by a factor of, oh say ten, but he found himself unable to concentrate long enough to come up with the initial tally. Each individual break was screaming for attention, and once he focused on it long enough to add it to the count, Mulder found he couldn't wrench his thoughts away from the pain. After a while he gave up on the task and absorbed himself in simply staying alive a little while longer. Maybe if Dulexy left...maybe if he could move a little...maybe...


-------------------------
THURSDAY, 6:14 a.m.
-------------------------

The persistent ringing of her cell phone brought Scully back to consciousness. She opened her eyes, gazing around herself in confusion for a moment before realizing she was in a hospital bed.

Her mother sat beside her--had obviously been there all night. She was just beginning to stir toward wakefulness at the sound of ringing.

"Mom," Scully croaked, and tried again. "Mom."

Maggie opened her eyes and looked, tired but happy, into her daughter's face.

"You're awake," she observed in a soft, pleased voice.

Scully struggled for reason through the fog in her brain. What had happened to her? Her mind tried to piece together the puzzle when memory hit her like a sledgehammer. Mulder. Dulexy. Her car, skidding off the road. Dulexy, waiting, surely growing more angry every minute that she did not arrive for their rendezvous. And Mulder, at his mercy...

"Mom, could you please grab my phone out of my bag? It could be about Mulder." Scully tried not to sound frantic, but she was afraid of what the consequences to Mulder would be after she'd been unable to keep her meeting with Dulexy. What if he'd hurt Mulder...or worse?

Her mother finally located the ringing phone, but by the time she handed it to Scully, the ringing had ceased. A moment later, to her relief, the flashing symbol indicating a voice-mail message began flickering. Hastily, Scully pushed in the numbers to access her messages.

"Mrs. Mulder, this is Sylvia Stiles," the tremulous voice announced when she'd connected. "It's about your husband. I think--maybe you'd better come over and talk to me. I think maybe Justin has him--well, I can't talk on the phone. You come see me today, as quick as you can."

Scully's face paled when she heard the message, and it took all her self-control not to fling the phone angrily across the room. She'd been sure Sylvia was lying when she said she knew nothing about Mulder, of course, but there had been no way to prove it at the time, and Scully hadn't wanted to alienate the woman by voicing her suspicion. Upon reflection, she decided as she pulled her bruised self from the bed, it was better she hadn't alienated her. Unless Mulder was already dead.

"Dana, what are you doing?" Mrs. Scully demanded, horrified to see her daughter removing the IV from her left hand. "You can't do that!"

"I have to go, Mom," Scully said patiently, holding a washcloth over the wound to staunch the bleeding. She made her way slowly toward the closet, pleased to find her clothing hanging neatly there. "It may already be too late."

"Too late for what?" her mother asked, confusion in her voice.

"For Mulder." Seeing her mother's frightened expression, Scully added gently, "I'm all right, Mom. I just got a little bruised up is all. I'll be fine. I have to find my husband."

She steadied herself by leaning against the bed as she pulled her jeans on, ignoring the nurse who had been summoned by the beeping IV monitor. In the background, she was dimly aware of her mother attempting to explain the situation to the nurse, but she was already inside herself, pulling on all her strength to help her cope with what she was afraid she would find.

Taking her personal possessions, Scully started for the elevator. Hearing a familiar shout, she held the door as her mother came racing down the corridor.

"You can't drive anywhere, your car was totaled," her mother informed her. "Wherever you're going, you'll have to let me take you there."

"Just let me borrow your car, Mom. I'm fine," Scully answered impatiently, reaching for the keys, but Maggie deliberately held them behind her back.

"I am not letting you drive in this condition," she insisted with that note of steel that Scully remembered from her childhood. "You still have narcotics in your system. The last thing you need is to have another accident, and maybe finish yourself off. Now--where are we going?"

"We have to go to Walter," Scully told her as she followed her mother into the parking garage. "I'm not going off alone without at least letting him know."

"Good idea," her mother agreed, and helped Dana into the car. She carefully but swiftly drove them to the nearby hospital where Skinner had been incarcerated for the better part of a week. Scully was silent and tense on the ride over, poring over Sylvia's message in her mind. Did this mean the woman knew where Mulder was being held? Or did she only suspect? Either way, it was more than they'd had to go on previously.

She tried not to get her hopes up as they rode the elevator up to Skinner's room, but it was impossible not to grasp onto the belief that she'd find Mulder, safe and sound. Except for the broken bones, she reminded herself fiercely. Dulexy still needed to die for that.


When Mulder opened his eyes again, Dulexy was gone. He glanced carefully around the room, half-afraid his tormentor was hiding in some darkened corner, but he was alone. Slowly, he took stock of his situation. He was completely helpless, he told himself. He couldn't walk, he couldn't even move without excruciating pain. Nobody knew where he was, he was practically starved and nearly dead from dehydration, although Dulexy's perceived torture of continually soaking him to bring him back to consciousness had had one positive side-effect--he'd managed to get enough water into his mouth to revive himself a little.

He was helpless, and yet, he reminded himself, if he didn't do something, Dulexy was going to kill him, then go after Emmie and Scully. He no longer dreaded his own death--welcomed it, in fact--but his women must be protected. It was all he had left to give them. They must not suffer because of him and his past.

With an effort borne of sheer will, Mulder managed, after several agonizing tries, to roll over onto his stomach. His broken, swollen limbs screamed mercilessly at him, and the pressure of landing on his ribs drove what little breath he had out of his body. He lay there, flailing weakly for a few minutes, until he recovered enough stamina to raise his head and survey his goal. The bedroom exit lay three feet in front of him.

Dulexy had been gone for only a few minutes, but Mulder knew he could return at any time. If he was halfway down the hall when his captor came back, Mulder knew he would probably be killed--maybe this time Dulexy would bash his head in with the steel pipe, or break his spine in two. At any rate, he had nothing to lose. He was going to die anyway. If he could only get to a phone, possibly warn Scully, then he could at least die in peace.

Forcing himself up onto his elbows as he'd done before, groaning at the sharp ache of moving his arms at all, he began to inch forward.


Dulexy had watched Mulder drift in and out of consciousness until he grew bored with the activity. He'd brought his hapless victim back from oblivion four or five times, sputtering each time with the water Dulexy had thrown in his face. Dulexy had grinned with glee when he saw the look in Mulder's eyes as the beaten man realized once again that he was still alive. Finally, he'd gotten tired of his game, and decided to cruise on over to the main house to see Sylvia. He'd need money--after he disposed of Mulder's body, he'd do better to leave town for a while, he reasoned. Surely the bitch had some cash stored away somewhere in that big old house. She'd give it to him, or he'd kill her.

He left the truck in the driveway and took the shortcut, walking through the trees toward the house where he'd grown up. Justin had known these lands like the back of his hand when he'd been a kid, and not much had changed since then. He approached the house from the north, around the corner from the kitchen door, and was about to change course for the sidewalk when he heard his sister's voice drifting from her open bedroom window.

"I think--maybe you'd better come over and talk to me. I think maybe Justin has him--well, I can't talk on the phone. You come see me today, as quick as you can."

A bolt of fury shot through him, quicker than lightning. Instantly his mood changed from lighthearted glee to murderous rage. She was trying to double-cross him. His own sister!

He looked around for something to use as a weapon, but saw nothing suitable. Instead, Dulexy slipped quietly inside the kitchen and crept softly through to the adjoining den. There, in front of the fireplace. An iron poker. That would do the trick. Gripping his prize tightly, he made his way down the hall toward Sylvia's room.

Sylvia heard the footsteps on the creaky wood floor, and immediately shoved the phone and the card beneath the pillow. It had to be Justin. Maybe if she offered him a cup of coffee, acted cheerful, she could get rid of him.

"Hello, Justin," she said quickly when he entered the room. "Would you like--"

She never got to finish her sentence, barely had time to notice the fireplace poker in his hand before he raised it high in the air and brought it down hard on her skull. The cracking, squishing sound it made was the last noise she heard.

Dulexy hit her twice more, just to be sure, before throwing the poker aside. He wrapped the bloody mass that had once been his sister's skull in the bathrobe that lay on the end of the bed, then picked up her body in his arms and carried her down the hall and out of the house. Setting her none-too-gently on the ground, he pulled open the door of a root cellar that lay a few feet from the kitchen. He picked up Sylvia's lifeless body again and watched dispassionately as she tumbled down the stairs. Then he slammed the door shut and strode toward the other house. He'd get in his truck and go take care of the Mulder women, he thought with satisfaction as he trod through the woods. Maybe he'd even bring them back here and make Mulder watch while he played with them, if the sonofabitch was still breathing when he got back. He laughed out loud at the prospect. The day was just getting better and better.


"What are you doing here so early--and what the hell happened to you?" Skinner demanded from his hospital bed when Scully entered the room. Her face was pale, with dark circles forming under her eyes, and there was a nasty bruise covering her left cheekbone.

"There's no time for explanations. I need your help."

He raised his bed to a sitting position, cocking an eyebrow at her curiously.

"I thought you were meeting with Dulexy last night--what about Mulder?"

Scully bit her lip firmly, refusing to give in to the despair that wanted to sweep over her.

"I had a car accident on my way to see him. I ended up being taken to the hospital, unconscious. I woke up this morning, to the ringing of my cell phone. Dulexy's sister left me a message to come out there immediately--she seems ready to talk."

"Did she tell you where to find Mulder?" he demanded anxiously.

She shook her head. "I'm betting she knows where he is, though. I'm on my way there now. I just hope I'm not too late."

"Then why are you here? There isn't time to--"

"I need backup," she interrupted. "FBI backup. No more dealing with these locals."

He stared at her for a moment, then his head started to shake back and forth slowly, thoughtfully. "No backup, Scully," he said firmly, pushing back the covers and unsteadily attempting to stand. "Every time backup's gotten involved, Mulder's situation has worsened. We'll go alone."

"Walter, you can't--"

"Yes I can. I'm a lot stronger than you think. My wound wasn't nearly as bad as yours that time you got gut-shot...they've already had me up and walking around. And we're probably Mulder's last hope."

He then proceeded to do exactly as Scully had done, removing his IV and, ignoring the protesting monitor and the accompanying protesting nurse, donning his clothes as quickly as possible. He was just finishing tying his shoes when Jess entered the room, holding a cup of coffee in one hand.

"What the *hell* do you think you're doing?" she demanded, setting the cup down quickly and going to stand over him.

He ignored her anger as he calmly finished tying his shoes. Then he looked up into her face, touched by the concern and love he saw there.

"Scully and I have to go get Mulder," he explained, standing up and placing his hands on her shoulders. "We're the only ones who can help him now."

"Why?" she asked softly, wanting to rail against him, order him back into the bed, plead with the nurses for enough pain medication to knock him out if it would keep him out of danger. "You're in no condition to leave here, Walter. Why can't you send the police?"

"She's right, Walter, you're not in any condition. Just call me in a couple of agents and let us handle this. We have to hurry, and you don't look like you can do anything close to hurrying right now." Scully was practically dancing from one foot to the other in her anxiety. They were wasting time here, while Mulder--heaven knew what was happening to Mulder. "Besides, you could lose your job over this," she reminded him.

"We'll handle this alone, Scully," he insisted as he started for the door, ignoring any and all pleas from Jess, Mrs. Scully and the two nurses who were busily trying to convince him to get back into bed. "I'm less than a year from retirement. If they want to fire me over this, I'll gladly forfeit my pension if it means we get Mulder back alive."

Scully nodded agreement, unwilling to waste any more time arguing. Recognizing defeat, Mrs. Scully handed her daughter the keys to her car.

"You *will* come back alive," she ordered, fixing first Dana and then Walter with her special glare. "Both of you. And bring Fox back home, too."

"Yes, Mom," Scully flung over her shoulder as they left, making their way to the car as quickly as two injured people possibly could.


Mulder stopped again to rest, finally giving in to the exhaustion that enveloped him. He had no strength, no ability...but he'd discovered hope. It had taken him almost an hour, but he was halfway down the hall leading to the kitchen, and there, hanging on the wall above him, ten feet ahead, was his goal. A telephone.

He'd almost wept with relief when he'd seen it. He'd been ready to give up, his broken limbs relentlessly protesting every movement. His vision would gray out occasionally, and he'd be forced to stop, but as soon as it would clear, aided by the deepest breaths he was able to take--not deep enough, but adequate--he'd begin his quest anew.

He'd found he could do little more with his legs than wriggle them at the hips, trying to push with his knees but unable to lift his shins to give the knees the purchase they needed. Most of the work was still being done by his elbows, and his shattered forearms screamed at him with every movement. He was moving slowly, inching forward, but making noticeable progress. Luckily, the floors of the old house were wood instead of carpet, so he slid more easily, although he did have some splinters in his stomach and arms from the long-neglected surface. Right now they were the least of his worries.

He'd just raised his head from his latest forced rest period when he heard a noise that made him shiver with terror. He froze, listening to the footsteps approaching, treading on the creaky surface of the porch outside the kitchen door.

Tears of frustration and fear tried to leak out of his eyes once again, but he held them back with a will, reminding himself that he was a dead man anyway. It didn't matter if Dulexy found him here or where he'd left him. Either way this was going to be his last day on earth. Gritting his teeth against the agony, more obvious now, less ignorable since he wasn't concentrating on moving, he waited for the worst.

He heard the kitchen door open, and Dulexy's heavy gait treading across the floor, but couldn't bring himself to watch as his captor approached. He lay his cheek against the cool floor and closed his eyes, anticipating the first blow.

It never came.

Instead, the footsteps moved off the kitchen into another room, and then quickly back toward the door, leaving the house. Moments later, Mulder heard a vehicle start, and the unmistakable sound of Dulexy's truck driving away. He couldn't believe his good fortune. Dulexy had gone.

In the next second he realized exactly *where* Dulexy was probably headed--toward Scully and Emmie--and stared at the telephone on the wall with new determination. He had to reach that phone before Dulexy reached his women.

It took almost another hour for him to make it to the phone, grab the cord, manage to yank the receiver down from where he lay on the floor, and scream out his frustration when, instead of a dial tone, his ear met silence.

The phone had been disconnected.


Scully glanced worriedly over at Skinner as she drove. He didn't look good at all--his face was pale and drawn. He leaned against the headrest, his eyes closed, and she could see the sheen of sweat on his skin. Every time the car hit a slight bump, he winced.

"Damn well should have stayed in the hospital," she muttered angrily.

"I told you, Scully, you need me. I'll be fine."

She said nothing more, but drove more carefully, trying to avoid bumps. Eventually, she turned off the road onto a dirt driveway. She drove slowly, biting her lip in concentration as she tried to avoid the ruts so as not to further jostle Skinner.

When at last she pulled the car to a stop in front of the house, Skinner opened his eyes wearily.

"Looks deserted," he commented.

"It didn't have a lot of life the last time I was here," Scully replied as she unfastened her seatbelt.

She half-expected Sylvia Stiles to come running out to meet them, but was greeted by nothing but silence as she approached the front door.

"Miss Stiles?" she called through the screen, knocking loudly. "Is anyone home?"

There was no answer. Finally, after several more attempts at knocking brought no satisfaction, Scully pulled the screen door open and stepped into a large entrance hall. She blinked her eyes a few times to accustom them to the dimness, and made for a doorway she assumed would lead to the main portion of the house. Skinner followed, and they stepped into a small den, cozy and with a lived-in feeling, but still deserted.

"Sylvia?" Scully called again. She motioned to the corridor leading off the den. Down the corridor to their right lay a large kitchen, and to the left appeared to be several bedrooms. They turned left, and had only gone a few feet when she stopped suddenly.

"Oh my God," she moaned softly, staring at her feet.

Skinner's eyes lowered to where she was looking, and he discovered what had caught her attention. Small droplets, random and few in number, but unmistakably blood, spattered the floor. The droplets became fewer and farther between leading toward the kitchen, and larger and greater in number as they continued to approach what turned out to be a comfortably-sized bedroom.

Skinner steadied her as she swayed on her feet, staring fixedly at the large bloodstain on the bed.

"What did that bastard do to him?" she ground out, unable to look away from what she was certain now must have been the place Mulder had taken his last breath.


"Of course it's disconnected, you idiot--this house hasn't been lived in for years!" he reprimanded himself, once he'd gotten his silent screams of frustration under control. "You just have to find another way."

The sound of his own voice calmed Mulder considerably, scratchy and hoarse though it was. It somehow managed to remind him that he was, in fact, still alive, and as such, should be doing whatever he could to remain in that condition for as long as possible.

Notifying Scully of Dulexy's approach seemed impossible now--she'd have to rely on her own wits to save her and Emmie. On the other hand, nobody was going to save him except himself, he realized. He'd made it down the hall to the kitchen. Maybe if he gathered all his strength he could make it out of the house and find someplace to hide.

His muscles screamed in protest when he informed them they were going to have to get to work again, but he ignored their complaints. "Let 'em form a union," he muttered, his eyes on the kitchen door which, he thankfully noted, was unlatched. There was no way in hell he could stand up at this point. It was all up to the elbows, knees and hips.

Slowly, with a stubbornness Mulder would have previously sworn he no longer possessed, he began to inch his way toward the door. After another twenty minutes of effort, he reached it, and almost wept with relief when the door swung open easily from his spot on the floor. He pulled the front part of his body over the threshold and bit down hard on his lip to keep from crying out when he dragged his shattered legs across the hump. Another couple of feet and he was at the edge of the steps. This time, Mulder did put his cheek down on the hard, cool wood and allow the tears to course down his cheeks.

Five steps. Five steep steps to the ground and it looked like a mile. How was he ever going to make it? It had taken him too long to get this far--Dulexy had probably already done away with his family and was on his way back here. Even if he managed to get to the bottom of this flight of stairs without breaking his neck, there was nothing there but dirt and tall weeds. He wouldn't be able to drag himself across the ground as easily as he'd managed the hardwood floors. Dulexy would likely return to find him five feet across the yard in his escape attempt. At that point, he would no doubt be beaten the rest of the way toward that death that seemed so near.

At the same time the despair washed over him, Mulder felt hope on its heels. For the first time in days, he was outside, and just the feeling of freedom helped perk him up a little. The sun was shining, it was a crisp autumn day, the birds were singing... "And you're lying here soaking up the sunshine instead of trying to save your life, dipshit," he groused to himself.

Taking another survey of the steps beneath him, he pushed back the discouragement that wanted to overwhelm him.

"One step at a time, Mulder," he panted to himself as he carefully lowered his right arm to let the elbow rest on the first step. "One at a time."

He'd just placed his second elbow on the step when he heard a sound and felt his heart nearly stop.

A car swished past on a road somewhere beyond the treeline ahead of him. He heard it plain as day. Not too far distant, either, if he guessed correctly. For a few minutes he feared Dulexy's return, but after gazing intently at the road leading toward the house for several minutes, he decided it had been someone else, merely passing by.

On the other hand, he reminded himself, if there was a road that close, maybe he could manage to crawl to it. Maybe he could find someone to help him.

"Four more steps," he muttered, leaning downwards to move toward step number two.

Mulder made it to the ground in record time when his elbow slipped on step number two, and his entire body slid quickly down, meeting the hard, packed earth at the foot with an agonizing collision. The remainder of the breath in his body was knocked clean out of him, and he welcomed the blackness as he slipped into its comforting embrace.


"Don't panic just yet, Scully," he ordered, his hand on her arm holding her steady. "You don't know it's Mulder's blood."

She turned to him, hopelessness in her blue eyes. "Whose else would it be?" she asked in a voice that sounded almost broken, and he realized with sudden clarity just how difficult all this had been for her. Of course he'd known it wasn't easy--having a family member kidnapped and tortured was one of the worst things that could happen--but he was able to see the situation clearly through her eyes now. She'd done so much and tried so hard to get Mulder back safely, and everything she had done had resulted in more suffering for the one she wanted to save. His voice took on a new softness.

"I think it's probably Sylvia Stiles' blood," he told her, and the way her eyes widened told him she hadn't even considered that possibility.

Together, they followed the droplets of blood down the hall to the kitchen, but by the time they reached that room the trail had disappeared completely. They searched the entire house, finding nothing of any use.

"The barn," Scully said suddenly. "I'll bet Dulexy killed her and hid her body in the barn. If that's the case, he could have taken Mulder anywhere."

Skinner thought they would most certainly find both Sylvia's body and Mulder's in the barn, but he didn't voice the idea. No need to upset Scully any more if he happened to be wrong. As they made their way slowly toward the barn doors, he prayed to be wrong.

Scully pulled open the heavy doors while he leaned, panting, against the side of the barn. The rush of adrenalin that had gotten him through his initial exit from the hospital had long since dissipated, and now all Skinner wanted to do was collapse in his wife's arms and have her take sweet care of him. But Mulder, if he was still alive, probably wanted the same thing, he told himself, and pushed himself away from the supporting wall with an effort. He followed her inside, blinking to accustom his eyes to the darkness.

Scully, who seemed to have gained energy where he'd lost his own, scurried as quickly as she could from pile of boxes to pile, peering behind and around every obstruction. She climbed up to the hayloft again, her heart beating with excitement as she peeked over the edge, and bit back her exasperation when it was just as deserted and untouched as it had been the last time she was here.

Finally, after she'd searched every possible nook and cranny of the old barn, Scully gave up.

"I think we should go ahead and call the locals out, Walter," she said dejectedly, seating herself on a nearby box. "They can search the entire property a lot better than we can."

He nodded his agreement, knowing how hard it was for her to give up the control in this situation.

"I left my cell phone in the car, and so did you," he pointed out, so, with her supporting him this time, they made their way even more slowly back to the car.

He opened the passenger door and reached in for his phone, then lay it gently back on the seat as he watched her. She was crouching, half-seated in the car, and had frozen, staring straight ahead. He followed her gaze and saw what she was staring at. A door, near the kitchen entrance on the side of the house, leading down into the ground--what appeared to be a root cellar or storm shelter of some sort.

"The trail of blood led toward the kitchen," she said, still staring.

He looked from the door back to her and jerked his head toward the cellar.

"Watch yourself," he ordered, and she nodded. Slowly, she climbed from the car and walked toward the door in the ground, wondering if this was something she really wanted to do. If she found Mulder's body inside...but maybe he was alive down there, hurting, waiting for her to find him.

That thought spurred her onward, and reaching the door, she flung it wide open. Daylight streamed down the stairs, illuminating what were obviously a woman's legs at the bottom.

"Someone's down here," she called back to Skinner. "I think it might be Sylvia."

She cautiously made her way down the stairs, and was able to see before reaching the bottom that it was definitely Sylvia's body sprawled on the dirt floor. From the bloody gash in her skull and the way she lay, it was obvious the woman was dead. Glancing around the small room, Scully was relieved to find no other corpses in residence. Mulder wasn't down here alive, but he wasn't dead here either, which at this point, Scully viewed as a positive development.


He opened his eyes and cursed. There was just nothing like sliding head-first down a flight of stairs when you were already nearly dead, he decided. The broken rib that had been making his breathing difficult had shifted. Breathing was almost impossible now, at least on the side where the rib dug into his lung. He was barely able to take in enough air to remain conscious, and he lay there on his stomach, taking air in short, harsh gasps.

It was over. He was beaten. There was nothing else he could do. He certainly couldn't get up and walk to the road, there was no way to call for help, and sooner or later, Dulexy would return. He could only hope that Scully and Emmie had gotten away from the man before he was able to do them any harm. He wished fervently that he could know for sure; if he knew they were safe, he could close his eyes and die in peace. That was his biggest regret--that he would never know.


"He's not here," she announced, reaching the surface and coming face to face with Skinner. "But Sylvia's dead. Her head's bashed in--apparently that was her blood we saw inside."

Skinner barely heard her; he was staring thoughtfully at the trees that lay to the south of the house.

"Walter? Did you hear me?"

"What's beyond those trees?" he asked, nodding toward them with his head.

She looked that way. "I saw a road about half a mile back," she commented after a few moments.

"Let's check it out."

"The police..."

"I already called them. They're on their way. Let's go explore that road, then we'll come back here and give them our statements."

She nodded and gave him her arm to lean on as they made their way back to the car. Skinner was weakening, she could tell; he didn't have much left.

She drove slowly down the paved road, searching for the turnoff she'd seen before. Just as she was about to decide she had either missed it or imagined it, she spotted the road...hardly a road, really, more of a wide trail. Carefully, Scully guided her mother's Chevy over the edge of the pavement, trying not to hear the slight gasps of pain Walter was emitting. The old road was deeply rutted and overgrown, but upon closer inspection, she decided it looked as if it might have been used recently.


Again, the sound of the car approaching woke him. This time, though, it didn't drive on past. This time, he could tell it turned off and was coming toward the house. The house where he lay, fully exposed, in the back yard. Dulexy had been parking his truck on the side of the house--Mulder had been able to discern that from the sounds of Dulexy's comings and goings. If he pulled into his usual parking spot, what were the odds of him failing to notice Mulder lying here?

Nil, he decided. He was dead meat. Of course, he thought with a little giggle, he was almost dead meat already. Just about ready to be bled and popped in the freezer--one side of Mulder, enough to get a family of four through the long winter.

The madness of his thoughts seeped through, and he realized how utterly insane it was to lie here laughing at morbid jokes while Dulexy drew ever nearer. He had to hide, or at least...well...die trying.

Pushing back another crazed giggle that wanted to emerge, Mulder eyed a group of shrubs not far from where he lay. Apparently this house had had quite a well-landscaped yard at one time, and after years of neglect, was thickly overgrown in places and sparse in others. If he could hide in the bushes, maybe he could wait until Dulexy fell into his nightly drunken sleep and then make for the road.

Gritting his teeth, he once again raised himself on his elbows. His hands and forearms were badly swollen by now, and it was obvious to him that this mode of transportation wouldn't work for much longer. For a moment he considered trying to body-roll toward the shrubs, but quickly abandoned that idea. The constant impact of his chest against the hard ground would probably succeed in driving his broken ribs right into his heart. If he was going to die, it sure as hell wasn't going to be by his own hand, he thought determinedly. Clenching his jaw hard to keep from screaming, he made himself begin to move forward.


Scully stopped the car in front of the dilapidated house. It was obviously unused--part of the front porch was falling in, and several windows were broken--and yet...it had a feeling about it, a feeling of *aliveness* that shouldn't be present in a structure so long abandoned.

Her eyes lit up as she emerged from the car. Mulder was here, or at least, had been here at one time. She could just feel it. Shaking her head a little, she forced the thought away as errant nonsense. There was no such thing as psychic power, and even if there was, she certainly didn't possess it.

"Why don't you stay in the car?" she suggested to Skinner, seeing how pale he was, but she knew before the words left her mouth what his reaction would be.

He glared at her and flung open the car door, gripping it tightly as he hauled himself to his feet.

//Lord deliver me from Manly Men// she thought with a flash of anger, but held her tongue. There was no point in discouraging Walter when he was like this. He was a bull.

She started for the front door of the house, ignoring his slower pace, and by the time he caught up to her she had already knocked, received no answer, and gone inside. She stood staring around herself, taking in the fact that the floor plan of this house was remarkably similar to the one where Sylvia Stiles had lived and died. She'd been uncertain whether or not this house was part of the other woman's property, but was fairly convinced now that it was.

There was nothing amiss in the living room in which they stood, so with a look of agreement to one another, the started for the hall which must lead to bedrooms, Scully again walking ahead. Again she stopped short, again her face paled, again she stared at blood on the floor. This wasn't delicate droplets of blood, though. Instead, long streaks of crimson stained the rough wood beneath their feet. Again, it led toward the kitchen, growing thinner and fainter as it drew closer to that room. The Dulexy family must certainly have a thing about kitchens, she thought suddenly, and put her hand over her mouth to stifle a nervous laugh.

She ignored the trail leading to the kitchen for the time being, instead forging on toward the room where the blood had apparently originated. An enormous wooden bed stood in the middle of the room, and scattered on the floor were various fragments of rope, and one other thing that caught her eye.

Lying next to a dark pool of blood was a pair of sharp, silver scissors. Bloodstained scissors.

"Walter...you don't suppose he--killed Mulder with these and then dragged his body..." she asked haltingly, forcing the difficult words past her lips.

He examined the scene with a critical eye and then shook his head. "I don't think there's enough blood, Scully. Seems to me that if Mulder had been murdered with a pair of shears, there'd be blood everywhere. It looks as though he must have stabbed Mulder with them, though." He glanced around. "We should search the entire house. Mulder might still be here."

Together they prowled through every room, but all the others, while in various states of decay, seemed untouched. The living room contained a reclining chair with a large pile of empty Budweiser cans beside it, but other than that, there was no sign the house had been used at all in the past decade. Whatever Dulexy had done to Mulder, he'd done it in the room with the blood.

"If he didn't put any more effort into hiding Mulder's--into hiding Mulder than he did in concealing Sylvia's body, we ought to find him easily," Skinner reminded her smoothly, and with a nod and another dark glance around the room that had been Mulder's prison, she turned on her heel and stalked toward the kitchen. Skinner recognized her rigid posture--she was close to breaking down.


Mulder lay concealed beneath the thick shrubbery, breathing in short, shallow gasps. Getting into this hiding place had taken it all out of him, he knew. He had nothing left to fight with. If Dulexy found him now, it was all over. He almost wished Dulexy would find him, and put him out of the miserable hell his life had become over the past week, but Mulder knew things never worked out that easily for him. He'd lost his sister, his father, his job, his passion, and the woman he loved, had spent four years inside a federal prison, and then gone through hell all over again to gain the happiness he'd finally ended up with. What in the world would make him think the gods would stop playing with him now? These last ten years of peace had obviously been their way of lulling him into a false sense of security, making him drop his guard, in order to pull him into this last, most horrible game of cat and mouse before he died.

He heard the kitchen screen door bang open and then closed, and clenched his eyes tightly shut, stifling the whimper of fear that tried to escape. Either way, he told himself desperately, his ordeal would be over soon. He tried to make himself view his imminent death as a positive thing. He could feel himself weakening to the point of collapse, coming closer and closer to the edge of that cliff every second, and knew that the starvation, dehydration, beatings, trauma and blood loss were going to result in his death. Soon. Today. This would be his last day on earth, and for a brief moment he forgot where he was and who was nearby, and allowed himself to be grateful it was a nice day. Above the sound of Dulexy's footsteps in the yard, he could hear the twitter of birds in the trees. It was a soothing sound.

Then, miraculously, he heard a car door slam. Once again, it seemed, Dulexy was leaving, giving him yet another chance to live a little longer. Only he didn't have the strength to live any longer. He opened his eyes and watched as an ant crawled across his mangled thumb. Normally it would have tickled his skin, but today, on this last day on earth, he had no feeling left in his hands.

Suddenly it became overwhelmingly important to Mulder that he not die here in the bushes. He wanted to be out in the open, with the sunlight warming his body before it grew cold one last time.

Silently, he offered those gods that toyed with him a bargain: he would let them take him, willingly, if he could only reach the sunshine first. He measured the distance between where he lay and where the sunlight touched the grass. Not more than six feet. One time the length of his body. Surely he could do that, couldn't he, if his body knew it was the last thing he would ever require of it? Surely he could do this one more, brief time.

He barely heard the car start and the tires crunching over the dirt path as, with the single-mindedness that had always been a trademark of his personality, Mulder began to make for the sun.

A line from an old children's song popped into his head, and without realizing it he began to mouth the words, singing them to himself almost as a chant of encouragement, as he inched himself from beneath the protective branches.

"Put one...foot...in front...of...the other...," he mumbled as his elbows, ground almost to hamburger by his previous trip across the yard, dragged him toward his final resting place. "Soon...be walkin'...'cross the...floooooor...." He stopped, dropping his face to the ground for a few quick breaths, as deep as he could make them, gathering strength for his final advancement. His place to die lay just a couple of feet away now, and he knew as soon as he reached it, he could allow himself to finally rest.

"One...footinfront...of...the oth...other..." His fingers touched the warm grass, and he wanted to grasp it but was unable to make them move on command. His face, though--he needed to feel the sunshine on his face before he stopped. Just another foot. "Soon...you'll be...walkin'...out...the...d...d-door," he finished triumphantly just as his face fell gratefully across the line that separated light from shadow.

He closed his eyes, basking in the warmth that beat down upon his broken self, and gave up. They could take him any time now. He was ready to go.

He gradually realized that a sound was intruding upon his reverie, and with another whimper, understood that it was Dulexy's vehicle returning. Mulder refused to open his eyes. The bargain had been that if he made it to the sunshine, the gods could take him. If they chose to do that by delivering him back into Dulexy's hands, so be it--but nothing said he had to watch.

He heard a car door slam, and from a distance, a voice called his name. It wasn't Dulexy's voice, not at all. It was a soft, feminine voice, one that filled him with wonder even after all these years, wonder that this woman truly wanted him and loved him and stayed with him in spite of all the many ways he was totally fucked up. It was at that moment he realized he must have already died. Scully was here to greet him, which meant Dulexy had gotten to her after all, but maybe all the hurting was over now. Maybe they could be together now, and be left alone.

He felt a small hand grip his shoulder, and bit back a sob. He hurt everywhere. He'd thought death meant the hurting would stop, but perhaps it took a little time. He turned his head to look up, opened his eyes, saw her face, and smiled before his worn out nerve endings registered the pain of the movement.

Then he tried to scream, but there was no air, there was nothing but blackness and darkness, and him falling into the darkness and welcoming it like a long lost lover.

The clock had finally struck midnight.


---------------------
Journal of Fox Mulder
December 24
---------------------

It feels so good to finally be able to sit at the computer again, although if Scully catches me here this late, she'll probably start re-breaking limbs. That woman has no tolerance for bullshit at all, and I'm supposed to be in bed.

It's been almost four months since Dulexy tried to rearrange my bone structure, and at this point, just being able to walk is a miracle. Even though I still can't go far on my own, the doctors assure me a full recovery is certain. I just have to continue with the all-too-frequent torture sessions they call Physical Therapy, and by next summer I'll be close to my old self again. They said I'd even be able to play basketball, although I probably won't be able to do the running I used to do. That's ok, I can still swim, and play ball, and do any number of things I enjoy.

I can still hold my wife and daughter in my arms. I'd gladly sit in a wheelchair the rest of my life just to be able to do that.

Dulexy never even made it to our house that morning, although if he had he'd have been greeted by silence. Emmie was with Scully's mother, and Scully, of course, was engaged in the most important rescue mission of my life. How many times has that woman pulled my ass back from the edge of death? I don't think I want to count that up right now. I'd rather bask in the glow of the Christmas tree that Emmie decorated last week, and revel in the knowledge that we beat the gods again...one more time.

It seems that Justin Dulexy had been driving a car with no license plates for the duration of his freedom from prison, and of all the times the police spotted him and let him get away, nobody noticed. It took a twenty-four year old highway patrolman to notice, pull him over, and arrest him. He spilled his guts as soon as they began questioning him about my disappearance, but Scully and Walter had already found me.

Poor Walter, I wasn't sure if Jess was going to hug him or kill him during his first few days back. After leaving the hospital AMA, he found himself right back there, with pulled stitches and internal bleeding that required another minor surgery to correct. I'd have felt downright guilty if I hadn't been facing several major surgeries of my own, but on the whole, I thought Walter had the easier time of it. I kept that thought to myself around Jess, though. I'm not stupid.

Scully, on the other hand, nearly had a nervous breakdown once she had me safely at the hospital. At least that's what they tell me--I wasn't exactly in top form at the time, and all I remember is a blur of people and activity through a red haze of pain. A nervous breakdown doesn't sound at all like my Scully, but considering all she'd been through, I believe it. She was carrying her own huge load of guilt, blaming herself for Dulexy's hurting me. I tried to tell her Dulexy was a psycho, and that he'd have hurt me regardless of what she did, but she wouldn't hear of it. Finally I gave in and let her pamper me to her heart's content. As I said, I'm not stupid.

By the time she'd gotten me home, after the second of my surgeries, dealing with a grouchy, bedridden husband had worn thin and the pampering had ended. I was at her mercy, she informed me on one of my particularly pissy days, and I'd better shape up or she'd take Emmie and go stay with her mother, and I could lie there and rot. Realizing that I *was* at her mercy, although I knew her threats were empty ones, I clamped down on my temper and tried to behave more politely. It was a good thing I did or she might have starved me to death, because my legs and arms were thickly casted and I was truly helpless. I couldn't even take a leak without her assistance.

Emmie felt so bad about the things she'd said to me before I was kidnapped that she spent all her free time trying to entertain me. She'd read to me, or tell me stories of school, which I miss terribly, or just engage in conversation until I finally had to order her to leave me and do her homework or visit her friends. I growled my best growl at her, and lowered my eyebrows threateningly, but she just smiled and kissed my cheek before she left. Her eyes told me she was only humoring me, since if she refused to obey, what could I do about it? I can see that I'll have a hell of a time regaining my place as the head of this family once I'm back to normal. At least, Scully has always let me pretend I was the head of the family, to assuage my male ego, I suppose.

I had to bribe the guys with a promise to supply all the beer for their upcoming Super Bowl party just to get them to bring me something decent to eat--Scully's been giving me so much healthy stuff for the past few months that it's about to kill me. It was worth the cost though--they came to stay with me last week while Scully and Emmie went Christmas shopping, and were able to smuggle in a huge, greasy burger, complete with fries and a shake, with my warden being none the wiser. At least I don't think she knew--although she did sniff the air and give me an odd look when she returned. She didn't mention it, so I'm going to insist to my inner self-- (the one that reminds me Scully instinctively knows *everything* I ever do)--that I managed to fool her.

Ellery came to me when I was in the hospital, tearful and sweet, to thank me for saving her life. The poor child was carrying around a load of guilt over my kidnapping, as was Emmie, even though neither of them were at fault. I did my best to reassure her, but it's going to take some time for her to accept that she was merely a victim. I'll do what I can to help her, though, in both a professional and a private capacity--I simply will not allow these two teenage girls to have their lives destroyed by this incident the way mine almost was over Sam's disappearance. They deserve better, and I'm going to see that they get it or die trying.


Later

Damn, that woman is good! She heard me up and about, even though I tried to be as quiet as possible, and came looking for me. She tried to order me back to bed, but I guess my pathetic look worked on her this time--I finally was able to get her to agree to sit on the couch with me for the rest of the night. We cuddled together in the dark, watching the fire in the fireplace and the lights on the Christmas tree, and just enjoyed being together. Such a simple, precious thing. Now she's making breakfast and I'm finishing this journal entry (Jess' orders!) so I can wake Emmie up for our Christmas morning celebration.

I can't wait to see how she likes her gift from me--she wanted a puppy when she was just a kid, but the first one we got her died soon after of a disease we hadn't even known he carried, and then her beloved Ginger, who she had for six years, was killed by a car. After that Emmie seemed reluctant to commit to a relationship with a pet, so I finally convinced Scully to let me get her something a little quieter, a little calmer, something she could keep safely in the house.

Maybe I'll put the kitten in her bed and let it wake her up. Who can resist a kitten's purr? Not me, and not Emmie either. I've seen her with Ellery's cats--she's just a born lover of all kinds of animals. And I've had this kitten thoroughly checked. It's as healthy as--well, it's a hell of a lot healthier than I am.

Hope Scully remembered to buy cat litter...

The End

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