I pace the floor in front of the conference room whiteboard, on which I've scrawled any number of small diagrams in red and blue marker. Four agents, sleeves rolled up, Kevlar vests showing on two of them, slump at the table, alternately working and trying to rest. Someone—who?—decided that I was the best person to lead a multi-agency task force, so here I pace, as I have for the past three days, directing FBI, Secret Service, and a few assorted federal marshals. The Baltimore field office has seen better days.
Hostages. Kids, a schoolbus load, at the National Aquarium. Bad enough in any circumstances. But when a senator and two congressmen have their kids on the field trip in question, hostage incident escalates to national crisis level.
I was told I could bring my own people, so I did. With no pressing X File investigation open, I brought Agents Mulder and Scully. I had specific reasons for choosing them. I knew when I decided to bring them that I'd better be able to articulate why. Scully is level-headed, practical, and a doctor. I understand that one child is asthmatic, another epileptic. Mulder's done hostage negotiation before, and he is still the best profiler this agency's ever seen. I want that insight right now to deal with the bastards there at the Aquarium. I need those skills. If, incidentally, my selection means that I am working directly with my lover on this project, that is a fringe benefit which neither of us has the luxury to enjoy. We have both been too drained to exploit the situation.
I check my watch against the wall clock. Mulder has another two hours scheduled on this current shift with the negotiation team. Two and a half hours until I take the dinner and sleep break that Scully demands I take. She knows I won't leave here until Mulder's gone off duty and come in from the field.
Scully comes in bearing a tray of sodas. She places the tray on the table and pointedly shoves a drink at me. I must be more dehydrated than I think. The air conditioning here is, admittedly, poor, and I am stressed; perhaps I do need it. It has caffeine in it, anyway; I know I need that right now. She looks around, sees the local boys concentrating on their own work, and touches a finger to the back of my wrist. "He's fine, Sir." I nod. She knows, I think; by now, how could she not know?
Discretion is one thing; an ability to keep secrets from Dana Scully is another.
"You've been on you feet for eighteen hours straight, Sir."
"I'm well aware of that, Agent Scully."
"You could put relief on now, Sir. You probably should."
"Agent Scully, I appreciate your concern for my health…"
"But you're not leaving yet. Neither am I, Sir. I know he's fine, but I'm waiting here too. I think we'd both like to see him back here in one piece before we take a break." He's lucky to have her for a partner. He'd probably be dead by now if he didn't. Is she in love with him? I'm not sure. She's shown no animosity towards me, even if she is in love with him, even if she knows about us as I think she does. The fact that she cares about him as obviously as she does charms me; much as I love Mulder, I know just how impossible the man can be. Her tolerance for his foibles exceeds even mine.
A telephone rings. One of the locals, an Agent Shadle, answers it. He smiles as he talks, nods into the phone, flashes a "thumbs up" towards me. "Good news, Sir. They're leting the two sick kids, the asthmatic and the epileptic ones, go. Agent Mulder's going in to get the kids now and he's bringing them out. He should have them in about fifteen minutes."
"Agent Scully. Go get hold of the parents, get the medical team, and head down to meet them. Thanks, Shadle. That's the first break we've had."
"The boys down at the Inner Harbor say your guy Mulder's doing one hell of a job." My guy Mulder—that's about the size of it, I guess. My guy; my lover, my partner of the past six months. We have been sharing a bed, if not an apartment; much as we might like to, I can see no way for us to move in together any time soon. We risk more than enough already simply by my being in love with one of my own agents.
Scully returns. "Sir? Did you want to go down to the Inner Harbor with me? There may be press there to deal with." I sigh, nod, look for my suit jacket. She drops a hand to my arm. "We should be able to bring Agent Mulder back with us." Bless you, Scully. We head down in the elevator and into the car.
There is a mob scene at the Inner Harbor. Local television and network boys are jostling for position; the senatorial offspring have seen to the network crowd. Mulder is making his way out of the building with two—no, five—small children. From photographs I recognize the asthmatic and the epileptic; somehow or other, the three smallest children are also with him. Still nearly thirty children inside, but Mulder's pulled off a minor miracle anyway. I could kiss him, but that's not good copy at the moment. Some newspaper boys call for me; I give them a standard "need to obtain further information" answer and mutter about needing to have the children checked and to have a debriefing with the agent in question. Great photo for the papers of two of the children running towards their waiting mother. I direct a couple of marshals to help pull press away from Mulder, who's trying to get the asthmatic kid—who's wheezing pretty badly—handed off to a white coat and ducking questions.
Scully bundles Mulder off like a pro and pushes him towards the car. I head there myself and climb into the back seat with him, venturing a hand squeeze—all I dare at the moment. Mulder squeezes back, pushes my hand against his thigh with his own hand. Scully climbs into the driver's seat. "We've got to go back to the office," I remind her. "The rules call for immediate debriefing."
Mulder sighs loudly. "It's only been fourteen hours—you're sure I can't grab a nap first?"
Scully looks over her shoulder at the two of us. "You'll forgive my saying so," she says archly, "but might I suggest, Sir, that any debriefing of Agent Mulder that takes place in the next few hours happen back at the motel? I don't think either of you is up to much else right now."
Mulder howls. "Scully, what kind of debriefing are you suggesting?" I'm not sure if I'm laughing or I'm imagining things.
"That's none of my business, Mulder," she replies primly. " I believe that that would be Assistant Director Skinner's area of expertise."
"Walter, what have you been telling her?" Mulder gasps between bouts of choked laughing.
"Not a damn thing, Mulder. However, your partner is a trained observer."
Scully clears her throat. "Where am I heading, gentlemen?"
"You win, Doctor Scully," I inform her. "The motel it is."
"I don't want to see either of you out of that room for eight hours."
"Only eight, Scully?"
"Shut up, Mulder." A joint chorus from Scully and me. I squeeze Mulder's thigh, feeling him press my hand with his own again. It's good to get this day over and done with. "Let's go, Scully."
Our rooms at the motel connect; Scully's is across the hall from our rooms. Kim had booked adjoining rooms for Scully and Mulder, with mine across the hall from them. Scully didn't blink when we checked in when I asked if she minded switching rooms. She has the better view anyway, not that we've had much opportunity to enjoy such things.
I have been awake for so long that I am having difficulty falling asleep. Mulder has no such problem; head against my shoulder, arm across my chest, his breathing steady, he is sleeping the sleep of the righteous. As well he should—he has, after all, performed a great feat in getting those five kids released at the Aquarium. I know him all too well, though—in his own mind, he has not rescued five children but has failed to rescue thirty while less competent agents take the new shift. If only he could stop blaming himself for his triumphs as readily as he blames himself for his failures.
Suddenly he is bolt upright, not quite screaming but more than groaning; perhaps I should call it "keening". He sounds nearly like a wolf, the cousin to his namesake. Is he dreaming? No, no, not exactly—I've seen this before, back in 'Nam. He's having a flashback in his sleep. What the hell has this incident been triggering in him? I cannot begin to imagine what he sees. I pull him to me, one arm around him, stroking him, while I reach for the bedside phone with my free hand. "Scully—can you come over here? Mulder's having an episode of some sort—it looks more like a flashback than a nightmare. I think I could use some help."
I climb out of bed, wearing only my shorts—but had we not both been exhausted, I probably would not be wearing this much. Well, whatever Scully already knows from deduction she will manage to confirm by observation. A knock at the door. Scully enters, hair pulled back, wearing an oversized man's tee-shirt. I rush back to the bed; Mulder, still non-conscious, is curled in a nearly fetal position, shivering. "Is this what he was doing before?" Scully asks me as she reaches over to check Mulder's vital signs.
"No. He sat straight up, and he was moaning, or something like it—just continuous sound, not words. He curled up like this after I got out of bed." No point either in lying or in delicacy at the moment, and not with Scully particularly.
"Get back in with him. We need to wake him up. He'll probably feel better with you there, and if he has a bad reaction you'll be able to keep him still." Once a Marine, always a Marine; I know when to follow orders. I crawl back under the sheets and work at uncurling Mulder. Scully sits at the side of the bed, concerned, one small hand against Mulder's face. A whisper. "Mulder? Mulder? It's me—Scully. C'mon, Mulder—wake up there, boy." She shakes him gently. "Hey there, Mulder. It's gonna be okay. I'm here. Wake up." It occurs to me that I ought to be jealous off this easy familiarity, of the secure assumption that Mulder will listen to her even in his sleep. Yet I can't find it in me to be irritated, even though I am so exhausted that every nerve is on edge. I cannot be jealous of this much unreserved concern about Mulder; in fact, I have been finding these past few days that I love Dana Scully for caring about him as she does.
"Uh…geez…God…" Mulder shakes his head, blinks. "Scully—I—uh—Walter? Where am I?" He looks around, collapses against me in a cold sweat. "Oh. Yeah. Baltimore. What the fuck just happened?"
Scully looks straight through him. "Skinner called me in here." I must remind myself to tell her that there are some times she really should call me Walter. This would be one of them. "You were sleeping, but it looks like you just had a bad flashback. Do you remember anything?"
Mulder nods, blinks, reaches for my hand. "Yeah, Scully. Going in there…those kids' faces; they're terrified, absolutely scared witless…" He rubs his other hand across his face, thinking. "When Sam was abducted…the look on her face…I knew where my father kept his gun; I tried to get it…" He fades out. "The kids there, the guns—shit." Mulder draws himself up into a cross-legged sitting position on the bed; I push more sheets up around him. "That's it…I think that's it."
"Will you be okay?" Scully asks him. He thinks, then nods a "yes." She looks at me, pointedly. "Are you going to be okay?" I nod. "Do either of you need any sleeping pills? Will you be able to get back to sleep?"
"I'm okay, Scully," Mulder sighs, snuggling in against me. I probably could use one, but I'd rather be tired later than foggy from pills. I wave a "no" to her. "Thanks anyway."
Scully nods. "Call me if you need anything. Now, both of you, get some sleep." I punch the too-soft motel pillow into a semblance of usefulness and adjust myself against Mulder. It strikes me that I should feel more self-conscious than I do. My lover's partner is watching their boss try to get comfortable in a king-size motel bed with her partner, and she's not even blinking. Maybe she's in a semi-detached "the doctor is in" mode. Maybe it's the affectionate smirk she's giving as Mulder tries figuring out which angle of my shoulder makes the best pillow at the moment. Her eyes drift over to mine as she heads for the door. "He'll be all right, Sir," she says quietly. "It's worse than usual, but he will be all right. Take care of our boy, hmmm?"
She slips out quietly.
We are back at the regional office the next morning, Mulder reviewing the night team's experences with them and recapping for the day shift. He has his debriefing shortly. I mainline coffee right now much in the way that I once mainlined China white during my worst stretch in 'Nam. I can't help needing the caffeine fix now any more than I could help needing the fix then, but to different ends. I need to run a textbook debriefing for this crew. Worse, the SAC, Levine, is handling media right now and wants Mulder to do a press conference in an hour.
One of the local boys passing through a corridor and a guy from the Secret Service team high-fives Mulder on their way past him. God, I could kill his parents. He's dying at being reminded that he just rescued five children from four armed men; any other agent would be counting days until promotion. He looks over at me, pleading. "Come on, Walter. Get me back out there. Let me do something useful here, huh?" I feel for him, but I have to refuse. The dog and pony show has to go on; we have to feed the CNN wolves their raw meat.
Finally. Debriefing, strategy assessment, press conference. He may have hated every second of it but he looked good there. It's practically lunch time. Someone offers to bring him a carryout salad. He asks for a sandwich, a soda, and a lift back down to the Inner Harbor. He's chafing at the bit to get back to his work on this.
Computer printouts we needed yesterday arrive at last—background on the right-wing slimeballs holding the kids. Copies to me, several for the guys strategizing at the table, more copies foisted on Mulder as he heads out the door. Although profiling wipes him out, he still looks better than he did either debriefing or with the reporters. He is in his element again, heading back to the communications van down at the Aquarium. I swear that the worse a situation is, the happier he gets at tackling it.
Agent Shadle calls me back to the telephone about an hour later. There's action down at the Aquarium; the bastards may be letting some more kids go. Mulder's put in a request for me to get myself down there; it's not clear to the agent reporting as to what is actually happening. Shadle hustles me to a car and drives me down; en route, I piece together that the main targets were the senator's and congressmen's kids all along. This wasn't a random hostage seizure; these nuts have more balls than brains and are after the political leverage of holding some congressional family members. Wonderful; right wing looney tunes with an agenda and a plan.
Mulder's on the cell phone now seeking an authorization from me. These clowns are tired of playing standoff; apparently they may let most of the children go if they can leave with the three prize catches of the day. They have buddies with an armored van they want to have pick them up. Mulder wants me to authorize an assault team to grab them with the congressional brats on their way out of the Aquarium. Levine, the SAC here, opposes the move; he sees pictures of dead congressional offspring, investigations, and budget reductions. Fucking wonderful.
I arrive at the crime scene—it's normally only called a tourist trap, but today it really is one—and scout locations. Mulder's in a communications outpost van. Jacket off, sleeves rolled up, tie loosened; he's getting a slightly glazed look that I don't like seeing. I'm not sure if it's from exhaustion, frustration with Levine, the pressure, or thinking about his sister. One of the other guys in the van shoves a soft drink at him.
Levine makes a dead set for me as soon as he sees me. I have to agree with him that there's tremendous risk to those three children in Mulder's scheme. I also have to wonder if twenty-seven other kids and their families are going to be okay. Can we afford to placate Congress in exchange for twenty-seven other children's lives? If Mulder thinks he can get all but three kids away from there in one piece, I don't think there's an option. It's what happens afterwards that has to be considered. Mulder ducks out of the van to argue with Levine again. I bite my lip. I'd like to kick Levine at the moment—but damn if I don't want to box Mulder's ears, too. "Look, Mulder, you get those kids out of there. Tell them anything. Tell them Santa's going to pick them up and fly them to the North Pole, but get them to release those kids. That's an order. Your end of this stops there. That's another order. Don't figure out the cleanup, just get the kids out. Do you understand me?"
Mulder nods, doesn't even flinch. "Yes, Sir." Thank God for small favors; he'd rather die than presume on this relationship to win against Levine.
"Levine. You don't like assault teams? You tell me a better idea." I pull him aside to debate the issue as Mulder, honor satisfied by my reaming both of them, heads back to the communications van. It's time for me to take a meeting with some of these Secret Service boys.
Two hours. We're still planning. Mulder's taken off the headset and reached for the Kevlar. Shirt and tie off, Kevlar vest over the undershirt, everything back on. A couple of the other agents are donning bulletproof gear. They're pulling those kids out now? Damn, Levine and I aren't ready to roll yet.
He must have alerted Scully already; she's standing by with the medicos. No, she's heading over to Mulder, tossing him a bullhorn. He's in the walkway with Scully and the other two agents. "Okay, Harrison, we're here. Let's see the kids. All of 'em. Line 'em up right outside the doors."
A shout from the building that I can't hear. Mulder nods to Scully and the others, then unfastens his holster, draws his gun, and sets it on the pavement. The other three follow, one by one. "Okay, Harrison. Did you see that? We're unarmed. Nobody's on the sidelines. Have your men bring them out."
Two dirty, disheveled guys in what look like appliance repair uniforms alternate lining up small, frightened children. Three, seven, ten, twelve, fifteen. "Okay, Harrison, I'm sending two of these agents to bring this group away." Scully and one of the male agents walk slowly down to the children; Mulder dangles the bullhorn in one hand, wipes his face with the other. Levine and I stand and watch.
"He's good," Levine concedes, muttering under his breath. He's damn good." Yes, I know he is, Levine. I'd like to smile smugly for a moment, but I don't dare.
"Okay, Harrison, let's see the rest of those kids." Three, five, eight, kids lined up by the uniformed grunts. Ten. Twelve. With the others, that makes twenty-seven. "My people are coming down for them. You can take your men inside." Scully and the other agent go for the second group. Mulder places the bullhorn down by the guns on the pavement and begins walking forward, towards the Aquarium, alone. What the fuck is he doing? He's just thrown the textbook so far out the window it could never be rescued.
Scully races over to me. "Mulder's going in," she blurts. "He's body-miked and he's wearing an earphone. He's trying to negotiate about those other three children one on one with Harrison."
"Yeah, and he's got three armed goons with him. Mulder's unarmed."
"Not exactly," Scully replies. "Just hope they don't pat him down. He's got two backup guns on him borrowed from some of the others, and I think he's got my handbag .22 cal on him." Oh, I feel much better, Scully. He's not unarmed, he's the OK Corral.
Scully sees my frown—I suppose it can't be missed, as far as that goes. "He didn't want you to know he was planning to go in because we both knew what you'd say."
"Agent Scully, am I to understand that you agree with this…stunt of Mulder's?"
"I didn't say that, Sir. But Mulder thinks there's a better chance of getting those children out if he talks to Harrison directly. He thinks he could work better in person…and if that in itself doesn't work, he's planning to push Harrison into letting those three go and holding him."
I'm not hearing this. I am definitely not hearing this. Mulder, if you get killed, I'm going to…uh, no, strike that. God damn it, why are you pulling this? "Scully…"
She looks directly at me, not blinking. "He presumes that you'll be more reasonable about the assault team question if there's one federal agent inside rather than three children in there with Harrison. Whether you go in on the building or after their transportation, you have an adult volunteer who's paid to know the risks entailed. Sir." "Scully!"
"I couldn't stop him, Sir. And…he may just be right."
"Scully," I hiss, hoping Levine and his friends are out of earshot, "I can't send a team after them with him in there. Not if I don't have to. I won't make that call." I can't say more than that with Levine nearby.
Scully's gaze softens. I realize that the most self-controlled human I've ever met is on the verge of tears. She nods, slowly. "I—I know that, Sir." Swallowing.
Levine picks up on the discussion as he perceives it—neither of us will correct him, I know. "So—her boyfriend set her up to break the news? Sweet guy. Agent Scully, you sit down for a while. If your boss doesn't mind, that's an order." Scully and I both nod. There's noise, some activity. What now? One of the agents back at the communications van runs over to us.
"Agent Scully," the messenger calls. "Agent Mulder's gotten Harrison to send those last three kids out now. He wants you to come down for them." Scully's face goes back into "agent in action" mode as she heads for the doors of the Aquarium building.
"She's some woman."
"Yes, she is," I agree to Levine, though not for what I'm sure are Levine's reasons. She can handle Mulder, can even take care of him, in a way that no one else can, and I am coming to depend on her for that. Jealousy would be absurd…and would probably kill my relationship with my lover. Better to acknowledge, and to take advantage of, what is freely offered. "Okay, Levine. We've got limited time and choices, and they've got a federal agent. Option one—we let them go, free and clear. Rate that."
"Not an option," Levine responds.
"Two. Assault team goes in now."
Levine shakes his head "no" vigorously. "Not if we can help it. That's the National Aquarium. Aside from threatening endangered species, and aside from imagining the possible flooding…major electrical fire hazards unless we cut power…we'd need blueprints, maybe an architect, the fire department, the electric guys…too complicated."
"Three. We let their van come for them, then take the van."
Levine shrugs. "They could get away. And possible danger to a federal agent."
"Any other thoughts, Levine?"
"Not at the moment, Sir."
"You call it."
Levine nods. He waves across the plaza. "Someone tell Mulder in there that we're contacting Harrison's buddies with the van." He flags another agent. "Assault team. Now. Get them here and get them hidden. We're letting them go and taking their van once they leave. Do it."
I sit down. I have visions of maniacs in pseudo-uniforms, an attack team in windbreakers, armor-piercing loads in weapons. I see six dead lunatics, and one Mulder splattered over all of them. I think I'm going to be sick.
Two, two-and-a-half hours. A gray van pulls up loaded with more electronics than I've ever seen on non-government vehicles. It's armored, all right—it's waiting for the next damn war is what it's doing. Right wing militia kooks bent on paramilitary bullshit, the sort that blow up buildings and people without a second thought while I worry about my lover getting killed and Levine worries about the lives of innocent endangered shellfish. Two grunts, again in those appliance repair uniforms from Sears, visible in the front of the van; heat detectors aren't indicating anyone else in the back.
Out comes the hostage-taking crew. Harrison, Mulder between two of the armed goons, looking perfectly calm, and the last of Harrison's ugly thugs. They climb in the back of the van, Mulder shoved in first. The doors shut. The engine starts; the driver shifts into gear, and the passenger door flies open towards the plaza, Mulder flying out of there like a bat out of hell and taking a roll onto his shoulder as a few shots fire after him from the door as the van jerks away, someone inside grabbing for the doors. The assault guys are ready to go into overdrive, but I'm watching Scully and a couple of the medic types running over to Mulder, who is pulling himself gingerly into a seated position.
Levine can have his fun with the assault team; I don't care. We got the kids out, all of them, and if Mulder's sitting he's all right. His shirt is torn; I see blood, but he must be all right if he's moving as he is. I want to run over there myself, but I don't dare; at least I can see that I won't need to. If there were any chance he were seriously hurt…yeah, yeah, I'd be over there. One of the medics flags an ambulance parked to the side.
Scully walks over. "He's pretty badly bruised from that tumble, no surprise. I think he's got a dislocated shoulder, and I'm not certain about a couple of his ribs. He does have a couple of bullet grazes—they had pretty good aim." She purses her lips."He's going to be fine. They might not even keep him overnight."
She drops a hand on my shoulder. "Sir—do you need to stay here, or would you prefer that I give you a lift to the hospital?" I think, then mumble to Levine, who tells me to go deal with my agents. He's a good man, really; I can delegate this cleanup to him. Scully slides an arm around me as I rise. "Sir—are you going to be all right?"
"I'm fine, Scully."
"Sorry, Sir, but I'm not sure I agree. You've been through a lot since last night." Last night. Mulder's flashbacks. I had almost forgotten. She tugs me towards the left; now I can see her car. "I can only imagine what you must have been feeling when Mulder went in to see Harrison."
"Scully, Mulder really thought we'd send an assault team, didn't he?"
"I think so, Sir. He'd resent your departing from procedure just because…well…"
"Because we're sleeping together?" I supply for her as she unlocks her car doors.
"No, Sir; I was going to say, because you're so obviously in love with him." I climb in. Damn—short driver, seats way up to the front. I fiddle underneath the seat, looking for the seat adjustment and blushing. "It's that obvious, Scully?"
"I don't suppose it would be to anyone else, Sir, but I'm right there with both of you." She starts the car. Damn these automatic seat belts, too. Whatever happened to 1962 Chryslers, the sort of car that had the room for you to lose your virginity in comfort? What the hell do teenagers do with these uncomfortable sardine cans?
I lean back in the seat. "You love him too, Scully." An observation, not an accusation.
"Someone has to," she laughs. "Not the same way you do, Sir, of course…" She turns the corner. We're heading towards Johns Hopkins. "I wish he loved himself more," she tells me. "That's why he's able to do this sort of thing." She's angry; she's venting at me. I'm listening. "It's easy to think you're expendable when you don't see any value to yourself. He's got such incredibly low self-worth." We pull up at a light. She turns to me. "If there's any one thing you can do for him that nobody else can, it may be that." She bites her lip. "Please…try."
It may take a long time, but I intend to.