He doesn’t go straight to DC. He stops by the hospital to check on Scully first. The nurse directs him to Oncology and he finds Scully’s mother slumped in a chair in the waiting room. “Fox,” she greets him with some surprise.
“Hi, Mrs. Scully.” He should probably sit but he’s too tempered with energy, rocking back and forth on his heels. He needs to see her. “How is she?”
“Sleeping, the last time I saw her.” Maggie rubs her eyes. “She’s begun the treatment. I think another patient is in there with her now. An old friend, she said.” She sounds extremely weary, fraying. Like she’s starting to fall apart, or has been for a very long time.
Mulder chews his lower lip nervously. Penny Northern, he guesses. “What room?”
Maggie relays it to him and he thanks her quickly before heading down the hall to find her. He’s going to make a deal that will hopefully save her life, he’s going to find out what happened to her. But first he needs to make sure she’s okay.
He nudges the door to her room open and immediately sees her, curled in bed, hands clasped with Penny. She looks terrible, exhausted even though she clearly just woke up. “Mulder,” she murmurs when she sees him hovering in the doorway, red spreading over her cheeks like she’s embarrassed.
“Hi,” he says awkwardly. He feels embarrassed for intruding, now. “I can go…”
“That’s all right,” Penny says companionably. “I should be getting back to my room. I’ll leave you two to talk.” She squeezes Scully’s hand gently and smiles at her before getting up laboriously. “Good luck, Dana.”
“Thank you, Penny,” Scully says, her voice rasping. Mulder almost winces at the harsh sound.
Penny brushes past him on her way out of the room and he shuffles forward awkwardly to take her seat by the bed. “Hey,” he says softly.
“You said that already,” she mumbles, eyes closed.
“I did.” Her hand is hanging off of the bed. He feels an impulse to take it so he does. It is small and cold in his. “How you feeling?”
She makes a small sound, an almost inaudible groan. “Better not to ask.”
Oh, Scully. He squeezes her fingers. He doesn’t know what to say. He wants to tell her that he is going to make a deal for her life, that he is going to save her, but he’s sure she wouldn’t respond well to that. He wants to tell her that she is not going to die, but there’s no guarantee, is there. So he squeezes her hand and anchors them both to earth.
“Mm, what are you doing here, Mulder?” Scully mumbles, shifting under the covers and covering her mouth with one hand. “I thought you were with Kurt Crawford.”
“I was,” he says. “We found a lead.”
Scully makes a small sound of half-hearted interest, but it seems to be muted by her clear fatigue. “Are you going back to DC to pursue it?”
That was the plan up until a few moments ago, but now, her cold fingers intertwined with his, it feels like the last thing he should do. “No, I figured I could see if the Gunmen could look into it for me,” he says. “I’ll stay up here, keep you company.”
The hints of a smile tug at the corners of her mouth. “You don’t have to do that,” she mutters.
He is stricken by the terrifying thought that if he leaves her he might never see her again. Maybe it’s just the sight of blankets tucked around her, hair rumpled and hands shaky. He’s not completely sure, but he knows he can’t leave. “Yes, I do,” he says.
He holds her hand until she falls asleep and disappears into the hall to call Skinner and ask him to find the Cigarette Smoking Man when he gets back. “You deal with this man, you offer him anything and he will own you forever,” Skinner says sternly.
“He knows what they did to Agent Scully,” he says loudly, fingers clenching around the phone, knuckles whitening. A nurse shoots him a sharp look, and he lowers his voice. “He may very well know how to save her,” he growls softly.
“If he knows, you can know too but you can’t ask the truth of a man who trades in lies,” Skinner growls back, considerably louder. “I won’t let you.”
“We are talking about Agent Scully’s life,” Mulder hisses.
“Find another way,” Skinner says firmly.
Tensions high, Mulder hangs up. He’s furious, blood pounding in his ears. He looks through the window into Scully’s room, and the sight of her asleep, hair falling across her face, breaks his heart a little. He can’t just sit back, he needs to do something.
He pulls out the phone and makes another call, to the Gunmen. He needs them to look for something.
Mulder confers with the Gunmen in between moments at Scully’s hospital bed. She seems to want to avoid company at the worst moments, opting to shoo either him or her mother out of the room in the midst of a coughing fit or an onslaught of nausea or vomiting. Mulder usually takes the opportunity to call and check in, blood pounding so hard that he can barely see straight. Every reminder of what’s been done to her, of all the suffering she’s going through.
He convinces them to break into the Lumbard facility, to look for something to help her. Frohike promises to call him around the time of the heist, to keep him updated on what’s going on inside. Mulder thanks him, fingers tapping rapidly against the cafeteria table he’s slumped at. He’s full of nervous energy, frustration at not being able to do anything. On the phone with them, he almost regrets not going himself, but his mind wanders back to Scully and any regret is gone in that instance. He needs to be here with her. She lets him hold her hand.
He catches Maggie crying quietly in the hospital chapel at one point and his chest contracts at the sight of it. These men leave countless destruction in their wake; he should’ve known, should’ve driven her away a long time ago. For a split second, he wishes that the incident in Philadelphia and the resulting tension between them had been enough to drive her away, keep her safe from him for good, but it would’ve been too late then, wouldn’t it. Guilt rushes back up in an instance, stronger than ever, and he has to walk away for a minute. He goes to the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face, forehead pressed against the clean glass of the mirror. He pretends the hot liquid spilling down his face is stray water from the sink.
It’s a long moment before he leaves the bathroom, wiping his face with scratchy brown paper towels. He finds his way back to her room; she’s alone, curled on her side writing furiously in a leather-bound book. She dissolves into coughs, turning onto her back and shifting the book with her. Swallowing hard, Mulder steps into her line of sight and taps on the door frame. “How are you feeling?”
Startled, Scully clears her throat as she snaps the book shut. “About as well as can be expected,” she says, “considering everything.”
She nods slightly towards the chair beside her bed as if to confirm that he can sit. He moves closer and sinks down into it. “Where’s your mom?” he asks.
“She headed back to the hotel. I told her to go.” Scully runs her thumb over the edge of the book absently. “She’s exhausted, and I know how hard this is on her.”
There’s nothing left to say. Mulder licks his lower lip and reaches out to take her hand. Scully squeezes gratefully before pulling away, straightening the sheets and setting the book on the bedside table. “What have you been doing?”
“Oh, you know. Getting into trouble. Stealing more things from more people with broken legs,” he cracks, or tries to, but the joke falls flat. Scully smirks at him, though, lying back against the pillow. She looks so tired. He holds back the urge to crawl onto the bed beside her, pull her into his arms. “I’ve talked to the Gunmen,” he adds. “They’re following leads in DC.”
Scully nods, her expression morphing into something he’s sure is supposed to resemble a smile but that doesn’t quite fit the qualification. “I’m grateful for the work you’ve done on this. I can’t tell you how grateful.” She clears her throat again, looking down at her hands in her lap.
His throat aches. “Of course, Scully.” There’s no other option. I owe you this, he thinks. He can’t lose her. “We’re partners, you’re my… friend, I won’t let you…”
“I know,” she says quickly. It’s too intimate for them, this, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She takes a deep breath, reaches down to intertwine their fingers. “I know, Mulder” she says, voice warm.
He looks down at their callused knuckles, balanced on the mattress. There seems to be some silent understanding in the space between their palms. They sit in silence for a long minute.
Scully is the first one to speak. “Penny’s taken a downfall,” she says, her voice thick.
She nods, hair falling across her face. “She’s my friend. Mulder, she was there for me… wherever they took me during my abduction… she comforted me, and I don’t even remember. And now…” She sniffles quietly. “It’s a horrible thing, Mulder, what’s she’s going through. And she’s so strong, so brave in the face of all this… I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have that kind of strength.”
“Scully, you’re the strongest person I know,” he says immediately.
“I don’t feel like it,” she mumbles. “Not right now.”
He closes his eyes, eyes burning. He thinks he’s going to cry again. He pulls her hand up to his mouth and kisses the curve of her thumb, the center of her palm. When he opens his eyes, he sees hers are closed, too. A tear rolls across her cheeks. He thumbs it away. She grips his hand harder, and they don’t speak.
Dr. Scanlon shows up to talk to Scully right around the time that Mulder is supposed to call the Gunmen to check in. He finds a decently secluded spot of the hospital to call and clutches the phone hard in his hand as it rings.
Frohike reports that he and Langly are in a storm drain watching Byers inside the building. “We’re trying to get him in right now,” Langly says over speaker phone, the connection crackling. “He’s hit a road block.”
“Keep me posted, boys,” Mulder says.
“How’s Scully doing?” Frohike asks, a hint of urgency in his voice that Mulder remembers from Scully’s return from her abduction.
“Okay, all things considered,” Mulder says carefully. “She’s with Dr. Scanlon now.”
A sudden rush of muffled words, Byers’s voice. “Mulder… who was the doctor you said Scully’s with?” Langly asks, voice wavering.
“Scanlon,” says Mulder uncertainly. “Why?”
More muffled words from Byers. “Byers saw his name through the glass door,” Frohike says. “A bunch of signs with other doctors names. A Dr. Kevin Scanlon is on staff here.”
Mulder takes in a sharp breath, pressing his fingers hard into his forehead. “Goddamnit,” he hisses. “Goddamnit, I have to go. I have to stop her treatment.” He hangs up quickly, tossing the phone across the room. He doesn’t bother trying to retrieve it. He walks rapidly down the hall, fumbling for his badge.
He’s running by the time he reaches the oncology ward. A nurse shouts for him to stop. He ignores her. She’s alone in there with him, while he could be doing god-knows-what to her. He works at a company who did things to Scully before. Who knows things about what happened to her, what’s happening now. He ignores shouts for him to stop, of, “Call Security!”, as he heads for her room. “Scully!” he calls, practically shouting.
She looks startled as he thunders into her room, the book she was writing in sliding off of her lap. “Mulder, what? What happened?
“Dr. Scanlon,” he says, breathing hard. “Byers found his name in a facility that may have something to do with your illness.”
Her eyes are wide, skin pale enough that he can count her freckles where her makeup has been washed off. “What?”
“The Lumbard Research Facility.” He balls his hands into fists in his pocket. “I found your name in a file of theirs. But you’ve never heard of them, right?”
He didn’t think it was possible, but Scully goes paler. “Oh my god,” she whispers in horror.
“Where is he?” Mulder growls. He wishes he had his gun.
“He left. I don’t know…”
He turns so rapidly that he almost falls down, in time to almost run into a security guard. “Sir,” the man is saying, “I’m going to need you to…”
“FBI,” he blurts, flashing his badge. “I need to find a Dr. Scanlon. There’s evidence that he may have been harming my partner and other patients in their treatments by him.”
“Sir, there is no…”
“I need to find him and take him in for questioning!” Mulder snaps. “I need every person under Dr. Scanlon’s care to have their treatments discontinued and be checked for any abnormalities.”
Scully appears at his side, flashing her own badge. She looks incredibly tiny in her hospital gown. “He’s right,” she says. “Dr. Scanlon needs to be found immediately. I’m sure my partner would appreciate some help.”
The security guard gulps, nods. “I’ll call in for backup and close up the exits.”
“Thank you,” Mulder says, near stammering. He turns to face her. “Scully…”
“I need to find Penny,” she says frantically. “I need to… my god, Mulder. I can’t believe…”
“It’s okay.” Unable to stop himself, he brushes some hair off of her face. “We’ll find him. It’ll be okay.”
She swallows and looks at her feet. “Not for her, Mulder.”
He and the rest of security search the hospital all night, but there’s no sign of Scanlon. He seems to have vanished into thin air.
Byers appears at the hospital as the search is winding down, bursting into the emergency room where Mulder is talking to the security guards. “How is she?” he asks Mulder frantically.
Mulder gulps. “I got to her. Scanlon’s gone, but she’s okay.”
“Thank god,” Byers breathes. “We were worried.”
Mulder nods, jaw clenched. “What did you find?”
The other man shifts nervously from foot to foot, hands in his coat pockets. “Mulder, I don’t know how to tell you this…”
“What?” he says, voice sharper than he expected. “What is it, what did you find?”
“Clones,” Byers says bluntly. “Hybrids working to save abductees. The same abductees who were essentially their birth mothers from ova harvested during their abduction.”
Something pangs in his chest. “What?” he repeats softly.
“I’m sorry, Mulder. I found Scully’s name in there.” Byers gulps, pulls a vial out of his pocket. He holds it out to Mulder; it is cold to the touch. “I took it from the drawer… I thought she might…”
Mulder curls his hand hard around the vial, tucks it into his pocket. “Thanks, Byers. I have to go.”
He doesn’t let go of the vial in his pocket in the elevator. He can’t. It’s hers, it was stolen from her. Too much is rushing through his mind. He can’t believe this. He has no idea how to tell her. He’s trying to come up with the words when he gets to her room and finds it empty.
His pulse picks up, so hard he can almost hear the pounding. He draws closer, finds the journal she was writing in open on top of her bed. He recognizes her neat cursive, the rounded letters of his name scattered over the pages. He clenches his fingers around the hem of his pockets, turns rapidly and exits the room. “Nurse,” he calls out to a nurse passing in the hall. “Nurse, Dana Scully is supposed to be in her room. Where is she?”
“She’s not there?” the nurse asks incredulously.
“No, what happened to her?” he stammers. Visions of Scanlon coming back, the things he could be doing to Scully, crowd his mind.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, who the hell does know?” he says sharply, voice rising.
“Sir?” A different nurse touches his arm. “Did you say Dana Scully?” He nods, turning to face him. “I think she’s still with Penny Northern,” the nurse supplies. “Miss Northern isn’t doing well.”
Mulder chews his lip, thanks the nurses and turns to leave. He finds Penny’s room and pushes open the door without thinking. Scully is there, wrapped in a large white robe and stroking the side of Penny’s face; she turns towards Mulder, her eyes full of questions, and he shakes his head slightly. His panic seems silly in the moment when he sees Penny in the bed. She’s okay, he shouldn’t have disturbed them. Penny is dying. “Dr. Scanlon isn’t coming back?” she asks Scully weakly.
Scully, now facing the bed, shakes her head. “No, I don’t think so, Penny.”
Though he barely knows this woman, Mulder is filled with rage on her behalf. She doesn’t deserve this.
“Dana, I want you to get well,” Penny says. “You’ve been such a comfort. You’ve got to be the one. You can’t give up hope.”
“I haven’t,” Scully says. “I won’t.”
Now he knows. Mulder closes the door as he leaves. He’ll leave them in peace now.
Mulder waits outside of Penny’s room for hours, doesn’t move until a nurse runs past him into the room. A minute later, Scully exits, padding down the hall with her shoulders slumped.
Mulder gets to his feet, calls, “She gone?” softly to Scully.
Scully turns to him and nods, chin trembling.
“I’m sorry. I know what she meant to you,” he says. She draws closer as he adds, “When I came to find you, you weren’t in your room. I got scared that something had happened… and I read some of what you wrote.”
Devastation still etched in every corner of her face, she sighs, looking down. “I didn’t want you to read that,” she murmurs. “I had decided to throw it out. I decided tonight that, um… that I’m not going to let this thing beat me.” She looks back up at him, meets his eyes. “You were right, Mulder. I can fight this, and I will. I can find my strength. I came into this hospital able to work, and that’s how I’m leaving.”
He nods. He’d do anything for her, wants as much time with her as possible. “Scanlon’s gone,” he recounts. “We searched the whole hospital, and no sign of him.” Scully swallows and nods. “He may very well have killed those women.”
Scully’s jaw clenches. “That will have to be proven, if we find him.”
“When we find him,” Mulder says firmly. There will be no other option. Scanlon is a murderer; he killed Penny Northern and would’ve killed Scully, too, if they hadn’t found him out. They will bring him to justice. “Scully, something was done to you, something that you’re just beginning to remember. You can’t quite figure it out, but it can be explained, and it will be explained. And no matter what you think as a scientist or a doctor, there is a way, and you will find it, to save yourself.”
“Mulder, I can’t kid myself,” Scully says, her voice cracking slightly. “People live with cancer. They carry on, and so will I.” She sniffs. “You know I’ve got things to finish… to prove to myself, to my family... but for my own reasons.”
She smiles up at him and he can’t help the returning smile, can’t help pulling her into his arms, resting his chin on the top of his head. “Come on back.” Her cheek is pressed to his chest, her arms wrapped around him under his jacket. They hold each other tightly. “The truth will save you, Scully,” he murmurs. “I think it will save both of us.”
He turns his nose into her hair, breathing her in before pulling away slightly to kiss her forehead, slow and gentle, stroking her hair in small circles with his thumbs. She looks up at him, another understanding passing between them: they’ll be okay. He strokes her hair again as she pulls away, turning to pad back down the hall. He watches her until she’s gone, the warmth of her not completely leaving him.
He heads back to the sparsely used hotel room to catch a few hours of sleep before heading back to the hospital. Scully’s mom has to head home, and he promises to stay with her, drive her home. He sits by her bed for hours, dozing on and off until the next morning when a new doctor clears her to leave.
She seems to be recovering, regaining some strength. He helps her pack, folding clothes and putting them in her overnight bag. She scolds him for the sloppiness of his folding and he teases right back and it’s almost, almost normal. He tries to carry her bag and she won’t let him.
As they’re pulling out of the parking lot, Scully clears her throat, says, “Mulder, I wanted to, uh… thank you for staying with me.” Her voices breaks, just a little. “You were... I’m glad you were here.”
Whether she means the fact that he saved her from Scanlon or just that she’s grateful for his company, he doesn’t know, but it doesn’t matter. “Always,” he says with conviction. He doesn’t really believe there will be an end–not now, there can’t be, there can’t be–but if there is, he’ll stay with her the whole way.