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Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

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Nothing to see here, folks. You’ve only been betrayed by your protectors. For the third time this week.

Dozens of deaths, thousands more planned. Take one man, say he’s law enforcement so it’s his duty, cuff his hands behind his back, blindfold him, gag him, cut him off from his colleagues and loved ones, and send him out into a pit of terrorists. Let him improvise his way out of it. It’s no biggie, happens all the time. You should be prepared anyway. You’re sworn officers.

Scully closes her eyes against the sensory overload of her rage.

She loses Mulder in the commotion of the bank vault. It’s not hard to find him again, all she has to do is focus. At the scene of the charade, the obvious coverup of the testing of a biological weapon, Mulder’s desperation and anger glow white hot in Scully’s mind. When he first arrived, he'd seemed relieved, but now, running on adrenalin, fear, anger - whatever else has kept him going since she saw him last - she can almost feel him unravelling.

Two expensively dressed women, deadly serious in their Calvin Kleins, follow him around the vault with their questions and clipboards, and he tries to get away, wincing and looking smaller and smaller with each step as they chase him.

She is disgusted that Skinner isn’t doing anything. This man just came face to face with death - he hasn’t said anything but she knows, she knows that tension in a body, that’s him inching closer and closer to shock - and what do we do? Nothing. We hound him and corner him and bully him into silence.

“That’s enough”, she spits into the air and jogs over to his side. She puts her body between Mulder and the bloodhounds. They may be six feet tall but she can sweep their legs and have her gun to their heads in half a second. “Excuse us. My partner needs medical attention.”

The taller of the two bloodhounds opens her lying mouth, says, “Agent, we’re not done here-” but Scully ignores the noise.

He doesn’t argue when she drags him away. Her hand is in between his shoulder blades as she leads him over to the small first aid station the clean up crew has assembled for show. He’s hot. He’s starting to twitch under her fingers.

“Sit down. Let me fix this and I’ll get you out of here.” He perches on the folding table obediently. She takes note of his wince, his uncharacteristic teeth suck, as she removes the crude splint from his left hand. She braces her foot on one of the bars supporting the table and rests his injured hand on her knee. It’s clammy but steady. She’s got time. She moves a little to the side when his wildly bouncing left knee brushes her stomach through her coat.

A few swipes of hydrogen peroxide, some soft gauze around the last two fingers and looped around the palm, and secure with surgical tape at each knuckle. For the first time, she feels just how soft the skin on the back of his hand is, the ridges and bumps of his un-buffed fingernails.

“Let’s go,” she tells his hand. He obeys. In the confusion outside the bank they march past the police tape, the cameras, the lying sons of bitches rationalizing their deceit to the media.

Mulder spots her car behind an NBC van and skitters over to the passenger side hunched, paranoid. He jiggles and pulls on the handle until she’s clicked the locks, and slides in quickly, slams the door. She wastes no time aggressively reversing straight into the crowd, stopping just shy of scaring people. She revs the engine and tugs on the wheel and speeds them out of there before anyone can put up road blocks, snatch him away from her again to try to intimidate him. He's hers to keep.

“Thanks,” is the first thing he says to her once they’re five minutes away from the scene. “Thank you.” They drive.

It’s midnight by the time she parallel parks outside her building. He’s been dozing in the passenger seat for a while. The heat of his rage rose off him in waves for most of the drive, but he’s cooled off now and is breathing deeply. She puts her hand on his clenched fist. “We’re here. Let’s go inside.” He nods, climbs out of the car without looking at her. They enter her building in silence. She’ll get the mail tomorrow.

At her door, Mulder crouches and picks up every neglected Washington Post from the past week. He arranges them in a neat stack, kneeling there on the floor, and re-emerges as she holds the door open for him. What an odd reaction. But of course it makes sense. Touch something and you’re real.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” Mulder deadpans, dropping his armful of newspapers on the kitchen table. “Nation’s safety endangered by boys with fucking toys. Your tax dollars at work.”

“We’ll deal with this, Mulder, we won’t give up,” she tries to reassure, but it’s a cold comfort. “Come over here, sit on the couch.” They take the few steps into the living room together and he collapses on her striped sofa, sprawls out with his head thrown back against the chenille throw resting there, and for the first time since she saw a tall, thin figure in a vampire mask on the security footage, Scully relaxes.

His body has started to unfold itself a tiny bit, from a ball of nerves and fear and terror into a human form. She watches his chest rise and fall a few times. He raises his arm and picks at the gauze on his broken hand with his teeth.

“Mulder,” she mutters as she sits next to him, “leave it alone.” She smells his fear sweat and for a moment, feels it mingling with the memory of Melissa’s end in this room, her sister’s blood and its copper tang in the air. Her own breath escaping her lungs in heartbeats of horror right here in front of the sofa, right here at both of their feet, as Duane Barry dragged her away. The difference is, he is safe. Safe and whole and warm and alive. It will linger for a while, the smell of fear, and then dissipate. She makes a mental note to try to get him to talk later, make him go see somebody about this. He's limp and boneless next to her on the couch.

“Why don’t you get in the shower. I’ll bring you some towels and a change of clothes.”

He opens his eyes and looks straight at her. His boyish, goofy grin makes an appearance and it is almost, almost not a grimace. “You’re gonna give me some other guy’s underwear? Kinky, Scully.” His voice is hoarse, lower than usual. She notices and wishes she hadn't. His voice always has a way of distracting her.

She gets up and moves toward her bedroom. “It’s just that old academy sweatshirt you let me borrow on the Reginald case. I never gave it back.” In her dresser, she locates not only the sweatshirt but several pairs of boxers, a grey t-shirt and white tank undershirt, and some maroon sweatpants, crudely cut off at the knee. You’ve never sat him down on your bed, caressed his neck and removed his tie, but you’ve worn his underwear to sleep, she absently thinks, and shuts herself down just as fast. Not this, not in response to a crisis, you promised yourself, Dana, you promised.

In the bathroom, when she returns with an armful of clothes and two fluffy blue towels, Mulder is sitting on the toilet with his black leather jacket pooled at his feet, picking at a patch of mud on the knee of his black jeans. “I, uh,” he starts and trails off. He raises his gaze at her, his eyes flickering and fluttering between her face and the wall behind her. He’s crashing. “I, uh, they… they took me to…,” he mutters and his mouth gapes open for a moment before closing. He purses his lips and rubs his eyes with the good fingers of his broken hand.

“You gonna be okay in the shower?” she asks. He nods, stands and accepts the bundle of soft fabric from her. His hands brush hers - they’re cold now, cold and dry. The day, the week, the month have burned off his skin. He swallows, looks away. She turns and leaves the bathroom as he reaches for the hem of his t-shirt and pulls is over his head. Before she shuts the door she sees angry red welts run across the top of his back and bruises running down his ribcage. They did things to him.

He’s in the bathroom for a long, long time, but she hears his body shuffle and water splash in there, and so decides he doesn’t need her help. Her overnight bag holds a travel case with necessities. She brushes her teeth at the kitchen sink and removes her makeup with some wipes. Walking through the rooms, switching off lights, she sees mud stains from his boots on the living room rug and more mud stains from the seat of his jeans on the couch. He'll need a place; he'll need to know he has a place. It's a given but she needs to tell him, explicitly, as she always does. He’ll do what he’s comfortable with, later. She makes a decision to not make up the couch for him to sleep on. To let the door into the bedroom stay open. She strips quickly, redresses in deep blue flannel to ward off the chill, and gets into bed. She stays on one side and carefully, obviously, reaches over to turn the blanket down on the opposite side. He cannot miss it.

When she wakes in the darkness her brain is hazy, clinging on to a faint memory of tension, of a vague fear rippling through her skin. She never remembers her dreams. Now, she’s on her side on the left side of the bed, as usual. Her pajama top has ridden up under the blanket, and she has bunched up the sleeves to her elbow in her sleep. She got hot. Fear hot, help me hot.

Mulder’s soft, slightly damp hair tickles her arm that’s stretched out in front of her. His cold nose nuzzles into the crook of her elbow. He’s crouched down, shirtless, in front of her on the floor, on his knees. He's leaning over her, gently, so gently. She can feel his exhausted muscles struggling to keep him upright, but he stays there, perched next to her. She can tell he’s trying to remain absolutely quiet, so she stays still, allows him whatever it is he needs. His bandaged fingers rest next to her elbow on the bed, and it’s so quiet she can hear the rustle of the sheet meeting gauze and surgical tape. A soft hiccup leaves his lips in a barely audible puff of air. She has the strangest feeling that this isn’t the first time he’s come to her like this.

His nose is freezing and his lips warm as he speaks very softly into the soft skin of her upper arm. “They took me to… an abandoned farm, of some sort. They cuffed me and marched me around for several minutes. We stopped at the edge of a field. They made me kneel in the mud and stuck a gun in the back of my neck.” He quiets. She steadies her breath in her pretend-sleep, hopes he can’t feel her heart threatening to break right through her chest.

“I thought I’d never see you again.” He turns face into the mattress and breathes deeply, quietly, intentionally. Trying not to cry and not to wake her.

She opens her eyes into the darkness. Focuses on the movement of his shiny hair, illuminated by a street lamp outside the bedroom window.

She breathes. He breathes. She says nothing.