11.45 a.m.

A million thoughts raced through her head as she hurried into the small hallway to get her bag. It was incomprehensible to her that anybody would actually want to harm Mulder. It had happened before, of course, but this was different. She didn't know yet what had happened and she could only imagine it. And what popped into her mind wasn't pleasant.

When she returned to his bedroom, he had pulled the covers tightly around himself again. She sat down on the edge of the bed once more, trying to build up the stamina it would take to see her partner naked. Not that it would be the first time. But, and this was important in her mind, it was the first time that she was alone with him and he was conscious. She reached out to grab the edge of the covers. "Let me have a look," she said.

He almost laughed again, too embarrassed to look at her. This was bad for his reputation. The only time he knew of that she might have seen him naked had been the one time he had been out cold after that fateful trip to the Arctic. And he wished desperately that he could pass out now. He didn't know why, but this wasn't the situation he wanted her to see him without clothes in. "Maybe you shouldn't," he tried.

"And maybe I should. Let go of the covers, Mulder. You're not the first man I've seen naked and you probably won't be the last, either. I'm a doctor, after all," she told him, gently tugging at the sheet. For a moment longer, he held on, then his fingers slowly opened, releasing the edge of the sheet.

She was aware how awkward this was for him and it was no less so for her. But she would never show it because it might increase his discomfort. She slowly peeled the covers off him, exposing his chest first and noting the deep scratch-marks there. Gently she pushed his arm out of the way to take a closer look.

"These ... cuts are infected," she told him. "Not badly, but they should be cleaned."

The shiver running through him as she again pulled the covers further down was a clear sign to her that this was a very bad and demeaning situation for him to be in. Her eyes trailed over his body until she had uncovered enough.

For a moment, she stared at his abdomen with absolute horror, then she briefly glanced at his face, noting that he was definitely not looking at her. His eyes were squeezed shut and an occasional tear trickled from the corners of his eyes. Heaving a deep breath, she looked back at the injuries.

"Jesus," she mumbled. She placed a hand on his thigh and pushed it back a bit to get a better look. No wonder he was feeling sick. The injuries, although not as bad as she had feared, looked extremely painful. And she knew that the body of a man most of the time responded violently to injuries in that particular area. She even felt her own stomach roll at the sight and feared she might not be able to maintain a professional perspective on this.

"Uhm . . ." she began, not really knowing how to put this to make it any less embarrassing. "There seems to be some infection here," she told him, having to keep talking to take her mind of what she was looking at. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a pair of latex gloves and pulled them on. "I'm going to take a closer look . . ." she went on, hesitating before she touched him.

It felt wrong, somehow, and she again wished that he would agree to go to the hospital. But she could also imagine the scorn he would receive if this ever got out and it would get out. She knew that. If it was in his file, all his so-called colleagues would have access to it and they would use it against him.

Carefully, she moved his penis and he hissed, jerking when she touched him. "I know it hurts. I'll try to be as gentle as possible."

For an agonizing half hour she examined and treated him and when she was finally done, she pulled the covers back over him. The scratches on his chest were dealt with, his ankles and his wrists had been cleaned and bandaged. His genitalia was a different story. Scully had administered the only thing she could, considering that even the lightest touch had almost sent him through the roof with agony. After going over the contents of her bag, she had applied an ointment which was mildly antiseptic and aesthetical. She had then given him an injection of Pentazocine and waited for it to take effect before she wrapped the whole thing up in a light bandage.

With a sigh, she leaned back. "That's it," she said, pulling the gloves off again.

He kept his eyes closed for a moment longer, then slowly opened them again, blinking sluggishly at her. "Thank you," he whispered.

"Do you feel any better?" she wanted to know, sitting with her hands in her lap.

He blinked again, then slowly raised his eyes to meet hers. What he was most afraid of was her reaction to this. That she might see him as incomplete somehow. That she might find this funny. But all he saw in her eyes was concern for his well-being. "A little," he told her after a moment.

She smiled, not certain if he wanted to be touched or not. "Good. It should heal fairly quickly if you rest a lot. So there's no work for you for the next couple of days," she said, the latter in a stern tone of voice. She was set on keeping him in bed until he was able to move without too much discomfort.

"I don't really feel up to it anyway, so that's fine with me," he replied and looked away again.

"Now you tell me what happened," she insisted after a moment, not really certain she wanted to hear it.

He lay still, staring ahead of himself for a moment. The pain had subsided after the injection had taken effect and that left him with the capability to think more clearly although his mind was a little sluggish from the drug. "You'll think I'm crazy," he mumbled after a moment.

"I already think you are," she teased him mildly. "So, shock me."

Staring ahead of himself for a moment, he considered how to tell her what he had been through, to tell her who had put him through it, but couldn't find the right words. "It's ... " he began, hesitated, and then cleared his throat. "Uhm . . ." Closing his eyes, he wondered if it would be easier if he didn't look at her. "After I came home, I decided to try and sleep. So I went to bed. I woke up some time later to discover that I had been ... chained to my bed." He paused again, glancing at her.

Scully watched him intently for a second, then decided that he might find it easier if she didn't watch him. She got up and walked over to the window to look outside, keeping her eyes on the street below.

He stared at her back for a moment, trying to force his stomach to stop rolling. The memories of those hours. Swallowing hard, he tried to maintain a grip on himself. "Uhm ... naturally I was confused. I'm not ... into that, if you know what I mean." She nodded, but kept her back turned and he found that he was actually grateful for that. He didn't want her staring at him in disbelief or disgust, feelings he was at this moment experiencing himself. "Then ... she turned up. I was . . ." he tried to go on, but found that he couldn't get himself to tell her that he had thought her capable of doing something like this to him. "She was ... slick," he mumbled. "Full of scorn and glee. She went about ... hurting me. After she was done, she removed the chains and left again."

Scully frowned, keeping her back turned. When he didn't go on, she briefly closed her eyes. "Why didn't you call someone? You could have left a message on my answering machine, Mulder." Her tone of voice was lightly admonishing and she intended for it to be as she could not understand how he would not call for help when he was in so much pain.

He was quiet for a long time, trying out explanation after explanation in his head and found that none of them would make any sense to her. Not unless he got down to the point and that would mean risking her utter disbelief or resentment. He wouldn't be able to take either. Not after what he had been through. "She looked like you," he mumbled quietly.

Scully stiffened. Had he really just said what she thought he had? Slowly turning around, she stared at him. "Excuse me?"

He didn't look at her, didn't want to look at her. "She looked exactly like you," he repeated a little louder. "I was dumb-founded. I couldn't make sense of it. And all while she ... did what she did, I kept thinking that it couldn't be true. That you would never do something like this. Not to me. Not to anybody." He closed his eyes and pressed both palms onto his face. Groaning, he tried to erase the pictures in his mind, cursing his photographic memory to hell. "I was scared. Petrified."

Scully could do nothing more than stare at him for a long time. Conflicting feelings fought for dominance in her, making her feel partially horrified by the idea and partially angry. The anger was caused mostly by the fact that somebody would try and pull a stunt like that. "Whoever arranged this did it to separate us for good, Mulder. Unfortunately for them, they don't seem to know me very well. And obviously they don't know how strong a bond of friendship we have." She sat back down on the edge of the bed, pressing her hands over his. "I would never, ever do something like this to you. Especially not to you. The idea alone is revolting to me. I don't like to hurt other people and I don't like being hurt myself. I don't get a kick out of it." Letting her hands trace down his arms, she grabbed a hold of them and pulled his hands away from his face. He opened his eyes and faced her, looking pained and embarrassed and afraid. "I'm not leaving your side from now on and until we find out who did this. And when we find them, they'll be dealt with. I will not have something as obscene as this get between us, Mulder. I care too much about you to let that happen."

He stared up at her and the first kindling of his inner feelings for her was stirred. He grabbed both her hands and held them tightly, unable to find words for what he was feeling at that very moment. "Thanks," he mumbled instead.

"You're welcome," she replied and sighed. "I don't understand this," she added. "I don't understand why they would go to such lengths to separate us. Are we really that dangerous to them? "

"Together, I guess we are. Separately ... probably not." He mimicked her sigh, worn-out from hurting too much for too long. "Scully." She met his eyes with a soothing smile. "Don't leave me alone, okay? Not even for a moment."

"I'll stay here until you're well enough to move. Then you're coming home with me. They'll have to be bold as hell to try something there," she told him, squeezing his hands tightly.

Mulder kept silent, knowing that this woman would not shy back from hurting Scully. And under everything, there was a gnawing doubt. Had she really been as gentle as she could have been? He closed his eyes, trying to close out the haunting image of that so unbecoming smile on her face.

Scully briefly caressed his cheek, unable not to notice how he flinched when she touched him. "You must be exhausted. I'll let you get some rest. I'll be in the living room if you need me," she told him and got up.

He nodded weakly, already half asleep.


02.05 p.m.

His dreams were intruding, forceful, almost nightmarish. He was hurting, alone. Nobody around he could trust. Nothing anybody could do to help him. He saw Scully, begged for her help, but she only laughed at him, a sickening, superior laughter which tore at his soul.

With a gasp, he woke up, moved a little too forcefully and gasped at the pain this caused him. His wrists were sore and still swollen and so, he felt, was the rest of him. He rolled carefully over on his back, aware that the painkillers Scully had given him were wearing off. He didn't know if he could handle the pain right now, but remembered that Scully had left him some pills and a glass of water.

He turned his head toward the night stand and froze. The glass and the pills were gone. Looking toward the other side of the bed, he spotted the glass there. It crossed his mind that Scully wouldn't have put them out of his reach, but he ignored the obvious oversight and pulled himself laboriously across the bed toward the alluring painkillers. He reached a hand out for them but another hand dropped down to cover them. He almost forgot to breathe when his eyes trailed up her arm to her face. That woman again. The one who looked so much like Scully.

With a burst of energy and strength he previously would have denied he was in possession of, he pushed himself backward. His attempt to sit up, though, caused him to jerk violently.

"Careful now, Fox," she whispered, her expression evil. "You wouldn't want to hurt yourself, now would you?"

"I know you're not Scully," he gasped, pulling as far back as the bed allowed.

"Do you now?" she cooed and started around the bed. She was wearing that body stocking again and the sight of it made him cringe. "And how do you know that? Just because I can play nice?"

He stared at her, not wanting to believe what she said. "You're not Scully," he repeated.

She reached out and grasped his right ankle, closing her fingers hard around the bandage and he yelped, trying to kick out at her with the other foot. But she caught that, too, pressing both his feet down onto the mattress. "Oh yes, I am," she told him and pulled at his legs. Her strength was considerable, freighting in its intensity.

"Let go," he winced, trying to twist out of her grip. The more he moved, the tighter her grip became and the more it hurt. "You're not Scully," he insisted, sweat springing out on his brow. He was about to call for Scully, to scream for her if necessary, when his assailant leapt forward, slapped a hand over his mouth while pressing him down on the bed with unbelievable force.

She forced his arms under her knees, holding him in a vice-like grip between her legs, and smiled viciously at him. "Easy now," she shushed him. When he didn't calm down, she pressed a finger against the cuts on his chest. It hurt bad enough for him to stop moving. "That's better," she cooed. "Now, where were we?"

He put more effort into getting free, but no matter what he did, he couldn't seem to shake her. And that convinced him that she wasn't Scully. Couldn't be. She was too strong to be human. When he once again attempted to get her off him, to get her hand away from his mouth, she did something he hadn't expected. She hammered a fist into his solar plexus, causing instant paralysis from the pain. He couldn't breathe for a moment and she used that moment to shackle his wrists and lock them to the head board of the bed. Wheezing, he tried to regain enough breath to scream for help. But again she beat him to it, stuffing a roll of fabric she retrieved from the front of the body stocking like before into his mouth. He fought the restraints, causing himself more pain that necessary, but he hoped that the racket he was making would wake Scully up.


02.22 p.m.

Dana Scully had fallen asleep. She woke up with a start, not sure what had roused her at first. She sat up on Mulder's couch and brushed both hands through her hair, blinking. There was some kind of noise in the background and at first she didn't pay attention to it. Then it suddenly hit her that it came from within the apartment.

She was off the couch, wide awake and running toward the closed bedroom door within a second. Her gun drawn, she pushed the door open and stopped at the sight that met her. His tormentor had returned and she did look like her.

"Get away from him," she yelled, angry at herself for not paying better attention. She should have been able to prevent this woman from entering the apartment. Holding the gun with both hands, she didn't take her eyes off the woman long enough to check on Mulder. "Don't make me tell you twice," she warned hatefully.

The woman slipped off the bed and straightened up, her eyes locked on Scully's. There was no doubt in her mind that Scully would pull the trigger if she didn't comply. "Well, I guess you're right, Fox. I'm not Dana Scully," she said, briefly glancing down at the suspended man. As she did, she changed. She shape-shifted into another woman. "Shooting at me would be a very stupid thing to do, agent Scully," she added. "You would both die and I could just walk out of here. So what do you say we call a truce?"

"A truce?" Scully snapped. She had realized that most of her anger was focused on the fact that this woman had disguised as her to hurt Mulder. "I don't think so. Back away from the bed." Her tone of voice was harsh.

"I'm sorry you see it that way," the woman replied, edging away from the bed, holding her hands up. Not because she was afraid of being shot. She was trying to lull Scully into believing that she had the upper hand here. She edged along the wall toward the foot end of the bed and took a step toward Scully.

"Stop," Scully warned her, in turn taking a step closer herself. A moan from her partner distracted her and she glanced at him, appalled at seeing him in this condition. Before she had a chance to react, the shape-shifter had backhanded her harshly across the temple, knocking the world out of focus. The next blow was administered to her solar plexus hard enough for her to pass out instantly. Scully hit the floor, the gun dropping down on the bed.

"No," the shape-shifter said with a wicked smile. "You stop." With that comment, she grabbed Scully and hauled her out of the room. She dumped her just outside the bedroom door and closed it. "Now we can have some fun," she said and turned back to her helpless, terrified, struggling victim.


10.12 p.m.

Scully came to with a major headache and an aching chest. She sat up gingerly, trying to regain her bearings, briefly disoriented. Then the gruesome facts of what had happened came back to her and she staggered to her feet, her eyes on the half-open bedroom door. It was awfully quiet in the apartment. Much too quiet for her liking.

Glancing briefly at the front door, she wondered how long she had been out. Aware that what she might see could be upsetting, she heaved a deep breath and pushed the door open. Standing in the doorway, she stared at the scene unfolding before her, trying to comprehend that someone would do this to another person. Her eyelids slid shut for a moment, then she slowly walked up to the bed.

He lay sprawled on the bed, a blood stained sheet barely covering him, and all she could see were cuts and bruises. The bandages around his wrists and ankles were soaked with blood, the gauze which had covered the wounds on his chest still stuck on one side, revealing the newly gouged gashes. Among a whole lot of new ones. The only thing untouched by this mayhem was his face. She sat down on the edge of the bed, her breath shallow. The whole world had slowed down, setting everything to slow motion.

She reached icy fingers out to touch his throat, feeling for the pulse and finding it. It wasn't nearly as weak as she had thought. Actually she had thought that it would be none-present. The way he looked could easily have let her to believe that he had not survived this second encounter. On second thought, she feared he might wish he had not survived it when he came around.

That thought put her gears in motion. To think that he might wake up to a world of pain was not something that would happen as long as she was around. No way. She returned to the living room to get her bag, filled a syringe with morphine and injected it into his arm. That should keep him under until she had dealt with the worst of the cuts and bruises. Then she would give him a shot for the pain and move him to somewhere.

After the initial shock had receded, she became painfully aware that she would not be able to move him on her own. There were actually two options open to her. The first was calling the Lone Gunmen. But she couldn't with any kind of certainty estimate whether they would help. They probably would, but she was uncertain about how far they would go for their friend. The second option was the one she dreaded, yet preferred. At least Skinner wouldn't have any qualms about firing a gun if necessary.

She systematically worked around the sheet covering him while cleaning and bandaging the wounds, leaving the worst till last. There was no doubt in her mind that this ... woman or whatever she was had B in want of a better word B molested him again. When she finally reached the point where she could no longer put it off, she gingerly removed the sheet and, with her mind in clinical mode, she estimated the damage done and the future side effects this might have.

Dealing with the problem at hand pushed her troubled thoughts of why this had happened aside for the time being. She worked well under pressure, yet the subject of her attention was one she would have preferred to leave in the capable hands of another medical doctor. This was a bit too personal. When she was finally done, she had no doubt in her mind that he would be in pain when he woke up again. No matter how much Pentazocine she filled him with.

After cleaning up the bedroom as much as she could, she put the blood-stained sheets to soak in the sink in the bathroom and finally found herself running out of things to do which could postpone that call she had to make. It had gotten dark in the meantime and she wasn't too keen on having to explain why she needed his help regarding her partner. Mostly she would have to come up with a way to keep this a secret. Reluctantly, she reached for the phone and dialed his number.


His response was gruff as always and Scully winced inwardly at what she was about to do. "Sir, it's Dana Scully," she said.

"Scully?" He sounded surprised. "Do you know what time it is?" he added a little brusquely.

Frowning, she glanced at the clock on the video and pursed her lips. It read 11.30 p.m. "Oh, uhm ... I had no idea it was this late. I'm sorry about that, but I need your help. Urgently!"

A brief moment of silence followed that. "For what?" he asked, his tone suddenly more mellow.

"Uhm . . ." She briefly considered how to put it. "It is a highly confidential matter. One that I cannot turn to anyone else with. And I'd rather not discuss it over the phone." She was not trying to flatter him, but mainly to make him understand that it was important that he didn't talk about it. She paused, giving him a chance to react to it.

"Where are you calling from?" he wanted to know, more or less letting her know that he would help by not turning her down at once.

"Agent Mulder's apartment, sir," she replied.

She heard him sigh and knew what was going through his head right now. "Not another ... suicide attempt, is it?" he asked, his tone of voice slightly sarcastic.

Scully would have been able to see the funny side of this if the situation hadn't been so serious. "No, sir. This is a little more serious than that," she replied, hearing the tenseness in her own voice.

He grumbled something under his breath. "All right. I'll be right over. But I expect an explanation, agent Scully," he finally said and hung up.

Scully returned the phone to its holder. "Oh, you'll get one. And I'm sure you won't like it," she mumbled into the darkness of the living room.


11.55 p.m.

Skinner arrived at Mulder's apartment half an hour later. After turning the engine of his car off, he sat there for a moment, unable to imagine what could be worse than that staged suicide. But he had no doubt that Scully would have let him know if it had been a genuine death. With a heartfelt sigh, he got out of the car and went upstairs. Scully opened the door, letting him in.

Skinner briefly glanced around the small hallway, noting that the bedroom door was closed, then focused on Scully. "All right. What is this all about and where is agent Mulder?" The way Scully avoided his eyes made him uncertain about why he was here.

"He's in the bedroom and I'd rather not discuss the reason for my request for help here. Agent Mulder has had ... uhm ... an accident, twice, and we need to get him out of town to prevent it from happening again," Scully said. She really didn't want to discuss the reason here. Mainly because she thought the apartment might be bugged. It annoyed her slightly that Mulder had this much influence on her, but she was starting to believe in his rather paranoid view of the world.

Skinner again glanced at the bedroom door, then looked back at Scully with a frown. "And you can't get him out on your own. Is that it?" he wanted to know and she nodded.

"Yes, sir. That's it. Mainly because I can't move him myself and ... well ... I couldn't call anybody else. He has begged me not to call an ambulance, although I do believe it might serve him better to get to a hospital. But I understand his reluctance and I do believe that he would not be safe in a hospital." Explaining it without telling Skinner what she was talking about was the hard part here. And she knew how annoyed he could get if people weren't clear about such things.

Skinner took a step toward the bedroom door, then glanced at Scully. "I'm not happy about this," he told her.

"Neither am I, sir, but this has to be done. To protect him both physically and mentally," she insisted.


03.15 a.m.
December 18
The Scully Summer residence
Appalachian Mountains

The cabin was far off from Washington, high in the Appalachian Mountains. It belonged to Scully's family and had been a family heritage as far back as she could remember. Rarely used, she doubted that very many people outside of her family knew it existed. Hence she had chosen this very spot to take her friend and partner to help him heal and protect him from further attacks.

The morphine, a generous shot by any measure, had kept him under for the whole trip. Scully had B to prevent any embarrassment and too early demands for an explanation B clad him in a pair of loose sweat pants and the matching sweatshirt. The only explaining she would have to do from that were the bandages around his wrists and ankles. But even those Skinner did not ask about. He merely had helped her get him down to her car, where after they had driven both cars to the cabin.

Once Scully had installed her partner in the downstairs bedroom and assured herself that he was still out and hence not in any pain, she returned to the living room. Skinner had turned on some lamps and had started a fire in the fire place. When she dropped down heavily on a chair across from him, he stared intently at her. "Are you going to explain to me what is going on?" he wanted to know after a moment.

"I will," she said, looking down at her hands lying in her lap. "It's just difficult." Heaving a deep breath, she held it in for a moment, considering the best choice of words and found that there were no choices. "Yesterday," she began, glancing at her watch and noting that it was well past one in the morning. "Actually, two days ago," she corrected herself, "I told Mulder to go home and get some sleep. He looked like something the cat had dragged in. He went around mid-day and as I did not want to bother him, I did not call him that day. The following day, yesterday, he did not show up for work, as you know. He called in sick with the stomach flu. I called him to check on him and was quite surprised by his rather blunt reaction to me. He has been angry at me in the past for various reasons, but this did not sound like anger. More like a mild kind of fear and a pretty big dose of resentment." She paused, glancing up at Skinner, who was listening to her without comment. "I went over to check on him as his behavior was rather bizarre and, quite frankly, I was concerned about him. I let myself in when he did not respond to my knocking. The first thing I noticed was a trail of blood on the floor." Frowning, she recalled the moment she had realized what had happened to him. "He was in bed and at first I believed that he did have the stomach flu. But . . ."

"He didn't," Skinner continued for her and she nodded.

"That's right. Although his immediate condition could point at that. He was feeling nauseous. But not due to any kind of flu. It was due to something he had experienced during the late evening or early night." Rubbing a hand over her face, she tried to phrase it in her mind first. But even there the words would not come. "He had been ... for want of a better word ... molested."

Skinner's surprise was obvious when he leaned forward, staring at her with disbelief. "Molested?"

"Yes. That's the only word that fits this scenario. Otherwise I would have to use the word . . ." she went on, but hesitated, then looked up to meet his eyes "...raped."

That brought a frown to his face. "Agent Scully, are you telling me that agent Mulder was ... raped in his own apartment?" he asked, wanting to have it cleared up completely. Scully nodded serenely. That caused another bout of disbelief. "By whom?"

Scully sighed deeply and folded her hands, staring down at them for a second. "Well ... I'll get to that. The whole thing is still a little ... absurd to me." Pursing her lips, she went over the conversation she'd had with Mulder in her mind. "His initial reaction to me when he woke up was rather surprising. He drew back. He looked like he was terrified by the mere sight of me. I managed to talk him out of this apparent horror and received an explanation as to why he had reacted that way. He thought that I had done that to him."

Skinner found this whole thing a little too bizarre at the moment. "You?" he asked. "How should you have been able to do something like that to him? He's quite a bit taller than you and my guess is that he is also stronger than you. This is ridiculous."

"That was my initial reaction, but the state he was in made it no laughing matter. He had . . . deep gashes on his chest and his wrists and ankles had been scoffed badly by shackles of some kind. But that wasn't the worst." She hesitated, not certain she should go into detail about this.

"It wasn't?" Skinner asked, not at all sure he wanted to hear the rest. He had a bad feeling about what she was going to say. Like he knew already.

"No," Scully said, finding it difficult to keep her shoulders relaxed. She cleared her throat, as embarrassed by what she had to tell him as she was angry that it had happened at all. "His ... abdomen. The skin was raw and bleeding. I don't know for certain what caused it, although I can imagine. It was also infected. Not as badly as I had feared. Obviously he had been able to make it to the bathroom and shower, hence cleaning most of the wounds he had received out. There were also signs of severe bruising. In my training as a doctor, I cared for his wounds after he insisted that I should not call an ambulance. He was afraid of the consequences if this kind of information were to appear in his official file."

Skinner had to swallow hard at her words. This was insane. "Jesus," he mumbled, finally understanding why this situation seemingly was so difficult. "I would have thought that he knew better than to think that this kind of information would be stated in his official record, Scully," he said after a moment. "But no matter. I take it this happened again?"

"Yes, it did. I decided to stay, to keep an eye on him and ... well ... aide him in any way possible. Mainly because he was afraid that this ... woman would come back. And she did come back. I attempted to stop her, but she managed to knock me out and when I came to again, it was all over. If he gets away with the physical scars, he'll be lucky. I don't believe that he will, though. I'm afraid he may need some kind of psychological assistance once he's back on his feet."

Skinner nodded. "We'll see to that when the time comes. Right now I'm interested in who this woman is. Did she look like you?" he demanded.

Now came the really hard part of her explanation. "Uhm ... yes. At first she did," she said.

Frowning, Skinner sat back on the couch, staring at her. "At first?"

"Yes. At first she was an exact copy of me. Then she changed. Became somebody else. Don't ask me to explain it. I can't. I just know what I saw and there is no question of trickery here, either. The daylight was flooding the bedroom." She shook her head in silent denial of her own words. "I don't understand it. I can't possibly understand how she did it. And, in general, I don't care. What I want to know is why. Why would anybody want to do this to him? Why would anybody want to do this to anyone?"

The thought of what she had told him made a shiver run up his spine. This was bad news. "Well, if she looked like you, the reason is obvious, isn't it? What better way to drive a wedge between the two of you than make him believe that you would do something like that to him."

Scully nodded. "My thoughts exactly. But why did she come back? I mean, she must have been aware that I was there. Although I was asleep when she turned up, she could not have avoided seeing me."

"Obviously these people don't understand the kind of ... partnership you have with Mulder," Skinner said, revealing that he was quite aware of how close they were. "And maybe she just got carried away. You know as well as I do that there are people out there capable of doing this to others without the slightest feelings of remorse."

They were silent for a moment, each engrossed in their own thoughts on the subject, then Scully finally nodded. "I believe you're right. I also believe that this ... woman will make another attempt. I hope that they do not know about this cabin, but they have previously proven to be quite resourceful and I would not be surprised if she turned up here." Pausing, she considered their options. "If she is indeed one of these ... whatever they are, these people with the green poisonous blood, then we can't let her in here. If we have to shoot her, we have to do it outside. Otherwise we could be infected by this retro-virus that Mulder has previously been exposed to. A virus which kills within a very short time."

Nodding his consent, Skinner finally shrugged out of his coat. "We'll deal with that when we get to it, Scully. Right now, I think we could both benefit from some sleep. I can only imagine the kind of pain that he will be in when he wakes up and I have a feeling that the next couple of days will be rather stressful."

Suppressing a yawn, Scully suddenly realized how tired she was. "How do we explain that all three of us are absent from work?" she wanted to know.

"Well, you have obviously been infected by that stomach flu which has knocked Mulder out," Skinner replied indifferently. "As for me, I've just decided to take a few personal days. It's been a while since I had a vacation and I think I'm entitled to a few days away from the office. What I do in my spare time is no business of theirs."


10.45 a.m.

Pain was what eventually tugged him out of the blissful darkness surrounding him. He woke up in pain, his throat dry, unable to focus his eyes. Any move he made sent nauseating waves of pain through him. He squeezed his eyes shut, his fingers digging into the covers of the bed he was in. Unfamiliar scents assaulted him along with sounds he could not identify.

Groaning, he opened his eyes again, but found that he was still unable to get a clear picture of the room he was in. And that brought panic with it. In his attempt to sit up he was harshly reminded of why he was in this state. The pain spreading from his abdomen made him gag uncontrollably and it was only due to the fact that his stomach was already empty that he did not throw up all over the place. Wincing at the painful contractions of his stomach, he rolled over on his side and curled up and wished he could just pass out again.

A door somewhere behind him opened. He frantically blinked his eyes, trying to clear them, aware that the person entering the room might not have his best interests in mind.

A cool hand touched his brow so suddenly, he jerked back.

"Easy, Mulder. It's me."

He listened to her voice, trying to read her intentions. And then things slowly started falling into place. He again remembered what had happened and that she was not the enemy. Moaning, he grabbed out for her and caught her wrist awkwardly.

She touched his face, aware that he had trouble seeing straight. The morphine was not entirely out of his system yet. "Sh," she shushed him. "Easy. I gave you a shot of morphine yesterday. You may have difficulty in focusing just yet. Just try to relax. Are you in pain?" He nodded, his throat too dry to speak. "I'll give you a shot for it," she said.

He heard her fiddling with something, felt her swap his arm and the needle penetrating the skin. After a moment, the pain ebbed away.

Scully ran a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face, and found it difficult to contain an almost anguished expression. "It's all right. I'm right here," she told him. He cleared his throat, trying to speak, but nothing came out. "Don't try to speak. You must be parched," she said. "Hang on. I'll get you something to drink."

She disappeared for a moment. He blinked, hoping that his eyes would soon be able to give him a clear picture of his surroundings. One of the scents bombarding him, he had identified. Pine. The room smelled of pine. And that meant he wasn't at home any more. Or in Scully's apartment, for that matter. He heard her coming back and could make out a fuzzy outline with swimming colors randomly distributed throughout. She touched a cool glass to his lips after helping him raise his head and he drank greedily. She didn't let him have too much at once.

"Where am I?" he finally managed to ask her. The water helped him focus, too, and the whole scene slowly returned to normal.

"A cottage that belongs to my family," Scully replied, touching his forehead for a moment. "Well, you don't have a fever. That's always something."

Unable to concentrate for longer periods of time B obviously a side-effect of the morphine B he let his eyes slide shut. "How did you get me here?" His voice was barely audible.

Scully rearranged the covers, tugging him in. "I had to call help. The only kind of help I was able to get without having to worry that something might go wrong." When she looked back at his face, she found him staring at her despite his obvious fatigue. "I called Skinner," she told him.

Mulder merely nodded once. That was what he had expected when she said she had called help. "You're finally beginning to trust him, huh?" he wanted to know.

She nodded. "Yes, I am. And now you need to rest some more. You're in no condition for asking questions." Getting up, she smiled weakly at him. "You've been through hell. You need time to heal."

He blinked a few times, then closed his eyes again, too tired to argue with her. There was a dull throb in his body and he just wanted to get away from it.