August 13

Scully sat on the chair beside the bed, watching as the doctor carefully removed the bandages covering Mulder's eyes. She held his hand and it was no great surprise to her, that his fingers were cramped around hers.

The doctor removed the two gauze patches and examined the skin around the eyes. "It looks good. Still a little red, but better than I'd hoped," he said. "Try to open your eyes, Mr. Mulder." Mulder complied, blinking heavily. "Can you see anything?"

"Yeah. But it's all a blur," Mulder replied.

"Now, that was to be expected. It will take a while for your eyes to readjust. As I could find no injuries on the cornea itself, I don't believe you have sustained any damage that won't heal up on its own. Give it a few hours. Your vision should be clear enough to distinguish dinner," the doctor said with a slight chuckle.

"In that case, put the patches back on," Mulder replied, a reply Scully would have expected from him. "One thing is to taste that stuff. Looking at it ... I don't know." He shook his head, smiling a little.

The doctor grinned at Scully, then looked back at Mulder. "How are you feeling in general?" he wanted to know.

"Well, except for a killer sideburn and the fact that my left leg spasms every time I try to move it, I feel fine," he replied, smiling ironically.

Scully watched him closely, looking for signs of how he really felt, but found that he seemed to be back on top. Shaking her head in wonder, she squeezed his hand briefly. "He's tough. He always pulls through," she inserted.

The doctor smiled at that. "Well, I'm always happy to have patients who don't get traumas from being locked up in wet cellars for a few days," he said, making a joke of it. "The stab wounds you have received are pretty straight forward. The cuts are clean, no tearing, which means they should heal up without too much trouble. Both are superficial wounds and have as such not affected anything vital. That's the good news."

Mulder hesitated. "What's the bad news?" he wanted to know.

"You'll have to suffer through our dinners for a few more days," the doctor replied. "I'll check back on you later today. Don't try anything funny while I'm out, okay?" He padded Mulder's shoulder with a grin, turned around and walked out.

"He's a hoot," Mulder commented after the door had closed.

"Yeah," Scully agreed, eyeing him closely. His eyes were watering, but in general they seemed okay. "Maybe you should lie down and close your eyes again. Just to rest them a little more."

He complied almost at once. With Scully's help, he lowered the head of the bed and closed his eyes again. During all this time, he hadn't released her hand and he kept thinking about the promises he had made himself while he had waited for a rescue which he had actually thought would never come.

He felt like a million bugs right now. Despite the pain from his side and his leg and the tingling feeling in his hands and the fact that he still couldn't see straight, he felt on top of the world. It was as if this last experience had lifted a weight from his shoulders he hadn't realized was there in the first place. What it meant and why he didn't know. He just knew that at this very moment, he had never wanted to live more desperately. Perhaps it was because his most dire wish had been answered.

"Scully?" He ran the tip of his tongue over his chapped lips for a moment, then turned to the blur he identified as her.

"Yeah?" she replied, wondering if he was about to break down, but saw no sigh of it.

"Thanks," he said, his tone of voice displaying an emotional storm within. "Thank you for being there for me. You don't know what that means to me."

Smiling, she rose from her chair and pecked him on the cheek. "Yes, I do," she claimed. "And you're welcome. Besides, you don't have to thank me for this. After all, isn't that what friends are for?" She sat back down again, both her hands wrapped around his.

"I guess. But, then again, how would I know? I'm the one who doesn't have any friends, right?" he replied, sounding a little more mellow than she had ever heard him before.

"Well, you've got one," she told him.

"Make that two," a voice inserted from the door way.

Scully looked over to meet Skinner's stare for a moment. Then she smiled.

"How are you feeling, agent Mulder?" he wanted to know.

Mulder turned his head toward his boss, but could still make out very little through the watery blur. "Oh, you know me, sir. I'll survive," he replied, his tone of voice a little strained as he shifted himself a little on the bed. The wound on his right side was giving him a little trouble when he tried to move.

"Well, that's good to hear," Skinner said. "Although we've got a new profiler who's almost as good as you," he added with a weak smile.

"Really?" Mulder replied, looking surprised. "Maybe I can retire, then," he added.

"And what would you do with yourself if you retired, Mulder?" Skinner wanted to know, giving Scully a saying glance. "Anyway, take the time you need to back on your feet and, hopefully, we'll see you back at the office soon. Just take it easy." Turning to leave, he remembered one thing he had to say and turned back again. "By the way, there are two guards posted outside your room here and we can assign a twenty-four hour watch-shift . . ." he began, but Mulder cut him off.

"That won't be necessary. They're all gone," he said, blinking a couple of times and getting a less muddled picture out of it.

Skinner frowned. "Are you sure?" he wanted to know.

"Yes, I'm sure. She was the only one left and she died." The memory of her final words, of what she had told him, put a damper on his mood. "There's no need to waste other agents' time with this. I'm in the clear now."

"Well, if you say so," Skinner said reluctantly. "Scully, could I have a word with you outside?"

She nodded, padded Mulder's hand and got up. "I'll be right back."

Mulder acknowledged this with a nod, well aware of why Skinner wanted to talk to her alone. She was being told to keep an eye on him. With a weak smile, he realized that it would fit in with his desires quite nicely.

Out in the corridor, Scully closed the door behind her and turned to face her supervisor.

"Scully, I want you to keep an eye on him. If you need to stay with him for twenty-four hours a day, do it. He may think he's in the clear, but I'm not willing to take any chances. And you know what his colleagues think about him. Getting them to look after him is like asking a blind man to look after little kids."

Scully nodded. "I figured as much, sir. But you must be aware that he knows why you wanted to see me alone. And knowing him, he'll give me the slip as soon as he's up to it," she said, hoping to make her boss understand that keeping an eye on Mulder was a difficult task at best.

Skinner's expression tightened a bit. "Then put him on a leash. Handcuff him to you if you have to. I don't care. For the next month, you're his backup in everything he does. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," Scully replied, not happy about being assigned this duty. Mainly because she knew Mulder and his ability to disappear at any given time. "I'll do my best," she added.

Skinner nodded. "That's all I ask. Just don't lose him," he said, turned around and walked away.

Scully watched him go, then sighed and returned to the room. Dropping back down on the chair, she looked up at Mulder for a moment. "You know, we've got to talk," she told him. "Skinner has just assigned me the wonderful duty of keeping a close eye on you for the next month. And I swear to God, Mulder, if you give me the slip at any time ... if you ditch me, I'm going to shoot you in the leg just to keep you in line. Do you understand me? I'm not going to be yelled at because you think I'm not up to whatever you're after." There was seriousness and exasperation in her voice.

Mulder blinked, his vision getting steadily better, and gave her wry smile. Not too wide, though. His lips were not yet up to it. "Don't worry, Scully. I'll be a good boy," he promised, content in the knowledge that he was no longer at risk of running into any vengeful females. At least none of the shape-shifting kind.


08.30 a.m.
August 14
The Consortium Lodge
46th Street
New York

The Cigarette-Smoking Man looked up, once again being disturbed by one of his aides. The same woman who had come to him nearly ten days ago with that disturbing piece of news. She leaned in and whispered in his ear. "Things are taken care of. She died on her own. Agent Mulder is back. A bit battered, but all right. His partner is looking after him for now."

Smiling, he nodded. "Good," he replied in a low tone of voice. "Let's keep it that way for now. Keep an eye on him. Discreetly, of course. And report back to me if anything happens."

The woman nodded and left again. The Cigarette-Smoking Man leaned back in his chair, content that all was back in order, and continued to study the newspaper. He was being an instrument in keeping Mulder safe for now and found that a much more gratifying duty than any other he had performed in a long while. Things would work out all right in the end.


10.45 a.m.
J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.

Anna Krycek had been commended by A.D. Skinner for her excellent work and had then been sent back to the VCS. She glanced at her watch, switched her computer off and got up from behind her desk in the open-plan office. "Janie," she called over to one of her colleagues. "I'm going to lunch," she added and walked briskly out of the office.

When she stepped out onto the street, she briefly considered that maybe she should look Dana up one of these days and talk a bit more with her. She liked Dana Scully. But, on the other hand, Dana might ask her a question she couldn't afford to answer. Better leave it alone, she thought and headed toward a row of payphones. She had barely reached the last one in the row before it rang. Smiling softly, she picked up. "Hello?" The smile widened. "Hi, honey. How's Moscow?"