Rating: PG-13

Schreck Mansion

Mulder came to with a gasp which instantly sent him into a coughing fit. His lungs felt as if they were full of water and it took him a moment to realize that he was imagining it. Nothing came up when he coughed and his breathing was fairly free despite the sensation of his lungs being heavy with fluid. As a matter of fact, the floor he was lying on was bone dry. Sitting up while trying to still his need to cough up the imaginary water, he let a hand slide over the rough surface beneath him and felt nothing but dry stone. But he himself was soaked. Brushing a hand through his wet hair, he gingerly climbed to his feet, feeling very much as if someone had beaten him up with a baseball bat. Not an entirely nice feeling, he thought to himself.

The house had tried to drown him. There was no other explanation for what he had experienced. For how else could there be a tidal wave in the basement of a house, which was miles from the ocean? Staggering a little, he stumbled forward, one hand reached out in front of him. He was utterly disoriented and had no idea which way he was going. When he bumped into a wall, he pressed a palm against it and registered that it was cold and clammy. The external wall again. With a sigh, he turned around and started forward in search of the opposite wall. The question was, however, whether or not the house wanted to let him get out of the basement.

Stumbling, he almost fell flat on his face when his right foot caught on something. Hissing angrily, he paused. "Ow, goddamn it," he grumbled and pushed his wet hair out of his eyes again. At that very moment he realized that his shoes were gone. Frowning, he squatted down and touched his wet socks, wondering how the hell he could lose his shoes without noticing it. He had been wearing them when he had stretched out on the couch. He had also been wearing them when he had been hit by that wave. His fear of this place was temporarily quelled and he felt more angry than scared. Rising again, he limped on and eventually reached a wall, which both felt warmer and was drier than the other one. Without hesitation, he started following it, set on leaving this dark place behind, no matter what.


The Crane Residence

Scully felt no remorse over knocking on the Cranes' front door at 7.30 a.m. For some odd reason she couldn't define, she was certain the caretaker and his wife would be up. And she was right. A woman with an indifferent demeanor, fully dressed in a plain looking, shapeless black dress, opened the door. From what Scully could judge off hand, the woman looked to be in her late forties, plain, thin and with greying hair.

"Mrs. Crane?" she asked the other woman, who nodded in response. "Hi. I'm sorry to bother you this early. I'm Dana Scully. We spoke on the phone yesterday," she went on.

"Yes, I remember," Mrs. Crane said, looking mildly surprised, her tone of voice still sounding sour although her general expression belied its venom. She didn't look the least bit sour.

"I know that you will probably think that I've lost my mind, but I still have heard nothing from my partner and I can't shake the feeling that he might still be in the mansion. I know you said that you and your husband went over the house before you left and that he wasn't there, but would you mind terribly if I had a look for myself? It's not that I don't believe you. I just need to see for myself." Scully knew she was jabbering and she was fully aware of the rather overbearing look the older woman gave her, but she had to do this. In some way, it reminded her of all the times when Mulder had done crazy things she hadn't been able to see the need for. Now she did, though. No matter how silly one felt over asking those kind of questions, they were somehow essential.

Mrs. Crane considered her request for a second, then nodded. "Well, if you think it's necessary, Miss Scully, certainly," she consented. "Just a moment. I'll just get my coat. We can drive there together," she added and disappeared from the door.

Scully had to admit to herself that she was rather surprised at how easily the woman accepted her request, but she was also relieved at not having to go through a major discussion of why she didn't believe Mrs. Crane.

Moments later, Mrs. Crane returned and together they drove the rather short distance to the infamous Schreck Mansion in Scully's car. Mrs. Crane got out at the gates and opened them wide to let them drive through all the way up to the front door. Scully remained in the car and gazed up at the looming mansion, suddenly understanding what the girl from the coffee shop had talked about. The house certainly did have an aura of the forbidding about it. But Scully attributed it to the way the structure had been built and to the stories she had heard about it. She had almost expected it to look that dark and brooding. The overcast sky and the chill in the air had a lot to do with that, as well.

Mrs. Crane got back into the car and pointed toward the house. "Just drive all the way up to the front doors. Normally, when we have the open house, the guests are asked to park in the lot over to the right," she said, waving toward a drive way to a parking lot, which was situated further back. "But since it's only one car, it's okay," she added.

Scully put the car back in gear and drove slowly up the gravel covered path leading up to the middle of the mansion. The whole building was impressive in its dark, forbidding way. "That's quite a house," she said and parked in front of the main entrance. "Must be difficult to keep it clean, though," she added as they got out.

"Oh, it's not that bad," Mrs. Crane said, sounding mostly as if she was in awe of the house. "Jonathan Schreck somehow managed to create a house that virtually keeps itself clean. There isn't much dust and since nobody lives in the house, it's mainly maintenance."

Scully nodded and followed the older woman up to the front doors, wondering if this place didn't have a major problem with cobwebs. Old houses like this were usually a haven for spiders. Deciding that it didn't matter in the context of her visit, she pushed such thoughts aside again.

Mrs. Crane brought out a rather hefty looking key, unlocked the doors and pushed them wide. Stepping through to the impressive entrance hall beyond the doors, Scully looked around and could not suppress a shudder.

"Doesn't keep warm, though," Mrs. Crane said, observing the shudder and mistaking it for something other than what it was.

Scully wasn't feeling cold. She just didn't like the house. The atmosphere was oppressive and she wondered how anybody could ever have lived in this place. "Do you mind if I just take a look around? If he is still here, he would have left some signs," she said.

"Go ahead," Mrs. Crane said. "Why don't you check the south wing? I'll check the north wing. We can meet back here in... oh... say, half an hour?" she added.

Scully smiled, grateful that Mrs. Crane wanted to help her and didn't think she was completely nuts. "That's fine. Thank you," she said and started down a long winding corridor with soft velvet wallpaper while Mrs. Crane took off in the other direction.

"Mulder?" she called. "Are you here?" There was no reply. She walked on, both impressed and repelled by the architecture of the house. It was dedicated to the dark side. That much she could tell from the at times obscene carvings on the wall panels. "MULDER?" she tried again, calling out a little louder. Still no reply.

Feeling a little silly, she opened doors along the way, inspecting richly decorated rooms. One door stood open and when she peeked inside, she almost smiled. This room would definitely be to Mulder's liking. A large leather couch dominated the rather small room. Shaking her head at such thoughts, she returned to the corridor, closing the heavy, carved oak door and continued onward, searching for her partner.


Schreck Mansion
The basement

Mulder had spent what he felt was a lifetime in the basement, searching for a way out. Shivering in the cold, clammy air, he continued to edge along the wall, but something made him freeze in his tracks. Frowning, he listened. There it was again. Somebody calling his name. The sound was muffled, far away, but he could still hear his name being called. At first he thought it was another trick by the house and whatever it contained. But then he suddenly recognized the pitch of the voice.

"Scully?" he almost whispered incredulously. For a second longer, he didn't allow himself to believe that it was really her, but then he smiled. He had known all along that she would come for him. Feeling both relieved at the impending rescue and fearful that she might leave without him, he hurried his steps toward the source of the sound, which was most definitely also a way out of this place.

But something made him stop short again. Listening more closely into the darkness, he tried to determine what had made him stop this time. He identified it almost immediately as being a slurping sound, which came from somewhere ahead of him. There was something in the dark basement with him and he was quite sure that he wouldn't like it, whatever it was.

Taking a hesitant step backward, he realized that the sound did not just emanated from in front of him. It came from the back as well. Whatever it was, it was closing in on him from both sides. Swallowing hard, he pressed his back against the wall, trying to find a way out of this. He did not want to let this prevent him from getting out of the basement. But he didn't know what he was up against.

Scared by the ever-closing slurping, he blinked a few times, trying to force his eyes to see something. But there just wasn't any light. Wincing, he pressed harder against the wall. The slurping seemed to come from everywhere at once, slowly closing on him.

And then he heard Scully calling out for him again. At first, he didn't want to call for help, feeling silly and ridiculous all at once, but when something splashed against the wall to the right of him, he jerked to the left with a moan of fear. To hell with embarrassment. This was a matter of pure survival, he thought to himself and opened his mouth to call for help at the top of his lungs. But before any sound could come over his lips, something sticky and slimy hit him right in the face, blocking off any sounds he might have made.

Disgusted and terrified, his hands jerked to his face immediately and dug into the substance which felt like slime, but was a lot more viscous than any other type of slime he'd had the displeasure of coming across. And not only that. It was moving on its own accord. Close to panic, he tried desperately to scrape it away from his firmly shut lips, but nothing he did could remove the substance from his face. Too preoccupied by struggling against that stuff to listen carefully to his surroundings, he wasn't aware of what was going on around him. Seconds later, a literal wave of that stuff hit him, covering him head to toe in an instant. Pressing him up against the wall in an urgent, needy kind of way, it slithered over him, forcing his arms out to the sides, making it impossible for him to move.

With unerring certainty, it started invading his body. He could feel it pushing into his nose, clogging up his ears, oozing through his closed eyelids. And it was trying hard to slip past his tightly closed lips as well. Panic overtook him then, but nothing he did made any difference. His lungs hurt from lack of air and his stomach indicated strongly that it did not like this intrusion. Eventually, mostly on reflex, he opened his mouth in an attempt to scream and the slime gushed inside. He could feel it pushing down his throat, a sensation which would have made him gag uncontrollably if he'd been able to do that. It forced its way down into his lungs, filling them up. It pushed further down through his esophagus, down into his stomach, distending it painfully.

It invaded every crevice of his body, filling him up to the point where he thought he would burst. It hurt ferociously and he couldn't even scream. His movements inside that oversized glob of slime had turned nearly spasmodic, his fingers jerking, his muscles contracting painfully and at random. He was convulsing and he was fully aware through all of it. He would have cried for help, screamed his head of in fact, if he had been able to.

The feeling of utter helplessness, of being abused in the very sense of the word, made his panicking mind spin out of control. All he could focus on was the complete and utter violation of his very being and the fact that he believed he could feel himself going mad.


Schreck Mansion
Ground floor

Scully ended up back in the entrance hall without having seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. With a sigh, she had to acknowledge that Mulder probably wasn't in the house after all. But the feeling that he should be hadn't left her. She couldn't help herself from feeling that he was here and that he needed her help desperately.

Shaking her head in denial at such feelings, not wanting to acknowledge that she might be right, she waited for Mrs. Crane to return, which she did moments later.

"Well?" the older woman asked.

Scully sighed audibly. "Nothing. I'm sorry, Mrs. Crane. I've wasted your time," she said apologetically.

"Ah, no matter," Mrs. Crane said, waving a dismissive hand at her apology. "With this house, I understand why you would want to be certain," she added. "Let's go, then."

Sending a glance over one shoulder back into the entrance hall, Scully sighed heavily and nodded. "All right," she said. "Thank you for indulging me," she added.

"That's all right. No harm done. Besides, the idea isn't that far-fetched, Miss Scully. Two years ago, a boy disappeared in this house on Halloween night. We never did find out what happened to him. He was here with some friends. They lost track of him along the way and... well... he just disappeared," Mrs. Crane said, sounding somewhat puzzled by what she was saying.

Scully stared at her while she closed and locked the front doors again. "He just disappeared?" she asked incredulously and glanced at the heavy oak doors.

"Well, I personally think that his friends scared him a little too much and that he took off without them. Whatever happened to him afterward nobody knows. He was nowhere to be found. The police even searched this mansion, trying to find him, but there was no sign of him," Mrs. Crane explained and turned to face Scully. "Don't worry, Miss Scully. I'm sure nothing has happened to your friend. Not in this house, anyway," she added and glanced up toward the bell tower rising above them.

Scully followed her gaze and once again felt that this house was more than it seemed. There was an essence to this place, something she couldn't define. "I'm just worried about him and he has a tendency to get himself into trouble out of the ordinary," she said and smiled a little at her own words.

Mrs. Crane met her eyes when she looked back at her and there was a strange kind of tightness to the older woman's expression. "Well, then he came to the right place," she said and started down the few steps to the waiting car. "If you don't mind, I have chores that need to be done," she added.

"Of course. I'm sorry," Scully said and hurried back to the car to drive the other woman home again. She sent another glance up at the house before she pulled away from the steps and drove them back down the gravel path.


Schreck Mansion
The basement

The violation seemed to go on forever. He wanted so desperately to pass out, to just get away from the slithering sensation of that gunk against his skin and inside him. He could feel it moving around everywhere and it drove him crazy with disgust and horror.

And then suddenly it was gone as if someone had waved a magic wand, wishing it away. Released from his ordeal, he slammed down hard on the floor, bruising and scraping his chin. With tears in his eyes, he unsteadily pushed himself up on his hands and knees, his stomach revolting painfully against the experience. He threw up on the floor, retching until he had nothing left to spare, his movements weak and labored.

Once he was done, he gingerly pushed himself back and wiped a shivering hand over his lips. With his back against the wall, he pressed the back of his hand hard against his lips, breathing heavily through his nose until he could no longer control his feelings. Breaking down like a little kid and hating himself for his lack of control, he cried. The tears were provoked by the utter invasion he had just experienced, whether it had been in his mind or not. But the sticky feeling of his skin and the slimy sensation when he touched his hair proved to him that it had happened. And that realization made it worse.

The darkness surrounding him was complete. He had once again lost his sense of direction, but still thought he had a fairly good idea of how to get out of this place. What he wanted most at that very moment was a shower. A long, hot shower. The need to get clean, to scrape this stuff off his skin was overpowering to the extreme. The revulsion he felt at what had happened to him once again made him gag and he leaned forward, attempting to throw up something that wasn't there.

With a groan, he pushed himself back to his feet, his legs shivering beneath him, his eyes watering with the force of the vomiting. Using the wall for support, he slowly made his way along it, feeling over it for a door, an opening. Anything would do. He just needed to get out.

After a few steps, the toes of his right foot connected with something soft and squishy. Startled, he yanked his foot back and hesitated for a moment, wondering if whatever it was would attack him. But there wasn't even a sound. Slowly, he brought his foot forward again and gingerly jabbed whatever was lying on the floor. It felt soft, yielding. But not in the sense that the flesh and skin of a living being felt. Frowning and actually glad to have something to distract him from his current ordeal, he squatted down and reached seeking fingers forward until he found and touched whatever it was. There was definitely some kind of fabric covering it and the surface underneath yielded to pressure. When he pushed a little harder, there was a sound he couldn't identify and the feeling of moisture leaking out. A split second later, a putrid smell hit his nostrils and he jerked his hand back with revulsion. Something rotten was lying on the floor in front of him. He had no particular need to find out what it was, though.

Pressing the back of one hand against his nose to block out the stench, he felt his way around that thing, on the verge of throwing up again since his stomach was already on a roll, and managed to get past it without stepping on it. Pushing on, he felt along the wall until he found a break. A door. He could barely contain his relief when he searched over it, found a handle and pressed it down. The door swung open into a tiny hallway and the vague light suddenly flooding him made him blink painfully a few times. He took a second to let his eyes get used to the light, then started forward to ascend the staircase rising in front of him.

Before he could take the first step, though, he heard the sound of dragging footsteps from somewhere behind him. His breath caught in his throat and for the split second he was frozen in place, his mind was trying to imagine what was making those sounds. Then a hand fell on his shoulder. Swallowing hard, he glanced down at his shoulder from the corner of his eyes, seeing a decaying human hand there. He started shivering when he very, very slowly turned his head to look behind him.

The sight that met him definitely belonged in a horror movie. A putrefied face, half of it nearly gone, the other half swarming with maggots and one milky white eye staring blindly at him made him feel horribly unable to move. He was petrified with shock and fear.

And then what remained of its lips moved. A guttural, wet sounding voice spoke to him in hushed tones. It said, "It will never let you go."

And that did it for him. No matter how much he had seen, no matter how many monsters he had battled, this one would haunt him till the end of his days. He screamed in terror at that half rotten thing, ripped free of its not very tight grip and scrambled up the steps toward the ground floor of the house, never looking back.

Despite all he had been through, despite all the kinks and bruises which under normal circumstances would hamper his movements, he ran like crazy through the corridors, slithered and slipped on the slippery floor of the entrance hall, falling painfully hard on his side, but got up and continued running until he found the door to the room he had felt safe in. Once inside, he slammed the door shut with all his might and leaned against it, bracing it with his body while his breath came in hysterical little gasps.

And still he could feel that hand on his shoulder, still he could smell that putrid stench and hear those words. Close to hysteria, he started brushing his left shoulder with his right hand, trying to remove the sensation of that touch. He was no longer rationally thinking about his next step, about how he would get out of this place. His mind was racing, but it was making no sense any more. He had lost touch with his sanity and ended up sitting on the couch, his arms wrapped hard around his knees, which he had pulled up to his chest, bloodshot, puffy eyes staring wildly at the door, which he had barricaded with anything he could carry, while he rocked lightly back and forth, whispering to himself between hysterical gasps of air, "This is not happening. This is not happening."


Tiki Motel

After dropping Mrs. Crane off at her home and once again apologizing for wasting the woman's time, Scully had returned to the motel to plot her next course of action. Once there, though, she sat down on the edge of the bed and stared into space for a while. That feeling that Mulder was still in that house wouldn't let go of her. If he was still there, he had been there for three days now and she wasn't sure what that would do to his psyche. What she couldn't understand was that he hadn't heard her if he was still there.

"Okay, I'm taking a walk on the wild side here," she told herself quietly. He couldn't still be in that house. She would have seen traces of someone having spent three nights there. Or Mrs. Crane would have. But the feeling persisted. If nothing else, it grew stronger.

"Damn it," she mumbled. Glancing at her watch, she noted that it was well past noon and it occurred to her that time seemed to move a whole lot faster in this town than it did anywhere else. Shaking her head with a snort, she got up again and decided to go get something to eat. She would have to plan what to do next.

The Tiki Motel was not equipped with a restaurant, so she took a walk through town to find a decent place to eat. She would have to call Skinner at some point and fill him in. She just knew what he would think of all this and she thought she knew how he would respond to her strange ideas.


Schreck Mansion

Time had once again passed quickly and it had gotten dark outside again. Mulder was still sitting on the couch, knees hugged tightly against his chest, his eyes on the door. He had stopped rocking and whispering to himself and his mind was slowly calming down. He had begun thinking rationally again, although it was on a very basic level.

An occasional desperate chuckle escaped him, making him bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from going totally over the edge. The fear was now deeply rooted in his mind, making him shiver continuously at the prospect of running into that corpse again. He didn't like dead bodies as it were. When they started moving, he bailed out. The problem was that he couldn't bail out. He couldn't get out of this house. And searching for a way out was not on his agenda any more. If he left the room, he would be exposed.

While he sat there, his mind slowly rolling back into its customary track, his reawakening senses started to point out to him that he had been in this room when he had been transferred to the basement. That again raised his level of fear and he started glancing around him in a panicky, jerky fashion.

The one place in this house where he had felt marginally safe apart from this room had been the kitchen. But the kitchen had a door leading down to the basement. He didn't want to be that close to the basement. The corpse might turn up again and the thought of that putrid thing made his stomach roll.

"Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip," he whispered hoarsely to himself, trying to force himself to remain reasonably calm. But he knew that attempt was futile. The crawling sensation on his left shoulder told him so. He could still feel that hand there. Groaning under his breath, he slipped his icy cold hands up on his shoulders, squeezing them hard. There was nothing there, of course, but the sensation would not leave him.

Okay, he wasn't safe in this room. There was only one other room he was willing to try out and that was the kitchen. He'd just have to block off the door and make damned sure it stayed blocked. Nodding to himself, he pushed off the couch and started moving the furniture he had piled up in front of the door out of the way. His rationality had suffered a severe break or he wouldn't have attempted that kind of action after dark if he had been thinking straight. But the thought of having to spend another night in this room and maybe get abducted again made his survival instincts override his common sense.

Opening the door, he slipped out into the corridor, his eyes frantically scanning the immediate area. There were sounds in the house, bumps and dragging sounds from upstairs. Sounds that told him without a doubt that he wasn't alone, that the house was keeping him company. That thought made him grin joylessly while he slowly edged along the corridor. "That's the kind of company I don't want," he told himself hoarsely.

Slowly, it was becoming clear to him through the shroud of panic covering his mind that maybe it wasn't such a great idea to be out in the open. Maybe it would have been safer if he had just stayed in the room, kept the door locked and stayed awake.

But it was too late. He was almost halfway to the entrance hall now and there was no turning back. He could hear something bumping in the corridor behind him, which made him unwilling and rather unable to go back the way he'd come. Wincing, he pushed on, his ears slowly starting to pick up on sounds ahead of him as well. Sounds of movement in the entrance hall.

He rounded a corner and came to a stop. From where he stood, he had a prefect view of the entrance hall and what was going on there and it made his blood freeze in his veins. The huge chandelier seemed to have come to life and long, candle covered bronze arms were weaving over the floor, almost searching for something.

Terrified, he stood leaning against the wall, aware that he would have to make a move in either direction soon. The bumps from behind him were coming closer and he sure didn't want to find out what was making those sounds. On the other hand, he didn't feel much like going out into the entrance hall where he risked getting caught by one of those bronze tentacles weaving around over the floor.

He couldn't make up his mind until he started hearing a recognizable sound from behind him. Dragging footsteps. Almost too scared to turn his head, he did anyway and saw the half rotten corpse of a teenage boy lumbering toward him, one hand stretched out, that milky white eye still staring blindly at him. "It won't let you go," it wheezed.

With a yelp of pure fear, he pushed away from the wall and launched himself out into the entrance hall, dodging the bronze tentacles while he skittered across the floor, fighting to keep his balance. Just when he thought he was about to make it, something grabbed his right ankle in a steel grip, ripping him off his feet. He fell sideways, slamming down on the marble floor on his right, bruising his shoulder in the process and breaking two of his fingers on the right hand.

Although the pain was bad, the fear was worse. Using his left foot to kick out at the bronze tentacle wrapped around his leg, he held his right wrist with his left hand. "Let go of me," he yelled, continuously kicking at what was restraining him until another of those chandelier arms grabbed his other ankle and started pulling him back into the center of the hall.

He rolled over on his stomach and tried to dig his fingers into the floor, but there was nothing to hold onto, nothing which could give him the slightest bit of leverage. The chandelier arms holding him flipped him back over on his back and that was when he spotted the corpse standing there, rotting arms reaching out toward him. He started screaming and ripped both arms up in front of his face to block out the vision of pure terror coming toward him.


On the road back to D.C.

Scully drove from hospital to hospital on the route back to D.C., checking for and not finding Mulder anywhere. She went as far as checking in on every John Doe they had listed. It took her the better part of a day to do so and she ended up back in D.C. without a clue on how to continue.

Frustrated, she drove home to change, packed a new supply of clothes and decided to drive by the office to talk it over with Skinner. Kimberly showed her straight into the office and Skinner looked up expectantly when she stepped in.

"Scully. What did you find out?" he asked, waving toward the chair in front of his desk.

Scully sank down on it with a sigh. "Nothing yet. I went to the mansion and took a brief look around, but didn't see anything. I've checked every imaginable hospital on the way and there's no sign of him," she explained.

"It's been forty eight hours now. So, we can officially list him as missing. What are your next steps?" Skinner replied, not happy about it.

"I don't know," Scully said, thoughtfully shaking her head. She had to voice her innermost thoughts even if Skinner thought she had lost her mind. "Sir, I think he's still there. Somewhere. He's somewhere in that house," she said, her tone of voice implying what was only too plain in her expression.

Skinner was silent for a moment and regarded her with a frown, then he sighed. "Listen, Scully, if you didn't find him in that house, he's probably not there, okay?" he suggested.

She instantly shook her head. "No, I know he's there. I don't know why I didn't find him, but I was only there for half an hour and it's a very big house. I need to go back and check it more thoroughly," she insisted.

The frown stayed on, but Skinner's expression revealed some lenience. "All right. This is getting out of hand. I'm coming with you, Scully. We'll check the house out together and if we don't find him, you're going back to D.C. and I will launch a search party for him."

"Sir, maybe I should handle this on my own. You have enough on your plate as it is," she tried, aware how Skinner would feel when it turned out that Mulder had taken off on some strange notion and had completely lost track of time.

"Scully, Mulder has done a lot of stupid things in his time. He has taken off on a whim and has stayed out of touch for long periods of time. And that was before he met you. Since you two have been working together, I've had more of a grip on his whereabouts for the past seven years than I had for the first three he worked under me. So... I'm not complaining. One thing I do know, though is that if he had gone off on some whim, he would have called you within the first twenty four hours. That he hasn't called you yet means something's wrong."

For a long moment, Scully just sat there, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes on her intertwined fingers. Then she looked up to meet Skinner's eyes. "He's in trouble," she said.

"I realize that. But how do you know that?" Skinner asked, intrigued by the fact that Scully had seemingly adopted some of Mulder's traits. Or maybe they'd been there all along and it had taken a rather hefty subjection to Mulder's paranoid view of the world to set them free.

"I don't know," she said, shaking her head. "I just know. He's in trouble and it's bad. Really bad. I have the distinct feeling that if I don't get to him fast, he's... I don't know. There won't be enough left to salvage if it doesn't happen soon."

There was no doubt about the seriousness of Scully's words and Skinner instantly decided to take them to heart. If she thought it was urgent, it had to be. "Right," he said and got up. "Let's get down there and check out that house more thoroughly. If we don't find him there, I'll launch a major search for him. I don't care what I have to do to explain it to the director. Let's just go find Mulder."

Scully's relief was obvious. She had not expected Skinner to even go as far as file this as a missing persons case and here he was, ready to go with her and help her search. Grateful, she rose, too, and they left the office together.