Buddy stepped back into the corridor, noting that Joe was the only one left. "That's it," he said and stuffed his gun back into his belt, not paying attention to that the door behind him didn't close properly.

"That must have startled those morons approaching us," Joe replied with a grin that Buddy couldn't see due to the ski-mask. "Did he struggle a lot?"

Buddy met Joe's eyes for a moment. "No, he went quietly," he replied. "Why don't you go upstairs and tell Steve?" he added after a moment, glancing at the door to the storage room. "I'll be there in a minute."

Joe nodded. "Sure thing, pal," he said and turned for the stairs. With one foot on the first step, the glanced back over his shoulder. "Say, have you ever killed anybody before?" he wanted to know.

Buddy stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I have." That, as such, was a lie, but he felt wired now. Blowing somebody away was definitely up his alley.

Joe didn't like the look in Buddy's eyes at that. There was something threatening about the guy. Shrugging, he turned and hurried up the stairs to let their leader know so they could contact the brass and tell them about it.

Buddy looked after him, his stance tense. "And I will again," he growled under his breath, turned and walked up to the door to the storage room, intent on getting a little release.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Joe dropped down into a crouch next to Steve, their leader. "He's a goner. Buddy blew him away," he said.

Steve nodded. "Good. What was that guy's name again?"

"Mulder," Joe replied, looking content.

"Where's Buddy?" Steve asked, looking back toward the staircase.

"He'll be up in a bit. I think he just needed to chew that one over," Joe soothed him.

Steve glanced at Joe, wondering where he got his expression from, and shook his head. It was time to call the high lords of the FBI and let them know that another agent had bought it. They would place him alongside the other one out in the cafeteria as a warning. If they didn't get their way, they would have to kill a whole lot of these people down in the basement. Actually, Steve would make sure they all died before he gave in. He pulled his cell phone out and dialed the same number as before.

X X X

The basement

Buddy tore the door to the storage room open, stopping short to stare at the occupants and the quietly despairing looks he got. With his gun in one hand, he stepped inside, looking them all over. Then his eyes settled on Scully, who was standing a few feet from the door, hands clenched, her expression angry. Not hesitating, he reached out, grabbed her arm and yanked her to him. "You're coming with me, Red," he snarled and pushed her out in the corridor, closing the door behind him and locking it again.

His push had given her enough momentum for her to slam hard against the opposite wall of the corridor. The impact knocked the breath out of her and it took her a moment too long to regain her composure.

Buddy grabbed a handful of her hair and made sure she stayed where she was. Pressing the gun against the small of her back, he leaned in to inhale the scent of her hair. "You're pretty," he said, grinning behind the mask.

Scully knew what came next and she wasn't sitting still for that one. If he turned her around, he would be in a world of hurt. "And you're not," she replied through clenched teeth, angry and sad at the same time.

He released her hair and let his hand slide down her back toward her buttocks, still pressing the gun against her as well. "You're gonna play ball or I'll sever your spin, honey," he told her. "I like red-heads," he added.

Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the best moment to act, but the decision for that moment was taken away from her. Suddenly there was a hollow thud, which was followed by her attacker slumping against her before he collapsed to the floor. Almost afraid to turn around, Scully turned her head a little. What she saw was a sight for sore eyes. "Mulder," she breathed, afraid to say his name out loud. There he stood with a steel pipe in one hand, his other hand pressed against his bleeding neck. He was barely able to stand upright, but he had managed just that to protect his partner from the worst possible crime committed against a woman. Before she had a chance to think about what she was doing, she was in his arms. "Oh my God, I thought they had killed you," she whispered against his chest.

"They almost did," he replied weakly.

Scully looked up, realizing that he was bleeding severely. "Oh God." Looking around frantically, she searched for a place where they could deal with his injury and stay out of the spotlight. Putting all her strength into it, she guided Mulder down the corridor they were in, to the rear of the basement. The corridor turned at the end and ended at a door. She opened the door, took the key out of the lock and shoved Mulder inside. It was another storage room, this one filled with goods and she got him to settle down on a load of paper napkins. Searching around, she found a first aid kit and set about bandaging him up to keep the bleeding to a minimum. His back was moist with blood. Examining the wound for a moment, she knew what had happened. This guy had tried to kill him, but Mulder had shifted the moment the gun had gone off. The bullet had gone through the right side of his neck, miraculously not damaging anything important there. He was in pain, but at least he was alive. "Hang in there, you hear?"

"I'm still with you," he replied with a weak smile. "Scully, that guy I just decked. We have to move him."

"You're not moving anything, Mulder," she told him. "Any over straining on your side is going to make that wound bleed a whole lot more. You need to sit back and relax. I'll move him. I'll get help from the others."

"No, Scully. Where are you going to hide the others? In here? It's not feasible. We need to get out and get help. And you can't move twenty-nine people out of the building without some of these goons noticing. "

Scully thought that over for a moment. "But they have to get down here and..." she began, but Mulder cut her off by putting his left hand over her mouth.

"Scully, they're armed. We're not. Even if we could come up with a way to outwit them, somebody's going to get killed. If we however move this guy in here and leave the cellar door open a crack, the others will probably think that this moron has run off with you. That will give us some time," he replied.

She stared at him for a moment, then finished bandaging him. "Okay," she finally said. "I'll get him in here... somehow," she replied, looking a little dubious. Until her eyes fell on a toter standing in the corner of the room.

Mulder leaned back, desperate for some painkillers right now, not happy that Scully had to do all the work. But he also knew she was right about her assumption. If he did try to carry something, it could make things worse for him.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Joe was a little concerned about the approaching swat teams, but Steve's call pulled them back. Joe grinned as he watched them retreat. "They're drawing back," he said.

Steve lowered the cell phone for a moment, glancing out into the cafeteria and past the glass wall at the retreating swats. "Good. Finally they're paying attention," he grumbled. "Now all we need is to get the damned trucks in here, load those morons onto them and get the hell out. I'm not dealing from here." He flipped the lid of the phone shut and slowly got up from his crouching position. Glancing around, he noted that Buddy had not returned yet. "Where the hell is Buddy? Joe, go check on him."

"He's probably puking his guts out," Joe said with a leer. "I did the first time I blew someone away," he added and headed toward the stairs.

Steve looked after him for a moment, then sighed. "Man, I wish I was dealing with professionals," he grumbled. Reaching out, he grabbed a hold of Vern's collar. "Get on the horn to Uzzo and tell him to get those trucks here. Stat." He handed the phone to Vern. "You know how to use a phone, don't you?" he added sarcastically.

"Yeah, sure, Steve," Vern replied.

X X X

The basement

Joe came down the stairs and stopped short when he reached the bottom. Looking around, he wondered where the hell Buddy had gotten to. "Buddy?" he called out. No reply. "Damn it, man," he mumbled and started toward the door to the storage room with their hostages. A breeze hit him and he glanced over at the open cellar way door. "What the fuck?" he mumbled and walked over there, looking outside. Nobody there, either. Frowning, Joe went back to the storage room door and opened it, looking inside. He counted the people sitting along the walls, then withdrew again, closing and locking the door. "Well, I'll be damned," he mumbled and returned upstairs.

Dropping down in a crouch next to Steve, he wasn't too happy about what he was going to tell him. "Uh... Steve?"

Steve looked up with a frown. He didn't like Joe's tone of voice. "What's up? Where's Buddy?"

"Apparently, Buddy has made off with Red," Joe said. "She's missing and so's Buddy."

The thought that he would love to work with professionals just once in his life crossed his mind again. "God damn it," he growled. "Are you sure he hasn't just found a quiet place where he can have some fun with her?" he replied.

"Uh..." Joe said, ready to kick himself for not checking. "No, not really," he said after a moment.

"Well, if I know Buddy right, he's doing just that. Leave him to it," Steve replied, not wanting any trouble right now.

"Okay, Steve," Joe replied, relieved. He had feared the worst and then there was a reasonable explanation after all. Grinning, he imagined what Buddy might be doing to that little redhead.

Vern switched off the phone and scooted over beside Steve. "I just talked to Uzzo and he doesn't wanna come. He says there are too many feds out there," he said quietly.

"Figures," Steve growled. "Okay, I'll just give our buddies out there a call. Change of plans, guys. We need to make the feds give us transportation," he added. "We'll just tell them that the basement is rigged and we'll blow their precious agents up if they don't do what we say."

X X X

In the rear storage room, Scully pushed her hair back from her face and sighed. She had managed to move a man almost two heads taller and quite a bit heavier than her down the corridor and into the storage room on the toter. Using a role of duct-tape, she had tied his hands and feet together, bundled up a piece of cloth and gaged him, too. Just in case he came around. She couldn't having him making a racket. Then she turned to her attentive, yet exhausted partner. "Are you okay?" she wanted to know.

With one hand pressed against his neck, Mulder met her eyes. "I will be as soon as we're out of here," he replied weakly.

Scully double-checked his bandage, then briefly paused to cup his cheek with one hand. "I'll get you out of here," she promised and started to turn away.

"Scully," he said, grabbing her arm. "Don't do anything rash. It's not worth it," he told her.

Scully met his eyes with a smile for a moment. "I think it's too late for that, Mulder. If they catch us now, we're both dead," she replied, patted his hand and went up to the door. Carefully opening it, she listened to the hallway beyond for a moment. After removing her shoes, she patted down the hallway toward the bend, hoping that the terrorists hadn't figured things out yet. She was glad for small favors, though, since Buddy's gun gave her a sense of security. Carefully edging forward, she took a look down the hallway leading to the stairs and the other storage-room where all her colleagues were. She wanted so desperately to go and set them free, but she could see Mulder's point. They couldn't make it out of this place without someone getting killed. On the other hand, the chance of these morons upstairs killing some of her colleagues was pretty big whether they made a break for it or not. Listening intently to her surroundings, she hurried across the hallway to the cellar door, pushed it open and slipped out into the cellar way. Making sure the door didn't click shut behind her, she moved forward.

When she reached the stairs leading up outside the building, she hesitated. She needed to know if there were any windows on this side. Edging along the wall, she carefully stuck her head up over the edge of the stairwell and looked around. Nobody was outside. Turning, she inspected the back wall of the building, sighing in relief when she realized that there were no windows. There wasn't even a door. "Good show," she whispered to herself. Inspecting her immediate surroundings, she noted any possible hiding places within the vicinity. Then she returned to the cellar and the possible dangers lurking there.

X X X

Mulder had allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment. He was so tired and his neck hurt along with his ribs and his head. Having lost a good deal of blood didn't help his general state of health and all he wanted to do was lie down and sleep. But, as things were, the chance to sleep would be a long way off. He jerked awake again at a sound he couldn't immediately recognize. Then he realized that Buddy had come alive again. The man was thrashing, trying to get free of his bonds. Mulder glanced around, trying to find something to shut the man up with, but he also knew that he wouldn't be able to do an effective job. He didn't have much strength left.

Just as he was about to try anyway, Scully slipped back into the room. She stopped short when she saw him trying to get up. "Don't. Where are you going?" she wanted to know, putting her hands on his shoulders and pushing him back down.

"He's awake," he replied.

Scully glanced over at Buddy, who was staring hatefully at her, and sneered. Grabbing the first, best thing she could find, she hammered a big can of jam against the side of his head, knocking him clean out again. "That's for my partner, you shit," she snarled and dropped the can beside him.

Mulder had dropped back down on the pile of wrapped-up paper napkins. Scully turned back to him, a look of concern crossing her face. "You don't look so good. It's time to get you out of here," she told him. "I just checked and there are no windows or doors in the back of the building. Not too far away, there's a cluster of trees. If we can make it that far, we'll be safe."

"Don't you think it might be a better idea if you..." he began, but Scully cut him off.

"No, Mulder. I'm not leaving you here," she insisted.

Frowning a little, he stared at her. "How did you know that I was going to suggest that?" he wanted to know.

"Because basically breathing the same air as you for five years has given me the opportunity to get to know you. I can read you like an open book, Mulder," she told him, took his arm and helped him to his feet.

"Now there's a scary thought," he mumbled with a weak smile. Leaning a little heavier on her than he needed to, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

Scully took a hold of his wrist, wrapped one arm around his waist and took the lead out the door. They didn't say another word as they slowly moved toward the bend in the corridor and stopped long enough to make sure they had the basement to themselves.

Scully elbowed the door open and hauled her partner out in the cellar way with her, stopping briefly to close the door behind them. Pulling Mulder with her, she headed toward the stairs, frantic to be away from the building. "Come on, G-Man. Help me out here. I can't carry you," she said, sweating profusely over the added burden of having to virtually carry her partner.

Mulder pulled himself together, straightening a little and grabbed a hold of the handrail of the staircase. "Damn, I feel lousy," he mumbled, forcing himself up the steps with as much speed as he could muster.

Scully kept glancing back as they moved upward, listening, hoping to God and any other available deity that they could make it away unseen.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Steve looked up after having talked to whoever was answering the phone at the other end and grinned. "They're going to supply us with a truck. Things are clearing up for us, guys." Glancing toward the stairs to the basement, he then turned to Joe. "Go get Buddy. I don't care what he's up to. We don't have time for this," he added.

Joe nodded, got up and hurried to the stairwell. Pounding down the stairs, he hurried past the first storage room toward the second one, aware that his partner would have to be hiding out there with his new squeeze. Grinning, he hoped he caught them in the act. "Hey, Buddy," he called and rounded the corner. "We gotta move. No time for lovin'," he added, grabbed the door handle and pulled the door open. What he found wasn't what he had expected to find and it made him stop short for a second.

Then he swirled around, ignoring his unconscious buddy and ran back the way he'd come. Stopping in front of the door to the cellar way, he frowned for a moment, then ripped the door open and ran out.

Taking the steps two at a time, he cleared the stairwell and saw the redhead dragging her allegedly dead partner with her. "Hey, hold it," he yelled, ripping his gun from his waistband. He came to a stop, aimed and fired.

X X X

Scully had heard him and had decided to keep moving. The faster they got away from him, the better. And then the shot rang out. Mulder let out a howl of pain as the bullet dug into his right calf. The impact of the shot as well as the sudden flare of pain made him lose his balance and topple over, pulling Scully down with him as another shot rang out. Through a haze he heard Scully hissing, "Shit." Then she returned fire.

Getting up on one knee, Scully aimed and pulled the trigger twice. The guy who had shot Mulder the second time hit the wall of the building, looking down himself with an utterly surprised expression before sliding down the wall. Both her shots had hit home. "Damn it," she hissed, grabbed Mulder and coaxed him back to his feet. "Come on, Mulder. We have to leave. Now," she insisted, her tone of voice unrelenting.

"Scully. Get out of here," he urged her. "I'll manage. You've got a better chance at getting to the others without me. I'll find..." he began, but she clapped a hand over his mouth, effectively shutting him up.

"I told you once and I'm telling you again. I'm not leaving you behind. No matter what you say," she told him. "Now, come on. I know you're in pain and I know you want to rest, but if you value your life as much as I do, you'll move. Now!"

There was a military kind of drill over her tone which he found himself unable to resist. Mustering his reserves, he managed to get back on his feet and limp with her until they reached the cluster of trees.

Scully let him slip to the ground, making sure he was hidden from sight, and turned to run back the way they'd come. He grabbed out for her, his fingers wrapping around her ankle. "Where are you going?" he demanded with what little strength he had left.

"I'm going to get the second gun. We might need it." With that, she pulled free and ran, on bare feet, back to the downed terrorist. She pulled his gun out of his slack hand, briefly examined the body for further clips, then backed up again. She made it back to the cluster of trees before the first sounds reached them from the stairwell. Two men came running up the stairs, stopped dead at the sight of their dead comrade-in-arms and then scanned the area.

Scully had hit the ground, virtually dropping down on top of her partner, both guns in her hands, ready for whatever these guys might try. She expected the worst, but after they had scanned the area and seen no indication of movement, they vanished back down the stairwell, pulling their dead friend with them. Letting out a shivering sigh, she suddenly realized she had been holding her breath. "I'm not good at this," she mumbled against Mulder's chest. "I'm not a commando."

"Well, I, for one, am impressed," he managed to say through clenched teeth before the whole thing became too much for him to handle and he simply passed out.

Scully looked at him for a moment, then pulled her suit jacket off, ripped both sleeves from her blouse and used them to bandage his right calf. She found herself reacting on instinct before she even had a chance to think twice about what she was doing. There wasn't the slightest regret that she had to tear apart one of her favorite pieces of clothing. The only thing that mattered right now was to prevent Mulder from losing any more blood.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Steve was outraged. One of his men had a sever concussion and the other was dead. Which of course left the five of them. Two he wasn't too keen on. They were simply too stupid. "Okay, guys, listen," he said. "Vern, I want you and Emil here to go out back and find that little bitch and her partner and kill them both. I want them dead. They are not going to reach their friends alive."

Vern and Emil took of, thrilled that they were finally allowed to do something, never once realizing that Steve had sent them off with the knowledge that they might not come back.

Steve turned back to Bruce and Gene and nodded. "Now it's down to us, guys. Buddy isn't worth much, so we can't count on him right now." He started laying out his plan, believing he was ready for whatever came next.

Vern and Emil left the basement door wide open as they snuck out of the building and up the stairs.

Scully saw them coming a mile away. She eyed them thoughtfully for a moment, wondering if she should or should not shoot them, then voted for disabling them rather than killing them. Aiming her gun, she kept them in her sights until they had closed half the distance between the building and the cluster of trees where she was hiding with Mulder and finally fired both guns at once. Which put both of them out of business. With a bullet in one leg, they dropped like rag-dolls. Satisfied at her marksmanship and the fact that these shots would probably attract attention from whoever was out to rescue them, she devoted a bit of attention to her unconscious partner, at the same time trying to keep an eye on the two downed guys.

X X X

Across from the cafeteria

The first shot they had heard had been far away. AD Skinner had been the one to answer the phone and his temper had been sorely tried when the terrorists had informed him that Mulder was dead. He was more set on getting the rest of the agents out of that building now than ever before. Then the second and the third shot had followed in rapid succession. At that point, he had ordered the swat team to spread out behind the building and find out what was going on. They had reported back that one of the terrorists had been shot, but they hadn't seen by whom. And now there were two shots again. Skinner frowned and grabbed the walkie-talkie. "Team leader, do you copy? What's going on? Over!" he demanded of the team leader on the other side of the building.

"Team leader here. Apparently, we've got a shooter hiding somewhere near the back of the building. Whoever it is, that person just took out two more," the team leader replied. "We're moving in on the shooter. I expect that it's one of your agents. Over and out."

Skinner made a face. He was in such a state that he would personally take these terrorists apart when and if he could get his hands on them. Nothing would please him more than to blow them away. Growling under his breath, he started pacing, his eyes never leaving the front of the cafeteria.

"Sir?" Agent Teal turned up beside him, her eyes locked on the cafeteria, as well. "Do you think they are for real?" she wanted to know. "I mean, do you really think they... killed him?"

Skinner glanced at her, frowning. "They killed agent Cranston. That one's confirmed. So I don't really harbor any doubts about it. Unfortunately," he replied.

"Damn," she whispered.

"Yeah," he said, not knowing what else to say at the moment.

X X X

Scully heard a sound behind her and her immediate reaction was to whirl around, throw herself backward and aim the gun. A guy in a military outfit armed with an automatic riffle raised the riffle up. "Time out," he whispered. "I'm with the swat team. I take it you're federal agents?" he added.

Scully nodded. "Yes, we are," she replied and sat up again. "Sorry, you startled me."

Grinning, the solider moved closer. "I'm glad you didn't fire that. You're pretty sharp. Ever thought of joining the special forces?"

"No, I haven't. Listen, we need to get him to a hospital. He's been shot twice and has already lost too much blood," she replied, returning her attention to her partner.

The soldier squatted down and raised his walkie-talkie to his lips. "Team leader, this is one. Come in, please." There was a crackle and a curt reply. "I've got two agents here, one wounded. We need to get him out of here. Over."

"Copy that. What is your location? Over," the reply came.

"A cluster of trees straight out from the stairwell at the back," the soldier replied, keeping an watchful eye on the two figures on the ground. "There are two terrorists down here, as well. Not dead. Over."

"Copy that. On our way. Over and out," came the reply.

Scully watched in fascination when two more soldiers appeared out of nowhere to drag the two terrorists away. Then two more appeared behind them with a stretcher. They quickly loaded Mulder onto it and disappeared again.

The first solider held Scully back. "I need some info," he said. "How did you get out? Where are the terrorists and the remaining agents? Have they killed any more?"

Scully glanced after the stretcher, then turned her attention back to the man. "Uh... we got out through the basement. They're not very professional. They haven't stationed any guards down there. One is dead, two more are down, which leaves three upstairs in the kitchen and one in the basement we managed to knock out. I believe he has been found, though." She paused, getting the facts straight in her head, then nodded. "The remaining agents are in a storage room across from the basement entrance, which is down those stairs," she added, pointing. "There's a spiral staircase going up from the basement straight into the kitchen and a normal staircase, which leads up to the main cafeteria."

Grinning, he put a hand on her shoulder. "You've got a knack for detail, agent. I think you should get out of here now. We'll take it from here." With that he helped her up and gently pushed her toward another solider who had just turned up. "Better carry her. She's got no shoes on," he added.

The newest arrival nodded and scooped her up in his arms, not waiting to hear her comment on this. He briskly carried her away, taking the long way around. Scully had to admit that she didn't mind being carried. Having to walk through this area on bare feet would have been an invitation to an injury.

X X X

Outside the cafeteria

Skinner stopped his relentless pacing when the two swat team soldiers with the stretcher neared. He went to meet them, expecting to see anybody but Mulder on the stretcher. When he spotted his wayward agent, he stopped short and barely prevented himself from sighing with relief. The man was more lucky than most when it come to surviving impossible odds.

"Wow. Does he do that a lot?" Teal asked, staring in fascination as the soldiers carried Mulder toward the waiting ambulance.

Skinner briefly looked at her before returning his attention to the ambulance. "Do what?" he wanted to know, not entirely certain what she was talking about.

"Survive when everybody thinks he's dead?" Teal replied.

Smiling a little, Skinner nodded. "Yeah. He does that a lot."

The soldiers left Mulder in the care of the paramedics and hurried off again, eager to resume their dedicated positions. Moments later, another one turned up with Scully in his arms.

Skinner couldn't help smiling. Where Mulder was, Scully wasn't far behind. Especially when Mulder was injured. Stopping in front of her after the solider had put her down again. "Are you all right?" he wanted to know.

"Yes, just shoeless," she replied, her eyes already on the ambulance. "Can I go with them to the hospital?" she asked, looking up at Skinner.

"No, Scully. I want you here. They may need your advise. After this is over, I'll personally drive you to the hospital," he replied. Noting the look on her face, he put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Mulder will be fine. He's in capable hands. Don't worry about him."

Teal wrapped a friendly arm around Scully's shoulders. "He's one tough cookie, that one," she said, grinning.

"Yeah, he is. And thanks to you we got the back-up we needed," Scully replied.

"Hey, it's a dirty job but somebody's gotta do it," Teal said, nudging Scully in the side.

Scully glanced longingly at the ambulance as it pulled out and drove away. The siren wasn't on, which meant he wasn't in mortal danger. That at least was a consolation. Turning her attention to the events at hand, she heaved a deep breath. "Well, we sure manage to get ourselves into a mess every time we go somewhere," she said, shaking her head. "And Mulder is never going to let me live this down."

That comment made both Skinner and Teal frown. "Meaning?" Skinner wanted to know.

"I did my damndest to convince Mulder that this weekend would be fun and that he had to come. All I can say now is that he's jinxed. There's no other explanation. Whenever he tries to do something that normal people do, he gets hurt," she explained, her eyes scanning the front of the cafeteria.

"Jinxed?" Skinner asked, glancing at Teal, who shrugged. Those words, coming from Scully, surprised him a little. That was the kind of talk he was used to from Mulder. Not Scully. "Scully, Mulder is not jinxed. I consider him to be damned lucky. He does get hurt, yes, but he survives it every time. Although he may be a magnet for trouble, he's also protected in a way I can't understand."

Scully gave her boss a dubious look. "Well, he does get hurt even when he does get his way with things. Maybe you're right. It could be worse, I guess." Sighing heavily, she forced her mind away from her injured partner. "So, what's the deal with these guys? They didn't tell us anything worth while."

Skinner made a face. "They seem to be complete and utter morons," he replied. "I've been up against a lot of terrorists in my time and these guys rank among the bottom half. The ones that think they can get something out of taking people hostage, but are not really committed to the cause."

Scully frowned. "What are they demanding?"

"They want us to set two men free. Two men I've never heard of. We checked with the prison they mentioned and those two are there. One has been locked up for killing a convenient store clerk by accident, it seems. The other has robbed a few banks and also killed someone. They're both serving time for man slaughter." Shaking his head, Skinner had a hell of a time trying to keep his temper at bay. "The fact that they have killed agent Cranston and nearly killed agent Mulder warrants a man slaughter charge for all of them. What the hell they think they can accomplish by taking FBI agents hostage I don't know, though."

"I think they should be rather easy to overcome. There are only three of them left and I got the impression that the only one who had any brains at all was their leader," Scully replied.

"Did you get his name, by any chance? I think I know him," Skinner said.

"No, I didn't get his name. The only name I heard was Vern and I think that was one of the guys I shot," she said thoughtfully.

Skinner nodded. "I think this guy is Steven Umbracio. He's done a few break-ins, robbed some banks, killed a few people along the way. We've had a warrant out for his arrest for a few years now. Somehow, he's always given us the slip. This time, however, he won't. Dead or alive, we've got him now."

"I hope so," Scully said. "I hope so."

X X X

Inside the cafeteria

Steve kept watching the opposition on the other side of the compound from his vantage point near the kitchen doors leading out into the cafeteria, his expression strained. The only one with any kind of experience in this sort of thing had been Buddy and he was out cold. The concussion had to be worse than he had first thought.

Glancing over at his unconscious friend, he sneered. Now they were screwed for real. He knew it even before he heard the first signs of intrusion downstairs. After hearing the shots, he knew that both Vern and Emil had bought it. Somehow, that was okay, though. They would have blabbed, told the Feds what they wanted to know. Besides, they were just too damned stupid to go on living a life of crime.

After that, he had told his two remaining counterparts to get their asses down into the basement and keep watch. But they had refused, insisting that they should give up right away. That was not on Steve's agenda, though. Getting up, he looked toward the stairwell to the basement. "Fuck it," he grumbled. "We've got company."

"Yeah, man. I was just thinking the same thing," Bruce said and slowly rose. "What do you say we just give up? Maybe they'll go easier on us if we do."

Steve stared at him for a moment, then made a face. "Yeah, and maybe you'll get lucky and won't get gang-banged in the slammer. We killed one federal agent, you moron. Nearly killed another. And if Buddy had gotten his way, we could have added rape to the list. There is no way in hell that we'll avoid going to jail, pal." Pinching the bridge of his nose, he hissed silently. "I'd rather blow my own brains out than let those fuckers get to me."

Gene, the quiet one of the gang, rose from his hiding place, his dark-brown eyes scanning the kitchen for a moment. Then they settled on Steve. "You got us into this, you shit," he growled. "You convinced us it would be easy as pie. Now look at us. We stand between the choices of going to jail or killing ourselves. Nice going, pal," he added, angrily glaring at Steve.

"Yeah, well, I didn't hear you bellyaching before," Steve replied. "I..." he started, then froze at the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

"Drop your weapons," the solider who had just turned up at the top of the stairs yelled. "Drop them," he added in a harsh tone of voice before either of them could make a move to counter-attack.

All three men glanced at each other, then they all swirled to face the solider, raising their guns. They never had a chance. The second they started moving the solider knew what they were up to and that was when he opened fire, gunning all three down virtually at once. Steve took a little longer to die than his buddies, but he relished the thought that the correctional system wouldn't get its clammy hands on him. With the certain belief that they had won after all, he passed away moments later.

The solider glanced around, then raised his walkie-talkie to his lips. "Team leader. This is four. We have three dead terrorists. One still alive. No one else present in the kitchen. I'm moving on to the cafeteria itself. Over."

The walkie-talkie crackled. "Copy that, four. Move with extreme caution. Over."

The soldier made a quick sweep of the cafeteria after handcuffing Buddy and eventually returned to the kitchen. "Team leader. This is four. No further activity. We're in the clear. Over and out," he announced and squatted down next to the battered terrorist to wait for the rest of his team to catch up with him.

X X X

North-West Georgetown

Washington, D.C.

The hospital room was quiet apart from the steady ping of the heart-rate monitor. Mulder lay there with his eyes closed, trying to relax enough to fall asleep. But he couldn't. No matter how much he wanted to. He was drugged up to his ears to keep the pain from both his neck and his leg at bay and a plasma drop was hooked up to his right arm to restore the loss of blood he had suffered. Although he in general did not need the heart-rate monitor, the doctor had thought it a good idea to just keep an eye on him for a bit. The only thing Mulder wanted right now was to have Scully by his side. For some odd reason he couldn't sleep in a hospital if she wasn't there. He grinned weakly at the thought. It was funny how he thought of her sometimes. At times when he had previously always been alone, she would be there now. Sighing, he shifted his position a little, trying to get more comfortable.

"Hi, G-Man."

Smiling, he carefully turned his head a little. "Hi, G-Woman," he replied.

Scully smiled back at him. "How are you feeling?" she asked, stepping up beside the bed.

"Aw, I've felt better. But, then again, I've also felt worse. I think I'll pull through," he said, chuckled, then briefly closed his eyes at an uncomfortable sensation running through him.

Scully sat down on a chair, fighting to keep her smile on her lips. She was worried about him. More than she ever had been before. "Yeah?" she asked. "The doctor thinks you've merely lost too much blood, but that you will pull through, all right. I have no doubts about that, either." Shifting a little, she grabbed his left hand with both of hers. "One of the terrorists who survived was the one who shot you. According to what they can tell, he was also the one who shot Cranston. You're very lucky to be alive, Mulder."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't be in this shape if I hadn't gone on that trip," he replied, smiling.

Scully hesitated before responding to that one. "And maybe you would. Because I would have gone and..."

"No, you wouldn't," he cut her off. "Skinner wouldn't have sent you if I hadn't gone."

Smiling, she shook her head. "Now you tell me," she said, patting his hand gently. "You see? We do need to work on our communication skills. Mainly because you never tell me what you're up to." Making a face, she hoped he didn't take it wrong. "Anyway, how are you really feeling?"

"What? You mean apart from two bullet wounds, a concussion and bruised ribs?" he replied, thinking of a snide remark to add to that one. Then he noted the look in her eyes and grew serious. "Actually, I feel like I've been run over by a steamroller. Nice concept, that. Makes me thing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Chuckling, Scully had to admit that despite the injuries he had mentioned, he was doing okay. He had to be. He was joking. "Judge Dread... no, no... Doom. His name was Judge Doom, right?" she replied. "The guy in black who got run over by that steamroller?"

"Yeah, that's right," he replied, giving her an admiring look. "You watch cartoons?"

"Sometimes. When I have time for it," she replied. "Why don't you try to get some rest? I take it your concussion isn't bad enough to warrant keeping you awake?"

"No, not really," he consented, his fingers closing harder around her hand. "Will you stay a while?" he added, feeling drowsy now.

"Yes, I'll be right here," she told him. "I've got nowhere else to go, partner," she added and was pleased to see him smile weakly before he slipped off into dreamland. Leaning back on the chair, she held onto his hand. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," she whispered, her eyes on his face.

He heard her. Whether in sleep or still awake she didn't know. And it didn't matter. He smiled briefly.

Scully watched him sleep, memorizing every inch of his face as if she hadn't done that a million times before. This time around had been worse than usual. And she knew why. She blamed herself for the mess they had ended up in. Mainly because she had pushed him so hard to go. Maybe he had a knack for sensing danger ahead? At least sometimes. Mostly, though, he would rush headlong into danger, never stopping once to check if the coast was clear. And Scully had often wondered if he wasn't actually just a tad suicidal. Maybe he wanted it all to end? Maybe he wanted out of this life which had so far brought him nothing more than pain? Shaking her head, she carefully placed his hand on the bed and leaned back again, staring at him. If that was the case, then he wasn't consciously thinking of it. He tried to unravel a twisted past which had left him with more questions than answers. He was uncertain of everything, unsure of where life would lead him. But, mostly, he was uncertain of where he had been. She hoped that someday, he would be able to fit all the pieces together and find the ultimate truth that he was so desperately searching for. Whether it was hidden in aliens from other planets or a government conspiracy made fairly little difference. The only thing which mattered was that he found what he was looking for. Maybe then would he allow himself to enjoy life a little.

THE END

THE SEMINAR
by cathy1967

Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Sending Mulder to another partner seminar with Scully in tow turns out to be a not so good idea. Trouble just seems to follow him around.

Assistant Director Skinner's Office
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.

The meeting would not be a success. Scully knew that up front. Although she knew what the meeting would be about, she hadn't told Mulder up front. Because if she had, he would be gone within a second and she would have been left to explain to Skinner why he wasn't there. And she wasn't going to cover for him just because he didn't want to participate in another of these strange partner-courses the Bureau arranged occasionally. So, she had kept her mouth shut about the reason for the meeting, only replying with vague answers when Mulder had asked her. He was annoyed at her for that. She could tell by the way he kept glancing at her, frowning slightly.

When they arrived at Skinner's office, he grabbed her arm. "What is this meeting about, Scully? You know, don't you?" he insisted for the umpteenth time.

Scully was about to say something when the door opened and Skinner stared at them in slight surprise. "There you are. I was beginning to wonder," he said, stepped aside and waved them into the office. Looking once at Scully, he then turned his attention to Mulder. "I take it agent Scully has told you what this is about?"
    Mulder scowled at Scully for a second. "No, actually all she told me was that we were going to have a meeting with you this afternoon, sir," he replied, not wanting Scully to get off the hook so easily.

"Well, that's all I told agent Scully, too," Skinner replied evenly, glancing briefly at Scully who managed to abstain from sighing with relief. "Take a seat," Skinner added and sat down behind his desk again.

Mulder dropped down on one chair and Scully took the other. "So, what is this about?" Mulder wanted to know. "I hope it wasn't the last report. I know it was kind of..." he began, but Skinner cut him off.

"No, agent Mulder, it wasn't your last report. Although it was kind of sloppy, there's nothing wrong with it." Folding his hands, Skinner braced himself for the expected reaction Mulder would display when he told him about the reason for this meeting. "The Bureau has, once again, arranged a partner seminar." It was with the greatest trouble that Skinner managed not to smile a little at the groan that escaped Mulder. "As you so conveniently missed the last one, agent Mulder," he went on, staring pointedly at his agent, "I advise you to be there this time."

"It wasn't my fault that we ran into..." Mulder began, but stopped after realizing that it would do him no good to defend that action.

"Mothmen?" Skinner finished for him, the look on his face everything but happy. "No, of course not," he added a little surly. "As it were, agent Mulder, I will not accept another deviation from course this time. No matter what you run into on your way there. Do I make myself clear?"

Making a face, Mulder slumped back in the chair. "Yes, sir. Perfectly clear," he said, his opinion about this coming through loud and clear in the tone of his voice.

"Good. Now, you leave Friday. The seminar will take place over the weekend in San Francisco. Nothing short of an earthquake should stop you from getting there. No other excuses will be accepted," Skinner warned.

Nodding, Mulder glanced at Scully, then back at Skinner.

"Don't worry, sir. We'll get there," Scully assured Skinner and got up after receiving the file Skinner handed her.

"Good. I'm counting on you to make sure he really get's there," he told her, nodding toward Mulder.

"I'll do my best," Scully promised.

Mulder got up, feeling like a little kid again. He really, really didn't want to go to the seminar. They bored the life out of him and he felt completely depleted when he got home. He couldn't imagine anything more stressful. Following Scully out of Skinner's office, he knew his reaction to it was pretty childish, but he just couldn't stop himself from resenting that he would have to spend a weekend in the company of a great many people who didn't like him for one reason or another.


X X X

X-Files office

Back in their office, he dropped down on his chair and gave Scully a hurt look. "How could you?" he demanded. "You know how I hate those things."

Scully gazed at him for a moment, then dropped the file on his desk. "I know and that's why I didn't say anything, Mulder. Because you would have ditched me again and left it up to me to explain to Skinner why you weren't at the meeting," she told him, sounding a little miffed. "Besides, these ‘things' aren't that bad. They can be a great deal of fun. And it's not like you're going alone. I'll be there," she added.

"I know," he grumbled. "I know, Scully. I just... I always feel like I need a vacation after a trip to Hell."

"Always?" she asked, looking surprised. "What do you mean, always? How many times have you participated?"

Blinking, he looked away. "Once," he mumbled.

"Once?" she asked, staring at him with that look he knew so well. "You've participated once and now you know all there is to know about these seminars?" Shaking her head, she sat down on her chair. "Mulder, you're impossible." Thinking things over for a second, she gave him a sharp look. "And don't even try to come up with a way of getting out of this one. Nothing short of a life-threatening disease is going to keep us from going, do you understand me? I don't want any feeble excuses, because it's my behind in a sling if you don't go. You heard Skinner. I'm not about to take the rap for this one."

Looking back at her, he smiled weakly. "And what a fine behind it is," he said.

Scully stared at him for a second, then she sighed and leaned her head back. "Mulder, I swear on everything that is holy to me, I will shoot you in the knee and stuff you in the trunk if you try to ditch me." Raising her head again, she met his eyes. "I'm serious. I know you don't like these seminars. But couldn't you just try to at least go along with it? For me?"

Now she'd gone and done it. Anything else he could worm his way out of. But not when she asked him that. "That's not fair," he growled.

"Please? For me?" She knew exactly what it was doing to him. If there was one thing she had learned about her partner over the past five years, it was that he had trouble denying her anything. She made a point out of never asking him in this manner because she knew he would do it despite his feelings in the matter and it would always end with him being miffed that she had talked him into it. But this time she wasn't going to let him wiggle his way out of it. Not a chance. She hated these seminars as much as he did, but she participated because it was expected of her. Now she expected him to suffer through it with her.

Pursing his lips, Mulder held her stare for a moment, then looked away, grumbling under his breath. He knew he wouldn't get out of this one. No matter what they ran into. He actually wouldn't put it past her to threaten him with a gun if he made any trouble. "Okay, fine. I'll go. But I won't like it," he finally said, meeting her eyes again defiantly.

"That's all I ask," she said, satisfied for the moment. "And I'm going to keep you to your word," she added with a snide grin. "Or else."

"Or else what, agent Scully?" he wanted to know, wondering if she would actually voice the threat openly.

Still grinning, she turned her chair around so she had her back to him. "That's for me to know and you to find out," she said quietly, her tone of voice menacing.

X X X

Mulder's residence
Apartment 42
2630 Hegal Place
Alexandria

Friday morning came and Scully still didn't trust her partner to come along quietly. As a matter of fact, she would first be at ease when they had reached the resort outside San Francisco where the seminar was to take place. She parked the car outside his apartment building and honked the horn. It took a moment before he showed up and he didn't look too enthusiastic, but he was there. And that was an improvement. She had already envisioned having to go up there and drag him out of his apartment. She opened the trunk and let him stash his suitcase in it, noting that he wasn't speaking to her.

"We're meeting up with two agents at the airport in San Francisco. We're going to the seminar together from there," she told him as she got back behind the wheel and he got in on the passenger side.

Groaning, Mulder leaned back on the seat. "At least let us drive there alone, Scully. Just you and me? Please?" he begged.

"No, Mulder. The chance of you finding something better to do if we're driving alone is too big. It's only for one weekend. What's the big deal?" she demanded, a little exasperated already.

"The big deal is that I could be at home, doing what I feel like doing. Now I have to spend my weekend with a lot of people who don't like me, doing silly stuff."

She glanced at him, knowing that this wasn't just a general rebellion against having to go by the book. She knew him well enough to realize that he was really unhappy about it. "And you don't do that usually? Silly stuff?" she wanted to know, smiling.

"When I do silly things, Scully, I usually do them by myself or with you. You're the only one I would do silly things around. Do you wanna lose the privilege?" he shot back, folding his arms over his chest.

She almost laughed. He was so funny when he was annoyed. "Oh, I think I want to share that privilege with others. It might also improve on that rather shaky reputation you've got," she told him, not letting herself be persuaded away from the main topic.

"What's my reputation got to do with this?" he grumbled, not looking at her.

Scully kept her eyes on the traffic, smiling to herself. She was not going to be pulled into an argument with him over this one. He was too sharp for her when it came to discussions like that. "Nothing, Mulder. Just promise me that you'll at least try to have some fun?" Glancing over at him, she realized immediately how he would interpret that one. "And don't screw with people's heads. I know how you love to do that."

He made a face but didn't comment on it.


X X X

J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

Before going to the airport, they had to go by the office to meet with Skinner. Skinner had to admit to himself that he was rather surprised to see Mulder. He had not expected Scully to be able to drag him along. But here he was. "Agent Mulder, agent Scully," he said, nodding. "I just wanted to wish you a good trip and... Mulder? Behave yourself." Mulder made a face, nodded and turned to leave. "And one more thing," Skinner interrupted his departure. "I have a case for you two to begin on when you get back." Handing the file over to Scully, he gave her curt smile. "Take it with you. You might find some time to read it on the way."

They headed back down to the garage, Mulder trailing after Scully with a definite sour look on his face. He had realized that his hurt-little-boy look didn't work on her today, so he didn't even try it. "Scully," he said, his tone of voice indicating his displeasure in all this.

"Mulder, I already told you. We're going and we're going to have fun. Now stop making such a fuzz," she told him before he could get into it again.

X X X

Washington International Airport
Washington, D.C.

All the way to the airport and while they checked in, found the plane and got on, Mulder said next to nothing. And that somehow bothered Scully. Because she knew he was saving up for his next attack. Anything to get out of this one. After they were seated, Scully pulled the file out of her briefcase and opened it. It was nothing special, really. Nothing to write home about. Staring at it while the plane taxied out onto the runway, Scully couldn't help but notice that her partner was watching her. After a moment, she turned her head. "What?" She knew what, but she felt she had to give him a break.

"When we get to Frisco, can't we just rent a car and go there on our own?" he asked.

Scully very nearly lost her temper at that one. The fact was that she would prefer that, too, but the chance of him finding something better to do while they were driving out there was too big. "Mulder, would you stop being such a baby? It's not like the Bureau is asking you to give up the next ten years of your life. Would you just go with it?" However much she tried, she couldn't keep the exasperation out of her voice. She was getting pretty fed up with this discussion.

"All right. Fine," he grumbled, folding his arms defensively over his chest and settling back in the seat. "I'll go with it, Scully, but as I said before. I won't like it."

"Then don't," she said, a little put off by all this.

For the next few hours they hardly spoke at all. Scully knew he wouldn't keep this attitude up, but while it lasted, it was pretty uncomfortable. Occasionally, she glanced at him and it was with the upmost control that she managed not to smile. If she started indicating that she thought his reaction was funny, he would get even more miffed and she wasn't about to spend a weekend in the company of a ticked-off partner. Men were such children sometimes, she thought, picked up a magazine and read through it.


X X X

San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco

When the plane set down in the San Francisco International Airport, Mulder had basically gotten over the fact that there seemed to be no way to convince Scully to go on a different kind of trip with him. He disliked the idea of the seminar, but one thing she had said made things a bit better. She was going to be there. He wasn't alone in this one with a partner who didn't like him.

With their suitcases in tow, they stepped out into the arrival hall and glanced around. A tall brunette and a smaller, grumpy-looking man stood waiting for them, unmistakable because to his attire. He looked every bit a federal agent with his dull, grey suit, black tie and unapproachable expression.

Scully took the first step and approached the woman who, dressed in black jeans, a light blouse and high top sneakers of Italian design looked as if she was on vacation rather than a seminar. "Agent Teal?" Scully asked.

"Yeah, that's me," the brunette said, smiling broadly. "And this is Pete Cranston."

They shook hands, introducing themselves. Cranston continued to look a bit sour and said fairly little, so Teal took the lead. "Come on. We've got a car waiting downstairs. We're running a little late here."

Down in the garage, Mulder realized why agent Cranston looked so annoyed. He glanced at the row of comfortable-looking rentals they walked past with longing, making it very obvious that they would not be driving one of those. When Cranston realized Mulder had noticed, he leaned a little closer. "We're taking agent Teal's car. She... drove here from New York in that thing." The disapproving tone in the man's voice was lost on Mulder. He really didn't care one way or another. Until he saw Teal's car. He had always believed that people's choice in cars exposed a lot about their character. The black four-wheel drive Range Rover that looked like it had seen its share of driving was what they were heading toward. It wasn't new, but it was well kept. Mulder glanced over at the tall brunette and couldn't help smiling. If she drove a car like that, he was going to like her.

"So, agent Teal, where are you from in New York?" Scully asked as they stashed their things in the back of the Range Rover.

"The City itself," Teal replied, giving her a crooked grin. "And stop calling me agent Teal. My name's Jennifer. Or Jenny. Or whatever odd cut-off you can get out of my name," she added. Glancing at the two men, she inspected their differing height. "I think you better sit up front, agent Mulder. You're too long-legged to sit in the back," she said, smiling.

Mulder merely nodded. That suited him fine.

They all got in and Teal put the Rover in gear, almost caressing the steering wheel. "Ready?" she asked and didn't wait for an answer.

The Rover was one of the smoothest cars Mulder had ever had the pleasure of driving in and he started to think that this might not be such a bad thing after all.

"This car is very cramped," Cranston complained, shifting around a bit to get more comfortable.

Scully glanced at him, but ignored the obvious annoyance he was displaying. "So, have you ever participated in a seminar like this, agen...  I mean, Jennifer?" she asked their driver.

Teal grinned. "Yeah, a couple. I always get a lot of fun out of it."

"Where's your partner?" Mulder wanted to know after a moment.

Teal, keeping her eyes on the traffic, looked serious all of a sudden. "I'm between partners at the moment," she replied cryptically.

Cranston had his arms folded over his chest, still looking slightly annoyed at the whole thing. "She used to be partners with Jimmy Fulks," he inserted.

Mulder glanced back at Scully, who was sitting behind Teal's seat. They had both heard of the stake-out which had ended with Jimmy Fulks' death. They had also heard that it was supposed to be his partner's fault that he had died.

"The brass thought it would be a good idea that I participated in a seminar for partners, seeing as I just got my partner killed," Teal said, shocking everybody somewhat by her frankness.

"Did you?" Mulder wanted to know, tactful as ever.

"No, but that's beyond the point, isn't it?" Teal asked, sending him an amused glance. "When the brass decides that I did, that's the way things are. The truth, as such, is a creature of perception. It depends on how you look at it." Shrugging it off, she grinned.

Mulder stared at this woman and wondered where the hell she came from. She didn't seem too upset about losing her partner. "What happened? I mean, the Bureau grapevine isn't known for accuracy."

Scully almost told him to stop asking questions. She knew from experience that he liked to mess people up mentally if he could get away with it and she was somehow afraid that this was another of these incidents. But she kept her tongue, giving him a sharp glance when he looked back at her for a moment.

"We got teamed up two months ago. He hated my guts and I didn't like him any better. We ended up having an argument on a stake-out – not a good thing – and he walked off, stepping right out in front of an oncoming truck. I heard the collision, but had my back to the scene. I never saw it coming," Teal explained, her tone of voice as devoid of emotion as her expression. "Fulks was a fool. He let his anger get the better of him and if there's one thing that's stupid when you're in a heavily trafficked area, it's walking out into the street without looking. The bosses blamed it on me. I was his partner. I was supposed to have watched his back. Personally, I don't know what they expected me to do. Tie him down so he doesn't get himself wasted because of stupidity?"

"Ah, so it was Fulks' own fault?" Mulder asked.

"Kinda. He let his temper get the better of him and that got him killed. Not me," Teal replied. "Anyway, what's the deal with you two? Why are you going? From what I hear, you two are stuck together like glue."

Scully made a face. It wasn't the first time she had heard that one. "Because our supervisor thinks that we need to work on our communications skills," she said, cutting Mulder off before he could make some obscene remark to that one.

Teal glanced in the rear-view mirror and grinned. "Really? You seem to have wordless communication going right now."

"See?" Mulder said to Scully, halfway turning in his seat. "That's what I keep saying. We don't need..." he began, but Scully cut him off.

"Mulder," she almost snapped. "Forget it. We are going. End of story." She knew where this was heading and she didn't like it. Glancing at the rear-view mirror, she caught Teal's eyes and attempted strongly to communicate her need for help here.

Teal got the message. Reaching over, she patted Mulder's knee. "You'll have tons of fun at this seminar. I think we can make them re-arrange certain parts of their schedule. Don't you?" she said and winked at him.

Mulder stared at her for a moment, then he returned her grin. "Sure," he replied.

Cranston made a face again, not at all happy about all these seemingly unprofessional people he was going to spend the next few days with. Glancing over at Scully, he had already decided that she was the one who was the most professional. "Have you ever been to one of these seminars?" he asked.

"Only to one," Scully replied, watching Mulder intently for a moment. It seemed that Teal had managed to convince him that he could create havoc at this seminar and that would make him go along with it. She had already decided to have a lengthy chat with Teal to find out how better to handle Mulder. Smiling to herself, she turned her attention to Cranston. "Have you?"

"Yes, several. I find them quite educational. They teach you ethics as well as higher skills in co-operation. Communication is the key to it all. It's something of a letdown that my partner couldn't come. She was so looking forward to it," he told her.

Mulder rolled his eyes, very nearly unable to comment on that one. He hated these overzealous agents, who would do anything to please the administration. Glancing at Teal, he saw no indication of disapproval on her face. But, then again, he didn't see her nodding in agreement, either.

X X X

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Sausalito
Berkeley                

The trip toward the resort where the seminar was to take place was rather uneventful. Teal turned out to be a lot of fun and Mulder had decided by the time they reached the outskirts of Frisco that he was going to enjoy this trip, no matter what. If for nothing other than to make Scully feel better. She was a bit grumpy and he couldn't really blame her. His attitude had not been the best. The only thing that bothered him was that agents like Teal and Scully were rare. Most of them resembled Cranston and he couldn't stand the man already. It bugged him to know that he had to spend his weekend in the company of people like him. But the fact that Scully was there helped a whole lot. And Teal was going to make things even easier. He was sure they could have fun together.

The resort turned out to be located in a beautiful scenery. The buildings were neat and everything was tidy. Mulder was actually surprised to find that Scully's room was right next to his. After they had settled in, they went over to the cafeteria located in a low building near the motel where they were supposed to spend the next few days. The first hour was spent with being introduced to the others.

Scully met old colleagues, Cranston found other like-minded souls and quickly detached himself from the people he would have to drive home with again and even Teal managed to find a few friendly faces, who welcomed her back into their ranks.

The only one who went rather unnoticed by the main population of the thirty agents assembled was Mulder. He sat back on a chair and watched the humdrum of people with no wish to join in. He really didn't like these seminars. Mainly because he felt it was a waste of time and, a reason he did not acknowledge willingly, because he felt out of place. Heaving a deep breath, he folded his arms over his chest and attempted to look indifferent.

Five minutes later, Scully turned up in front of him. "Come on, Mulder. Join this rabble," she said, her face a little flushed.

"That's okay, Scully, you don't have to pay attention to me," he replied, attempting to make a joke. It came out differently, though.

Scully sat down beside him, her hands folded. "What's up? Is it because you don't feel you fit in here?" she wanted to know.

"It's not important, Scully. Go join your friends," he told her, giving her a grin to take whatever edge of his words there might be.

"There's a few people here I want you to meet, Mulder. Don't be this way. Come on," she said, gently took his arm and more or less forced him to his feet. "You'll like them. I promise," she added.

"It's not so much a question of whether I will like them, Scully. I doubt they will like me," he replied, but let her pull him along toward a small cluster of people.

"This is my partner, special agent Fox Mulder," she introduced him to the group of three men and two women. "This is Tina Wilder, John Buddenbaum, Frank Hastings, Susan Neusiedler and George Harrodes."

Mulder shook hands with all of them, wondering when the taunting would start. He smiled and exchanged pleasantries with them, laughed at their jokes and told a few of his own, constantly watching his step so Scully wouldn't have anything to be embarrassed about. It actually surprised him a little that he was willing to go to such an extent to keep things calm.

As the day progressed, he found that it was actually rather easy to talk to these people and he attributed that to the fact that they were Scully's friends. None of them actually seemed to either know or care about his reputation.

At the dinner table, Tina Wilder, a beautiful brunette with an ample shape which he thought should be forbidden because it was distracting, leaned closer to him. "Did you know that Dana and George had something going a while back?" she almost whispered, conspiratorially glancing over at Scully, who was engrossed in a conversation with said George Harrodes.

"No, really?" Mulder replied in an equally low tone of voice, feeling the spikes of jealousy. He wouldn't show it, though. Not yet, anyway. "But that's against Bureau policy," he added sarcastically.

"Yeah, I know. But they weren't partners. That makes a difference. Besides, it was George who was nuts about her. Dana is something of an Ice Queen. She doesn't let anybody get to her." Wilder grinned. "Except you. You've got quite an impact on the poor woman."

Mulder raised an eyebrow, feeling the jealousy die a quick death. "Is that so? I had no idea," he lied, smirking.

Still grinning, she jabbed an elbow into his ribs. "Mr. Modesty," she said.

New nickname, he thought, grinning back at her. That one he could definitely live with. "Ah well, we all try to behave, don't we?"

Susan Neusiedler dropped down on the empty chair next to Mulder, looking bored. She was tall, powerfully built with a set of shoulders that belittled most men in the room. Her grey eyes were so light, they almost looked white and that gave her stare something special. "So, what do you think of this seminar, agent Mulder?" she asked, her tone as bored as her expression.

"I'm generally against them," he confessed. "But this could turn out to be fun."

Glancing at him, Neusiedler  didn't even blink. "I hope so. These seminars always bore me to death," she replied.

"Agent Neusiedler is known to hate these things," Wilder inserted.

"Yeah, and she does her best to make everybody else feel that way, too," John Buddenbaum said, stretching his long legs out under the table. "So, how come Dana's working with you?"

Mulder sensed an oncoming storm here and figured he better try to pacify the man before he started harassing him. "She was assigned to work with me," he replied, sounding slightly indifferent.

"Really? I wouldn't think that the X-Files craved that much attention. They're trash, after all."

Neusiedler glared at him. "Why don't you just can it, John? Nobody gives a hoot about your opinions after all. It's not like your duties fall outside the yawn-category," she growled at him, her grey eyes flashing with anger. Glancing at Mulder, who had an indifferent look plastered all over his face, she smiled. "I bet the X-Files must be very interesting to work with. More interesting than all the crap that you always dig up," she added, sending Buddenbaum another sharp glance.

Mulder was utterly taken by surprise. He wasn't used to people standing up for him. Especially not people he didn't know. "Hey, that's okay. Everybody is entitled to an opinion," he tried to soothe them.

Wilder leaned in again, her eyes on Buddenbaum. "Agent Buddenbaum shouldn't be entitled to an opinion. He's got grass growing out of his ears," she said, grinning viciously.

Frank Hastings, the oldest of the lot, put his elbows on the table, looked from one to the other and sighed. "When are you going to learn that offending other people doesn't get you anywhere, John?" he wanted to know, looking utterly annoyed. "You're attitude reminds me of when my kids were in kindergarten. It's amazing how cruel kids can be. But it's even more amazing how some kids never grow out of their cruelty," he added. Having said his piece, he leaned back again to finish his meal.

John Buddenbaum had nothing further to add to the conversation and withdrew as soon as it was possible. Hastings clapped Mulder on the back, a quiet kind of smile on his lips. "Forget about John. He's got a corncob up his ass about anybody who doesn't go by the book," he volunteered.

Mulder found that he liked all of them. With the exception of Buddenbaum, that was. "That's okay," he assured the older man. "I'm used to it."

"Yeah, I guess you are," Hastings grinned. "Well, I'm gonna turn in. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. See you at breakfast." With that, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and wandered off.

Scully turned up next to Mulder, smiling. "So, how do you like them so far?"

"They're okay," he confessed. "Apart from Buddenbaum. He doesn't seem to like me," he added thoughtfully.

"You were very tactful about that one. I noticed," she said. "Besides, John doesn't like most people. Don' t take it personally."

"Oh, I don't. You know that," he replied. "I'm gonna go for a run. You wanna come?" For some reason he couldn't really explain, he always asked her and she always turned him down.

Scully smiled. "Sure," she replied, upsetting the balance.

"Wow, Scully. What's this? Change of plans?" he wanted to know, looking as surprised as he felt.

"No, call it a change of tactics. Besides, I need to move a little. We've been sitting down virtually since this morning," she replied, smiling sweetly at him. "I'll meet you outside in ten minutes, okay?"

X X X

They ran for an hour before returning to the complex and both were exhausted by the time they got back.

"You're pretty good at this. I didn't know you ran," Mulder said after having regained some of his breath.

Scully gave him a sweet smile. "On occasion," she said, wiping her brow with the back of one hand. "When I feel like it. Anyway, see you in the morning, okay?" She turned and headed toward her door.

"You go, girl," he called after her, grinning when she flipped him the bird and disappeared into her room. "Sweet dreams, agent Scully," he added in a low tone of voice and went into his own room to take a shower.

Fifteen minutes later, he stepped back into the room wearing nothing but a towel, his hair wet and combed back. With a sigh, he dropped down on the bed, not at all surprised that he wasn't the least bit tired. Slightly fatigued from the run, which however hadn't been half as long as he would usually have run, he switched the TV-set on and scooted back on the bed to watch until he fell asleep. As a matter of form, he opened the drawer of his night stand to check on his gun, a habit he somehow couldn't shake. With some confusion, he realized that the weapon wasn't in the holster.

"What the..." he mumbled and glanced around. Had he taken it out? He couldn't remember and that usually meant that he hadn't. With an annoyed growl, he got off the bed again and started searching the room.

Eventually he had to face the facts. His gun wasn't there any more. Standing in the middle of the room, his hands on his hips, he stared ahead of himself for a moment, frowning. A glance at his watch told him that he shouldn't go banging on Scully's door right now. It was past midnight and he knew how she hated being woken up for minor things like this. He decided to go to bed instead and take another look for the gun in the morning.

X X X

The following morning

Scully was about to put the finishing touches to her makeup when somebody banged on the door. "It's open," she called, taking a step backward in the bathroom to see who it was. Not that she actually had any doubts. When the door opened, she smiled. "Morning, Mulder. Couldn't wait any longer, could you?" she asked and took a step forward again to finish touching herself up.

Mulder appeared in the doorway to her bathroom, a frown on his face. "Scully, do you have your gun?"

The mascara brush slipped and she briefly had to correct the black dot that wasn't supposed to be there. Then she glanced at her partner. "My gun?" she asked, a little startled. "Yes, it's in the night stand. Why?"

He returned to the room and opened her night stand drawer. "Because mine's missing," he replied.

Scully forgot about her mascara and followed him into the room. "It's on the other side," she said, waving to the night stand near the window. "What do you mean, your gun is missing? Did you even bring it?"

"Yes, I brought it. I put it in my night stand. And now it's no longer there," he said, opened the drawer of the other night stand and straightened. "Neither is yours," he added, looking quizzically  over at her.

Scully came around the bed and looked down at the empty holster. "There's got to be an explanation for that," she said, looking up to meet his eyes. "Hang on a minute. I'll just finish up and then we can go to breakfast and ask the others if they've got similar problems." With that, she returned to the bathroom, not overly concerned yet. She didn't want to be concerned. It was beyond her power of imagining that anybody would try to pull anything at an FBI-seminar.

X X X

They walked together over to the cafeteria, aware that nobody else was around because they were late. Scully didn't worry too much about the missing guns, but Mulder did. He was glancing around, trying to spot anything out of the ordinary. As they neared the cafeteria, a building with one wall of nothing but glass, he gazed in at the others already there and found it a little odd that they weren't moving too much. It suddenly hit him that something was utterly wrong with that scenario. "Scully, wait," he called out, but she had already opened the door and had stopped short.

A guy in a black ski-mask and black jumpsuit stood just inside the door, aiming an automatic riffle at her face. "Don't make any funny moves, pretty boy, or Red here gets it," he warned.

Mulder stood rooted to the ground, staring at the man, and knew he was serious. Slowly raising his hands, he stepped up beside Scully.

"Get inside, both of you," Ski-mask urged them. They were both ushered into the cafeteria and waved toward some free seats. "Sit down and relax. Nobody's gonna get hurt if you just take it easy," he said.

There were six other guys wearing the same outfit and carrying automatic riffles. Mulder noted their positions as he slowly sat down, trying to keep an eye on all of them at once.

"Twenty-nine down. One to go," Ski-mask hollered and closed the door again, re-assuming his previous position. "For our new arrivals, please observe complete silence and don't make any sudden moves. We're all a bit high-strung here and we really don't want to hurt anybody if we can avoid it. You should however be aware of that we will not hesitate to blow you all to kingdom come at the smallest sign of resistance," he added loud enough for everybody to hear.

Nobody made a sound. Mulder glanced at Scully, who in turn gave him a stern look. She knew what was going through his head right now and she would do her damndest to prevent him from going over the edge right now. "Don't even think of it," she mouthed at him.

Frowning, he pretended not to understand.

Two of the ski-masks got together and talked quietly. The acoustics of the room allowed those closest to them to overhear what they were talking about.

"Who's missing?" the guy at the door asked.

"A Jennifer Teal. Vern already checked her room and she's not there," the second guy replied.

"Shhh," the first one hissed. "No names, you moron."

Mulder listened without watching them. So, one of them was called Vern. Whoever that might be. And it didn't help much. But the second guy seemed to be a little slower than the rest. The weak link. Already cooking up a plan, Mulder briefly glanced over at the two men, then let his eyes drift over the cafeteria.

X X X

The leader of the terrorist group watched the latest arrivals with interest. He could tell that the guy was a crafty one and by the way he watched his surroundings, he also knew that this man would be trouble. He had already marked six of the other men among their hostages as being trouble-makers. They would all be stashed away from the others. In a secure area. Actually, he had already made up his mind that he was going to lock most of them up. The weakest would be the best hostages. The rest would be placed somewhere, where he could control them.

X X X

Mulder tried to make out who the leader was and found one guy standing in a secluded position near the entrance to the kitchen. The way he was watching the crowd made Mulder realize that he was the top honcho among these apes. Two of the others were not too bright. It was obvious by the looks in their eyes. One of them had to be Vern.

He glanced at Scully, with a vague nod indicating that one guy.

Scully glanced over at him, then back at Mulder with a frown. When she realized what he had in mind, she shook her head lightly, the look in her eyes alarmed. "No," she mouthed at him.

Mulder made a face, turned on his chair and gained eye contact with Ski-mask at the door. "Excuse me, but what the hell is going on here?" he demanded.

Ski-mask glanced over at the guy near the kitchen, confirming Mulder's suspicion that he was the leader, then raised his riffle. "Just shut up, okay? You don't wanna go shooting your mouth off," he advised Mulder.

Mulder ignored the warning and slowly rose, raising his hands in a deprecating gesture. "Come on. At least tell us what's going to happen to us," he said calmly, hoping that one of them would start talking. He took a hesitant step forward.

Ski-mask by the door stared at him, neither raising the riffle more, nor lowering it again. He again glanced over at his boss, took a step forward and hammered the butt of his riffle into Mulder's ribs. The unprovoked attack came as something of a surprise to Mulder and he wasn't at all prepared for it. The butt of the riffle connected squarely with the lower left edge of his rib cage, depriving him of his breath instantly. His knees gave in and he hit the floor, just barely bracing himself from falling on his face. Once he was down on all four, Ski-mask hammered the butt of the riffle against the back of his head, knocking him clean out.

Scully was out of her chair before she had a chance to think. But apparently the attacker didn't consider her a threat as she dropped down on her knees next to her downed partner, hoping to prevent any further attacks which might kill him.

Raising the riffle in one hand up over his head, Ski-mask backed up a few steps. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he said loudly. "Let's not repeat this incident. Please stay seated and keep your mouths shut," he advised them. "To answer this man's question, you will all be picked up in two hours time by some trucks. They will take you to a facility where you will stay until this situation has resolved itself. Hopefully to your benefit. If your government does not give in to our demands, I'm afraid we will have to kill some of you. Just to state an example of how serious we are." Looking around, he tried to spot any others who might decide to take a crack at talking them out of their agenda, but found that most of these people were strangely placid.

Scully let her fingers slip up behind Mulder's head and was appalled when her fingers came away bloody. Gingerly, she pulled out her handkerchief and pressed it hard against the wound, trying to stanch the bleeding. He would be in pain when he woke up again. That much was for sure.

X X X

Outside the cafeteria

Jennifer Teal watched the whole scene from a distance. Growling under her breath, she swore that she would do what she could to get all of them out unharmed. She crossed over to the cabins the furthest from the cafeteria and found an open window to crawl in through. Ripping the receiver of the phone off its cradle, she wasn't amazed to find that it was dead. "Fuck it," she growled and glanced around the room. With some surprise she found herself to be in Mulder's room. A cell phone. The man was bound to have a cell phone. She just hoped he didn't have it on him. Rooting through his things, she found the phone after a moment, flipped the lid open and quickly dialed a number. Withdrawing to the bathroom and a second escape route, she waited. "This is agent Teal, sir. We've got a situation here."

X X X

Inside the cafeteria

The leader of the group glanced at his watch, frowning. The trucks should have been there already. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, squinting out the windows. Waving one of his men over, he briefly thanked whatever deity was watching over him that nobody else had made a fuzz for the past two hours. "Where the hell are the trucks?" he hissed at his counterpart. "You arranged it with Uzzo. Talk to me."

The second guy glanced toward the windows. "Uh... he promised me that... well... they'd be here."

"Yeah, well, they're not, are they, Vern?" he growled. "Go outside and see if you can spot them."

"What about the last agent?" Vern replied, looking nervous.

"To hell with her. She's probably taken off. It'll take a while before she gets to a phone. Move it, Vern."

Vern quickly moved over to the door, glanced back at his boss and opened it. "Oh shit," he hissed loud enough for everybody to hear it.

Ski-mask at the door grabbed him and hauled him back inside. "Shut up," he snarled. "What'd you see out there?"

"It's swarming with feds," Vern said nervously.

Ski-mask leaned a little sideways to get a look out the glass wall and his eyes widened. "God damn it," he grumbled. He had his orders if something like this were to happen. "Change of plan, folks," he said loudly. "One of your colleagues has gone and done something stupid and now we'll have to transfer you all down to the basement. If you would please all get up and move toward the stairs in an orderly fashion, we can avoid anybody getting shot in the process. Ladies first," he went on, waving his riffle toward the crowd. All the female agents with the exception of Scully got up. "You too, Red," he urged her.

Scully raised her eyes and stared at him. "I'm not leaving my partner," she snarled.

Ski-mask stared back at her, then shrugged. "Okay, you go down with him, then," he agreed.

Three of the other terrorists ushered the women downstairs while the three remaining kept a keen eye on the men. Then they ushered the men downstairs, at all times staying away from the windows.

Pete Cranston thought he would become a hero, when he tried to stay back and hide behind a table. Instead one of the terrorists blew him away.

"Nobody stays behind," Ski-mask said with a tragic tone of voice. "Move it, people. We don't have all day." Making sure he was basically covered, he stepped toward Scully and Mulder. "Come on, Red. Get up. We gotta get your partner downstairs," he said, grabbed a hold of Mulder's collar and simply dragged him along.

"Hey," Scully snapped, got up and hurried after them. "Watch it, will you? You've already given him a severe concussion." She knew even as she said it that the man didn't care.

Dragging the unconscious man through the door to the staircase, he stopped briefly to look at her. "Look, honey. If your bosses don't do as we say, we'll put him out of his misery first. How's that for a deal?" he said, sounding almost as if he was doing her a kindness.

Scully held her peace after that, wincing when Ski-mask dragged Mulder down the stairs, not paying any attention to whether or not he was hurting him. Once down at the foot of the stairs, he dragged Mulder into a big storage-room, which was empty apart from all her colleagues, and unceremoniously dumped him on the floor. Scully winced in sympathy at the hollow thud when Mulder's head hit the floor. She hurried to him and gently rolled him over on his side.

Frank Hastings put a calm hand on her shoulder for a second, then helped her drag Mulder carefully over to one wall where she sat down with his head in her lap. "How's he doing?" Hastings wanted to know in a low tone of voice as he sat down next to her.

"I'm not sure," she confessed, sounding pretty shook up.

Frank patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, Dana. From what I have heard of Fox Mulder, he'll pull through."

As if that had been the cue he had waited for, Mulder moved. Groaning in agony, he raised his hands to cover his face. "Oh God," he moaned.

Scully put a hand over his. "Take it easy, G-Man," she said quietly. "You've got a bit of a bump on the back of your head."

"And bruised ribs," he replied weakly and let his hands slip away from his face. Squinting up at her, he gave her a smile which left something to be desired, then glanced around. "Where are we?"

"Basement," Scully replied, glancing toward the door. "I think it might be a good idea if you got back on your feet as fast as possible, Mulder. These guys are insane," she added.

"I'm confused," he mumbled, looking up at her again.

"About what?" she asked and met his eyes.

"First you tell me to take it easy. Now you tell me to get up as fast as I can." With an effort, he sat up, wincing at the pain in his head. "I swear the next time I get a concussion, I'll die," he grumbled and leaned back against the wall. Pulling his knees up, he covered his face with his hands again, sighing.

Scully patted his shoulder, nervously glancing toward the door again. "I don't know what they have in mind for us, but they're off to a good start. They killed agent Cranston," she said quietly.

Mulder let his hands drop away and stared at her. "Cranston's dead?" he asked and she nodded. "How? Why?"

"He tried to stay behind and they shot him without even giving him a chance. They don't stop to ask any questions, Mulder. So, for God's sake, don't get any funny ideas. I think you were extremely lucky. That guy could have blown you away when you tried talking to him," she told him.

"Aw, damn it," Mulder grumbled. "Have they said anything about why they're doing this?"

"Not in so many words. After that guy decked you, he said that they would move us to somewhere else and that we would have to stay there until they got the replies they wanted. If not, they would start killing us one by one," she told him.

Rubbing his temples, Mulder leaned his head back against the wall and sighed. "But something went wrong, I guess," he replied.

"Yes. I'm not sure what, though. Something about the trucks not turning up and a change of plans. I think maybe it's because Jennifer alerted headquarters."

Mulder grinned. "That means we're virtually on our way out of here. What did they think they could do? I mean, this is an FBI seminar." Closing his eyes, he thought about how he could be sitting at home, watching television without a blistering headache and aching ribs. "I can't seem to go anywhere these days without getting hurt. Next time, I'm staying at home. And I don't care what anybody says."

Scully patted his arm. "I don't blame you, Mulder. I think I'll reconsider any participation in future as well."

"Hey, this is the first time something like this has happened," Hastings inserted. "We'll get out of here and everything will return to normal. And, trust me, this kind of thing won't happen again," he added.

Mulder leaned forward a bit, one hand pressed against the nap of his neck, and raised an eyebrow at Hastings. "This kind of thing happens all the time, Hastings. And there's nothing the brass can do about it. As long as someone as high up as Blevins can be dirty, I don't give much for security around seminars like this." With that said, he leaned back again and closed his eyes once more.

Hastings sighed. "You got a point there," he mumbled, not happy about it.


X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

The terrorists were spread out around the kitchen door, watching as the swat teams closed in. Their leader sighed. "Damn it, I knew we should have tried to find that bitch," he growled. "Now it all blows up in our faces." To make it clear to the swat teams that they would not hesitate to kill, they had put Cranston's body on a chair and placed him in full few of the approaching forces. So far, it had done little to hold them back.

"Uh... does that mean that we're not getting out of here now?" Vern asked, edging closer to his boss.

The man rolled his eyes and glanced over at Vern. "Man, you're sharp, huh?" Lashing out at him, he knocked Vern off his feet and got up. "Of course it means we're not getting out of here, you idiot. If you had arranged things differently with Uzzo, we might not be in this mess now. Fuck it," he snapped and kicked a cupboard angrily. "I'm not giving in without taking a few of those ass holes with me."

One of the others rose. "How about we start right now by blowing away the guy that Joe decked," he suggested in a low tone of voice, waving toward Ski-mask who had been standing by the door.

The leader eyed him for a moment. "You're trigger-happy, Buddy," he said, but was not opposed to the idea. "Sure. You do it. Joe, go down with him and keep an eye on the others. I don't want them making any fuzz when he drags that punk out of there," he added.

Buddy turned and strode toward the stairs leading to the basement, followed closely by Joe. "Hey, man. You're sure out for action, aren't ya?" Joe asked, catching up with him.

Buddy merely grumbled as he hurried down the steps.

X X X

The basement

Mulder grumbled angrily at the pounding in his head. This was not good. The others were keeping quiet, sitting there like lamb-chops ready to be eaten and it made him furious. They were supposed to be federal agents, trained to deal with situations like this. Maybe that was why these people had been sent to this seminar. To learn to act when necessary.

"Mulder, whatever you're thinking, forget it. We won't get out of here by making a fuzz," Scully told him quietly. "I feel as frustrated by this as you do. There's just nothing we can do. They've proven to be able to blow us away without a warning."

"Did I say anything?" he mumbled. "I didn't say anything."

"No, you don't have to say anything. I know what you're thinking. So, forget about it." She hooked her arm under his and leaned against him. "I just want us both to get out of this one alive. Okay?"

Nodding weakly, he patted her hand. "Okay. I'll be good," he promised her.

X X X

Buddy reached the base of the stairs before realizing that Joe wasn't the only one who had followed him down. Two of the others had come along as well. He briefly glanced at them, then strode over to the door leading into the storage room and pulled it open. Glancing around at the twenty-eight federal agents, he smiled behind his mask. Then his eyes settled on Mulder.

Joe pushed past him and stopped in front of Mulder. "On your feet, buddy," he said calmly.

Mulder stared up at him. "Why?" he wanted to know, a little taken aback.

Joe didn't much care for people who asked too many questions, so instead of answering that, he reached down and hauled Mulder to his feet. "Because it's time to say goodbye, pal," he told him. "You're bosses think they can get away with holing us up in here and... well... they can't. We're gonna show them. So, unless they want to have to account for twenty-nine dead federal agents, I guess they'd better get their heads out of their asses and get with the program. Don't you?"

It took a moment for Mulder to realize what Ski-mask meant by that. When he realized it, he swallowed hard, suddenly very much afraid.

Scully scrambled to her feet, her hands locking around Mulder's arm. "No," she said, shaking her head, staring at Joe.

Joe raised his gun and pressed it against her forehead. "Back off, Red, or we'll take you instead."

Mulder quickly disengaged his arm from Scully's grip and pushed her back. "Don't, Scully," he said. Looking into her eyes, seeing the fear there, he knew she wouldn't keep back on this one. "Hastings, make sure she doesn't do anything stupid," he said to the older man when he got up, too, and pushed Scully into his arms.

Hastings wrapped his arms around Scully, holding her back. "Don't worry," he said, his expression telling Mulder what he thought of this gesture.

Joe hauled Mulder toward the door, not giving him a second chance to say goodbye before he virtually threw him out the door.

X X X

Mulder hit the floor, barely preventing himself from falling on his face again. Wincing at the pain in his head, he tried to come to terms with the fact that he was going to die. Unless he could do something to prevent it. But there were four of them and that was too much for him. "Look, can't we talk about this? If you let me get in touch with whoever you want to talk to, I bet I could work something out," he suggested, raising his head to look up at Joe.

Joe's eyes narrowed for a moment, then he shook his head. "Sorry, pal. We've got our own ways of dealing with the brass," he replied. "Buddy, would you do the honors?"

Buddy nodded. "Sure," he replied and grabbed Mulder's shoulders from behind, hauling him back to his feet. He pushed him toward another door, leaving the others behind.

"Need any help?" Joe called after him.

"No, I've got it," Buddy replied.

Mulder stumbled through the door out into a cellar way leading to a staircase coming up outside the building. Certain that he could talk Buddy out of his hazardous plan, he knew he just had to gain eye contact with the man. But before he had a chance to turn around and take a look at him, he received a powerful shove in the back, which threw him off balance and made him hit the floor once more. Buddy jammed a knee against his back, keeping him down, and the cold steel of the muzzle of his gun pressed against the back of Mulder's neck.

Scared to death, Mulder swallowed. "Look, killing a federal officer is not something you want to do. You're gonna end up dead or in jail for the rest of your life," he spurted out.

"Yeah, well, they gotta catch me first," Buddy replied indifferently.

"And they will. You and your pals will be the subject of a man hunt of enormous proportions. You won't get away," Mulder snapped. He really didn't want to die right now.

Apparently the conviction in his voice had been stronger than he had hoped, because the pressure of the muzzle of the gun relented a little. Buddy stared down at this guy, his mind working overtime. He hadn't joined this group to end up in jail.

Mulder decided to try and use the leeway he had gained to talk some more and maybe save his behind in the process. "If you help get us out of here, I can promise you immunity," he said. "Just testify against the others and you'll stay out of jail."

Buddy thought that over for a minute, then sighed. "Sorry, pal. There's something called loyalty between thieves. And I live by that code."

X X X

Scully stood rigid in Hastings' arms, completely silent. She couldn't believe this was happening. This trip was supposed to be relaxing, fun even. She flinched visibly when a shot rang out and she lunged  forward toward the door, trying to pull out of Hastings grip. "No," she snapped.

"Dana, I'm sorry," Hastings said, his arms still tightly around her. He didn't want her trying to do something silly. "It's never easy to lose a partner."

"He was my friend," she hissed and with a vicious movement ripped free of him. Grabbing the door handle, she tried to force the door open. "God damn it, he is my friend. I refused to believe that he's..." She stopped dead, pressing her forehead against the door. She couldn't even say it. Couldn't bring herself to realize that, just maybe, Mulder was gone for good. "No," she mouthed soundlessly at the door. "Please, no."

Hastings grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back again. "Dana, don't do this. He wouldn't want you to do this," he said quietly.

"What do you know about what he wants?" she snapped angrily, but made no attempt to pull free again. "What does anybody know about him anyway? Nobody has ever taken the time to get to know him."

X X X
Buddy stepped back into the corridor, noting that Joe was the only one left. "That's it," he said and stuffed his gun back into his belt, not paying attention to that the door behind him didn't close properly.

"That must have startled those morons approaching us," Joe replied with a grin that Buddy couldn't see due to the ski-mask. "Did he struggle a lot?"

Buddy met Joe's eyes for a moment. "No, he went quietly," he replied. "Why don't you go upstairs and tell Steve?" he added after a moment, glancing at the door to the storage room. "I'll be there in a minute."

Joe nodded. "Sure thing, pal," he said and turned for the stairs. With one foot on the first step, the glanced back over his shoulder. "Say, have you ever killed anybody before?" he wanted to know.

Buddy stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I have." That, as such, was a lie, but he felt wired now. Blowing somebody away was definitely up his alley.

Joe didn't like the look in Buddy's eyes at that. There was something threatening about the guy. Shrugging, he turned and hurried up the stairs to let their leader know so they could contact the brass and tell them about it.

Buddy looked after him, his stance tense. "And I will again," he growled under his breath, turned and walked up to the door to the storage room, intent on getting a little release.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Joe dropped down into a crouch next to Steve, their leader. "He's a goner. Buddy blew him away," he said.

Steve nodded. "Good. What was that guy's name again?"

"Mulder," Joe replied, looking content.

"Where's Buddy?" Steve asked, looking back toward the staircase.

"He'll be up in a bit. I think he just needed to chew that one over," Joe soothed him.

Steve glanced at Joe, wondering where he got his expression from, and shook his head. It was time to call the high lords of the FBI and let them know that another agent had bought it. They would place him alongside the other one out in the cafeteria as a warning. If they didn't get their way, they would have to kill a whole lot of these people down in the basement. Actually, Steve would make sure they all died before he gave in. He pulled his cell phone out and dialed the same number as before.

X X X

The basement

Buddy tore the door to the storage room open, stopping short to stare at the occupants and the quietly despairing looks he got. With his gun in one hand, he stepped inside, looking them all over. Then his eyes settled on Scully, who was standing a few feet from the door, hands clenched, her expression angry. Not hesitating, he reached out, grabbed her arm and yanked her to him. "You're coming with me, Red," he snarled and pushed her out in the corridor, closing the door behind him and locking it again.

His push had given her enough momentum for her to slam hard against the opposite wall of the corridor. The impact knocked the breath out of her and it took her a moment too long to regain her composure.

Buddy grabbed a handful of her hair and made sure she stayed where she was. Pressing the gun against the small of her back, he leaned in to inhale the scent of her hair. "You're pretty," he said, grinning behind the mask.

Scully knew what came next and she wasn't sitting still for that one. If he turned her around, he would be in a world of hurt. "And you're not," she replied through clenched teeth, angry and sad at the same time.

He released her hair and let his hand slide down her back toward her buttocks, still pressing the gun against her as well. "You're gonna play ball or I'll sever your spin, honey," he told her. "I like red-heads," he added.

Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the best moment to act, but the decision for that moment was taken away from her. Suddenly there was a hollow thud, which was followed by her attacker slumping against her before he collapsed to the floor. Almost afraid to turn around, Scully turned her head a little. What she saw was a sight for sore eyes. "Mulder," she breathed, afraid to say his name out loud. There he stood with a steel pipe in one hand, his other hand pressed against his bleeding neck. He was barely able to stand upright, but he had managed just that to protect his partner from the worst possible crime committed against a woman. Before she had a chance to think about what she was doing, she was in his arms. "Oh my God, I thought they had killed you," she whispered against his chest.

"They almost did," he replied weakly.

Scully looked up, realizing that he was bleeding severely. "Oh God." Looking around frantically, she searched for a place where they could deal with his injury and stay out of the spotlight. Putting all her strength into it, she guided Mulder down the corridor they were in, to the rear of the basement. The corridor turned at the end and ended at a door. She opened the door, took the key out of the lock and shoved Mulder inside. It was another storage room, this one filled with goods and she got him to settle down on a load of paper napkins. Searching around, she found a first aid kit and set about bandaging him up to keep the bleeding to a minimum. His back was moist with blood. Examining the wound for a moment, she knew what had happened. This guy had tried to kill him, but Mulder had shifted the moment the gun had gone off. The bullet had gone through the right side of his neck, miraculously not damaging anything important there. He was in pain, but at least he was alive. "Hang in there, you hear?"

"I'm still with you," he replied with a weak smile. "Scully, that guy I just decked. We have to move him."

"You're not moving anything, Mulder," she told him. "Any over straining on your side is going to make that wound bleed a whole lot more. You need to sit back and relax. I'll move him. I'll get help from the others."

"No, Scully. Where are you going to hide the others? In here? It's not feasible. We need to get out and get help. And you can't move twenty-nine people out of the building without some of these goons noticing. "

Scully thought that over for a moment. "But they have to get down here and..." she began, but Mulder cut her off by putting his left hand over her mouth.

"Scully, they're armed. We're not. Even if we could come up with a way to outwit them, somebody's going to get killed. If we however move this guy in here and leave the cellar door open a crack, the others will probably think that this moron has run off with you. That will give us some time," he replied.

She stared at him for a moment, then finished bandaging him. "Okay," she finally said. "I'll get him in here... somehow," she replied, looking a little dubious. Until her eyes fell on a toter standing in the corner of the room.

Mulder leaned back, desperate for some painkillers right now, not happy that Scully had to do all the work. But he also knew she was right about her assumption. If he did try to carry something, it could make things worse for him.


X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Joe was a little concerned about the approaching swat teams, but Steve's call pulled them back. Joe grinned as he watched them retreat. "They're drawing back," he said.

Steve lowered the cell phone for a moment, glancing out into the cafeteria and past the glass wall at the retreating swats. "Good. Finally they're paying attention," he grumbled. "Now all we need is to get the damned trucks in here, load those morons onto them and get the hell out. I'm not dealing from here." He flipped the lid of the phone shut and slowly got up from his crouching position. Glancing around, he noted that Buddy had not returned yet. "Where the hell is Buddy? Joe, go check on him."

"He's probably puking his guts out," Joe said with a leer. "I did the first time I blew someone away," he added and headed toward the stairs.

Steve looked after him for a moment, then sighed. "Man, I wish I was dealing with professionals," he grumbled. Reaching out, he grabbed a hold of Vern's collar. "Get on the horn to Uzzo and tell him to get those trucks here. Stat." He handed the phone to Vern. "You know how to use a phone, don't you?" he added sarcastically.

"Yeah, sure, Steve," Vern replied.

X X X

The basement

Joe came down the stairs and stopped short when he reached the bottom. Looking around, he wondered where the hell Buddy had gotten to. "Buddy?" he called out. No reply. "Damn it, man," he mumbled and started toward the door to the storage room with their hostages. A breeze hit him and he glanced over at the open cellar way door. "What the fuck?" he mumbled and walked over there, looking outside. Nobody there, either. Frowning, Joe went back to the storage room door and opened it, looking inside. He counted the people sitting along the walls, then withdrew again, closing and locking the door. "Well, I'll be damned," he mumbled and returned upstairs.

Dropping down in a crouch next to Steve, he wasn't too happy about what he was going to tell him. "Uh... Steve?"

Steve looked up with a frown. He didn't like Joe's tone of voice. "What's up? Where's Buddy?"

"Apparently, Buddy has made off with Red," Joe said. "She's missing and so's Buddy."

The thought that he would love to work with professionals just once in his life crossed his mind again. "God damn it," he growled. "Are you sure he hasn't just found a quiet place where he can have some fun with her?" he replied.

"Uh..." Joe said, ready to kick himself for not checking. "No, not really," he said after a moment.

"Well, if I know Buddy right, he's doing just that. Leave him to it," Steve replied, not wanting any trouble right now.

"Okay, Steve," Joe replied, relieved. He had feared the worst and then there was a reasonable explanation after all. Grinning, he imagined what Buddy might be doing to that little redhead.

Vern switched off the phone and scooted over beside Steve. "I just talked to Uzzo and he doesn't wanna come. He says there are too many feds out there," he said quietly.

"Figures," Steve growled. "Okay, I'll just give our buddies out there a call. Change of plans, guys. We need to make the feds give us transportation," he added. "We'll just tell them that the basement is rigged and we'll blow their precious agents up if they don't do what we say."

X X X

In the rear storage room, Scully pushed her hair back from her face and sighed. She had managed to move a man almost two heads taller and quite a bit heavier than her down the corridor and into the storage room on the toter. Using a role of duct-tape, she had tied his hands and feet together, bundled up a piece of cloth and gaged him, too. Just in case he came around. She couldn't having him making a racket. Then she turned to her attentive, yet exhausted partner. "Are you okay?" she wanted to know.

With one hand pressed against his neck, Mulder met her eyes. "I will be as soon as we're out of here," he replied weakly.

Scully double-checked his bandage, then briefly paused to cup his cheek with one hand. "I'll get you out of here," she promised and started to turn away.

"Scully," he said, grabbing her arm. "Don't do anything rash. It's not worth it," he told her.

Scully met his eyes with a smile for a moment. "I think it's too late for that, Mulder. If they catch us now, we're both dead," she replied, patted his hand and went up to the door. Carefully opening it, she listened to the hallway beyond for a moment. After removing her shoes, she patted down the hallway toward the bend, hoping that the terrorists hadn't figured things out yet. She was glad for small favors, though, since Buddy's gun gave her a sense of security. Carefully edging forward, she took a look down the hallway leading to the stairs and the other storage-room where all her colleagues were. She wanted so desperately to go and set them free, but she could see Mulder's point. They couldn't make it out of this place without someone getting killed. On the other hand, the  chance of these morons upstairs killing some of her colleagues was pretty big whether they made a break for it or not. Listening intently to her surroundings, she hurried across the hallway to the cellar door, pushed it open and slipped out into the cellar way. Making sure the door didn't click shut behind her, she moved forward.

When she reached the stairs leading up outside the building, she hesitated. She needed to know if there were any windows on this side. Edging along the wall, she carefully stuck her head up over the edge of the stairwell and looked around. Nobody was outside. Turning, she inspected the back wall of the building, sighing in relief when she realized that there were no windows. There wasn't even a door. "Good show," she whispered to herself. Inspecting her immediate surroundings, she noted any possible hiding places within the vicinity. Then she returned to the cellar and the possible dangers lurking there.

X X X

Mulder had allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment. He was so tired and his neck hurt along with his ribs and his head. Having lost a good deal of blood didn't help his general state of health and all he wanted to do was lie down and sleep. But, as things were, the chance to sleep would be a long way off. He jerked awake again at a sound he couldn't immediately recognize. Then he realized that Buddy had come alive again. The man was thrashing, trying to get free of his bonds. Mulder glanced around, trying to find something to shut the man up with, but he also knew that he wouldn't be able to do an effective job. He didn't have much strength left.

Just as he was about to try anyway, Scully slipped back into the room. She stopped short when she saw him trying to get up. "Don't. Where are you going?" she wanted to know, putting her hands on his shoulders and pushing him back down.

"He's awake," he replied.

Scully glanced over at Buddy, who was staring hatefully at her, and sneered. Grabbing the first, best thing she could find, she hammered a big can of jam against the side of his head, knocking him clean out again. "That's for my partner, you shit," she snarled and dropped the can beside him.

Mulder had dropped back down on the pile of wrapped-up paper napkins. Scully turned back to him, a look of concern crossing her face. "You don't look so good. It's time to get you out of here," she told him. "I just checked and there are no windows or doors in the back of the building. Not too far away, there's a cluster of trees. If we can make it that far, we'll be safe."

"Don't you think it might be a better idea if you..." he began, but Scully cut him off.

"No, Mulder. I'm not leaving you here," she insisted.

Frowning a little, he stared at her. "How did you know that I was going to suggest that?" he wanted to know.

"Because basically breathing the same air as you for five years has given me the opportunity to get to know you. I can read you like an open book, Mulder," she told him, took his arm and helped him to his feet.

"Now there's a scary thought," he mumbled with a weak smile. Leaning a little heavier on her than he needed to, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

Scully took a hold of his wrist, wrapped one arm around his waist and took the lead out the door. They didn't say another word as they slowly moved toward the bend in the corridor and stopped long enough to make sure they had the basement to themselves.

Scully elbowed the door open and hauled her partner out in the cellar way with her, stopping briefly to close the door behind them. Pulling Mulder with her, she headed toward the stairs, frantic to be away from the building. "Come on, G-Man. Help me out here. I can't carry you," she said, sweating profusely over the added burden of having to virtually carry her partner.

Mulder pulled himself together, straightening a little and grabbed a hold of the handrail of the staircase. "Damn, I feel lousy," he mumbled, forcing himself up the steps with as much speed as he could muster.

Scully kept glancing back as they moved upward, listening, hoping to God and any other available deity that they could make it away unseen.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Steve looked up after having talked to whoever was answering the phone at the other end and grinned. "They're going to supply us with a truck. Things are clearing up for us, guys." Glancing toward the stairs to the basement, he then turned to Joe. "Go get Buddy. I don't care what he's up to. We don't have time for this," he added.

Joe nodded, got up and hurried to the stairwell. Pounding down the stairs, he hurried past the first storage room toward the second one, aware that his partner would have to be hiding out there with his new squeeze. Grinning, he hoped he caught them in the act. "Hey, Buddy," he called and rounded the corner. "We gotta move. No time for lovin'," he added, grabbed the door handle and pulled the door open. What he found wasn't what he had expected to find and it made him stop short for a second.

Then he swirled around, ignoring his unconscious buddy and ran back the way he'd come. Stopping in front of the door to the cellar way, he frowned for a moment, then ripped the door open and ran out.

Taking the steps two at a time, he cleared the stairwell and saw the redhead dragging her allegedly dead partner with her. "Hey, hold it," he yelled, ripping his gun from his waistband. He came to a stop, aimed and fired.

X X X

Scully had heard him and had decided to keep moving. The faster they got away from him, the better. And then the shot rang out. Mulder let out a howl of pain as the bullet dug into his right calf. The impact of the shot as well as the sudden flare of pain made him lose his balance and topple over,  pulling Scully down with him as another shot rang out. Through a haze he heard Scully hissing, "Shit." Then she returned fire.

Getting up on one knee, Scully aimed and pulled the trigger twice. The guy who had shot Mulder the second time hit the wall of the building, looking down himself with an utterly surprised expression before sliding down the wall. Both her shots had hit home. "Damn it," she hissed, grabbed Mulder and coaxed him back to his feet. "Come on, Mulder. We have to leave. Now," she insisted, her tone of voice unrelenting.

"Scully. Get out of here," he urged her. "I'll manage. You've got a better chance at getting to the others without me. I'll find..." he began, but she clapped a hand over his mouth, effectively shutting him up.

"I told you once and I'm telling you again. I'm not leaving you behind. No matter what you say," she told him. "Now, come on. I know you're in pain and I know you want to rest, but if you value your life as much as I do, you'll move. Now!"

There was a military kind of drill over her tone which he found himself unable to resist. Mustering his reserves, he managed to get back on his feet and limp with her until they reached the cluster of trees.

Scully let him slip to the ground, making sure he was hidden from sight, and turned to run back the way they'd come. He grabbed out for her, his fingers wrapping around her ankle. "Where are you going?" he demanded with what little strength he had left.

"I'm going to get the second gun. We might need it." With that, she pulled free and ran, on bare feet, back to the downed terrorist. She pulled his gun out of his slack hand, briefly examined the body for further clips, then backed up again. She made it back to the cluster of trees before the first sounds reached them from the stairwell. Two men came running up the stairs, stopped dead at the sight of their dead comrade-in-arms and then scanned the area.

Scully had hit the ground, virtually dropping down on top of her partner, both guns in her hands, ready for whatever these guys might try. She expected the worst, but after they had scanned the area and seen no indication of movement, they vanished back down the stairwell, pulling their dead friend with them. Letting out a shivering sigh, she suddenly realized she had been holding her breath. "I'm not good at this," she mumbled against Mulder's chest. "I'm not a commando."

"Well, I, for one, am impressed," he managed to say through clenched teeth before the whole thing became too much for him to handle and he simply passed out.

Scully looked at him for a moment, then pulled her suit jacket off, ripped both sleeves from her blouse and used them to bandage his right calf. She found herself reacting on instinct before she even had a chance to think twice about what she was doing. There wasn't the slightest regret that she had to tear apart one of her favorite pieces of clothing. The only thing that mattered right now was to prevent Mulder from losing any more blood.

X X X

The cafeteria kitchen

Steve was outraged. One of his men had a sever concussion and the other was dead. Which of course left the five of them. Two he wasn't too keen on. They were simply too stupid. "Okay, guys, listen," he said. "Vern, I want you and Emil here to go out back and find that little bitch and her partner and kill them both. I want them dead. They are not going to reach their friends alive."

Vern and Emil took of, thrilled that they were finally allowed to do something, never once realizing that Steve had sent them off with the knowledge that they might not come back.

Steve turned back to Bruce and Gene and nodded. "Now it's down to us, guys. Buddy isn't worth much, so we can't count on him right now." He started laying out his plan, believing he was ready for whatever came next.

Vern and Emil left the basement door wide open as they snuck out of the building and up the stairs.

Scully saw them coming a mile away. She eyed them thoughtfully for a moment, wondering if she should or should not shoot them, then voted for disabling them rather than killing them. Aiming her gun, she kept them in her sights until they had closed half the distance between the building and the cluster of trees where she was hiding with Mulder and finally fired both guns at once. Which put both of them out of business. With a bullet in one leg, they dropped like rag-dolls. Satisfied at her marksmanship and the fact that these shots would probably attract attention from whoever was out to rescue them, she devoted a bit of attention to her unconscious partner, at the same time trying to keep an eye on the two downed guys.

X X X

Across from the cafeteria

The first shot they had heard had been far away. AD Skinner had been the one to answer the phone and his temper had been sorely tried when the terrorists had informed him that Mulder was dead. He was more set on getting the rest of the agents out of that building now than ever before. Then the second and the third shot had followed in rapid succession. At that point, he had ordered the swat team to spread out behind the building and find out what was going on. They had reported back that one of the terrorists had been shot, but they hadn't seen by whom. And now there were two shots again. Skinner frowned and grabbed the walkie-talkie. "Team leader, do you copy? What's going on? Over!" he demanded of the team leader on the other side of the building.

"Team leader here. Apparently, we've got a shooter hiding somewhere near the back of the building. Whoever it is, that person just took out two more," the team leader replied. "We're moving in on the shooter. I expect that it's one of your agents. Over and out."

Skinner made a face. He was in such a state that he would personally take these terrorists apart when and if he could get his hands on them. Nothing would please him more than to blow them away. Growling under his breath, he started pacing, his eyes never leaving the front of the cafeteria.

"Sir?" Agent Teal turned up beside him, her eyes locked on the cafeteria, as well. "Do you think they are for real?" she wanted to know. "I mean, do you really think they... killed him?"

Skinner glanced at her, frowning. "They killed agent Cranston. That one's confirmed. So I don't really harbor any doubts about it. Unfortunately," he replied.

"Damn," she whispered.

"Yeah," he said, not knowing what else to say at the moment.

X X X

Scully heard a sound behind her and her immediate reaction was to whirl around, throw herself backward and aim the gun. A guy in a military outfit armed with an automatic riffle raised the riffle up. "Time out," he whispered. "I'm with the swat team. I take it you're federal agents?" he added.

Scully nodded. "Yes, we are," she replied and sat up again. "Sorry, you startled me."

Grinning, the solider moved closer. "I'm glad you didn't fire that. You're pretty sharp. Ever thought of joining the special forces?"

"No, I haven't. Listen, we need to get him to a hospital. He's been shot twice and has already lost too much blood," she replied, returning her attention to her partner.

The soldier squatted down and raised his walkie-talkie to his lips. "Team leader, this is one. Come in, please." There was a crackle and a curt reply. "I've got two agents here, one wounded. We need to get him out of here. Over."

"Copy that. What is your location? Over," the reply came.

"A cluster of trees straight out from the stairwell at the back," the soldier replied, keeping an watchful eye on the two figures on the ground. "There are two terrorists down here, as well. Not dead. Over."

"Copy that. On our way. Over and out," came the reply.

Scully watched in fascination when two more soldiers appeared out of nowhere to drag the two terrorists away. Then two more appeared behind them with a stretcher. They quickly loaded Mulder onto it and disappeared again.

The first solider held Scully back. "I need some info," he said. "How did you get out? Where are the terrorists and the remaining agents? Have they killed any more?"

Scully glanced after the stretcher, then turned her attention back to the man. "Uh... we got out through the basement. They're not very professional. They haven't stationed any guards down there. One is dead, two more are down, which leaves three upstairs in the kitchen and one in the basement we managed to knock out. I believe he has been found, though." She paused, getting the facts straight in her head, then nodded. "The remaining agents are in a storage room across from the basement entrance, which is down those stairs," she added, pointing. "There's a spiral staircase going up from the basement straight into the kitchen and a normal staircase, which leads up to the main cafeteria."

Grinning, he put a hand on her shoulder. "You've got a knack for detail, agent. I think you should get out of here now. We'll take it from here." With that he helped her up and gently pushed her toward another solider who had just turned up. "Better carry her. She's got no shoes on," he added.

The newest arrival nodded and scooped her up in his arms, not waiting to hear her comment on this. He briskly carried her away, taking the long way around. Scully had to admit that she didn't mind being carried. Having to walk through this area on bare feet would have been an invitation to an injury.

X X X

Outside the cafeteria

Skinner stopped his relentless pacing when the two swat team soldiers with the stretcher neared. He went to meet them, expecting to see anybody but Mulder on the stretcher. When he spotted his wayward agent, he stopped short and barely prevented himself from sighing with relief. The man was more lucky than most when it come to surviving impossible odds.

"Wow. Does he do that a lot?" Teal asked, staring in fascination as the soldiers carried Mulder toward the waiting ambulance.

Skinner briefly looked at her before returning his attention to the ambulance. "Do what?" he wanted to know, not entirely certain what she was talking about.

"Survive when everybody thinks he's dead?" Teal replied.

Smiling a little, Skinner nodded. "Yeah. He does that a lot."

The soldiers left Mulder in the care of the paramedics and hurried off again, eager to resume their dedicated positions. Moments later, another one turned up with Scully in his arms.

Skinner couldn't help smiling. Where Mulder was, Scully wasn't far behind. Especially when Mulder was injured. Stopping in front of her after the solider had put her down again. "Are you all right?" he wanted to know.

"Yes, just shoeless," she replied, her eyes already on the ambulance. "Can I go with them to the hospital?" she asked, looking up at Skinner.

"No, Scully. I want you here. They may need your advise. After this is over, I'll personally drive you to the hospital," he replied. Noting the look on her face, he put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Mulder will be fine. He's in capable hands. Don't worry about him."

Teal wrapped a friendly arm around Scully's shoulders. "He's one tough cookie, that one," she said, grinning.

"Yeah, he is. And thanks to you we got the back-up we needed," Scully replied.

"Hey, it's a dirty job but somebody's gotta do it," Teal said, nudging Scully in the side.

Scully glanced longingly at the ambulance as it pulled out and drove away. The siren wasn't on, which meant he wasn't in mortal danger. That at least was a consolation. Turning her attention to the events at hand, she heaved a deep breath. "Well, we sure manage to get ourselves into a mess every time we go somewhere," she said, shaking her head. "And Mulder is never going to let me live this down."

That comment made both Skinner and Teal frown. "Meaning?" Skinner wanted to know.

"I did my damndest to convince Mulder that this weekend would be fun and that he had to come. All I can say now is that he's jinxed. There's no other explanation. Whenever he tries to do something that normal people do, he gets hurt," she explained, her eyes scanning the front of the cafeteria.

"Jinxed?" Skinner asked, glancing at Teal, who shrugged. Those words, coming from Scully, surprised him a little. That was the kind of talk he was used to from Mulder. Not Scully. "Scully, Mulder is not jinxed. I consider him to be damned lucky. He does get hurt, yes, but he survives it every time. Although he may be a magnet for trouble, he's also protected in a way I can't understand."

Scully gave her boss a dubious look. "Well, he does get hurt even when he does get his way with things. Maybe you're right. It could be worse, I guess." Sighing heavily, she forced her mind away from her injured partner. "So, what's the deal with these guys? They didn't tell us anything worth while."

Skinner made a face. "They seem to be complete and utter morons," he replied. "I've been up against a lot of terrorists in my time and these guys rank among the bottom half. The ones that think they can get something out of taking people hostage, but are not really committed to the cause."

Scully frowned. "What are they demanding?"

"They want us to set two men free. Two men I've never heard of. We checked with the prison they mentioned and those two are there. One has been locked up for killing a convenient store clerk by accident, it seems. The other has robbed a few banks and also killed someone. They're both serving time for man slaughter." Shaking his head, Skinner had a hell of a time trying to keep his temper at bay. "The fact that they have killed agent Cranston and nearly killed agent Mulder warrants a man slaughter charge for all of them. What the hell they think they can accomplish by taking FBI agents hostage I don't know, though."

"I think they should be rather easy to overcome. There are only three of them left and I got the impression that the only one who had any brains at all was their leader," Scully replied.

"Did you get his name, by any chance? I think I know him," Skinner said.

"No, I didn't get his name. The only name I heard was Vern and I think that was one of the guys I shot," she said thoughtfully.

Skinner nodded. "I think this guy is Steven Umbracio. He's done a few break-ins, robbed some banks, killed a few people along the way. We've had a warrant out for his arrest for a few years now. Somehow, he's always given us the slip. This time, however, he won't. Dead or alive, we've got him now."

"I hope so," Scully said. "I hope so."

X X X

Inside the cafeteria

Steve kept watching the opposition on the other side of the compound from his vantage point near the kitchen doors leading out into the cafeteria, his expression strained. The only one with any kind of experience in this sort of thing had been Buddy and he was out cold. The concussion had to be worse than he had first thought.

Glancing over at his unconscious friend, he sneered. Now they were screwed for real. He knew it even before he heard the first signs of intrusion downstairs. After hearing the shots, he knew that both Vern and Emil had bought it. Somehow, that was okay, though. They would have blabbed, told the Feds what they wanted to know. Besides, they were just too damned stupid to go on living a life of crime.

After that, he had told his two remaining counterparts to get their asses down into the basement and keep watch. But they had refused, insisting that they should give up right away. That was not on Steve's agenda, though. Getting up, he looked toward the stairwell to the basement. "Fuck it," he grumbled. "We've got company."

"Yeah, man. I was just thinking the same thing," Bruce said and slowly rose. "What do you say we just give up? Maybe they'll go easier on us if we do."

Steve stared at him for a moment, then made a face. "Yeah, and maybe you'll get lucky and won't get gang-banged in the slammer. We killed one federal agent, you moron. Nearly killed another. And if Buddy had gotten his way, we could have added rape to the list. There is no way in hell that we'll avoid going to jail, pal." Pinching the bridge of his nose, he hissed silently. "I'd rather blow my own brains out than let those fuckers get to me."

Gene, the quiet one of the gang, rose from his hiding place, his dark-brown eyes scanning the kitchen for a moment. Then they settled on Steve. "You got us into this, you shit," he growled. "You convinced us it would be easy as pie. Now look at us. We stand between the choices of going to jail or killing ourselves. Nice going, pal," he added, angrily glaring at Steve.

"Yeah, well, I didn't hear you bellyaching before," Steve replied. "I..." he started, then froze at the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

"Drop your weapons," the solider who had just turned up at the top of the stairs yelled. "Drop them," he added in a harsh tone of voice before either of them could make a move to counter-attack.

All three men glanced at each other, then they all swirled to face the solider, raising their guns. They never had a chance. The second they started moving the solider knew what they were up to and that was when he opened fire, gunning all three down virtually at once. Steve took a little longer to die than his buddies, but he relished the thought that the correctional system wouldn't get its clammy hands on him. With the certain belief that they had won after all, he passed away moments later.

The solider glanced around, then raised his walkie-talkie to his lips. "Team leader. This is four. We have three dead terrorists. One still alive. No one else present in the kitchen. I'm moving on to the cafeteria itself. Over."

The walkie-talkie crackled. "Copy that, four. Move with extreme caution. Over."

The soldier made a quick sweep of the cafeteria after handcuffing Buddy and eventually returned to the kitchen. "Team leader. This is four. No further activity. We're in the clear. Over and out," he announced and squatted down next to the battered terrorist to wait for the rest of his team to catch up with him.

X X X

North-West Georgetown
Washington, D.C.

The hospital room was quiet apart from the steady ping of the heart-rate monitor. Mulder lay there with his eyes closed, trying to relax enough to fall asleep. But he couldn't. No matter how much he wanted to. He was drugged up to his ears to keep the pain from both his neck and his leg at bay and a plasma drop was hooked up to his right arm to restore the loss of blood he had suffered. Although he in general did not need the heart-rate monitor, the doctor had thought it a good idea to just keep an eye on him for a bit. The only thing Mulder wanted right now was to have Scully by his side. For some odd reason he couldn't sleep in a hospital if she wasn't there. He grinned weakly at the thought. It was funny how he thought of her sometimes. At times when he had previously always been alone, she would be there now. Sighing, he shifted his position a little, trying to get more comfortable.

"Hi, G-Man."

Smiling, he carefully turned his head a little. "Hi, G-Woman," he replied.

Scully smiled back at him. "How are you feeling?" she asked, stepping up beside the bed.

"Aw, I've felt better. But, then again, I've also felt worse. I think I'll pull through," he said, chuckled, then briefly closed his eyes at an uncomfortable sensation running through him.

Scully sat down on a chair, fighting to keep her smile on her lips. She was worried about him. More than she ever had been before. "Yeah?" she asked. "The doctor thinks you've merely lost too much blood, but that you will pull through, all right. I have no doubts about that, either." Shifting a little, she grabbed his left hand with both of hers. "One of the terrorists who survived was the one who shot you. According to what they can tell, he was also the one who shot Cranston. You're very lucky to be alive, Mulder."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't be in this shape if I hadn't gone on that trip," he replied, smiling.

Scully hesitated before responding to that one. "And maybe you would. Because I would have gone and..."

"No, you wouldn't," he cut her off. "Skinner wouldn't have sent you if I hadn't gone."

Smiling, she shook her head. "Now you tell me," she said, patting his hand gently. "You see? We do need to work on our communication skills. Mainly because you never tell me what you're up to." Making a face, she hoped he didn't take it wrong. "Anyway, how are you really feeling?"

"What? You mean apart from two bullet wounds, a concussion and bruised ribs?" he replied, thinking of a snide remark to add to that one. Then he noted the look in her eyes and grew serious. "Actually, I feel like I've been run over by a steamroller. Nice concept, that. Makes me thing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Chuckling, Scully had to admit that despite the injuries he had mentioned, he was doing okay. He had to be. He was joking. "Judge Dread... no, no... Doom. His name was Judge Doom, right?" she replied. "The guy in black who got run over by that steamroller?"

"Yeah, that's right," he replied, giving her an admiring look. "You watch cartoons?"

"Sometimes. When I have time for it," she replied. "Why don't you try to get some rest? I take it your concussion isn't bad enough to warrant keeping you awake?"

"No, not really," he consented, his fingers closing harder around her hand. "Will you stay a while?" he added, feeling drowsy now.

"Yes, I'll be right here," she told him. "I've got nowhere else to go, partner," she added and was pleased to see him smile weakly before he slipped off into dreamland. Leaning back on the chair, she held onto his hand. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," she whispered, her eyes on his face.

He heard her. Whether in sleep or still awake she didn't know. And it didn't matter. He smiled briefly.

Scully watched him sleep, memorizing every inch of his face as if she hadn't done that a million times before. This time around had been worse than usual. And she knew why. She blamed herself for the mess they had ended up in. Mainly because she had pushed him so hard to go. Maybe he had a knack for sensing danger ahead? At least sometimes. Mostly, though, he would rush headlong into danger, never stopping once to check if the coast was clear. And Scully had often wondered if he wasn't actually just a tad suicidal. Maybe he wanted it all to end? Maybe he wanted out of this life which had so far brought him nothing more than pain? Shaking her head, she carefully placed his hand on the bed and leaned back again, staring at him. If that was the case, then he wasn't consciously thinking of it.  He tried to unravel a twisted past which had left him with more questions than answers. He was uncertain of everything, unsure of where life would lead him. But, mostly, he was uncertain of where he had been. She hoped that someday, he would be able to fit all the pieces together and find the ultimate truth that he was so desperately searching for. Whether it was hidden in aliens from other planets or a government conspiracy made fairly little difference. The only thing which mattered was that he found what he was looking for. Maybe then would he allow himself to enjoy life a little.

THE END