At the ping of an incoming email he lifted his head from the pile of expense reports on his desk. He looked sideways at the screen of his cell phone, still lit with the email alert, and his eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the name of the sender. He grabbed his phone, unlocked it, then glared at the content of the email with growing agitation. How this guy O'Malley had gotten access to his private email was beyond him, but it spoke of determination he was well-familiar with. The guy was relentless as much as he was paranoid. Sort of like the person he was so adamantly trying to reach. He knew the type, and so he knew empty excuses wouldn't appease the younger man. This was the fifth email in the span of three days, arriving in quick succession after about four calls his secretary refused to pass through the previous week. This was a guy who wouldn't take no for an answer. And so, cursing under his breath, he typed in a brief reply, affirming the man's request, then set out on a reluctant search mission. After all, it wouldn't be the first time he would attempt to bring Fox Mulder back from the dead.
It felt like a lifetime ago when he had been Mulder and Scully's superior. He remembered the last time he saw them – when they assisted with that bizarre case of the missing FBI agent years ago. One for the books, for sure; a pedophile priest having visions, a twisted doctor desperate to save his lover, and leaving dozens of casualties in his wake. He wasn't even aware of their involvement until Scully contacted him in a panic. That was when he realized he had really become detached from everything that happened outside his office. The return of the prodigal X Files team was big news around the Hoover building, and yet it somehow passed right by him, until that call. Her voice came as a complete shock, a true blast from the past, and even more shocking was seeing her later. She had inevitably aged, but she was still beautiful, even more so, although he was hardly objective in the matter. In the years since then they kept in touch, but infrequently, the way old acquaintances usually did, on birthdays and Christmas. He knew where they lived now, which was somewhat comforting after all these years of uncertainty.
But now he needed them, and two days following his confirmation to O'Malley, he was stumped. After the third email arrived earlier in the week, mostly to satiate his own curiosity, he drove by the farmhouse in Farrs Corner, but found the place dark and supposedly deserted, without a car in sight, which made him wonder if they'd even still lived there. Mulder wasn't answering his phone – at least the number that had been in his possession. The text he'd attempted to send bounced back, and there didn't seem to be an answering service available. It made sense in a way; Mulder was infamous in his tendency to change phone numbers every few months, a paranoid habit he had picked up along the way and had never grown out of. Scully's cell phone number remained the same – her voice on the voicemail confirmed it. He left her a message urging her to call him, but that was hours ago. Time was of the essence. Sooner or later, O'Malley would just email him again. The other day his secretary was able to confirm that Scully was still employed at the same hospital that was listed on his records. A positive sign, surely. With a deep sigh he lifted the receiver again and tried the hospital directory.
"I'm putting you through now, Sir," a helpful nurse finally said. He barely managed to thank her when there was a rustle, and then her.
She sounded as if she had aged a thousand years, but at the same time her voice was comfortably familiar. "Dana." It seemed silly to revert back to last names given their history. "Hi. I'm sorry to be calling you at work. I've been trying to reach you on your cell."
"Were you? I'm sorry, I left it in my office, I've been in the OR all morning." Alongside the new maturity in her voice, he could definitely detect exhaustion as well. He could picture her so clearly, leaning against the reception counter to take some weight off her weary feet, the phone pressed to her ear. She would still be wearing her bloody scrubs, a sharp contrast to the power suits he had remembered from back in the day. "How have you been? Is everything okay?"
"Yes and no, I... Something came up and I was hoping you could help me find Mulder."
There was a sharp intake of breath on her end. She cleared her throat in a futile attempt to conceal it. Almost as if his vague request had caught her off-guard, he mused, but banished the thought as soon as it had entered his mind. Absurd. Why would it –
"Yes. I've been trying to reach him and I obviously don't have the correct number; he must have changed it several times since the last time we've spoken."
She let out a heavy sigh; in his mind's eye she was closing her eyes while rubbing her temple. Based on that sound alone, he began to wonder if perhaps he was too quick to dismiss this new suspicion that now didn't let him go. "Sir, I... This may come as a surprise, but I haven't seen Mulder in a while."
It was his turn to be caught off-guard. "What do you mean?" The question slipped out before he managed to hold it back, because frankly, the meaning of the words couldn't be clearer; or more astonishing, for that matter. "You're not..." He couldn't even bring himself to ask it. The shift from partners to lovers had always remained somewhat of a taboo. At first given the circumstances – he was their boss and broaching the issue seemed highly inappropriate. He harbored his suspicions of course; it would be idiotic not to, when it came to these two. The way she cornered him to plead with him to watch Mulder's back in Oregon, blushing in a way that was by no means partnerly, the very fact of her miraculous pregnancy, how utterly broken she was throughout Mulder's absence, and the way she never left his side following his return from the dead, witnessing their desperate kiss in that prison cell upon their reunion. But even later, the last time they met, when there was no reason to hide in shadows or keep secrets, there was this wordless agreement this was something that shouldn't be openly discussed.
Nonetheless, she understood what he was asking her now. "I left three years ago. We text occasionally and I've seen him every now and again since, but..."
She let her voice trail with something like guilt in her voice, and without knowing the gritty details, he could hear the pain each and every one of those words inflicted. "Dana..."
"I had to get out of there," she cut him off, as if feeling a need to explain herself. There was almost an apology in her tone, as if she feared he would judge her, wouldn't think her entitled to make such a bold step simply for her own sake. "It was... Things got... He wasn't getting better. He didn't want to get better. I had to..."
She sounded distressed, and he wanted to kick himself for making her relive whatever traumatic event that had made her walk out of that house. He remembered how frantic she was all those years ago when she asked for his help following Mulder's disappearance. During the drive she mentioned in passing that he had become a bit of a recluse over the years, that she'd feared his current mental state would eventually decline and turn into a full-on bout of depression, but he honestly didn't give it more than a moment's thought, especially after seeing the two of them at the hospital later, whispering and touching and kissing when they thought no one was looking. He certainly didn't think things would worsen, cast such a shadow on their relationship. But hearing her now... He had known her well enough to know she wouldn't throw in the towel just like that. These two had shared such a bond. After all these years... Something big must have happened. This was not an easy decision to make; that he knew with absolute certainty.
"I'm so sorry," he said, and he was. Even though there was probably nothing he could possibly do. Thinking back on what she'd told him back then, it was quite possibly an accident waiting to happen.
"It's fine. You didn't know."
"I didn't mean to trouble you with this; I'm sure you're very busy. I'll find a way to reach him somehow."
"No, I... I'll help you. I just don't know if I can."
"You don't have to," he insisted gently.
"I want to."
"You don't think he moved, do you? I drove by the house the other day..."
"I doubt it. He just rarely bothers to answer the door." She cleared her throat again, as if to shake away the mental image. "What is this about? The thing you need his help with? Is it an X File?"
He thought of O'Malley's emails. They were well-penned but not very informative. He simply demanded to contact Fox Mulder; said something about the truth wanting out. Watching a bit of his show online, he could only guess what that would be about. "I'm not sure what to make of it, to be honest. This is such a strange time. Are you familiar with Truth Squad? It's a web show hosted by one Tad O'Malley."
"The name rings a bell. I don't think I ever watched it though, no."
"The guy reached out to me, saying he was referred to you two by an old acquaintance of Mulder's."
"That he didn't say. But he was very adamant I would try to contact him. He needs to meet him; said it was important."
There was a beat, and he wasn't entirely sure what it meant. He wanted to take back his request, tell her he would work it out by himself, but instead she let out a bitter chuckle. "Mulder once said I was like his booking agent these days," she said, her tone more exasperated than nostalgic. "I hate it when he's right." Before he managed to respond, she sighed again with certain resignation. "If you give me a few days, I can try and locate him for you."
She sounded so sad; it was heartbreaking. He shook his head. "Dana, if this is too painful..."
"It's fine, Sir. I owe you a lot more than this. We both do." There was some regret in her tone, as if she too realized how long it had been. "Let me see what I can do, okay? Are you on the same number? I'll text you when I know more."
"I left the number on your answering service."
"I know," she cut him off gently. "I'm sorry too."
There was a click, and then she was gone. He glanced at the email on his phone again, then removed his glasses. As he rubbed the bridge of his nose, he wondered what he'd just gotten himself into.