text file (52k)
When Mulder gets caught in an explosion,
Scully wonders if she'll ever see her partner alive again,
and just what she'll say to him when she does.
CLASSIFICATION: S, A
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.
* * * * *
Scully pulled the car into the circular drive of the Russell MacGruder office building and slowed in front of the glass doors. With his hand on the latch, her partner was practically out of the vehicle before she came to a complete stop.
"Sorry I got you here late, Mulder. I didn't realize traffic would be this bad."
Completely out of the car by now, he leaned back through the open door to address her before leaving. "It's as much my fault as it is yours. I'll just catch a cab when I'm done here. I still need to check out Mrs. Gallagher's alibi. I'll meet you at the morgue by noon and then we can go catch some lunch and compare notes." Without further ado, he shut the door and bounded into the building.
* * *
Mulder shifted impatiently as he stood waiting for the elevator. He was already five minutes late for his appointment with Mr. Wallace. While the man was not officially a suspect in this case, his over-solicitousness at providing information about his neighbors, and his insistence on meeting at his workplace during office hours rather than at his home, cast suspicion on his character. Mulder intuited that the man was hiding something and thus was eager to begin this interview so he could get a better idea of what his secret might be.
After glancing at his watch once again, Mulder finally decided that waiting for the elevator any longer was a waste of precious time. Mr. Wallace's office was only on the third floor, so he could take the stairs instead.
Heading into the stairwell adjacent to the elevator, the lanky agent took the stairs two at a time. Preoccupied as he was with the ensuing interview, he failed to take notice of the footsteps approaching from above, or he might have avoided the otherwise inevitable collision. As he rounded the landing between the second and third floors, someone about half his size came into direct contact with his midsection and, being only half his size, ricocheted backwards into the stairs. Instinctually he reached out and was able to catch his assailant before she collided with anything further.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
The little girl, no more than 10 years old, responded to his contrition with rounded eyes still displaying her shock. Mulder loosened the grasp he had on her arm, which had delayed her backward motion, and knelt down to her level. This seemed to comfort her a little.
"Yeah, I'm okay. You just surprised me. Mom always says I should pay more attention to where I'm going."
The agent smiled warmly at her. "Yeah, my mom used to tell me that all the time, too. I guess I never learned that lesson." He stood up again and stepped to the side, out of her path. "I guess we should both start listening to our mothers, huh?"
The girl smiled shyly up at him and mumbled a "yeah" before continuing her descent down the stairs toward the landing.
Mulder turned toward his own destination and was distractedly wondering if this girl's mother knew where she was at the moment, when there was a loud noise that seemed to come at him from every direction, and his world went black.
Scully was sitting at a red light waiting impatiently to get out of traffic when she heard a loud blast behind her. There was no sound of glass breaking nearby, but she felt the vibration rumble through her car and knew that it must have been very near. Horrific visions of a building in Dallas came running through her head. She had experienced enough explosions in her line of work to recognize this sound for what it was and the sheer magnitude of it.
It was clear that traffic would be going nowhere soon as several people around her got out of their cars and started looking in the direction behind her. Through the rearview mirror she could see the beginnings of black smoke wafting up above the skyline somewhere a few blocks away. With a sinking feeling in her stomach but trying to fight off the rising panic, Scully turned the radio to the AM band and started searching for a news station. Surely this type of thing would quickly become breaking news, wouldn't it? She had to know what building that was.
Finding a station that was in the middle of advertising "news and traffic every ten minutes," she left the dial there and turned her attention back to the road. A few cars were moving now, although the majority had pulled over to the side only slightly and were still blocking the way. Some careful maneuvering enabled her to do a u-turn and head back in the direction from which she had come, but she only made it another block before she heard sirens behind her and was once again clogged up in traffic as the cars around her tried to move aside to make room for the emergency vehicles.
Just as she got her car sufficiently out of the way to allow passage for the fire engine that had been waiting behind her, the news station finally came through for her and started broadcasting information on the explosion. Unfortunately, as she soon realized, they had no more idea which building had been the target than she did. But the feeling of dread inside told her exactly which one it was.
The first awareness was of blackness and smoke. With smoke it seemed there should have been alarms of some sort, but there was only an eerie silence. And a distant ringing. But as he became more fully conscious, Mulder realized that the ringing was in his own ears.
Before trying to move, he opened his eyes and assessed the situation. He was still a little foggy on what had happened, but he remembered the noise and the impact. An explosion, he realized. A bomb, or maybe a gasline. He was sprawled out on the landing where he must have slid to after being knocked back from the step on which he had been standing. Although he ached all over, including his head, everything seemed to be in good working condition. There was dim enough light surrounding him from distant emergency lighting for him to guess that the darkness wasn't a result of damaged eyesight. His ears were still ringing slightly, but after snapping his fingers on both sides of his head, it was clear that he still had his hearing, although everything seemed muffled and distant.
As he continued his assessment, another sound broke through the ringing. It was hard to make out the noise, but it was almost like a whimpering. Upon this recognition, Mulder suddenly remembered the encounter just before the explosion; he was no longer concerned about his own condition as all thoughts flew toward the little girl.
After several futile attempts to move through traffic, Scully finally abandoned that idea and double-parked her rental car to continue on foot. If the car got towed, so be it. Besides, no one would be driving out of this neighborhood anytime soon.
As she moved, the sidewalks were full of confusion, mostly from gawkers who had poured out of office buildings and stood around speculating about what had happened. For the first time that morning, the heavy traffic had actually turned into a blessing as Scully realized she had only made it about four blocks away after dropping Mulder off. First fighting her way through the sidewalks, and then taking to the street since traffic was at a standstill, she finally came to the roadblock that the police had established, just out of sight of the victimized building.
Her FBI badge and the explanation that she was also a doctor and could provide emergency medical assistance got Scully beyond the barrier. A few more steps to clear the outline of the buildings that surrounded her brought her into sight of the destruction and took away her remaining breath: it was indeed the building where she had left her partner less than half an hour ago, and at first glance the devastation looked much worse than Dallas.
After groping around in his pockets, Mulder was relieved to find that he had packed his small Maglite that morning. Scully often complained that he seemed to forget it just as often as he dropped his gun or lost his cell phone, which is perhaps why he had gone out of his way of late to remember it.
Following the sound of the noise further down the stairwell, he soon found the little girl that he had run into right before the blast. She appeared to be conscious, but just barely. He quickly scanned her body to find that her right leg appeared to be trapped under some debris that was blocking the way to the second floor.
"Hey, can you hear me? I need to know if you're okay."
The girl only whimpered in response, but her eyes were open now as her unfocused gaze searched for the owner of the voice. Mulder knelt down over her and leaned further into her line of sight.
"My name's Mulder. We met just a few minutes ago, on the stairs. Can you tell me your name?"
The girl's brow furrowed as if she had to think hard about this question, but her eyes were starting to focus on his face as her lips moved to form a reply. "Jamie." Her voice seemed rather weak, although Mulder wasn't sure how much of that was a result of his hearing. At least she was cogent enough to answer him.
"Jamie, I need you to tell me where it hurts."
"My leg." She tried to use her arm to gesture toward the leg in question but seemed too weak to lift it very high.
"Your leg seems to be trapped under some debris. I'm going to try to get you out of there, but only if it's safe to move you. Can you tell me if it hurts anywhere else?"
Mulder shined the flashlight around the girl's head and saw a little bit of blood around her forehead, but not enough for a serious head wound. It was possible she had a concussion, but the disorientation could also just be from the pain. He couldn't assess her leg, but the debris looked rather heavy, containing large chunks of concrete and steel from the collapsed wall. If she had any injury to her spine, he knew he shouldn't try moving her, but her body was lying at an awkward angle on the stairs. After a quick check, he determined that she didn't have any paralysis, so he decided to risk it.
His first effort was simply to trying pulling her out, but it swiftly became clear that not only was she not budging but it was also causing her further pain. As the girl's whimpers now turned into sobs, Mulder dropped his flashlight and cradled her in his arms, whispering apologies and trying to offer her comfort.
When Jamie finally quieted down, he wiped away her tears and tried to get her attention to make sure that she was still with him.
"Jamie, look at me. I'm so sorry I hurt you like that. I'm going to get your leg out, and I'll try my best not to hurt you again, but I need to you be strong for me and stay with me. Do you think you can do that?" She nodded slowly as she looked up at him with her sad eyes and sniffled. "Okay, do you think you can try singing for me?" The arched eyebrow reminded him distinctly of someone else he knew and almost made him laugh. "As long as you're singing, then I know you're still awake, and I need you to stay awake for me. Think of something your mom taught you, or maybe something you sing at school."
Jamie seemed to ponder this for a moment and then quietly started to sing a tune that was unfamiliar to him. While she softly sang, Mulder turned his attention to the pile of debris. Removing his jacket, he rolled it up and put it under Jamie's head for a pillow. He realized then that this brought his holster into view, so he decided to remove it and place it back up on the landing so he wouldn't make her any more uneasy.
Rolling up his sleeves, he assessed his obstacle. Most of the pieces of cement looked rather manageable, but they were tangled up with steel bars sticking out at odd angles, and he wasn't sure how stable it might be once he started shifting it around. At least gravity was on his side. He only hoped that he wasn't going to find one of those steel bars imbedded into Jamie's leg once he got it unburied.
After wandering around the rescue scene for a bit, Scully discovered that the police really knew very little yet about what had happened and that the only place she could make herself of use was with the medical workers. Staff and supplies were still slowly arriving from various points around the city, but there were plenty of people lined up to be treated or assessed while not enough hands to meet the demands. Finding someone in charge, Scully offered her services and was soon given a station and a first aid kit and rolled up her sleeves to dig in.
Looking around her, it was clear that the scene contained all levels of injury. There were already several yellow sheets covering human-sized mounds, indicating fatalities awaiting identification and body bags. Several other people were lying on stretchers, being attended on the spot or waiting for the next available ambulance. Still others were walking wounded--bleeding, disoriented, but alive and intact. And none of them was a tall, dark man dressed like an FBI agent.
Forcing down her feeling of desperation, Scully forced herself to focus on the task before her. Here were people she could help, and while she did, maybe someone else would be helping Mulder.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mulder finally felt like he was making headway at clearing the debris. He had already uncovered Jamie's leg to the ankle and was hoping that soon he would again be able to try pulling her free, but this time with more success. Thankfully, there was no evidence so far that anything had punctured the skin, but the odd angle at which her ankle was twisted and the swelling in her leg made it clear that something in there was broken.
Every now and then the singing would stop and he would turn back to his companion to find her looking up at him with glassy eyes and would urge her to continue singing. The selection included various children's songs, some of which he remembered from his own childhood and some that he had never heard before. They brought back memories of another sweet child's voice singing in a bedroom across the hall from his own, and with every stanza he silently promised Jamie that he would get her out of there and she would see her mother again.
At last, Mulder had cleared enough of the cement chunks that he felt confident in moving her. Sitting down on the step above her and placing one long leg on either side of her for leverage, he moved into position and explained to her what he was going to do. After apologizing ahead of time for how much this might hurt and getting her promises to be brave for him, he took hold of her around the middle and with one swift pull jerked her free of the rubble.
Upon her release, he became aware of two loud noises at once. One was the sound of Jamie shrieking in pain; the other was the sound of the debris collapsing in protest of being moved so suddenly. When the dust settled, they were left in relative silence, with Jamie's sobs once again tapering off to whimpers. With one more apology, Mulder swiftly picked her up and turned to lay her down on the landing, hoping that he wouldn't have to move her again without a gurney.
Looking down below them, Mulder found his jacket, which had not disappeared under the rubble, and again placed it under Jamie's head as a pillow. He knelt down on the lower steps so that his upper body was about level with hers and gently caressed her forehead until the girl had quieted down again. He had no idea if he had caused her any further damage by moving her, and he wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to keep her awake. Not for the first time that morning, he wished desperately that Scully were there. She would know what to do for the girl.
Once the first wave of injured had slowed down, paired also with the arrival of more medical personnel, Scully took advantage of the lull to place a few phone calls. The first was to Mulder, in the off chance that she could actually get through to him and find out if he was okay, but there was no answer. Her second call was to Skinner to apprise him of the situation. She explained to him that she had no idea of her partner's status and really knew very little about his location with respect to the explosion or the cause of the blast and would be grateful for any information Skinner could provide if he was able to learn more through inside channels. Although quite proud of herself for remaining poised throughout the call, she felt anything but.
The third call was her undoing. She called her mother to reassure her that yes, while she was in the same city, no, she was not in the building, and to please say a prayer for Mulder. By the end of the call she could no longer hold back her tears and had to hang up abruptly before she lost her composure completely.
Earlier in the morning, Scully had already added her partner's name to the list of the missing, and now she began to search through the names of those already accounted for to see if he might have been taken to a local hospital. While the workers were keeping as complete records as they could at this point, the paperwork was by no means organized. By the time she had sorted through to the bottom of the pile in vain, her help was needed again, and she returned to her role as Florence Nightingale.
In response to Mulder's caresses and humming, Jamie had finally drifted off to sleep. He thought it was better to leave her in peace than to make her stay awake through the pain. Although he would continue to monitor her breathing, he felt there was little else he could do for her.
Leaving the girl behind on the landing, Mulder took up his flashlight and turned toward the third floor. While he didn't feel that heading to a higher floor in a collapsing building was the wisest thing to do, the way to the second floor was completely blocked, so upward was the only option. After several strong tugs on the access door, he found that it wouldn't budge. He decided to try one of the higher levels, but on turning the corner toward the fourth floor, he discovered another mangled pile of rubble blocking his way. Well, at least now he knew why he hadn't encountered any other people trying to leave the building by this route. And who knew if those floors even still existed for people to try to escape?
Mulder sat down on the landing above the third floor and stared down at the door. This left him with three options for escape, and none of them seemed very promising: unblocking the path to the fourth floor, trying to open the door to three, or unblocking the path to two. Both the first and third options also presented the possibility of leading to further jammed doors. He decided that attacking the debris above him would be foolish because it could cascade down on them and make things worse, so that left him with one choice for now.
"Monty, I'll try door number three."
By noon the wounded mostly consisted of rescue workers being treated for minor burns or smoke inhalation, and the rescue effort was transitioning into recovery. As the need tapered off, some of the medical staff on loan from the local hospitals had returned to work, where they were needed to treat the survivors who had been carted off to the various emergency rooms. Most all of the patients at the hospitals had been identified and added to the list at the site, but still no Mulder.
At the far end of the medical tent, a table had been cleared off to make room for several boxes of pizza that had been donated by a local pizza parlor, and most of the idle personnel were wandering in that direction for some much-needed and much-deserved sustenance. As for Scully, she found that the idea of lunch only reminded her that she should be meeting her partner right about now to find some greasy spoon and sit down to compare notes on the investigation.
The investigation--she had almost completely forgotten about it. She had at least thought to call their contact at the police department and inform him of their situation, but it hadn't even crossed her mind to go searching for Mr. Wallace. While the thought of finding him brought hope that maybe the man would have news about her partner, she also dreaded the discovery. If he hadn't survived, and he was in the same room as Mulder at the time.... She didn't even want to complete the thought.
As Scully sat down on an empty crate and stared absently at the building, she was startled out of her thoughts by a gentle voice beside her.
"Not hungry either, huh?"
Scully turned and squinted up at the source of the voice, who moved around to her other side and sat down on another crate next to her.
"No, I can't say that I am."
The woman seated next to Scully wore nurse's scrubs and the same weary expression as the agent herself.
"I'm sorry to pry, but, are you looking for someone, too?"
Scully regarded the woman for a moment and then returned her gaze to the devastation in front of them. "My partner. He had a meeting here this morning. I had just dropped him off when it happened." Turning back to the nurse, she said, "And you? I'm assuming by your question that you're also looking for somebody."
The woman gave her a weak smile and then looked down at the stethoscope in her hands. "My fiance. He works in that building. I know he was running late this morning, but I'm pretty sure he was already there when.... If not, he would have called me by now."
There was a moment of quiet commiseration between the women. "By the way, my name's Annie."
Scully smiled over at her and offered her hand. "Dana." It was a small comfort, but somehow enough, to know that in the midst of all this chaos, somebody understood how it felt to be personally involved.
A few minutes passed as both silently watched the activity around them before either spoke again.
"You know, we've only been engaged for a week." Scully turned her head to look at Annie, who was focused on the stethoscope again. "Bruce proposed to me almost six months ago, but I didn't say yes until last week."
The nurse now turned her head toward her new friend to further explain. "I seem to have a commitment phobia. I watched my mother go through three divorces, so I've always been rather apprehensive about marriage. But Bruce was so patient with me. He said that he'd wait forever for me." The last few words were choked with tears as Annie smiled a bittersweet smile.
"He sounds like a good man." Although she felt like the statement was trite, Scully knew that the woman next to her needed to hear some supportive words as she struggled to control her emotions.
"He is. I can't lose him, not now. But I'm so glad that I finally said yes. Wherever he is right now, at least he knows how much I love him."
Scully wasn't sure what to say to this. She and her partner had faced this situation too many times, with one possibly losing the other permanently. Had this become almost mundane for them? To someone who had never faced this trauma before, the occasion magnified lost moments and things left unsaid. But for Scully, such thoughts had not even occurred to her, until now. Was it possible that she may never see Mulder again and never have the chance to express how she truly felt about him?
Now lost deep in her own thoughts, Scully didn't notice at first when Annie rose next to her and mumbled something about going to get food. After Scully's attention was brought back to the present, the two women exchanged names and descriptions of the men they sought, along with promises to let the other know immediately if they discovered anything about the other's missing. As Annie wandered off to the food table, Scully remained seated, contemplating past regrets and opportunities lost.
After working at the unyielding door for well over an hour, Mulder couldn't decide what was worse: the protests of his empty stomach, the aching in his back, or the pounding in his head. On the bright side, at least the ringing in his ears seemed to be gone--if only he could get more excited about that fact.
Slumping down on the landing next to Jamie, Mulder once again leaned over to check her breathing. It was labored, but still there. She was obviously a tough little girl, and as long as her determination held out, so would his. Escape route number one had failed, so he decided it was time to try for option number two. Even if it was futile, the only alternative was to sit there and wait, which didn't seem very promising right now. He just hoped that the batteries in his flashlight would hold out long enough for him to make some progress.
Deciding that he'd had a long enough breather, Mulder gently climbed over Jamie's recumbent form and headed back down to the pile of debris he had been working on before. Holding the flashlight in his mouth, he slowly started to pull away the concrete, piece by piece.
After lunch had been consumed, many of the remaining medical personnel were thanked for their efforts and sent on their way. Scully refused to budge from the scene and knew that she could still make herself useful in a capacity that better befit her expertise: as a forensic pathologist. She had been avoiding the makeshift morgue for as long as possible, unwilling to face what she might find, but now it was the only place left for her to keep busy.
Upon finding the medical examiner, Scully explained her experience in pathology and volunteered her services. She still hadn't offered to anyone but Annie the information that her true purpose was to find her partner, for fear that she would kindly be told to go to the waiting area with the other anxious family members.
The unhappy task before the coroner's staff was to identify what remains they could and assess a preliminary cause of death. For some of the deceased, this was easy enough because they carried identification on them and could be matched with a name on the list. But far too many of them were mangled beyond easy recognition and lacked any obvious identifying factors. For these, they could only compile whatever distinctive information was possible to be offered to waiting family members for identification, until the corpses that remained could be taken back to the morgue and compared with dental records or DNA samples.
As she moved from body to body, Scully went through the same ritual: a deep breath to brace herself for the worst, a hesitant withdrawal of the yellow sheet or the zipper on the body bag, a sigh of relief, and a businesslike return to the task at hand. Each sigh of relief turned into a mantra in her head: "It's not him; maybe he's still alive."
The tentative picking at the rubble had turned into labored clawing and then finally frustrating kicking, and it seemed that Mulder had reached an impasse. The pile just didn't want to budge, and every time he appeared to be making some headway, the smaller pieces would shift again to cover the hole he had just made. While gravity was keeping the debris from coming back at him, it also was conspiring against him. Even though he felt he had made a small dent on the right side of the mass, there was no way to know just how thick the barrier was and how far he would have to dig to find a way out.
Pausing from his work, Mulder stood up and wiped the back of his hand across his brow. Between the dust from the cement and the sweat from his labor, he was quite a mess. Somewhere between the third floor and the second, his dress shirt had been removed and draped over Jamie as a poor excuse for a blanket. He knew that eventually all this movement might prove detrimental to their oxygen supply, but it seemed that their portion of stairwell was large enough to give them plenty of air for a good while. He also realized that being sealed off in here may have proved to their advantage in one respect: after that initial whiff of smoke after the explosion, there had been no more. If they'd had to deal with the smoke as well, they probably wouldn't even have lasted this long.
A noise behind him caused Mulder to turn abruptly. Jamie was moving around a little and seemed to be coming awake. He knelt down beside her and started stroking her hair again to see if she would return to consciousness. Eventually a set of confused eyes blinked up at him.
"Mornin' sunshine. How're ya feeling?"
"My leg hurts." The pain was clear on her face, and Mulder wished again that there was more he could do to help her.
"I know it hurts, sweetheart. We're going to have to wait here for someone to help us, and then they can take care of the pain."
Mulder's face fell. "I don't know, Jamie. Do you know where she was?"
"In her office. We had the day off of school, and Mommy said I could visit the office with her if I would be good. Daddy was going to come pick me up at lunchtime."
Mulder finally asked the question that had been nagging at him since he first ran into the girl--literally. "What were you doing in the stairwell, Jamie?"
Her face crumbled a little bit. "Mommy said I could go down to the snack machines and get candy. They're in the basement. I told her I could do it all by myself, and she said it was okay but I had to come right back. But I didn't come back, and Mommy's still waiting for me."
The last few words had turned into sobs, and Mulder attempted to hold the girl without moving her. He was trying his best to remain the stolid federal agent, but he kept having flashes of an eight-year-old girl with brown curls, alone in a strange place and crying for her mother. If only he could have held her like this when she needed him.
As Jamie quieted, Mulder attempted to engage her in conversation to keep her alert and distract her from the pain. "Do you have any brothers or sisters, Jamie?"
"No. I asked Mommy for a little brother for Christmas, but she got me a dog instead."
Mulder couldn't help but smile at this naive interpretation of adult logic. "What's the dog's name?"
"Lady. Like Lady and the Tramp. Mommy says she's not the same kind of dog as in the movie, but I think she looks just the same. Daddy says she acts more like a tramp than a lady."
This remark elicited a laugh, although he suspected that the girl didn't fully understand her father's comment.
"Do you have a dog, mister?"
"Call me Mulder." This earned a confused look, and he chuckled. "It's my last name, but that's what my friends call me. You're my friend now, right?"
Jamie smiled weakly back at him. "Right."
That settled, he returned to her previous question. "Well, I don't have a dog, but I do have goldfish."
"We had a goldfish at school once, but it died and we had to flush it down the toilet. Do you have a family?"
Mulder paused at this for moment. While he didn't have a family of his own in any conventional sense, there was one person that immediately sprang to mind when he heard the term. "No, I'm not married. But I do have a good friend who's very special to me. I guess I consider her family, in a way."
"What's her name?"
"Her name's Dana, but I call her Scully. That's her last name. How about you; what's your last name?"
"Meier. But I like being called Jamie."
Mulder chuckled again. The girl caught on fast. Her voice was weak, but he was encouraged by how alert she seemed.
With his minimal progress in the escape attempts, he felt now that his time was best spent keeping Jamie as healthy as possible until someone could find them. Without Scully to guide him, all he could offer was limited first aid and soothing company. And so it was that the two companions continued to chat about everything and nothing until long after the flashlight had extinguished itself and left them alone in the shadows.
By mid-afternoon, even the work at the morgue had slowed down, and the idle ambulances were starting to cart the identified bodies off the medical examiner's office. Scully had managed to remain fairly optimistic throughout her grim duties until she scanned an updated casualty list and found Mr. Wallace listed among the deceased. Whatever information he might have had for her, either about her partner or about their case, he took with him to the grave.
Preliminary reports had come back about the explosion and were unofficially filtering through the ranks of rescue workers. It looked like the cause was indeed a large bomb somewhere on the second or third floor at the east end of the building. Having never been inside of the building herself, Scully wasn't sure where this was in relation to Wallace's office, and so far she hadn't been able to find anyone who knew that information either.
As Scully wearily scanned through yet another list of unidentified remains looking for anything familiar, a general commotion began to stir up behind her. She turned around to see several firemen rushing toward the center of the building while the other workers gathered to watch what was going on. Uncertain what this meant, Scully spotted a familiar face nearby and went over to ask what was happening.
"Annie, what's going on?"
The nurse turned to face Scully as she came up alongside her. "They finally got through to the elevator. There are people alive in there."
As both women stood there desperately hoping for the best, Scully was surprised as she felt a chilled hand grab hold of her own. Without removing her eyes from the site of her hope, she squeezed Annie's hand in reassurance and held on tight.
Sometime in the last half hour Jamie had drifted off again, and this time Mulder held his post at her side. Without the flashlight, it was almost useless for him to resume working on the debris. He laid his head next to Jamie's, letting the sound of her breathing lull him into a light slumber, although he was afraid to fall asleep completely lest he wake and find that her breathing had stopped.
A distant sound pulled Mulder back to consciousness. In the darkness it was a little difficult to tell exactly where the noise originated, but eventually he discerned it was coming from below. He could hear some kind of movement on the other side of the debris pile. Carefully extricating himself from Jamie, he made his way down the stairs and listened closely. He was surprised to realize that there was also a faint light coming through somewhere, indicating a hole or a thin patch. And then he thought he heard voices.
Mulder aimed for the thin spot and yelled for all he was worth. "Can somebody hear me? We're trapped in the stairwell!"
There was complete silence for a moment as movement on both sides stilled, and Mulder realized he was holding his breath in anticipation. And then a voice came through to him, plain as day. "Hello? Is somebody up there?"
Mulder couldn't help but think to himself, *I've been saying that for years* as he yelled back, "Yes. We're trapped in the stairwell between the second and third floors. I've got a little girl with me who needs to get to a hospital."
"Hang on, sir. We're on our way."
The initial excitement of those waiting at the perimeter of the bomb site had turned into an uneasy hush as the rescue effort dragged on. Bits of information came racing down the lines every now and then. Apparently the elevator was trapped between two collapsed floors and the firemen were trying to find the safest way to get to it with causing it to descend further down the shaft. Once they got to it, they of course found that the doors were jammed and now were working on prying them open. The paramedics had received the word that of the four people inside, one man was in serious need of medical attention while the other three occupants were relatively okay. But there was no word yet on their identity.
As the dim light on the other side of the rubble brightened, Mulder was inspired to start digging on his own side until eventually his hand ran into a leather glove instead of cement. After initial surprise on both sides, a pair of eyes peeked through the opening and both men smiled in elation.
"God, am I glad to see you."
As they continued to work on the opening from both directions, the two fell into conversation. Mulder gave his name and the status of the girl, and the fireman explained that they were working on getting to the elevator and by chance he had wandered away to try a different access point through the second floor.
When the hole had grown larger, Mulder realized there was a second set of hands helping on the other side, and eventually they had created an opening large enough to pass through a backboard. Mulder returned to the landing and eased Jamie onto the board, telling her to hold on just a little longer. He was able to carry her to the opening himself, which by now was large enough to slide her through. The second fireman disappeared with the girl while the first insisted on staying with Mulder and soon helped to pull him through the opening. After Mulder dusted himself off and assured the fireman that he was stable enough to walk out of there, the two men hurried off to see Jamie to safety.
An hour after the initial news that more survivors had been found, all in attendance broke out in applause and celebration as the firemen pulled the first one out of the wreckage. This was the man reported in critical condition, and they brought him out on a stretcher. Scully couldn't see his face, but she saw a tuft of blond hair sticking out above a bandage and knew immediately that wasn't the one she sought.
One down, three to go.
In the midst of the crowd, Dana and Annie had found themselves back in their initial pose, holding tightly to one another's hands. Scully wasn't sure if they were offering each other support or merely passing tension back and forth, but the simple tether to another human being seemed important right now.
The next person to emerge was female, and both women let out a shaky breath as the vigil continued.
Two down, two to go.
After an agonizing eternity, which in reality was only 62 seconds, another survivor came forth, supported by firemen on either side--again, a woman.
A hysterical part of Scully's mind called up an image of a beauty pageant, as the last two contestants stood hand in hand waiting for the announcement of the runner up, both trying to wish the best for the other but selfishly wanting the best for themselves. They were down to the final moment, and only one of them could be a winner.
"Oh my God, Bruce!"
As the last survivor emerged and Annie let go of her hand, like the runner up, Scully knew in that moment that she had lost.
It really was quite a beautiful scene, if only she could fully appreciate it--the cameras flashing all around them certainly seemed to. Annie had recognized in an instant the face of her beloved and went running toward him with arms outstretched and tears of joy. Scully found tears streaming down her own face, but not out of sympathetic elation.
When Bruce saw his fiancee running toward him, he broke into a run as well and met her halfway. In an image made for the movies, she threw her arms around his neck as he lifted her from the ground and spun her around in a circle before putting her down again. They paused for moment and stared into each other's eyes in shock before launching themselves at each other's lips. This display of emotion caused another flurry of flashbulbs and the nearby crowd broke into cheers, while the happy couple was completely oblivious.
Annie had found her man. Scully knew she should be happy for her, really, but she just couldn't find it within her at the moment. The hope she expended on this excitement had completely drained her; she simply had no energy left. The winter sun was already descending toward the horizon, and she knew that in another hour or so the recovery efforts would have to be called off for the day. She would be told to go home and get some sleep, thanks for all her work but they would be able to manage without the extra volunteers tomorrow. She didn't know if she could go back to the motel, knowing that the room next to her was empty. How could she leave here if he was still unaccounted for?
Oh God, she realized in horror, what if they never found his body? It was a very real possibility that those closest to the blast were disintegrated and would never be identified.
Welcoming the numbness that began to flood every pore of her being, Scully walked back to the morgue to do what remaining work she could before someone came to tell her it was time to stop.
Mulder and his new friend Fireman Wayne were only a few steps behind Jamie, who was now being carried by two EMTs, as they exited the building. Mulder quickly ran to her side while Wayne lingered behind him, finally melting away once he was sure they were both in good hands.
Mulder only distractedly noticed the scene around him. Off to his right, there was a circle of news cameras with their bright lights and intrusive reporters huddled around some of the firemen and a few other people who looked equally disheveled. His mind registered that these must be the people that were rescued from the elevator. Somehow, his own rescue had gone unnoticed in the wake of this, and Wayne and his buddy were unsung heroes while their pals were getting all the glory and the spotlight. But Mulder was infinitely grateful that they had escaped the attention. All he wanted right now was to hear that Jamie would be alright and to return her to the arms of her mother.
As the small procession arrived at one of the ambulances, Mulder stood watch and explained what he could of Jamie's condition to the medical technicians as they checked her vitals. He felt so inept in his descriptions, knowing that if Scully were here she could use precise medical terms that would tell these people exactly what they needed to know. He only vaguely realized that sometime in the duration of his speech a blanket had been laid over his shoulders and a pair of hands was checking him out. Annoyed, he shook off the EMT like a bothersome fly with a gruff, "I'm fine." Scully could look him over later, but not until he took care of Jamie.
* * *
Scully stopped by the medical tent on her way toward the morgue to look over the latest reports from the hospitals. There were still two John Does in critical condition, but other than that everyone had been identified. She would have to stop by the hospital once she was driven away from here. Her badge would be enough to get her into the ICU long enough to see them. She couldn't explain it, but somehow she knew that neither one of them was Mulder. Her heart told her that he was still here somewhere; she just didn't know if she would ever see him alive again.
From somewhere behind her, raised voices broke through her thoughts.
"I said, I'm fine. My partner's a doctor. She can check me out. What you need to do is stop pawing at me and go find this girl's mother."
Scully smiled to herself. That sounded like something Mulder would say. In fact, that even sounded like Mulder. She realized she was getting delusional; now she was hearing things.
"Her mother's name is Patricia Meier. M-E-I-E-R. She worked in the building. I don't know what floor, but I need to find out what happened to her. She needs to know that her daughter's going to be okay."
Scully drew in a quick breath and held it--could it be true?
"Sir, I need you to calm down."
"No, I'm not going to calm down until someone tells me where I can find this girl's mother!"
"Mulder?" Scully walked up behind the tall figure, still in disbelief.
At her voice, he swung around (much to the alleviation of the EMT who was trying to disengage herself from this altercation) and breathed out her name on a sigh of relief. Finally, he thought, someone who could speak reason to these people.
"Mulder!" With that, Scully launched herself at her partner, throwing her arms around his neck and holding on tight. That hysterical voice in her mind said, *Take that, beauty queen,* before being squelched into silence.
Mulder gladly held onto his partner. It had been a long, emotional day, and she was indeed a sight for sore eyes. He pulled back slightly, breaking the hug and drinking her in.
Caught up in the emotion of the reunion she had just witnessed, Scully looked longingly into his eyes for a moment and then pulled his head down toward hers and stood on her toes to reach his lips with her own. She thought she would never see him again, but the man she loved had come home to her.
For his part, Mulder was a bit surprised by this sudden kiss and in his shock froze up. This was all that it took to bring Scully back to herself, and immediately she released her arms and dropped down on her heels, ready to turn and run.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled embarrassedly into his chest as he still held onto her.
By now the shock had worn off, and Mulder realized fully what had just happened. To her apology, he replied, "I'm not," and as her head came back up in surprise, his lips latched onto hers with no more hesitation.
This time, Scully froze up, but soon that melted away and she returned her arms to Mulder's neck--for the very practical reason that she needed his support to hold her up due to her weakening knees--and held on for the lingering kiss.
Eventually the partners pulled away from each other and just smiled at one another without breaking their embrace. It was the sound of the ambulance doors closing behind them that brought them back to reality.
One of the EMTs quickly offered the name of the hospital they were taking her to before jumping in the passenger's side as the ambulance hurried off. Mulder gave his partner a brief explanation of who the girl was, and she suddenly understood his ranting about her mother and led him over to the casualty list where they were able to find her name and condition. She had been admitted to the same hospital where her daughter was now being taken, and Scully told him they could stop by the hospital, but only if they went by the motel first so he could clean up and she could check him over. Begrudgingly, he agreed, but only after she promised to call ahead to the hospital and make sure someone could get word to Jamie's parents that their daughter was on the way.
* * *
Two days later
Mulder poked his head through the open doorway of room 232 in the Pediatric Unit and slowly entered. His appearance drew the attention of the patient in the closest bed and the man seated by her side.
At this shout of recognition from Jamie, her father rose and extended his hand to the agent as he stepped further into the room. "Mr. Mulder, I'm glad you could stop by. My daughter's been asking all morning when you would come to visit. My wife and I are extremely grateful for everything you did for her."
Mulder shook his head self-deprecatingly. "I was just doing my job. How is your wife, by the way?"
Mr. Meier accepted his humility and the change of subject. "She's still recovering, but I think I'll be able to take both of them home in a couple of days."
"Dad, he's my visitor. Can I talk to him now?"
Both men turned and smiled at the energetic little girl lying in the bed.
"Hey, Jamie. How are you feeling?"
"They put a cast on my leg and I'll have to walk with crutches for a while, but it doesn't hurt much anymore. My mom says you're a hero for saving me."
"No, the firemen were the heroes. They were the ones who dug us out. But I'm glad you were there to keep me company. It would've been awfully lonely in that stairwell all by myself, waiting to get rescued."
In the hallway, just outside the door, stood Mulder's partner. She smiled to herself as she listened to the conversation unfolding between the little girl and her hero. Her eavesdropping was interrupted by the sound of someone addressing her.
Scully turned around and saw a familiar face approaching. It was Annie. They hadn't seen each other since that moment when Bruce emerged from the elevator, and it hadn't even occurred to Scully that the nurse might work at this very hospital.
"Annie, it's good to see you again. How's your fiance?"
"Just a few cuts and bruises, but all things considered, he fared pretty well." Her smile faded and she softened her tone before continuing. "What about you? Did you find your partner?"
Scully's smile eased Annie's apprehension. "Yeah, he's fine. He was trapped in a stairwell but didn't have any serious injuries. Actually, he's in there right now visiting with a new friend."
The nurse, who had been tending to this same girl, suddenly connected the two stories. "Oh, so that's Jamie's mystery man! Ever since she woke up, she's been talking about him nonstop."
As if on cue, Mulder emerged from the room at that moment. Scully turned to him and he came up alongside her. "Mulder, this is Annie. We met at the medical tents, outside the MacGruder building."
The two exchanged handshakes and greetings, and then Annie explained that she needed to get back to work and continued down the hall. Scully watched her for a moment with a wistful look, lost in her memories of their initial conversation. At the touch of Mulder's hand on her arm, she came back to herself and took hold of his hand to lead him toward the elevators.
While they stood there waiting for the elevator car, Scully tilted her head back to look up at her partner. As she studied his profile, he looked different to her somehow, although it was the same face she had known and loved for years. But maybe that was the difference--she had finally acknowledged that she loved him.
After a moment, Mulder glanced over and caught her staring. They shared a tender look before the ding of the arriving elevator gave her an excuse to turn away.
They stepped aside as a family exited the car, and Scully took advantage of the momentary distraction to say something that she'd been wanting to express since she first heard Mulder's humble response to Jamie.
"You know what, Mulder?"
"You're my hero, too."
He smiled down at her while she moved forward into the vacant elevator. As he followed, one hand went up to hold open the doors, while the other settled in a familiar spot on her lower back.
* * * * *
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