By: promise64 (AKA Morgan)
Rating: NC-17 for content, violence, and language.
Keywords: casefile, MSR
Timeline: Takes place at the very beginning of season 6 -- during the era of Kersh and background checks. No Mulder with a brain disease. No baby William. No Doggett and no Reyes. I'm old school, people.
Summary: A journey through the shadows of guilt, regret, and responsibility, as a horrific case teaches our heroes about the fragility of trust and the cost of a promise broken.
Brief Note: In its way, this story has become my homage to the world of XF fanfiction; it has evolved into something of a pastiche of all my favorite “cliched” fanfic scenarios–Profiler!Mulder occupies a central place in this fic, as does the traditional casefile; Mulder-and-Scully-in-the-Wilderness tm., figures prominently, and it’s even a “First Time” fic; Injured!Scully and Injured!Mulder both make cameos, and there’s angst aplenty. I did, however, leave out the kitchen sink <g>. I have tried, in my attempts to honor all that I have so dearly loved about XF fic (my very first fandom, ::sniff::), to render these scenarios in my own way, to challenge (or subvert) the genuine cliches while, at the same time, embracing what I adore about XF fanfic, and I have endeavored to give each of these scenarios my own proverbial “spin.” Even as I have branched out into other fandoms, and left XF behind for a considerable amount of time, this creative universe has remained my “touchstone,” the fandom by which all other fandoms have been judged. My sincerest hope is that my affection for this universe and its characters can be discerned within the content of this story.
Caveats: I’m not a medical doctor or a
law enforcement agent; any technical inaccuracies pertaining to terminology
and/or procedure are the fault of my own ignorance. Also, any canon
established after season six has been largely ignored.
Archive: Gossamer, of course. Otherwise, please just ask first.
ARCHIVIST’S NOTE: Please archive this under the new pseudonym. I realize my older work is under a different name, but I would prefer this to be archived under the “promise64" appellation. Thank you.
Thanks and more rambling diatribe to follow at the end.
This fic can also be found at my journal:
Part I -- Descending
Without the skin,
Emerging from sleep, the mother's awareness returned slowly, hazily. The pre-dawn spill of lamp light from the street outside filtered through the gap in her curtains. The night had turned cold and cruel. Chill tumbled from the windowpane, washed over her, and stung her bare face and arms outside of the heavy blankets. She shivered. Under the covers her toes were painfully numb, and although she desperately wanted to sink back into sleep, she knew that rest would not come again until the fierce chill had abated.
Disregarding the light switch, she reached for the spare quilt on the bedside chair and cursed as her palm met wood. She'd left it in the living room. They had fallen asleep there last night watching an old movie, and she'd left it behind when they'd finally gone to bed.
The hall carpet was plush and soft beneath her feet, cushioning her from the chill of bare floors. Arms wrapped stiffly around her chest, she tried to stop her teeth from chattering as she padded down the corridor. A momentary pause at the thermostat -- to hell with the electricity bill -- she wound the dial up to 72 degrees and was about to turn around when she felt the faint exhalation of unfamiliar breath against her neck. She froze.
"No more lies."
It was a whisper. As she registered the sound and began to turn, burning pain suffused her thigh and darkness stole over her eyes. She never felt the gentle arms encircle her waist, didn't realize as she was lowered carefully to the floor.
The second time, when consciousness found her, it was accompanied by a pounding headache and a sense of panic deep in her belly. She blinked fiercely, trying to maintain her tenuous connection with awareness. Her legs were weak, swaying when she rose to stand. The carpet's blue swirled momentarily; like rising up from under deep, dark waters, she struggled to focus and stay afloat. Leaning into the wall for support, the mother squeezed her eyes shut with determination and then opened them wide.
Daylight had arrived, sweeping in and over the floor in long swaths of pale gold. It was warmer, slightly. She took one step forward, then another, a third -- until pain tore into the soles of her feet, and she faltered will a yelp. Sleep's haze driven back by the pain, she lowered her terrified eyes to the ground.
Littering the floor was a violent confetti of shattered glass, a million tiny mirrors reflecting the sunlight, brilliant and surreal. Her fingers fumbled up along the wall's surface, over stubbly, rough plaster, found the crippled frame of a family portrait, and pulled back before she sliced her hands as well. Looking down the hall, chaos reigned. Every picture was demolished, each pane of glass now lying broken and scattered, fracturing and dispersing the sun's errant rays.
Her senses turned on one by one, and her hearing seemed to sharpen at that moment. The pain was forgotten along with the destruction when all she could hear, all she registered now was her baby's hollow whimper of distress coming suddenly, and with new clarity, from two doors down the hall.
Her blood was scarlet, savage on the cream carpet of the nursery, a grotesque trail as her mangled feet moved, heedless of pain, to the side of the crib. Red-faced and angry, hunger and a full diaper manifesting now as tiny, plaintive whimpers, the baby fussed quietly, exhausted in its grief.
The words dissolved into an incomprehensible litany of soothing sounds. Scooping up the tiny bundle, she rocked slightly by instinct on battered feet. The baby felt real and reassuring in her arms. Its cries subsided at the sudden human contact, thankful it was no longer alone in the cold. The mother, feet still bleeding, thigh stiff and sore, hugged her baby to her chest and then stilled in sudden terror.
The hallway's evil carpet snagged again at already broken skin, but she felt no pain.
"Tristan, are you awake, sweetie!"
Neither gentle nor calm, panic and fear, dread all screaming out, as she stumbled further down the hall and into the next room. The door opened with a swish.
More glass. Everywhere. The collection of pictures she kept on his dresser, pictures of his father, of their family still whole, to keep that presence in his young life, were toppled and overturned, some landing face down on the floor, and all of them violated. The glass ringed the bed, found its way up onto the covers, the covers that were turned back and empty.
"Tristan, where are you?!"
But the boy didn't answer, and the baby started wailing, still hungry and afraid. Her shrill cries grew in strength, as blood from fresh wounds seeped into thick, absorbent carpet and glass sparkled under the morning sun.
The first time it happened (finally, after so long), it was dark and cold, quiet. The air outside was gelid, brittle; sounds of the city filtered up to find her in her bed, the distant hum of cars and sounds of strange voices. She rolled over, squeezed her eyes firmly shut, pushing memory of sight and smell and texture to the back of her crowded mind.
<I can't sleep.>
There had been the expected bombardment of questions, a torrent of clamoring media less interested in the victim than the sensationalism of the story. She had pushed past them all, past the SAC who screamed her name, past officious EMTs unloading their gear, past police officers urging calm from the gathering crowd.
<I won't sleep tonight.>
His hands had been covered in blood.
Not just his hands, either -- his arms, the front of his jacket.
Two smeared, tiny, grasping hand prints, one on his neck, the other just
along the curve of his jaw. She had gone to him, huddled on the floor
of the warehouse, fallen to her knees -- a collision of bone and concrete
-- and her speech had been lost in the reek of blood and his desolate eyes.
Weaving an arm around Mulder's despondent form, she dragged him up from the filthy ground, away from the tiny life he had been unable to save. She ignored the questions and accusations and flashing lights. She left despite her own better judgment.
<I was trying to save him.>
The ride back to the motel had been like a particularly vivid nightmare.
"I'm going to sleep."
He had said it without looking, turned away from her seeking glance.
"Mul..." But the word had died in her throat,
and there was only the sound of his door swinging open, a slight pause
as he stood in the open frame. She tried to reach out, to breach
those few inches and graze the side of his arm, his shoulder. She
tried, but that motion, too, was lost, and he closed the door slowly, deliberately,
without turning around.
Her thoughts were wretched and cold now, like the night.
Was he still poised half aware? Still standing unresponsive in gory clothes thick with congealed failure? Had he moved at all beyond the few inches he had advanced into his room? She could feel him, a desolate, aching part of herself that would not, could not rest.
<Damn us both.>
Reaching a hand up, holding a damp cloth,
she rubbed away the brown smears, obscenities dotting his face like the
devil's finger-paints. No response. She wiped his unyielding
cheek, dropped her eyes from his granite gaze. Her fingers pushed
the FBI jacket from his shoulders, worked the bindings on his bulletproof
vest and lifted it away, pulled the dark shirt from the waistband of his
pants. Suppressing heartache and horror, her fingers grazed blood
caked and flaking, damp and still smearing.
The sound was that of an animal in pain, a convulsive sob unaccompanied by tears. Her reflex was to comfort, to find haven in shared warmth, to lend him whatever strength she could. Her arms moved gently around his waist, under his loosened shirt, and across the smooth skin of his lower back. His head fell heavy and limp to her shoulder, those noises of anguish quieter and more muffled, delivered into the curve of her neck.
The first time it happened (finally), it began with a scorch of unexpected kisses, fumbling and hot. Whispers delivered against her throat, stuttering, slow, and then needy. She could not react, felt frozen, as wind howled along the streets below. Protests formed and uncoiled in the recesses of her throat, never actually becoming words.
<No. Oh God, no. Not like this.>
His fingers, cold and trembling, found the hem of her pajama top, pushed underneath, sweeping over chilled and tingling skin.
<Not now. Not like this.>
The winter jacket slipped down to the tiled
floor. His hands were rapidly warming, and his mouth moved steadily
upward, lips and tongue finding her ear, jaw, the hollow beneath her chin,
forcing the black walls of the warehouse into hazy memory, the stench of
blood becoming less bitter in her nose.
<We would have had nothing.>
His hands were grasping at those things between them intangible and lost, stealing over her hips and waist, crushing their bodies together in the search.
<We can't do this. I know we can't.>
There was no asking or granting of permission, no preliminary exploration. There was desolate cold and ragged breath in the first moment, invasion in the next. All that hung unresolved and unseen between them, around them, was echoed by his teeth dragging across her lower lip, her ragged moan of despair and arousal, his fingers rough in her hair, her hands clutching at his back.
His kiss tasted bitter; he tasted like blood.
The edge of the counter top was a painful obstacle, digging into her back. His hands on her hips lifted her abruptly, placing her on the cold, damp surface next to the basin. She winced, the pain of fresh bruises on her back and shoulders.
<We can't, Mulder, but we will. I can't stop it.>
He stepped back, for barely a moment, pulled the shirt from his body, and descended upon her once again.
That spark always between them, nurtured by so many things -- love, trust, respect -- fed the fire, ignited something that, in the end, could consume itself, lead to its own destruction. Unspoken things, hurt, blame, things that simmered beneath the surface, threatened to dominate now with this act she had imagined and always feared. She kissed back desperately, unsure when the room had grown so dark, the air so thick, her resolve so weak. When his hands began loosening buttons along the front of her pajamas, she didn't stop him, and that was the worst of all.
The room was cold; he hadn't bothered to turn on the heat. Chilled air assaulted her skin, tightening already tight nipples, leaving trails of goose flesh and shivers. Large hands, warm now and demanding, covered her breasts. Her head dropped back, tapping lightly against the dark, misted glass. She opened her eyes to the black of the ceiling above, felt the ragged shush of his breath rasping across her skin, in the valley between her breasts. Her hips lifted instinctively, his hands working the pajama bottoms down and away, and marble was frigid on bare skin.
<No, not like this. This can't help.>
Tristan Oliver was dead, and more would
die soon. But they didn't belong here, hadn't belonged here from
the start. Hundreds of miles from home, winter raging a steady and
winning battle outside, she wondered how much longer this could go on,
this struggle only they seemed to fight, where enemies were vague shadows,
where everything they fought for was spirited away out of reach, where
everything that had once seemed to make sense was lost and strange and
Somewhere, Tristan Oliver's tiny, innocent body was shrouded by swarms of police, photographers, and evidence teams coaxing last bits of fragile knowledge from the cold ambit of death. Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off the area. Reporters groveled for comment like starving dogs. Mulder's footprints probably still marred the dusty floor, while miles away, tucked high and distant from ruthless lights and questions, Scully's fingers fumbled with the last barrier between them, pulled his belt free, and pushed lightly on the fabric at his waist.
<This won't save us.>
He entered her swiftly, ruthlessly, then stilled, frozen. Her cry was somewhere between anguish and bliss, escaping over swollen, chapped lips. Immolation. Invasion.
<It won't save us.>
Starving for air, her breathing was rapid, edged with half cries that couldn't escape. She could feel his breath as it washed across her cheek, staining her hair. His soft cries were lost to her amidst the roar in her head, the panic and desperation deep in her belly. She imagined that she was burning, that the fires would claim her and only ash would remain.
Her fingers dug deep trenches in his back, urged him on with gasping need, demanded nothing less than fury. He moved, she moved, the flames danced. Faster.
<Can't save us. Oh, God... >
A few more strokes, his breath hot on her lips, and then for a collection of heartbeats -- focused, aching, telescoped moments -- the world shattered into scintillations of light and heat, darkness crystallized, and wave after wave of pure, naked bliss broke over her, a rip tide dragging her under and away. She felt safe for that single moment, as off distant he too was swallowed whole and joined her beneath the depths. Silence. Fulfillment. And despair.
Then ragged, stumbling breaths, a rain of kisses, random droplets of apology; a kiss to the curve of her ear, her neck, her chin, dotting her cheeks, bridge of her nose, brows—out of reach. He finally landed, lost and at rest on the curve of her forehead.
Just her name, nothing more, and she wasn't sure what else there was to be said. The counter was cold again beneath her, the air as frigid as before this had begun. Mulder's weight above her was warm and damp, strange. Her arms were loose around his back, but she continued to hold on, sure he would slip further away if she let go for even a moment.
Just the shape of her name, formed against her forehead, and she had nothing to say in return. She continued to hold on, eyes closed against the night, breathing in the hideous mix of sweat and death and life filling the air, blood still a poisonous taint on his rapidly cooling skin.
The tables in the restaurant had been dressed with simple white cloths, and unscented candles in small, glass votives had cast a warm glow. The unexceptional aftermath of a case had offered an excuse for shared time together that night, a reason to not simply drive home and enter into the solitude of the weekend.
"You see, Scully, I *can* pick a restaurant where every entree doesn't come with a side of fries."
She could still feel the warm press of the glass cylinder as she had wrapped her hands around that candle, could still see the play of light over the sprinkling of fine hairs along the backs of his hands. Strangely, they had not talked about the case.
<What had we talked of?>
Nothing, really. The wall of silence
that had grown between them in recent years had been less forbidding somehow,
less frightening. Instead, their silences had been more familiar,
more a comfort than a reminder of losses suffered. With him there
is so much silence, she had thought, in his eyes, his gestures, even in
his words, hiding between the phrases. She had come to know, with
time, the faces of those silences, each of their colors in turn.
Leaning back in his chair, his fork lying
discarded among the ravaged remains of dinner...
<I hadn't answered. Didn't need to. You knew the answer already.>
Steam rising in aromatic waves from the
surface of her cup of coffee...
His answering laughter had been soothing and rich. "Kersh will never know what hit him. I'll distract him and you can drug his coffee."
<In an act of Mulder-chivalry, you walked me to my door that night and stood patiently as I fumbled with the keys.>
His steady gaze had unnerved her.
"I can't wait to get out of these shoes. I feel like I've been on my feet forever." Taking refuge in the mundane.
Watching her, poised in the open doorway to the apartment -- one foot still that fraction in the hall -- he'd offered a commiserating smile. "You have been."
The action had been slow and seemingly unconscious, his hand finding hers on some impulse, a tangle of fingers. She'd stilled, turned slowly back toward him, unsure. He leaned in imperceptibly, drew the pad of his thumb over the sensitive flesh of her palm. The paralyzing fusion of eye contact had held her immobile, and in that instant she thought she had seen a million things in his eyes -- half thoughts, flickering memories, and nascent desires. She thought she had seen the desperate question:
And then he had let go, eyes dropping, he had turned and fled. And suddenly she was standing inside her apartment, emotions churning in confusion, her back pressed to the solid reality of the door.
<"Aren't you ever lonely, Scully?">
Three weeks ago, a lifetime, and now:
She had wanted to stay, wanted to continue drawing her hands through his tangled hair, kissing the tears away. She had wanted her pale, shadow words to be of some comfort, some meaning; but she couldn't offer him what she didn't have, and as his tears seeped warm and wet across her flushed skin, she had doubted he could even hear her.
<Oh, God... what have we done?>
She didn't move while he cried, and when he was done, when the sorrow bleached itself into exhaustion and the dry hitch of slowing breath, she pulled back just the faintest fraction of an inch. That was all it took. A chasm gaped between them, and the faint tethers of connection fell away. That small distance was suddenly a void impassible, and he watched remotely as she pulled the discarded sides of her pajama top together and jumped down from the cold marble slab. He turned away when she picked her pants up off the floor, made no sound as she slipped them back over her hips. The whisk of his zipper was an obscene sound; his ragged sigh was somehow more painful than his tears.
He wouldn't look at her.
<You wouldn't look at me.>
<You asked me just a few short weeks ago if I was ever lonely, knowing the answer even as you spoke the words. I lay in bed that night after you left wondering how you could possibly be with someone so often and still feel so completely alone.>
In her own bathroom, the water gushed from her faucet in a torrent, almost loud enough to drown out the sound of her sobs. Practically hyperventilating, she gasped and shook without control while the rasp of the washcloth between her legs scrubbed the evidence away. Her tears burned, her throat ached, and there was no perception of time or sound or who might hear her.
The washcloth fell with a splat to the floor, and almost as soon as her hysteria had begun, it ended, abruptly and completely. She swiped at her drenched cheeks with the backs of her hands and dragged in several deep breaths. Her head throbbed. She moved out of the bathroom. She'd never even bothered to turn on the light.
Standing before the wide, dark landscape of her motel room window, a city below lay sleeping and unaware. She would not sleep tonight. She didn't even intend to try. She felt empty and forsaken, disconnected from herself and terrified at the foreign specter of her shaking hands, the gaunt fragility of her bloodless face reflected back by the window. The glass beneath her palm was cold, the sky beyond blank and starless with clouds obscuring the heavens.
<I wonder if Tristan Oliver's mother stands tonight looking out over this city, robbed of her sleep by grief. I wonder if another innocent life is being taken tonight, as I stand helpless and blind, not knowing how to stop this grisly circle of death. I wonder about all the ignorant people who sleep soundly unaware of the terrible drama being played out around them.>
<I wonder, Mulder, if you remain where I left you -- in the cold, dark bathroom, water running, shirtless, with eyes downcast.>
<I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't have the strength to stay.>
Closing her eyes, she found them swollen, sticky. Tomorrow morning, she would pull herself together as best she could, meet him at the car, navigate these frozen streets, and try to catch a killer.
Staring out across the city, she watched distantly as the lights in the window of a near-by building went dark, some unknown person settling in for slumber. She pulled her hand back from the glass, wrapped arms around a body still clothed in a pajama top with buttons tucked into mismatched holes -- head pounding, throat still clogged -- and waited silently for the dawn.
The next morning. Overheated office, where the fan swirled stale air, and sweat clung to the curve of her back, the base of her neck.
"…Not to mention leaving the scene of a crime before being questioned, giving no account of the events you witnessed, ignoring the explicit orders of your superior agent, and disregarding your own well being by refusing obviously needed medical assistance."
Air rasped through the irate SAC's teeth. He shuffled papers for a moment, stalling deliberately, making them wait. Slowly, his eyes panned over from Mulder's deceptively calm facade to light on the blank landscape of Scully's face.
"Agent Mulder's actions I could possibly excuse," he said, in mock placation. "He was upset, distraught, shocked by what he had seen. Given time, I might be able to process that and find it, if not acceptable, at least understandable why he might commit so serious a breech of protocol."
Special Agent in Charge, Douglas Moore's eyes narrowed, and he paused, solely for effect. "Agent Scully, I find no such excuse for you."
"Sir..." Mulder's voice was raw, as if from long disuse.
He was cut off before he began. "I'm sure Agent Scully is fully capable of explaining her actions without your assistance, Agent Mulder."
Silence descended once again.
"I..." She faltered, could feel Mulder's eyes on her, wished that he would look away. "I was more concerned with the well-being of my partner at the time, Sir, than in adhering strictly to protocol." Her words sounded brittle but strong.
"So concerned that you would deny him medical assistance?"
"I *am* a doctor, Sir"
"So concerned, Agent Scully, that when I, your immediate superior, ordered you to stop, you didn't even acknowledge the sound of my voice but instead continued walking away?"
Her voice was toneless. "I was focused on Agent Mulder at that moment, sir."
Moore's mouth opened, formed the beginnings of a word before Mulder interrupted. "I pulled Agent Scully away from the crime scene, sir. She wanted to go back, but I wouldn't let her. I couldn't."
Beside him, the muscles in Scully's jaw flexed, tightened, teeth grinding shut.
"It was my fault, sir. Agent Scully is not to blame."
Moore's eyes settled on Mulder. "You're both to blame, Agent Mulder."
The eye contact was long and unyielding. Moore flinched first. Gaze settling on the stacks of papers littering his chaotic desk, his voice was quiet but steady. "The fact remains that you are both guilty of direct disobedience, regardless of who pulled whom away. Also, and more importantly, the closest witness to the murder of a seven year old boy, a federal agent, whose clothes were soaked in blood, in evidence, who was the *only* person to witness the child's death at the hands of a killer we have no solid leads on, disappeared from the scene without so much as a word. That -- in the context of this investigation alone -- was a grievous mistake."
Fishing a folder from beneath the precariously balanced piles, Moore looked back up, finding his agents both standing preternaturally still. He smoothed large hands over the blanched yellow of a thick folder before speaking again.
"The fact remains that if it were any other agent, if any other pair of agents were responsible for this level of misconduct, there would be no question of the ramifications. However, because the men upstairs tell me so, and because I want this asshole caught, my hands are tied. Whether I like it or not, whether I recognized it at the beginning of this case or not, we need you on this."
The folder was opened, some papers removed.
"The fact also remains that you don't want to be here." His gaze was focused on Mulder. "You haven't wanted to be here from the start. But you don't have a choice now, Agent Mulder. The X-Files are no longer yours, but you are still an FBI Agent, and you are both obligated to uphold responsibilities you *will* be held accountable for."
Mulder didn't move, didn't blink, but the fury in his eyes was unmistakable -- a blaze of loss and sorrow that reeked of lost opportunities, and of betrayal.
The click of Moore's pen was loud and final in the silent room, and his last words were equally so. "We may need you, but this will not happen again. If it does, you will both be censured, removed immediately from this case, and I will let the disciplinary board decide your fates from that point on." He directed a final stern glare at both agents, first Mulder and then Scully.
Moore slammed his index finger into the desk. "This is your assignment now, accept it or don't, but don't waste my time, and don't dare to fuck up this investigation again."
He looked back down, scrawled something across white pages that glared brightly under the overhead lights.
"He can't pull us off of this case, and he knows it."
In the car, the door slammed as Mulder settled into the driver's seat.
"He knows I can't leave this case. I'm stuck here. He knows it, and I know it."
She wanted the words and knew she wouldn't find them, settling instead for the desperate substitute of his name. "Mulder..." She could hear the weariness, the strain in that simple word.
<I despise how small I sound.>
He started the engine and pulled out onto icy roads.
"I'm just so sick of coming *this* close..." His words died, halting mid-breath and unable to find direction again.
She tried again. "Mulder, you didn't have to defend me back there." Her voice seemed lost in the spacious interior of the car.
He didn't respond, didn't turn his gaze from the treacherous road. Finally, car slowing at a stop sign, ice and salt crunching beneath their tires, "It was my fault, Scully." A tone of resignation to his words that she refused to answer, fearing the multiple meanings lying hidden in those depths.
The shrill blast of her cell-phone was a sharp tear in the quiet, and Mulder was easing the car forward again, as she flipped the tiny phone open, gazed back out over the snow, and raised it to her ear. She didn't so much as breathe while she listened. Scully didn't speak; she merely disconnected the call and continued to stare out over glacial upstate New York horizon.
Expectation didn't make it any easier.
She told Mulder without turning to face him, the words scraping along her insides, hollowing out the already empty. "There's been another kidnapping."
His sigh was resigned, soft, filling the interior of the car.
The crime scene tape seemed perversely yellow against the stark white of the snow. A cadre of news vans, all bright lights and overdone anchorwomen, gathered at the perimeter of the yard, baying questions to anyone who passed. Inside a bureau issue car, Mulder grimaced as he surveyed the activity, little lines of quiescent fury sprouting from the edges of his lips, and Scully made a mental note of the lab people who were already at the scene.
Emerging from an official looking car was as good as erecting a large neon arrow above their heads, and the mob of reporters turned in unison towards its new prey. Mulder pushed them back with an occasional elbow in the gut, as Scully followed behind, edging through in the clearing he made. Arriving at the periphery, they stepped under the tape, a uniformed police officer handed them a clipboard, and they logged in.
Behind them, a chorus of impatient voices called Mulder's name, asked what had happened in the old Saks Mill Warehouse, demanded to know how many more children were going to die.
"I don't care how you do it, but I want these people out of here right now." Mulder didn't scream, but there was enough threat in his tone to straighten the young officer's posture, make him suck in a breath.
Scully watched as the man stepped under the tape and began barking orders at the crowd. Sighing, she followed after Mulder, who was standing a few feet ahead, talking to another officer. She assumed he had been first at the scene.
"You got the call when?"
Officer Grant -- according to his tag -- gestured for them to proceed up the paved walk to the front of the house. "A little over an hour ago, at quarter after eleven this morning."
The house was large and lovely, pretty under the freshly fallen snow, like a Christmas postcard. Outlines of white dusted the trees, left fringes of ice along the eaves of the large front porch, icicles dangling from the second story windows. The handlebars of a red tricycle peeked from the snow in the center of the front lawn, all but buried, taken hostage by the winter. Scully crunched along the ice encrusted path, suddenly saddened by the mass of muddy boot prints on the porch.
"Watch your step."
Walking through the front door, Scully tucked her hands into her coat pockets and looked around. Officer Grant led them around the edge of the living room, careful not to disturb anything and explained as he walked.
"The mother, Cynthia Deary, called 911 this morning at eleven thirteen am to report that her son had not returned from school on time and could not be located."
The lab guys were working in a slow procession from the outside of the room in. One man with a camera was carefully navigating around the busy technicians trying to document the scene.
"Apparently, Garrison Elementary had a half day of school today, and Mark Deary was due home at ten-thirty. According to the mother, he walks home every day, and when he didn't show up on time, she started calling his friends."
Scully noted that someone had brought in a video camera and was filming the room as backup documentation.
"Cynthia Deary called all of Mark's friends and the school before she decided to walk back along the path he usually takes home. When she returned to the house after looking for Mark, this is what she found."
The drapes in the living room had been opened wide, and bright sunlight flooded the room. Beyond the vast picture window was a glaring expanse of pure, white snow. Inside the house, covering the carpets in a parody of the snow outside, glass from shattered picture frames blinked in the afternoon sun, reflecting and refracting the brilliant light.
There had been a large display of photographs covering the top of a piano in the corner. Another grouping had been showcased on the wall above the couch. Every single picture had been destroyed. The frames were either still hanging pictureless and shattered on the wall or bent and broken on the floor. Glass sparkled everywhere they looked.
"We've set up road blocks and have already started a house to house," Grant offered. Both Mulder and Scully knew that such efforts had yielded little in the past.
Mulder interrupted. "Is this the only room?"
Grant shook his head, nodding in the direction of a wide hall. "No. He hit the entire first floor, but not the second. Ran out of time maybe?” He paused. “Anyway, we found no sign of him up there."
Choosing their steps slowly, Mulder and
Scully moved into the hall, the chaos preceding them wherever they walked.
In the dining room, a large family portrait sat demolished above a fireplace.
In a home office at the end of the hall, a tiny collection of frames sprinkled
the desk with fractured light.
Scully stopped in the center of the large room. "How long was the mother out of the house?"
"Forty minutes, give or take."
She nodded, turned, and came to face a small art gallery that had taken shape on the door of the refrigerator. Wide, white pieces of paper, brightly emblazoned with shapes in Crayola-glory spoke of a normal little boy and two proud parents. Scully stared at a disproportionately massive orange-yellow sun with a smiley face in the center.
Behind her, Grant's voice again. "This is the strangest thing we found."
Mulder was standing next to the counter, looking down. Scully walked over to see what had drawn his attention.
"He didn't shred every photo in the house, apparently, just the big, group pictures."
On the counter nearest the back door, the
small pile of shredded photographs sat innocently near the edge.
The clean, cold marble slab shone in the afternoon sun, and Scully shuddered,
Mulder was standing mute, seemingly transfixed by the counter, avoiding her eyes.
In the large arch leading back out to the living room, an agent in civilian clothes was hunched down at ground level and had begun the painstaking process of searching for fingerprints. Soon, Scully knew, the pretty white walls of this house would be smudged and gray.
Mulder had taken a step back from the counter and was staring out through the kitchen window. The blanket of sudden silence signaled the end of the walk through, and the trio re-traced their route through the living room, pausing in front of the door.
"The parents are at the station?" Scully asked, when Mulder seemed unwilling to offer any further comment.
"No," Grant corrected. "I was told
to send them over to the FBI building, that you'd want to question them
Scully nodded. "Thank you."
Out the front door and across the lawn, Scully could hear Mulder's soft steps as he followed behind. The throng of reporters had been herded behind a wooden barrier in the middle of the street, leaving a blessedly clear path to their car. Scully drew in a large breath of the crisp air, trying to clear her head. Mulder paused awkwardly when they reached the car, and she almost offered to drive before he slipped without comment behind the wheel. The car pushed back the media circus as Mulder drove, a few over-zealous individuals almost landing across the hood when he refused to slow down for their questions.
Beyond the window was the safest place for her eyes, and silence was the easiest course of action. Scully was mostly terrified because this sense of panic was something she could not sublimate or rationalize. She was far too tired for such an early hour, but she hadn't slept at all the night before, and irrationality was seeping into the edges of her thoughts. Outside, streets and houses whirled by, clouds gathered in the heavens, and inside a swiftly moving car, Scully -- for possibly the first time in her life -- felt completely powerless.
Cynthia Deary had spent the majority of
the interview clutching her husband's left hand in a white-knuckled grip
while he ran the other compulsively through his thinning hair. A
perfectly normal, professional, upper-middle class married couple.
One child, dearly loved. She had long blond hair in a loose chignon
that had started to fall around her face in a forgotten, messy heap.
Tear tracks stained his face even though he refused to cry in front of
"I knew," she told them. "I knew the minute he was late from school."
Cynthia had cried soundlessly, little, round droplets staining wet circles into the fabric of her skirt. Tom Deary spoke no more than two words during the entire interview.
"I'd seen the reports on the news.
I heard the warnings. That's why I took the morning off from work.
Our nanny called in sick this morning, and I didn't want him coming home
to an empty house.” She paused, took a deep, shuddering breath. “I
Mulder stood on the opposite side of the table, holding a plastic bag of shredded photographs in his hands. The door was closed, the Dearys gone, but Scully could still see the mother’s eyes, and she wondered if Cynthia Deary would have strength enough for hope. Seeing the swarm of lights and sirens on the news last night at the warehouse, the reporters who stood against a dreary backdrop of boarded-up windows to deliver in hushed and ominous tones the news of another death, another little life lost, she would fear the worst.
<We've given her little cause for hope. The evening news reports our failures night after night to every home in the country.>
Scully wanted to tell her that she knew how it felt. But she didn't, not really. It's wasn't even close to being the same thing. Emily was never hers. Cynthia Deary's pain was something she would never understand.
"It doesn't make any sense." Mulder was muttering, facing the wall.
She was about to ask him what he was talking about when he whirled around, took two giant steps towards the table, and slammed the evidence bag down against the surface.
"He swears to us that there's a pattern. He says it over and over again. The pattern's there, we just have to be willing to see it."
<I don't want to face this. I can't face this, not now.>
"When do you think he'll call again?" she asked, trying to change the subject.
Mulder stopped, stared down at the table. "Soon," he said, exhaustion apparent in his voice. "He'll call again very soon."
She stood up slowly and backed away from the table. Mulder didn't look up as she moved.
"Mulder, I have a report to write."
He didn't say anything.
She continued, not really knowing why,
perhaps offering excuses because she needed to hear them herself.
"Kersh hasn't heard from us since we got here, and if I don't write something
up, he's going to kill us."
Almost running, she escaped from the room.
Two loud beeps and the screen flickered to life. The little jingle danced across the speakers as the computer booted up. Her word program was called up from an icon on her desktop. She stared at the perfect emptiness of the page and swallowed an odd, acid sting at the back of her throat.
<Destroy. Destroying. Destroyed. We are descending into destruction.>
Not words Kersh would want or understand.
Dana Scully sighed, bit her lip almost hard enough to draw blood, and tried to sum up -- in a way that was not heart breaking, did not make her hands tremble or her lips shake -- the events of the past several weeks.
It wasn't until her typing fingers encountered dampness on the keys that she realized she was crying.
Three weeks earlier...
"Agents, please have a seat."
Assistant Director Kersh said the words without looking up.
Biting the inside edge of her lower lip, Scully glanced up at her partner, smoothed a steady hand over the back of her skirt, and sat primly in the hard, leather chair.
"Sir, if this is about the Griffin report..."
Raising an impatient hand, Kersh silenced her excuse. "This has nothing to do with the Griffin report, Agent Scully." He said her name in a tone of voice not unlike that used when dealing with a recalcitrant four-year-old. "Though I am aware of your tardiness in that regard."
Closing the file, Kersh looked up at his
two agents. "This is about another matter entirely."
When neither agent spoke, Kersh continued.
"There's a case up in Buffalo, New York,"
he began. "I don't know if either of you have been paying attention
to the news lately."
"Kidnappings, Sir." Apparently, Mulder
had heard the news as well.
Kersh slid the folder he had been looking at across the desk. Scully was closer, so she reached forward to pick it up.
"A week and a half ago," Kersh began, "the body of Randall Lee, the first of three kidnapping victims, was found in an abandoned car on Haynes Street in the factory district."
Scully flipped past the printed reports and came across the photos taken at the scene. A rusted husk of a car, front tires missing, windshield smashed in, buried under a massive drift of snow.
"A homeless man, seeking shelter from the cold, discovered the body and reported it to the police."
The next picture was of the interior of the car, snow pushed back and doors open. Sitting upright in the back seat was the unmistakable figure of a little boy. The windows, too, had been smashed in, and snow covered the inside of the car and the child as well. Eyes opened wide were clouded over with the opaque mask of death, staring into the camera lens, frost clinging to the delicate lashes. He wasn't wearing any clothes, and his skin had a terrible blue-gray pallor, tiny, frail looking ribs clearly visible under the rice-paper translucency of his flesh.
Scully stared at the photo, shivered slightly despite the warmth of the office, and passed the folder to her partner while Kersh continued. "Five days later, a fourth child was taken. Stephen Gaines disappeared from his backyard while his mother took a nap indoors and his father was at work. That was a week ago." Kersh paused, picked up another folder, and handed it to Scully.
"Yesterday morning, they found another body."
Flipping past reports again, Scully found
an image similar to the first. Snow again, covering the ground.
This time, however, the child lay flat on his back, resting atop the snow
in front of a large garbage dumpster. Hands folded across the chest,
he might only have been sleeping if not for his large unseeing eyes staring
up into the sky and the dark ring of bruises that circled his throat.
Beside her, Mulder was reading through the written reports. She closed the folder in her lap and looked up at the Assistant Director. Not saying anything, she waited patiently for the proverbial other shoe to land at her feet.
"It's started a local panic," Kersh explained, breaking somewhat under Scully's gaze. "Parents are afraid to let their children out of the house. Assistant Director Rigler, who oversees the field office up there, requested your help specifically, Agent Mulder."
Mulder looked up at this, expression inscrutable.
"I told him that it wouldn't be a problem and that the two of you would be up there by this afternoon, this evening at the latest."
Mulder nodded shortly and rose to stand. He had barely spoken the entire time they'd been in the office. When it didn't appear there was anything more to be said, Scully gathered up the contents of the folder, followed Mulder's example, and walked over to the door. She was about to follow her partner into the outer office when Kersh called out behind her.
She turned, hating the way even her name could be an insult from his lips.
"You can leave the Griffin report on my desk on your way out of the building."
She closed the door.
The flight up was tedious and cramped. Mulder spent the first half reading the reports they had been given and the second passed out against the unforgiving airplane window. A stopover in Newark yielded a massive cup of bitter coffee and a hastily grabbed bagel to tide her over until they could find something more substantial, and then they were on their way to Buffalo. Reports were circulating about another big snowstorm due to hit the area within the next ten hours. Scully stared out through the windows across the aisle into a dense morass of clouds and prayed that it would be later rather than sooner.
A rental car was requisitioned, and the first sticky flakes began to fall as Mulder steered the vehicle out onto the already iced over roads outside of the airport.
At the field office, they walked briskly and efficiently down the long hall. Scully was busy preparing her traditional "I hope we can be of some help, Sir" speech, already anticipating the familiar resistance of primary investigators to the intrusion of outside ideas and influence.
In her years with the bureau, she and Mulder had been met with everything from outright derision to genuine gratitude. Usually, reaction to their participation ran somewhere in the middle, treading the line with veiled distrust and mild insult. It didn't help when they solved the case within only a week or two of entering an investigation that had been ongoing for several months, disregarding all popular theories in the process.
Most agents in the bureau held positions in a field or regional office, always investigating cases within their own jurisdiction. Agents brought in from outside were often referred to as "hired goons." Mulder and Scully had no such limited jurisdiction. They had never been assigned to a field office. Almost every case they investigated -- at least the ones prior to their assignment to what Mulder so graciously called 'shit detail' -- was an invasion of someone else's playground. They stepped on a lot of toes, made very few friends, and as a result, she had mostly perfected the little recitation she was about to give.
Beside her, Mulder was tall and dominating,
a grim presence sheathed in fine black wool and surrounded by the swirl
of a long, ebony trench coat. He knew the speech, too, but was always
reluctant to give it. Her skills of placation and cooperation had
always far exceeded his, and they both knew it.
The bullpen was through a pair of unmarked glass doors. Mulder held them for her, stepping back completely by habit to allow her entrance. She didn't even recognize the gesture anymore, any more than she recognized the occasional intrusion of his hand resting almost imperceptibly at the base of her spine. *That* particular gesture was less common these days, almost gone completely, and when she allowed herself to consider it -- which was not often -- it was with a distant, muted sorrow.
Metal desks, some divided from their neighbors by low walls, marched in neat rows from the door, across the large room, and all the way to the back wall. Windows dominated most of the wall facing the street, allowing a spectacular view of downtown Buffalo. The wall at the end, opposite the doors they had entered through, was another facade of glass, made opaque this time by beige mini blinds on the other side. In the center of it was a door with the title "Special Agent in Charge Douglas Moore" clearly stenciled in neat, black letters. The whole effect was stark and vast, practically surrounded on all sides by those high, glass shields.
They walked across the room, glancing mildly
at the scattering of agents present. Most of the desks were unoccupied,
though they showed obvious signs of recent use. Several agents were
seated at desks, absorbed by their computer screens. One was busy
absent-mindedly picking at the remains of his lunch.
"Agent Mulder," Moore began, without introduction, as soon as the door was closed. "The first thing I think you should know is that I did not request your assistance on this case."
The partners traded quick, slightly bewildered glances. Scully spoke when Mulder did not. "Sir?"
"Agent Scully," Moore acknowledged. "My men have been handling this case since the first child went missing. They've been working their collective asses off on this thing for months."
Moore was in his early fifties with sandy blond hair stained by intermittent streaks of gray. He had serious, dark eyes, a simple, attractive enough face, and the shadows of two-day-old stubble shading his cheeks. When he continued, Scully uncharacteristically thought that his eyes might be quite pleasant if he wasn't tired and frustrated.
"We haven't achieved much, but we haven't had much to go on, either. Progress has been slow and painful, but it *is* being made."
Moore paused, coughed roughly, a long-time smoker's cough.
"I'll be direct, Agents." His gaze shifted from Scully to Mulder. "I don't hold a very high opinion of profiling as a method to help capture a suspect. I think it may only serve as a distraction in this case. I did not request your help as a profiler, and if it wasn't a direct order from AD Rigler, you would not be here right now."
Scully took in a sharp breath, surprised at the direction the conversation had taken. Mulder didn't say a word, clearly not surprised at all, and this worried Scully. She didn't glance over at him, but she knew the inevitability of his interruption. She dreaded his silences; they were always portents of unpleasant things to come.
Again Moore's attention changed, switching back to Scully. "I am, however, sure that the pathology department will be more than happy to turn this thing over to you, Agent Scully. Though I don't know what else you'll be able to find. The deaths have all been fairly straight-forward."
She merely nodded.
Mulder's voice was a shock after his long silence, and she almost jumped at his sudden, quiet, even tone, despite the fact that she had been expecting it.
"The Investigative Support Unit has spent years and countless man-hours interviewing and studying hundreds of serial murderers, rapists, child molesters, and mass murderers in an ongoing effort to understand their motivations, personalities, crimes, and methods. These agents are *trained* psychologists. Their findings are not manufactured nor based on ignorant conjecture." Mulder's voice was a deadly soft timbre that teetered gently on the cusp of insubordination.
"You have no suspect and no idea of where to start," he said, bluntly. "'Behavior reflects personality,' and if you at least had some idea of this perpetrator's personality, you might be that much closer to narrowing down who you're looking for. As you now stand, it could be anyone. Any one of the several hundred thousand people living in this city. It could be one of your own men, for all you know."
Moore severed Mulder's continuing speech, his tone a warning. "You know as well as I do that it isn't one of my men."
Mulder simply blinked mildly. He had said the words to get a reaction. He always did.
Moore's irritation grew. "You also
know that the use of a profiler is usually a last resort, and that even
when a profiler *is* used, their participation results in an instant arrest
in only five percent of all cases."
Moore's voice was imposing. Scully could easily see how he was able to command such a large group of agents. He was a leader, that much was undeniable, and also a man who was not accustomed to his authority being challenged. "I will not have my agents sidetracked by vague speculations and untenable theories." The words were slow and final. They brooked no argument.
"Agent Haydn is waiting out in the bullpen for you both. He's agreed to take the two of you to the crime scenes and to introduce Agent Scully to the pathologist who did both of the autopsies."
Mulder's expression hadn't changed.
Scully knew it was far from over, even if he'd decided to keep his peace
for the time being.
Moore had to be given credit. He maintained the stare, unflinching. Mulder eventually turned and walked to where Scully was waiting. She breathed a sigh of relief. Before leaving the room, Mulder turned back to Moore. "I was assigned to this case for a reason, and I intend to do my job."
It wasn't a challenge or a threat. It was the truth. Not for the first time, Scully wondered how much that truth might cost them in the end.
Agent Haydn was an agreeable enough, if
exhausted, agent. He wasn't overly helpful, but he wasn't a hindrance,
either, and that was more than she had expected after exiting Moore's office.
They went to the second scene first, starting where the trail was fresh,
but there was little to be seen except an old dumpster, tattered police
tape, and six inches of fresh snow covering the ground. From the
look on Mulder's face, he hadn't expected much to begin with. After
that, they decided against going to the first scene until the next morning,
worried about road conditions and knowing that they weren't likely to find
"Who said anything about profiling, Mulder?" She was careful with her words, but she knew he would hear the concern in them.
Sighing, he didn't turn to look at her when he answered. "I knew I'd be profiling the minute Kersh gave us this case, Scully."
"How did you know?"
His reply was slow, considered. "Assistant Director Rigler was the Buffalo SAC during a case I worked here when I was with the ISU."
He didn't elaborate, and she had to prompt
him for more. "Why does that necessarily mean you'll be profiling?"
Scully looked out over the darkened Buffalo
streets that sailed past her window and hid her smile. The things
Mulder saw so easily were often completely invisible to average men.
His voice was small. "Yeah." And then,
after a beat, "so, if Assistant Director Rigler asked specifically for
me, he expects me to profile."
"And how long had the rest of the investigative team been working on the case before you got there?"
Mulder turned away from the road, glanced over at Scully briefly, and smiled a tiny, knowing smile.
Only five percent of all cases, indeed.
Dinner -- at ten minutes till midnight -- was turkey and Swiss on rye from the all night deli next to the motel (since no one would deliver during the snow) and case files spread out like a trailer park after a tornado over the covers of both beds and the floor of Mulder's motel room.
Scully took a sip of her soda, rubbed a weary hand over her aching eyes, and stood up. "I can't do it anymore. I'm about to fall asleep with my eyes open."
His only acknowledgment was the shuffling of papers from the other bed.
She gathered up her things and tried again. "Mulder, I'm going to sleep."
Still no reply.
Chagrined, she walked over to stand beside her partner and looked down at the file he was reading. It was the police report on the third child taken, Tristan Oliver.
She placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed
lightly. When he looked up, his expression was only half aware, and
she pulled her hand away to rest limply at her side.
He looked back down at the file as if he hadn't really heard her at all.
She stood there for another moment, watching him as he turned the page and began reading again. When she left the room, she had to forcefully squash down some unnamable sadness that she did not want to own. That night, in her bed, sleep was a very long time coming, and dread loomed large and commanding in the forefront of her thoughts.
"... and we should expect the eighth big snow storm in a winter that is already breaking all the records to show up sometime late Saturday night."
In the car, on their way to the field office. The announcer's voice droned on, talking of wind chill factors and the day in 1949 that previously held the record they had broken last night with a record book worthy temperature of five degrees, wind chill not a factor. On and on, and Scully could imagine countless school children lined up in front of their radios, faces full of hope, praying for the blessed reprieve of a snow day.
"... so if you're forced to brave the great outdoors this morning, don't forget to bring your mittens."
Scully paused at the familiar words, grasping onto a memory so far in the past it seemed only a phantom. So insufferably smug, he had been. So delightfully, infuriatingly difficult. She glanced over at her partner, remembering the warm, then disconcerting and unfamiliar tingle of his breath just above her ear as he had spoken. Mulder turned, sought out her eyes, and shared the memory with a tiny smile.
A trip to the scene where the first body had been found was as pointless as they had expected it to be, and as cold. Teeth chattering, they had made their way back to the field office.
"I'm beginning to think the whole point to the positioning of the bodies is merely to demonstrate how efficiently the weather can erase evidence," Scully reflected ironically, as they stood in the elevator.
Mulder didn't reply, and she watched as his jaw tightened, the doors opening with a sudden ping.
Down the hall and through the bullpen, they came to stand in the doorway to a small conference room, made all the smaller by stacks of files in boxes, on top of boxes, on tables, in precarious towers, and laid out in an abstract display across the floor.
"This is everything, all the evidence that's been uncovered over the course of the investigation. If you two need anything else, I'll be out at my desk."
Janice, Agent Moore's administrative assistant, looked at them both expectantly. She had the no nonsense demeanor of a woman who had worked with The Boys for a very long time, and Scully doubted she did such pedestrian things as fetch coffee anymore.
"Thank you. You've been more than helpful."
She gave a short nod, not quite a smile, and shut the door softly on her way out.
Scully folded her arms and turned to Mulder. She tilted her head forward, drew in a breath through pursed lips, and peered at him beneath raised brows. "This should be fun. Divide and conquer?"
"Left" he announced.
"Right," she concurred, and they turned simultaneously to their elected ends of the room.
The stacks appeared to have some sort of
order, at least. The various crime scene reports were in two small
boxes near the door. Scully found the autopsy files stacked together
at the end of the table and set them aside for perusal before her meeting
with the forensics staff downstairs. Detailed profiles of each of
the four families sat in a large box in the center of the table.
On the floor at the back of the room loomed several, crowded boxes of compiled
research into the possible means of victim selection -- a point the investigation
had primarily focused on.
"Three and a half hours, and I still can't make sense of the MO," Mulder said, the first to raise his head from the mess.
"He smashes the framed pictures in each
home when he takes a child, paying special attention to the portraits of
the entire family, or photos with more than one member present. Now,
from a pop-psychology viewpoint, the analysis is damned obvious -- he hates
those pictures, hates what they represent. Something about these
families upsets him, makes him jealous or angry enough to need to destroy
the evidence of their existence."
"I've seen similar symbolic destruction many times over the course of my work with the ISU. It's a fairly common means of venting anger or frustration towards something or someone you cannot otherwise confront. But that's not it; that’s too neat, too simple. That's what doesn't make sense."
Scully nodded, following at last.
"If this were merely another example of that type of symbolic destruction, he should be picking more consistent targets. Shattering family portraits, coupled with the kidnapping of the children, would primarily indicate that he envies the lives of these children, their happy homes. But he's not always choosing children from typical, sit-com, 'Leave it to Beaver' families."
"What do you mean?" Scully broke in.
"Tristan Oliver's mother had just been
through a messy child custody battle after walking out on her husband of
twelve years. Timothy Crane's mother was practically decapitated
by a drunk driver just three weeks before his ninth birthday. The
Lees and the Gaines are both still happily married, or apparently so.
Other than the ages of the children, there is no consistency to the families
"No." Mulder dismissed her question
outright. "The pictures are of primary significance. He's sending
a message, he's telling us exactly *why * he's doing this. He wouldn't
destroy the photos if he didn't have something he was trying to say, or
if the message wasn't directly connected to the families themselves."
Mulder looked down at the chaos of papers
spread out before him, then over at Scully with her neatly arranged stacks
of files, and then back to his own work. She noticed his scrutiny
and rewarded him with a faint, rueful smile. He began reciting the
Pausing, Mulder reached out to draw a particular folder closer to where he sat.
"For his second victim, he went to the total opposite end of the spectrum. Timothy Crane's family had just been torn apart by tragedy. Four months ago, three weeks before his ninth birthday, his mother, Grace, was involved in a head-on collision when another car swerved over the line and into her lane. The driver was drunk, three times the legal limit. She was killed instantly. Under New York State's no tolerance law, the perpetrator is now serving a hefty sentence for vehicular homicide in a state prison. Alan Crane, who works as a computer programmer with Luminary Technologies, was left to raise both Timothy and his twin sister Charity on his own. When friends of the family were interviewed, they said that the only reason Alan was still alive at all was for the children. His wife's death destroyed him."
Mulder pushed the folder away and grabbed
another. Across the table, Scully had leaned back against her seat
and was busy filing Mulder's words away into pockets of relevance in her
"And for number four, Stephen Gaines. Mother and Father, Camille and Keith, are still together and expecting another child, their second, two months from now. The mother is a homemaker. The father is a successful lawyer, not a full partner but well on his way, at Wakefield and Chase uptown."
Mulder stopped, stood up, and walked over to the water cooler in the corner of the room. He leaned down and grabbed one of the little plastic cups, filled it with water, and downed it in one gulp. Looking up at Scully, he silently asked her if she wanted a drink.
Bringing the exchange into the audible realm. "No thanks," she responded, "But I would kill for a cup of coffee."
He raised his eyebrows. "Coffee?" Walking over to the door, he said, "Let's go see what we can dig up."
Eager for a break, and in desperate need of caffeine, Scully followed Mulder out of the conference room. In front of Janice's desk, they paused and he asked for directions. Out of the bullpen and down the hall to a lounge, they both noted the distant nature of the other agents. Thinking about it, Scully decided that no one they had met had been overtly rude or difficult. They all just seemed exhausted. This case had been going on for far too long, and its recent descent into a serial murder investigation as opposed to merely a series of kidnappings had to have been a debilitating blow to the team.
Scully leaned against the edge of a table while Mulder discovered the empty coffeepot, looked around for the filters, and brewed a fresh pot. Waiting while the machine hissed and sputtered, emitting a few preliminary drops, Mulder turned and regarded her.
"So, did you find out anything interesting while you were reading?" He knew she would share. He was just prompting.
"Well," she began, "as we already knew, the investigation up until this point had been primarily focused on discovering how the children were being chosen. They were hoping to find some distinct connection like a day care center or a doctor's office from where they could obtain a list of obvious suspects."
"They didn't find anything." A statement, not a question, from Mulder.
"No. And they tried everything, eventually. Schools, friends, playgroups, sports teams, even hospitals the boys were born in and the stores the parents frequented for their clothes. On the parent's side, they were equally thorough. Everything from jobs, high schools attended, military and political affiliation, doctors again, obgyns the mothers went to. There are stacks and stacks of abandoned inquiries trying to establish a link between these children, and *nothing* has been found."
Mulder's next statement surprised her. "They're not going to find what they need with that information."
She looked up at him. "Why not? He has to be choosing them somehow."
"I agree. But I don't think how he's choosing them has anything to do with something as pedestrian as a common pediatrician or little league coach. If it were as easy as that, the family wouldn't have so much to do with it and the smashed pictures wouldn't be an issue."
She could feel them slipping into their familiar opposing roles. "But, Mulder, even if the family *is * the reason he's taking these children, the fact remains that there has to be some method that he's using to select them. Whatever particular trait he's looking for in these families, you said it yourself, he's not just going after any random house he sees with a nine-year-old boy in the front yard. There has to be a specific connection to the families. There has to be a way he is being personally introduced to these little boys. Your whole theory about the photographs hinges on that personal knowledge."
Scully was leaning against the table with arms crossed high across her chest. Unconsciously, Mulder adopted a similar pose.
"I think that the reason for the photographs *is* the method."
Scully's expression was puzzled.
He paused, searching for an explanation. She knew that his theories were often difficult to articulate. "I don't know what it is. I don't understand what he's looking for yet, but I believe that whatever it is, somehow it's obvious to him. He can see what he's searching for when he looks at those children, and that's why they're chosen."
The coffee maker was dormant now, full, and Mulder turned to fill two mugs.
With his back to her, "In order to solve this case, we need to find out what it is he's looking for, why these children are special, what those pictures mean."
She watched as he poured a small amount of cream into her cup and then a pile of sugar into his own. She scrunched her face up slightly in distaste, all too familiar with his coffee drinking habits. He handed her the steaming mug.
"That's where this investigation needs
to be focused. They won't catch this guy by questioning schoolteachers
and bus drivers. They need to know how his mind is working."
He interrupted. "Vague, intangible, untenable those theories could be?"
She made a frustrated noise in her throat. "You're going to be looking for things you won't be able to prove, throwing out Moore's entire investigation in the process."
"Yeah." He seemed suddenly tired.
"I know that already. But it's unavoidable. This is the only
way we'll catch this guy. This is what I came here to do. This
is why we were given this case."
They were silent for several minutes while she sipped the hot liquid, relishing warmth amidst the cold she felt surrounded by in this place.
"When are you going down to meet with the Pathology department?"
She sighed deeply, staring into her cup of coffee. "Two hours. I still have to take a more complete look at the autopsy reports, so I know what questions to ask."
She couldn't see it, but she felt his nod. His fingers grazed her elbow briefly. "Let's get back to work, then."
Side by side, they walked back down the hall.
Five hours later, her feet throbbed with a dull ache, her hair was still in the loose ponytail created while down in the lab, and hunger like an unwelcome house guest was taking up all of her concentration. She trudged down the hall, through the bullpen where several of agents were still at work despite the later hour, and pushed wearily into the conference room.
At first she didn't see him and wondered if he had left for another break or to use the bathroom. She was about to leave, to check in the lounge, when the sound of shuffling papers caught her attention.
Stepping slowly around the table, feeling foolish in the small room, she rounded the edge and stopped in her tracks.
"Mulder, what are you doing?"
He didn't answer or even look up. On the floor behind the table, he was crouched in front of a long row of boxes, papers spread out before him like new, white carpet. In his hands he held an open folder. She watched with growing dread as he stared at the pages and reached up slowly to trace the paper with the tip of one long finger.
She took a step closer, was about to speak, and was suddenly captivated by the expression on his face.
He looked... absent. That was the first and only word she could think of. The disproportionate nose, the shape of the jaw, the long lashes shading his eyes, those were all the same. But Mulder was not there. Sometime during the three hours she had been down at the lab, Mulder had disappeared within himself and left only a shell behind.
She kneeled down, insinuating herself gently at his side. Looking at the folder he held, she found it full of photographs. He was staring at a wide shot of a child's bedroom. Glass covered the furniture and floor. Bloody footprints ringed the bed.
Unsure of exactly what to do, she reached out, trusted that he would respond to her, and laid a careful hand over his fingers that touched the picture. She squeezed lightly, called his name.
A delayed reaction -- he seemed to not even notice for a few heartbeats -- and then he flinched slightly, turned his head to look at her with still distant eyes. "Scully." Almost a question.
"Mulder, it's time to go. We should go."
She thought she saw him nod, and then they rose. She took the folder from his hands.
She scowled. "As long as it's not Chinese. I can't handle Chinese again."
His chuckle was slight from the other bed.
"What's the matter, Scully? Had your fill of MSG already?"
His voice on the phone faded into a minor buzz in the background. She closed her eyes, toed her pumps off and let them fall over the edge of the bed, wiggling her stockinged feet indulgently. She was starving, and tired, and frustrated, and a plethora of other things she wasn't yet ready to name.
"Italian place down the street. Should be here in fifteen minutes."
She murmured her assent and heard him disconnect the call.
Silence became a welcome, comfortable presence between them, and she was content, for that one small moment in time. She listened to the creak of ancient springs on the other bed, as he settled against the pillows. She did not open her eyes. The TV turned on, sound low, and he flipped quickly through the channels.
...static, talk show, infomercial...
"Mulder?" She had a sudden question. "Why does Moore have such a problem with you?"
Expecting a flippant remark, or more likely a shrug indicating his own ignorance, Scully was startled by Mulder's seemingly off topic response. "You know where they keep the ISU, don't you, Scully?"
She rolled onto her side to face him and answered slowly, confused by the turn in conversation. "At Quantico. It's a part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime..."
Mulder cut her off. "Sixty feet below ground. Underneath the indoor firing range in an old nuclear fallout shelter."
He paused and got up from the bed.
"To get down there, you have to press LL in the elevator. Lower than
low." There was a pause there that might have been meant for a mirthless
chuckle, might not have been, and he left it empty. "You step out
of the elevator into this labyrinth of long, dark corridors. No windows,
no light, these tiny, soundless rooms."
His voice was suddenly flat, desolate. "There were some nights, I swear I could watch as the walls closed in. I kept waiting to suffocate." He didn't look at her as he spoke. "The ISU receives over eleven thousand cases every year, and they have only ten full time profilers." Repressed outrage in his tone.
"When I joined the ISU," he continued, "barely half of the bureau thought that we should be doing profiling at all. Witchcraft, they said. A bunch of hocus pocus that didn't even yield a name, just vague conjecture about insignificant things like whether or not the suspect's mother was dominating and if he liked to dress up in women's clothes on the weekends."
His fingers tensed against the unyielding, transparent barrier, whitening the tips. "They had us down there, crawling through the minds of monsters, creating and sustaining and willingly walking into the most vivid nightmares... *Ten agents,* and they still manage about 800 full profiles a year, despite the fact that to this day, there are large portions of the bureau that think profiling is a waste of both time and resources."
He stopped for a breath, and when he spoke
again, she could hear an emotion in his previously empty words -- a vague,
bitter distaste. "But it's not concrete. It's not exact. It's
not a hair or a fiber or a smear of blood. You can't hold it, and
you can't analyze it. I construct a profile," he sighed, faintly,
"and I can point out some of the substance behind my findings, some of
the evidence to support my theories, but for the most part, I can't explain
it. I can't rationalize it, and I can't document it. All I
can offer is what I *know* is right, not *how* I know.
Scully moved finally, rising from the bed and stepping warily towards her partner; not moving to actually touch, just to be closer.
"But your work," she protested. "You've proved your abilities time and again. How can anyone possibly doubt what you do after seeing the results you get?"
His shoulders were slumped, body leaning
in towards the window. If he moved any farther forward, she feared
his forehead would come to rest against the flat, hard surface of the glass
and he would slide gradually to the floor.
She couldn't imagine, didn't even want to try. Her anger grounded her through cases like this; made it possible to face mutilated little bodies and the violation of innocence. The thought that her partner, her friend, a man she trusted with her life was able to laugh and empathize with child molesters and men who tortured for pleasure, the thought of him trying to relate to the motivations of those men frightened her. It was like ice water running down her spine.
His hand had relaxed. Her eyes were strangely drawn to the shapes of his long, slender fingers.
"During some cases, I used to look in the mirror and find a stranger staring back. I couldn't recognize myself. I disgusted myself, and I was terrified I'd never see a familiar reflection again."
Suddenly, his shoulders tensed, she stepped back, and he moved away from the window, turning to face her. "Part of the reason Moore doesn't like me is because I scare him." Eyes unfocused, he wasn't really looking at her while he spoke. His last words were very quiet, but still somehow steady and sure. "I scare myself sometimes."
The phone shattered the silence between them, startling Scully. Mulder moved away from the window and walked past her without looking up from the floor. She watched the top of his head from his abandoned post by the window, as he scooped the phone up to answer it. His first hello didn't alert her, his second broke her attention from the conversation they'd just had, and his third brought her around the bed to stand beside him at the phone.
Mulder caught her eyes, reached out to turn the volume on the phone up, and gestured for her to sit down. She settled next to him, leaning in, and could hear nothing. After a moment, she thought she could discern light breathing. Heads together, she was about to tell Mulder to hang up when the caller spoke.
"Yes." Mulder's voice was hesitant, "Speaking."
Silence for another breath.
"I was just wondering," the speaker paused.
"I was wondering if you had figured out the message behind the photographs
yet, Agent Mulder?"
"I was wondering if you had been able to see yet what the others have not?"
It was customary for high profile investigations to leave certain, key bits of information out of the press statements, as a cautionary practice. It gave the officials a means to sort through the inevitable weirdoes that sprang from the woodwork as soon as an investigation hit the papers. From the very first kidnapping, the Buffalo PD, and then the FBI field office, had omitted any mention of the broken picture frames. It was key; it was unique. When the front desk was flooded with "confessions," they would know right away who the crackpots were.
No one outside of the immediate investigation was supposed to know about the photographs.
"Photographs?" Mulder was playing dumb.
"Please, Agent Mulder, don't be coy. It isn't your style."
Scully, knowing this was the real thing, scrambled for her cell phone and called the field office.
"This is Agent Dana Scully, badge number JTT03316613. I need a trace on a phone line immediately. The Stay and Save Motel on route twelve, room 316."
Beside her, Mulder spoke again. "What am I supposed to be able to see?"
Scully disconnected her call when she got confirmation and leaned back towards Mulder. She caught the end of the kidnapper's next sentence.
"... would be cheating. That would defeat the whole purpose. It's not in my nature to be self defeating." There was a pause, and then out of nowhere, "You have a partner now. She's beautiful, and I assume that she's not only started a trace on this call by now, but has joined the conversation as well."
Scully's mouth opened on an unformed word.
Mulder only stared off into the middle distance.
"You've been here before, Agent Mulder.
I know you remember. 1987. They said you were brilliant back
then -- caught the uncatchable. I'd already seen the obvious myself
by the time you arrived, but I was impressed that someone as young and...
unformed as you were then could also see it, could make that leap."
"Yes. You can consider it that. Well deserved, I think."
Polite compliments from a man who hunts little boys as a hobby, Scully thought, feeling ill.
"I'm sure you're wondering how I found this number, so I'll spare you the question. I saw the two of you outside of the federal building yesterday, and I'm afraid I followed you back to your motel, just to see which rooms you were in. That was the only way to get the number."
His tone took on a note of surprise. "I have to say, it was a bit of a shock. I hadn't thought I'd become so high profile yet. I hadn't thought they'd give up so easily. It’s flattering, actually, and a pity that their minds are so narrow, but I know to expect better from you. I'm just wondering how long it will take."
Looking down, Scully noticed Mulder's hand clenching and unclenching into a repeated fist. She gritted her teeth and wondered how long the trace would take.
"You called for a reason. Was it just to inquire about the pictures?"
A soft laugh across the phone line.
"Engaging me in conversation won't help you with the trace, Agent Mulder,
but I did call for a reason. Your being here puts me in a unique
position. I am more than aware of your skill with these matters,
and while it does add a certain pressure to my circumstances, it presents
an interesting opportunity at the same time."
"To communicate with someone who may actually look in the right directions."
The line went quiet for a moment.
"I'm going to make you an offer, give you a 'clue,' if you want to call it that. The next time I make a move, I'll leave you a message. The clock is running, Agent Mulder. I would be careful how long you take."
The knuckles on Mulder's fist were white. "You're playing games with innocent lives!"
The answer was immediate, sharp and scornful.
"Innocence? Innocence is a myth, a sacred word that has been raped
of its meaning, and this is not a game. I am very serious about this,
as are you."
"You wanted last resort. This is last resort time!"
Mulder was fuming, pacing the length of AD Moore's office in unrestrained agitation.
"Agent Mulder, sit down now!"
Mulder stopped in his tracks, turned around, and glanced over at Scully. She was standing near the door, watching without speaking.
"You, too, Agent Scully."
It was not a request. They both sat down, taking the two chairs in front of Moore's desk. Moore waited a moment, staring at Mulder, apparently waiting for him to calm down. When Mulder stopped fidgeting and was completely still, Moore spoke.
"I'm sure you know by now that we weren't
able to get a trace on the call. Whatever technology he was using,
it was fairly advanced. That call was re-routed all over the Hemisphere."
Moore stared into Mulder, not even blinking at his statement. He spoke with a hint of disbelief in his tone. "You?"
"It's become even more personal for him now," Mulder said, by way of affirmation. "It's become a matter of pride, to a certain extent. Not a game, really. He's proving himself to himself, not just to us. But now, with a definite opponent, a voice, a personality, and a face to challenge, he's going to begin moving a lot more quickly, with less and less time between acts. You won't have weeks anymore. You're going to have days."
"How do you know?" Moore had folded his arms across his chest and was sitting back slightly, appraising Mulder.
"It's what I do," Mulder answered, flatly. "This could be a double-edged sword. It may give us a certain advantage. If he begins moving more quickly, he could make a mistake. However, this will also make him more serious about what he's doing. It could refine him, make him more precise, more deadly."
Agent Moore still had an uncertain look on his face, as if unsure whether to be alarmed or to dismiss Mulder's words as mere foolishness.
"I've been here before, Sir," Mulder said,
suddenly. "This isn't the first time I've been 'picked out' by a
"It was right before I left the ISU, one of my last cases." Mulder was staring into his lap, voice much fainter now. "The subject called the field office just to taunt the investigators. He wanted to brag. Because I was the profiler, and the psychologist, I got phone duty." A tiny, ugly grin graced his face for barely a second. Scully doubted Moore had even seen it.
"I talked to him. This was back before tracing a call was as easy as it is now. It took time. So I stalled, really tried to engage him in conversation, and by the time he hung up, he had decided that I 'understood,' that I was the only one who truly understood him."
Scully could feel it coming, a little knot that formed in the pit of her stomach. Anticipation. Something bad was coming.
Mulder's fingers laced and unlaced nervously in his lap.
"We ended up cornering the guy in a house, finally got him to stay on the phone long enough to get a complete trace. But by the time we got there, he had taken a hostage. He barricaded himself inside with a seventeen year old girl."
Mulder drew in a shaky breath. "We heard gunfire. When the team finally entered the house, the subject had killed himself and the hostage. He shot her in the head."
Raising his head, Mulder looked straight at Agent Moore. "He left a note on the girl's body. It said, 'for Agent Mulder, who knew.' "
Scully closed her eyes briefly, swallowed the lump in her throat, feeling a familiar compassion for her partner and his "gift." There was something within Mulder that never allowed him to let go, something intrinsic to him now that stemmed from the disappearance of his sister so many years ago. Scully knew, with a bone deep certainty, that Mulder blamed himself for that girl's death. She knew that he could recall her face in exact detail to this day.
Scully looked over at him, but he did not look back.
"You want to know how I know what I do, Sir? It's because I've done all of this before. I've been *right here* more times than I can even count."
Mulder stood up. "And right now, I have no idea how to stop this."
Outside, it was completely dark, late.
Light snow stuck and melted against the window behind Moore's desk.
Scully watched Moore considering Mulder's words and then felt Mulder's
eyes on her. By the time she looked up, he had already glanced away
and was turning for the door. He left the room without looking back,
and Moore didn't attempt to stop him.
Shaking herself free of some odd paralysis, Scully turned to the SAC. "Yes, Sir."
"What is your opinion of Agent Mulder's theory?"
Scully stopped, actually thought about the question, and answered quickly and with certainty. "I have been partners with Agent Mulder for six years, sir, and I have seen his talent with this kind of investigation time and again. He's good at this. The best. I don't pretend to know how he does it; I just know that he does."
Moore nodded, accepting her words. "You're dismissed, Agent Scully."
She left the room in search of her partner.
Mulder was not in the bullpen. He was not in the conference room or the lounge or the bathroom. When she asked a few people if they had seen him, no one could give her a definite answer. Flipping open her phone, she hit his speed-dial button and hoped he would answer the call. After ten rings, she gave up. She was standing alone in a deserted hall. They hadn't had the chance to eat. She was exhausted and starving. Ahead of her, the elevator doors opened with a chime to reveal an empty car. On impulse, she stepped through the doors and pressed the down button.
She didn't know how she knew, not even
when she swung through the large metal doors. They moved on well
oiled hinges, completely soundless. The morgue's lights had been
dimmed for the night, and the room was dominated by shadow. She found
him standing in front of the wall of freezer drawers. They gleamed,
dark, polished silver in the half-light.
He didn't answer.
Walking closer, she saw the open drawer,
knowing instinctively which drawer it would be. She came up beside
him and looked down at the tiny body. An autopsy had already been
performed on Timothy Crane, that much was immediately evident. The
Y-incision was the first and only thing you saw when you looked at the
boy. A long, hideous row of large, black stitches ran from the groin
to the ribcage before branching out. It was obscene, only emphasizing
the child's diminutive size, his immature body. The abdominal cavity
was sunken in, all of the organs having been removed for dissection.
Scully wondered if Mulder would make the first, most glaring observation.
His voice surprised her. "You never told me what you learned when you talked to the Pathologist earlier today."
She looked up at him as he continued to study the body. She spoke softly in the dark quiet of the room, "The cause of death was asphyxia, which wasn't a surprise."
The bruises around the child's neck stood out brightly against the skin, despite the discoloration he'd taken on after death.
"What *was* surprising was that we found no signs of abuse, physical or sexual."
Scully looked down at the child's wrist, the bones jutting out sharply beneath the skin. "Have you noticed how thin he is, Mulder?"
That finally got a response. Mulder looked over at her, interest showing in his eyes.
Scully explained, "He didn't touch either child. The only physical damage, other than the strangulation, was bruising due to the use of restraints. However, from the level of malnutrition, I would guess that during the two months Randall Lee was held, he was fed maybe once a week, if that. He was starving them to death, Mulder. Slowly."
Unable to continue to stare at the child
while she described his suffering, Scully turned around, looked out across
the empty room. "I'm not the psychologist in this partnership, but
if I had to offer an opinion, I would say that he was watching them suffer,
keeping them alive so that he could watch them waste slowly away.
He only killed them when there was nothing left."
Needing a subject change, Scully moved around Mulder, pushed the drawer shut. "I've been going over the forensic evidence taken from the scenes, if you want to hear it."
She continued when he didn't respond.
"As you know, there were no fingerprints recovered at any of the scenes.
We've been able to collect two extraneous hair samples from the Crane house
and the Oliver's. They match, so we're assuming it's our guy.
Not much to go on from there, though. Medium brown hair, no apparent
signs of disease. We ran a PCR against the known offenders’ list,
but we didn't get any matches.
Mulder had walked away from her and was
standing in the middle of the room. He looked smaller in the large
space. A light shining above his head isolated him in his own pool
of illumination, accentuating the sharp lines of his face.
"If they aren't too new, and we get something to match them up against, we might be able to get an identifiable wear pattern, but..."
"More of the same," Mulder finished for her, disgusted.
She didn't reply, just as frustrated.
His sudden movement made her start slightly. He stepped forward abruptly, took a few quick steps, and stopped, staring down at the floor, scrubbing his hands over his face.
"This investigation has absolutely no solid
evidence to go on. Nothing." His arms dropped down against
his sides. "Yet they still continue to concentrate on country club
memberships and boy scout troops."
She walked over to him, laid a hand over his arm, which was chilly beneath her palm. "Mulder, lets go. Please?"
Softly pleading her concern, both for him and for herself. He glanced down at her, eyes solid and dull, impenetrable. There was a fear she had always carried with her, ever since she had become aware of the uniqueness of Mulder's talents, a fear that with this gift lay the inherent risk of one day losing him to the madness. Beside him at that moment, she saw again the blank expression he'd worn earlier in the conference room. She suddenly feared that the stress of the past few years, together with the sorrow he carried constantly with him, the oppressive nature of their present circumstances, might become the final impetus needed to push him beyond the edge. Maybe once, years ago, he would have been able to fight his way back. Now, she wasn't so sure.
Even more frightening was her uncertainty in her own strength. Would she be able to pull him back from the abyss? After everything, did she remember how?
He stood motionless beneath her touch for
an instant and then pulled away, moving towards the door. The doors
swung open, admitting a rush of light from the hall, and she followed when
he did not turn around.
The green glow of the travel alarm was the only light in her room. Oppressive darkness, that was the only description that came to mind, like it had taken on form and could smother her as she slept. It was a childish fear. She watched as the digital readout increased by one and proclaimed a new hour. Four-o-clock in the morning, and she was not asleep.
She had managed to crawl into bed upon their return from the field office. She couldn't remember closing her eyes, that's how tired she had been. But after sleeping for slightly over three hours, somehow she was awake again and still so tired.
The clock's cheerful display mocked her in the darkness. Sighing, she rolled over, reached out and turned on the small bedside lamp. The glare sliced through the darkness and stung her eyes. She shuttered them tightly, waiting to adjust.
When the light wasn't so painful, she stood up and walked to the bathroom. She wasn't sure why. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she stared into her reflection. She didn't know what she needed; she just knew that she was restless.
On impulse, she grabbed her trench from the chair and slipped on her shoes.
Outside, the night's earlier clouds were yielding their promise as light, freezing rain, sealing the thick carpet of snow under a slick, clear shell. As a child, she had loved the snow, especially after they moved south and its appearance became a rarity. After the past couple of days, she was starting to hate it. In small quantities it was cheerful, seasonal, inciting a Christmas-like atmosphere. How people were able to live where it never stopped, where it never seemed warm, was beyond her comprehension.
Further beyond her comprehension was why a motel that was in Buffalo, New York, a city renowned for its copious amounts of lake effect snow, would include in their design an outdoor staircase to access the rooms. It was a torment, and ridiculous.
She was careful on the steps, cursing the hazardous rain. Rounding the last flight, she stood only two doors from his room. Even from this distance, she could see the light beneath the door, peeking from behind the curtains. He was awake or asleep with the lights on. And while the latter was not uncommon, she knew somehow that the former was the truth. Part of her restlessness was related to him. Strange as it was, they had always fed into one another's moods.
He was awake, and so was she, and she didn't want to be alone. But something held her back. Rain slanted in under the protective roof, dampening her hair and cheeks.
Barriers between them were erected and -- less commonly -- deconstructed more often than she could keep track of. They made steps forward, they made steps back, and she always felt like she was stumbling along, unable to master the finer points of the dance. They only made it worse for themselves. They were the ones responsible for complicating things so terribly. She realized this and yet remained unsure or unable to step back, make it make sense, destroy a few more walls.
In her bitter moments, she thought it a curse; that two people could need each other so desperately and yet be completely unable to reach out when comfort was needed, that two people could hurt each other so badly, and yet be tied inextricably together.
In her most bitter moments, she believed that someday they would destroy each other, and that she would watch it happen, unable to leave.
A gust of wind slapped against the building, causing her to sway on her feet. It was foolish, to be standing out in the rain at four in the morning, teeth chattering and lips turning blue. Sheer foolishness. He was probably asleep, anyway. She would only wake him needlessly. Her restlessness would fade.
Hating herself for it, she moved towards the stairs. She almost turned around multiple times, continuing down to her room, despite the nagging in her gut. Later, as the clock still glowed green against the black, and she closed her eyes to block it out, she wondered how many times he had done the same, stood outside her door and wanted to reach out, tugging helplessly against the chains that bound them.
It was the phone that woke her, and her
mind absently noted that it was far too dark for any sane person to be
calling. It could only mean one thing. They had spent the past
two days in relative inactivity, sifting through the boxes of evidence,
waiting, dreading, expecting something to happen.
"Agent Scully, this is Detective Mathers
with the Buffalo Police Department. We were told to call and inform
you that there had been another kidnapping."
It couldn't be any later than five-o-clock. She glanced to the side and found her suspicions confirmed. Five-fifteen. She looked away in disgust.
There was a knock on the door as the Detective answered. She clicked on the light and replaced the receiver, knowing already who her visitor would be. He didn't say anything when she let him in. Mulder glanced down at her, unspeaking, sharing the grim knowledge. Resigned to her fate, she moved into the bathroom to change.
The living room was tiny -- four beige
walls, brown, faded sofa (with a few buttons missing), ancient TV, some
toys scattered in one corner. But amidst the ratty carpet and thrift
store furniture, there was comfort in the small space. It was the
toys, the crayons on the table, a folded pile of clean clothes on the couch.
There was a small forest of bright houseplants in one window. In
the kitchen, an open textbook with multiplication tables inside sat next
to a cookie jar on the table, crumbs scattered across the surface.
"Not much for him to destroy."
Mulder, behind her, and he was right.
There were only a few framed pictures in the small house, but he had managed
to get them all.
His expression mirrored her feelings, sad
and unsure. They would find nothing more here than they had at the
other scenes. This house, with its shroud of glass, would yield no
fingerprints. Not that fingerprints would help even if discovered.
This criminal would not be found by something as simple as a search of
the NCIC. He was a ghost; no name, no face, just a voice over the
Mulder nodded at the detective, and together they walked out into the cold.
"Drew Hausner was supposed to be staying at a friend's house for the night. His mother was working third shift at a bar where she waitresses, and her husband works night security at one of the malls uptown."
The Detective was speaking as they walked
down the street. Around them, the houses remained tranquil, the sun
just peering over the horizon’s edge, slightly hazy behind clouds and lingering
Up ahead, Scully could see familiar yellow
tape swaying in the breeze. A few people lingered nearby.
They arrived at the sight of the attention -- nothing more than an empty expanse of sidewalk with footprints scattering the surface.
"You can tell there was a struggle."
On the ground, in the snow, there was a
clear path of small footprints leading in the direction of the Hausner
residence. In the road along side these were tire tracks, and on
the sidewalk another larger set of prints were visible. The footprints
melted together in the snow, slips and scuffles evidencing a minor struggle
as the boy had undoubtedly tried to escape.
Neither partner answered.
Scully had a feeling that these boot prints would be as useless as the last sets had been, and from taking only a cursory glance at the road, she already knew that the weather had most likely destroyed anything helpful the tire tracks might have indicated.
There wasn't much to be seen.
Mulder was walking back to the car, as aware of the realities as she was. He waited at his door until she opened the door on her own side. When he started up the engine, she cranked the heat up as high as it would go. The streets were ice rinks, perfect for skating. Scully gripped the edge of the door as they made their way to the office, praying for coffee, some answers, and a safe arrival.
It was something about the way she clung to his hand, the way she leaned into his body like a shield, the way no matter what the question was, she looked to him before answering. Perhaps it was a natural reaction to the stress of their situation, but it seemed like more than that, and looking over at Mulder, Scully knew he saw it, too.
"And you didn't notice anything unusual about the house when you returned home, aside from the pictures?"
Roberta Hausner shook her head but didn't speak.
Mulder directed his next question at the father. "Is Drew your only child, Mr. Hausner?"
Inexplicable hesitance crossed Kenneth Hausner's face, and he looked over at Roberta briefly before turning back to Mulder. "Drew isn't my son, Agent Mulder."
Mulder's look was a question. Roberta was staring down at the table. Kenneth was regarding her with a cautious expression, clearly concerned for some reason.
"He was from a... prior marriage."
The pause there was telling.
"A prior marriage?" Scully directed the question at Roberta, and when she didn't get an answer, Kenneth spoke up.
"Can I speak to the two of you outside for a moment, please?"
"Of course," Mulder answered, glancing quickly at Scully for confirmation.
Kenneth leaned over to his wife, murmured
something to her that Scully could not hear. Roberta nodded, looked
up at her husband and then back down again. He squeezed her shoulders
lightly before following Mulder and Scully out of the room.
Kenneth turned, looked at the door. "I lost count of the number of times she ran to a shelter. She always went back, and it always got worse, but she's a weak woman now. He made sure of that. She can't survive on her own anymore."
Scully digested this, asking a question. "Why did she finally leave?"
"One night," Kenneth began, "she just showed up on my doorstep with Drew. I didn't turn her away."
"So you knew her before she left her husband?"
Kenneth straightened his shoulders, looked directly at Scully. "Yes." There was a gleam of defensiveness in his eyes.
"That night, when she knocked on my door... God, she just... I could barely recognize her; he'd messed her up that bad. One eye was completely swollen shut, the other was purple but still open. Her cheek was all torn and bloody, like she'd taken a spill on a motorcycle and met the pavement hard."
His voice broke slightly, and he looked down at the floor. "She had two broken ribs, Agent Scully, and a broken wrist from when he'd stepped on it as she tried to crawl under a table to hide, helpless and bleeding on the floor. She had to have surgery to repair a detached retina, and she still has only partial vision out of that eye."
He paused, the gleam completely gone from his eyes and looked up from the floor. Scully could hear tears in his voice, undercut by a ribbon of pride. "So, yes, I was seeing her while she was still married. We weren’t sexually involved, but we were spending time together for almost a year before she left. I won't apologize for it. I'm sorry it took her as long to leave as it did. He'd have killed her eventually if she hadn't run to me. I know it."
Scully was unsure of what to say.
"Roberta needs someone to protect her, to take care of her, and I do that, but Drew is her life. He’s the reason she smiles every day."
"If Drew's not all right..." Kenneth closed his eyes and sucked in a shaky breath. "It may kill her," he said, sorrow filling every syllable.
Scully wanted to offer reassurances, to proclaim that they would find Drew and bring him home safely. She wanted to tell Kenneth Hausner not to give up hope. But did she have the right to encourage hope when, in the end, that hope could be so easily destroyed?
She didn't know, and standing before the hunched figure of Kenneth Hausner, she had only one assurance she *could* give. "We'll do our best, Mr. Hausner. I promise."
He opened his eyes slowly, regarding her, and nodded, looking grateful but unsure. "Thank you."
Mulder opened the door to the interrogation room, watched from outside while Kenneth went over to his wife, whispered again into her ear, and helped her up with a gentle hand under her elbow. Watching the couple walk down the hall, the tiny woman tucked under the arm of her husband and protector, Scully realized how small her assurances truly were and suspected that they would be a bitter comfort, at best.
Her coffee had grown cold and sour.
She was staring absently at the autopsy reports, reading and re-reading
the pathologist's findings, not sure what -- if anything -- she was looking
for. The bullpen was quiet. Night had fallen delicately over
the city and most of the agents had returned to their homes, home to wives
and families, comfort and safety.
Mulder had barricaded himself in the conference
room four hours ago, supposedly looking for that indefinable something.
The key. The meaning. He had said he would know it when he
found it. Unable to assist him in any way, she had left him to his
hunting, secured a desk out amongst the other agents, and hunkered down
for the evening. The dinner he had refused to touch earlier that
evening sat in its paper wrapping on her desk. Her own sandwich sat
half eaten and abandoned next to a tepid cup of coffee.
Two desks away, the phone rang, startling her in her seat. One of the few agents still present walked over to pick it up. She tuned the conversation out, trying to concentrate, partially succeeding until someone called her name.
She looked up.
"There's someone on the line asking for your partner."
That got her attention. Anyone who
would normally call them would use the cell numbers. No one, except
for the distant possibility of AD Kersh, would think to call them here.
Following instinct, she stood and faced the Agent -- Agent Williams, if
she remembered correctly.
Williams gave her a slightly puzzled look, but she wasn't about to explain.
"And tell him we need a trace on that line, ASAP."
He nodded, expression suddenly grim, and she turned away and headed for the conference room. Her knock was loud and impatient. By this time, the scattering of agents around the room had noticed the action and were looking up from their work.
"Mulder, it's me."
She pushed into the room... only to find exactly what she had expected.
Mulder was seated in the center of the table, shoulders hunched, head bent. He took no notice of her entrance into the room. Papers and files were scattered everywhere. The room smelled stale, stuffy. It was overheated, just like the rest of the building. Mulder had removed his jacket, and sometime during the night it had fallen forgotten to the floor. His sleeves were rolled up, the first button of his shirt was undone, tie a limp noose around his neck.
He was absorbed by the search, and he wouldn't hear her. She knew this. She walked cautiously to his side and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. His skin was warm through the smooth cotton.
"Mulder." Softly. It wasn't the word that would break his trance. It was her touch.
It was like watching a curtain being raised, like changing the channels on a television. One minute he was someplace else, far from light and sound and bothersome words, and then the shift occurred. He was far away, and then with a sudden, vague transformation, he rose to the surface, blinked a few times, and looked up at her, expression still a bit distant.
The question was in his eyes.
"You have a phone call."
Mulder's initial puzzlement at her words faded, as he slowly regained his sense of time. The cast of his eyes grew gradually cold. His shoulders stiffened. The muscles in his neck drew taut. She stepped back when he stood up, following him out of the conference room and back into the bullpen.
SAC Moore was standing next to the desk Scully had abandoned, the same mixture of dread and eagerness written across his face that was shared by the collection of agents that had gathered nearby. When Mulder took the offered telephone, Scully knew she was the only one who could see the odd combination of predatory rage and fear that lay hidden in his eyes.
Someone had hooked up the speakers, and for the first time, the other agents in the room heard the voice of their enemy, ringing loud and clear in the stillness.
"Agent Mulder, I was beginning to grow afraid that you had decided not to answer the phone."
"I was in the other room."
The caller's tone was light, conversational. "There's no need to apologize."
Mulder's voice was flat. "I wasn't apologizing."
A brief laugh across the line, "No. You wouldn't be, would you?" A pause. "I'm sure you're wondering why I've called."
It was a question. After it became apparent that Mulder was unwilling to answer, the blithe voice continued. "I had thought that you'd want to discuss my clue, dazzle me with your amazing insights." He seemed to stop and consider something for a moment. "You have found the clue, haven't you, Agent Mulder?"
Scully glanced over at Moore, whose eyes were boring into the top of Mulder's skull.
He hadn't; she knew this. It was something Mulder had been tormenting himself about the entire day. He said it had to be there, that he was missing it somehow. She had suggested that maybe they were being toyed with, that there was nothing to be found. His dismissal of that idea had been quick and firm.
Their opponent had taken silence for a negative answer. "Oh, Agent Mulder, I had thought it would be so obvious to someone like you."
Mulder’s reply was dull. "Perhaps you overestimate my vast intellect."
"I doubt that." Another pause. "And while I would love to give you some further evidence to look into, I think I've given you quite enough already, far more than I had ever intended to reveal."
Scully was standing woodenly -- only a
few paces from Mulder – her state of mind betrayed only by the slight twisting
and tensing of fingers at her sides.
The previously breezy timbre of the suspect's voice shifted, took on a more serious note when he answered. "Because I can accomplish nothing if there is no one who is willing and able to see, to learn, to understand. I never thought I would need to go to these lengths; I was saddened when all of this...” He paused again, as if searching for a word, “melodrama became necessary."
Mulder's face twisted into a sneer. "And I'm supposed to be what, your interpreter?"
Silence descended upon the phone line for
several long, tense minutes. The collection of agents shuffled, trading
glances in the calm. Moore looked as if he was about to approach
Mulder. The killer hadn't hung up, that much was confirmed by the
tiny nod of the agent across the room in charge of monitoring the trace.
When the quiet was shattered, it was not with the expected answer to Mulder's question.
"You still feel guilty about it, don't you, Agent Mulder?"
Shaking herself slightly, Scully was completely thrown by the question. She watched Mulder as a more controlled version of her own reaction played across his features. Mulder was tentative, careful of whatever territory he was entering unexpectedly. "Guilty?"
"Heather Jacobson. Even now, after all this time, you feel it. I know you do."
Inching closer to Mulder, Scully knew the
confusion was written on her face. Studying Mulder's reaction only
compounded that confusion. His expression seemed to fall. His
eyes lost their predatory gleam.
The tone of Mulder's voice was defensive, and Scully cringed. He wore guilt like a second skin. It crept into every aspect of his life. The sharp, defensive nature of his reply would be like a red flag to their enemy.
When the killer responded, his patient tone barely acknowledged what he knew had been merely token protests. "I can hear it in your voice, Agent Mulder. It's undeniable."
Without looking at her or any of the other agents, Mulder turned abruptly around and faced the wall behind the desk.
A new and sudden question was issued by their opponent. "How many ghosts live in your head, Agent Mulder?"
Silence from the broad, slumped shoulder's of her partner.
"Do they keep you awake at night?"
Scully cringed, closing her eyes briefly and tightly.
"Do you see their faces when you close your eyes?"
Mulder's voice again, low, dangerous. "You have no idea what I see."
The murderer ignored the interruption. "How many of them are young women, Agent Mulder? Mothers? Children?"
Mulder didn't answer, and something inside Scully burned, ached to step forward and touch him.
"How many of them have you actually managed to save?"
Moving even closer, stepping boldly forward,
Scully tried to gauge the intensity of Mulder's reaction, to offer him
the knowledge and support of her presence. His hands were shaking
almost imperceptibly where they gripped the telephone.
Across the room, announced by the speakers, the line went dead. Mulder’s large hand was splayed over the telephone cradle; he had disconnected the call. Everyone in the bullpen seemed frozen where they stood. Scully stepped forward again, extending her hand, and began to gently call Mulder’s name.
SAC Moore finally erupted. "You killed the trace!"
Mulder didn't speak or turn around.
"Goddamit, Mulder, how the hell are we supposed to catch this bastard if you cut him off before we can finish the fucking trace?!"
Slowly, Mulder turned around and spoke.
His voice was arid, eyes avoiding contact with anyone. "You would never
have gotten that trace."
Mulder was moving carefully away from the
other agents, walking towards the door when he answered, eyes still pointed
at the floor, voice soft and detached. "Because this guy isn't an
amateur; he wouldn't stay on the line if there were any possibility of
the call being traced."
Water gushed from the faucet, sending little droplets out in a spray to dust the mirror and the sleeves of his shirt. She reached out, twisted off the tap, and looked up to study his face, crystalline beads of water glistening amidst the stubble and too pale skin.
The men's restroom was empty, and she was grateful for the privacy.
Mulder drew in a long, shuddering breath
before raising his eyes. He seemed to look at the mirror's reflection,
but his focus was turned inward. Scully doubted he was seeing anything
as concrete as his own face reflected back by the glass.
He closed his eyes, and she touched the back of his hand, his skin damp beneath her fingers.
"I'll be okay, Scully."
She drew her hand back but remained close, looking up at the dark circles around his eyes, the long lashes grazing his cheeks.
"Mulder, who's Heather Jacobson?" She needed to know, and, she suspected, he needed to tell her.
He opened his eyes and looked down at her -- familiar depths of dark gray and evergreen -- Mulder's eyes when he was exhausted or depressed.
"Mulder..." she prompted softly.
With a sigh, he turned away from the mirror
and leaned back against the sink, shoulders hanging down. "When I
came onto the case here in Buffalo twelve years ago, they already had a
tentative profile written. There weren't many details. They
hadn't fleshed anything out, but there were some very basic, concrete foundations
that the investigation was working from."
"Young, pretty women were turning up dead
and mutilated all around the Buffalo area. No one could even figure
out how they were being taken. One night, they just never came home
from work, and then, a few weeks later, they were dead."
"By the time I came onto the case, the entire city was terrified. These weren't prostitutes. They weren't lower class or minorities. Someone was kidnapping and torturing pretty, middle-class, white women, and nothing the police tried brought them any closer to a solution."
The fatigue was shadowing each of Mulder's
words. "I noticed the flaw in their logic almost immediately.
Scully took in an abrupt breath, shocked. That was a leap, even for Mulder. Serial killers were almost never women, and when they were, they were usually working in conjunction with a man.
"You can guess how well that theory went over with the rest of the team."
She could. She knew what her own reaction would be to such a suggestion. Adding it up, however, she could see that the pieces fit. She understood Mulder's reasoning, if somewhat vaguely. A woman would best be capable of overpowering only small victims, and in a city plagued by a serial killer, what woman would suspect another?
"But they listened to you?" He had closed the investigation. He'd told her that already.
He was silent for an instant. "I had the profile written on the plane trip up, but it took them almost two weeks to even consider my theories, and by that time, two more women were dead. Once they were finally willing to hear what I had to say," disgust was plain in his voice, "It was fairly simple. We ran a search on recent deaths of middle aged women who had left behind property in their estate. Someplace private, secluded. Someone who'd had a younger sister."
At Scully's puzzled expression, he explained further.
"She was killing her abusive older sister,
over and over again, torturing her. The chain of events had been
triggered by the sister's death, by the killer's sudden inability to ever
exact the revenge she needed from the actual person. Locating the
house was easy, and my profile was dead on.
He was stalling, drawing the words out. Heather Jacobson remained a mystery. Mulder reached up and scrubbed his hands over his face, leaving his eyes closed when his arms rested again at his sides.
"We found the house within a day of starting the search, and most of the team thought it had been just in time. Louise had been gearing up to another kill, and we found Heather Jacobson, badly beaten on a filthy cot hidden in the basement. But she was alive. We'd gotten there in time. We saved her."
Mulder said the last phrase like a plea, like he wanted to believe his own words but couldn't. Scully knew the worst was coming.
"Heather Jacobson had been held for five
days, and the horror she must have endured during that time was unimaginable.
There were injuries she would never recover from. Her face had been
ravaged. No amount of plastic surgery would ever fix what Louise
"Eight days after she was admitted to the
hospital, when the nurse came to check her vitals in the morning, Heather
was found dangling from a sheet strung through the heat vent in the ceiling.
She'd hanged herself. No one even thought she could walk, and yet
she'd managed to move the bed ten feet across the room, loop a sheet around
her neck, and end the horror she was living."
"Yet you blame yourself," Scully interrupted, her tone gentle. "You must know that if anyone other than Louise Taget is to blame, it's the investigators who refused to listen to your theory. You did all you could, Mulder. You have to know that."
These were just words, a conversation she'd
had with Mulder numerous times. She knew, logically, that he knew
these things. Yet she also knew that some deep, dark part of him
could not yield to this logic, and that her words were only shallow reassurances.
She also knew that they weren't really speaking about Louise Taget or Heather
Jacobson. It wasn't that simple. This was about all of the
victims of all of the crimes he had witnessed, all of the lives he hadn't
saved. Heather Jacobson was just a scratch on the surface of a vast
Light snow was falling; the perfect crystals strangely beautiful highlighted by the cascade of sodium-yellow lamplight beyond her window. She watched as the occasional flake blew towards the window, stuck, and remained, for only a moment, before fading away against the warmth of the glass. Her hair was damp with that same snow. It saturated the rug around her door with muddy boot prints. On the chair by the door, Mulder's jacket rested atop hers, dripping. The heat rising from the radiator lulled her into a sleepy stupor, as she listened to the sounds of Mulder moving quietly about her bathroom.
<Almost two weeks.>
Hopefully, their food would arrive quickly.
<It feels like forever.>
She was lonely, an emotion not unknown to her, but strange when she was spending nearly every waking hour by his side. There was a palpable cocoon of silence that surrounded Mulder now, growing thicker, denser with every passing day.
They were waiting. Or rather, she was waiting. He was filling long, fat legal pads with hastily scribbled notes, staring at his computer screen for hour long stretches before exploding in a fury of typing, throwing those same legal pads away when they were full, a look of disgust souring his face.
It had been almost two weeks since the last phone call. She was alternately relieved or terrified by the lack of activity. No more bodies had turned up, no more children had gone missing, but somewhere there were three little boys who grew thinner and further from life with every inactive hour. Scully prayed they were still alive.
Water was running in the bathroom.
The phone rang. Sighing, she moved over to the bed, picked up the
receiver, and kicked off her shoes as she sank down to the mattress.
"Agent Scully, so sorry to disturb you, but your partner wasn't in his room, and I thought you'd be the most obvious place to look."
Every muscle in her body tensed simultaneously.
She sat up, now completely alert. The water in the bathroom was still running.
"Yes, I'm here." The words were nearly toneless.
The voice on the other end of the line
was conversational. "I'm actually rather glad to have gotten the
chance to talk to you, to give a voice and a presence to the face and the
"The stories?" She asked, warily.
"Ah yes, amazing what a little focused digging can turn up. Do you know that there are almost fifty newspaper articles with your name in them? Not all of them are very informative, some are barely mentions of your name in the context of a larger story, but a few were intriguing, indeed."
What was taking Mulder so long?
"You seem to have endured more than your fair share of suffering in the past several years -- missing for three months, taken hostage more than once, targeted and abducted by a serial killer, the death of your sister, surviving those bizarre burnings at the Ruskin Dam -- it's almost too much to be believed."
Scully felt like she'd been punched in the gut.
"And then, of course, there are various articles about cases you and Mulder have investigated. Some of them have had pictures. You two must be very close."
The door to the bathroom opened, and Mulder walked out. Scully looked up at him, and the message must have been immediate in her eyes.
"What makes you think that?"
Mulder was dialing his cell phone.
"You went to jail for him, didn't you?"
*That* was something he should not have been able to find by sifting through newspaper articles.
"How did you know that?"
"The Freedom of Information Act is a glorious thing; government records about anything and everything freely available over the Internet."
Mulder had disconnected the call and was watching her, his eyes demanding to know the content of her conversation.
"There was a particular photograph, from a few years back, taken at a hospital in Maryland after some psycho shot a couple of guards and took a hostage in the ICU."
Scully shuddered, watched, as Mulder's expression grew concerned. She didn't need the name or the details to remember Fairfax Mercy Hospital.
"Mainly, it's a picture of the body being wheeled away, the requisite meat wagon shot, but you and Mulder can be clearly seen in the background. There's just something about the expression on your face in that picture, about the way he has his arm around your shoulders..." The killer paused, as if in reflection. His voice at his next words bore a strangely wistful quality. "There is so little of true beauty or purity in this world."
Scully found herself holding her breath
for a moment, letting it out in a frustrated puff of air, shaken.
"Is this why you called? To discuss my varied appearances in the
newspapers though the years?"
The voice on the other side of the line grew serious. "No, not at all. In fact, as I said before, I called to talk to your partner. He is there, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is."
Mulder's posture stiffened.
"Well then, Agent Scully, I'm afraid our conversation must come to an end, for now."
Scully handed the phone to Mulder. The handle of the receiver was slick with sweat when she pulled her fingers away.
"It's very simple, actually. You have twenty-four hours. If you make it on time, you save a little boy's life; you get your gift. If you don't... you don't."
"If I make it on time?"
"Before the darkness comes."
"I don't understand."
The recording cut off abruptly, as Mulder punched the stop button with his finger and hit rewind again. He was muttering. "It has to be here."
As if by magic, a cup of coffee appeared
on the table in front of Scully, billows of fragrant steam issuing forth
from its murky depths. Startled, she looked up to find the tiny,
concerned smile of Agent Williams.
Her returning smile probably more closely resembled a grimace. She took a long sip, gagged slightly at the surprising presence of sugar, and then took a longer swallow, despite the cloying sweetness.
The tape started up again from the beginning.
"Your partner seems like a lovely woman, Agent Mulder, tense but lovely."
Silence for a moment as Mulder refused to answer.
Across the room, SAC Moore emerged from his office, as the voice of their adversary spoke on the tape again.
"I wanted to have the benefit of your full attention without the audience this time, though I'm sure this is being recorded for posterity as we speak."
Moore walked over to the group of agents, stood silently beside Scully, and settled his eyes on Mulder's hunched figure at the other side of the table.
Mulder's voice on the tape was terse, "Of course."
"Understandable," was their opponent's reply. "I called to offer you a gift, Agent Mulder."
Beside Scully, Moore leaned down and whispered. "How many times is he going to listen to this?"
Mulder seemed not to notice.
"You can call it that, though I suppose it's more of an opportunity"
"An opportunity to do what, exactly?"
Scully ignored Moore's question.
"To achieve something I know you long for, Agent Mulder, to save at least one life from all this darkness, one out of all of the lives you've seen taken."
Silence on the tape again, filled only with the sound of Mulder's breathing. His previously caustic tone was gone with his next question.
"How?" Small, almost.
"I'm giving you a chance to out-run the
darkness, to return to the beginning and set things right again, for yourself,
for this child. It's a chance I found myself wary of offering, considering
your still glaring lack of understanding, but I thought that perhaps the
time had come for a more” he paused again, consider, “hands on lesson."
Short and hard. "And I've told you before, this isn't a game."
A pause while Mulder considered. "So how am I supposed to achieve this?"
A high-pitched squeal filled the room, as Mulder hit the fast-forward button.
"Agent Mulder, I don't know what you expect to find, listening to this tape over and over again." Moore's voice was annoyed, exhausted, and frustrated.
Mulder didn't look up. Instead, he
repeated his earlier insistence. "It has to be here. I know it."
Desperation was evident in his words.
"I don't understand."
There was a pause here, very slight.
And then there was only silence.
Eight hours later, she pushed into the conference room, food clutched in a large, brown paper bag at her side. Mulder didn't look up when she entered. A halo of soft radiance spread out from a lamp in the center of the table, leaving the corners of the room distant in their shadows. She hadn't noticed the lamp in here before. He had shut off all of the overhead lights. Unsure of what to say, she moved over to the table and started pulling little aluminum trays out of the takeout bag.
Mulder looked up, saw what she was doing. "I'm not hungry, Scully."
She bit the inside of her lip, not wanting to yell, knowing anger wouldn't reach him. "Mulder, you have to eat."
He didn't respond.
Frustrated, she continued to pull out their
dinner. Little pre-wrapped bags of plastic utensils were ripped open,
napkins withdrawn. The plastic lids came off of the food and steam
issued forth. She pulled out two Styrofoam cups of soda and placed
one at the seat across from her.
He narrowed his eyes, and his voice was condescending. "We have twelve hours, Scully." As if she didn't know this already.
Across the table, Scully noted the perpetual
trembling in his hands and arms, the way his normally golden skin had turned
pallid and gray. How many days had it been since he'd slept for longer
than a two-hour stretch? Weeks?
Mulder's fingers tightened around the pencil
he was holding. Scully worried it might snap in half under the pressure.
He bent his head back down to the file he was studying.
The smell of steamed dumplings and thick, potato soup filled the air. Mulder grimaced, as if in pain, and gripped his forehead momentarily before resuming his work.
"So you expect me to just stand back and watch as you starve yourself of sleep and sustenance?" The anger and worry were clear in her tone, despite her former attempt at calm.
His voice was unexpectedly quiet, uninterested, not even looking at her when he spoke. "I don't expect you to stand back and watch anything."
He was pushing her as far away as possible.
She swallowed, took a deep breath and a step around the table towards him. "Why won't you let me help you?" She asked, fear shading her words.
Mulder had refocused on the evidence before him. There were small piles and large piles of mismatched file folders in varying hues, spread out in some bizarre pattern that only he could see. She took another couple of steps towards him -- almost close enough to touch -- and then stilled, waiting for his answer.
He was rifling through the contents of a thick, over-stuffed folder. "You can't help me, Scully"
It was the soft, sad acceptance in his reply that moved her. She breached the last few inches between them and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. He felt thinner under the smooth material, bony.
"Why, Mulder?" She asked, as he pulled
himself away from her touch. "Why can't I help you?"
"Mulder, I can't watch helplessly as you
destroy yourself. You can't expect me to do that."
"But that's different, I suppose."
He was continuing without her response, despite the fact that she had lowered
her head and was staring at the floor. "It's not the same, because
I'm not dying of an inoperable disease. I haven't just lost a loved one,
or a daughter I never even knew I had. Those are perfectly good reasons
to shut yourself off from everyone who cares and expect them to step back
and watch, helpless, while you quietly self-destruct. How foolish
of me, Scully. I didn't realize there was a difference."
He flinched, closed his eyes, and turned
his head away. "I don't... I can't do this right now, Scully."
When he continued, his words were barely
audible. "You want to reach out and make it all better, Scully, but
I'm telling you that you don't know how. I don't know how.
There is no remedy for this."
Finally, not knowing why she felt the need to push, "Do what, Mulder?"
He caught her gaze and held it, sighed deeply. "I just can't handle the mother hen routine when every time I reach out to you, you act like I've committed some grand transgression for even trying to care."
He stopped and slowed his speech.
"You can't fix this. You can't, Scully. No one can."
His voice took on a pleading tone, apologetic. "I'm sorry... I just
don't need any help... I'm sorry."
"Fine, Mulder," she said. "Just... fine." Acidity in her words. She was turning for the door when his voice stopped her.
She turned, stared into him.
"I don't know what you want me to say."
Standing there, her thoughts were a whirlwind. Scully wondered, often, how many more of these conversations they would have before they stopped speaking all together.
"I don't either," she replied, her irritation still distinctly present.
"Godammit!" His fist connected solidly with the table, a sudden explosion, sending a cup of soda over the edge to soak the carpet below. Frustration, building since this case had begun, radiated off of him in waves.
Scully was poised like a statue near the door.
"Aren't you tired of all of this yet, Scully?"
She was confused momentarily, until he
continued, and then surprised by the sudden direction their argument had
He was looking straight at her with his
last sentence, and she knew he wasn't just referring to their abandoned
quest. Lately, they fought each other more often than they fought
their nameless enemies.
She didn't know where they belonged.
On the X-Files? Maybe. But even Mulder's precious files yielded
more questions than answers lately, caused more pain than reassurance.
To Mulder, they were stability, though, a purpose, something concrete upon
which to anchor an unstable life.
When he looked at her again, another radical shift had taken place. His mood was volatile, shifting without warning. "But maybe you don't mind it so much. Maybe it doesn't make as much of a difference to you."
It was an accusation. Scully felt as if the room was spinning around her. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" She demanded, bewildered and hurt by the seeming randomness of his ire.
"You tell me, Scully. You don't even
believe. Why should it matter to you that they've taken everything
"How can you even say that to me?" she said, taking a step towards him, the words clipped in disbelief, in hurt.
His shoulders were set in a stance that was a clear challenge, daring her for it to be otherwise. "Not two months ago, after persuading *me* not to give up, insisting that you couldn't leave my side, you got up in front of a bureau panel and dismissed any credibility our work might have gained. You doomed our work with those words, Scully. I felt like a fool. You publicly *declared* me to be a fool."
What could she say? They'd been over this all already, her need for proof. It wasn't enough for him. He took it as a personal betrayal. Her breath shuddered in and out of her chest.
Was he honestly blaming her for the loss of the X-Files?
"Those files were as much my life as they were yours, Mulder, maybe more." Her voice was shaky. She wanted to scream that she had been violated, betrayed, wrested of her hope, her free will, her control over her own decisions, her body; but the words got lost in the sting of her fury and grief, and she couldn't force them out.
Finally, she found her voice again. "And don't you dare tell me that I was only *assigned* to the X-Files, Mulder. You know damn well that my assignment ended six years ago on the day I stopped reporting to the powers that be. I stayed by choice, and that choice has cost me everything."
She was helpless now to the kinetic energy
of their fighting. She loosed her next, wounding words knowing their
potential for damage. "You lost a sister. I lost most of my life
as I knew it."
He was balancing, just barely, on the thin edge of control. "And for a long as I can remember," he spat "I've been trapped in a life that was beyond my choosing, set on a path with a predestined beginning, middle, and end; a prisoner of the person I've become as a result of someone else's decisions, someone else's plans. I don't even know who I'm supposed to be. I was created to fit a role." By the end of his tirade, his words had become muted, withering. "I've lost a lot more than just a sister, and I never asked you to stay."
Irate. Hateful. He didn't, couldn't mean it. His hands tightened around her arms.
Her eyes communicated what she didn't say. <You're hurting me, Mulder.>
He dropped his hands quickly, as if burned. She rubbed the red spots on her arms exposed by the shell she wore, knowing he'd feel the sting of guilt even through the haze of his enmity.
His eyes fell away from her as he backed up, but not before she saw the shimmer of unshed tears. They were both so unfathomably exhausted. When he looked back up at her, the tears were gone.
She had nothing to say.
Her jacket was in a heap on the table. She walked over to retrieve it, moving past him in the process. The food sat untouched and still steaming, and while her stomach gave an involuntary roil of hunger, the thought of eating made her feel ill. She brushed past him after grabbing the jacket, feeling, faintly, the brush of his fingers against her arm. She didn't acknowledge his touch.
At the door, she was moving with only the thought of escape when he called behind her softly. "When did we become these people, Scully?"
He sounded so unbearably sad. She paused, her head dropped, eyes closing. When? When had they begun wounding each other purposefully? When did the blame and guilt become this tangible presence breathing between them?
"I don't know, Mulder."
She shut the door, unsure if he'd even heard her.
The voice filtered down through the layers
of her consciousness. Had she fallen asleep?
The voice sounded concerned. She
lifted her head up from the pillow of her folded arms (when had she put
her head down?), scrubbed a hand over her eyes, feeling the faint stickiness
of tear tracks on her cheeks (she couldn't remember crying), and regarded
the owner of that concern.
"Really," she said, rising from her chair. She arched her back, wincing as several vertebrae slid painfully into place. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
Williams still didn't look convinced, but
he stepped back. "We've all been running a little low on sleep lately.
It's understandable," he said. "I'm sorry I woke you, but SAC Moore
wants to talk to you in his office."
Knocking first, she pushed into the office.
"Agent Scully, have a seat."
Scully collapsed into one of the chairs, still exhausted. Moore regarded her with an odd expression. Self-consciously, she smoothed a hand over her hair and straightened in her seat.
Moore was blunt. "We have three hours, Agent Scully."
She knew, too well.
"Is Agent Mulder any closer to figuring out what the hell we're supposed to do?"
Scully looked down at her hands folded
neatly in her lap. "No, Sir," she said. Truthfully, she didn't
know exactly *what* Mulder was doing. She hadn't spoken to him since
"You don't mind, do you?"
Scully shook her head.
"I'm not even supposed to do this in the building, but I think these could be considered extenuating circumstances."
She only watched as a thin wisp of smoke curled up towards the ceiling. Moore took a long drag on the cigarette and, with an outstretched hand, offered her one. She was tempted, for a moment, until Moore bent slightly at the waist, coughing.
"No thank you," she replied.
He shrugged and turned to the huge window behind his desk. Outside, downtown Buffalo twinkled like the lights on a giant Christmas tree.
"Another child is going to die tonight, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it."
Scully could hear the conspicuous assignment of personal guilt in that statement. Moore and Mulder had something in common, but then Moore had been working this case for months. This was his city, and he'd been unable to do anything to stop this. She could understand why he felt responsible.
Scully was about to excuse herself when the door to Moore's office flew open behind her.
"I found it!"
Mulder burst into the office, gave a momentarily
surprised glance in Scully's direction, and then directed his discovery
to Moore. "I know where he wants us to go! I know how to save that
little boy!" His words were tumbling over one another in their desperation
Mulder took a deep, hasty breath, and then, with utter conviction in his voice, "Saks Mill."
A rivulet of sweat traced a leisurely path
down from the nape of Scully's neck. She was impossibly hot under
the bulletproof Kevlar vest, tense and hot and uncomfortable. She
wriggled and sighed and glanced across the car. In the passenger
seat, Mulder shifted his weapon slowly from hand to hand, mesmerized by
the unwinding specter of the snow flanked road ahead. He wouldn't
meet her gaze.
Around them, agents poured out of several large, black vans. They gathered quietly around Mulder, awaiting his signal. Mulder was silent, staring up. Finally, he turned to the assembled group. "It's going to be a straight two by two down the hall, with Agent Scully and myself in the lead, followed by Sandborne and Williams, and then Tucek and Bukowski."
Mulder addressed the small team with sharp, quick words, reiterating a plan they already knew by rote. In through the side entrance, down a long hall off of which several offices were placed, through the mammoth packing room, and then up the stairs to the door leading into the main cargo bay. Mulder had insisted that he knew, that he knew where the child would be, knew they had to approach from the side entrance and not go blasting through the front.
"Dammit, No!" Mulder had practically roared. "If he's in there with the kid, and we go busting through those doors like the four horsemen of the fucking apocalypse, do you think we're going to have a chance in hell of finding that child alive!?"
Moore had opposed him, demanding that the teams follow standard procedure, clearing each room as they went, guarding against ambush and traps. Mulder's "But that'll take all Goddamn night!" and similar protests went alternately unheeded and overruled, Moore determined to wrest back a portion of his vanquished control.
The Saks Mill Warehouse rose from the frozen
ground like an ancient fortress, colossal and ominous, black, boarded up
and forgotten. Tall smokestacks were shards of obsidian against the
night sky. Ladders and rusted fire escapes clung like spider webs
to the crumbling facade. The building was beyond the Buffalo City
limits, in an under-populated area. That was where all of the bodies
had been dumped twelve years ago, Mulder said, remote, desolate places.
Twelve years ago, this vacant warehouse had borne silent witness to a gruesome
murder. Mulder hadn't been on the case by then, of course, but he
had insisted that it didn't matter.
With her back to the cold, clammy concrete of the outer wall of the warehouse, Scully thought she could feel the death in this place, malevolence.
The speaker in her headset came suddenly to life. "Team four, perimeter secure."
Now they were waiting only for Mulder's command.
"Team two and team three, you have a go." Mulder's voice was cold, detached. He held his hand up and counted down silently on his fingers. On three, the door swung outward, and Scully swiveled around the corner, weapon a precise extension of her outstretched arm.
"Clear," she announced, and the word had
barely left her mouth before Mulder was sprinting past her and down the
Again, Mulder counted down on his fingers. This time he was first around the door's edge. Scully followed his lead, swiveling to confront a small, empty office.
"Team one, section alpha, clear," Mulder
spoke crisply into the speaker on his headset, the message disseminating
to every member on all four teams.
Two other teams were moving into the warehouse
at the same time as Mulder's, one from the back and another from the remote
east side. There was a fourth team surrounding the building, who
had by now wired the gargantuan cargo bay doors with explosive charges,
just in case.
"Team one, Charlie, clear," Tucek reported.
Mulder started back down the hall at the same time as Scully, and the windowless enclosure was like a coffin. When Scully licked her lips briefly, they were salty with sweat. Small, damp clumps of hair stuck against her forehead. Poised outside another office door, there was the same countdown, holding her breath. There was a slam as the door hit the wall behind it, and the blood rushed in Scully's ears when she rounded the corner.
"Team one, Section Delta, clear," she said.
There were eight offices in the hall, anticipated ahead of time with the blueprints they had obtained. Scully and Mulder were supposed to clear the first office while Sandborne and Williams cleared the second, then Tucek and Bukowski had the third, and so on. That was how it was supposed to work.
Scully felt the air shift, sucking inward, at the precise moment it all fell apart. Faintly, she could hear Mulder as he muttered, "this is ridiculous," and then he had broken into a run, passing the next office in his haste. "Williams and Sandborne, take golf. Tucek and Bukowski, take hotel."
The bewildered response was affirmative, but Mulder didn't even pause. Scully ran after him, not knowing what else to do.
SAC Moore interrupted from his position
waiting outside with team four. "Agent Mulder, what the hell do you
think you're doing?"
"Team two, section kilo, clear."
There was an enormous pair of swinging
metal door at the end of the hall, and Scully was shocked when, heedless
of procedure or safety, she watched Mulder slam through the obstacle without
a glance back in her direction. The doors resounded with a deafening
boom as they smacked into the walls behind.
Moore's voice rattled across the speakers. "Holy fucking shit! What the hell is going on in there?"
Their presence was as good as announced now. Any element of surprise their careful silence had secured was obliterated.
"I want a report! Now!" Moore
again, and, in his wake, the voices of other team members reporting in,
assuring Moore of their safety.
Scully mirrored Moore's cry. "Mulder!" But he was gone from her sight.
Scully pushed forward, imagining she could
already hear the crack of gunfire as Mulder was taken by surprise in his
mad dash forward. She hit the door hard and almost stepped back at
the enormity of the space she had entered.
From elsewhere in the building, another
report came through. "Team three, section romeo, clear."
Heart pounding, Scully made her way around the first vat, weapon steady. She had just cleared the titanic structure when she heard the flutter of movement, looked up and saw Mulder moving forward at the far end of the room. He was almost to the stairs.
He didn't stop, and she raced after him,
feeling each and every shadow in the massive room watching her. Mulder
was already reaching the top of a high, narrow staircase at the end of
the room. Scully placed her foot on the first step. Dust sailed
up from her feet. Her thigh muscles twinged in protest. Suddenly,
the world dropped out from under her, the shattering sound of a small explosion
reached her after the fact, and an involuntary scream tore from her throat.
Pain, as all of the air was sucked roughly from her lungs, and her body impacted with the ground. Scully had landed partially on her back and left shoulder, hard. The remains of the staircase she had been climbing littered the cold, stone floor around her. She winced when she lifted up onto her elbow; a large splinter of wood had ripped through her shirt sleeve, gouging a jagged tear in the flesh of her arm. She sucked in a deep breath, closed her eyes, and plucked it out. Blood streamed down her arm from the wound.
She was dizzy. Above her, Mulder
was standing in an open doorway near the edge of the drop-off, looking
down at her with panic in his stance.
Behind her, Williams and Sandborne had
followed them into the packing room and were rounding the last vat, rushing
to her side.
"It's all right, Mulder. Just go." She forced the words out. "We'll find another way up."
He looked down at her one last time, as
she stood up fully and brushed debris from the front of her jacket.
In the eerie glow of her goggles, Mulder gave a small nod, his eyes unknowable
behind their obstruction, and without another word, disappeared through
the door behind him.
"There should be another two doors on this
side," Williams responded, gesturing to a featureless portal at ground
level to their left.
The radio in their ears reported the other teams' progress, making their way in from more distant entrances to the building. Scully couldn't remember if she'd heard anything from them during her rush after Mulder. From their current positions, she'd missed something.
"Team three, tango, clear."
"Team two, section November, clear."
The other teams were making slow progress through the dank, labyrinthine corridors and storage units.
"On three," Scully ordered, automatically taking command.
Sandborne forced the door open, and Scully was the first one in, staring down a hallway much longer and wider than the one through which they had already run. This time there were no office doors to break up the monotony of rotting walls.
"Clear," she announced, and then, "Go!"
The group of agents leapt forward, Scully
in the lead. A thin stream of blood reached her wrist and slicked
out over her palm. Her breath sounded ragged and unnaturally loud,
filling her ears, drowning out the clatter of boots on concrete.
"Agent Scully," Williams called behind
her, a warning in his tone. She knew what he was trying to say, and
worried as she was about taking another fall, there was no other way.
"Shit! It's bricked up!"
Ahead of her, the door that was supposed to lead out to the catwalk had become nothing more than an extension of the wall, a thick, fresh barrier of bricks sealing it up.
"What?" Williams asked, incredulous.
Scully clicked on the radio. "Mulder, the next entrance is bricked up. We can't get in. What's going on?" She paused, waited, and her query was met only by silence.
"Mulder, what's going on?" She was scared and trying not to let it show in her voice.
"Agent Mulder, report!" An order over the air waves from Moore.
Dread clawed its way up her spine. "Mulder!"
There was no answer.
"How far is the next entrance?" Scully
demanded, as she pushed past her teammates to continue down the hall.
Silence was the only reply.
"Next entrance should be around this corner." Sandborne spoke without Scully even needing to ask the question.
Over the pounding of her feet against the
concrete, team three had more bad news. "Team three, G entrance is
bricked up. Over."
Scully's team reached the fourth set of stairs. This time, she was not surprised when she reached the top and found the doorway obstructed. Turning to move down the stairs again, a sound stopped her in her tracks; clear from within the sealed off cargo bay, the crack of gunfire, one shot, and then a quick succession of three more.
"Team three. Shots fired. Over," came the unnecessary statement over the radio.
"Mulder, who's firing? Mulder?" She sounded desperate and didn't care.
Without thinking, without even knowing how she was going to accomplish it, Scully slammed the butt of her assault rifle into the brick wall with strength she shouldn't have possessed.
"Agent Scully?" Williams made to grab her
arm, but she pulled herself roughly away, continuing without speaking or
even looking up. She was shocked when another weapon began to collide
with the bricks along side hers. She wanted to thank him but didn't
have the energy or the time to waste. The empty corridor resounded
with the sound of their efforts.
Unavoidably, the team outside was preparing to blast through, despite Mulder's orders.
The brick construction was new, obviously unprofessional, and therefore weak. Muscles in her arms and shoulders burned, as the first cracks in the wall began to appear. Pulverized brick dusted the toes of her black boots. Finally, a few bricks tumbled inward. Scully ignored the pain, pouring furor and fear into her labor.
Outside, loud through the small opening they'd made, the pre-set explosives discharged. Another pile of bricks fell away.
"Go! Go! Go!"
The breach was barely large enough. Grabbing Williams' arm to stop his movement, Scully scrambled up and over the shattered bricks. Head first, her hands collided with the metal floor, slipping in the rust colored rubble. When she righted herself, she stood on a catwalk that ran the periphery of the cargo bay. The gigantic doors were violently cleft, cacophonous, bright light of headlights beyond flooding in. Scully pushed the night vision goggles down. A swarm of agents poured through the demolished doors, peppering the interior of the warehouse with red pinpricks from assault rifle scopes. The cavernous space was filled with stacked crates and other refuse. Dark, indistinguishable Agents fanned out, searching the mess. From above, Scully scanned the melee and found no sign of Mulder.
Williams was crawling through the hole
behind her, with soft grunts for effort, landing eventually in a graceless
heap. Scully ran towards the stairs that descended to the bay below.
Above her head, the ceiling of the cargo bay was high and curved, thick,
black, steel arches supporting the weight. Satan's Cathedral, Scully
thought, oddly, and with horror.
"Where's Mulder?" She asked, urgently.
"How did you get in here," Moore answered,
his eyes on the demolished shape of the weapon at her side.
"We've found no sign of him yet," Moore replied, grim, as red flashing lights and the wail of sirens heralded the arrival of several ambulances. Someone had called the paramedics, preparing for injuries or casualties.
Something tugged in the recesses of Scully's
mind. She turned away from Moore, feeling his gaze on her as she
Walking, not sure why, Scully moved past
the agents searching the warehouse, and then running, past everyone, to
a high wall of stacked crates against the back wall of the room.
An insidious sense of foreboding began to crawl over her, viscous and dangerous,
making it hard to breathe. She wanted to slow her steps. She
wanted to turn around and leave this place. She couldn't. She
was being drawn inexorably forward.
"Mulder, oh my God, Mulder..."
She crashed to her knees beside him, shocked by the quantity of blood. It was everywhere, visible even in the near darkness. It spread out in a gory pool around the little boy, coated Mulder's hands, smeared his face and jaw. Mulder was holding the child as if a strong enough embrace might revive him. Scully had to force his hands away in order to check for a pulse, already knowing.
Glancing down the tiny body, her voice held a tremble. She had to force it out. "Mulder, are you hurt? We heard gunfire."
He didn't look up, didn't respond.
"Mulder?" A gentle hand over his,
which was tightly fisted around a bundle of blood drenched t-shirt.
She squeezed, faintly, and could feel him shudder beneath her touch.
He was in shock.
"Mulder..." She pried his fingers away from the child's clothes.
She lifted the boy from Mulder's lap and laid him tenderly on the ground. Mulder rose when she guided him up, stumbling, almost collapsing. She wove an arm around his back and he leaned against her, walking sluggishly, posture slack. He didn't seem to blink, to breathe. His eyes stared unseeing ahead, more frightening than Scully had ever seen them. There was desolation in his eyes that made Scully terribly, sickeningly afraid.
Unnoticed by Scully, several agents had entered the alcove. Scully pushed past them, ignoring their looks, their questions. A virtual sea of agents, and she pushed past them all. Something inside of her was clenching, drawing tighter, folding in upon itself. Her perceptions narrowed. The car. Safety. Quiet. They couldn't be here. He couldn't. She would lose him.
The shouted questions were faint disturbances at the edge of Scully's purpose. She emerged from the warehouse into a blinding chaos of lights, sirens, and shouting. Back to the car, opened the door on Mulder's side, closed it after him.
If she had bothered to glance at her watch, Scully would have noticed that the small hand had only recently passed the hour mark, she would have surmised that the hour had changed at around the same time Tristan Oliver had drawn his last breath. Their twenty-four hours were up, and they had been too late.
Uncaring and unknowing, Dana Scully led
her partner back to the motel they shared, and again the road unfurled
before them with the horrifying speed of terrible events set in unstoppable