Title: Closer to Fine
Author: Xscout
Rating: R
Classification: ASR
Keywords: MSR, Series, Alternate Universe - sort of
Spoilers: Grotesque, Tunguska, Terma, Paper Hearts
Timeline: Approximately end of sixth season, but before Biogenesis.
Summary: A serial killer and a deadly disease could lead them to disaster. Or it could take them closer to fine.

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner and any other names you recognize but I forgot to mention, are the property of Chris Carter, 10-13 Productions, and Fox. I don't pretend they're mine and I have no illusions about their *ever* being mine. But everything else contained herein is.

Author's Note: This is a sequel to a previous story called 'Fine'. I highly recommend that you read it first or this won't make complete sense. If you're clever you could probably figure it out, but why bother? Let me apologize to all of you who I've been promising this to for the longest time for making you wait and thank you for your patience and encouragement. Thank you to Kel for her medical advice, letting me bug her at all hours for the sake of accuracy.

Please take a moment and satisfy my almost overwhelming curiosity and let me know what your thoughts are in regards to this story. XScout@hotmail.com Thank you, I truly appreciate it. Now, before you break your screen with your keyboard in a vain attempt to shut me up because you just want to read the damn story, let's begin.


Closer to Fine


Georgetown, Virginia
Dana Scully's Apartment
6:23 a.m.

She wrinkled her nose at the tantalizing aroma that wafted into the room. Cracking one eye open, she looked over at the clock on the nightstand. Almost half past six, too damn early to be awake. Scully stretched her arms languorously and a huge yawn escaped her lips.

She heard the soft clatter of dishes in the kitchen and smiled to herself. Who would have thought Fox Mulder had a domestic side? She pushed herself into a sitting position and then swung her legs over the bed, toeing blindly until she found her slippers. She padded quietly down the hall and through the living room, noting that the sun was just beginning to peek above the horizon.

He was standing at the stove, carefully turning the bacon so it cooked evenly, his spatula-free hand holding a glass of orange juice that he sipped from occasionally. She snuck up behind him and slipped her arms under his, pulling him into a hug.

He didn't even flinch. "Morning, sleepyhead. Finally decide to join the land of the living?"

Dana was mildly disappointed that she hadn't been able to startle him. "Mulder, six-thirty is hardly what I call 'sleeping in'. Why are you up so early?"

He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep."

She tightened her embrace. "Nervous?"

He turned around within the circle of her arms and looked down into her eyes as they stared up at him. "Yeah," he sighed, "I guess I am."

"Me too." Stretching up on her toes, she placed a warm kiss on his lips. "I'm worried about you pushing yourself too hard and making your condition worse. I know I can't do much about it, but I can still worry. So what's *your* reason for being nervous?"

Mulder swiveled around to turn the bacon over. "It's not so much the idea of profiling that bothers me. I did it for years; I can do it again. Especially now that I have you to make sure I don't become too... involved. I think it's the fact that I'll have to face a lot of people who see me as... not quite sane."

"That's never bothered you before," Dana pointed out.

"I know. But in the VCS, it's important that they take me seriously, that they take my work seriously. Otherwise, people could die."

"I wouldn't worry about that, Mulder. I think your reputation as the best analyst in Violent Crimes is well known throughout the Bureau. Besides, it's been what, eight years since you left? How many new faces do you think you'll see?" she reasoned.

"True. Other than all the assistants and researchers, I believe there are only a few people who I won't know. I think there's only been about three who've left the unit, not including Patterson. That leaves seven full-time profilers who would recognize me by more than my name. Richard Davis took over for Patterson as head of the ISU, he's a pretty fair guy, doesn't hold a grudge."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Are you trying to tell me that other agents might hold a grudge against you? Whatever for?"

He sighed. "Because I had a tendency to be right more times than they were."

"In other words, they were jealous that you were the fair-haired child and couldn't stand the fact that you had a much higher solve rate as a rookie?"

"That about sums it up. The last thing I need is for them to see me as a crippled prodigy. That'd just add fuel to the fire." Mulder removed the bacon from the pan and set them aside to cool. "How do you want your eggs?"

"Over medium." She leaned against the tiled counter beside him. "Do you really think that your condition will make that much of a difference in how they perceive you? Most of them already know you, have worked with you before, and the new agents were brought up hearing 'Spooky Mulder' stories. Trust me when I tell you that all of them will have preconceived opinions about you. The fact that you have an unexplained illness will just be something to add to your mystery." Scully sat down at the breakfast table as Mulder set her plate in front of her.

He walked back to get his own plate. "My mystery, huh? And do you find my mystery alluring, Agent Scully?"

"Absolutely," Dana purred.

His answering chuckle was broken off by a gasp. Scully looked up to see that Mulder had stopped halfway between the kitchen counter and the table, his face a mask of pain. She stood up quickly, moving forward to catch him if he fell.

He didn't. But the plate in his hand did. It crashed to the floor, fried eggs and bacon strips spilling onto the tile. His arms wrapped around himself in a useless gesture of protection against the agony, his muscles spasming as the tremors ran their course. Then, as quickly as it had come, the seizure subsided.

It took him a second to reorient himself and when he did, he let out a tiny cry of dismay. Dropping to his knees, he began to gather up the remnants of his breakfast. "I'm sorry, Scully. I'm so sorry."

She knelt beside him and stilled his frantic actions with a touch of her hands. "It's okay, Mulder, that's why we bought plastic dishes. Nothing a little water and a sponge won't fix."

Mulder picked up his plate, bacon grease and egg yolk dripping off the edges, and walked over to the sink. Suddenly, anger swept over him and he slammed the dish into the basin. "God damn it! What the hell am I going to do when this happens in front of the team?" He placed his palms on the edge of the counter and leaned forward, his chin almost touching his chest. "What am I going to do?" he whispered.

Scully was beside him instantly, taking him into her arms. "Oh Mulder, is that what is *really* worrying you? We are due to meet with Davis the first thing this morning and we'll clarify a few things about your condition. Then we are going to go in there and we are going to show them the best damn pair of agents that the bureau has ever had, regardless of physical impairments. We will explain it to them, tell them how to deal with it when it happens, so that they realize that it is nothing to be afraid of. If we treat it as a fact of everyday life, they should accept it as such and that will be the end of that."

"And if it isn't?"

"Then they'll have to face my wrath," she intoned ominously.

Mulder grinned. "They'll learn real quick that dealing with serial killers is safer."

Quantico, Virginia
8:55 a.m.

They stood in the elevator, briefcases in hand, eyes fixed on the numbers above the doors.

"Jesus, Mulder, how deep is this place?"

"Sixty feet down. The ISU is what used to be a bomb shelter built during the McCarthy area. See, there *are* worse places than the basement."

"Do they have heat and air conditioning?"

"Yeah, I think they installed it a couple years ago."

"Then it's the Hilton compared to our office."

Mulder grinned. "Well, you know my penchant for choosing the less... reputable hotels."

"I *knew* you did it on purpose. Do you know how many times-" she broke off her sentence as the elevator announced its arrival at their destination. She gave Mulder's hand a quick squeeze before the doors slid open.

They stepped out into a large room that contained nothing but workstations. Most were occupied but a few were empty, their owners off on one errand or another. Both walls to the left and right were lined with doors that led to private offices, assigned to the senior profilers. The wall opposite the elevator housed only one door - the one for the head of the Investigative Support Unit. That specific door had just opened and a man emerged, heading straight for the newcomers.

He was a tall man, thinning hair, meaty limbs, could stand to lose a few pounds. His large nose was placed in a cock-eyed position on his face, set below a pair of brown eyes. His mouth was open, revealing a row of slightly discolored teeth, evidence of too many caffeine binges. As he came towards them, his arms opened wide and he boomed in a friendly voice, "Mulder! Welcome back!"

Those who hadn't looked up before did now, upon hearing the legendary name. Heads swiveled to stare at the man who could write the impossible profile, catch the uncatchable. Spooky Mulder. A soft murmur ran through the room as the newer members of the team questioned the older agents on the return of the Golden Boy.

Mulder reached out to take Davis' proffered hand. "Rick, good to see you. Who would've thought they'd saddle such a good guy with Patterson's job."

Davis laughed loudly at this. "No one else wanted it, so I got stuck with it."

Placing a hand on the small of her back, Mulder pressed Scully forward slightly. "Rick, this is my partner, Dana Scully. Scully, this is Rick Davis, head of the ISU."

"Ah, the eminent Dr. Scully. It is a pleasure to have you working with us." He shook her hand aggressively, jarring her arm in the process.

She carefully extracted her hand from his grip. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Come on, let me show you your office. In fact, I think it's the same one you had before, Mulder." He turned and walked to the left, his finger pointing at the door farthest from the elevator and closest to his own office. He held the door open as the two agents entered. "Why don't we have our first meeting in here?"

"Fine," Mulder said absently, his eyes inspecting every inch of his new home at the FBI. He kept trying to keep in mind that it was only temporary. "I see you didn't bother to fix the hole." He gestured to a large dent in the drywall just to the right of the window.

Davis shrugged. "It's kind of a historical monument. I still remember the look on Patterson's face went you did that."

Dana's eyes went wide. "You did that, Mulder?"

"Yeah." He looked sheepish. "I wanted to transfer out of here and Patterson wouldn't let me. I took it out on the wall. All I got for my trouble was eleven stitches and another year in the ISU."

Scully grimaced at the thought of Mulder's knuckles slamming into the wall. She decided to change the subject to safer territory. "Look, there's even a couch in here."

Davis nodded. "Yup. I had it moved in here when Skinner told me about Mulder's condition. Thought it might be useful."

"I'm fine. I'm not sick, I don't need to take naps." Mulder's face was stony.

Scully moved to intervene in what appeared to be the makings of an argument. "That was very thoughtful, Sir. Though Mulder won't be needing it as a result of his condition, I'm sure it will be put to good use in the context of daily work."

Davis looked confused for a moment but then realization dawned in his eyes. "Still don't sleep much when you're on a case, huh Mulder?"

Mulder ignored him.

The older man shrugged and seated himself on the object of the conversation. Mulder had already taken the high-backed chair behind the desk and Scully leaned back on the edge of the desk. "All right, let's get serious. Mulder, you know the drill, I expect you to show Agent Scully the ropes. Assistant Director Skinner specifically requested that you two not be separated, so you'll share this office. I requisitioned another desk, but it won't be here until tomorrow.

Now, Skinner didn't go into detail about your... special case, so I was hoping that you could clarify some things for me."

Scully decided that this was a line of questioning that was better suited to her expertise. "Agent Mulder is suffering from a non-communicable condition in which he experiences seizures of an undocumented nature. They are periods of intense pain that usually pass within a half-minute. They can last up to a minute, but any longer is rare, though not unusual. There is no known treatment and no prescribed methods to deal with the seizures. Just wait them out."

"Hmmm. And you're cleared to work with these... seizures?" Davis chewed on his lip thoughtfully.

"Yeah. Skinner okayed my return to work, but without field agent status. I'm not allowed to drive but I can visit crimes scenes, do interviews, all the stuff I used to do here." Mulder couldn't help the bitterness that seeped into his tone.

Davis had only one more question. "Do you want me to talk to each of the team members about this, or do you want to approach them yourselves?"

Scully answered for her partner. "I think we should do it ourselves. Coming from us would make it less foreboding and more of a reality than coming from their superior. They can ask questions and we'll explain that this is nothing that they need to be concerned about."

"Well, that's about it." He stood from the couch and took a step forward so that he was right in front of the desk. "I hope you don't mind, but I put together some case files that needed to be looked at. Don't worry, I kept it light so that you could get back into the swing of things." He headed towards the door after nodding to both of them. "Glad to have you aboard." With that, he disappeared into the bullpen.

Scully levered herself off of the desk and circled around to face her partner. "He gets right to the point, doesn't he?" She surveyed the office and her eyes came to rest on the stack of folders lying on the hardwood desk. Fingering through them, surprise lit her eyes. "There must be thirty case files here!"

"Well, he did say that he had kept it light."

"You call this light?? How many is normal?" Scully raised an eyebrow in consternation.

"Fifty or so are always open, though I try to focus on only one at a time. Just think, now that I have someone else to work with, we'll get it done twice as fast." He smiled evilly as he reached for the folder on the top of the pile.

"Wait a minute." Her fingers touched the back of his hand, aborting his motion. "I think we should talk to the team first. Why don't I go introduce myself to them and ask them to come in one by one?"

Mulder sighed. "All right. But get the senior agents first. They tend to get testy if rank isn't respected."

"However did you last three years down here, Mulder?"

11:29 a.m.

"That was the last one."

"Good. I think the kid was about to wet his pants."

"He did look kinda shaky, didn't he?"

Mulder grimaced. "If he had trembled any harder, I would have thought that it was *him* with the seizure problem."

Scully couldn't help but laugh. "Well, it's over and done with. Now all we have to worry about is how they'll react when they see it for the first time. It's a good thing that we made it through all the interviews without you having one."

"Yeah, I thank my lucky stars," was the sarcastic reply.

Dana glanced at the windows, double-checking that the blinds were drawn, then moved around to stand behind Mulder, placing her hands on his shoulders. He rotated his neck as she rubbed away the tension, his head finally falling back to rest on her stomach. "I'm sorry, Scully. I know that I haven't been the most positive person ever since..."

She bent down and kissed his upturned forehead. "No, Mulder. You would be surprised at how much more upbeat you have become. I have never seen you smile so much."

He swiveled sideways in his chair, grabbed his partner and pulled her down into his lap. "And what do you think caused my change in attitude?" His lips left a burning trail down the side of her face and her neck.

"Mmmm," she hummed in pleasure. "I love you too."

He pulled back and flashed her a huge smile.

"What?" She cocked her head in confusion.

"Nothing. It's just that I love it when you say those words to me. I can't get over it."

Her eyes softened and she reached up to run her fingers through his hair. "I love you, Fox William Mulder, with all of my heart."

Mulder had to struggle to keep tears from springing to his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck, smelling the delicate fragrance that was her. "I love you so much, Dana."

Scully was fighting her own tears, the desperate tone in her partner's voice making her heart skip a beat. His arms tightened around her and she returned the gesture. His embrace grew even tighter and she was starting to have a problem breathing. "Mulder?" she gasped.

She could feel the shudder that ran through his body. She squirmed in his arms so that she could see his face, pushing against his chest until she had enough room to breathe. His eyes were clenched shut, his breath being sucked in through his nose as he tried to deal with the pain. Her hands moved up to his face, caressing his temples, wishing that she could alleviate his agony.

Finally it passed and his arms relaxed, his breathing slowly returning to normal. He opened his eyes to find Scully staring at him with concern. His own eyes mirrored hers. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No, not at all." One last stroke of his cheek and she pushed her self out of his lap. Both regretted the sudden lack of physical contact, but the seizure had drawn them both back into reality. It was time to get to work.

5:51 p.m.

"You almost finished with that one?" She waited patiently for an answer. "Mulder?"

"Huh? What?"

"I asked if you were almost done?" Worry stained her irises gray.

"Um, yeah. I just have to add a few more notations," he said absently, his eyes never leaving the paper he was scribbling on.

"Then I'm going to run these finished files over to Davis. Be right back."

No reply. She didn't really expect one. She heaved a sigh and left, walking the few feet to their new superior's office. She noticed that most of the workstations were now empty, but lights could be seen in several of the other offices. Looked like the older profilers usually stayed late, unlike the less seasoned agents. She knocked on Davis' door and entered after she heard a grunt of assent.

"Sir, I brought today's finished assignments." She held up the stack of folders for him to see.

"That many? Spooky hasn't lost his touch." He used the nickname without malice, more like reverence, so Scully didn't comment on it.

"It's just one preliminary profile and three local police consults. He is finishing up another consult right now." She set the files on his desk and waved her hand at them, a sad expression on her face. "It is certainly a learning experience."

"Yeah. I remember my first day in the unit. I don't think I ever threw up so much in the space of eight hours. It is horrifying to think of all the sick people in this world. I thought I would go crazy if I dwelt on it too much." He leaned back in his chair and rested his hands on his stomach. "Mulder was brought in only a few months after I started. He was so good it was scary. It was like he had been doing it all his life. But he really connected with everyone - the victims, the killers, everyone. I had learned that I had to distance myself from the people involved or the depression would swallow me whole. I know it was eating *him* alive. I couldn't help but wonder why he did it? Why did he put so much of himself into his work that he was so affected? One day I got up the nerve to ask Mulder. You know what he said? I'll never forget it. He said, 'Because I can'. Then he picked up a photo from the case he was working on and passed it to me. It was a candid shot of a little girl. Pigtails, freckles, smiling from ear to ear, and eyes as blue as the sky. I remember that picture vividly. So there I was, with the photo of the All-American Girl in my hands and I didn't get it yet. Mulder gestured at the picture and said, 'Look at that little girl and tell me if she isn't worth it? If she deserves any less?'

"To this day I still think back on that conversation. Since then, I have never looked at a body as just a piece of evidence, seen victims as sources of information. They deserve nothing less." Davis inhaled deeply and then let it out in a long, slow breath. "Agent Scully, I won't lie to you. I don't know if profiling is the best way for Mulder to recuperate from his condition, if he will be able to deal with so many traumas at once. I was reluctant when Skinner came to me, but I certainly wasn't going to pass up the opportunity of getting Mulder back in profiling. You are his partner, his doctor, and his friend. He trusts you. I expect you to let me know if it is too much for him to handle."

Dana was touched at the senior agent's concern. "Yes, Sir. I intend to keep a close eye on him."

"I'm sure you will." A huge grin was plastered across his face upon that last remark.

Scully wasn't sure if it meant what she thought it did, or if she was just being paranoid. She mentally shrugged and left the office, still pondering on the insights of the head of the ISU.

Dana Scully's Apartment
7:16 p.m.

"Not bad for a first day's work, wouldn't you say?" Scully asked as she spooned spaghetti onto the two plates. "Mulder? Mulder, did you hear me?" She set the pot down and wandered into the living room, wiping her hands on her apron. She found her partner sitting on the couch, a file open in his lap, several others piled on the coffee table. "Mulder?"

His head snapped up, his glasses slipping down his nose at the hasty movement. "I'm sorry, what?"

She put her hands on her hips and scowled. "Dinner's ready. Are you working?"

Mulder ran a hand over his chin and mouth in a nervous gesture. "Um, yeah. I wanted to get a head start on tomorrow. We still have at least four more priority cases to go through."

Scully walked over and held out her hand. Mulder didn't move. A dangerous gleam came to her eyes and he bowed his head in defeat. He closed the open folder and placed it in her palm. "Today was our first day back at work, I think it can wait. Besides, I prepared a special dinner to celebrate. Spaghetti with my mom's secret sauce."

Before she could set the file back on the table with the others, Mulder was in the dining room, standing by Scully's chair. She smiled and followed at a less frantic pace. Sitting gracefully into the chair he pulled out for her, she couldn't help but wonder if the way to a man's heart really *was* through his stomach. Mulder disappeared for a moment and she soon heard noises from another room. "Mulder? What are you doing?"

"I'll be right there, hold on a sec." Eventually he returned, trying to carry several things in his arms. Somehow he made it to the table without dropping anything. He placed the candles on the table and lit them with a match. Then he moved over to the stereo and placed a CD in the tray, the soft strains of Bach dancing through the air. Lastly, he popped the cork of the champagne he had managed to hide from her and poured two crystal goblets to the brim. Finally he took his own seat and looked expectantly at his partner.

Her face, softened even more by the candlelight, was set in an expression of wonderment. Her cheeks flushed and the moisture on her lips catching the flickering light, she was the most beautiful creature Mulder had ever seen. And he had brought that look of happiness to her face. He couldn't help but feel a sense of pride. Raising his glass, he made a toast. "To us. Working together, being together, loving together."

Dana picked up her own glass and brought it forward to delicately clink with Mulder's. "To us," she repeated and took a sip. "Mmm, that's good."

"Better be, at the price I paid for it." He forked some noodles into his mouth, savoring the taste before swallowing. "Delicious."

"Thanks. Wait until I try out Mom's meat loaf recipe." Scully waggled her eyebrows.

"Ooh, I think I just got a chill of anticipation."

Dinner passed in contented conversation, banter about inconsequential matters. When they had both cleaned their plates, Mulder stood and moved to stand next to Dana. Her head tilted back on her shoulders to look up at him and she was caught a bit off guard by the hand he held out in front of her. She raised an eyebrow in question.

"This is a full service celebration, Scully. That means dinner, dancing, and debauchery."

"You make it sound so romantic," she chuckled. She placed her own hand in his and he pulled her out of the chair, into his arms. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 was playing and they swayed around the room, holding each other close. They danced around furniture as they moved from room to room, both knowing their destination.

The last note of the concerto was joined by the decisive thud of the bedroom door shutting.

Two Weeks Later
3:11 a.m.

It had begun.

She knew it would eventually, had accepted that fact when they took the assignment. But she had hoped that maybe her influence would help keep it at bay. After a fortnight in the ISU, she had almost believed that to be true.

I want to believe.

She caught the flailing arm just in time to avoid it being slammed into her face. "Mulder! Mulder, wake up!"

"No! No, don't!" The cry was torn from his throat, a testament to his inner struggle.

"Mulder, please!" Scully pulled on his other arm and pinned them both to his side. "It's all right, you're just dreaming."

He sat bolt upright with a gasp, his eyes wide and dark. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and covering his face with both hands. Breathing loudly through his nose, he rocked back and forth slightly.

Dana crawled across the bed and knelt behind him, placing her hands on his back. His shirt was damp beneath her palms and his shoulders heaved with each deep breath. "Mulder?"

He remained silent, continuing his rocking. She chewed on her lower lip, trying to decide if he just needed more time or if she should start to seriously worry. Before she could determine her course of action, he took the matter out of her hands. He stood up suddenly and strode quickly into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him with a force that wasn't quite a slam, but couldn't exactly be considered soft either.

Scully remained where she was, her hands now resting on her knees. She held her breath, her ears straining to pick up any noise from the bathroom. Nothing. Apparently Mulder hadn't reached the scale of nightmare that caused him to expel everything he had eaten in the past twenty-four hours. She chuckled humorlessly. How many other people had a rating scale for nightmares?

Mulder had always been prone to bad dreams, how could he not with a life such as his had been up to this point? But, ever since he had come to live with her, the frequency and severity of those dreams had lessened considerably. She could only hope that this was one of those few times and not a byproduct of profiling.

Fat chance.

The sound of running water filtered under the bathroom door and she could picture Mulder standing over the sink, bringing his cupped hands to his face to splash the cool liquid on his features. Then he would run a damp hand through his tousled hair, teasing it into a semblance of calm before he felt recovered enough to confront the world.

When he finally emerged, the droplets glistening on his face and in his hair were evidence that her imaginings had become reality. He wouldn't look at her as he moved to the closet, pulling his tennis shoes from the bottom.

"What are you doing?" Dana asked quietly.

His voice was even and measured as he answered, "I'm going for a run."

"It's almost three-thirty in the morning, Mulder." She waited for a response, but he just continued to tie his laces. "Can't we go jogging after the sun comes up?"

"Go back to sleep, Scully, I'll be back in an hour."

"What?? You want to go running by yourself?" She stared at him in astonishment. They had been jogging together in the mornings so she could keep an eye on him, make sure he didn't put too much strain on his heart. "Mulder, what if you have a seizure and fall and seriously hurt yourself?"

All of a sudden, his calm veneer disappeared. "What do you want to do, Scully?! Do you want to spend the rest of your life holding my hand as I do simple things that I have been doing for most of my life? I am not a fucking invalid! I can take care of myself, for Christ's sake!"

Her face went pale at his tirade and she bit her lip to keep the tears from coming. She would not cry, she would *not* cry. Not over an inane argument that was caused by too much stress. Mulder was just affected by the nightmare, that was all.

He saw the color drain from her face and with it went his anger. He pushed himself up from the floor, walking over to the bed. He knelt in front of her and covered her hands with his own. "Scully, I'm sorry. I had no right to yell at you like that, especially about your supporting me through all this. I appreciate the fact that you worry about me, that you want to be sure that I'll be all right; it makes me love you all the more. But, Scully, this is different.

"Usually when I have nightmares, I can turn to you and know that I can find comfort in your arms, solace in your words. But profiling dreams are different. In them I see the killer or, more likely, from the killer's point of view. It is like it's me committing the crime, causing death and sorrow, enjoying it." He swallowed loudly before continuing. "When I wake up from those, I can't turn to you. I am so angry, so confused; I wouldn't want to... I don't want to..."

"You're afraid you'll hurt me," she finished for him.

He nodded solemnly. "It's sometimes hard to distinguish between my thoughts and the killer's. The only way I can vent all that anger and fear is to run it off. Thank God I was usually alone when I woke up, because I don't think I could have controlled myself. One time, I wasn't by myself. Diana and I had been seeing each other for months, and she stayed over one night." He shifted uncomfortably. Diana Fowley was still a bit of a sore subject between the two agents. "I had a nightmare and she had the misfortune of being there when I came out of it. I started yelling and throwing things, ranting and raving about whatever insanity was going through the head of the killer I was profiling at the time. I grabbed her and pinned her against the wall, ready to tear her apart, when I suddenly remembered where I was and what was going on.

"She was so terrified, Scully. She was afraid of *me*, afraid for her life. She told me that I needed to get out of the ISU, that someday I wouldn't be able to come back from wherever it was that I had been. The next day, we started looking for somewhere else in the FBI that I could put my talents to use."

"You found the X-files together," Dana murmured, remembering what Mulder told her when she had first met Diana.

"I don't ever want to put you in that position, Scully. I don't ever want to see fear in your eyes because of me. Maybe you should put in for a transfer to Quantico." His eyes were fastened on their hands.

"No," she replied immediately. "Mulder, look at me. Skinner kept us partnered because we're better together than we are apart and I, for one, am inclined to agree with him. Besides, what good would it do? You'd still be here with me. Or are you saying that you want to leave?"

His head shook rapidly. "No!" Watery eyes looked pleadingly into hers. "Unless you want me to."

Scully had to mentally stop herself from rolling her eyes and sighing. Sometimes he could be so daft. "Of course I don't want you to leave. Mulder, we'll deal with it. I don't know how, not until it happens, but we'll deal with it. I know what to expect... sort of... and I won't be afraid of you, because I'll understand. You're not going to get rid of me that easily, Fox Mulder." She took his face between her hands and leaned forward to kiss him gently. "Now, go run."

Mulder scooped up her hands and brought them to his lips. "Scully, I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I am thankful every day that I have you." He stood from his crouched position and headed into the hallway.

"Mulder," Dana called after him.

He poked his head back in, "Yeah?"

"Don't push too hard, remember what the doctor said."

"No extra stress, I got it." He grinned reassuringly before he departed.

Scully waited until she heard the front door close before she fell back onto her pillow. Grinding the heel of her left hand in her eye, she stared at the blurry red numbers of the alarm clock. Her groan of dismay was broken by a huge yawn.

Life with Mulder certainly kept her on her toes.

Investigative Support Unit
11:21 a.m.

'There are five short, jab-type, incisions at the lateral most lower left forehead. These just penetrate the outer table of the skull beneath this area, the largest being 0.2 x 0.1 cm. Just inferior and posterior to these jab wounds is a definite, penetrating stab wound of the skull. At the skin, this is diagonal with the blunt end 0.2-0.3 cm in thickness, and being at the anteoinferior aspect of the diagonal stab wound, and the acute angle at the superoposterior aspect of the wound being 1.4 cm long. At the skull, this makes a similar triangular-shaped wound, more horizontal over the right sphenoid bone, with a base thickness of 0.2-0.3 cm and length of 1.4 cm. The anterior-most 1.0 cm of this stab is the actual penetration of the skull.'

Mulder pulled off his glasses and set them on his desk before squeezing his eyes shut. He *hated* reading autopsy reports. They always drew everything out to the last letter. Why couldn't it just say, 'The victim was stabbed over his right eye'? Wouldn't that have sufficed? He sighed at his own irrelevant question.

"What's the matter, Mulder? Already got you stumped?"

Mulder's head jerked up at the familiar voice and he stood automatically. "Me stumped, Sir? Never."

Skinner chuckled. "Well, I thought that perhaps I was lucky enough to catch you at the rare moment you were mystified."

Mulder waved at the other man. "Come in, Sir, have a seat." He motioned towards the couch. "What can I do for you?"

Skinner lowered himself onto the sofa, folding his hands behind his head and crossing his legs in a position of ease. "I just came by to see how you were doing. Where's Scully?"

"She just finished an autopsy. I was reading the results she faxed to me when you came in. I was despairing over the length to which she, the thorough woman that she is, goes to describe a hole in the head."

Skinner chuckled again and Mulder was shocked to realize he had never seen his boss so laid back before. The AD must have understood the confused look on the younger man's face because he explained himself. "Mulder, I'm not your direct superior anymore, Davis is. He still reports to me and it is ultimately my decision as to whether or not you work, but *you* don't have to report to me. So relax."

Mulder mock saluted. "Yes, Sir."

Skinner shook his head in defeat. "How are they treating you down here?"

"Just fine, Sir. Everyone has been pretty much trying to stay out of my way and give me time to readjust."

"In other words, they're scared of the great Spooky Mulder and are avoiding you like the plague."

Mulder pursed his lips. "Well, I *suppose* you could put it that way." An evil grin graced his lips. "You should have seen their faces when I told Roberts that he was completely off on the Blue Hills Strangler case and started pointing out all his mistakes."

"I wish I could have been there," Skinner amended. Anthony Roberts was the current prima donna of the ISU, the man who claimed he could write any profile accurately down to color of the UNSUB's - unknown subject's - car. The fact that he had an eighty-one percent solve rate just added to his feeling of self-importance. The arrival of Spooky Mulder, who had exceeded a ninety-percent solve rate, must have knocked the other agent down a notch or two. "Mulder, try not to alienate everyone, okay?"

"I am always the consummate professional, Sir. I told him-" He was interrupted as the door opened.

"Mulder, did you get my- Oh, hello, Sir." Scully nodded to the AD as she entered the office. "What did you do now, Mulder?"

Dark eyebrows shot up the high forehead. "You wound me to the quick, Scully. I have done nothing, the good AD has come by to see how we are settling in."

"How kind of you, Sir." Scully set her briefcase on her desk in the corner and turned around to lean against its edge.

"Mulder was just telling me how he was playing nice with all the other little boys and girls. Other than that, any problems?" Skinner knew Scully would understand that he was referring to Mulder's physical and mental health.

"As a matter of fact-" she began.

"As a matter of fact, there haven't," Mulder hastily interjected. He shot his partner a glare, which she returned without flinching.

Skinner was about ready to call a cease-fire, when there was a knock at the door.

"Come in," Mulder barked.

The doorway became filled with the bulk of Rick Davis. "Assistant Director Skinner, I didn't know you were here. I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"Not at all. In fact, I was just leaving." Skinner stood from the couch and inclined his head at the two agents. "Mulder, Scully. I look forward to continuing this conversation at a later date."

Scully smiled briefly, thanking him for his concern. Mulder rolled his eyes.

Davis stepped aside to allow the AD out the door and then shut it behind him. "Agents, I have a case for you. One that requires immediate attention."

The partners silently called a draw on their battle of wills and focused on the SAC. Mulder was the first to speak. "What is it?"

Davis handed him a thick folder, watching as he leafed through it. "A serial killer in Portsmouth, Ohio, has killed four ten to twelve year old girls over the past two weeks. All have been killed a different way, and there bodies dumped in dissimilar places. The only thing linking them together are the notes found with them."

Scully lifted an eyebrow. "Notes?"

"The guy leaves Edgar Allen Poe poems pinned to the bodies. The media's already named the guy 'Poe of Portsmouth'. What will they think of next? Anyway, I want you two on a plane this afternoon so you can meet with the team at the regional office in Cincinnati." Davis rubbed his chin between his thumb and forefinger absently. "Mulder, I know you can't actually physically go out and catch this guy, but you can visit the crime scenes, look at the evidence gathered, review the bodies, etceteras. Scully, your medical expertise will be an enormous help as well. We need to be as hands on as possible because the press is screaming bloody murder, if you'll pardon the expression. It's like they think we're all sitting around twiddling our thumbs."

"Sir?" Mulder looked up from the file. "Didn't you already put a profiler on this case?"

Davis appeared sheepish. "Um, yeah. I sent Roberts up last Thursday, but he hasn't had any luck. I was hoping that you would be able to get a handle on the guy."

"Roberts," Mulder repeated. "Oh goody."

"Yes, well, I'll leave you two so you can get packed. You're booked on a flight out of Dulles at one o'clock." With that, Davis retreated back out into the bullpen.

Scully opened her mouth to speak, but Mulder beat her to it.

"I didn't want you to tell Skinner about the nightmare because there is nothing he can do about it. It is a normal, at least for me, side-effect of profiling and not important enough to bring up."

"It certainly seemed important enough this morning," Scully pointed out. He was going to argue but she held up a finger and silenced him. "Contrary to what you may think, I wasn't going to mention it. I was going to tell Skinner that everything was going as well as can be expected. I fully realize that your definition of 'normal side-effects of profiling' is a bit broader than mine and I am willing to abide by your version. But I will not allow you to put your own health at risk. Do I make myself clear?"

Mulder looked like a little boy who had just been scolded by his mother. "As glass."

"Good, now that we have that settled, let's get going. We don't want to keep them waiting."

Silently, Mulder gathered the files pertaining to their new case and walked around his desk towards the door. Scully turned to retrieve her briefcase and was startled by a loud crash. She whirled about to find her partner sprawled on the floor, surrounded by fluttering paper. The crash had come from the overturned lamp that he had clutched at to keep himself, unsuccessfully, upright. Presently, he was huddled on the ground, his arms wrapped around his ribcage.

Dana ignored the questioning voices coming from outside and hurried to her partner's side. She dropped beside him and put one hand on his shoulder, the other running soothingly through his hair. It was a bad one. She could tell by the breathy grunts he was making as waves of pain washed over him. It was his way of holding in the screams that any other person would be making.

Finally, the attack subsided and he rolled onto his back, taking slow, deep breaths. "Damn it," he muttered.

"It's all right, Mulder, no harm done," Scully murmured as she set about gathering up the scattered papers.

"That's not what I was talking about." He carefully maneuvered himself upright, making sure he hadn't strained anything. Deciding that he had nothing more than a few bruises, he helped his partner clean up the mess he had created. When the last piece of errant paper was returned to the folder, he handed it to her so she could put it in her briefcase. He caught her hand in the process.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I have a tendency to overlook the fact that you're a doctor when you try to advise me on my health management. I know that it's only because you care, but sometimes I am just so sick of being treated like a cripple."

"You're not a cripple."

"I know, but it seems like it at times. I had to be self-sufficient at a young age and I'm not used to depending on other people. I get so frustrated at having to follow all these different rules and limitations, that I forget what's good for me."

"Which is?" she queried.

He pulled her into an embrace. "You."

FBI Regional Office
Cincinnati, Ohio
12:06 p.m.

"What the hell?!" A loud slap punctuated the statement as a hand slammed against a desk. "What do you mean, they assigned Mulder??"

"Look, man, I'm just the messenger here, don't yell at me." The younger man held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "The order came down from Davis, so I have to assume he heard that the last profile hasn't turned up anything new."

Roberts clenched his fists in anger and began pacing alongside the oval table in the briefing room. "It's only been four days, what does he expect?? Oh, what? He thinks Spooky'll be able to solve it in twenty-four hours?"

Agent Brenner shrugged. "I heard the Spook was the best."

The older agent whirled around, venom in his eyes. "The best?? Listen to me, you little shit, Mulder is a nobody, a flash in the pan whose profiling skills died when he left the unit. *I* am the best analyst in the ISU, not that freak!"

Several others, who were returning from the fifteen-minute break they had been granted during the meeting, joined the two men. The newcomers didn't have to wonder what the commotion was about, they had heard it from down the hall. Agent Vangelis, always one to be on top of all bureau gossip, joined the discussion. "I thought Mulder couldn't come out into the field?"

Roberts snorted angrily. "He can't! Not exactly anyway. He doesn't have field agent status, but he can still visit the crime scenes. Seeing them first hand won't help him though, he lost his talent when he abandoned the ISU for the X-Files. And you know what? His partner is coming as well. He can't go anywhere without her because she's the only one who knows what to do if he has an attack."

A green agent, newly graduated from the academy, stared wide-eyed at his superior. "Attack?"

"Yeah. Mulder has these fits where he shakes and drools all over the place, pisses his pants and pukes everywhere." Roberts reveled in the looks of disgust that registered around the room.

"Why?" Vangelis asked.

"Hell if I know. I think it's from electroshock therapy they performed on him when he was in the loony bin," the profiler sneered.

Voracious laughter echoed throughout the briefing room.

Flight 1701-A
2:32 p.m.

Scully placed her hands on the metal surface of the sink and looked at her reflection in the mirror. "Well, Dana, you've got to get over it and get on with it," she muttered to herself. She had left her partner slumbering in his cramped airline seat, his soft snores the background music to which she reviewed the case files, and hidden away in the lavatory to process her ambiguous thoughts.

She was looking forward to this assignment, as odd as that sounded. It was the first time that she and Mulder would go out and investigate a relatively normal case and she was eager to watch her partner in action. When she had first joined him on the X-Files, she had been wet behind the ears, lacking much time in the field, naive when it came to crime scene analysis. Give her a corpse any day, but the location of the corpse? It was from Mulder that she had learned the real art of investigating, not the stale explanations of a rulebook. It was like watching a ballet of sorts, seeing Mulder move about a crime scene, practically absorbing information through his pores. He used all his senses to *look* at the area from all perspectives, often picking out insignificant things that later became quite relevant. She had learned more from working one case with Mulder than she did in her years at Quantico. And this time, she was going to see him in full gear, no outrageous theories or unbelievable explanations to clutter the process.

But that also frightened her. Her memories of the Mostow case were far too vivid; the black pools of her partner's eyes as he stared into nothingness, the hollow note in his voice, the sallowness of his complexion. He had become a darker and more forbidding version of the man she had worked with, someone she didn't understand and couldn't reach. When Skinner had come to them three weeks ago with a proposition for Mulder to return to the Investigative Support Unit, it had been an image of that unrecognizable man that had haunted her. She had desperately wanted to believe that if they stayed in a nice, safe office, then the effects on her partner wouldn't be so drastic. It hadn't occurred to her that surroundings made little difference when you're inside a killer's mind. She chided herself for being so foolish, for thinking that her presence and no on-site investigating would keep the demons at bay. The nightmare of last night was proof enough that she was kidding herself.

But, as scared as she was, she knew it was for the best. Mulder was a restless spirit, a man who needed to be constantly busy. She had often wondered why he seemed to never take a break and she had come to the conclusion that it was a defense mechanism. It was a way to avoid the demons of his past, the ones that were always hovering at the edge of his consciousness, waiting to consume him. Sitting at home doing nothing was an invitation for disaster and she knew that if Skinner hadn't come to them, Mulder would have searched him out instead.

This was the right thing to do. Really.

Scully drew in a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh, blowing strands of hair away from her face. She straightened her jacket and opened the door. She had just stepped out when she jerked back, pressing herself against the closed door as a flight attendant rushed past with a hasty "'Scuse me". Watching the other woman hurry down the aisle, Dana was alarmed to discover that the reason for the attendant's celerity was none other than her partner. He was thrashing about as much as the cramped space of the airline seat allowed, his muttered cries drawing the attention of the other passengers. She hurried after the stewardess, who was trying to wake Mulder gently. The woman turned and looked at Scully with an unsure look in her eyes when the agent laid a hand on her arm.

"I'll take care of it, thank you." Dana nodded her appreciation.

The flight attendant let out a breath of relief and stepped away, returning to her duties with measured equanimity. Scully sat in her vacated seat and leaned over the arm to place her hands on Mulder's left shoulder and cheek. "Mulder. Mulder, wake up, come on."

His eyelids snapped open and his glazed eyes flitted about the room, not appearing to focus on anything. Suddenly he began speaking in a monotone voice, his words muted.

"Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their intensity. Yet we met; and fate bound us together at the altar; and I never spoke of passion, nor thought of love. She, however, shunned society, and attaching herself to me alone, rendered me happy. It is a happiness to wonder; - it is a happiness to dream."

Scully didn't know what to do. It didn't sound as though her partner were speaking *to* her, let alone from his own mind, quoting something she didn't recognize instead. His next words were still in the same expressionless tone, but she was able to comprehend their meaning with ease.

"The original profile is wrong. He is in his late forties, early fifties, married and living with his sister. He has a high-paying job, stressful, most likely in communications, services, something like that. He isn't doing this out of anger, but of sorrow. He had a good childhood, nothing remotely significant to point to as a sign of instability. His parents doted on him, his sister adores him. But something happened. Something tragic. It scarred him so deeply that he is trying to find a way to make the pain go away. But it won't. It never does."

His eyes closed with his last statement and Dana could see that he was struggling to come back from the darkness of the killer's mind. He took several deep breaths and then reopened his eyes, glancing about to evaluate his surroundings. They came to rest on his partner and she could see the tension seep out of him, only to be replaced with something close to embarrassment. "Guess I saved the airline the need for an in-flight movie, huh?"

She sighed in a mixture of relief and disgust. "Mulder, I..." she trailed off, not knowing what to say.

"I never said it was going to be easy, or that there wouldn't be a few rough patches on the way. I can't help what I do, can't stop myself from immersing everything that I am into this. Having you here is making a world of difference and I am grateful beyond words; but if this is too much, maybe you should step away. I refuse to let you suffer once again because of me. I love you, Dana, with my entire being, but I can't walk away from this. Because I know that, in the end, all that matters is the lives of the victims saved. You can understand that, can't you?"

Scully remained silent after his discourse, too shocked by the idea that he was asking her to leave. Anger began to bubble up inside her, anger that he didn't seem to know her as well as she thought he did. She opened her mouth, ready to bombard him with an armory of hurt accusations and stinging questions, when she looked up at his face. The utter despair reflected in his eyes was enough to erase her anger instantly. It was then that she realized what he was doing.

He was pushing her away to keep her safe. How typically Mulder.

"Of course I understand, Mulder, that's one of the reasons I agreed to this whole situation. Hell, it's one of the reasons I joined the FBI in the first place. Do you honestly believe that I *could* walk away? From either you or this case? I am not doing this out of some sort of instinct to protect you, or because I pity you in any way. Mulder, I love you and I intend to spend the rest of my life with you, no matter what the future holds. That is *my* choice, it is what *I* want. How can I get that simple fact through your thick skull?"

Mulder looked reticent. "I'm sorry, Scully. It's just that... I don't know... maybe I'm afraid that if you see me... disconnected from reality, shall we say, that you won't want to be with me anymore."

"Mulder, if aliens, ghosts, mutants, goblins, men in black, werewolves, vampires, and a various assortment of genetic monsters can't frighten me, what makes you think a little foray into the mind of a serial killer will? All right, I'll admit that I was a little concerned for you during the John Mostow case." She saw his look of reproach. "Okay, I was more than a little concerned. But that was because I couldn't comprehend what you were doing, what you were going through. I do now and I'd like to think that I will be more prepared this time. I'm not going to kid you or myself; I admit that I am still anxious, but now that is tempered by understanding. We are in this together, Mulder, for better or worse."

Mulder's expression of apprehension melted away and he raised a hand to run his fingertips through the hair at her temple. "Thank you," he whispered in reverence.

Dana turned her head and kissed his palm in acceptance of his apology. "Never doubt how much I love you, Mulder. Never."

He bit his lower lip as a tide of emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He leaned forward, kissing her softly and then touched his forehead to hers, looking her straight in the eyes. "Never. I promise."

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Cincinnati, Ohio
4:53 p.m.

"I think it's over this way." Mulder tugged at her hand, pulling her along behind him. It was odd that, after all his years of flying about the country, he had never been to this particular airport. He had no idea where the baggage claim was and the corridors were teeming with travelers. Luckily, he could see over most of their heads and he was able to make out the directory signs. Scully, vertically challenged as she was, had to trust him and hold on tight so as not to get lost in the sea of people.

Weaving their way through the living maze, Mulder pulled them up alongside conveyer belt and scanned the area for any sign of their suitcases. Scully made a circle in the spot where she stood in order to pinpoint the location of the car rental desk. "I'll be right back," she told him after finally seeing Hertz's yellow and blue sign.

Without turning around, Mulder called after her, "Call me on my cel if you get lost."

Dana chuckled as she dodged past a group of screaming children. She reached the rental desk and was about to ask the clerk for the usual forms, when a loud drew her attention.

"Agent Scully! Agent Scully!"

She looked to her left and saw a man jogging towards her, calling her name. He was about six feet tall and twenty-five years old at the most, reddish brown hair swept off his forehead, dark sunglasses adorning his nose, and a long trenchcoat swaying about his knees. He might as well have been wearing a sign that said 'FBI'. He waved at her when he saw that he had caught her eye and slowed his pace a bit. He had to hastily sidestep a couple and their child so that he didn't run into them and came to a halt in front of the female agent. He flashed her a grin and held up his right index finger, indicating that he needed a moment to catch his breath. She raised her eyebrows and waited.

After several long, deep breaths, he nodded at her and removed his sunglasses. "Agent Scully, I'm Agent Phillips, I was sent to pick you and Agent Mulder up."

Surprise flashed in her eyes momentarily but she hid it well. "That was very thoughtful of SAC Hallowell. Mulder's over at the baggage claim."

Phillips' head swiveled around to search the direction Scully had indicated, seeming disappointed when he didn't find the agent in question. He gave Dana another nod and started off towards the luggage area, she having to wait behind a moment to allow a caravan of elderly people pass. She caught up with Phillips and directed him towards where she knew her partner was waiting. All of a sudden, the throng of people parted like the Red Sea, revealing Mulder at the other end of the corridor of humans. She could see confusion and then suspicion flit across his features as he saw the man she was walking next to.

The two joined him and she opened her mouth to introduce their escort but she was beaten to the draw. Phillips snatched up Mulder's hand and was shaking it vigorously. "Agent Mulder, it's an honor to meet you, Sir. I've heard so much about you and I am looking forward to working with you."

Scully snickered quietly as she watched Mulder carefully extract his hand from the younger man's grasp. "Thank you, Agent..."

"Phillips, Sir. Keith Phillips."

"Agent Phillips. Am I to assume that you are here to give us a ride?"

"Yes, Sir. Here, let me get your bags." Phillips began reaching for Mulder's suitcase.

Scully noticed the irritation building in her partner's eyes and quickly moved to circumvent any possible arguments. "Agent Phillips, would be so kind as to carry one of my suitcases? I have an extra one that is filled with the case notes and such."

"Certainly, Ma'am." The kid hefted the bag that Scully had indicated and then swept his hand out before him. "This way please."

The partners shared a look of amusement before moving to follow. It was obvious that Phillips was as green as they came. Having been brought up through the academy on Spooky Mulder stories, he looked upon Mulder as a legend in his own time. Scully didn't mind the fact that her partner was famous within the law enforcement community, knowing that he in no way tried to consciously perpetuate it or use it to his advantage. Mulder was one of the most modest men she had ever met - just another one of his endearing traits.

Phillips led them out the entrance and down several rows of parked cars before turning down one of the rows. He walked up to a black Ford Taurus and used a button on his key chain to pop the trunk. He set his burden in the trunk and graciously held it open so the other two agents could deposit their suitcases. Mulder kept his carry-on with him, wanting to add a few notes to his profile-in-progress.

Another button on the keychain unlocked the doors and Phillips made to open Scully's door, but was warned off by a glare from Mulder, who took the opportunity to do it himself. Scully smiled at him in thanks and in a silent reminder to behave before she got in the vehicle. Shutting the door after her, Mulder pulled open the rear and settled himself in the back, wasting no time in getting to work. He was already scribbling away on a yellow note pad before Phillips was able to start the engine.

Five minutes into the ride and Scully could tell that Phillips was getting fidgety. He was constantly glancing in the rearview mirror and then back to the road. She figured that he was probably trying to figure out how to ask Mulder something and she also knew that her partner wouldn't particularly appreciate an interruption right now.

"So, Phillips, how long have you been on this case?"

He jumped slightly at her question, not expecting it. "Um, since uh... let me see... since the beginning, I guess. It's my first case in the field, Ma'am."

'You're kidding' she wanted to say sarcastically but smiled kindly instead. "Not exactly what you were hoping to start out with, is it?"

The kid gave a half-hearted laugh. "No, Ma'am, I was kinda hoping for something easier. But I am learning a lot and am looking forward to watching you and Agent Mulder in action."

"Enough with the 'Ma'am', Phillips. You can call me Dana, and Mulder prefers just his last name."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. Um, I mean, Dana." He paused and appeared to consider something. "Everybody calls me Gopher, but you can call me Keith if you like."

Scully chuckled. "I think every new agent gets stuck with that one until another newbie joins the unit, so don't take it personally."

"Uh, Da- Dana," he stumbled over her name, "is he really as good as they say he is?"

The words were whispered in awe and Scully resisted the urge to turn and see if Mulder had heard the comment, knowing that he was miles away instead. "Everyone wins some and loses some, Keith. No one is infallible."

The youth stared ahead of him and chewed on his lip, digesting that statement. The rest of the drive was spent in thoughtful silence.

Brentanos Plaza Hotel
5:46 p.m.

"There's a briefing at six, so if you just give the bellhop your luggage, he can take it up to your rooms and we'll be able to make it to headquarters in time. It's only about ten minutes from here, seven if you hit the lights right." Gopher was talking fast, his excitement at being the knowledgeable one seizing him.

Mulder and Scully did as recommended and they all piled back into the car, barely having time to buckle their seatbelts before Phillips had them racing down the streets. Contrary to what he had claimed, they made it in five minutes, most likely due to the young man's expedient use of side streets and a discreet disregard of the speed limit.

The Cincinnati Regional Office was a nondescript building on the outside and a reproduction of the J. Edgar Hoover building on the inside. They crammed into the elevator with several other people, some of whom were casting curious glances at the Washington agents. Mulder didn't seem to notice the attention, his gaze focused inward. Scully was slightly worried about his demeanor. He had responded to nothing but direct statements ever since the airport and she hoped that he would be able to pull himself together enough to face the team of agents they would have to work with for the next who knew how long.

They exited the elevator on the fifth floor, greeted with the drearily blank hallways all government buildings seemed to possess. But this one wasn't bubbling with activity, as bullpens usually were, indicating that a meeting was about to commence. One of the people bustling down the hall stopped when he noticed the trio of agents standing in front of the elevator doors. Phillips raised a hand in acknowledgment and ushered his charges forward. They met the other man halfway.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, it's a pleasure to have you aboard. I wish we could have met under better circumstances, but in this line of work, how often is that?" He shook each of their hands, his meaty palms engulfing theirs. He was a few inches taller than Mulder, his jaw was thick and square, his torso was practically a rectangle, and his muscles flexed when he moved. He looked as though he could break a man in half with his bare hands, though his jocular manner belied the sheer power of his body. He appeared to be jovial and upbeat, but the dark circles under his eyes told of the constant strain he was under. They all stared at each other for a while until the man realized what the two agents were waiting for. "Oh, how silly of me. I'm Todd Hallowell, SAC on this case. You can call me Bear, I don't believe in wasting time with niceties."

Scully turned to Mulder and raised an eyebrow out of the big man's view. This was the Special Agent in Charge of a publicity nightmare serial killer case? Whose bright idea was that? Mulder's shoulders hitched up a fraction, enough to tell her that they should just go with it. Hallowell swiveled around on a heel, his tree limb of an arm gesturing before him. "You're just in time for the six o'clock briefing. This way."

They let him move away a few steps, their hesitation keeping them immobile, and Gopher was somehow able to sense their doubts. "Don't let his vigorous nature deter you, he's one hell of an SAC. He can be sweet and kind one minute, ready to rip you in two the next. That's why we call him Bear." Phillips grinned at that. "You know, like a teddy bear versus a grizzly..."

"Yeah, and I'm sure his size has nothing to do with it," Mulder said, his gaze raising to watch the retreating back of their new superior. "Well, you heard the man, let's get going." He placed a hand on Scully's back and started after the SAC, Phillips trotting along behind.

They reached a set of double doors, opened to reveal a large room, a huge wooden table set in the dead center. The far wall was covered with photographs, maps, and scraps of paper with dozens of different handwritings upon them. Boxes were pushed up against the wall in a haphazard fashion, plastic bags sticking out, labels identifying them as pieces of evidence. There were about seven agents sitting at the table, another eight or so milling about. Once Hallowell entered, everyone quieted and found their seats quickly. The SAC moved to the head of the table, the chair creaking under his considerable weight. Mulder and Scully took the vacant seats to his left and Gopher remained standing, ready to live up to his nickname. Murmurs rippled throughout the room as the men realized who the newcomers were.

"All right, people, settle down," Bear instructed, standing as he spoke. "I see you all noticed that we are being joined by some new members. Agents Mulder and Scully have been gracious enough to lend their support to our efforts and I am sure that we will all benefit from the association." A stern glare was sent around the table, emphasizing the seriousness of his comment. His gaze rested for a few seconds on the man opposite him at the other end of the table. Roberts refused to flinch and the SAC moved on. "I'll introduce the team leaders now and the rest of you can get acquainted later. Agent Jackson Brenner is heading up the victimology team," Bear nodded to his right at a lithe man with a dark complexion and a thin face that showed the tension of his job. "Ulysses Vangelis is in charge of crime scene analysis," his chin tilted farther down the table. A man with curly brown hair and piercing blue eyes inclined his head in their direction. "Dr. Chris Walden from the Portsmouth PD has been instrumental in dealing with our forensics and I know that he has been itching to have a word with you, Agent Scully." An elderly man about three chairs to Mulder's left flashed a grin at the redheaded pathologist, nodding his head eagerly. "And I believe you both already know Tony Roberts, working on the profile for this case. Mulder, I'm sure you and he will have quite a bit to talk about after this meeting. Now, Uly, why don't we start with you?"

Vangelis rose as the SAC lowered his bulk back into his chair. Running a hand through his tangled locks, the man used his other hand to flip open a file folder on the table before him. "Latest results from the crime lab show that there were no biological traces of the UNSUB at the scene, no fiber, blood, prints, hair, gunpowder, arson traces, and no signs of drug use. Nothing, same as the rest. All we have is the note, which reads,
'The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me--'
We haven't been able to identify which of Poe's writings it's from, but we're fairly positive that it is a line from a poem. There appears to be no link between this dumpsite or any of the three previous ones, just the fact that they lie within the same fifty-mile radius. Access to the site is open to almost anyone willing to go in and there are no security measures for the building, so we're stuck when it comes to narrowing down people with right of entry. Since the victim was found frozen in a meat locker, we were hoping forensics could find something substantial preserved with the body." Uly dropped into his chair in defeat.

Bear chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Okay, Dr. Walden, I believe that's your cue."

The white-haired medical examiner adjusted his glasses and shuffled the papers in front of him. "Victim is female, eleven years old, white, seventy-three pounds. Death has been determined as severe hypothermia from prolonged exposure to temperatures below zero degrees Celsius. There is no trace of antimony or carbon monoxide in the blood, nor any other toxic substance. The victim was knocked unconscious with a hard object, most likely metal, as no splinters or fibers from the weapon have been found, resulting in a cracked skull." Walden paused momentarily as he became aware of a mumbling voice to his right. He looked around and saw that several of the others were staring at Mulder, whose lips were moving. The doctor strained to make out the words, but couldn't discern anything intelligible. He tried to dismiss it and continued with his report. "From the amount of frostbite, I would have to say that the victim was in that freezer for approximately eight hours, but she was not conscious for any of them. At least we can be thankful that she didn't feel anything. I hate to disappoint you boys, but I can't tell you anything more substantial than that." Finished with his summary, Walden was greeted by an eerie silence. The team members were directing their attention to the man near the head of the table, expressions of wonder and suspicion on their faces. After a moment, the old man was able to make sense of the words spilling from the profiler's mouth.

"...With a love
that the winged seraphs of heaven,
Coveted her and me."

Bear looked at the new member of the team and was surprised to see that Mulder's eyes were almost shut, his face calm and expressionless. "Mulder?" No change except that the words dipped down beneath the edge of hearing. The SAC glanced at Scully, searching for an explanation. She shook her head, indicating that she didn't know what her partner was talking about either. Bear was at a loss. He had heard of Mulder, was thrilled to have him on this case, but he had never worked with the man. He thought all the rumors were exaggerated, that they were beanstalks of hearsay grown from seeds of truth. Now he wasn't so sure. It was as though Mulder was in some sort of fugue state, unresponsive except to anything pertaining to the killer's thoughts. He uneasily decided to let Mulder be, instead motioning to Brenner to update them all on the victimology.

Brenner's gaze flicked back and forth between Mulder and Bear, unsure as what to do. He cleared his throat and nervously plucked at his tie. "Um, yeah, okay. The victim has been identified as Loren Moniker, who disappeared four days ago on her way to James A. Garfield Elementary. It was initially believed that she had been kidnapped for ransom, as her parents are one of the wealthiest couples in Portsmouth, with a waterfront home on the Ohio River. Loren was well liked by her friends and classmates, a model student as well as actively involved in community affairs through Girl Scouts. One other victim, Harper Bingham, was a member of Girl Scouts, that being the only link we've found thus far."

A low monotone voice followed on the heels of Brenner's last statement.
"So that her high-born kinsman came,
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea."

"Mulder? Is there something you want to share with us?" Bear raised his eyebrows at the young profiler. "Mulder?" He waited a moment longer until he was positive that Mulder had no intention of replying. With a deep sigh of resignation, the SAC waved at Roberts. "Would you please go over your profile, Tony."

Roberts tossed a look of disgust in Mulder's direction and then puffed out his chest in self-importance. "*My* profile says that the killer is in his late twenties and lives by himself. He cannot hold a steady job, often doing menial labor for minimum wage. He comes from a broken home where he was abused both physically and sexually. His mother was the source of the abuse and the UNSUB holds aggression towards women because of this but an adult woman is too intimidating for him, therefore he turns to children to vent his anger-"


"Excuse me?"

"No, he isn't angry."

Roberts glared at Mulder. "Really? You think I'm wrong, huh? Well, why don't you enlighten us as to what you believe are the killer's motives?"

All eyes were riveted on Mulder, as though waiting for an oracle to speak.

The younger profiler lazily blinked his eyes. "He does it out of sorrow. He isn't angry with the children, he doesn't hate women either. Something happened to him, maybe he lost someone, and he was so hurt by it that he feels a need to release that hurt. He loves those children."

The elder profiler snorted in contempt. "Uh huh. And how did you come to *that* conclusion?"

"The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me--
Yes!-that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee."


Silence reigned for a good two minutes as the team members realized that Mulder had just quoted the poem from which the note on the body was taken. Mulder had sunk back into himself, ignoring the pointed stares. A surprised grunt broke the utter stillness.

"So, you're saying that the victim matches the girl in the poem? That makes sense, since she was well off and lived by a body of water. Her death was certainly chilling, being frozen in a meat locker and all. But I still don't get why he would kill a little girl if he actually loved her." Gopher glanced around the room, hoping someone would shed some light on the mystery. Most just returned his look with one of disdain, as though he was wrong in voicing his belief in Mulder's theory.

"I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love--
I and my Annabel Lee."

Mulder's voice was quiet and slightly muffled, as his chin was almost touching his chest while he stared at his hands, folded on the table. He said nothing more, as though that quote explained it all.


Heads whipped around in the other direction. Roberts was standing, leaning over the table, his palms placed flat on the glossy surface. "What, Mulder? You think you can come in here, tell me I'm all wrong and just rewrite *my* profile because you know some poetry? Well, forget it! I have spent the past four days on this case and I think I'm more qualified to interpret the meaning behind the note as well as the motives behind the killer's actions. Furthermore-"

"That will be enough, Agent Roberts." It was a low warning growl but it had the same effect as if it had been shouted across the room. Bear was standing as well, his massive bulk tense with anger. "Mulder is here to solve this, just like you. I will not have you harassing him or belittling him. Constructive criticism, fine. Reasonable arguments on major points of the profile, okay. But outright dismissal of a fellow agent's insights is unacceptable. Do I make myself clear?"

Roberts' face had gone sheet white, his knees buckling so that he sank into his chair. "Yes, Sir."

"Good." The SAC turned his attention to the entire room. "Now, I want you all to go home and get a good night's rest. Tomorrow, we are going to rehash this whole thing from the beginning, with a fresh pair of eyes and a possible new perspective on the killer. Dismissed."

The room erupted into chatter and noise as chairs slid across the linoleum floor and men excitedly discussed the events of the past half-hour. They all began to slowly file out, heading home or to the cafeteria for a fresh cup of coffee. Most kept their eyes averted as they passed Tony Roberts, a few muttering condolences on being shown up by the Spook. The elder profiler methodically put his notes into his briefcase and shut it with exaggerated care. Then, with stage-performance precision, he strode from the boardroom, his back straight and his face set in stone.

Bear watched the man go and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Asshole," he muttered. Turning slightly to his left, he dropped his hand away from his face. "Mulder, sometimes I wonder about you. I know Roberts is an arrogant pain in the ass, but there's no need to antagonize him. If you disagree, do it in a manner that isn't so... so absolute. There is always room for interpretation and I want everyone to work together to come up with the most accurate information available." He leaned forward and placed his meaty palms on the table. "Mulder?" He closed his eyes and shook his head, then opened them and wearily looked at the other man's partner. "Scully, take him back to the hotel, make sure he gets some sleep, huh?"

"Yes, Sir." Dana stood, gently wedging a hand underneath Mulder's arm. "C'mon partner, time to go."

Without any visible acknowledgment, Mulder stood, wavering slightly and raised bloodshot eyes to the SAC. "I apologize for causing disruption among the team members, Sir. In the future I will try my best to be more aware and respectful of the other agents' theories, no matter how much they differ from my own."

Bear's mouth dropped open. Did Spooky Mulder just apologize? It wasn't that the SAC thought that Mulder felt he was above apologies, it was just that Mulder was famous for being stubborn and refusing to back down. Maybe his years with the X-Files had mellowed him a bit. Maybe his partner played a large role in the change. Who knew? But whatever it was, it floored the older agent. "Thank you, Agent Mulder. Now, get some rest, you two look like you could use it."

Mulder grinned. "Sir, if *we* look tired, *you* must be in a coma."

Bear, belatedly realizing that he himself wasn't exactly the most well-rested person in the room, guffawed loudly and slapped Mulder on the back, jarring the younger man slightly. "Damn straight!"

7:53 p.m.

Phillips had the privilege of driving the two agents back to their hotel. He was quiet most of the way, his free foot tapping nervously next to the break pedal. He kept glancing in the rear view mirror at Mulder, who was sitting lengthwise in the back seat, laptop resting on upraised knees. Scully was in the passenger seat, reviewing the files she had received from Dr. Walden.

"Go ahead, ask."

Gopher jerked his eyes back to the road. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You're going to get us into an accident if you keep that up any longer, so go ahead, ask me whatever it is that's on your mind." Hazel eyes peered back from the rear view mirror.

"I, uh, wanted to know how you knew what poem the note was from?"

"I went to Oxford, Phillips; Edgar Allen Poe is required reading in England. As luck would have it, I did my American Literature thesis on him and so I read all his works, including poems. My memory is fairly good, so it was simply a matter of remembering which poem the excerpt was from."

Dana harrumphed loudly. "Fairly good memory? Don't mind him, Keith, he's being modest. The man has a photographic memory and remembers almost everything." Her voice dropped a decibel. "Of course, he has a tendency to conveniently 'forget' certain things."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Scully. I remember every-"

"Where you put your cellphone, what happened to your last gun, what time you were supposed to meet-"

"Okay, okay, I don't remember *everything*. I only have so much room in my head and sometimes the more mundane everyday matters are sacrificed for the greater good." His head swiveled back to the driver. "Phillips, when you get a partner, make sure he or she is either less punctual than you are or more prone to lose equipment. It'll save you a world of headaches."

"Don't kid about it, Mulder. Do you know how tempted I've been to Velcro your phone to your hand? Or your gun? Maybe super glue would work."

Mulder sniffed in disdain and shut his laptop with an audible click. He set it aside carefully and moved to sit normally in the seat. "Scully, why don't you use that super glue to adhere your high heels on your feet? Then you wouldn't have to worry about losing them when we're chasing a suspect."

Up front, Gopher was trying his damnedest not to burst out laughing. He failed when Dana whirled around in her seat and Mulder jerked back just in time to avoid being hit in the face with a stack of rolled up autopsy notes.

He was still chuckling a bit when they pulled up in front of the hotel. "Here we are. I'll be back tomorrow morning to pick you both up at seven thirty."

Mulder was already out of the car, laptop slung over one shoulder, briefcase dangling from hand, and opening the door for his partner. Scully smiled over at their escort. "Thanks for the ride, Keith, see you in the morning." She took Mulder's hand as he helped her out of the vehicle and ushered her inside.

Phillips watched the two stride into the building, their heads tilted together in conversation, their bodies brushing together every so often as they walked. He sighed forlornly and pulled away from the curb.

Brentanos Plaza Motel
8:13 p.m.

"Don't worry about it, Mulder. Roberts is an idiot and a blowhard, everyone knows that and most of them don't take him too seriously." Dana walked through the open connecting door and sat down on her partner's bed.

Mulder emerged from the bathroom, scrubbing his damp hair with a small towel. "It's not Roberts I'm worried about. It doesn't matter what he says, they all have preconceived notions about me already. My little stunt this evening certainly didn't help either."

"Well, I think all it did was perpetuate the myth. Like it or not, you have a reputation. Mulder, I hate to admit this, but you earned that reputation. I don't know how you do what you do, but I do understand that it isn't voodoo or some sort of psychotic dementia. Sometimes though, it seems like it."

Mulder's eyes flashed angry for a moment but cooled quickly. "It isn't voodoo, Scully, it's not that simple. I have a Ph.D. in Criminal Psychology, I've been trained to understand how the human mind works, particularly those with a violent tendency. I look at their behavior and the results of said behavior, and from that I can put together a psychological profile of that person's mind. It isn't an exact science, but it is as close to a science as anyone can get when it comes to comprehension of the human mind."

"You're preaching to the converted, Mulder. The audience you should be talking to is back at the office. What I'm trying to say is that you don't make it any easier for them to come around by acting like a prophet." Scully pulled her legs up and crossed them underneath her.

With a deep sigh that seemed to come from his toes, Mulder flopped down beside her and leaned back to stare at the ceiling. "I don't do it consciously, I don't even realize I'm doing it until afterwards. I put my thoughts into words without any consideration of how it sounds or as to whether it makes sense."

Dana fell back to lie next to him. "Mulder, after six years with you, you *still* don't make sense to me."

A soft chuckle shook the bed. "I like to keep you guessing." He turned over and enveloped her in his arms, silencing all conversation with a long kiss.

1:26 am

Scully woke to the sound of sheets rustling next to her. The bed bounced slightly and creaked as weight was lifted from it. The sound of bare feet padding across the carpet told her that Mulder had gotten up. She dismissed it as a middle of the night trip to the bathroom and turned over, burying her head in the soft pillow.

Click, click, click, tap, tap, click, click, tap, click

One eye popped open and she drearily lifted her head. The light by the small table had been turned on. "Mulder?" No answer. Sitting up, she turned to find her partner seated at the round table, typing on his laptop. Putting her hands to her face, she shook her head and sighed deeply. A good scrubbing and she dropped her hands, using them to push herself up from the bed. She shuffled over to stand behind him, leaning sleepily on the back of his chair. "Mulder?" she asked again.

She got the same response as before - nothing. Leaning closer, she started scanning the words appearing on the small screen:

Ye who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have long since
gone my way into the region of shadows. For indeed strange things shall
happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries shall pass away,
ere these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen, there will be some to
disbelieve, and some to doubt, and yet a few who will find much to ponder
upon in the characters here graven with a stylus of iron.

Not dead, not alive, but in some state which can be defined as neither. Loss
of a loved one is a fate worse than death for some, life without real life.
Writes of dead, describing through Poe's works the essence of each child.
Characteristics of the lost one, not a child, but a woman. Takes the obvious,
the bare meaning of each excerpt, not reading into the true value of the words.
Interest is perhaps in the man who wrote those words. Some corollary
between own life and Poe's. Must save those girls, save them before...
before what? Before they grow up and fall in love. Fall in love and make a
man so happy and then die and create a void that can never be filled. So alone,
need to stop the pain of being left behind. Angry, so angry at not being
able to follow but not angry with the children. Love them like surrogates,
save them from themselves, make them a link to the lost.

Kill them before they kill with love gone astray.

Kill them before they kill me again.

The cursor blinked lazily at the end of the last sentence, signaling Mulder's exhaustion of thought. Scully stared at the words, reading the last two statements over and over. Fear curled around her throat and made it hard to breathe, like a weight descending upon her and forcing her to dig her fingers into the rough fabric of the chair.

'...kill me...', *me*. That was what he had written. First person, not observer. Was this a sign, a warning that the descent into madness had begun? Or was it simply a mistake, a common occurrence among profilers when trying to see from a killer's point of view? Perhaps she was overreacting.

Perhaps not, she amended as she felt the chair beneath her hands begin to shake ever so slightly. Mulder's body was trembling, his breathing uneven and his glazed eyes turned inward. Laying her hand on his left shoulder, she squeezed gently. "Mulder?"

The tremors lessened and the drooping head raised slowly. "We're looking in the wrong place, Scully. We have to look into the background of Poe himself, not his writings. Do you know anything about him?"

Dana just blinked. Talk about feeling like a fish out of water. "Mulder, do you have any idea what time it is?"

His brows came together in a frown and his eyes darted to the screen. "A bit past one-thirty."

"And what do normal people do at this time of night?"

The indentation between his eyebrows deepened. "Sleep?"

"Correct! Vanna, tell our lucky contestant what he's just won!" Scully put her cupped hands to her mouth and mimicked a cheering crowd. The corner of Mulder's mouth quirked up and she dropped her hands.

"Scully, if I didn't know any better, I would say you were mocking me."

She simply batted her eyes at him. "Me? I would never."

A sly grin spread across Mulder's face, making years of exhaustion disappear. Then he became serious again. "But Scully, the sooner we get started on this, the sooner we'll have some more information for the team. He's going to take another girl before long and we might be able to cut him off at the pass."

"Mulder, everyone is asleep right now, there's not much we can do at this point. Come back to bed, get a few more hours of sleep and we'll start bright and early in the morning." She added a pleading note to her voice as she said, "Please, you need to rest."

For a moment he looked as if he might argue but his features softened. "All right." He waited for her to back away from his chair before he stood up. Taking her outstretched hand, he allowed her to lead him to the bed and push him down gently.

She climbed in next to him and curled up in the crook of his arm, resting her head on his chest. "Sweet dreams, Mulder," she murmured.

For once, he had no problems complying; he did not dream at all.

5:46 am

At least it wasn't typing this time. Scully was tempted to pull a pillow over her head to drown out the sound of the shower, but she knew that she would have to get up soon anyway. She had promised Mulder that they would make an early start today and she was going to keep her word. Too bad her definition of early was not the same as her partner's.

She compromised, pulling the sheets over her head and reasoning that she might as well grab a few more minutes of rest before Mulder got out of the shower. She drifted in and out for a bit and then finally woke up enough to realize that she had been dozing for what seemed a long time. Poking her head out from under the covers, she was startled to see the red numbers on the alarm clock stating that it was a quarter past six. And the water was still running.

Mulder had been in the shower for over half an hour.

Fear shot through her and she tossed back the blankets and sprang to her feet, her feet moving in tandem with her pounding heart. She skidded to a halt in front of the bathroom door and knocked quickly before grabbing the handle and twisting. She wrenched open the door and was assaulted by a hot blast of air, causing her to gasp involuntarily. Her eyes went straight to the shower doors, fogged over and obscuring her vision. She slid one of the glass doors open and the sight that greeted her produced another gasp. Mulder was huddled on the wet tiles, arms curled about his midsection as he rocked slowly, eyes clenched shut against untold agony.

She reached in and turned off the water with one hand, grabbing a towel from the rack with the other. She knelt down in front of her partner, the legs of her pajamas soaking up the remaining water and pulled Mulder forward so that she could wrap the towel around him. He didn't acknowledge her presence, just continued rocking.

"Mulder? Mulder, please talk to me."

She saw his lips move and leaned closer to make out his words. "Hurts...hurts...stop...hurts...Scully..."

She bit her lip as her heart constricted and she moved to sit down, pulling Mulder to her and stroking his damp hair. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, I wish I could make it stop," she whispered. A tear spilled down her cheek to mix with the droplets in his hair. This was the worst seizure he'd had in over a month and she was scared, so scared. What if the strain was too much on him? That, added to the stress of this case, it might be enough to tip the scales, put enough pressure on his heart that it finally quit?

Scully shook her head angrily. That could not happen, she wouldn't let it happen. She didn't know what the hell she could do about it, but she was going to do her damnedest to find a way. She held her partner and lover tighter, waiting for him to come back to her.

6:52 a.m.

He couldn't take it any more. "Stop looking at me like I'm about to spontaneously combust. I'm fine."

Scully gripped her briefcase firmly and took a deep breath. "I just don't know if you should be going to work so soon after what happened. Undue stress could-"

"Bullshit, Scully. You know that stress has nothing to do with this," he snapped. He watched her shoulders slump and was immediately repentant. "I'm sorry, you didn't deserve that. I know you're worried, but I feel fine, aside from being a little sore. In all honesty, I wouldn't really mind a respite, but both you and I know that the next little girl can't afford us taking a break."

Scully licked her lips and appeared to concentrate on watching the road for a few minutes before answering. "You're right, I know you're right, but that doesn't stop me from worrying."

Mulder lifted his left hand and rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. They had been over this too many times. "There's nothing either of us can really do about it, so there is really no point in worrying, is there?"

Dana clenched her jaw and stared straight ahead. Silence reigned until they saw Gopher's car round the corner and head their way. Mulder shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, working out his stiff muscles. This morning's attack had left him feeling as though he had been hit by a train and now he had pissed Scully off. What else could go wrong?

Gopher pulled up in front of the hotel and they moved out from under the overhang to get in the car, Mulder in back and Scully up front. Dana shut the door loudly and turned to the driver. "Keith, I'm sorry we woke you so early, but-"

"Actually, everyone is up and on their way in, didn't you know?"

She quirked an eyebrow. "Know what?"

Mulder's heart dropped into his stomach and he felt the beginnings of a headache form behind his eyes. "Another girl is missing."

Gopher's grimace was enough to confirm Mulder's assumption. Dana shook her head. "It's too early, we should have a few more days."

Mulder closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Damn serial killers, they never keep a convenient schedule."

Cincinnati Field Office
7:17 am

It was only twenty minutes past seven in the morning and already the halls were bustling with people. Most of them were carrying papers or had a phone jammed between their cheek and shoulder. The primary team members were gathered in the conference room, each one outlining what he believed to be the best course of action. Vangelis and Brenner were loudly arguing over whether or not this was even the same killer, as their particular UNSUB should have remained quiet for at least another three days.

Bear brought their squabbling to an end with a fist brought down on the table. "That's enough! The last thing we need right now is to lose our tempers." He waited patiently as both men looked down in repentance and seated themselves. "I don't think the question here is whether this is our guy or not, because we're going to operate under the assumption that it is. Now, I want to know why he's escalated. Roberts, Mulder, I want your thoughts."

Mulder kept his mouth shut, knowing that Roberts would inevitably take the stand first. Tony stretched his lips into a thin line, his brows furrowing in concentration. "There has been some sort of unexpected event that has occurred to cause our UNSUB to shorten his timetable. Probably the loss of another job or perhaps he has been rejected by another woman. This is the most likely prospect, as it would just fuel his anger towards women and force him to vent sooner." Having finished his explanation, he leaned back in his chair and folded his hands on his stomach.

Waiting a moment to be sure that the other profiler was finished, Mulder took his turn. "I agree with Agent Roberts that an event has caused the escalation." A few murmurs of surprise along with Roberts' own widened eyes showed that this wasn't what the team expected to hear from Tony's rival. "However, I don't believe that it was one of bad fortune. He probably was promoted or given a raise, something he knew was going to lead to tragedy and so he had to speed up his work to make sure that the girls would be cared for. He's going to start drinking heavily now, his coworkers will see a change in his attitude for the first time and he may maneuver himself into getting fired."

Roberts' face was a vivid shade of red and he looked as though he was ready to lambaste the younger profiler. Bear intervened just in time by diverting his attention. "All right, no more pulling punches. I know that you two have developed profiles quite contradictory to each other and at this point, it creates nothing but confusion and is a hindrance to this investigation. Therefore, I am going to split the profiling team into two separate units, one following up on Mulder's profile, the other on Tony's. As much as I hate to say it, one of you is wrong. I am not going to take a chance and guess which one, so both of you are going to have to come up with something tangible in order for me to put it before this team and make some use of it.

"Now, I do however feel that we make an official statement to the press and ask the public to take notice of their friends and family, reports any unusual behavior that includes drinking and such. You, Riggs," he pointed a thick finger at a shaggy-haired man close to Brenner, "I want you to coordinate the contact team, take the calls, weed out the cranks and make a list of all the possibles."

Riggs nodded, "Yes Sir, I'll get right on it." He left quickly, the double doors not quite closing in his haste.

Bear stood and surveyed the agents in the room. "That's about all we can do for now. Uly, I know you're dying to get over to the crime scene, so I won't hold you up. The rest of you are to continue the assignments handed out last night. Dismissed."

The room erupted into organized chaos as men sprang into action, conferring with each other's notes and some following Riggs out the door in order to start working in their different areas. Bear stamped out of the room, heading for his office to prepare an official statement to the press. Scully and Mulder looked at each other and silently agreed on what their next step of action would be.

"Agent Vangelis, hold up," Scully jogged over to intercept the man. "Would you mind some company on the ride to the crime scene?"

Uly's blue eyes sparked with something Dana couldn't define. "Why certainly, Agent Scully, it would be a pleasure."

"Mulder, c'mon," Scully called. She noted that Vangelis' demeanor shifted and was now cold. She realized he hadn't intended that Mulder be part of the deal. Well, he'd just have to get over it. They both waited as Mulder pulled on his coat while crossing the room. She saw his eyes flick from her to the other man and back to her. She thought she saw a hint of suspicion but it was so fast that she dismissed it as her imagination.

Vangelis opened the door and ushered Scully through, dodging in front of Mulder to follow her out. His plan backfired when Dana simply stopped and remained in one place until her partner was beside her. They accompanied Uly down to the garage in silence, piling into the car without discussing seating arrangements. He was about to start the car when they all heard a voice shouting for them to hold on. They turned as one and saw Phillips running towards them. Vangelis rolled down his window and motioned the kid to his side. "What do you want, Gopher?"

"Bear wanted me to go with you, I'm supposed to make sure that Agents Mulder and Scully have everything they need."

Uly shook his head and jerked his thumb at the back seat. "Get in."

Gopher nodded breathlessly and jumped in the back, grinning at Mulder like a kid in the candy store. His fast breathing was the only noise in the car for a few minutes.

When Vangelis pulled out of the garage, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Mulder started speaking in a quick and hurried manner, as though his mouth was trying to keep up with the speed of his mind. "Scully, remember when I asked you what you knew about Poe? What if the UNSUB is more interested in the man as a person and less on the contents of his poems? I mean, it is obvious that he only has a rudimentary understanding of the deeper inflections of Poe's writing. Perhaps he feels he's somehow connected to Poe, that he's a kindred spirit and is using his writings as a justification. It probably started at a young age, when he found out that Poe was an orphan just like himself. Later, he found other similarities that just cemented the perceived bond they shared. He fought with his adoptive father and tried to get into a branch of the military but was rejected and then-"

"Mulder, Mulder," Scully repeated, trying to get his attention. "Whoa, slow down. Where are you getting all this?"

Mulder grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Remember I told you I wrote a thesis on Poe? Well, that included doing research into his past. He was orphaned at an early age and adopted by John Allan. After a quarrel with his stepfather he enlisted briefly in the Army and won an appointment at West Point. But he was temperamentally unfit for military life and was dismissed for breaking the rules. His aunt took him in and he soon married his young cousin, Virginia. Meanwhile, he launched his literary career with publications of verses in Boston and New York. He was rewarded with a raise and a promotion, but then his wife became ill with tuberculosis and he began drinking. This cost him his job and had to make due with occasional literary periodicals. Virginia's health continued to decline and when she died, he was devastated. He never fully recovered and became ensconced in his work. Eventually he became engaged again, but before they could ever marry, he died from an unexplained fever."

Despite his obvious disdain of Mulder, Uly appeared interested. "Okay, but how close can our man's life be to that?"

Mulder chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "Well, he was orphaned at a young age and after a disagreement with his adoptive father, he applied for the military. It doesn't matter what branch of service, because he was rejected. He then moved in with a female relative, probably his sister and found a job in publishing or journalism. His sister introduced him to one of her friends and soon they got married. But she became sick, not with tuberculosis but some other pulmonary disease and she eventually died. This was the initial event that started him on the path of murder."

"But why?" Gopher asked.

"He lost everything that was important to him, his wife was everything. He's known about Poe since high school, when he studied English, and knows of the similarities of their lives. He's come to the conclusion that this is a sign, that men like him are destined to lose their greatest loves. He has to stop it, has to make sure that no one else is forced to suffer like he and Poe did. So he kills the girls, before they can grow into adult women who break the hearts of men. He chooses them based on Poe's writings, killing them in a manner that reflects the poems.

"Think about it. Kelly Mervin was poisoned with atropine and carbon monoxide, mimicking the symptoms of Morella, the subject of the excerpt attached to the body. And then Harper Bingham was also poisoned with CO2 and atropine to look like sickness. She was blonde, rich, and proud, just like Lenore, the second poem. Jackie Wright was the daughter of a lieutenant commander in the navy and was drowned in a pond, hyacinth petals stuffed in her mouth. The note with her referred to Helen, who Poe wrote, 'On desperate seas long want to roam,' and is part of a larger poem that continues,

'Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home'

"You already know about Loren Moniker as Annabel Lee. Don't you see? He is killing children who he believes will grow to become the women in the poems and die, causing grief for some man. He has to stop them before that happens."

Scully shifted in her seat so that she could look behind her. "But Mulder, you said that he doesn't hate the girls. To me it seems that your postulating that he hates them for becoming women who hurt men."

Mulder shook his head. "No, because it is through no fault of their own that they die. It's always a sickness or an accident. If he hated them, they'd die much more violently. He made sure that Loren didn't feel the cold. He loved his wife and hence he loves these girls as harbingers of a new life."

Gopher was flipping through his own personal notes. "Agent Mulder, how do you know what poem the note with Harper referred to? I thought that our team hadn't identified it yet because the ink was partially smudged and all we could make out was 'died so young'."

Mulder closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the seat.

"Come! Let the burial rite be read - the funeral song be sung! -
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young -
A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.

"Wretches! Ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her - that she died!
How shall the ritual, then, be read? - the requim how be sung
By you - by yours, the evil eye, - by yours, the slanderous tongue
That did to death the innocence that died, and died so young?"

The rest of the drive to the crime scene was in silence as each person reviewed the conversation with different perspectives.

1290 Doubleday Avenue
9:16 am

A low whistle sounded in the car. "Man, look at this place, it must've cost a fortune."

"Yeah Gopher, it'll take the rest of your career to earn enough to buy a lawn ornament for a place like this," Vangelis observed. "Looks like the Crime Scene Unit is here, let's get this over with."

They all got out of the vehicle and headed up the sizable walkway, nodding at the now familiar faces of the Scene Unit as they passed. Vangelis split off from the other three and moved over to take charge of the unit as the remaining trio entered the house.

"I feel like Annie at Daddy Warbucks' mansion for the first time," Scully said as she turned in a circle in the foyer. The white marble floor was towered over by vaulted ceilings decorated with baroque ornamentation and topped off by an ostentatious chandelier that could have rivaled the Phantom of the Opera's.

"Is that a Delacroix?" Mulder wandered over to an enormous painting that took up half of one of the walls. Leaning forward until his nose almost touched the painted surface, he scrutinized the signature located at the bottom right corner.

"Yes, it is," answered a deep male voice from behind them. "Are you with the FBI?"

As a group, they turned around to find a man standing before them. He was well over six feet tall, his thin bone structure and blond hair adding to his scarecrow look. He was dressed in an expensive-looking suit and he was well groomed. His eyes however were red-rimmed and his pale complexion spoke of a tremendous sorrow. He must be the father.

"Mr. Belshe, I presume?" Mulder held out his hand in greeting. "I'm Agent Mulder. These are Agents Scully and Phillips. Sir, I know how you must feel right now, but is there any way you could answer a few questions for us?"

Belshe's eyes hardened at the mention of feelings and spat, "I don't think you could possibly have any idea as to how I am feeling right now. But, if your intrusion into my sorrow will in any way bring Georgia back to me, then I willingly capitulate." He motioned for them to follow him and he led them into a room where the walls were lined with bookcases, ceiling high.

They all sat down in the green leather chairs, except for Mulder, who preferred to stand during this particular interrogation. Formalities aside, he began asking questions that might help him refine his profile, questions that normal agents weren't trained to ask. Once all his inquiries were answered to his satisfaction, he decided to turn it over to Scully. "Mr. Belshe, I would like permission to examine Georgia's room."

"She was kidnapped from the front yard, not from her room, so I don't see what kind of good that would do. But go ahead, just don't..." he trailed off, his expression a mixture of anger and fear.

"I'll leave the room exactly as she left it, so nothing is different when she returns."

A tiny smile played at the man's lips. "Thank you, Agent Mulder."

Mulder nodded at Scully and Gopher, knowing that they would be able to handle it from there. He walked out of the room and turned right to go up the stairs. Ascending the stairway, he marveled at the decadence of the home. Intricate carvings, priceless paintings, lush rugs from India gracing the marble floors. Reaching the second story, he made a left and came to the room immediately next to the banister.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open. He was immediately assaulted by the smell of sunflower potpourri and he had to quell the urge to squint due to the bright yellows inundating the room. Posters, bedspread, silk flowers, anything and everything that had to do with sunflowers filled the room to overflowing. Mulder walked cautiously into the room, taking in the bright colors. He noticed several collage frames depicting Georgia and her friends from gymnastics, their smiling faces a painful reminder of how victims were never too young.

Closing his eyes, Mulder imagined Georgia bringing her friends into this room, sitting cross-legged on the bed as they played Mystery Date or some other such game. They all wished for handsome husbands with good jobs and big houses, fancy cars and pretty dresses. Oh yes, and a horse. All little girls wanted a horse.

He could remember when Samantha was six; all she wanted was a pony. She begged and pleaded for months before her birthday. His mother had managed to hire a pony ride for Sam's birthday, but the child was still disappointed. So she wrote to Santa Claus and asked for a pony. Then, just to be on the safe side, she had dragged a very disgruntled brother to the mall in order to tell Santa in person. Fox, who was a very mature and intelligent ten-year-old, had hated every minute of it. But he could remember Sam's face as she sat in Santa Claus' lap and begged for a horse of her own, her big brown eyes so wide and believing. That Christmas he bought her an enormous stuffed horse that was large enough for her to sit on.

It was the closest she ever got.

12:33 p.m.

"Keith, would you mind if we stopped and picked up some food?"

"No problem, Dana. What do you feel like? Chicken, hamburgers, or tacos?"

"Chicken is the healthiest of the three, so let's aim for that. Mulder, what do you want? Mulder?" Scully twisted around in her seat and looked at the man behind her. He was sitting with his right elbow propped on the door handle and his chin resting in his upturned palm. At first she thought he was asleep, but upon closer inspection she saw that his eyes were slightly open and his lips were twitching every now and then as though he was trying to voice something but couldn't get it out. She was about to nudge him out of his reverie, her hand poised just inches from his arm, when she paused. They had just come from the victim's house where they had gained some information, however minimal, and it was obvious that Mulder was processing this. Was it her place to interrupt? She was only just becoming familiar with Mulder's behavior while profiling in an office and had barely any reference to his behavior while profiling in the field. What if this was normal? What if her interruption threw him off whatever scent he was on?

Pursing her lips, she pulled her hand back and rubbed at her chin. Finally she made her decision and turned to look at Keith, who was staring politely at the road. "Chicken is fine, Mulder'll eat anything that's put in front of him."

"Okay, Chaco Chicken it is."

"Actually, how about KFC instead?"

"Um, okay, whatever." Gopher sent her a quizzical look.

Scully smiled and proceeded to tell the younger agent all about Chaco Chicken and cannibalism.


Mulder gazed impassively out the window, seeing nothing of the scenery passing by. He was thinking about Georgia Belshe. An active child, she was often out of the house, at one sports practice or another, be it ice-skating or gymnastics. Happy and well liked by her friends and classmates, she was far ahead of everyone else in her skating group and also a star gymnast. Her coach thought she might even be Olympic material. That meant the killer probably saw her practicing, decided that she was the one he needed to save next. What did he see when he looked at her?

Graceful, beauty in her movement, full of energy, a bright star among her peers. A girl who would grow into a woman that men would admire and desire. A heartbreaker. That was the crux of it all, the idea that Georgia would become a woman who would cause heartache for some man or another. But there was something more about her that drew the UNSUB to her, something that linked her to a character of Poe's writing.

He wracked his brain, flipping through his internal Rolodex to pull up every story by Poe that he knew. One where there was an agile young beauty who died tragically before her time... Well, that didn't narrow it down much. Something else was needed to narrow it down - a comparison. A tale where the storyteller describes his contradictory nature to the girl's, a light contrasted to his darkness, her delight the antithesis of his misery. Misery. Misery is manifold. Yes, that was it! 'The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon-'

He jumped in his seat, his head jerking off his hand and his knuckles bouncing into the window. "Huh, what??"

"I said, we're here."

Mulder frowned at his partner. Here? Where was here? He looked around and discovered that they were in the parking garage of the Cincinnati office. Oh, here. He turned up a corner of his lips and raised his eyebrows in apology. "Sorry, must have drifted off."

Gopher snorted as he pushed open his own door. "Talk about an understatement," he muttered under his breath.

Mulder pushed himself out of the car and shot the younger agent a withering look. Gopher immediately looked reticent. "Sorry, Agent Mulder." He glanced down at his shoes and then back again as though trying to summon up the courage to say something.

"All right, out with it."

The young man's eyes widened a bit and he looked to Mulder like a deer caught in headlights. "Um, Agent Mulder, Sir-"

"Just Mulder is fine."

"Uh, yes, okay. Mulder, if you don't mind me saying so, I think you could use a break."

Mulder grinned widely across the roof of the vehicle. "Kid, we could all use a break." He sobered a bit. "But if you want to become a good FBI agent, you have to learn when to take them, because it could mean the difference between life and death for someone."

Gopher nodded rapidly. "Yes, Sir."

"And stop with the 'Sir' crap, it makes me feel old." He smiled to take away the sting of his words. "Come on, let's get inside. We have work to do."

"We eat first," Scully demanded from behind him.

Confusion flitted across Mulder's face for an instant. Food? Then he smelled a spicy aroma being emitted by a bag in Dana's hand. "That's the beauty of fast food, Scully. You can eat it and work at the same time."

Continued in Part 2