Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and the X-Files belong to CC and 10-13. Medford really exists but everyone in it is mine. Figuratively speaking of course. Apologies to anyone who lives there for any oversights. A teeny tiny reference is made to ‘Oklahoma’, a marvelous story by Amperage and Livengoo which I highly recommend.
Author’s notes: A big thank you to LuvMulder, Lena, and Kel for editing and giving medical advice. And thanks to Amp and Goo for letting me refer to their story. And now, before you start reading, I just want to remind you that e-mail takes only a minute. PLEASE send me some. Flames or praise, I care not, just as long as I get *something*. Pleeeeeeaaase. There, I begged, what more do you want? XScout@hotmail.com
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Monday, January 6
"Has it ever occurred to you that a filing cabinet was specifically designed for *filing*?" The auburn headed woman directed her question at a stack of papers strewn haphazardly across one of the two desks in the cramped basement office.
"And a good morning to you too." The man behind the mountain of documents glanced up from the file that he had been scrutinizing with single-minded intensity. "Are you trying to tell me that you don't approve of the Mulder Filing System?"
"Only someone with your memory could find anything in here." Dana Scully threw her coat on the stand by the door, flopped into her chair, and strained to see what case file deserved her partner's attention. Attention which she cherished when it was directed at her, especially at times like this, when the fine lines and soft angles of his face were accentuated by thin wire frames. Sometimes she just wished-- What was she thinking?? This was neither the time nor the place. She doubted it ever would be.
She rearranged the thoughts in her head, pushing the most recent ones to the back and bringing her Special Agent mode to the fore. "What are you reading?"
Not having noticed her discomfort, Mulder leaned back in his chair and launched into a description of his latest theory. "It seems that there has been a lot of flight activity in Santee, California."
"Of course there is, the Miramar Naval Base is located just north of that city. Bill was stationed there for a few months last year." Sometimes she wondered just how much of that two hundred plus IQ he used.
He gave her an exasperated look. "I know that, but the term 'usual flight activity' does not include planes that can maneuver like fireflies or hover for hours on end above the mountains."
"And you think it could be another Ellens Air Force Base." It was not a question. She shuddered silently at the memory of that case so long ago. The look on Mulder's face when he had asked ‘How did I get here?’ still cropped up in nightmares from time to time.
"Exactly. There have also been an abnormally high amount of honorable discharges of pilots stationed there, due to health reasons." His eyes shone with excitement as he handed her photographs of men with strange, yet familiar, burns covering their bodies.
"*This* time we're going to-" He was interrupted by the shrill ringing of the phone. He sighed and reached over to answer. "Mulder." He sat up straighter in his chair and glanced at Scully. "Sir... Yes, I know him... Yes, I'm vaguely familiar with that case... he did? Sir, with all due respect, we just came across a case which could... but, Sir... I understand... Yes, Sir."
Scully watched her partner's facial expression change from surprise to confusion, then to barely restrained anger. When he slammed the phone back into its cradle, she was afraid to ask. Instead, she just raised an eyebrow and waited expectantly.
Mulder exhaled loudly and slumped further in his chair. "You know Agent Dale Connor?" He continued after her head shook negatively in response. "Well I do. I worked with him in Violent Crimes." He blanched at the memory. "He's working on a serial killer case in Oregon."
"The one the gossip-mongers have nicknamed 'The Medford Murderer'?" Both auburn eyebrows inched upwards.
He smiled involuntarily at her fond reference to the press. "That's the one. Seems Connor's requested that *I* come out and profile the killer. Apparently he's accumulated enough points with the higher-ups that he has the authority to bring in anyone he wants. He would also like you to join in the fun and go over the autopsies on the three victims." His mouth settled into a frown, "We leave for the Beaver State at 11:30 am out of Dulles, so you better start packing."
Unable to contain his fury any longer, he stood abruptly, grabbed his coat, and stormed out the door, leaving Scully in the cluttered office alone with her thoughts.
She sat back and closed her eyes, reviewing what she knew about the well-publicized case. Three girls between the ages of eight and ten had been kidnapped over the past two months and then their bodies were returned exactly two weeks after being abducted. They had all been badly beaten and then killed in different ways.
Damn! Why did they always stick Mulder with the cases involving children? Didn’t they know how much it tore him up inside, especially when the victims were girls? Of course they did, but why should they care? He was just Spooky Mulder, profiling machine. Never had there been an agent with a higher solve rate in the history of the VCS. She had heard stories of Mulder's past glories in Violent Crimes from other agents, during the Mostow case. He had been handed the most violent and unsolvable cases and expected to find an answer. He had been flown around the country to murder sites where he would get inside the killer's head with only twenty-four hours, at the most, between each case. Patterson had almost killed Mulder with work - she knew, or knew most of what had happened in Oklahoma. Mulder had worked himself so sick that he had to be hospitalized, but they refused to send him home, knowing he was their only link to the killer.
And now, after almost driving him insane, the God damn VCS kept throwing their dead end cases on Mulder's desk, and when his resulting profile solved the case, he barely got a thank you. Sometimes when there were no good X-Files to be investigated, one couldn't even tell that the two agents weren't assigned to Violent Crimes.
She glanced at the clock - 9:43. There was no use in putting off the inevitable. She lurched out of her seat and headed up to Skinner's office to pick up the files that she knew Mulder had neglected to retrieve.
Somewhere Over The United States
Dana Scully took off her glasses and rubbed here eyes. She hated flying. She had read the file three times and still could not get her mind off the fact that they were thousands of feet above land. She could handle it if there was water beneath them, being the daughter of a Navy officer, but she had never been able to stomach air travel.
She glanced jealously at her partner, who lay asleep in the cramped space next to her. It never ceased to amaze her how he couldn't seem to sleep anywhere but on his battered old couch or in an airplane, even when he was in an area unsuited for his long frame. He had read the case file once, committing it to his eidetic memory and had then promptly dozed off.
As her gaze drifted over his lanky body to reach his handsome face, she couldn't help but smile at the sleeping figure. He looked so young and innocent when he was slumbering, that she could almost envision him with a teddy bear tucked under his arm. A place where she wouldn't mind being herself.
She sighed sadly, all too aware of the impossibility of such a situation. Mulder had no room in his life for a relationship. He was driven by the search for The Truth and until he found that elusive 'truth', Scully knew that he would never be happy. Fox Mulder shied away from intimate relationships; probably because everyone he had ever loved had been taken from him or had betrayed him in some way. His sister Samantha was snatched away from him, and upon reappearing she refused to have anything to do with her brother, despite the fact that he had spent the last twenty-five years searching for her. His mother had withdrawn her love after her daughter disappeared. His father, not an affectionate man by nature, killed in front of him. And of course there was that 'English Witch', Pheobe, who had broken his heart. With a track record like that, who could blame him for being aloof and reserved?
She heard him mutter something in his sleep and glanced over. The innocent look had been replaced by one of tension. A few beads of sweat had formed on his forehead and his face was creased in anguish. She could see his eyes moving rapidly under his eyelids and his fingers twitching in response to whatever dream he was having.
"No... " he mumbled quietly.
"Mulder." Scully reached over and shook him gently.
"Don't... Don’t take her... " was his muffled response.
"Mulder, wake up." She shook him harder.
"What? Huh?" He shot up in his seat and searched the cabin, trying to remember where he was. "Scully?"
"You were having a nightmare." She gazed at him with concern. "You want to talk about it?"
"Just your regular run-of-the-mill nightmare, nothing worth mentioning." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, hoping that Scully would stop looking at him that way. He hated it when she was worried, particularly when he was the cause of it. Which, in his estimation, was too often.
"Uh-huh. And given your predilection for some of the most terrifying nightmares I have ever had the pleasure of not having, what is your definition of a regular nightmare?" An eyebrow arched up.
Mulder wished she would just forget it and turned to stare out the window as he replied, "Regular as in I've had it before and I'll have it again, so it's not worth mentioning."
Scully knew when to stop pushing. She laid a hand on his arm and softly said, "I'm always ready to listen."
A soft smile graced his lips. "I know."
After a long flight and a short delay in Portland, they had boarded a small commuter plane that took them down to Medford. Once there, they rented a car and drove to their hotel, a quaint looking place that reminded Scully of an over-sized Beaver Cleaver's house.
As they approached the desk, the clerk raised his head and smiled broadly at them. He was a balding man in his late fifties, overweight, but with a healthy pink complexion. "Evenin' folks." He bobbed his head at Mulder. "What can I do for you and the missus?"
Mulder forgot what he was about to say, his mouth open in mid-thought, and glanced over his shoulder at Scully, who had a bewildered look on her face. He chuckled quietly - this was not the first time that they had been mistaken for a couple and would most likely not be the last. Inwardly, he cringed at her surprise. Was it that much of a shock to her that they looked like a couple, after all these years? To the clerk, pulling out his ID, he stated, "I'm Agent Mulder and this is Agent Scully, we're with the FBI. We have a reservation."
"Oh, my mistake." The little man's grin grew wider and his skin more pink. "Ah yes, here we are, rooms 23 and 24. It has a connecting door... That won't be a problem will it?"
"No, that's just fine, thank you." Mulder replied. They took their respective keys and headed back to the car.
After unloading, Scully unlocked her door and held it open as Mulder brought her luggage in. She peered into the dimly lit room and flinched. "God, Mulder, do you have 'The Traveler's Guide to Last Rate Motels' or something? Your gift for picking the worst accommodations in a town is an X-File in itself."
"I pick them by their name. Don't you think Spouter-Inn is appropriate?" He gave her a sly smirk, his eyebrows waggling suggestively.
She looked at him quizzically. "I don't get it."
"*You* don't get it?" he grumbled. "C’mon, Scully, the Spouter-Inn is where Starbuck stayed at the beginning of Moby Dick. Geez, I thought you knew all there was to know about that piece of literary rubbish."
"It is not rubbish, it is a classic. And no, I do not know everything about it - just the relevant stuff."
“Whatever you say. After you, Madam.” He swept his arm in front of her, bowing ever so slightly.
She couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face.
By the time they had both settled in it was already 9:00 p.m., so they just phoned in, letting the officer on duty know that they had arrived and would be present in the morning.
The officer informed them that "Agent Connor is out of town for the night anyway, so try to get some sleep and see you bright and early". However, Mulder wasted no time getting into the case, spreading the papers and photographs across his floor.
"Night Mulder, don't stay up too late, we have any early start tomorrow."
"Mm-hm." He waved her good night as he continued to sort through his papers.
Scully awoke from her light sleep to stare blearily into the red numbers on the clock. God, it was too damn early to be awake. She looked over and saw light creeping out from under the connecting door. She got up and knocked gently on it - it wasn't locked, a precaution they always took, in case either one needed the other. When there was no reply, she cautiously opened it, not wanting to wake Mulder if he was asleep. Not expecting him to be hunched over on the floor, she tripped over him.
With a startled cry she tumbled into him and found herself sprawled across his lean body. "Jesus, Mulder!" she growled as she attempted to untangle herself from him. His proximity to her was causing her spine to tingle and her face to flush. She could feel hard muscles ripple across his chest and stomach as he laughed at their predicament. She couldn't help the thoughts running through her head as his warm breath wuffled in her hair and his strong hands gripped her arms.
Mulder chortled once more and helped Scully back to her feet, all the while marveling at how one touch from this woman could send his mind reeling. The beauty of her porcelain skin, fiery hair, and gracefully petite features, was only rivaled by the beauty of her soul.
Not wanting Mulder to notice her rush of emotion, she quickly turned away from him and went over to sit on his bed. Interpreting her actions as a sign that she was uncomfortable with such physical intimacy, however accidental, Mulder closed his eyes in silent grief and returned to his position on the floor. He couldn’t possibly know the reasons behind her uneasiness.
"Mulder, it's 4 am in DC, go to bed." Scully rarely got jet lag, but sometimes after a long flight she could hardly keep her eyes open. He had to be at least a little tired, she was sure of that.
He gave her his 'Are You My Mother?' look. "It's only one in the morning here so I will still be able to get my usual four or five hours of sleep, don't worry." His grin faded into a grim line. "Besides, I can't sleep until I get a handle on the UNSUB." He jumped up and started pacing about the room with the pent-up energy of a caged tiger. "He's going to kill again, we'll have another body tomorrow." Mulder said it with such conviction, that it was practically a fact.
Scully gave him a hard stare. "How do you know that?" She was starting to get dizzy from watching him go back and forth.
"This guy has a strict schedule to keep - two weeks between abduction and murder. He won't deviate from that unless he has a reason, which he doesn't at this time." Mulder ran a hand through his already tousled hair, his eyes focused on some unseen point. "He had a family member or loved one kidnapped and killed in the same manner, when he was a child. The two week deadline is most likely the same amount of time between that loved one's disappearance and the discovery of his or her body. Probably his sister."
Mulder sank into a chair, rubbing his eyes, his voice soft. "His parents blamed him for losing her and beat him, telling him he deserved it. He believes it wasn't his fault, so now he is getting his revenge by repeating the experience with other 'sisters'."
Scully was frowning. The scenario Mulder had just described was hauntingly familiar. A young boy loses his sister and his parents place the blame on the brother. She saw the look of despair in her partner's dark eyes and realized just how close to home this hit. The second part of his description was almost as if he were recalling a memory. He had said "*believes* it wasn't his fault", as if the young boy really were guilty, as Mulder was convinced of his own guilt in his sister's abduction. That he really deserved to be beaten. Did that mean that Mulder's father had... ? No, she couldn't believe that, not after seeing how distraught Mulder had been over his father's death. Needing to snap him out of his reverie, she asked a question. "And you reached this conclusion by?"
"The first victim, eight year old Carol Sullivan, broke her arm four months before she was killed. She broke it in a fall from the tree house her brother built. Two days after the fall, Daniel, the brother, was admitted to the hospital for bruises on his back and neck, that he had supposedly acquired from a tumble down the stairs. The second victim, ten year old Stephanie, and her twin brother Steven Bannon, had been reported missing on November fourteenth. They hadn't come home after school and their parents were desperate. Steven showed up that evening around six, after spending the day playing with his friends in an abandoned factory. His sister, who usually walked home with her brother, had panicked when he didn't come to her class to pick her up and attempted to walk home by herself. She got lost in the woods and wasn't found until late the next afternoon. Six days later, Steven was admitted for a broken jaw, which his parents claimed he fractured in a roller-blading accident."
Mulder turned to the piles of paper on the floor and rummaged around in the files to return with medical charts. He handed them to Scully and continued as she flipped through them. "The third girl, nine year old Carlie Warren, shot herself in the foot when playing with her parents' gun. Her brothers, Mark and Eric, were supposed to be watching her while their parents were out, but they had been playing video games instead. The two boys were brought to the hospital with bruises on their faces and abdomens, presumably from a fight at school. The girl who is currently missing, another nine year old, is Mary Jane Hathaway. She was in a car accident with her brother Michael, sixteen years of age and driving under the influence. Though neither were badly injured according to the doctor on call, Michael was admitted the next day with a fractured rib, which the doctor said might have been missed in the initial examination."
"Each of these diagnoses is plausible, child abuse was ruled out in each one of them." Scully offered, her hand waving off-handedly at the reports in her lap.
He resumed his frantic pacing, as if to match his movements to the speed of his thoughts. "That may be true but what matters is that the killer doesn't believe that it's true. He assumes that those boys were blamed for what happened to their siblings and were punished physically. He sympathizes with them and feels that if he removes the source of the blame, then all will be set right." Regret and disbelief tinged Mulder's voice at the use of such insane logic.
Scully finished skimming through the reports and now set the aside. "If he has been carrying all this rage and guilt with him for so long, then why did he just start two months ago and not sooner?"
Mulder paused in his tracks and closed his eyes. "I'm not sure... maybe one or both of his parents died and now he feels that he no longer has to fear their disapproval and subsequent punishment." He crouched back down and ruffled through the loose papers.
Scully shrugged, knowing that when he was in this agitated state, there was no point even trying to persuade him to rest. She rose from the bed and stepped back into her room, tossing an exaggerated sigh over her shoulder, "G'night Mulder."
"Don't you mean good morning?"
The door closed with a resounding ‘thud’ and Mulder grinned.
Her blood was beginning to pool at his feet, the light in her wide eyes dimming. Little gasps of pain breathed past her tiny pink lips, whimpers becoming softer and softer.
All because of him. He had done this to her, had made her the victim. It was only fair. All of his life, *he* had been the victim, the one who was blamed. Now they’d see who was responsible. *They* were.
He could still feel the stinging slap of his father’s palm against his cheek, the burning sensation as a cigarette was extinguished on his skin. Dad’s voice echoed in his head, deriding him, taunting him. And it made him angry. So angry.
It was his fault she’s dead? No! He could have done nothing, he was but a child! But this girl, this girl in front of him, she *was* dead because of him. He had the power this time, he chose who was at fault. And it wasn’t himself.
His heart pounded in his ears, his pulse racing with pleasure as he watched the life slip from the girl’s body. He felt powerful. Fulfilled. Redeemed.
At least, that is how he would feel if he were the killer.
Mulder stood for a few more moments, staring at the photograph of the pitiful remainder of a once vibrant youngster, his hand trembling slightly as he held it and considered the man he was profiling. So much pain and anger at life, at his parents, at a God who let his sister be taken. Would all of that lessen with each death?
He dropped the photo to the table and scrubbed his face with both hands, willing the psychological dirt to wipe away. This was getting to be too much. Every time he thought about the killer’s emotions and motives, the more he identified with the man. If anyone in the world understood what it was like to lose someone and be burdened with guilt, it was Mulder.
Suddenly, it hit him. He actually felt *sorry* for a man who killed children. Nausea gripped his throat and stomach, forcing him to stagger to the bathroom and retch into the toilet, his hands gripping the sides of the bowl tightly.
His head was spinning with unanswered questions. Was Sam dead? It was his fault, right? He deserved whatever punishment his father had meted out, so why did he still feel anger towards his dad? What made him so different from the killer? Why wasn’t he out there, butchering kids to prove that children can’t protect each other?
Did it matter? In the end, it all came down to one simple fact - He had lost his sister.
Mulder reached up and pulled the lever, numbly watching his dinner swirl away. After a moment, he stood on shaky legs and moved as quickly as he dared back to his bed. He collapsed on the hard mattress, absently noting that he was still wearing his dress shirt and slacks. He closed his eyes, hoping for sleep to overcome him. But instead of the sandman, grotesque corpses flashed against his eyelids, his mind replaying each murder with vivid accuracy.
His eyes snapped open, desperate to get away from the visions. But his bed was covered with them. Photographs of little girls. Bloody, broken, mangled, and twisted. They were everywhere. He couldn’t escape them.
So why try?
Tuesday, January 7
Scully woke up to the noise of water running next door. Mulder had probably gone out for a five mile jog already. She shook her head, stretching languorously. Not being a morning person, she couldn't understand why anyone would get up an hour early to go running in the frigid morning air. Maybe being an insomniac wasn't such a bad thing after all, it certainly came in handy in getting work done.
She heard the water shut off and the sound of bare feet padding around on the thin carpet. She found herself envisioning a Mulder she had only seen a few times - clad only in a towel, water glistening on his well defined muscles, wet hair dangling in his eyes. They were such a beautiful shade of hazel, able to change from a rich blue to a golden green and deep brown to obsidian black, depending on his mood. His hair was soft and thick with a few stubborn locks resting on his forehead.
She shook her head, breathing heavily - her imagination was too vivid. Enough of that, it was time to get ready.
Mulder was pulling on his slacks when the shower flipped on in Scully's room. Images of her small, shapely body flitted across his vision. God, how he wanted her. Not just physically, no, that was too base to describe what he felt when he thought of her. He wanted her heart. She certainly had his. 'Why would she ever want someone as screwed up as you?' said the little voice deep inside.
"Shut up." Mulder grumbled. He put on the tie Scully had given him last Christmas, the only conservative one he owned. Time to go to work.
His hand was raised to knock on the door to her room when she opened it abruptly and he was rewarded with a surprised "Oh!"
"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you *again*."
She blushed slightly at his reference to the previous night. Or morning. Whatever. "I wasn't startled, you just caught me a bit off guard."
"No, really, I... Mulder, are you okay?" She looked at him more closely. He had dark smudges under his eyes and he was a bit more pale than normal.
"Uh-huh, why?" He seemed honestly confused.
"You look like hell. Did you get any sleep?"
He got that trapped look on his face and she could almost imagine him scraping his foot on the ground. "No."
"Mulder, you really should-"
He stopped her in mid-sentence with a glare. "I'm fine. C'mon, we’ll be late." Without waiting for her to reply, he strode to the rental car and got in.
Medford Police Station
The two federal agents strode in to what could have been NASA’s Mission Control. There were maps taped to the walls, photos and red tags pinned across them, people swarming through a sea of paper, stale donuts, and old coffee.
"Looks like they've been busy." Mulder commented. He looked around for Agent Connor, his gaze coming to rest on the figure walking towards them. He was a burly man, small but compact like a wrestler, his rough features weary and his long handlebar mustache drooping. His shock of black hair was shoved under a baseball cap and his uniform was wrinkled from being slept in too many nights.
"You th' new FBI?" he asked in a thick Scottish accent.
Scully stepped forward and proffered her badge, Mulder following suit. "Agents Scully and Mulder. And you are?"
"Ach, me an' my manners. Sheriff Michael Macgregor a' yer service." He gave her a little bow and a wink. "I've heard a lo' about ya both, I'm grateful we got ya on this case, it's got us all baffled. I s'pose yer lookin' fer Connor?"
Before either could reply, a shrill nasal voice cut through the noise of the bustling room. "Spooky!"
Scully watched Mulder's teeth grind and his muscles tense, preparing to face yet another agent who couldn't control his 'Spooky Mulder' comments.
"Agent Connor, good to see you again." It was plainly evident from Mulder's tone that it was anything but.
"It'll be like old times!" Connor had maneuvered his way past the desks and people to reach the motionless group and now was staring intently at Scully. "This must be the enigmatic Doctor Scully." He reached down and took her hand, bringing it up as if to kiss it. She managed to turn it into a hasty handshake, noticing that Mulder was unconsciously clenching his fists.
"Yes, well, I am sure it will be a pleasure to work with you." she said coldly. She hated it when male agents treated her differently because she was a woman. Chauvinist pigs.
"Yeah, me and the Spookster worked on the Gary Lee Worman case in '88. We had some great times then, didn't we?"
Mulder closed his eyes and prayed for patience. It was someone like Connor who was a 'gawker' at car accidents. "Would that be before or after Worman killed eleven woman?" He felt Scully's hand on his arm in both a gesture reassurance and a silent warning to not antagonize the ASAC. He shot her a grateful look.
As Connor started up a conversation with the other two men about the last case he and Mulder had worked on, Scully took the opportunity to size up the arrogant agent.
The man reminded her of an anorexic version of Tom Colton. He was easily six feet tall, with thinning red hair, telling of his Irish ancestry, cropped close to his head in an FBI regulation haircut. Offhandedly she thought how glad she was that, aside from the countless rules he disregarded, Mulder didn't follow that particular regulation either. Connor's bony features and stance were saturated with self-importance, his tone condescending, and there was a general air of haughtiness about him.
She hated him.
*Hated* was such a strong word, perhaps disliked. Extremely disliked. She brought herself back to reality with a mental shake of her head in time to hear the end of Connor's last statement.
"... impossible, nobody could figure it out. Then, in comes Spooky here and solves the case in twenty-four hours. We caught the guy in record time. You know-"
"Ahem." Scully cleared her throat. "Shouldn't we be focusing on the case at hand?"
"Oh, yeah. Guess we're just going to have to reminisce later." Connor looked sufficiently penitent and Mulder looked relieved.
They headed towards the main office, which the FBI team had appropriated as their base of operations, Mulder's hand in its customary place at the small of Scully's back.
Upon entering the office, Dale Connor underwent a transformation that both shocked and pleased Scully at the same time. "I've got my men compiling all the evidence we've managed to gather so far and we're working on victimology, pathology, and forensics. Up ‘til now we've come up with nothing. We need some insight into this guy, we need to know what he's thinking." It seemed to Scully that he gone from being a presumptuous nuisance to a determined agent in charge. He still had an air of arrogance about him, but at least he held it in check. He became wholly focused on the case, his devotion to it evidenced by the files and photos plastered to the wall behind his desk.
Reading Scully's mind, Mulder whispered, "This is why I put up with him. He is actually a decent agent when push comes to shove."
Connor picked up several papers from the fax machine and passed them out to the others. "Just before you arrived, I got this sent to me from Missing Persons. An eight year old by the name of Janet Furcini was reported missing an hour ago. It usually takes twenty-four hours to be considered missing, but with this guy still on the loose, we're not taking any chances. The sheriff has graciously volunteered some of his officers to aid in the investigation, as time is of the essence."
"It mightn't be th' same killer, we dinna find Mary Jane's body." Macgregor's hopeful expression turned to one of dismay, "A' least no' yet."
"We'll find her in a ditch by the side of the road." Mulder said quietly.
"An how are ya comin' t' tha' conclusion?" Macgregor asked in astonishment.
"Well, take a look at how the other girls were killed. Carol Sullivan had a broken neck and was severely beaten - what could have happened if her tumble from the tree house was more serious. Stephanie Bannon was starved and unkempt when they found her, not to mention she had been disemboweled and her jugular was torn out. That is what one might expect to find if she had been lost in the woods for an extended period of time and finally killed by a pack of wolves."
Mulder took a deep breath and continued. "Carlie Warren was shot in the head, a different version of her initial gunshot wound. The perp is killing them in a way that exaggerates their first injuries. It's as though he wants to prove that it could have been worse if the girl's siblings weren't there. He is trying to vindicate them.
"Mary Jane Hathaway was hurt in a car accident so... " Mulder trailed off.
"So, many car crash victims are found by the side of the road." Scully finished for him.
"Exactly. She will probably have some broken bones, a concussion, and glass cuts. More than likely she will have died from loss of blood and internal injuries." Mulder shuddered involuntarily as he described the body.
“Did you check to see if Janet Furcini was admitted to a hospital anytime recently?" Scully inquired.
"No, I hadn't thought it necessary." Connor looked peevish.
"I'll call th' hospital ri' away." Macgregor scurried out of the room.
"Ask if she had a brother and if he has also been admitted!" Mulder shouted after the Scot.
"Mulder, we're not even sure the girl has been kidnapped." Connor was being obstinate.
"It has been exactly two weeks since Mary Jane went missing. The perp has a deadline to meet. I've summarized it all in my profile." Mulder handed Connor the profile he had finished earlier that morning.
"Mmm." Connor grunted as he took the file and began to flip through it.
Mulder and Scully took a seat in the couch opposite the senior agent’s desk. Mulder closed his eyes and rotated his neck on his shoulders, trying vainly to ease the tension there. He felt a slight pressure on his knee and he opened his eyes to find Scully staring worriedly at him. He smiled slightly and laid his hand atop hers, which was resting on his knee. A nonverbal ‘I’m fine.’
Not that either one believed that old phrase anymore, but it was always a good standby. They had modified it and given it their very own meaning: I’m not doing so great, but with a little time and some support, I’ll be okay. As long as I have you.
Macgregor came back just as the ASAC finished skimming the profile, a look of awe twinkling in his eyes. "You were ri' on th' spot laddie, both Janet an' her brother were in th' hospital last week."
He handed Mulder the notes he had taken from the admittance clerk over the phone. Mulder skimmed the papers momentarily before speaking. "Says here that she was being treated for first degree burns from a gas stove. Seems her brother was too busy doing his homework to help her make lunch, so she tried to do it on her own. Nearly burnt down the whole house. Nick, her brother, was treated three days later for food poisoning."
"Sounds like th' other victim scenarios, Connor."
"It certainly does, Mike. So Mulder, what do you suggest?" Connor looked expectantly at the other agents.
Mulder seemed lost in his own world, delving into the insane universe of a killer's mind. "Oh God... he'll burn her." he whispered.
"What?" Scully leaned closer.
Mulder turned horrified eyes to his partner. "He'll burn her."
"That makes sense if he stays true to form. Don't worry Mulder, we'll get him first." Scully hoped in her heart that this was true. Mulder's fear of fire had abated somewhat after that incident with Cecil L'Ively, but he still had some problems dealing with it.
"Mike and I will go interview the parents, you two can join the search for Mary Jane." With that taken care of, Connor wisked out of the room and disappeared into the forest of people and papers.
"Good luck to ya both." Macgregor added and followed the younger man.
Scully laid her hand on Mulder's shoulder to prevent him from moving just yet. "Mulder, maybe you should go back to the hotel and get a few hours of sleep. They don't need both of us for the search party and you could use the rest." Scully didn't relish the thought of having to deal with her partner's reaction to finding a little girl’s dead body. At least she could try to spare him the grief.
"I'm okay." he snapped. His face softened in apology. "Look, I'm sorry, but I need to be there when they find her. I need to follow his footsteps, trace his every action, in order to anticipate his next move."
"All right, but if you're not one hundred percent by this evening, I am going to lock you in your room without your laptop or the files."
"Okay, okay." He put his hands up in mock surrender. "You drive a hard bargain."
"You should see me at the flea market." She grinned - he deserved a little extra. "Don't make me handcuff you to the bed."
She got what she expected.
"Ooh Scully, I didn't know you were so kinky."
She smiled. "Shut up Mulder."
Mt. McLoughlin Pass
Just Outside of Medford
“Here! Stop here!” Mulder gestured frantically for the driver to pull over. The deputy hastily swerved off the road and onto the dirt shoulder. The patrol car behind them followed suit.
“Mulder, what is it?” Scully asked, scrutinizing the trees off to her right.
“We need to search this area. She’s here somewhere.” he answered cryptically and got out of the car. Scully shrugged at the driver and went after her partner. She found him speaking with the other two law enforcement officials who had accompanied them. One was another deputy, the other an agent assigned by Connor, fresh from Quantico. “I want you to canvas the area. Don’t worry about going much farther than ten feet from the side of the road, she’ll be in the runoff ditch.”
The green agent scampered off, eager to please the FBI legend. The more experienced deputy wandered over to join his fellow officer. Scully stood by Mulder’s elbow, waiting for him to acknowledge her. After about two minutes of watching him stare off into space, she gave up and took the offensive. “Mulder. Mulder!”
“What? I’m sorry Scully, did you say something?”
She rolled her eyes in feigned exasperation. “I want to know why you think this is the dump site.”
“I don’t know. I just have this feeling. You know, that tight knot in your stomach that tells you when the perp is behind you, ready to blow your head off.” he tried to explain.
. "Agent Scully, Agent Mulder, we've got something!" one of the deputies shouted.
Scully shot Mulder a look that he had seen on many a face when he had worked in the ISU. It was disbelief. Well, it wasn’t exactly a new expression for his partner at least.
The two agents jogged over to the frantic young man who had discovered the corpse of a raven haired little girl. The other deputy was on the radio, calling headquarters, and Agent Green, as Mulder had decided to nickname him, was off to the right, puking his guts out in the bushes. Mulder squinted his eyes, the only emotion he would let creep out, turning aside to survey the scene.
Scully bent down and began to examine the body. "Broken bones and glass cuts. I'll have to wait until the autopsy to be sure, but the rigidity of her stomach suggests internal bleeding, and the large bruise on her head indicates a possible concussion." She didn't remark on the eerie accuracy of her partner's prediction. It was just the way Mulder thought. Just another one of the many things about him that she couldn't understand but loved just the same. Loved? Now, why would she put it that way?
She stepped away from the small corpse and watched Mulder walk around in the muddy ditch by the side of the road. He stopped, bent down, and ran his fingers over the tracks in the dirt road.
“Deputy!" he barked over his shoulder.
"Yes, Sir?" asked the flustered youth. The kid couldn't have been more than twenty. Great. He and Agent Green could order Happy Meals for them all. "Is this road used often?"
"Um, not usually, but in the past few weeks there's been more traffic than usual, due to the big fur trade convention they're having up on Mt. McLoughlin come spring. Traders bring up their supplies and merchandise every time this year. They've got to do it early, 'cause this pass will be snowed in by next month."
"How long has this convention been meeting here?"
"Oh, just for the past seven years I guess, maybe eight, I'm not sure. Why?"
Green walked shakily up behind them, peering over Mulder’s shoulder.
"Look at the tire marks." Mulder motioned to the barely discernible tracks in the mud.
The young agent was confused. "But we can't get an impression from those, so there's no way to try and match it to the killer's car."
"Yes, but if you look at them closely, you can see that the vehicle had chains on the tires, like he was expecting snow. He also drove away at high speed, as though he was surprised by another driver."
"But it hasn't snowed this early in the year since the eighties." the deputy pointed out.
"Exactly." Mulder stood up suddenly and walked back over to Scully, who was just finishing her preliminary examination, leaving the two newbies to try and make sense of the conversation.
"Find anything useful Mulder?" Scully asked hopefully.
"Yeah, the killer's been here."
She arched an eyebrow at him. "I thought that was obvious."
He gave her a dirty look. "Obviously. I meant before this. He grew up around here. His estimated age is late twenties to early thirties, so that means he would have lived here in the seventies, right?"
"Yes, that's safe to assume, but I don't see what... "
He waved his hands animatedly. "It hasn't snowed in January since the eighties, but he was expecting snow and no traffic. He didn't know about the fur convention because it started after he moved away. You see now?"
She nodded her head in understanding. "So you're saying we're looking for a local who has just moved back into town after many years of absence."
"He feels free now that his parents are gone. He came back to his hometown to make the murders more meaningful, more satisfying. But he had a close call today, he didn't expect this town to have changed and that scares him."
"Scared enough to make a mistake?"
"Perhaps." Mulder became lost in thought for a moment. "When he runs out of girls who fit his warped puzzle, he’ll start killing the fathers."
"Because I... he doesn't believe his father was right to beat him. He wants revenge on the abuser, hence their deaths." Mulder looked down for a moment and when he lifted his head, Scully thought she saw his eyes glistening with unshed tears. Of course, it could have been a trick of the light.
She hadn't missed his falter. He had been about to say that his own father hadn't had the right to beat him. Her fears were pretty much confirmed. At that instant, she wished William Mulder was still alive so she could kill him all over again. What kind of monster physically abuses a twelve year old boy, burdening him with the guilt of something he couldn't possibly have had any control over? She took a deep breath to calm herself and went over to her partner, who was mumbling nonsensically to himself.
"It was my fault." He said it so quietly Scully had to strain to hear him. Suddenly the color drained from his face and he stumbled over to the rental car.
"Mulder? Mulder, you okay?" Scully hurried after him, all concern.
She found him kneeling by the trunk, spilling what was left of his breakfast onto the muddy ground. "It's all right Mulder, it's going to be okay." she murmured, gently rubbing his back.
After finishing, he leaned back on his haunches and scrubbed his face. "Shit, Scully. I'm sorry."
She gave him a crooked smile. "I'll give you points for missing my shoes." She reached down and hooked her arm under his elbow. "Come on, we'd better get you back to the hotel."
He was about to argue, but thought better of it when he saw the stubborn set to her jaw. Damned Irish temper.
He had to be awake by now. Mulder rarely took naps and when he did, it was never for more than an hour. "How are you feeling?" Scully questioned as she walked into Mulder's darkened room.
"Hungry." He was lying on his stomach, files decorating all free space on the bed around him. The shades were drawn, the only light coming from the edges and from the muted TV.
She sighed dramatically. "I think you should hold off until dinner, give your stomach a rest."
"Yes, *Mom*." he drawled.
"Shut up and get ready." She threw his shirt at him. "I've got an autopsy to do and you have a police station to debrief."
He let out a martyred sigh. "My work is never done." He tugged on his shirt and grabbed a tie, the one dappled with tiny flying saucers.
Medford Police Station
After debriefing the sheriff, his men, and the rest of the agents assigned to case, on their findings at the crime scene, Mulder took Macgregor aside. "Sheriff Macgregor, can I speak to you for a moment?"
"Sure, laddie. Fine work you’re doin' here."
"Mmm. Anyway, I was wondering if you could spare some men from the Furcini search team?" Mulder raised his eyebrows hopefully.
The burly man scratched his neck for a moment as if it helped speed up his thought processes. "Janet's Pa is real 'portant 'round her an' there's heaps a' pressure on us t' find her. So it’ll take some doin' but I'm sure I can round up some a' my men for ya. Mind if I be questionin' what for an' why yer not usin' yer own men?"
"I need to start a search of all the kidnapping/murder cases committed in the area during the seventies and Agent Connor already denied me. He’s got all the other agents doing background checks on the residents of fair Medford."
Macgregor scratched the faint stubble on his jaw. "Tha'll take a wee bit more time than my men can spare, but I'll do my best t' see wha' I can do."
"Thank you." With that, Mulder turned around and headed to the records room to begin the search.
Four hours later, that was where Scully found him. He had made it all the way from 1970 to halfway through 1973. "Mulder, it's almost nine o'clock, I think it can wait."
He rubbed his sore eyes and glanced up at her. "Macgregor was going to give me some of his men to help, but Connor, in his infinite wisdom and ladder-climbing intentions, thought they would be more useful scouring the streets for Janet Furcini."
Scully snorted, "I thought you said he was a decent agent."
"Decent, but pig headed sometimes. When he gets a plan of action in his head he sticks to it. He's only decent when his plan of action is."
Scully was shocked when Mulder had willingly agreed to go to bed early, but when she heard the tapping of his keyboard she knew why. He'd agreed so she would leave him alone to work. Damn him.
She typed up her notes on the latest autopsy and made an entry in her field journal before deciding to turn in. Mulder wasn’t the only one who worked late.
She finally dozed off around ten but only slept for about an hour, when she was awakened by a muffled scream.
She leapt from her bed and bull-dozed through the connecting door to find Mulder sitting on the bed, surrounded by papers and photographs. He had a not quite sane look in his eyes and Scully realized that he was still seeing afterimages from the nightmare.
When she had first started working with Mulder, his cries in the night were unnerving and as the years went by, she had grown accustomed to his nighttime terrors. But he had never reacted like this as far as she knew. He was hyperventilating and he looked absolutely terrified. His gaze frantically searched the room and recognition finally struck when he saw her.
"Scully?" His voice was slightly hoarse from his anguished cry.
"It's me Mulder, you were having another nightmare." She sat on his bed and stroked his hair soothingly.
"It was so real, I was sure... "
"Want to talk about it?" She didn't want to push him, knowing that if she did, he'd close up instantly.
"Maybe. In a minute. Would you... " he fumbled with the bedspread for a moment, unsure if continuing was dangerous. Well, he'd never know unless he asked. "Would you just let me hold you for a little while?"
She was shocked but for an instant. It was such an innocent request, how could he know that it would make her heart skip a beat? "Sure." She tried to relax as his long arms enveloped her and his chin rested on the top of her head.
She heard his breathing slow down and his racing heart return to normal as he rocked her gently back and forth. He took a deep breath and she knew it was time for him to tell her. She slipped out of his loosening embrace and went to get a glass of water.
It had felt so good to be in his arms and their bodies had fit together so perfectly it seemed they were made for each other. If only it wasn't just comfort he was seeking. She angrily banished those thoughts. Mulder needed and deserved her full attention.
Mulder followed his slight partner with his eyes, noting every graceful movement, every delicate action. When she had gotten up he had felt so empty, so alone. The little voice returned. 'Get a grip Mulder, she's still in the room for Christ's sake. It's not as if she wanted anything but to give you a shoulder to cry on.’
She returned with the water and he drank greedily, careful not to spill when she eased down onto the bed next to him. He finished the water and set the glass on the endtable. "All right, I'm ready."
She gave him her full attention.
"We were in a dark warehouse - you, me, and the search team. You heard a noise and went after it and I tried to follow, but I couldn't move. I called your name but you just kept going. Finally I was able to proceed and I raced into the darkness where you had disappeared." He closed his eyes, replaying the scene in his mind's eye.
"When I found you, you were... you were dead and this demonic creature was standing over you. I rushed at it but it vanished. That's when I woke up."
Scully said nothing for a moment, just digested the information for a little while. "Is this the first time you've had this dream?"
"This particular one, yes. Before, I used to dream about Sam's abduction, killers I profiled while in the VCS, or my father. Now they're about you. Your abduction, Duane Barry, Donnie Pfaster, Modell, the cancer. It's always the same, I try to save you, but I can't."
He had nightmares about her? Of course he did, he blamed himself for every bad thing that had happened to her during their time together, she should have suspected as much. She squeezed his hand tightly.
He took a deep shuddering breath and tried to lighten the mood. "Why can't I have normal dreams about women?"
Scully refused to take the bait. "Mulder, I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to answer truthfully okay?"
"Um... okay I guess." he answered suspiciously.
"Did your father beat you as a child?"
He stared at her, stunned. That was the last thing he had expected her to ask. For an instant, he thought about lying. But he could tell that Scully really wanted to know, that this was important to her. He looked away from her, studying an invisible spot on the wall. "He... he hit me every now and then. But he had his reasons."
"Mulder, no one has the right to abuse a child!"
He turned to her, frustration in his voice. "I know that Scully, I didn't say it was right, I just said he had his reasons. His work was very stressful and he drowned his sorrows with alcohol. He blamed me for Sam. Hell, I blame me for Sam."
She didn't bother telling him it wasn't his fault, it was too deeply ingrained in him. "Mulder, I think you're too close to this case. You see yourself in the killer and that scares me."
He chewed on his lower lip for a moment before replying, "We almost have him Scully, I can almost see him."
"All right." She gave in, there was no way she would be able to convince him to step away from this case, not when he was this involved. “Do you want some sleeping pills?” When he shook his head, she squeezed his knee and stood up to leave.
"Scully?" He reached out and took her hand before she could move away. "Would you stay for a while? Until I fall asleep?"
"Sure, what are partners for?" She only half hoped that he didn't read as much into it as she had put in.
Spouter-Inn Medford, Oregon
Wednesday, January 8
After waking up on the couch in Mulder's room at six and seeing the note he left on the table, informing her he had gone jogging, Scully took her blankets and sleepily dragged them back to her room.
When he came back and showered, they went to the local IHOP for breakfast. Mulder wasn't hungry, but he attempted to down as much food as possible to allay Scully's fears. There was no mention of the previous night's episode, it was like a silent agreement between them to not discuss it. He didn't have to thank her, she knew. She didn't have to tell him she was concerned, he knew.
They returned to the hotel and Scully was about to enter her room when Mulder hissed, "Scully!"
She looked over and saw him pointing at his door - it was ajar.
They both removed their weapons from their holsters and silently counted to three. Mulder was the first to burst into the room, only to discover that it was empty and had been thoroughly trashed.
"This is becoming a habit Mulder." Scully glanced around disgustedly.
"Oh yeah, it's all my fault." he said sarcastically. He walked into the bathroom and stopped abruptly. "Scully."
She joined him in the doorway and peered into the deserted bathroom. On the mirror there were three sloppy words scrawled in blood, "WE ARE ONE".
Scully heard Mulder’s breath quicken and felt his muscles bunch, but she was unprepared for what he did next.
“No!” he shouted as he sprang towards the offending words. “We are not the same, damn you!” His fist slammed into the mirror, just above the dripping letters, splintering the reflective surface.
“Mulder!” Scully grabbed his fist as he brought it back for another blow. Blood was trickling from his skinned knuckles. He rounded on her, fury in his eyes. For a moment, she was afraid, worried that he wouldn’t recognize her through the rage. But the anger flickered out of his eyes and his hand dropped to his side.
“Sit down, Mulder, c’mon.” She helped him slide down the wall and lean forward, his head between his knees. “Deep breaths. There we go. I’ll be right back, okay?”
No response. She took that as an affirmative and hurried over to her room to collect her medical bag. She returned quickly, noting that he hadn’t moved an inch. “Mulder, I need to see your hand.”
He still didn’t respond.
He raised his head and she saw such anguish in his eyes that she gasped slightly, her heart fluttering in her chest. He leaned his head back against the wall and slowly maneuvered his right arm across his lap, offering Scully the damaged appendage.
She worked fast and competent, disinfecting the cuts and bandaging them gently. “All done.”
He spoke for the first time since that angry cry, “Scully?”
“Hmm?” She was placing her instruments back in the bag.
“How would he know about Sam?”
She settled herself next to him, ignoring how cramped they were in the tiny bathroom. “I don’t know. Over the internet, I suppose. John Lee Roche did it, so I don’t see why our perp couldn’t.”
“Even so, how could he possibly know about my father? I never went to Child Welfare or Family Services. No one knew.”
Scully’s heart went out to the tortured man who was her partner. Such a caring and sensitive person mistreated and alone during his childhood. So alone. She couldn’t even imagine what it had been like for him.
“Like knows like?” It was all she could come up with.
Mulder gave a rueful snort and turned his head to look at her. “Just our luck. We’re assigned to Violent Crimes and we still get an X-file. Psychic killers.”
Scully flinched. Just like Luther Lee Fucking Boggs.
An hour later the room had been photographed and dusted for prints. Nothing appeared to be missing, but it was obvious that whoever it was, he had gone through Mulder's notes.
"Agent Mulder, Agent Connor is on the phone." the same young deputy from the day before informed him.
"Thanks." Mulder took the proffered phone. "Mulder."
"Hey Spook. I hate to ruin your day, but we've got another body. Our search team found Janet Furcini's body in a dumpster about a half an hour ago. She was covered in sixth degree burns. You were right on that count, but what I don't understand is why he killed her so soon."
Mulder swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. "Did you find anything else?"
"Yeah. We got a note this time. Says 'We are not to blame.' Any ideas on what that means?"
Mulder swallowed noisily, glancing back at his motel room. "I have a few. Stay there, we'll be right over." Mulder hung up the phone on Connor, who was sputtering about being told what to do, and strode quickly over to Scully. "They found her, we've got to go."
Medford Police Station
"He's changed his pattern."
"I can see that, Mulder, the question is, why?" Connor said heatedly.
"He's escalating because he has someone on the outside he can share these murders with. Someone who will understand." Mulder stared blindly at the burnt body being carried away.
"Excuse me? C'mon Mulder, how in the world did you come up with that one?" Connor's disbelief was obvious.
"When I was twelve, my eight year old sister Samantha was... " He was about to use the word abducted, but chose the diplomatic approach instead, "kidnapped. I was admitted to the hospital in a catatonic state for a week after her disappearance. He sees me as another case of 'parents blame brother for sister'. He went through my hotel room this morning. He knows everything I know about him, he knows I understand him. He feels that we, in his own words, are 'one'."
Scully listened intently to the conversation and was surprised when Mulder mentioned the catatonia. She had forgotten about that. If the killer had access to medical records, he would have been able to get into Mulder’s records. It made a hell of a lot more sense than psychic killers. Which was good, because one Boggs was enough for her.
"Logical, I suppose." Connor was nodding his head absently. "What do you think his next move will be?"
"Did you go through hospital records for any brother/sister admits in the past year?"
"Yes, we've got four possibilities and each house is being watched covertly. That’s what we were doing when you insisted we stop and search some twenty year old records." Connor stood up straighter, proud to have been proven right.
Mulder ignored the bait. "Then all we can do is wait. Right now I need to finish going through those old records." He left Scully and Connor to discuss her findings from the autopsy.
"How could this happen?!" Dale Connor roared to no one in particular.
"Calm down." Mulder tried to keep his own temper under control.
Connor ignored him. "You said that all the possible victims were under surveillance!" His anger was directed at Macgregor, who was hunched over another fax.
"They were. We checked all th' hospital records thur’ly." Macgregor replied indignantly.
Scully moved to the rescue. "Debbie Belanger was admitted to a hospital out of state. They were on vacation in Florida when she almost drowned at the beach - her brother had life guard duty. Then, when they returned last week he, Chris, was admitted here for some sort of rash. We only just started checking on out of state hospitals, there was no way we could have known."
"Well, damn it, we should have!"
"We're missing something." Mulder intoned.
"Now what??" Connor was ready to punch something. Anything.
"He's getting this information so fast and he has been able to go from place to place with amazing speed. Your autopsy showed Janet was killed at close to eight this morning. He had time to kill her and then cross town to ransack my room in the space of half an hour. Plus the fact that medical records are confidential. Either he works at the hospital or somehow has access to the records. Since the hospital hasn't hired anyone in the past year, we have to assume that he's getting his information from a second source.
"Connor, have some agents interview all hospital personnel who have access to the medical files. There's got to be something we're missing... " He shook his head. "Never mind. Right now we've got to stop worrying about how it happened, let's concentrate on how to make it not happen again." Mulder whirled around and returned to the records room.
"I've got him!" came Mulder's triumphant shout.
Heads jerked up around the room at the exclamation from the records room. Mulder suddenly burst through the door and barreled his way straight into Connor's office. "His name is Quentin Young. Born in 1963, his nine year old sister Madelaine was kidnapped on April 27, 1977. Her body was found two weeks later, strangled to death and left in a docking warehouse on Crater Lake. That's where he is!"
"You sure about tha' laddie?" Sheriff Macgregor leaned against the door frame.
"Positive. After April 27, he was admitted to the hospital eleven times with multiple bruises and lacerations. He has a younger brother, Richard, who works at the hospital but called in sick this morning. That's his accomplice, that explains how he is doing what he's doing so fast. There are two of them. Quentin is the killer and Richard is the kidnapper." Mulder stopped and glanced around. "Where's Scully?"
"She’s finishing up re-autopsying the first three victims." Connor answered.
"Call her up here, we need to start organizing a search and rescue team."
The rescue team was set to go in at seven o'clock that evening. It wasn’t as soon as Mulder was hoping for, but Connor wanted to make sure that nothing had been overlooked. Mulder and Scully had returned to their rooms to go over every possible scenario, when the phone rang.
"Scully." Her brows knitted together and she held out the phone for Mulder.
He cocked his head in a silent question.
"Skinner." she answered. "Don't argue with him."
He blanched, taking the receiver. "Sir?"
"Agent Mulder. Agent Connor has updated me on the situation as it currently stands. You both deserve a congratulations on your work." Skinner's baritone voice was tinny over the phone.
"Thank you, Sir."
"I also heard that the killer, a... " Skinner paused to glance at his notes, "Quentin Young, seems to have a fixation with you. I think it would be better if you returned to DC tonight. Let's not give this bastard any chance to act on his fixation."
"Sir, there is no indication that he has any hostile intent towards me."
"Don't make me order you to come directly back to Washington. You can leave Agent Scully in charge of the search and rescue." Skinner's voice was so cold sober that the Assistant Director's scowl was palpable over the phone.
"But, Sir, I... "
"No buts. I don't want you taking any unnecessary risks. That will be all."
Mulder sighed heavily, tossed the cellular phone back to Scully and looked for some sympathy.
"That's what you get for not doing like I suggested and keeping your mouth shut." she replied.
He gave her a dirty look, mimicking the words 'I told you so', and got up to start packing. "I don't like it Scully. If you're going to be there, you need someone to watch your back, someone who knows your tactics."
"He's right, Mulder, this guy could come after you and I would rather be on a rescue team only once this week." Scully said firmly, "I will be perfectly safe. You had better hurry up if you are going to catch the next flight." She averted her eyes so that he wouldn't see her anxiety and began to tap the keys of her laptop.
Crater Lake Docking Facilities
The three cars pulled silently up to the broken down entrance of the old dock. While the FBI agents and local police stepped out of their vehicles, a dark blue sedan drove up. Scully and the others had their guns out in an instant and aimed at the car.
The driver got out slowly and maneuvered his face into the waning light to reveal his identity. "Mulder," Scully hissed, "you should be on a plane by now. What are you doing here??"
"I'll only be a few hours late. Besides, I would feel a hell of a lot better knowing that you're... " he trailed off.
"Thanks, your chivalry is appreciated." she whispered as he quickly slid up beside her. She would deal with him later.
She motioned for the other agents to follow her lead and entered the decrepit building. Mulder positioned himself next to her as the others spread out in pairs to locate their quarry. The two crept through the nearest passageway leading to the loading area and emerged onto a catwalk. The walk surrounded a dark hole, no doubt filled with old cargo, long forgotten.
Scully saw movement in the corner of her eye. She pivoted towards it, raising her weapon and shouted, "Freeze, FBI!" The dark shape fired a gun and when the agents ducked behind the door, the shadowy figure bolted. "Go right!" Scully barked as she began to move left.
Mulder started to comply, but halted the instant he saw what his partner was headed straight for.
On the left wall, above a rickety wooden bridge, was a mural of a grotesque beast. His nightmare demon flashed in his brain and he sprinted after Scully. Just as he reached the bridge he glanced back in time to see the barrel of a gun appear from the darkness, pointed directly at the unaware woman.
"Scully, look out!" he bellowed and lunged for her. He heard the pistol go off and then a bright haze of pain engulfed him. He could hardly feel himself knock Scully down or the bridge give way under them. The last thing he heard was Scully's yelp of surprise and the shooter's maniacal laughter.
Then there was nothing.
Crater Lake Docking Facilities
God, her head hurt. Scully put her hand to her forehead and felt a thin pliant crust. She must have been out for a while, the blood had time to dry. A quick check of her watch confirmed it.
The last thing she remembered was Mulder shouting and then he jumped into her as a shot went off. At that point they were pulled down by his weight and the old bridge collapsed. She looked up through the dim light to see that they had fallen nearly twenty-five feet straight down. It was a wonder she didn't break her neck!
She gasped suddenly. Mulder!
She searched the blackness, waiting impatiently for her eyes to adjust, until she saw his prone form lying face down a few feet away. She jumped to her feet and saw the floor rush back up at her. She hit hard, stunned more from the shock of realizing it had happened than the shock of hitting the ground.
"Damn it!" Scully cried as she fell again. This time she heard the tearing in her right knee. Thankfully the shock of the injury and the frigid temperature in the pit had left it numb. She pushed against the floor, straining her left leg to carry her forward. After what seemed like an eternity she finally reached Mulder's still form.
"Please God," she whispered, "let him be alive." She reached down and put two fingers on his neck. Her breath caught in her throat - no, wait! There it was, faint and irregular but his pulse was there. She checked for any broken bones or signs of back or neck injures. Finding none, she gently turned him over to search for any other injuries.
He had a gash on his head that had bled profusely but wouldn't need stitches. Might be a concussion. They were both wearing bullet proof vests, so it was possible if the slug had hit him that the force of the bullet, not to mention the fall, had fractured a few ribs. She began to carefully remove the vest when he emitted a low moan and his eyes flickered open. He shook his head as if to clear it then sat straight up with such speed that Scully fell back, startled.
"Scully?!" His voice was that of a terrified twelve year old boy, an echo of the same desperate cry of last night.
“I’m here, I'm okay." She reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder.
Reassured that his partner was still alive, the surge of adrenaline faded away and was replaced by pain. He groaned in agony and slowly lowered himself back to the floor.
"Mulder what is it? Where does it hurt?" Scully was getting increasingly worried by the second.
"My chest... I can't... " He began to cough and choke, gulping air desperately.
"Shhh. Take slow deep breaths or you'll hyperventilate. Now let me see." She finished taking off the Kevlar vest and set it aside. In the faint light she could make out a large dark stain spreading across Mulder's chest. She placed her hand on his shirt and felt a damp warmth seeping through the cloth.
"That's impossible!" She grabbed the discarded vest and went over it inch by inch until she found what she was looking for. A small hole, no bigger than a half of an inch, that went clean through the lower left breast of the vest. "Cop killers. The bastard was using cop killers."
"That would explain... it. I didn't think broken ribs were... this bad." Mulder deadpanned.
She stared at him in bewilderment. How could he joke at a time like this?... To keep her sane, that’s why. The last thing he needed right now was a hysterical partner and he was trying to make her relax. Yeah right, relax, no problem.
"Mulder, I have to turn you over and check for an exit wound."
He nodded and braced himself. Prepared as he may have been, he wasn't ready for the new rush of pain that surged through him. He gasped and tried to curl into a ball but that only resulted in more suffering.
Search as she may, Scully couldn't find any exit wound, which was strange since cop killers could go through both protective layers of the vest, the body, and end up buried in the wall. That is, if they weren't stopped by bone. She rolled him back into a more comfortable position, trying to ignore the grunts he was making to mask the pain.
From the position of the wound the bullet was probably stopped by his ribs. Most likely shattered a few and then got lodged between an organ and his back. The vest had kept the bleeding to a minimum but removing it had caused a fresh flow of blood from the wound.
"How's your breathing?"
"Feel's like I've... been punched in... the gut." As if to illustrate the point he started coughing again and this time blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth.
Blood from the mouth usually indicated internal injuries, probably a punctured lung, either from the bullet or one of the broken ribs. Scully prayed that it was just a minor laceration to the lung's lower lobe, leaving the upper lobe reasonably free to do its job. "I'm going to sit you up, it'll help clear your airway." She put a hand behind his neck and gradually lifted him into a slightly upright position.
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut as the world began to swirl around him. His brain seemed to be too big for his skull and the pain brought on a surge of nausea. He leaned over and gagged as he vomited blood and bile until there was nothing left in his stomach. The dry heaves that came next tore through his weakened body, leaving him gasping for air.
Scully felt helpless, all she could do was wrap her arms around his ribs to keep them from puncturing any other vital organs. Vomiting was not a normal side effect of bullet wounds, though it could be brought on by severe pain. "Mulder, look at me."
He turned a pale and haggard face towards her. She pressed her palm against his forehead. His skin was clammy but warm, too warm. She then placed a hand over his eyes. "What do you see?"
"Nothing. No, wait, there's... light spots if I look... from my right eye."
"Just as I thought, you have a concussion. Mulder, why can't you ever do anything halfway?"
"Just a perfectionist I guess." His smile turned into a grimace as another wave of pain washed over him.
They were running out of time, they needed to find a way out of here. Scully turned around and inspected their twenty by thirty foot surroundings. The only apparent ways out were a wooden ladder that had eroded into dust years ago and a huge iron door locked from the outside, too thick to break down. There were empty boxes and crates scattered about that could have served as a steady enough tower to climb, if either of them were physically able.
She sighed in defeat and looked up to the heavens in prayer. That was when she saw the painting of the demon leering down at her. She remembered Mulder's nightmare and realized that he had interpreted the mural as a warning. Damn him, why did he have to put everyone else's safety before his own?
Mulder's time was growing short, the damage to his lung was very critical and his other injuries just compounded the problem. There had to be a way out of here. She began to shout and bang on things, in an endeavor to gain some attention.
"Scully," Mulder gargled through the blood welling up in his throat, "don't. He could still be out there."
"Nonsense, we can't just wait here until you... " She squelched the thought. She knelt beside him, ignoring the screaming in her knee and felt his cheek. His fever was worse and in this cold and damp environment there was a serious risk of pneumonia. Aspirating water into lungs that couldn't use any available oxygen effectively was the last thing they needed. That coupled with the amount of blood he was losing would kill him for sure. She had to stop the bleeding. She put one hand over the other and applied pressure to the damaged area.
He cried out. "Stop... please!"
The wound was too deep. She looked for anything that could be used as a bandage and settled on an old sail piled in the corner. It was probably covered in dirt and grime from sitting in here for years but Mulder would die faster from blood loss than from infection. Scully hopped over to the heap of thick fabric and dragged it back to where Mulder lay. She had to pause for a moment to catch her breath, rubbing her knee to soothe the fire.
"Scully, you're hurt!" Mulder exclaimed. She was hurt, he hadn’t protected her, he hadn't--
"It's not your fault Mulder." Scully interrupted his thoughts, reading him like a book. "You saved my life. That bullet was aimed straight at my head, if you were as short as I am you would be dead." She continued talking while she tore strips from the cloth sails and contrived a make-shift bandage. She was careful not to occlude the opening of the wound, which would trap air inside his chest and cause more problems than she could deal with.
As she inspected the gash on his brow, his head lolled to the side and his eyes started to close.
"Mulder, stay with me!" She grabbed his face and made him look at her. "Listen to me. You have to stay awake, I know it hurts, but talk to me. About anything."
"Nice weather... we're having." was his reply. His laugh became sputtering coughs of blood. Scully stared at him in bewilderment, his ability to be humorous in the face of such overwhelming odds was amazing. When she had first started working with him, she found his sense of humor disquieting; until she realized that it was his defense mechanism. He used jokes and one liners to hide his fears and pain. They were called into service far too often for her liking.
"Mulder... " she trailed off warningly.
"Well, you did say anything. What do you think Skinner... *ach*... will do when he finds out... *cough*... I'm not coming?"
"In the light of our current situation, I think that is the least of our concerns. How are you going to explain this one?"
"Tell him... I had a psychic... premonition?" He raised an eyebrow at her and flinched when he stretched the skin around the cut on his forehead.
"Mulder, it was pure coincidence that the demon you dreamt killed me and the demon painted on the wall are similar. Demons often are identical in appearance due to the number of stories and pictures that are present in today's culture. A gargoyle on a castle in France can be indistinguishable from one in, say, Russia. That is because of their common portrayal."
He gazed at her with a look of condescension.
"Okay, so I'm going out on a limb with that one. I'll say that it is infinitesimally possible, however improbable, that you had some sort of precognition of what was going to happen tonight." she admitted.
"That's all I ask. Sometimes I... wonder if you... *gurgle*... disagree with me out of... habit."
"Me? Disagree with you? Never."
"Well you... *cough*... could have... fooled... " He stopped.
Scully spun around from where she was trying to budge the massive door, curious as to why he had ceased talking. She saw that his head had leaned to the side, blood streaming from his mouth.
"Mulder!" She scrambled over to him and called his name again. When that elicited no response she slapped him across the face. "Come on, look at me! You've got to stay with me!" she pleaded.
"Sorry," was his faint reply.
All of a sudden there was a sound at the door, the scraping of a key and the creak of the tumblers in the huge lock.
"Thank God!" Scully cried and hobbled to the door as fast as she could.
"Scully wait!" Mulder tried to get up but was forced back down by the oppressing pain. "It might not be-"
The door slammed open with a swiftness defying its rusted hinges and a hand shot out from the doorway to smash into Scully's face. She was thrown backwards into a stack of boxes and lay there, disoriented. The attacker vaulted onto her prostrate form and began to grapple with her. His large hands encircled her neck and began to squeeze, cutting off her air supply.
Then out of nowhere a shape went charging into the offender, sending them both tumbling across the floor. Sucking air down her bruised throat, Scully helplessly watched the two men rolling around, exchanging blows.
Mulder was in no condition to fight but he was still able to confront Richard Young, the kidnapper, with strength built on adrenaline. Richard was a hulk of a man, six foot three and two-hundred and twenty pounds. His short brown hair was swept back from a high forehead and the stubble on his face gave him a gruff look. Mulder feinted and attacked. Richard read him and slipped Mulder neatly over his shoulder, throwing him by his own momentum. But Mulder used the same momentum and a leg scissors to bring the other man to one knee.
Richard slipped Mulder's hold and caught him again. The kidnapper locked the FBI agent against his chest in a vice-like grip. Mulder smashed up with an elbow, making Richard loosen his hold, and slipped out of the deadly embrace. Mulder turned and launched into a vicious hurdle. Richard caught him out of the air and carried him into an elevated lift. He was hurled across the room to slam into the wall.
Mulder slid down and felt something cold and hard jab in his back. A gun! Both agents had lost their weapons in the fall. If he could only... He fought off the impending nausea and summoned up all the strength he had left. He twisted around and grabbed the gun as Richard turned his attention to the nearest target - Scully.
The kidnapper raced for her, laughing wildly, and had almost reached her when a shot rang out. He jerked as the bullet hit him but he didn't stop his forward momentum. Another shot and Richard finally fell, unmoving, at Scully's feet.
Scully stared dumbly at the body for a moment then glanced up at the shooter. Mulder was trembling from the effort but he still made his way to her. "You... *gasp*... okay?" he managed to say.
She nodded, still trying to get over the shock. Mulder began to sway, about to collapse. That was all it took to snap her back to their present situation. She stumbled over to him and helped him sit down. They had only a few seconds to rest when they heard a muffled call for help from beyond the open door.
Scully supported Mulder and together they lurched through the exit. Floating in the water at the far end of the dock was a small boat, the source of the cries of distress. They hobbled over to it to find Debbie Belanger, badly misused, bound to the motor.
Scully gently eased Mulder into the passenger seat and untied the terrified girl. "It's all right, we're with the FBI. We've come to take you home."
The wide-eyed youngster whimpered her thanks and curled herself in the corner while Scully started the motor. Without car or cell phone the best form of transportation was the boat. They could go to the other side of the lake, bringing them closer to the hospital and help, while using the Citizen Band radio installed in the console.
"Head for Abbott Docks... other side of... lake." Mulder's voice was barely above a whisper. Scully nodded in agreement.
The little girl cautiously uncurled herself and crawled over to Mulder. "Hi. I'm Debbie, you okay Mister?"
Mulder smiled. This little girl before him could have been Samantha all over again, just a blonde Samantha. "I'm fine. My... name's Fox."
Scully never ceased to be amazed by how good her partner was with children. He had used his taboo first name to try and keep the girl's attention, keep her calm. It worked.
Debbie giggled. "That's a funny name. I like it. Are we going home now?"
"Yes, we're going home." Mulder answered. "Debbie I need to ask you a... *cough*... question, okay?"
"Sure." She climbed into his lap.
Mulder winced as the movement shifted his damaged ribs, scraping them against his torn lung. He squeezed his eyes shut and focused on his breathing. After the nausea abated somewhat, he opened them and looked down into the innocent face of a child. "Was there another man with you?"
The girl looked uncomfortable and huddled closer to Mulder. "They were bad men."
Mulder lifted a shaking hand to stroke her hair lightly. "Yes, they were. Do you... know where the other... bad man went?"
"I don't know." She looked as if she was about to cry. "I don't know."
"Shhh. It's all right." he muttered. "Never mind."
Scully listened to the conversation between the little girl and the wounded man with half an ear. With one hand on the tiller, she grabbed the CB radio and tuned it to the appropriate channel. "Attention: This is Dana Scully with the FBI, I need medical assistance, officer down. I need an ambulance at Abbott Docks. I repeat: I need medical assistance at Abbott Docks, officer down. Over."
The CB buzzed for a few suspenseful seconds then responded, "This is Sheriff Macgregor. Tha' you Agent Scully?"
"Mike! Thank goodness! Yes, it's me. I need an ambulance as soon as possible to meet us at Abbott Docks. Over."
"An ambulance an' a squad a' patrol cars is bein' dispatched as we speak. I'll let Connor know you've been found. Over."
"Thanks Sheriff. I also have Debbie Belanger; she's alive and only a little worse for wear. Over."
"Glad to hear it. I'll notify th' lassie's parents ri' away. Agent Scully, we tho' you were th' only agent missin'; who's th' officer down? Over."
"It's Agent Mulder. He joined the search and rescue at the last minute so no one must have noticed his absence. Over."
"Ach, I'm sorry t' hear tha'. Don't worry none, I'll be makin' sure everythin' is taken care of. Over.”
They sped along through the murky water, silent except for the constant grumble of the motor and the occasional grunt of pain from Mulder. He was slumped in the seat, barely aware of his surroundings, his hold on consciousness slipping away fast. Scully hoped the dock wasn't much farther.
"Look, Miss Dana, lights!" Debbie's chubby fist jerked to the left bank where Scully could make out flashing red and blue lights. She had never seen anything so beautiful in her life.
As they pulled up to the shore, a swarm of people came to meet them. She helped the EMTs get Mulder secured on the gurney and pried Debbie's small hand from Mulder's bloody fingers.
"Is Fox gonna die?" Debbie's large brown eyes peered up at Scully.
"No, Honey, Fox is going to be just fine." She hoped with all her heart that she was telling the child the truth. "Look, there's your Mom and Dad." Scully herded the girl towards her parents and only paused long enough to make sure they were reunited with their daughter before hurrying back to the ambulance.
As she climbed up into the vehicle a man strode toward her, shouting something incomprehensible and waving a small object. When he got close enough for her to recognize him, she could finally make out what he was saying.
"... ent Scully! Agent Scully! AD Skinner wants a debriefing immediately! He's on his way here this very minute!" He held out the cellular phone he had been waving.
"Sorry, Agent Connor, there's no time! When his plane arrives, have him meet me at the county hospital!" she shouted over the din of sirens and the crowd milling about.
The medics closed the back doors and asked her to take a seat. She restrained herself from interfering on the grounds that she was a doctor; she knew she would only get in the way of the highly trained Emergency Medical Technicians. She settled with giving them a detailed description of his injuries.
While they worked feverishly on her partner, she held his hand, repeating over and over, "Come on Mulder, stay with me, You can't leave me now." He stared back at her with glassy eyes, the hazel turning black. She smoothed back his damp hair and murmured encouragingly.
Mulder tried to speak, but a coughing fit overwhelmed him. Blood spattered on the oxygen mask as his body shook with contractions comparable to a seizure. The medics inserted an endotracheal tube down his throat and he groaned with renewed agony as oxygen flooded his starved lungs. Just then, they entered the driveway leading to the emergency room and pulled up to the entrance.
When the doors opened, there was a flurry of activity as Mulder was unloaded and rushed down the corridor towards the operating room. Feeling useless, Scully wandered, disillusioned, to the waiting area.
Medford County Hospital
Thursday, January 9
Assistant Director Walter Skinner barreled through the doors, ready to reprimand his agents. One look at Dana Scully's face and he forgot every angry accusation had been about to make. Agent Connor had told him that an officer had been injured in the search and rescue, but had neglected to mention that the wounded agent was Mulder.
Scully looked confused by the presence of her boss. "Sir, how did you... ?"
"Knowing Mulder's tendency to disobey orders, I called the airline to confirm his flight reservations. Finding that none had been made, I got booked on the next flight here." His tone grew softer. "What is his condition?"
Scully gazed forlornly at the doors that Mulder had disappeared behind hours ago. "I wish I knew. He's been in surgery for almost three hours." She paused to get a hold on her emotions. It would not do to break down in front of Skinner. "It... it doesn't look good, Sir. He was shot with a cop killer; it broke his ribs, which in turn punctured his lung. He suffered from blood loss, a concussion, and most likely the early stages of a serious infection. We almost lost him on the way here and... "
She couldn't stand it anymore. The tears that had she had been suppressing all night finally freed themselves and coursed silently down her cheeks. She no longer cared that her boss was standing a few feet away as sobs racked her body.
Walter Skinner had witnessed the reaction of an FBI agent to the death of his or her partner many times - too many. He knew that these two particular agents shared an undefinable bond and that was what made them the best team in the Bureau. For one to lose the other was like losing their other half.
He knew there was no way he could fill the gaping hole of sorrow, so he did the only thing he felt possible - he took Scully into his arms and crooned reassuringly to her, stroking her back to calm her.
"... and that was when you walked in." Scully finished debriefing Skinner, who looked for his part, commendably unemotional.
He was about to ask about certain details when an exhausted surgeon approached them, a grim expression on his face. "I'm Doctor Carter from surgery. Are you... " he glanced down at the chart he was carrying, "Dana Scully?"
"Yes." Her voice sounded hollow in her ears. He'sdeadohgodhe'sdeadohgodhe's...
"Agent Mulder has you listed as his next of kin, is that correct?"
Unable to speak, she nodded. Skinner asked the next question. "How is he?" For all his yelling and admonishing, he liked Mulder - not that he'd ever admit it. He was genuinely worried about the Bureau's maverick agent.
The young doctor took a deep breath, as if trying to delay the inevitable. "At the risk of sounding cliché, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that Agent Mulder is stable-" he was interrupted by a jubilant whoop from Scully, who then immediately settled down and looked apologetically at the surgeon.
The doctor was flustered briefly. "Um, yes, well, the bad news is that he still might not come through this. He sustained severe damage to his lung, and there is the possibility of developing an infection. We repaired the lung - cut away what was too damaged, sewed up the holes. We removed a few pieces of the broken rib, patched up the rest. I’m amazed that there was so little damage to the bones. I suppose the Kevlar vest could account for that.” He looked thoughtful, then shook his head. “The next forty-eight hours are crucial. It is touch and go until then."
"Can I see him?" Scully asked so emphatically that the young man actually smiled.
"Not yet." he said, then added when he saw the rebellious look on her face, "We took him upstairs for a CT scan to make sure it was just a minor concussion. So, you can see him when he's moved to the ICU. We’ll extubate him then, but he’ll have a chest tube for a while.” He noticed Skinner’s look of confusion and elaborated. “It is for bleeding, removing the air we left in his chest on closing, make sure he’s okay if there’s a small leak, that kind of thing.”
Scully looked fairly relieved, so Skinner didn’t mention how bad that sounded. As he watched his agent for a moment, he realized for the first time that she had not had her own injuries taken care of. “Scully, why don’t you let the doctor have a look at that knee."
Scully was the one with confusion on her face now. She glanced down at herself, covered with grime and blood, and figured out what the AD was talking about. “Oh, yeah. I’d completely forgotten.”
Skinner just smiled. Of course she had forgotten, her attention had been focused on a different injury. The one in her heart.
Agent Dana Scully walked hesitantly into the darkened room, her footsteps quiet on the tiled floor. She winced when she saw the conglomerate of machines hooked up to her partner, beeping and whirring their readings. Most of them were just to monitor the patient’s vitals, such as the nasal cannula and pulse oximeter, but the tube jutting out from his chest was more heavy duty than she was used to. She had seen him in this position far too often, but he had always come through. Mulder healed at an amazing rate, by sheer force of will it seemed. His impatience with his body's natural pace was legend in the halls of Quantico.
But this time was different. Somehow she knew that this time was different. Maybe it was the queasy feeling she got in her stomach when she looked at him, or perhaps it was the way all the sounds of the machines keeping him alive were louder. But whatever it was, it told her that this was not going to be easy.
Scully sank wearily into the uncomfortable chair next to Mulder’s bed and prepared herself for a long wait.
Minutes, maybe hours passed. She had only meant to rest her tired eyes, but she had succumbed to much needed sleep. She was woken by a slight pressure on her arm. She lifted her head to see Mulder's hazel eyes staring at her with compassion. She smiled at him sleepily. "Hey."
"Hey," he attempted to say, his throat raw from the ventilator.
Without having to be asked, Scully spooned some ice chips into his mouth. "How do you feel?"
He waited until the chips had melted. "Been better."
"You've looked better too."
"Sure, kick a man... when he's down." he laughed softly, flinching at the pain such activity brought with it.
"Well, for good measure, Skinner's here." She grinned at his look of irritation. "Don't worry, you're off the hook. Due to extenuating circumstances and the miraculous rescue of Debbie Belanger, you've been reprieved."
"Extenuating... circumstances?" It was hard to take a deep breath, so he had to make due with small, measured gasps.
"Going above and beyond the duty and for saving the life of a fellow officer. Speaking of which, I... never thanked you. For saving my life." She stared at her hands guiltily.
"You don't need to. Your life is... *wheeze*... mine." He grimaced as another wave of pain washed over him.
"What do you mean?" Scully felt a lump lodge in her throat.
Mulder disregarded her question. "Dana, I have to... tell you something."
She looked up at him sharply, knowing that the use of her first name signified a very serious personal matter was about to be broached. "I'm listening." she said dubiously.
"The reason I came on that search and rescue... was because I was afraid my dream... would come true. I couldn't... *cough*... take that chance. My life means little... enough to me as it is, but without you... ," he hesitated, as much for the need to catch his breath as because he was unsure what to say next.
Scully was so intent on what he was saying that she didn't notice the irregular blips on the heart monitor or that the frequency of the fleeting looks of pain that crossed Mulder's face was increasing.
He continued. "I've known since you were abducted, but I tried to ignore it, and... almost losing you to the cancer only reinforced what I already knew but... couldn't admit. That I... I love you." He stopped and stared at his hands, waiting for her shocked rebuke.
It never came.
He flinched again. After a long silence he willed himself to face her. What he saw broke his heart - she was crying. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have... said anything."
"Yes, you should have!" She answered so vehemently that his eyes widened in surprise. What she said next astonished him even more. "I'm not sure if it was when we were standing in the rain after discovering empty graves on our first case or when I woke up from the coma after hearing your voice, but somewhere in between there, I fell in love with you."
He reached up to wipe a tear from her cheek and she held his hand in hers. Their eyes met, conveying more than any words possibly could. She leaned close to him and their lips brushed. Soft and delicate, it was a promise of the future. When they finally parted from that intimate embrace, it was reluctantly.
Only then did Scully notice the monitor's erratic beeping. She looked at Mulder, who was pale and sweaty. Suddenly, his face screwed up into an expression of such anguish, that she could almost feel the pain radiating from him. He began to cough and writhe in agony as the machines bleated wildly. His eyes glazed over and with one final groan he sank down on the bed, unmoving.
The heart monitor flatlined, alerting the nurses in the next room. Scully backed away as they flocked around him, watching their efforts to revive him with the defibrillator prove futile. They gave up after several tries and began CPR.
She was immobilized by the sight of his face, white with death, except where a single drop of blood dribbled down his jaw. Her vision grew black around the edges and her hearing wavered in and out. She immediately shut everything out and concentrated on Mulder, willing him not to give up.
Only one sentence broke through that invisible connection - "We've got a rhythm!" Her breath exploded from her breast and she collapsed in the chair, her energy spent. A nurse ushered her out of the room and closed the door on the doctors bustling around the bed.
"Go back to the motel, Agent Scully." AD Skinner nudged her towards the door.
"I’ll stay. You should clean yourself up and get a good night’s sleep, not one in an uncomfortable chair. I’ll call if there is any change in his condition." Skinner sounded like a parent reprimanding his child.
“Well... " Scully was obviously loath to leave her partner, but she knew that her supervisor was correct.
"I can make it an order."
"All right, Sir. But any change, even the slightest, you’ll call?"
He glared at her in acknowledgment.
She sighed heavily and walked silently down the sterile hallway. He was right, she could use a really hot shower right about now. Hell, she deserved a bubble bath.
She had just reached her car and inserted the key in the door, when someone grabbed her from behind. Before she could make a sound, she was hit on the head with a blunt instrument, knocking her out cold. She was bundled into a beat up Pinto and the car sped away, leaving her keys to jangle in the wind. In the space of one minute, Dana Scully had been abducted. Again.
Medford County Hospital
Friday, January 10
His whole body ached. Ached was the wrong word, too mild. More like every single nerve and muscle was on fire. He shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position. All he succeeded in doing was getting the sheets twisted around his legs. He also discovered that the chest tube had been removed. Good, he hated that thing. Must mean he was going to live.
Mulder opened his eyes slowly, blinking away the crust on his lashes. The blurred face of Assistant Director Skinner greeted him. When his superior’s face finally came into focus, the expression set upon it was one Mulder knew by heart. Trouble.
"Sir? What’s the matter?" he croaked. God, he was really getting sick of that question. Then he realized what was wrong with what he was seeing. No Scully. “Is it Scully? Where is she?”
The bald headed Vietnam veteran couldn’t look at Mulder directly. The man had just gone through seven levels of Hell and now Skinner had to add an eighth. He licked his lips nervously. "She’s been... kidnapped." Skinner could hardly get the words out past the sudden lump in his throat.
"What!" Mulder shot straight up and immediately wished he hadn’t. He felt the pain course through him and he lowered himself back down with a groan as Skinner looked on anxiously.
"I didn’t want to upset you in your condition, but I’m afraid this can’t wait. You’re the one who knows how this guy thinks, what he might do. We have an advantage and we’ll use it to get her back. Alive." Skinner said determinedly. "You were right about there being two perps. You’ve met the late Richard Young I believe." Skinner gestured vaguely at their surroundings.
"He is... was the kidnapper. Quentin is the... killer, the brains, the more... dangerous one." Mulder said solemnly between breaths. "When did this happen?"
"At about three this morning, when your vitals began to change, I called her. She didn’t answer her phone. That was enough to get me worried, so I decided to go to the motel, just in case. When I got down to the parking lot, I noticed that her car was still there and the keys were in the door. I sent her home around 5:30 last night, so we can assume that is the approximate time of her abduction.
"Then, half an hour ago, a message was faxed to the Police Station, addressed to you. I took the liberty and opened it." He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a plastic bag containing a piece of paper covered with quick, nervous writing.
Mulder took the bag with trembling fingers, pulling the plastic zipper apart with some difficulty. He withdrew the sheet and scanned it, his eyes growing wide. It read: "You have betrayed me. I thought you understood but now I realize that I was wrong. You ARE to blame. For your sister, for my brother, for your partner. I don’t want her, she means nothing to me. I want you. Come and repent your sins. Or she will die."
Mulder turned the paper over, but it was blank. Skinner knew what he was looking for. "That’s it. No map, no directions. How does this guy expect you to go somewhere that isn’t even described?"
"He sees me as the father. I have become... the sibling-killer and therefore the ‘father’. He knows that... it is only a matter of time before he gets caught." Mulder was talking so fast that he was having trouble breathing. Skinner was ready to call a doctor to pump some drugs into the man, but what Mulder was saying made sense. "He would have started killing the fathers of each... victim, but now he has compiled them all into one target - me." Mulder began to push himself out of bed. “Where are my clothes?”
"What are you doing?" Skinner asked in alarm.
"I’ve got to go." Mulder groaned as he struggled to get up.
"You can’t go! You were dead less than twenty-four hours ago!" Skinner exclaimed.
"And she’ll be dead in less than twenty-four hours if I don’t!" Mulder retorted and continued his exertions to stand.
Skinner looked as if he might object but the expression on Mulder’s face quelled anything he might have said. "Well, if I can’t stop you, I might as well help you. Besides, if we all come out of this alive, you’ll need some protection from one Dana Scully."
Mulder just grinned.
Bear Creek Road
North of Medford, Oregon
The deep green vehicle raced down the open road, passing the occasional car with a fury. Skinner had his reservations about letting Mulder out of the hospital, but it was necessary if they were going to save Scully. Reservations, Hell. He was absolutely terrified that his agent would collapse at any second. He reluctantly counted on Mulder’s famous stamina and tolerance for pain to get him through this.
He wiped the sweat out of his eyes for the umpteenth time, vowing to get contact lenses when this was all over and glanced over at Mulder, who was breathing heavily. "How do you know this is where he’ll be?"
"While searching through the arrest... records, I came across a rap sheet on a thirteen year old Quentin Xavier Young. He was arrested for trespassing... on private property near Shady Cove. He used to play in an old warehouse up there with his brother and sister. It was a place for them to get away, a hiding place all their own. Stands... to reason that he still hides there." Mulder closed his eyes in discomfort and leaned back into the passenger seat.
"You don’t have to go through with this, I mean, there are other options. I could have a team down here in a couple hours." Skinner offered.
"No. By then it will be too late. We’ve got to do this now or we... sacrifice her. Moreover, such a large group would be spotted a... mile away in this area." Mulder said obstinately and coughed. "Turn here."
Skinner pulled off the main highway onto an ill-used dirt road, Mulder gritting his teeth against the jolting torment as the car bounced along. They turned a sharp corner to reveal a dilapidated clapboard building snuggled in the dense grassland. Oak trees were scattered across the landscape and the only sign of life was a flock of birds chirping happily, unaware of the desperate plight of the humans.
The automobile crunched to a halt on the gravel driveway. Skinner turned off the engine and eyed Mulder with compassion, handing the younger man his own firearm. "Be careful. I want both of you back out here in fifteen minutes or I’m coming in after you."
Mulder flashed him a look of gratitude, smiling at his bravado, and compelled his aching body out of the car. He wavered unsteadily for a moment, clenching his fists, commanding himself to go on. He leaned against the hood’s support and levered himself to his feet, but he could barely fill his lungs. Before he could take a step, his insides convulsed. He locked his knees, but the pain crushed his eyes closed and he certainly wouldn’t get far that way.
He forced his eyes open a fraction, saw brown dirt and yellowing weeds below. Legs were moving at least. He walked to the vast wooden doors of the unused warehouse and yelled, "Scully!"
He strained his ears for the slightest noise and was rewarded by a muffled cry from inside the building. Then a louder voice boomed, "You had better be alone! If you betray me again, she dies. Now come in with your hands on your head... Slowly!" the thundering voice added at the same time Mulder entered.
Mulder stepped into the middle of the cavernous room and glared at Quentin Young. Built like a scarecrow, the deranged killer had a few inches on the federal agent but was probably outweighed by thirty pounds. No wonder Richard made the abductions. Now, this would have been to Mulder’s advantage if he wasn’t injured himself. They were barely on even terms as it was. Quentin’s brown hair was dirty and unkempt, resting limply on his shoulders. His movements were nervous and twitchy, his eyes reflecting the instability of his mind. It was obvious there was no reasoning with him.
Mulder looked at Scully, who was lashed to a chair positioned a few feet away from Young. "You okay, Scully?"
She nodded weakly, feeling a little dizzy. She was taken completely off guard by the fact that Mulder was there; he had been knocking on death’s door when she last saw him. But his anxious eyes were filled with such suffering that she knew he wasn’t even close to being as healthy as his facade implied. She drank in the sight of him, gaining strength and hope from his presence.
"If you hurt her, I’ll... "
"You’ll what, Mr. FBI? I have nothing to lose, everything was *taken* from me. It’s time someone pays. It’s either you or her, your choice." Young grabbed Scully by the hair and shoved the gun in her face. "Now throw your weapon over to me, no tricks."
Scully watched as Mulder tossed his pistol at her captor and she tried again to wriggle her hands out of the bindings that strapped her to the chair. Quentin released her head with a violent shove, rocking her chair sideways, and went over to Mulder’s discarded weapon. He picked it up, careful to keep his own firearm trained on Mulder, and flung it aside.
"Okay, you have me. Now let her go." Mulder demanded.
"Not quite yet. First, I want her to watch you die. I want her to suffer the burden of guilt for years to come, always doubting herself, never quite sure if there was something she could have done. See if it drives *her* crazy!" Young raged. He marched towards Mulder and stopped an arms length away, suddenly jerking his hand down and ramming the gun into Mulder’s stomach.
Mulder doubled over and started coughing uncontrollably. Then Quentin looked at the revolver mournfully and impulsively cast it to one side, mumbling, "Nah, just not enough fun."
He pivoted around and kicked Mulder in the side of the head, tumbling the weaker man across the floor. "No!" Scully screamed through the tattered gag in her mouth. Young sneered at her and turned back to deal with the battered agent.
Mulder was not there.
Young whirled about, only to be met in the face with a powerful fist. Unprepared, he staggered back a few steps then rounded on the agent. "I’ve got you now, FBI." he rasped at Mulder.
"Maybe." said the winded agent, bracing himself. But this time his adversary wasn’t so eager. He approached Mulder slowly, wary of any deceptive moves. He faked left then went for Mulder a second later, but Mulder was ready. Grabbing his antagonist’s wrist, he turned it palm up, dropped to one knee, and heaved, using his elbow for leverage.
Young flew head first into a table. Mulder continued to swing at him before he could get his arms up in defense. The tide had begun to turn. Mulder beat at the man with a strength coming from rage built on fear and hatred. Fear for Scully’s life and hatred for the man who tried to take her from him. He pummeled away until Young had ceased to fight back.
Mulder was burning his last reserves and an attack of nausea hit him unexpectedly. He swayed dizzily, attempting to regain control, and that was when Young’s hand shot out and collided with Mulder’s body, right on the incision that covered the wound. Blood sprayed from his mouth and he collapsed to the floor, thrashing in pain.
Young started advancing on him and he tried to drag himself away from the madman. His retreat came to an end when he reached the wall and he slid down onto a pile of broken wood and splinters, his arms and legs tingling. Quentin stumbled over to his recently rejected gun, ready to finish off the FBI agent. Mulder couldn’t catch his breath and lay powerless on the lumber heap.
Scully watched in utter terror as Quentin pointed the weapon at her partner, who was trying unsuccessfully to get up. She renewed her efforts to free herself but to no avail. She may not be able to help him, but she might be able to buy him some time. “Que-in!” she shouted through the gag. “You su-a-a-itch, you ge- away fruh hi-! I’s your faul- tha- your sis-er’s -ead!”
Young turned to his captive, his face red with exertion and anger. “What did you say??”
Mulder’s foggy mind realized what his partner was doing and raced to find a way to avert impending disaster. A thought struck him and his hands groped for the largest splinter he could find beneath him. Quentin had shut Scully up with a hard palm to the face and was now heading back to his prey. Finding a sharp stick sufficiently massive just as Young loomed over him, Mulder called forth every ounce of energy he had and launched himself into Quentin’s legs, pitching the man forward. He rolled over quickly and plunged his dagger-like splinter into the exposed back. A howl of pain escaped Young’s lips and he fell to the earth, motionless, blood gurgling past his lips noisily.
Mulder lurched over to Scully, so weak from his exertions he could hardly untie her bonds. His fingers slipped on the blood she had drawn in her attempts to escape, mixing with his own. Finally, having accomplished that, he dropped to the ground in exhaustion. Scully vaulted from her chair and rushed around to his side. Blood poured freely from the opened wound that traced his rib and she searched frantically for material to stop the bleeding. An awful wave of deja’vu hit her and she had to swipe angrily at her eyes. She abandoned her fruitless search and tore a sleeve from her blouse. She sopped up the blood with the silken fabric and tried to use pressure to check the hemorrhaging.
Mulder feebly batted at her hands as her actions only brought more torture. He managed to gargle, "Skinner... " Scully understood at once and started to rise. Mulder seized her hand before she could fully stand and pulled her back down beside him. "Too late... please stay." he pleaded.
She realized that he knew he was going to die and he wanted her there when he... NO! She couldn’t live without him, she would not allow this to happen! She cradled his head in her arms, weeping quietly. "Mulder please, you can’t die. What will I do? Please. Not now, not like this!" she cried. "Mulder, you can’t die, I love you more than life itself!"
"I know." he whispered through the pink froth forming on his lips. He lifted his hand up to brush her cheek and she held it there with her own. She bent down and kissed him, tasting his blood in her mouth. He began to tremble all over and grimaced as agony flooded through him.
All at once, he stopped shaking and his limp hand fell out of hers. She watched unwillingly as his chest rose and fell one last time, then his pain was ended.
She stared in disbelief at his pale face, not quite sure what to do. Then, her medical instinct kicked in and she started CPR. Breath, five compressions, breath, five compressions, breath... On and on until she grew dizzy from lack of oxygen. She couldn’t keep this up, not if she wanted to remain conscious herself. How long had he been under? She glanced at her watch, trying to do the math in her whirling mind. He had arrived at about a quarter to nine, she remembered because Young had made a note of it. The fight couldn’t have lasted more than five minutes and it was 8:57 now. That meant that Mulder had been without oxygen for over six minutes at the very least. Too much time, too early to quit, too tired to continue. This was it.
As her loss overwhelmed her a scream tore from her throat and she began to beat on his chest. "No! Damn you, you’re not dead, you can’t be! I won’t let you!" Her arms slowed and eventually stopped. She covered her face with her bloody hands and wept for the loss of half her soul.
Too blinded by her grief, she didn’t notice the shuddering of the body on the floor as its chest began to rise and fall.
Outside the Warehouse
Skinner checked his watch for the twentieth time in the last five minutes. Time’s up. He cautiously got out of the vehicle and headed for the warehouse. He froze midstep when the door began to creak open. He held his breath and braced himself ready to dodge any bullets. He sighed in relief when Scully emerged, covered in blood but not injured in any way he could ascertain.
He waited for Mulder to follow but by the time he realized that Scully was alone, she had sunk to the ground, crying.
He dashed over to her and lowered himself into a sitting position. He put his arm around her, knowing it wouldn’t be enough. "Shh, it’ll be all right. I know.” he whispered. “I know how much it hurts."
"You?!" She shoved his arm away and glared at him with tears in her eyes. "You could never know how I feel. He’s dead because of me! I loved him but I didn’t tell him until it was too late!" Her last words were punctuated by a sob.
Oh God. It had taken death to make those two realize what they had, to admit it to each other. Walter Skinner felt a pain in his heart for the tragic circumstances that had finally brought down the last wall between his agents. He couldn’t comfort her or understand her loss fully, but he knew on another level that something absolutely pure and beautiful had been lost.
Scully’s weeping had become the silent breathy cry of unadulterated grief and Skinner could now hear footsteps from inside the building. His look of hope turned to one of horror when Quentin Young reeled out of the entrance, gun in hand. "No!" Skinner shouted and pushed Scully to the ground, covering her body with his own as Young’s finger tightened on the trigger.
All of a sudden a whooshing sound could be heard, as if something was being swung through the air. Skinner looked up to see a large piece of wood smash Young in the back of the head. A sickening crack resounded across the desolate yard and the man fell down dead, his gun skittering across the rocks.
Skinner looked up from the corpse to see a bloodied Fox Mulder leaning against the door’s frame. An expression of triumph on his face when the piece of lumber dropped from his hand.
Skinner’s exclamation of surprise was shared by Scully’s one of joy. She pushed her superior off of her and rushed to Mulder, wrapping her arms around him. She buried her head in his shoulder, careful of his injury, tears of joy blending with the ones of sorrow she had shed only moments before. She then held him at arms length and touched his face to make sure he was real. Satisfied that this wasn’t some kind of hallucination she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him gently.
Mulder grinned at Skinner who realized his mouth was agape. He shut it immediately and turned away from the two involved agents. He cleared his throat as a diversion, then rotated back around, making sure they were finished. He walked over to them, put an arm under Mulder’s, and with Scully on the other side, they helped him to the car.
Scully sat in the back with Mulder’s head in her lap, caressing his face and lips. Skinner twisted around from his position in the driver’s seat and looked at his two best agents, lost in each other’s eyes. He turned back, shaking his head knowingly, and started the engine. He flipped open his cellphone, dialing the hospital to inform them of an incoming patient, and drove down the winding dirt road.
Medford County Hospital
Saturday, January 11
"... and we had to ride home on the pumper truck." Scully crossed her arms as she finished her story. She leaned back in the hard plastic chair and looked over at her partner, who was laying in a hospital bed, trying not to laugh but failing miserably.
"Oh, no more. It hurts to laugh." He managed to get out between guffaws. He finally got control of himself and with one final chuckle, he said, "I think your prom was actually worse than mine."
"Mulder, you didn’t go to prom."
"I know, that’s my point."
She sighed exaggeratedly and grinned.
"I hate to interrupt," called a familiar voice from the doorway, "but I have some information you might like to hear." Skinner walked the few feet to the other visitor’s chair and dropped into it with obvious relief.
"Hard night?" asked Scully concernedly.
"No. Spending all afternoon and night at the police station trying to explain yesterday’s events, listening to the hospital manager rant and rave about your leaving AMA, and then trying to calm down the ruffled feathers of Agent Connor is what I call restful.” His sarcastic tone betrayed his words. "But I should expect nothing less after getting involved in one of *your* cases."
"You said you had information?" Mulder cut him off before he could complain any more.
"Yeah, the DA wants to talk to you both."
"We already gave our statements yesterday." Scully said, just about a whine.
"I know but there is always a big fuss when the suspect, not to mention two, are killed. They have to make sure that there was no other possible solution. Damn bureaucrats."
"Sir, *you’re* a bureaucrat."
Skinner just gave Mulder a dirty look over his glasses before taking them off and rubbing his sore eyes. "Now, I need to talk to you two about your partnership."
Mulder gasped and Scully took his hand in hers. "Sir... "
"Wait until I’m finished. You both know the Bureau frowns on partners becoming involved, for their own safety and for other’s as well. You two are the best agents under my supervision, you have the best solve rate in the Bureau and you work together amazingly. To split you up would go against everything I know.
"So I won’t."
Mulder’s smile lit up the entire room and Scully just stared dumbfoundedly at her boss.
"But I expect you two to keep your relationship separate from your work. If you solve rate goes down one iota, I will transfer you so fast your heads will spin. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Sir." They chimed.
"Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to find a cup of coffee and an empty couch." Skinner stood up and turned to leave.
"Thank you... for everything."
Skinner just nodded and then strode from the room without a backward glance.
"I do believe the two of you just bonded." Scully grinned impishly.
Mulder ignored her. "Who would’ve thought he’d go for it?"
"Well, he obviously knows a good thing when he sees it." Scully replied.
He squeezed her hand. "And this is definitely a good thing."