Title: Falter of the Steps
Author: XScout
Rating: PG-13
Keywords: Mulder profiler
Spoilers: Grotesque, Silence of the Lambs
Classification: Vignette, Angst
Summary: A simple action can be a window into the soul. But is it what you want to see?

Disclaimer: I have nothing, can't afford anything, and wouldn't even bother to try. It all belongs to other people, either CC and 10-13 or a tiny bit to the guy who wrote the Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. Can't remember his name, but you know who I mean.

Author's Notes: Feedback - it's really easy, so why not? Just push this little button Feedback Go on, you know you want to.


Falter of the Steps


He's pacing again.

I watch him as he moves back and forth, his strides taking him quickly across the length of the room. When he reaches the wall he turns sharply and heads back at the same frantic rate. His long legs waver occasionally, making him stumble ever so slightly but not enough to halt his pacing. His hands are moving, waving about in the air as though he is placing things in his mind by physical touch. Sometimes his left hand pulls at his lower lip or runs through his hair, which has become furrowed due to the constant repeated gesture. I can see a tiny spot of blood on his lip from where he chewed it raw.

It has become a common sight.

Mulder is a person who thinks physically. It didn't take me seven years of partnership for me to figure that one out; I realized it the first case we worked together. When he showed up at my door asking if I wanted to go for a run in the middle of the night, I discovered that my partner gained clarity of thought through physical movement. As time wore on I became used to the idiosyncrasies he performed as his brain raced at a speed most people find dizzying. The more intricate the thinking required, the more exertion was necessary. If it was a simple idea he would fiddle with a pencil or paper cup. A more complicated theory would lead to him bouncing his right leg up and down in an ever-increasing rate until it gave out and then he would start the left one going. The more elusive speculations resulted in jogging or, in the event that there was no space or time for a jog, pacing. When describing a case that he couldn't wait to begin, he would pace back and forth in the cramped office, his arms waving about as he explained the details to me. While out on assignment I would often watch as he paced about one of our hotel rooms, trying to wade through the irrelevant facts and find the pertinent ones that would solve the case.

Over the years, Mulder's pacing became a symbol of determination. If I saw him lurch into that back and forth motion, I knew that we were closing in on something, that we were closer to bringing the case to the next step. I identified it with Mulder's doggedness and sheer force of will embodied in a simple movement of legs and arms. And the way he moved was uniquely him, so much so that I felt a certain amount of comfort spread over me when he began, knowing that he was there with me.

Then I discovered a new side to his pacing that changed my view on the matter.

I first saw it during the Mostow case but I'd dismissed it as a fluke, not knowing that his intensity during profiling cases wasn't an abnormality. But I couldn't ignore it the second time. The Violent Crimes Section asked Mulder to help them on a case that the other profilers were having a problem getting a grip on. As there were no current cases in our schedule, Skinner okayed the request and sent us both to Quantico. Given our own office for our temporary stay, we both worked on separate areas of the case. I reviewed the autopsy and crime scene reports while my partner worked on a profile. It wasn't a pleasant case, but what is in the VCS? A serial killer had surfaced in Manhattan and had killed at least seven women over the past four or so months. Previous victims were suspected but not confirmed. They had been brutally raped and then stabbed to death with a screwdriver.

As the days went by and Mulder began to loose touch with reality, I noticed an increase in his pacing. In fact, it seemed that the pacing grew in direct relation to how close he communed with the killer. The more he disconnected, the more frenetic he became. That was when the pacing lost the comfortable meaning I had associated with it and became something much more ominous. It was a visual measurement of how close he was to the edge of the abyss, a signifier that he was falling deeper and deeper into the darkness. I began to dread seeing him stalking back and forth, his eyes black and face expressionless.

But he made in through that case in one piece, more or less, and life went on. Even though the majority of cases we investigated were X-Files, I couldn't seem to shake the negative connotations I discovered during those grueling three weeks in Manhattan. For good reason. Each time he profiled I was reminded of what the pacing signaled, the danger it hinted at.

I watch as he makes another circuit around the room and I can see the shakiness in his steps. Not for the first time I curse the Fates for bringing us to this point. Two and a half months ago, Skinner called us up to his office and told us that we were being reassigned to Violent Crimes to help with the Hannibal case. Yes, as in Hannibal Lecter. A serial killer was abducting young boys and murdering them in unspeakable ways before devouring them as delicacies. He was smart, perhaps a genius, toying with law enforcement and the press with an ability that astounded us all. The way he killed added to the viscous intelligence he obviously possessed led to his comparison with Dr. Hannibal Lecter from 'The Silence of the Lambs'. The name stuck and the case got labeled as such. Perhaps it was a portent.

Dr. Lecter played with Clarice Starling's mind and so our UNSUB played with Mulder. Foregoing sleep and sustenance, Mulder profiled with an intensity that scared me at a level I had never experienced. Perhaps it was the mind games that our Hannibal was engaging in that made it so much worse than before or maybe it was just the final straw that pushed Mulder over the edge after so many years peering over the rim.

He stopped talking to me four weeks into the case. By that point he had lost at least ten pounds and had the most horrendous circles under his eyes that spoke of sleepless nights. His voice was fairly useless anyway; hoarse from dehydration and the raw screams torn from his throat as nightmares plagued what little sleep he was able to manage. He just stopped talking to anyone, only muttering to himself with glazed over eyes as the profile poured from his soul onto paper. I tried so hard to get him to eat and sleep and succeeded often enough that he was still able to function, but conversations were mainly one-sided.

He's falling so fast and the abyss is swallowing him, body and mind. His pacing is automatic, something I doubt he would be able to manage if he was even aware of it, acknowledging that he has moved past exhaustion. I try not to blame myself. There really is no way to control a person's mind, especially Mulder's, and it would be unreasonable for me to expect myself to keep him sane. The darkness is just too powerful. He has so identified with the killer that I am terrified that he is just a step away from becoming Bill Patterson.

My eyes follow the wraithlike form as it crosses the room, fragile and yet an unstoppable force.

"Excuse me, Agent Scully?"

Not taking my eyes off my partner I answer, "Yes?"

"Visiting hours are over. You can come back tomorrow after noon."

I nod and I can see the nurse hesitate in my peripheral vision. She knows who Mulder is and knows why he is here. Her pity is almost overwhelming and I have to shut her out before my own emotions fly out of control. My attention returns to the man in the room before me, his actions implying he has heard none of the exchange.

"Mulder? Mulder, I'm going to go now, but I'll be back tomorrow. I'll see if I can smuggle some sunflower seeds in but no promises. Those doctors can be real food Nazis sometimes." I pause, unsure of what to say and not even sure if it matters.

He just continues to pace, his whispered mutterings and unfocused gaze testaments to his inner turmoil. I wonder if I should even bother reminding him that we caught 'Hannibal' over two weeks ago. He would just continue to profile a man he already helped bring to justice. The desolation that is always on the verge of consuming me almost asserts control but I push it back with enormous effort. When I speak again my voice is choked with unshed tears.

"Mulder, please come back to me."

For a second, so quick that I can't be sure I'm not imagining it, I swear he falters momentarily and his eyes meet mine, a spark of life in their hazel depths.

As I walk down the pristine hallways of the asylum I replay the moment over and over in my mind, trying to discern whether I had seen what I thought I had seen. I still don't know, but for the first time in weeks I have a glimmer of hope.

It's all I need.