Title: Puzzle Pieces
Author: XScout
Rating: PG
Classification: V
Spoilers: Conduit
Keywords: Missing Scene
Summary: A piece of the puzzle falls into place and trust grows. Disclaimer: Any X-Files characters aren't mine, they're CC's, 10-13's, and Fox's. No money was made or ever will be at this rate.
Author's Notes: Always like the episode 'Conduit' and its insights into Mulder's emotional loss. *Sigh* Ah, angst. Give me a ring if you liked it. XScout@hotmail.com


Puzzle Pieces


Sometimes being Irish Catholic has its downsides.

One of them is that your mother can put you on a guilt trip if you miss Mass and don't try to find time to go to the soonest one after that. It doesn't matter that you were busy investigating the disappearance of a young woman or that you were detained by the NSA because they thought you were hiding something from them. So here I am at an ungodly hour in the morning on my way to church because I wasn't able to make the six o'clock mass after our flight landed. There's no one else on the road, so I don't feel too guilty about glazing over and letting my mind wander over the last few days.

Ruby Morris may not (or may, if you listen to Mulder) have been abducted by aliens, but that does not mean that while she was missing she wasn't in any danger. She was returned in a condition that suggested she had been mistreated and that is evidence enough for me to prove our presence there was warranted. The involvement of the National Security Agency certainly complicated things, however circumstantial their suspicions were. I still can't believe their audacity; barging into *my* room and demanding where *Mulder* was. Oh, he must be somewhere under the sheets, Sir, let me check for you. Then again, you might want to try *his* room! I mean, really! It seriously makes me doubt the quality of some of our government's employees and that's saying a lot considering I'm one of them.

But sometimes they can surprise you with their compassion and understanding. Yes, I have a particular someone in mind. One government employee who constantly keeps me guessing is my partner, Fox Mulder. When I first met him he came off as arrogant, disdainful, brash, argumentative, and just a little too far on this side of crazy. After our first case I decided that I should redefine my opinion to include stubborn, hyperactive, annoying, and secretive. Of course I also added confident, curious, passionate, and brilliant. And I had barely scratched the surface.

A few more cases passed and I was constantly shuffling around my ideas of what it was exactly that Mulder could be characterized as. I'm sure a thesaurus would be useful. The more I work with him, the more I see of what is inside, and not the harsh exterior that he turns to the world. With each passing day his trust in me grows and with it comes another tiny piece of the puzzle that will someday complete my picture of him. Until that day I'll just have to roll with the punches. It was this last case that gave me something substantial to work with, like the corner of the puzzle that helps you really start to join all the other pieces.

When I read the case file, the first thought that crossed my mind was 'Gee, this scenario sounds familiar'. Girl disappears at night while her brother is just a few feet away. All the way to Sioux City I was preparing myself for all the tangents I could think of that Mulder might possibly come up with and ways to refute them. Not that I don't believe his story about his sister, but he admitted to me himself that he was catatonic after Samantha was taken - fine, 'abducted' - and that is not a good defense for a cognizant telling of events. He was jabbering on almost the entire way about all the similarities between the two abductions and he was certain that this might be the key to finding out what happened to his sister. By the time we arrived at Darlene Morris' residence I had just about convinced myself that Mulder was simply masochistic and wanted to torture himself by reliving that fateful night.

But when we stepped up onto the Morris' porch, a sudden transformation came over my partner. He became calm and composed, the agitation and excitement disappearing as though it had never been. When Darlene opened the door he was polite and professional, a posterboy for the FBI as he introduced us to the woman. She invited us in and as I followed to the kitchen I couldn't help but throw a confused glance back at him. It was in that second that I took back any ideas I had that Mulder might somehow derive some sort of pleasure from this experience. It was by chance that I caught him with his defenses down, as they so rarely are, but down they were and I saw something on his face that I can't quite define. It was a mixture of loss, sadness, nostalgia, and understanding as his gaze passed along the photos of Ruby perched on the mantle. I looked away quickly, feeling like I was intruding and hurried after Darlene. Soon Mulder joined us and he was once again cool and professional, his voice soft and compassionate as he asked her questions.

After Mulder left to talk with Kevin Morris, I stayed with Darlene, asking more pointed questions that I knew Mulder expected me to ask. We have begun to develop a system where he asks the rather unexpected questions that often have results in X-File cases and then I ask the more usual ones that they teach you at Quantico. Later we compare them and come up with a few theories that fit somewhere in the middle. I like the idea that we are sorting out a routine, trusting each other to do the job right and then silently agreeing on what is to be done. It's getting to be more and more of what I always hoped a partnership would be. A few minutes passed after Mulder left the room and I finally let my curiosity get the best of me. I'd never seen Mulder with children before. I had imagined he would probably be uncomfortable with them, their youth a reminder of something he lost long ago when tragedy made him an adult at an early age. He might try to charm them with a little TomFoolery but being a buffoon wouldn't make a child want to confide in you. So it was with great interest that I wandered into the living room. Unlike the clowning around that I had expected, I found Mulder sitting on the floor with Kevin, both of them in deep conversation about what the boy had seen that night. I listened closer and found that Mulder was in no way influencing Kevin's answers, letting the child tell the story exactly the way he remembered it. Some cops have a tendency to ask children questions that are put in such a way that the answers are tailored to fit them and testimonies can become skewed. But Mulder was offering the boy his fullest attention, nodding occasionally to show his concern as Kevin told him how frightening it all was.

A lump rose into my throat at the sight and I had to swallow several times to dislodge it. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Mulder didn't lose his childhood the night Samantha disappeared, he simply wrapped it up and hid it away, only to be taken out when it could be shared with those who would understand.

After that I tried to be more solicitous of Mulder's feelings in regards to the case, even allowing him to flaunt procedure and unearth the shallow grave in the woods of Lake Okobogee without waiting for Forensics. How could I deny him after I heard the desperation in his voice and saw the fear in his eyes? I can't imagine what it must be like, not knowing, always wondering what happened, torn between acceptance and hope. I prayed with all my might that the body we were uncovering was not that of Ruby Morris.

I changed my mind. I'm glad I'm going to church because now I can thank God for answering that prayer. The relief that exuded from every movement Mulder made as we discovered Greg Randall was enough to tell me that I had made the right choice. For a second I think I may have seen a hint of regret shine in Mulder's eyes, but it might have been a trick of the light. Perhaps if we had found Ruby's body Mulder would be more inclined to believe Samantha was dead as well, giving him some sense of closure. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it and he was just regretting the waste of life that is murder.

Whatever the reason, I still have a lot to be thankful for. We found Ruby Morris, a little worse for the wear but alive; the NSA has given up their investigation of Kevin's binary sheets; Greg Randall's murderer is in custody; and there is still a chance that Mulder's sister is alive. Satisfied that I haven't done anything to place me outside of God's good graces, I pull into the parking lot of the church, surprised that there are three more cars spaced out on the blacktop. Other penitent sinners with busy schedules I suppose.

Getting out of the car and locking the door behind me, I walk quickly across the lot and in through the side door of the church. The door takes me to a small area behind the pews, two long tables with pamphlets and flyers flanking the large windows that look out into the church proper. Dipping middle and forefingers into the holy water stationed by the archway dividing the windows, I automatically make the sign of the cross. The loud click of my heels on the polished floor seem unnatural and I duck into one of the back pews to restore silence to the church, the option of a quicker retreat also helping me decide where to sit. Pulling down one of the padded bars positioned against the pew in front of me, I kneel upon it and fold my hands in front of me, my chin tucked in the cup of my thumbs and index fingers.

My prayers are many but well rehearsed and it takes only a few minutes for me to finish my litany. I am about to start on a few Hail Marys for good measure when something to my left catches my attention. I can't say what it is, it isn't anything specific exactly, more of a feeling that there is something important there that I need to see. And what I lay my eyes upon me astonishes me more than anything I have seen since joining the X-Files.

Fox Mulder is seated in a pew several rows up to my right.

I didn't know Mulder was religious. You would think that his penchant for believing in anything even remotely unearthly that he would be a firm believer in a higher power but you would be wrong. From a few remarks or questions that I have heard from him over the past couple of months I got the distinct impression that he was an atheist. He always scoffed at any claims of divine miracles or the powers of God to heal the sick and dying. I assumed he lost any faith he may have once had when God took away his sister. Looks like I should never assume anything about Mulder.

Closer examination of his hunched figure shows that he is holding a photograph cradled in his hands and I'll give you one guess as to who the picture is of. His bowed head rocks forward until it almost touches the photo wavering in his grip and a tiny glint of light reflects off a tear running down his cheek.

The sense of voyeurism that I felt earlier at the Morris' almost overwhelms me and I frantically scramble from my seat, trying to be as quiet as I can. My eyes flick back to see if he noticed my hasty exit but it seems he only has eyes for the little girl in his memories. Relief floods me and my breath explodes from me as I burst out into the crisp night air. My lungs strain for air as my breath is stolen away by the realization of what I just witnessed.

Yes, I know that Samantha's disappearance is what drove Mulder to the X-Files and that he misses her, but I did not know that it is more than that. I don't know why, but I always thought of Samantha as a character more than a person, a figurehead to base a goal or quest upon. An intellectual and scientific mystery, not an emotional one. How could it be when it happened so long ago and to a sibling of the opposite sex? I never was close to Bill or Charlie, I don't see myself being so distraught if they had died over twenty years ago. Melissa and I were close and I would miss her dearly if she were gone but there would come a time to move on. The grief and pain of losing a loved one is never easy to deal with although it fades in time, never gone but eventually bearable. Apparently Mulder's relationship with his sister was much closer than mine with my brothers. I suppose that would stem from being the only two children in the family, only each other as playmates half the time. It doesn't matter why, what matters is that the man inside the church still loves his sister and grieves just as much now as he did then.

Another piece of the puzzle falls into place. It is an important one, like the face that helps you build up the rest of the body and then the surrounding environment. Mulder is a man of deep compassion, love, patience, gentility, and unwavering support. With this understanding comes a sense of peace I hadn't realized I had been missing until now. All the other characterizations I had observed previously fade into the background when compared to these new definitions and any hesitation I had about him as a partner fall away into oblivion.

I trust this man with my life.

A tiny smile plays at my lips and I look up into the heavens above, sending up a silent 'Thank you' to God for giving me this. I climb back into my car and turn the key, the engine rumbling to life and the headlights reflecting off the church's pale walls. I pull out onto the street and head towards my apartment, the smile remaining on my face.

I have to remember to thank my mother for making me feel guilty.