Title: Tenuous Connection
Author: XScout
Classification: VA
Rating: R for disturbing imagery
Spoilers: Grotesque, Irresistible
Keywords: Mulder Profiler Story
Summary: All she can do is hope her words will keep him safe. Will it be enough?

Disclaimer: To Hell with them all! I'm taking Mulder and Scully and locking them away so CC can't do any more damage! They're mine and I'm never giving them back! Bwa ha hahaha!!! Um... unless they try to sue me, then they can have whatever they want back.

Author's Note: I've got several vignettes floating about in my head and am finally getting them down on 'paper'. Feedback is accepted with a kiss to the computer screen. Feedback


Tenuous Connection


The phone was ringing and she was up to her elbows in blood and guts.

Normally she would simply let the damn thing go and have the voicemail pick up, but this time she wouldn't allow anything to stop her from answering this call. She set the scalpel down on the sterile tray and stripped her red stained gloves off as she hurried to the other side of the room. Tossing the gloves into a hazardous waste bin, she practically ran over to her coat and fumbled around in the pocket for the source of the ringing. Grabbing the small device, she pulled it out and punched the answer button a bit too forcefully.

"Mulder?" she blurted out the second she heard a connection made, desperate that the voicemail had not yet picked up. There was nothing on the other side and for a second she almost panicked, thinking he had hung up. Then she heard harsh breaths being blown into the receiver. "Mulder, are you there?"

A few more seconds of silence and finally his voice reached her. "Scully."

That was all he said and yet there was so much emotion behind that single word that she felt as though she could see the defeated expression on his face. "Mulder, are you okay?" She knew that he wouldn't answer the question but she had to pose it anyway; it was part of a rehearsed dance that they played each time he called. She moved on to the next question. "Where are you?"

"An office."

*An* office, implying that he was in someone's office but he had no idea whose. She had to physcially restrain herself from sighing. At least he was still in the Bureau Building where someone could keep an eye on him. If they cared that is. "Is there anyone with you?"

"No." His voice was rough and thick at the same time.

She could see him now, sitting in the dark at a desk covered in scribbled notes and gruesome photographs, perhaps the only light a pale green glow from his laptop. Her feelings of relief and anger warred with each other. Anger that he was alone in a time of need and relief that no one was there to witness his descent into dangerous territory. The Tennessee agents already treated him with bare civility; there was no reason to add fuel to the fire. She wished she could be there to make those thickheaded agents understand why her partner was acting the way he was.

Not that she fully understand why, no one did really. The Donnie Pfaster case had shown her that he was made of stronger stuff than she when it came to psychological crimes and she marveled at the fortitude he must have had to make it through three years in the Investigative Support Unit. But he wasn't invincible. She'd had her first taste of his profiling abilities during the Mostow case and it had scared her so deeply that her bones had been chilled with fear. Her belief that he was too stubborn to allow himself to be sucked in like Bill Patterson slowly eroded as she watched him sink deeper and deeper each time he took on a case for the VCS. Skinner allowed them to pull Mulder whenever they needed him, insisting that it was leverage in keeping the X-Files open. She'd argued with him after the seventh time, insisting that the Violent Crimes agents were using her partner's abilities without any care of the consequences. Mulder had come so close that time to falling over the edge that she hadn't been able to stand it anymore. So terrified for his safety and angry with Skinner for allowing it, she'd lost all reservation and had actually *yelled* at the AD, claiming that he didn't give a damn about what it was doing to Mulder. That he didn't know what kind of horrors her partner was going through and he was just as guilty as the VCS for letting them 'borrow' him.

It had shocked her immensely when her boss had turned to her with fury in his eyes. Growling through clenched teeth he'd answered, "Don't you dare presume to tell me what I do or do not know. I was Mulder's superior during his time with the ISU and I know *exactly* what he goes through when he profiles. I even worked with him on several cases and saw first hand how much of himself he put into it. I was relieved when he transferred out of there, knowing he would end up killing himself if he didn't leave." Skinner's tone had softened when he'd noticed the shock in her eyes and he'd laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Agent Scully, I understand your concerns and agree with them completely, but Mulder's profiling ability is one of the few bargaining chips we have. If he doesn't contribute to mainstream cases on occasion I'm afraid we won't be able to keep the X-Files operating."

And so her meeting with Skinner had ended, her frustration gone and replaced with dreaded inevitability. Since that time she'd noticed that the calls for Mulder had slackened off some and she knew that the AD was responsible. But every time a call came from the VCS she was aware that this case might be the one, the final blow to her partner's psyche that would push him into the abyss. Sometimes she was lucky enough to be sent with him, watching him closely and keeping a tight rein on him so he wouldn't fall. But most of the time he was loaned out as a profiler she was sent to Quantico to teach some classes or to lend an extra hand in Forensics. She couldn't comfort him when his nightmares sent his anguished screams into the night, couldn't hold his forehead when he vomited whatever tiny amount of food he'd been able to force down. She wouldn't be able to rub his back when the tension headaches get so bad he could hardly see or protect him from the verbal abuse the local agents threw at him.

She felt useless.

The only way she was able to be there for him was by phone. The first time they were separated she'd insisted he call her at least once a day, more if he needed to. When she'd ordered him to do so she had expected him to balk at the apparent 'nannying' but instead he'd given her a grateful look and assured her he wouldn't miss a day. That was when she'd realized how much her presence meant to him on those types of cases. He'd been as good as his word, calling in every day, reporting on the progression of whatever case he was on, bouncing ideas off her and allowing himself to relax in the knowledge that someone was truly listening to him.

Check-in calls were often accompanied by random phone calls ranging from all hours. Middle of the night conversations were mainly one-sided when he woke from a nightmare and needed reassurance that the world had not suddenly disappeared; early morning calls were usually when he got back from jogging and had come up with a new theory he needed to try out on her. Then there were the calls she dreaded, the ones where he had just come from working on a profile and could barely put two words together because he couldn't tell what was real, where he was or even who. Those were the worst because he was so close to the edge, his tether on sanity stretched thin by days of living inside a killer's mind. They got more frequent as the cases drew out, his strength weakened by lack of sleep and proper nutrition. That was the type of call that she answered now.

"Mulder, I want you to close your eyes and listen to my voice. Can you do that for me?" She hated talking to him like he was a child, but sometimes it was the only way she could get through to him when he was in such a state. A truncated grunt was the only response and she took it for an affirmative. "It's okay, everything is going to be all right. Take deep breaths nice and slow, in, out, in, out. You're not in that dark place, you are somewhere safe and warm, somewhere nothing can hurt you." She continued murmuring soothing platitudes until she heard his breathing become steady and even. "Now, do you want to talk about it?"

A sharp intake of breath and a shaky exhalation followed. "He... he killed again, Scully."

"Mulder, was it-"

He cut her off, "I saw it. He took that little boy and strung him up like a lamb at the slaughter. The child cried and cried, begging him to stop, to let him go home. He just laughed. Laughed and laughed like it was the funniest thing he had ever heard. He laughed even harder when the boy peed his pants in fear. Called him a baby, taunted him and touched him until he got a reaction." Mulder paused to swallow and she remained quiet, knowing that he needed a moment to gather his runaway thoughts. "He made the boy... God, he was just a child! Then he cut the boy open and danced in his entrails, ejaculating all over the intestines. The boy kept screaming. He was completely aware. Screaming and screaming until his tiny body gave out and he was finally released."

His voice had become high pitched and raspy, no doubt unshed tears squeezing his throat tight. Her own tears were tumbling down her cheeks. She allowed them to fall, safe in the knowledge that her partner couldn't see her weakness. She had to be strong for him. "Mulder, when was the body found?"

Her question must have caught him by surprise because he didn't answer right away. Either that or his brain was too muddled that he couldn't form his words fast enough. "What body?"

Her brows furrowed. "The boy's body."

"It hasn't." There was no further explanation.

"Then how-" she wasn't able to finish before he started speaking in an almost hysterical voice.

"I can still hear the laughter. It cuts into my brain like a knife; I can't make it stop."

There was no use in asking Mulder how he knew that a child had been killed; he couldn't explain it even if he'd wanted to. She knew that if he said a boy was dead then a body would be found by nightfall. "Mulder, listen to me. There was nothing you could do to stop him. You are doing everything humanly possible and no one blames you for not catching this man single-handedly. It is not your fault. You will catch him but you have to give yourself some time. You are probably running on less than four hours of sleep and are living on a diet of coffee. You a human being, not a machine."

"I'm so tired, Scully."

The admission scared her. "I know you're tired, I know. Why don't you get some rest."

"Can't. I'm so close. This guy's escalating and he's going to kill again in a few days, I can't let another child die. I can almost see him, Scully." There was a long pause as though his thoughts were straying on a tangent. "His signature is the key. Maybe...maybe if I think of the reason he kills as a glorification of pleasure versus pain..." he began murmuring too quiet for her to hear. Occasionally a few words drifted over to her. "...fingers hurt from squeezing....sore but feels so good...punishment...I need to...laughing, laughing...don't laugh at me...stop..."

"Mulder?" Nothing. "Mulder??"

It took far too long for him to answer. "Huh? Oh, sorry. Scully, I need to go. I can feel him."

She couldn't swallow past the lump in her throat. He was sinking and there was nothing she could do to stop it. "Mulder?"

"What?" He sounded distracted, his mind phasing back into the abysmal depths.

"Please be careful; I need you back, partner."

Silence reigned for a moment. "I will." A deep shuddering breath was blown into the phone and when he spoke again his voice was clear and strong. "Thank you, Scully."

A soft smile touched her lips. "Anytime, Mulder. Anytime."

With that she hung up, her tenuous connection to him broken. She leaned back against the wall, the phone hanging in her limp fingers, the other hand reaching up to swipe away the dampness on her cheeks. She hoped it had been enough. She wondered how much sleep he'd had and how much he'd eaten. Wondered if the other agents were even trying to help or simply regarded his presence with disdain. Mainly she wondered how long he would be able to hold out before he gave in to the roiling darkness.

But there were no answers to her questions because she was thousands of miles away, her only link to him a tiny plastic machine. It never felt like enough, but she tried to make the most of it each time. Rallying herself, she placed the cellphone back in her coat pocket and headed to the supply cabinet for another pair of gloves. Next time she would do everything in her power to make sure he was no longer scared.

Until then all she could do was wait. Wait for the next phone call.