Inferno Series by Pellinor

Inferno cover

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Inferno Series by Pellinor

  1. Inferno
  2. Purgatorio
  3. Paradiso

 

INFERNO

Inferno cover

by Pellinor

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and their friends and relations (not to mention their enemies) belong to Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen, Fox etc and not me. I use them without permission and torture them merely for my own amusement. (That million pounds offered by that nice Man in Black had nothing to do with it – honest!)

RATING: PG: no sex; violence, blood and language no more than in the show.

CLASSIFICATION: XA No romance. Lots of angst. Lots and lots of angst. An X-File, but with a strong character element.

SUMMARY: Mulder gets drawn into a web of guilt and revenge that could rob him of his sanity, even his life. Both Scully and Mulder think they know what they are dealing with, but the truth is something neither of them have ever expected.

This is not about a fire. My dictionary describes “inferno” as “a situation of horror and confusion.” It’s about serial killers, angst, memory, guilt, accusation, revenge, and other things.

Passing references to episodes up to and including Paper Clip, but assume that the rest of the third season hasn’t happened, even though this is set in November 1995.

FEEDBACK is welcomed, though please be polite, and bear in mind that I’m writing this for fun not as a writer’s workshop. Also it’s my first posting and I’m utterly terrified! Email comments to

Oh, and please excuse any lapses into English English (as opposed to American, I mean)

So, on with the story….

Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate.

~&~&~&~

October 14th 1990

The hunters came for him as soon as it was dark, and this time they had no intention of letting him escape. At first no more than a distant malevolence whispering at the fringes of his consciousness, they crept inexorably closer …. closer….

He lay unmoving on the dirty stone floor, eavesdropping on their determination, feeling their approach. He supposed he should try to escape from the path of their deadly intent but his limbs didn’t want to move.

“Soon,” he told himself, as his mouth opened in a huge yawn. “Soon. Just a minute more to rest.”

And all the while they came closer, their minds full of hatred….

There was no need to move yet, not just yet, but even so he opened his eyes, planning to scan his retreat, but his eyes opened to a wall of darkness. The last remnants of the setting sun had been strangled by the black fingers of night, and the moon had yet to rise in the cloudless sky. But although he couldn’t see, he could still hear, and feel. Small sounds, eerie in the echoing ruin, announced that other hunters were about their deadly pursuits. The barely perceptible pad of a cat’s paws, stalking in dark corners. The anguished squeal of a rat, its vain hopes of escape mocked by the gaping fangs of death. The flicker of an owl’s wings as it disturbed the thick dust in the forsaken building. He wondered if they could sense the swelling wave of menace that came with guns to overwhelm him.

They were close now …. too close.

It was time to move.

Sitting up, he stretched languorously, and then climbed to his feet. His every move was slow and considered, as if it was an effort to force life into his weary limbs. He didn’t look like a man who was being hunted with guns, and he smiled, amused by the incongruity of his appearance. Then the smile turned into a silent chuckle as he gleefully anticipated the reaction of his hunters when they found he’d eluded them again.

Picking up his heavy bag he strolled, still smiling, towards the small back exit. His eyes were now adapted to the dark and he could see the twisted shadows cast by meagre piles of crates against the broken windows. There were none to impede his path, for he had cleared them earlier, anticipating the need for escape, although the effort had caused his back and limbs to ache and his head to throb with weariness.

But he was alert now, and confident.

The hunters were confident too, their hope and hatred battering his senses, making him laugh again at their futility. They’d been confident that other night too, secure in their force of numbers and their advantage of surprise. Their leader had already been basking in the warmth of anticipated praise from his superiors even as he’d marshalled his men for the attack. Had it not been for the fact that they were hunting him, he would almost have pitied them as he’d sensed their vain efforts to creep through the night on silent feet, not daring to switch their torches on for fear of giving him warning. They were good, he had to admit – better than he was at the wearisome tasks of physical exertion and careful planning. They would have caught their prey, had they been hunting anyone but him – had they been hunting an ordinary man.

But they had not been hunting an ordinary man – they had been hunting him, a man against whom their proudly realised surprise attack had been impotent. His mind was never hampered by the dark which had inhibited their actions, and he’d been able to locate their hiding places and anticipate their plans. Firmly expecting to surprise their unsuspecting prey, but preferring safety in numbers, they hadn’t thought to cover a small back exit. Wise to all their thoughts and tactics, he’d barely needed to think to pick out a safe escape route, and had laughed from a distance as they’d finally burst in, in a blaze of light and a clamour of shouting. He’d only wished he could have been close enough to feel their frustration.

He chuckled quietly at the memory as he strolled towards the small opening at the back of the warehouse, preparing to dash their futile hopes. But at the same time he sighed with the weariness of the whole thing. Although he knew he would always be able to elude his enemies, he did wish they would leave him alone, recognising that they could never get the better of him. At times he just longed for rest….

“Stop that!” he chided himself, silently. He glanced down at the bag on his shoulder, smiling. With these sort of rewards, he could put up with the inconvenience of having to live on the run, especially as they had no hope of catching him …. No hope….

But then suddenly he froze, sensing something that made his smile die on his lips and an instant panic course through his veins. His escape was blocked by a wall of the hunters’ minds. They were outside the back door, their guns trained on the exit, their eyes alert for any movement.

He cursed them violently for deceiving him. When he had sensed their approach he hadn’t bothered to probe further than was easy, contenting himself with the surface thoughts that announced their presence. Confident that they were ignorant of his true nature, he’d assumed that they would reproduce their former tactics, appropriate for hunting the sort of man they thought he was. But this time they had split their forces.

His advantage gone, he madly ran from window to window in a growing panic, heedless of the sound of his feet which resounded like hammer blows in the echoing building. No exit was uncovered. They were everywhere. Their resolve pressed in on him from every window as they moved inexorably closer. For the first time in his life he cursed his gift. For the first time it hadn’t brought him knowledge that he could use to his advantage. Instead it brought him the certain knowledge that he was doomed.

There was no escape.

The horrified pounding of his heart throbbed in his head and threatened to crush his thoughts. He knew he was close to losing all control, his mind overwhelmed by the encircling malevolence which was tightening on him like a noose. He consciously tried to calm himself, forcing himself to take deep and measured breaths and to set up barriers to the hatred which surrounded him.

For a moment he was tempted to go down fighting and finally use the gun which he had carried for so long, but he knew that it would be futile. He had sensed their resolution and knew that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if he resisted. Unable to avoid capture, his best hope was to resign himself to his fate and to be taken placidly. He would be a model prisoner, and in time he would be free – free to resume his activities, but tempered with the wisdom of experience and with his skills honed by years of practice. Then, after endless imprisoned evenings devoted to developing his abilities, he would be truly invincible.

He didn’t have long to wait. They burst in from all sides at once, with a wild confusion of shouting and a dazzling barrage of light from a dozen torches. Fully calm now, he smiled wryly at their embarrassment when they saw that such a spectacular display was wasted on a solitary man who sat cross-legged in the middle of a deserted warehouse, his gun lying idle some twenty paces away. He didn’t resist as they hauled him to his feet and he didn’t resist as they clasped handcuffs on his wrists and read him his rights.

But although he showed no signs of outward resistance his mind was busy probing the minds of his captors. It was as he’d suspected. The fair-haired young agent who had led the attack knew about his powers and had planned the attack accordingly. Indeed, he was horrified to learn, his entire behaviour had been correctly anticipated, as if they were acting on information from someone who knew him well. He had been betrayed. He’d seen the size of the reward being offered by the last bank he’d robbed – a pitiful fraction of the amount he’d taken but enough still to tempt anyone to betray a friend. He had few friends, and fewer still knew what he was, but one of these people, lured by the promise of cash, must have betrayed his secret to the FBI.

His heart filled with a burning desire for revenge so intense that he had to struggle to keep his face set in the calm mask of unresisting resignation. Exerting energies that he preferred not to use, he probed deeper into the minds of the men who led him away. He learnt much of their triumphs, hopes and fears and much of their plans for the rest of the evening, but then, amongst all the irrelevancies of their thoughts, he stumbled on the name of the man who had betrayed him.

And as Matthew Lewis was hustled into the back of the waiting car and began the journey that was to lead to a 10 year prison sentence, the seed of a terrible hatred was planted in his mind – a hatred that grew like a cancer until it obliterated all other thoughts. He lived for nothing but his obsession with revenge.

Nothing else mattered.

~&~&~&~

November 8th 1995

Three nights ago, Kevin Briggs had watched a woman die.

It had been dark then, dark and cold. The silver glow of the half moon had lost its struggle against the billowing clouds that fought to overwhelm it, and night had reigned in the park, extinguishing life and hope. And as for the cold – it had been the sort of cold that would have turned living breath into a cloud of diamonds wisping to the sky. Living breath …. Breath ….

But by then she had been scarcely breathing at all. Her last weak breaths had no more form than a chimerical mist issuing from her tormented lips. Too much of her blood had been shed on the frozen earth beneath her body, nourishing the roots of the tree whose bare branches reached to the sky like accusing fingers. She hadn’t struggled. A lifetime before, when she had been plucked from her cosy life, she had kicked and fought and screamed, determined to escape the grip of impending death and to draw blood for her blood. But now the eternal hours of torment had drained her, and she had only seen death as a friend that offered release from her suffering. Her only regret had been that it hadn’t come sooner.

Her murderer had watched her dying thoughts reflected on her face and smiled at her pain. Then he’d turned and left her to die alone

And Kevin Briggs had watched in horror, like a distant observer yet simultaneously there, seeing through her pain. His mind had spiralled out of his control, assailed by thoughts and feelings that weren’t his own, but which had left him dazed and shaking.

Even now, three days after her death, he could find no respite from the guilt and horror that tormented him like a physical pain. It was a nightmare with no morning. The initial experience was always the worst – a blind and quaking terror as he was forced to observe torment, and the heart-breaking sense of futility that he could not stop their suffering. Then for days afterwards he had flash-backs – memories he could only escape when a fresh and more immediate horror came to supplant them. And it always did.

But this time had been the worst yet. The image of death was burnt into his eyes and his soul like a brand, and everything he looked at seemed to writhe with the stink of putrefaction. He’d poured himself a whisky in a vain attempt to drown to demons of disgust and despair, but the drink had seemed to reflect her eyes, accusing and agonised.

“No!” There was a crash as the glass fell out of his hand and shattered into a thousand deadly shards.

“No!” he screamed again, as his hands flew to his head, desperately massaging the agonised temples as if he could drive away the terrors about to possess him. “Not again! Leave me alone!”

Warm blood trickled from his bare foot as a sliver of broken glass sliced through the succulent ball of flesh beneath his big toe and the alcohol sneaked into the wound like a needle of agony, but the physical pain was as nothing to the mental torment which screeched in his head. Weakened by grief and self-loathing, his own consciousness could provide little defence against the kaleidoscope of images and impressions which drowned it. His puny resistance was flattened like a flower in a hurricane and he could do nothing but whimper in horror as his mind was assailed by another’s terrible emotions.

Seconds, or years, later, when he became fully aware of himself again, he was outside, shivering uncontrollably from the rain and the horror. He vaguely remembered struggling with shoes, but his clumsy fingers had been unable to focus on the task of tying the laces, so he had run out of the house without them. For the first time he was aware of the pain in his feet, as countless cuts and bruises attested to the distance he had travelled in his abstraction. The rain-drenched mud had washed the blood away and saved him from worse injury, but now soaked through the lacerations, threatening to infect his blood as his mind had been infected.

His eyes were shut. Every time he hoped vainly that it had not happened – that it had been no more than an incorporeal terror of the night that wakes a sleeper in a blind terror but is blown away like dew by the first light of the morning. But it never was….

“It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true” he repeated like a mantra over and over to himself in his mind, willing himself to believe that he could change what had happened by the force of his denial. Several minutes passed as he stood with his eyes shut, the rain beating down on his head, his shoulders shaking beneath the thin jacket that was their only shelter against the elements. Cold fear was all around him, pressing against his eyelids, taunting him with the pictures of the terror which he’d always known was there to greet him, even as he’d wanted to believe that it was not. Slowly he forced his eyes open, and saw nothing but blood and death.

Blood and death….

An anguished cry tore itself out of his hoarse throat, but there were none living to hear it. Tears pouring down his face, he turned and fled from the carnage towards the lights of the sleeping streets, where warm families knew of no horror like this. Guilt tore at his soul. He didn’t stop until he reached his comfortless home, where he plunged his hands and feet in water, scouring and scrubbing to remove all trace of the death that polluted them.

Would that the guilt and memory could be erased so easily….

But now he knew that they would stay with him for ever, twining round his soul like a fungus, sucking the life out of him. The drugs would provide no relief this time. Dragging himself to his bed he lay down and screamed.

He knew the horror would return.

~&~&~&~

November 11th 1995

“Obviously you don’t know the difference between courage and foolhardiness.” The dark-skinned man took a step forward, menace in his eyes. There were a dozen armed men behind him, under his command. “Always it is the brave ones who have to die.”

Suddenly something flew through the air and a loud crack cut off the man’s words with the abruptness of a gunshot.

Glancing round guiltily, Scully uncurled herself from the couch and darted across the room to retrieve the miraculously-intact remote. She was embarrassed at her uncharacteristic outburst, even though there was no-one to see but a strange-looking Klingon who continued to mouth threats, oblivious to the fact that the mute button had somehow been pressed as the remote hit the wall.

“And I think my godson’s immature!” Scully muttered, as she carefully placed the remote on the coffee table, adjusting its position several times until she was satisfied that it looked as if it had been negligently laid aside by some calm and rational person who had merely found nothing interesting on television. She glanced at the television again, then reached out and cruelly curtailed the silent but no doubt stirring speech Captain Kirk was currently inflicting on the Organians.

That done, she turned to her book and attempted for the third time to read beyond the first page, but the words didn’t want to stick in her mind. Suddenly furious with the book for failing to engage her interest, she slammed it shut, stopping herself just in time to save it from suffering the same fate as had befallen the remote. Instead, she put it down on the table with exaggerated care, stood up, and proceeded to pace around her apartment, sighing.

It was ten thirty on a Saturday morning, and Dana Scully was bored.

She had started showing the symptoms days ago, although she hadn’t admitted as much to herself. After all, she was on vacation, and, as she was so fond of telling Mulder, she at least had enough of a life to be able to enjoy her leisure time, even if her partner lived only for his work. Two weeks ago she had been luxuriating in the prospect of long days without murders and autopsies, and long nights of sleep uninterrupted at unearthly hours by phone calls announcing her partner’s latest weird theory. Beth, a close College friend who had settled out West, had invited her stay for two weeks while her husband was away on a business trip, and Scully had welcomed the chance to step back into the main stream of ordinary life.

The two friends had sat up late that first evening, drinking more wine than was good for them, exchanging anecdotes, confidences and memories. For a while Scully had felt like a student again as she’d giggled and gossiped, but then she’d paused mid-sentence, tears suddenly welling in her eyes, longing that she could be as carefree as she’d been at twenty. Good at her studies, secure in her happy family, she hadn’t known what suffering was. Then, her sleep had only been disturbed by worries that she might get a B rather than an A on her next assignment, or that the guy she fancied might not smile at her next time he passed. With Beth looking on in concerned confusion, Scully had wept for the loss of her innocence.

The next morning she’d tried to forget it, putting it down to the effect of too much wine, and had tried very hard to enjoy the next few days. It shouldn’t have been difficult. Beth was the perfect hostess, and the two of them had seen all the sights, lunched in expensive restaurants, and visited Beth’s local friends, whose warmth towards Scully couldn’t be faulted. When the boys came back from school, Scully had helped them with their homework and played games with them. The boys were perfect too, and had shown no sign of ill-temper when Scully had beaten them at Monopoly. When they’d gone to bed, she and Beth had talked for hours over a drink, indulging themselves with chocolates and romantic movies, interrupted only by the nightly phone call from Beth’s handsome and considerate husband.

It should have been an ideal vacation, but the very perfection was what had bothered Scully. She wouldn’t have minded so much if it hadn’t all been so perfect. Every aspect of Beth’s life had seemed to be taunting Scully. “You could have had this life too,” she’d kept thinking, as she’d heard Beth accept another party invitation from one of her legion of friends, or when the boys had came back from school brimming over with news of how well they were doing.

Scully had started to curse the day she had ever met Mulder. Every little thing about Beth’s life had tormented her with visions of the happiness she had sacrificed by choosing to stay with the X-Files. One evening, after too much wine, she had poured the whole story out to Beth. Although she’d been sober enough not jeopardise their friendship by telling Beth the exact details of what she and Mulder investigated, the alcohol had still exerted enough of an effect for her to see the past years clearly, as she thought, for the first time.

“It’s all Mulder’s fault,” she’d complained. “Whenever I even as much as contemplated leaving he’d look at me, all vulnerable and hurt. He’d assure me that wanted me to be safe and happy, that he didn’t want me to jeopardise my career by working with him. But then he’d go off and do something stupid and I knew he’d be lost without someone to look after him and keep him in line. Even when we were split up he came to me. “Don’t risk your career by helping me” he’d say, before telling me all about some problem he had. I couldn’t refuse to help him then, could I?”

Beth, looking way out of her depth, hadn’t answered, but Scully had continued, regardless. Suddenly it seemed to most important thing in the world to express a resentment she’d never before realised she felt. “He’s an expert at emotional blackmail. And now he’s ruined my life…. Can you imagine what it’s like when every noise at the window could be a kidnapper or assassin? …. Or every phone call could bring the news that Mulder’s gotten himself killed without any thought about what it’d do to me?”

She’d thought she was merely angry, but there had been tears in her eyes by now. “Even if I resigned tomorrow I could never have a life like yours,” she cried, staring wildly at the elegant house, the family photographs in the wall, the flowered curtains which covered windows that no kidnapper or killer had ever climbed through. “I’ve seen too much, suffered too much, to be able to live a normal life.”

She’d regretted what she’d said the next morning, and immediately realised the injustice of her complaints. Even though the X-Files had caused her suffering and changed her forever, she’d stayed with them out of choice, she knew, and she’d been unfair to blame Mulder for her decision.

Feeling remorse at her outburst, she’d begun to view Beth’s life with different eyes. The perfect family didn’t seem so great after the twelfth game of Monopoly in under a week. The perfect husband lost his charm when she found out that he called every night simply to check that Beth wasn’t going out, for he disapproved of wives going out without their husbands just as he disapproved of married women having jobs. The perfect friends began to seem suffocating, with their endless impromptu visits in which they dissected the minutiae of their neighbours’ lives. Every day was the same – cosy and secure but stultifying to the intellect after the constant concentration required in the FBI.

By the end of her ten-day stay, Scully was longing to get home. After a few days of Beth’s life she’d been weeping that the X-Files had ruined her chances of enjoying such an existence. After ten days of Beth’s life, she’d realised that, even without the X-Files, she wasn’t cut out for cosy domesticity.

She had returned on Thursday, anxious to get back to work but too proud to contact Mulder and admit it. She’d teased him mercilessly before she’d left, telling him gloatingly how she’d think of him knee-deep in overdue paperwork while she was enjoying herself on vacation. If he saw any hint that she’d not enjoyed herself he’d be equally merciless in his revenge.

She’d called him the night she’d returned but he’d seemed distracted when he’d answered, and a little guilty, as if she’d disturbed him in the watching of one of those videos he swore he never watched. “I mustn’t keep you from enjoying yourself, Scully,” he’d said, before hanging up on their all-too-brief conversation, leaving Scully wishing he didn’t always sound so serious when she knew he must be teasing. She’d lain awake in bed, half-expecting him to call like he so often did, but the phone was silent. It had remained silent all of yesterday too, as she’d desperately tried to think of all the things she used to do with her leisure time but failed to find anything that could take her mind off her desire to return to work.

It was twelve o’clock now. Two more days to get through before Monday morning. 45 hours. 2760 minutes. She carried on pacing. 2759 minutes. She stopped and put on her shoes, then paced over to her car keys. It wouldn’t do any harm just to visit the office, just for a minute. She knew Mulder would be there, even though it was Saturday. She’d tell him she just wanted to find out what case they’d be investigating on Monday, just so she could look the files over, to be prepared – just as a favour to Mulder, not because she was bored – not that she’d given the X-Files a second thought while she was off enjoying herself, of course.

She smiled as she drove to work, relieved that she’d stopped kidding herself that she hadn’t missed Mulder. She was looking forward to the next case, eager to resume the old working relationship they had together. The break had done her good in ways she hadn’t expected, forcing her to rethink her attitude to Mulder and the X-Files. Her outburst at Beth’s hadn’t come out of the blue, she realised. For months she’d been subconsciously resenting the X-Files for taking over her life and bringing such pain, and she’d taken this resentment out on Mulder – not explicitly, by fighting with him, but insidiously, by sniping at his enthusiasms and by making sure he went by the book in situations where, until recently, she would only have made a token resistance to his unconventional methods. As her contemporaries married, had children or been promoted, she’d felt that life was passing her by, and had blamed Mulder. But now, having seen an alternative to her own life, she realised that she’d have it no other way. She’d made her choice long ago.

~&~&~&~

Mulder didn’t look up when Scully walked into the basement office. He had his back to her, bending over a sheaf of papers on the desk.

“Hey, Mulder!” said Scully, lightly. “You been stuck with this paperwork the whole time I was off enjoying myself?” She stressed the last two words, deliberately setting herself up for some Mulder-humour. Precisely what Scully’s “enjoyment” would consist of had been the source of much teasing before her departure.

The anticipated response failed to materialise. “What are you doing here, Scully?” he said, still not looking at her. “I thought you were off till Monday.”

“Oh, I am. But I thought of you wading through paperwork and dragged myself from my “enjoyment” to come and help.”

Mulder was looking intently at the papers in his hand. “Don’t bother, Scully. I don’t want to ruin the last weekend of your vacation, just like I’ve….” The words trailed into a whisper and Scully couldn’t catch them.

Scully mentally kicked herself for teasing Mulder without checking out his mood first. She was about to reassure him that he wasn’t ruining anything for her, when she caught sight of one of the papers on his desk. A paper he tried to conceal but which couldn’t be hidden from her keen glance. A paper covered with figures that looked suspiciously like flight details.

Mulder, it appeared, had been about to fly off without her, and, no doubt, without telling her either.

“Mulder! Where are you going? Is it a case?” Her voice rose with irritation. Although she’d been unable to get much out of him when she’d called on Thursday, she had at least managed to get him to promise not to leave town on a case without telling her.

Mulder grunted non-committally, but said nothing. He still wouldn’t look at her.

“So, what is it then?” She decided to take his silence as a no. “Where are you going?” Suddenly she caught her breath in concern, remembering how some of Mulder’s most abrupt disappearances in the past has often been connected to some family crisis. “Are you going home? Is something wrong with your mother, or….” She tailed off, not wanting to mention Samantha when he was in this mood.

“No. Not home.” He didn’t elaborate.

“Well, what is it? It is a case?”

He nodded, reluctantly.

Scully was suddenly furious, all her fond imaginings about her happy reunion with Mulder proved suddenly false. “Mulder! You promised not to go away on a case until I came back – at least, not unless it was urgent and not without discussing it with me first.”

He was silent, offering no defence.

“You weren’t going to tell me, were you?” she shouted. “What was it to be this time? A letter? A melodramatic e-mail like Alaska? Or weren’t you going to bother telling me at all? Just let me work it out when I came in on Monday and couldn’t find you.” There was still no response so she grabbed his chair, swinging him round to face her. “Damn you, Mulder! Talk to me!”

For the first time since she’d entered the room Scully was able to see Mulder’s face, and her anger faded as suddenly as it had come. Mulder looked terrible. He looked as if he hadn’t slept for a week, his eyes circled with dark shadows and full of defeat. He wouldn’t hold her gaze. Scully reached out and touched him gently on the arm, silently offering comfort for whatever it was that was troubling him, but he flinched, barely perceptibility, at her touch. She removed her hand.

“Mulder, what’s the matter?” she said, quietly. She wasn’t surprised when he gave no response. It was never an easy task to persuade Mulder to talk about his feelings. “This case ….. is it to do with Samantha?”

Mulder shook his head.

She tried another tack. “Have you been working on a tough case while I was away?”

“A case. Not a tough one. Nothing disturbing.” She didn’t think he was lying, but he was being so monosyllabic that it was difficult to tell.

“This case you’re going on, Mulder – what’s it about?”

“A serial killer. Possibly some sort of possession.” His voice was dull and lifeless.

Scully tried to keep her voice steady, but Mulder was trying her patience. “Mulder,” she sighed, with exaggerated control. “Why don’t you want me to go on this case? What aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing, Scully. Nothing ….. just …. I don’t want you to get hurt, Scully. You’ve been hurt so much. ” There was feeling in his voice at last, but that feeling was despair.

Scully touched Mulder again on the arm, ignoring his flinching. “Mulder, why should I get hurt on this case rather than any others?”

“He kills women.”

Scully sighed. “Mulder, lots of serial killers kill women. That’s not stopped us investigating in the past. Why should this one be any different?”

Mulder was silent.

“So, when you were assigned to this case were you specifically told to go alone?” Mulder reluctantly shook his head. “So I take it I’m invited too.” She picked up Mulder’s bag from the floor. “Come on. There’s just time to go to my apartment to pack before the flight departs. I’ll book a ticket from home.”

“But, Scully, your vacation….”

“I’ll happily give up my last two days of vacation, Mulder,” said Scully, regretting the words “give up” even as she said them. Mulder didn’t need any more excuses for guilt right now. She decided that the time for honesty had come. “I didn’t really enjoy it anyway. I wanted to be back at work.”

And she really did want to be back at work, even though this case was clearly not going to be the happy reunion she’d fondly imagined in the car. Evidently, she hadn’t been the only one doing some serious thinking during her absence. But while she felt that she’d managed to sort her life out, Mulder’s thoughts had clearly reached a less happy conclusion. One look at his tormented eyes were enough to warn her that the next few days could be extremely difficult.

~&~&~&~

Scully hadn’t been aware of how tightly she’d been gripping the seat until she relaxed her fingers and felt the dull ache of tension in her muscles. She smiled wryly at the thought that she should still stiffen at take-off and landing, even after all the hundreds of flights she’d had to undertake in the course of her work. Mulder, whose keen eyes didn’t usually miss any movement of hers that he could use as ammunition to tease her with, was silent, lost in thought. Even so, Scully was hopeful that her earlier forebodings would prove unfounded. Although he wasn’t yet his normal self, Mulder’s mood had lightened considerably since they’d boarded the plane. He seemed to have left the worst of his grim mood back in the office and his depression eased with every mile they put between themselves and Washington.

Scully wanted to ask about the case, but was anxious not to disturb the precarious balance of Mulder’s mood by asking the wrong questions and inadvertently sending him back into the depression he was working his way out of. Instead she sat silently, attempting to read the book she’d brought from home, but her eyes kept on shutting to allow her thoughts to run free without distractions from her senses.

“It gets better, you know”. Mulder’s sudden comment made her jump and she looked at him quizzically.

“The book,” he explained. Her face showed no comprehension so he continued. “You’ve had it open at the first page for 12 minutes now. Not his best work, I agree, but you might enjoy it more if you read it with your eyes open.”

He was smiling at her – a smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes, but a smile nonetheless. She knew his weak joke was meant as a peace offering – a signal that he’d worked through whatever it was that was bothering him and was now ready to talk. She put the book down and turned to face him. The flight was far from full, and there was empty seats next to them, enabling them to talk about the case without fear of being overheard.

“OK, Mulder, what’s this case about?”

“Two murders within a week in Ridgewood, Maine.” He had no files, no notes, but still Scully prepared herself for a barrage of facts. Why he didn’t just give her the details to read, she didn’t know, rather than telling her everything himself, reciting it from his memory. She’d still have to read it all later, anyway, to find the little details he’d neglected to tell her – details that didn’t fit with his current theory.

“The first body was found on Monday, dumped in a children’s play park,” Mulder went on, his face unreadable. “She was a teacher, 26 years old, called Christine Denning. She’d been killed by multiple stab wounds, but also seemed to have been beaten or cut with a number of other instruments.” He took a deep breath, causing Scully to suspect that maybe it was the case that had been disturbing him, but when he continued his voice was calm, betraying no emotion. “The second body was found early on Thursday morning, also beaten and stabbed, although her injuries were less extensive. She was a teenager, Jennie Lawrence, who was grabbed while walking in the woods with her boyfriend, and found a mile away several hours later. Her boyfriend is still in a coma, having been hit on the back of the head.”

He paused, but Scully knew there must be more. “So far, that’s nothing out of the ordinary,” she said, to prompt him to continue.

“There were certain …. peculiar …. aspects about the case that had the local police calling for help.”

“Peculiar aspects?” Scully wished Mulder would tell a case outright without forcing her to prompt all the time. She suspected he did it deliberately, so he could trump all her tentative conclusions with some startling evidence he always kept to last.

“In each case, someone called the police, telling them where to find the body.”

“A chance witness, scared of revealing their name?” Scully knew Mulder would refute her theory with more evidence he’d not yet told her, but decided to play her part properly by suggesting hypotheses Mulder could then demolish. She also knew that it would be just like Mulder to leap straight for an exotic explanation without considering such simple possibilities, so it was always a good idea to remind him of the obvious.

“If it was a chance witness, then he’s very unlucky. Voice analysis shows that it was the same person each time. And that same person called again last night to say that the murderer had taken someone else, just before a Mr John Benton reported that his wife, Ellie, had gone missing.”

“It could be the murderer himself, toying with the police somehow. You know …. like serial killers sometimes leaving their calling card on the victim, as if to gloat of their power and taunt the police with their failure to find them.”

“That’s what I suspected at first. The caller spoke as if he was there when the women died, and said he had their blood on his hands.” He paused, but his tone of voice suggested there was a “but” coming, so Scully didn’t comment. “But then I heard the actual recordings of the calls,” Mulder continued, “and it just doesn’t fit. He wasn’t gloating. He was almost incoherent with horror at the murders. If he is the murderer, he is a great actor.”

“What about a friend or family member, who is horrified by the murders but daren’t turn the murderer in? That would explain the feelings of guilt, if he knew he could have stopped the killings by going to the police.”

Mulder was silent, evidently not convinced. Scully took a deep breath. “Okay, Mulder. You have a theory. What is it?”

“I think it’s some sort of possession.” Scully remembered now that he’d said as much earlier in the office, but she’d been too worried about him then to make anything of it. “I think that our caller is the murderer, but in a physical sense only, with his body controlled by someone else – an evil spirit…. someone capable of mind control …. whatever. He retains enough awareness to see what his body is doing, but isn’t strong enough to stop it, which is why he feels guilt. I haven’t seen all the details yet, but I hope that when we get there I’ll find more evidence about what sort of consciousness is possessing him.”

“Hold on, Mulder,” said Scully. “You’re the psychologist, remember. Don’t people say that historical reports of so-called “possessions” are probably cases of split personality? If, and I mean if, you’re right and this caller is really the murderer, he’s probably mentally ill, suffering from a split personality. One of them does the murders, and the other feels the horror and guilt. That’s why he doesn’t tell the police his identity -because they can’t punish the perpetrator without him being punished too.”

“Come on, Scully.” Mulder sounded impatient. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen outside Jekyll and Hyde. There have only been a handful of properly-documented cases of people switching frequently between two personalities like that.”

“That’s a whole handful more than the properly-documented cases of possession,” countered Scully, piqued by his tone.

They stared at each other, both firm in their opposing views. Then Mulder smiled suddenly, as if accepting her point. “We’ll never agree, will we Scully?” he said, ruefully.

There was a short but companionable silence. Mulder broke it first. “Actually,” he said sheepishly. “That split personality theory of yours …. that’s what the police think too. Either that, or that he’s acting under the influence of drugs or something that make him violent one minute and regretful in the sober light of morning.” He shrugged. “Anyway, we’ll find out more when we talk to the other agents.”

“Other agents? You mean, we’re not alone on this?” Scully was taken by surprise. The sort of cases that appealed to Mulder were seldom the sort of cases that anyone else in the Bureau found worthy of their attention.

“No. The local police, who’ve never dealt with a serial killer before, decided they were way out of their depth and called for help from the regional office straight away. Then the local team, deducing, as you did, that they were dealing with a seriously disturbed mind, decided that they were way out of their depth and called for a psychologist straight away.”

“So they asked for you! That’s strange. Why would they want you?” As soon as she’d spoken, Scully regretted the tactless phrasing of this question, fearing it might push him back into his depression, but Mulder acknowledged it with a wry smile. Considering his reputation, it was a fair enough comment.

“There’s a young agent on the case, a Jim Gardiner. I worked with him on a case a few years back – his first case since leaving the Academy. All the other agents were making jokes about me when they thought I couldn’t hear, you know how it is….” Scully did know. She still remembered with shame how she’d once called Tom Colton a friend. “Anyway,” Mulder continued, “Gardiner followed me like a puppy. He had no imagination of his own but agreed with everything I said.” He gave a quick laugh. “I even made up nonsense no sane person could believe and he was nodding like his head would fall off. It nearly drove me crazy. I was never so pleased to see the back of anyone in my life…. And then he contacted me yesterday, asking for my help. He spoke as if his sole aim these last few years has been to find an X-File for me.”

“So he thought there was something paranormal about the case too? He can’t be that lacking in imagination.”

“Hmm, that’s a point.” Mulder smiled. “Maybe he’s brighter than I thought. Anyway, he convinced the agent-in-charge that this was an aspect that needed investigating. The case had caught the public imagination, with righteous citizens already denouncing the police for failing to stop the killer. Gardiner pointed out that it would look bad if any possible lead, however unconventional, was left unpursued. His boss had already decided that they needed a psychologist, and was persuaded to kill two birds with one stone, as it were, by calling me in. God knows how Gardiner managed to persuade him. He’s not an easy man to convince.”

“I take it you know him too.” said Scully

“Yes.” Mulder’s tone expressed dislike more clearly than words could have. “His name is Richard Newman. I met him the same time I met Gardiner.”

“But he’s not a fan of your work?”

“No.”

Mulder fell silent, leaving Scully to reflect on his unfortunate habit of making enemies wherever he went. It certainly complicated investigations, and Mulder’s investigations tended to be complicated enough without needing any further problems.

~&~&~&~

“Mulder, could you pull over, please?”

It was late afternoon and Mulder was driving their rented car through the Maine countryside as the shadows from the setting sun lengthened around them.

“Why? What’s the matter?” he asked, looking at Scully in concern. “Are you okay ?”

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s just …. I want to talk to you.”

“You can talk to me now.” Mulder carried on driving.

“No, I want to see your face.”

“Can it wait? I want to be there before it’s fully dark -maybe get out and see one of the crime scenes.”

“No, Mulder. This is serious. Please stop as soon as you can.”

Mulder pulled over as soon as a convenient lay-by presented itself. “Scully, what’s wrong?” he asked, as soon as he’d stopped the engine. “Are you okay ?” He looked at her in concern, reaching out to touch the back of her hand as it lay beside her on the seat.

I’m okay ,” said Scully, stressing the personal pronoun.

“And I’m okay too,” said Mulder, “so that’s okay.”

“Mulder! Stop it! This is serious.” She looked at him earnestly.

Mulder flinched at her gaze, glancing in the mirror with exaggerated anxiety. “I knew I should have put the blue tie on. I’m sorry. I’ll change it as soon as we get to the hotel.”

“Mulder!” She would have been angry, but she caught the note of desperation in his forced levity. “Look, Mulder.” She paused for a while, wondering how to express her concerns without pushing too much and driving him away. “You needn’t tell me if you don’t want to, but …. well, something was obviously wrong earlier, in the office. By the look of you something’s been wrong for days. You looked awful.”

“You sure know how to flatter a man, Scully.”

“Mulder!” Annoyance was beginning to replace concern.

“Sorry, Scully.” He looked genuinely contrite and Scully forgave him. She knew he was only joking because that was his way of dealing with painful emotions. One of his ways. She’d rather have his grim jokes than his depression.

She continued. “You needn’t tell me what was bothering you if you’d prefer not to, but what I need to know is ….. Mulder, what I mean is …. is it sorted out now?”

“Yes,” said Mulder, his expression serious now. “I think so.”

There was a short silence. Mulder broke it at last, in a surprisingly hesitant voice. “Scully, did you mean it when you said you didn’t enjoy your vacation?”

“In a way. I enjoyed the break. I had some great times, did some enjoyable things. But at the same time I’m glad to be back at work.”

“Glad to be back with the X-Files?” Mulder sounded incredulous.

Scully suddenly understood. “Is that what the problem was? Did you think I wasn’t coming back? That I’d leave you to fight your enemies alone?”

Mulder looked ashamed and gave a barely perceptible nod. Scully reached out and touched his arm, smiling at him to continue. Mulder snatched his arm away, refusing to meet her eyes. He started to speak, his voice full of self-reproach. “I didn’t want you to leave. But that’s just selfish. If you can snatch a little happiness back from the …. the ruins I’ve made of your last few years, I should be happy for you. I’ve no right to want you to stay if you’d rather be elsewhere.”

“Mulder, I don’t want to be elsewhere.”

“You did, before you left. All that joking you did, about how much you were looking forward to your first real break since you met me, about how you’ve not had a life since working on the X-Files. I know it wasn’t just a joke. You meant it.”

Scully was about to protest that this wasn’t true – that she had never wished herself out of the X-Files – but then she remembered her outburst at Beth’s. It was true. Before her vacation she’d often indulged in idealised fantasies about what her life would have been like if she hadn’t worked with Mulder – status at work, a sister still alive, time to go on dates, feeling safe in her own home. She’d begun to subconsciously blame Mulder for ensuring that these dreams could now never be a reality. But now she’d had time to think she realised that, while the painful past couldn’t be changed, the X-Files were what she wanted for her future.

Mulder, seeing her hesitation, had looked away. Scully reached over and pulled at his shoulder, turning him to face her. “Yes, I did sometimes wish I was out of the X-Files. But I’ve had time to think, and I’ve sorted out my priorities. I do want to work with you. It’s my own choice.”

“But I’ve brought you such pain.” It was a cry of pure anguish.

“No, Mulder. You haven’t brought me any pain. Not you. You’ve fought the men who’ve hurt me. You’ve saved my life more times than you’ve ever hurt me.”

“But They only hurt you because you were working on the X-Files.”

“Yes, I have been hurt. I can’t pretend not to regret that. I’d give anything to get Melissa back, to have my missing time back, but I can’t. I can’t change the past. It’s happened now and no amount of regret can change that. But I can at least try to find out why these things have happened. Remember, Mulder, I’m looking for my answers now as well as yours.”

Mulder was silent, so Scully continued. “It hasn’t just brought pain, Mulder. We’ve had good times, too. Think of the number of lives we’ve saved – people who would have died without us. How many safe jobs could bring that satisfaction? And then there’s the intellectual challenge. My friend, Beth – the one I stayed with – she has a degree in physics but spends her days thinking of recipes and gossiping with the neighbours.”

Mulder was still silent, but he didn’t flinch this time when she touched his arm, and his face looked less troubled. Scully tried one more attempt to get through to him. “Mulder, you’ve got to believe me. This is my choice. You’re not responsible for anything that happens to me. Damn it, Mulder! I like working with you.”

“Scully? There’s something else I want to say.” Mulder broke his silence at last.

“What?” Scully’s heart sank, wondering what Mulder had managed to find to feel guilty about now. She thought she’d covered all his problem areas. Oh God, no! Not Samantha as well! She prepared herself to offer more comfort. She’d complained enough in the past when Mulder excluded her from his worries, so she could hardly be unsupportive now he’d decided to let her in.

“How much did they pay you?”

“What?”

“The Bureau. For that excellent advert you just did on their behalf – saving lives, intellectual challenge, finding answers to problems. I hope they paid you enough to buy me dinner tonight at the hotel.”

Suddenly they were both smiling. There was still a shadow behind Mulder’s smile, but Scully suddenly realised that their old friendly banter would banish the shadow as much as would an earnest heart-to-heart.

“Mulder! When I said I liked working with you ….well, keep that up and I may just change my mind.” She pretended to cuff him on the head.

“Hey! You can’t do that! You’re a doctor.”

“You behave or you just might be a patient.”

“Are you threatening me?”

Scully pulled a face, but then turned suddenly serious. “Mulder, you will talk to me next time you’re depressed, won’t you? Talking about it helped just now, didn’t it?”

Mulder nodded. “Yes, it helped. Thank you, Scully.”

They resumed their journey. It was now nearly dark and it had started to rain.

“You did pack your torch, didn’t you, Scully?”

“Mulder! Of course I packed my torch. Would I come on a case with you without a torch?” She realised suddenly what he was suggesting. “No, Mulder. No. I am still officially on vacation and I am not going to prowling though the woods at night in the rain. No way.”

“Aw, Scully!” Mulder whined in a little boy voice. “You said you liked working with me, whatever the consequences.”

“That’s it! I resign!”

“Just a little prowl? Please, Scully. Pleeeeese.”

“No.” She tried to keep her face stern, but failed dismally.

~&~&~&~

Scully stared balefully at her hairbrush as she slammed it down on the bedside table. It hadn’t been far from the car to the hotel, but the rain was so heavy that even such a short distance had been enough to make her usually sleek hair frizzy. She grimaced at her reflection in the mirror, wishing she’d had time for a shower before she had to meet the other agents on the case. She always liked to look her best when meeting male agents – not in a sexy way, to attract them, but in a professional way, reasoning that they’d be more likely to respect her if she looked smart and well-groomed. Even in the 90s she knew that many male agents tended to doubt a woman’s competence on a tough case. First impressions could make all the difference between being judged as a non-entity or as a colleague.

“Scully, are you ready?”

Scully jumped up to unlock her side of the connecting door between their rooms. The hotel was half empty so it had been no problem getting her a room next to the one Mulder had already booked. She smiled as she saw Mulder. Evidently thinking on the same lines as she had, he’d put on his most conservative suit and tie and combed his hair into a standard FBI-issue hair style. She was glad to see it wasn’t only women who expected to be judged by their appearance.

“You seem anxious to impress this Agent Newman,” said Scully, as Mulder glanced at his watch with concern. “It’s not like you to care about making a good impression.” She smiled as she thought of the trail of outraged sheriffs and offended superiors that Mulder had left in his wake in the course of his career.

“Agent Newman and I …. Well, I don’t like him and he doesn’t like me. I expect he only agreed to have me on this case because Gardiner went on and on and it was the only way to get him off his back. And I’m sure he’s regretting it already. He wants me to make a mistake so he can have an excuse to get rid of me. So, I’m doing everything by-the-book.” He looked at her with a smile. “At least, when he’s watching.”

“So you won’t be telling him his murderer is possessed?”

“Possessed? Scully! How can you suggest such a thing? Don’t say you’re one of those crazy people who believe in the paranormal.” Mulder’s tone was all outraged innocence.

Scully hit him.

~&~&~&~

She would have had time for a shower after all, Scully reflected ruefully as they sat in the hotel bar. The curt note they’d been given upon arrival at the hotel had told them to meet the other agents at 7.30, but the few other customers were clearly not FBI.

Scully drummed her fingers with impatience, but Mulder saw the irony of the situation. “The first time in my life I go to such an effort to turn up smart and on time to impress a superior officer, he’s late and can’t appreciate my efforts. It’s the story of my life – I can’t do anything right.” Scully thought he was joking, but couldn’t be sure. Mulder’s dark humour could hide a multitude of unpleasant emotions.

“Agent Mulder!” A young man in his late twenties rushed into the bar, looking considerably less well-groomed than Mulder or Scully. His light hair looked as if it had been hastily dried with a towel, and the front of his shirt was wet, as if he’d been out in the rain in the sort of low-buttoned trench coat that was much smarter than it was practical.

Mulder opened his mouth to introduce the newcomer, but was cut off before he was able to say a word.

“Agent Mulder!” repeated the man who could only be Agent Gardiner. “It’s great to see you again! The others will be down soon. They’re still getting ready in their rooms. We’ve been out all day, searching for the missing woman. No luck yet, though, and we can’t do much now it’s dark.” His voice became more sombre for a while but soon regained its former enthusiasm. “I came straight down to talk to you before the others are ready. They’re not willing to believe in things they don’t understand. I knew as soon as I saw it that this case was paranormal, but they …..” He paused, looking concerned that he’d been about to criticise his colleagues. “Don’t get me wrong,” he continued quickly. “They’re competent agents. It’s just that they have no imagination. I thought it was obvious that this was an X-File. What do you think, Mulder? It is possession, isn’t it?”

Mulder shrugged. “It could be possession. But there are other possibilities too. Until I know all the details I’m not going to jump to conclusions.” Scully smiled. As far as she was concerned Mulder was usually to first to jump to conclusions without examining the evidence first.

“But you do think it’s paranormal?” Gardiner’s voice was worried.

“I want to examine the more plausible explanations first before I turn to a paranormal explanation,” said Mulder, “but I can’t pronounce on any explanation until I know more details.”

Gardiner’s face fell and Scully felt sorry for him. It was one thing for Mulder to play devil’s advocate with her, crushing all her sceptical objections with ever wilder theories, half of which he didn’t even believe himself. Although she was frequently infuriated with him, she understood the game they were playing and could return as good as she got, desperately playing the sceptic even when Mulder’s theories contained some sense. But Gardiner didn’t understand the game and looked like a little boy whose best friend has turned against him.

Kicking Mulder under the table, she hastened to assure Gardiner. “Don’t believe him, Agent Gardiner,” she said, knowing she was right about his name even though they’d not been introduced. “Mulder has a strange sense of humour. He was just teasing you. He told me on the way here that he definitely thinks we’re dealing with some sort of possession.”

“He does, does he?” said a gruff voice from behind her. Turning, she saw that a group of men had entered the room, all dressed in conventional suits and dull ties, and therefore obviously FBI. The one who’d spoken, a gruff-looking man of around fifty, was looking at Mulder with distaste. She assumed he was Agent Newman – an assumption confirmed by the round of introductions which followed. Remembering what Mulder had said about wanting to impress Newman, she flashed a quick glance of apology at him, but he wasn’t looking.

The atmosphere was strained as they moved over to the restaurant. Mulder glanced at Scully, clearly signalling that he wanted to sit next to her, but she considered this would be unsociable and made no attempt to stay close to him as they chose their seats. Instead, she found herself sitting next to Gardiner, who had looked at her with open gratitude ever since she’d explained Mulder’s belief in his theory. He talked endlessly throughout the meal, his voice too quiet to be intended for the table at large. Anxious not to be impolite, Scully was forced to listen to his observations about his home town, Star Trek, his neighbours, his family and his favourite movies, nodding her head and contributing her own comments at appropriate places. All the time, she was desperately trying to catch Mulder’s eye, but he was at the end of the table, next to Newman. From what she could hear of their conversation, Newman spent the whole meal telling Mulder in no uncertain terms how much he regretted having him on the case, and how he’d better get on with the profile as soon as possible so they wouldn’t have to work with each other any longer than necessary.

Mulder excused himself as soon as the meal was over, saying that he wanted to examine all the files on the case as soon as possible. One of the other agents, Martinez, was sent to Newman’s room to get them.

“Coming, Scully?” asked Mulder, as he stood up to leave. He barely glanced at her, and she assumed he was angry about having to endure a whole meal of constant criticism. She suddenly realised how it must have looked to him. She’d ruined his chances of impressing Newman, and then abandoned him to Newman’s tender mercies throughout the meal.

Anxious to apologise, Scully was about to follow, but caught sight of the glance that passed between Martinez and O’Brien, another agent on the case. It was a glance she’d seen many times on other agent’s faces – a glance that told her that, if she went with Mulder now, they would entertain themselves after she’d gone with all sorts of lewd suggestions about what she and Mulder were really getting up to. It also occurred to her that if she stayed she could try to salvage some of the damage she’d unwittingly done to Mulder’s standing with Newman.

“I’ll stay,” she said.

~&~&~&~

“Mulder, it’s me. Can I come in?”

Scully had endured nearly an hour downstairs after Mulder had left, but had to admit that she’d made little progress. Gardiner was undeterred in his loquacity, and she had been hard pressed to break away from him to talk to Newman. Newman had been unfriendly, evidently assuming that any friend of Mulder’s was barely worth talking to. However, he’d thawed a little as she talked to him. She’d gone out of her way to ingratiate herself with him. She’d agreed with everything he said, however much she wanted to disagree, praised his progress on the case, and tried to convince him that she’d only been joking when she’d said Mulder believed in possession. If nothing else had been gained, at least he’d gone away convinced that at least one of the X-Files team had some sense. It wasn’t quite what she’d intended, but it was a start. If he respected her, she could perhaps persuade him to give Mulder another chance.

Mulder didn’t look up when Scully came in. He was sprawled on the bed, surrounded by files, studying them intently.

“Are you okay , Mulder?”

Mulder looked up. “This is really interesting, Scully. Look at this.”

Scully made no move to look at the proffered file. “I’m sorry about what happened down there – about what I said when Newman arrived. I know how important it was to you to make a good impression.”

Mulder shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. You just broke the ice – so I didn’t have to bother being on my best behaviour all evening. It was a relief not to have to pretend. How long do you think I’d have been able to keep up that sceptical, by-the-book pose?”

Scully was grateful for his attempt to lessen her guilt, but she knew how important it had been to get Newman’s approval. Although she hoped their conversation in the car had brought Mulder out of his depression, she knew that his emotions were still precariously balanced. Right now the last thing he needed was criticism from someone like Newman.

“When you left the table I thought you were mad at me,” she said.

“No. Sorry.” Mulder sounded vague, but it wasn’t the frightening vagueness she’d heard earlier that day when he was deep in depression. Instead, it was a vagueness she’d heard many times before, whenever anything attempted to distract him from a case he was interested in. “I really did want to look at these files,” Mulder continued, confirming her diagnosis of his mood. “Newman wants me to do a profile as soon as possible, but I can’t do that unless I know all the details. But now I’ve seen them …..”

“You think it’s possession,” Scully said, dully. The excitement in his eyes had already told her what to expect, dashing her hopes of an easy resolution of the tension with Newman. Now Mulder had decided on the possession theory it would take all her skills of diplomacy to make the case tolerable.

Mulder opened his mouth to assail her with countless facts and explanations, but she held up a hand to stop him. “Mulder, right now all I want is a shower. I can’t face your ideas until I feel clean.”

~&~&~&~

Scully took a deep breath and knocked on the connecting door to Mulder’s room, setting her face in the “Mulder, you can not be serious” look she adopted whenever he was carried away by his theories. She’d enjoyed a long and leisurely shower, revelling in the feeling of being clean and warm. Knowing Mulder, it wouldn’t be long before she’d be cold, wet and muddy, drowning in a swamp of crazy theories.

There was no answer.

Scully bit her lip with concern, scared that Mulder had pulled one of his disappearing tricks. Many a time he’d rushed off without warning, investigating on a whim. He didn’t usually leave her behind deliberately, but when he got intrigued by something nothing else mattered to him. He probably forgot she existed, just as he seemed to forget his own safety.

She knocked again, reluctant to open the door uninvited. Although they never locked the door between their rooms, they always waited for permission before entering. Scully knew that Mulder would never walk in on her unless she was ready. She’d often wondered how many other women would get undressed knowing there was only an unlocked door between herself and a man she wasn’t involved with.

When there was still no answer, she pushed the door open and crept in, calling his name to alert him to her presence. Her heart was beating fast. She wondered what she feared most – finding Mulder gone or finding him in the middle of undressing. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks. She’d never expected the sight which now greeted her eyes.

Mulder was lying on the bed – fast asleep.

Scully tiptoed over to his side and gently removed the files which still surrounded him. Then she went over to the closet and took out a spare blanket and covered him with it. It was a cold night, and she didn’t want him to wake up later, feeling cold. She lingered for a while by his bedside, looking down at him as he slept. She’d seen Mulder looking angry, excited, intrigued, teasing and concerned. She’d seen him looking sad or in pain many more times than she’d have liked. But she’d seldom seen him looking so peaceful. Lying asleep, his eyes shut and his muscles relaxed, he looked untroubled by the suffering which so often haunted him when he was awake. She reached out a hand to stroke his hair, tousled by the pillow, but drew back, scared that she’d wake him. She knew he’d scarcely slept in the last week, troubled as he had been with guilt and self-doubt. Seeing him so soundly asleep she knew that these demons had been laid to rest, at least for the moment. She wasn’t so naive as to believe they would never return.

Feeling strangely reluctant to go back to her empty room, Scully sat down in Mulder’s chair and started to read the files.

~&~&~&~

November 12th 1995

Mulder felt safe. During the night, roused to half-wakefulness by a some sneaking worry that insinuated itself into his dreams, he had suddenly felt that Scully was near him and would keep him safe. Comforted by this thought, although the small part of himself that was awake knew it must be a dream, he had rolled over, calm sleep reclaiming him until morning.

It was only when he woke up and found himself covered by a blanket that he knew that it hadn’t been a dream. Scully had looked after him at night, and now she was near him still. Small sounds of her presence reached his ears through the half-open connecting door – the squeak of her closet door …. her footsteps across the room …. a snatch of a song hummed under her breath and then suddenly cut off with a guilty start. He lay still, listening to Scully in the darkness, pulling the blanket closer around his body. Her song brought a smile to his lips. Scully seldom sang – and never when she thought anyone would hear her. Recently, she hadn’t been singing at all, her music smothered by the grief she’d had to bear over the past months. Eloquent as she had been in her reassurances in the car the previous day, her song spoke clearer than words. The concerns about Scully’s happiness that had threatened to overwhelm him in her absence were gradually being laid to rest by her presence.

Her footsteps sounded across the room, and stopped outside the door. “Mulder?” Her voice was quiet. She obviously expected him to be asleep for she tiptoed in, without allowing time for a reply.

Mulder smiled at her, still too tired to track down the right words for a greeting. Scully started when she saw he was awake, but then she smiled and came over to the side of his bed, asking him how he’d slept.

Mulder’s mind, still slow from sleep, wrestled with the unusual situation. Scully was never up before him. She used to joke how he’d already run half the length of the state and read twenty X-files before she got up, even though she’d had a reputation at College as an early riser. It suddenly crossed his mind that something must be wrong.

“What’s the matter, Scully?” he asked, sharply. He was suddenly fully awake. “What’s happened? Why are you up so early?”

Scully laughed. “What’s the matter, Mulder?” She echoed his words, her voice grave with mock-concern. “Why are you in bed so late?”

Mulder rolled over and groped for his travel clock, struggling to focus in the semi-darkness. It was 9 o’clock, although the thick velvet curtains made the room as dark as early dawn. He looked at Scully in surprise, suddenly noticing for the first time that she had her shoes and coat on.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To the hospital.”

Mulder threw off the blanket and was out of bed in one quick movement, grabbing Scully by the shoulders and looking intensely into her eyes. “What’s the matter?” he asked her, in a sudden panic, reproaching himself for his selfishness. While he’d been lying in bed, taking comfort from the fact that Scully had been looking after him, he’d neglected to look after her.

Scully smiled at his concern. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just going to talk to Steve Rogers, the boyfriend of the second victim. His doctor just called to say he was asking to speak to us.” Mulder continued to grip her shoulders, struggling to control his breathing, and Scully’s smile suddenly faded. “I’m sorry, Mulder. I didn’t mean to worry you.” She looked at him with concern, evidently disturbed by the strength of his reaction.

Mulder took a step back, rubbing a hand over his forehead, suddenly ashamed by his over-reaction. He shook his head, struggling to banish the image that flashed up before his eyes when Scully mentioned “hospital” – an image of Scully, tiny and vulnerable in a hospital bed and barely recognisable under a mass of tubes, dying because of him. He took a deep breath, forcing his mind back to present.

“Have they found the missing woman yet?” he asked.

“No, but our caller made contact again last night. He said the body has been thrown out with the garbage, but he didn’t say where.”

“That’s strange.” Mulder’s mind was fully on the case now. “Why wouldn’t he know where she was? It doesn’t fit, Scully.”

He rushed across to the files, anxious to reassess the evidence in light of this new information, but Scully interrupted him. “I’ve got to go, Mulder.”

Mulder looked at the files, then at Scully, and made up his mind quickly. “I’m coming too,” he said, reaching for his shoes. He suddenly realised that Scully had been planning to go out without waking him up, and he froze, staring at her reproachfully. “Why didn’t you wake me?” he asked, unable to keep the irritation from his voice.

“You needed the sleep, Mulder. I know how little sleep you’ve had recently.” Scully showed no signs of remorse. “I was going to leave a note,” she added, waving a piece of paper.

Mulder opened his mouth to object, but stopped himself in time. It was true that he’d needed sleep. Never a good sleeper even at the best of times, he’d found it virtually impossible to sleep while Scully had been away. If he was honest with himself, he had to admit that he’d have acted exactly the same as Scully had, had the situation been reversed. No, he thought, with a sudden stab of guilt. Had the situation been reversed he’d probably not even have left a note.

He smiled, silently apologising for his irritation, and hastened to get ready to accompany Scully to the hospital.

“You shouldn’t skip breakfast,” said Scully, in her best doctorly tones, but her eyes belied her tone of voice. She looked glad that he was coming with her.

~&~&~&~

Mulder shifted uncomfortably, aware of the man’s resentful eyes boring into him. He desperately tried to move out of the way, but any movement earned him a stern glare from Newman. Newman had stopped them as they were about to leave, calling them back into the foyer to join the rest of the team as he briefed them for their day’s campaign. “Be careful! We don’t know who’s listening,” he warned them, as he proceeded to brief them in a voice scarcely above a whisper. The other agents were forced to huddle in close just to hear their instructions. As Newman, with a supreme lack of consideration for others, insisted on standing right next to the door, the small knot of agents caused a major obstruction in the cramped foyer. Mulder was jammed up against the reception desk, barely inches away from a newly arrived guest who was clearly furious at having to give his personal details with a stranger at his elbow. Mulder tried to catch his eye to smile an apology, but the man’s attention had been recalled by the receptionist. He turned the smile on Scully instead, but she was staring at Newman with rapt attention on her face, seemingly gripped by his every word.

Mulder let his thoughts wander as Newman’s voice droned on and on. Suddenly the sound of his name recalled him to the present, and he listened while Newman explained that he and Scully were going to the hospital while the others searched for the body. Mulder scowled. He’d known this already. They could have been half way there if Newman hadn’t recalled them to tell them the obvious. Next to him Scully was nodding eagerly, accepting their instructions like a starry-eyed novice. Seeing Newman smile as he caught her eye, Mulder suddenly realised what game Scully was playing and was filled with gratitude. He looked straight at Newman, whose smile was instantly replaced by a look of cold disdain. Scully was clearly fighting a lost cause.

~&~&~&~

Mulder couldn’t suppress a shiver as they entered the hospital. The image of Scully on the point of death still hovered at the fringes of his consciousness and every hospital smell and sound brought with it unwelcome memories. Scully strode ahead, unaffected by the atmosphere. She seemed to positively thrive on the smell of antiseptic and drugs. Sometimes doctors didn’t seem quite natural.

Scully always seemed to know her way through any hospital as if by instinct, and she effortlessly tracked down the boy’s doctor.

“I’m not happy with this.” The doctor looked at them coldly as Scully introduced herself and Mulder. “He’s suffered a serious head injury, as you know, and has lost his girlfriend in the most traumatic of circumstances. The last thing he needs right now is to be interrogated. Can’t you people leave him alone?”

“Dr Rhodes,” said Scully, undeterred by her hostility. “Why did you call us this morning?” From her tone of voice it was obvious she already knew the answer.

“Because Steve wanted me to,” admitted the doctor, grudgingly. “But as his doctor I have a better idea than he has of what’s good for him. It would have been better had I ignored his request.” Her tone was arrogant, though Mulder realised she was simply speaking out of concern for her patient.

“Dr Rhodes,” said Mulder, seeing that Scully, irritated by the doctor’s attitude, was about to deliver a sharp reply. “We’ll be careful. We’re here to help him. We certainly don’t suspect him of any crime. The boy’s been through a terrible ordeal – waking from a coma to find that his girlfriend’s been murdered. Nothing can bring her back, but by talking to us he might be able to help us find the murderer – to save someone else’s life. I think that’s probably the only comfort he has in this situation.”

Dr Rhodes nodded grudgingly, recognising the truth of Mulder’s words and soothed by his placatory tone, and led them down the corridor. “Don’t get your hopes up,” she said, quietly, pausing at the door of Steve’s room. “He can’t remember anything.”

She opened the door, signalling to them to stay back until she’d prepared Steve for their entry. “Steve?” she said, quietly. Mulder saw Scully’s expression soften as she heard the doctor’s evident concern. “Agents Mulder and Scully from the FBI are here to talk to you. Do you want to see them?” They couldn’t hear the boy’s response, but Dr Rhodes returned to the door and beckoned them in.

Steve Rogers looked much older than his sixteen years, his face ravaged with grief. He looked up sharply when they came in, wincing as he moved his head. Scully sat down beside his bed, her face full of concern, and gasped suddenly when Steve reached out and grabbed her wrist. “Have you caught him yet?” he asked, his eyes dark with intent. Scully shook her head sadly and his head fell back on the pillow, his eyes closing with despair.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other, unsure how to proceed. While they needed every bit of information they could yet, they were mindful of Dr Rhodes, who watched her patient like a hawk, ready to eject them if they caused him any more distress.

Scully broke the silence first, speaking in her most soothing voice. “We’re doing everything we can to catch him. I know it’s very upsetting to talk about it, but anything you can remember, however unimportant it seems to you right now, might help us find him.”

Steve looked at her in anguish. “I can’t help you!” he shouted, his eyes wild. “I can’t remember anything. The last thing I remember I was picking Jennie up from her house. She’d just had her hair cut, and looked so beautiful ….. I never told her how beautiful she was.” He was crying now. Dr Rhodes took a step forward, as if to escort them from the room, but Steve took a deep breath and carried on, struggling to keep his voice calm.

“It was cold – we weren’t going far. They said it was going to rain soon. Everyone thought we were crazy to go for walks at winter, but she loves….” he paused again, then continued. “She loved being outside. She wasn’t like some of the other girls, only concerned about how they looked. “Will you bring her back by eleven?” her Dad said, as we left. I got on well with her parents. They trusted me to look after her. But I didn’t. I lost her! They trusted me and I let him kill her….” His voice trailed off, choked by sobs, but suddenly he sat up again, and shouted hoarsely. “Why didn’t he kill me instead? Why her?” Tears were pouring down his face now. Scully’s face was white as he gripped her wrists, staring into her face with tormented eyes as he shouted his questions.

“It’s not your fault,” said Scully, firmly, as Dr Rhodes rushed to the other side of the bed.

“How do you know?” Steve shouted, his voice harsh with accusation. “You don’t know what happened out there. What if I was too scared to defend her? What if we’d argued and I left her out there in the dark? What if another girl dies because I can’t remember the murderer’s face? You don’t know anything. How can you say it’s not my fault?”

Mulder could feel Scully’s eyes on him, silently imploring him to join in and help her comfort the tormented boy. He struggled to find the right words – any words – but Scully’s face was swimming in front of his eyes. “It’s all my fault! I didn’t look after her!” The boy’s words rang through his mind, but the boy on the bed was no longer Steve, and the missing girl no longer Jennie. Mulder shook his head, struggling to banish the familiar images from his mind – images he’d spent half his life longing to remember and the rest of the time wishing he could forget. “You lost someone too,” said a treacherous little voice in his mind, as Steve’s grief surrounded him. “You betrayed a parent’s trust too,” it said, as Steve cried for the grief of Jennie’s parents. “It was all your fault,” it shouted, as Mulder was forced yet again to watch, paralysed, as another body in another room lifted slowly into the air and disappeared. “It was all my fault!” The words were shouted, although Mulder didn’t think he had opened his mouth. He opened his eyes, dragging himself back to the present, desperately trying to keep his mind focused on the scene in front of him, where Scully and Dr Rhodes desperately tried to soothe the boy who was now incoherent with grief.

Slowly the boy’s breathing returned to normal, and he looked at Scully, making a visible effort to pull himself together. “I’m sorry,” he said, wearily. “I don’t know why I asked you to come here. Everybody else has been so careful – scared to talk about it in case it upsets me.” He laughed, mirthlessly. “As if talking about it could upset me any more. I think about it all the time. I suppose I hoped that ….. that if someone asked the right questions, somehow it would all come flooding back …. I guess I was wrong.”

“It’s very common for people who’ve received severe head injuries to forget what happened immediately before the incident,” said Scully. “Most of the amnesia usually fades in time.”

“I want to remember,” said Steve. “Since I woke up, I’ve spent every second trying to force my memory to come back. But I’m scared, too. I’m scared of what …. horrors my memory might be hiding.”

Scully nodded in sympathy, not offering any comfort, her eyes lowered. Mulder knew that she felt the same about the gaps in her own memory – desperate to find out what had happened to her in her missing time, but at the same time sure that remembering would bring nothing but pain. He could barely suppress a shudder as he saw again the picture of Scully dying in hospital after her reappearance. He tried to force the image away, but instead Scully seemed to move, opening her pain-drenched eyes and staring at him accusingly. “This was your fault too,” her eyes told him, and he could only nod in agreement as she slipped away from him, dying with his name on her lips.

“Mulder!”

Mulder rubbed his hand over his eyes, wiping away the image of Scully’s reproachful eyes. She was still staring at him when he opened his eyes again, but her look was full of concern. She was still in a hospital room, but it was Steve’s, not hers, and she was standing next to him, touching his sleeve.

“Mulder, Dr Rhodes thinks it’s time we left.” Scully didn’t let go of his sleeve and half-dragged him out of the room. “Are you okay?” she asked, as soon as they were out of earshot.

Mulder nodded absently, but didn’t say anything. Scully respected his silence until they were outside the hospital when she caught him by the arm and turned him to face her.

“Look, Mulder,” she said. “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But it doesn’t take a psychic to work out what you were thinking back there.”

Mulder said nothing, and Scully heaved a sigh. “Mulder, I don’t want to push, but this concerns me too – and affects the case. Have you any idea what you looked like back there?” Mulder said nothing, and Scully carried on relentlessly. “You didn’t hear me when I spoke to you. You looked like you were going to faint – either that or start crying. You know what that boy has gone through. The only thing that gives him any hope is the fact that we’re doing all we can to track the killer. He needs to know that we are competent and in control. I can only hope that he was too overwhelmed by his own feelings to notice what you were doing.”

She sounded exasperated, but her voice suddenly softened when he made no attempt to defend himself. “Mulder,” she said, reaching out and touching his arm. “Do you want to talk about it again?”

Mulder nodded, remembering the relief he’d felt the previous day when Scully had forced him to talk, and desperately sought the right words to explain what he’d felt in the hospital. But he couldn’t find the words. “Again,” he thought suddenly, playing back Scully’s last words. “Again.” The word sounded in his head like a hammer blow. In a sudden flash of inspiration he fancied he saw right into her mind. “Not again!” she was thinking, impatiently. “Will he ever stop going on about his sister all the time? It all happened years ago. Why doesn’t he just pull himself together and get on with his life.”

He recognised the truth of her complaints. Not a day went by without him thinking about Samantha. Whenever they investigated a case involving a missing girl he saw his sister, the dagger of guilt stabbing deeper as he relived the past again and again. He’d never thought before how predictable he was – how boring it must be to Scully. “She’s heard it all before. She doesn’t want to know.” The thought bought tears to his eyes and made his breath catch in his throat. He shook his head, rejecting her help without a smile, and said nothing.

He saw the hurt in Scully’s eyes as she turned away, and he was suddenly filled with guilt for thinking ill of her. He knew Scully would never turn her back on him when he needed her. He knew she sincerely wanted to help -wanted to share his grief about his sister yet again, even though it was a wound that she could never hope to heal. And now he’d hurt her by rejecting her offers of help. He tried to speak – to undo the harm he’d done by his thoughts – but she had her back to him now. “She doesn’t want to know.” The thought came back, more insistent than before. “No! That’s not true!” he told himself, but even as he knew it was false, part of his mind was sure that it was true.

His hand, half outstretched to touch Scully’s shoulder, fell back, and the words wouldn’t come.

They walked to the car in silence.

~&~&~&~

Scully swore, hitting the steering wheel with her fist in a sudden outburst of fury. Some people just shouldn’t be on the road, she thought, glaring her hatred at the back of the blue car which cruised along in front, oblivious to her malevolent thoughts. It had badly cut her up while overtaking, but, once past, had dramatically slowed its pace, driving stolidly in the middle of the road. Suddenly convinced that it was now blocking her deliberately, Scully reached out to give a furious blast on the horn, but she stopped her hand just in time. Probably just some tourist enjoying a leisurely Sunday, she told herself, recognising the injustice of her anger. She sent a silent apology to the innocent victim of her displaced frustration and glanced sideways at her passenger. He had been silent since they left the hospital, and was still turned away from her, immobile except for the compulsive clenching and unclenching of his hands in his lap.

“Mulder!” She wanted to appeal to him – to reach over and shake him until he confided in her – but pride stopped her, and his name merely echoed silently in her mind. Not that he’d have answered her if she had spoken, she thought, bitterly. Tears pricked her eyes at the memory of their conversation outside the hospital – if it could be called a conversation at all, considering that Mulder hadn’t found a single word to say to her. She’d offered him help, sincerely wanting to share the burden of the old grief that wouldn’t leave him, but he’d rejected her. That in itself was nothing new. Mulder was never one to talk about his problems, preferring to brood over them in solitary torment, letting no-one else close enough to share them. But after yesterday …. Yesterday he’d shared more than she’d ever hoped, and even he had admitted that talking to her had helped. But this morning it had all been forgotten. He’d been so curt, merely turning away without a word of explanation – not even the “I’m fine, Scully,” which was his normal reply to her anxious enquiries – an answer which, although she never believed it, at least acknowledged her concern.

It hadn’t been easy for her in the hospital either, she thought, bitterly. Beneath her sleeves her wrists still throbbed with the intensity of Steve’s grip, and she could still see the grief-stricken eyes which had bored into her soul, fierce with self-accusation. Interviewing people bereaved by violent crime was never pleasant, but the naked intensity of the boy’s suffering had affected her deeply. She’d had to fight to keep her voice steady -to provide reassurances where she knew there were none.

But then she’d glanced up and seen Mulder. His face was grey, his eyes glittering with unshed tears, his mind seemingly oblivious to her presence. As she’d watched he’d seemed to sway on his feet, his mouth opening slightly as if he was about to speak. Then Steve shouted again, forcing her attention back to the patient, but her mind was racing – what to do if Mulder collapsed – if he cried out – if he didn’t respond when addressed. So far Dr Rhodes’s attention was focused on her patient, and Steve was oblivious to anything but his own grief, but even they would notice if Mulder went any further. She’d focused all her strength – talked the boy into some semblance of calm – distracted attention from Mulder’s behaviour – finally dragged him out of the room like a puppy on a leash. But it had left her exhausted.

She drove into the hotel parking lot and stopped the engine, relaxing back into the seat with a sigh. The blue car had pulled in before her, the driver smiling at her as he walked towards the hotel, and she managed a wan smile in return.

Mulder made no attempt to open the door. Scully looked at him again, her resentment evaporating. He’d turned his face towards her now, although his eyes didn’t see her, and she was suddenly struck by how young he looked – like a hurt little boy. Like the hurt little boy who’d lost his sister every day in his mind for over twenty years. She was filled with remorse for resenting his grief. Although it was so predictable, so oft-repeated, she knew it was as intense for him now as it had ever been. Of course, she’d always known how important his sister’s loss was to him – how pivotal it was to everything that made him what he was. She could never forget that Okobogee case. He’d frightened her with his intensity then. “I’ve been living with it every day of my life,” he’d told her, but she hadn’t really fully understood until that terrible night on the bridge. Terrified, shaking, cowering in the car, she’d suddenly realised that nothing she’d gone through could equal the torment she’d seen in his eyes after his sister – the woman he believed to be his sister – had plunged to her death.

“Mulder.” Her voice was gentle as she touched him on the shoulder, overwhelmed by the memory of what he’d suffered to rescue her then.

He looked at her, his eyes really seeing her, his body moving closer to her touch. “Scully.” His voice cracked, tears threatening to choke his words. “Scully, I……”

The harsh ringing of the phone interrupted his words, making Scully shout in sudden frustration as she reached into her coat for the offending object.

“Yes!” she snapped, furious at whoever it was who’d interrupted Mulder’s attempt to confide in her.

“Agent Scully?” The caller sounded doubtful, evidently taken aback by her tone.

Scully took a deep breath, forcing the anger down. There was nothing to be gained by taking it out on some unwitting caller. “Yes,” she said, with exaggerated calm.

“This is Agent Newman.” She’d given him her number over breakfast. “Have you finished with that kid yet?” Scully bridled, remembering Steve’s grief, annoyed at hearing him described as “that kid”, but kept the irritation from her voice, remembering in time that she mustn’t offend Newman, for Mulder’s sake.

“Yes sir,” she replied, in her best respectful tone. “We’ve just come back to the hotel. Mulder’s going to start on his profile.” Mulder was in no state to do anything of the kind, but Scully was certainly not going to mention this fact to Newman.

“They’ve found the woman.” Newman’s tone made it clear that she was dead. “Can you get there straight away?”

“Yes, sir. Do you want Mulder too?” She hoped Mulder could be spared the sight of the murdered woman, but even as she asked she knew she was hoping in vain. Even Newman, with his intense dislike of Mulder, had to admit that he was needed at the scene. Careful study of the crime scene often gave Mulder his best insights into the mind of a killer.

Scully waited until Newman had given directions to the crime scene, then put the phone away, turning to face Mulder. He was looking into the distance again, and she had to call his name twice before he would look at her.

“Mulder,” she said, when she was sure she had his attention. “Newman wants us.” She implored him with his eyes to pull himself together, not daring to be so blunt as to say as much in words.

Mulder made a visible effort to focus. “Newman?” he asked, looking confused. Scully doubted that he’d even been aware of her phone call. She wondered what he’d been thinking – what thoughts had been so overwhelming as to swamp his normally keen senses. She’d never seen him so absent before. Normally he missed nothing.

Scully quickly told him the content of Newman’s call. Mulder kept his eyes on her all the time, his brow furrowed with concentration. But at least he asked questions, and remembered facts from the files he’d read the previous night.

He continued to speak about the case throughout the short journey, scarcely pausing for breath and never letting Scully get a word in. Normally she’d have been irritated, but she recognised it for what it was – a desperate attempt to keep his mind on the case in hand. He seemed to be shaking off the cloud that had lowered over him ever since the hospital, but Scully knew, with a dreadful certainty, that it was only a lull in the storm.

~&~&~&~

Scully stopped dead in her tracks, shutting her eyes while she took a deep breath to steady herself. Despite the numerous murder scenes she’d attended over the years, her initial reaction was still as strong as ever, although she had learned to cover it with a mask of unruffled professionalism. The young police officer who hovered protectively over the scene, his face clenched with emotion, would have seen no more than a momentary flicker on the composure of her face.

There was something she found particularly disturbing about this particular murder. True, she had seen bodies in a far worse condition than Ellie Benton’s. The woman’s body, though marred by numerous cuts and bruises, was relatively intact and her face was unscarred. But it was the manner of its disposal that quickened Scully’s breathing and made her fists clench in mingled horror and anger. The anonymous caller had been right. The woman had been thrown out as garbage – her half-naked body smeared with the detritus of other people’s lives. Perhaps it was irrational to be so bothered by it – the simple fact of murder being of such enormity that what happened to the remains afterwards should perhaps pale into insignificance. It was naive to expect a murderer to show any respect to a person after death when he’d shown them no respect in life. But to treat her like garbage…. The sight made Scully’s skin crawl with disgust.

She stood still, eyes riveted on the scene, as the swelling mass of people rushed round in a frenzy of activity, taking photographs and cordoning off the area round the body. The woman had been dumped in a small yard behind a clinic, and had been found barely half an hour previously by a doctor making an unscheduled visit to a building that would otherwise have been empty until Monday. The main search party had been out of town at the time, so Mulder and Scully, alerted by Newman as soon as he’d received the news, had been among the first to arrive at the scene.

“I hope he burns in Hell for this!” Scully started at the vehement exclamation. Caught up in her horror of the scene, she’d been unaware of the approach of the man who now stood at the shoulder. Newman made no effort to hide his emotion. Disgust and hatred were written all over his face.

The young officer, his face still ashen, looked up in surprise, clearly unused to see such a reaction from an obviously seasoned federal agent.

“No,” said Newman, sadly, seeing his expression. “You never get used to it. You mustn’t get used to it. Lose your revulsion and you lose your edge – your determination to do everything in your power to bring such a monster to justice – to save other people from …. from this.” Scully was surprised by this confession, realising she’d underestimated Newman when she’d judged him merely by his hostility to Mulder. He was basically a good agent, uncomplicated and gruffly honest – too gruffly honest for Mulder’s good.

Her attention distracted from the body by Newman’s interruption, Scully felt a sudden wave of worry. Mulder. How was Mulder taking this? If she’d found it disturbing, there was no saying what it might be doing to Mulder, given his present mood. So wrapped up had she been in her own reactions to the scene that she’d not given a thought to what Mulder might be going through – had made no move to offer the support that he might need. She turned round, quickly scanning the now-crowded yard. She couldn’t see Mulder at first, but then a large officer moved to one side and there he was, deep in earnest conversation with the doctor who’d discovered the body. His brow was furrowed, his knuckles white, but he was focused on the scene, not lost on some terrible reflection. He looked up suddenly, meeting her gaze, and his eyes flashed the faintest of smiles. Scully expelled a great breath, feeling the tension rush out of her body, relaxing muscles she only now realised she’d been holding in aching tension.

Scully resisted the urge to go over to Mulder – to exchange the unspoken mutual support with which they could always provide each other. In a strange way, she felt that Ellie Benton needed her as much as Mulder did. She was filled with an intense reluctance to abandon the poor half-naked woman to the impersonal gaze of the police and agents who milled all over the scene, measuring, photographing and taking samples. Newman seemed to share her feeling for he also hovered over the body, pacing impatiently as the police took their time. Scully knew that, despite appearances, his impatience derived merely from a deep distaste for allowing the woman to stay in such a disrespectful position.

“Agent Scully?” Newman’s voice held no trace of the scorn which filled it when he spoke to Mulder. “I understand you’re a pathologist?” Scully nodded, knowing what he was going to request. She’d have requested the autopsy herself, had Newman not spoken first, having resolved to do anything she could to find the person who could treat human life like garbage – who could inflict such grief as she’d seen in the hospital.

After the body had been moved, Scully walked over to Mulder’s side. “I’m going back,” she told him, gesturing back to the ambulance onto which Ellie’s body was being loaded.

Mulder was slow to react, but his eyes weren’t absent this time but focused above her head, gazing intently at something behind her. It was humanly impossible to resist turning round to see what he was looking at, and she noticed for the first time how many cars had gathered -passers-by hoping for a nice grisly murder to brighten up their Sunday morning. She grimaced, her face mirroring Mulder’s expression, wondering how people could voluntarily look at violent death and even derive a horrified pleasure from the spectacle.

When she turned back, Mulder was looking at her, waiting for her to speak. “I don’t know how long I’ll be,” she told him. “You know how long it can take to get through the formalities on these things.”

Mulder nodded his comprehension. “I’ll stay here,” he said. “See if I can find anything useful.” He looked at her and his eyes alert and no longer drowning in some terrible introspection. “I’m okay, Scully,” he said, answering her unspoken question. “I’ll call you.”

Scully didn’t think he was lying, but couldn’t stop herself glancing back anxiously as the ambulance drew away from the scene. She caught just a glimpse of him before he disappeared out of site, heading for the place the body had been found. She couldn’t see his face, but his step was firm, which she took as a good sign. But she was painfully aware of what had happened last time she’d dared to hope that everything would be fine.

~&~&~&~

“What is it, Mulder?”

Mulder could have cheerfully throttled Gardiner, whose resemblance to a doting puppy was undimmed by his three years’ experience in the FBI. As if some invisible trainer had ordered “heel!”, Gardiner had trotted along in Mulder’s wake ever since Scully and Newman had left, asking constant questions. Mulder felt he only had to breathe a little more audibly than normal for Gardiner to look at him, eyes shining, expecting to receive news of a break-through. Mulder supposed he should be touched by the man’s manifest admiration – a rare thing indeed to be found amongst Mulder’s peers – but he was beginning to find it exceedingly irritating. He was almost tempted to make up some evidence, and use it to support some untenable theory, just to see if there was any limit to his disciple’s blind faith in him.

“Sir! We’ve already looked there!” There was only a small police presence left on the scene now, but the declining numbers only served to increase the territorialism of the officers who remained. Mulder’s thorough re-examination of the whole scene was ruffling feathers, with one officer in particular bridling at what he perceived as Mulder’s implicit imputation of incompetence.

Mulder, with long experience of the petty jealousies that could arise in law enforcement, ignored the objection, but Gardiner leapt to his defence. “He’s very good,” he said, in a confiding whisper. “He knows you’ve done all you should, but he’s not like the rest of us – he looks at things differently. He’s solved lots of cases that no-one else could make anything of by conventional ways of thinking.”

Mulder was amused by the hushed reverence of Gardiner’s tone, but the officer seemed mollified. Mulder had to give Gardiner credit where it was due. He certainly had a more constructive attitude to local law enforcement than Mulder had. Mulder freely admitted that his own single-mindedness when on a case was to blame for many an outbreak of tension with the local police. He kept on resolving to be more tactful, but when engrossed on a case all his good intentions were always forgotten.

He crouched down and let his eyes wander across the yard, deliberately not focusing, subordinating sense to thought and inspiration. Just out of sight cars passed on the busy road, some of them still slowing in hope of a snatched glance of something newsworthy. Mulder tried to shut out their ever-present roar, but then checked himself, willingly absorbing their noise, his mind chasing a new chain of thought. He jumped up and grabbed the officer he’d so nearly offended, subjecting him to a torrent of questions which he answered confidently. Yes, there was considerable traffic on the road, even at night. Yes, there was an automatic security light at the entrance to the clinic. Yes, there was a security video covering the entrance to the yard – that was being studied even now back at headquarters – a tedious task but one that would very likely show them their murderer, who’d slipped up when he’d overlooked the discreet camera. No – this after a few minutes’ investigation, and with considerably less confidence in his tone – the camera didn’t cover all the place where the body had been found. No, this part of the yard wasn’t illuminated and was invisible from the road.

Mulder scanned the yard, seeking an alternative entry. Most of the yard, usually used as a parking lot, was beside the clinic, but a small strip continued behind the clinic, unlit and unused, except for dumping and storage. It was here that the body had been left – a place inaccessible except through the car park – unless one was prepared to push through a six-foot high thorny hedge, which provided the boundary of the yard. It was upon this hedge that Mulder focused his attention, scanning its whole length until he saw what he was looking for. As always, the world narrowed until he saw nothing but the thing he’d seen, his attention never leaving it for a second as he walked across the yard, oblivious to Gardiner’s questions.

It was a gap. No, hardly a gap – more an area where the hedge just wasn’t quite right. Careful not to step too close for fear of disturbing footprints, Mulder could see that branches were bent and broken, as if someone had pushed their way through. Although the branches had sprung back into their former positions, they no longer appeared quite natural. Mulder crouched down, scooping up the hem of his long coat to keep it from the mud. The ground was still thick with last night’s rain -glistening like chocolate in the watery sun which struggled through the massing clouds. For a moment it seemed to Mulder as if it was glistening with blood, but that was probably only in his imagination. He moved along the hedge and pushed his way through, shielding his face with his arms, his body protected by his thick winter coat. The hedge was reluctant to let him through, but when he persisted it proved less of a barrier than it had looked, allowing him to reach the other side unscathed.

Beyond the hedge was a park, although it was scarcely worthy of being called by that name. It was little more than an uncultivated area of wasteland behind the back of houses and offices, and was empty, even on Sunday afternoon, apart from a few dejected dog owners trudging through the mud with their exuberant pets. A hard concrete path, just wide enough for a car, ran around the perimeter of the park – a surface upon which a car would leave no permanent tracks, even in rain.

Anxious not to disturb the scene more than was necessary, Mulder retraced his steps, once again engaging the thorns in battle. They met with more success this time, and he nearly fell when a persistent thorn grabbed hold of his coat, jerking him off balance and causing his feet the slip on the mud. He flailed his arms, trying to recover, and managed to stay on his feet, although only by grabbing hard onto a very thorny branch which dug into his right palm, drawing blood and making him gasp with the sudden pain.

Gardiner was hovering on the other side, awaiting instructions, but Mulder looked down at his injured hand and was suddenly unable to find the words. Blood welled up from the gash, and a drop snaked its way across his palm and fell to the ground, mingling with the moist mud, joining the great puddles of blood which were pulsing from the ground as from a gigantic severed artery.

He turned in horror to the yard, but everything was suffused with blood – everyone was drowning in it, their eyes wide with accusation.

Ellie’s tortured eyes screamed the loudest of all. “You let me die!” she cried, raising her death-withered hands and pointing at him, blood pouring from her fingers. “You slept when you could have saved me!” Mulder stared at his hands, but they too were smeared with the blood that covered everything. “How much innocent blood is on your hands?” she continued, relentlessly. “How much more will there be?”

And then there was his father, dead, and his hands were drenched with his father’s blood. “I didn’t kill my father,” he’d told Scully, but his blood was on his hands, and her voice rang in his ears, accusingly. “Had you been arguing?” He’d denied it, but she’d seen the blood on his hands. “He must have done it in cold blood then,” she’d thought, so she’d taken his gun away, and left him alone with the blood.

He could feel her still, shaking his arm, her eyes full of reproach. “Mulder!” He couldn’t face her eyes, but she wouldn’t stop shaking him, calling his name with a voice unrecognisable with emotion. “Scully,” he said, at last, forcing his eyes open, but she wasn’t there.

Gardiner’s face was taut with concern as he shook Mulder’s arm, looking anxiously round the yard for help. There was no blood, except the trickle which snaked down Mulder’s wrist from his cut palm, staining his cuff.

Mulder blinked, and took a deep breath, his eyes dazzled by the sudden return to reality. “I’m okay. I just …. just ….” Suddenly inspired, he found his excuse just in time. “I just felt dizzy for a moment. I missed breakfast.” He looked at his watch as he said this. It was just past 2 o’clock, but he wasn’t hungry.

Scully wouldn’t have been convinced, but Gardiner looked relieved to be offered an explanation he could understand. “You go and get some food,” he urged. “I’ll take over here.” He suddenly faltered, and added, in a less confident tone. “Er.. what do you want me to do?”

“That’s where he brought her through,” said Mulder, pointing to the gap in the hedge, although he avoided looking at the place too closely in case he saw more than mud on the ground. “Get it checked for prints, hair…..” He couldn’t bring himself to say the word “blood” but Gardiner knew what to look for, and set about the task with alacrity, looking relieved to be back on familiar territory.

Confident that everything was under control, Mulder returned to the car. The curious passers-by had given up on seeing anything interesting and had all left – the last one pulling away just as Mulder shut the door behind him. Once out of sight of Gardiner, Mulder allowed his rigid control to relax and sat awhile, his head in his hands, wondering what he should do. “You’ve finally lost it.” The thought pounded in his head, over and over, like a heart-beat. “You’re insane.” “No!” he cried, silently. “It’s memories. Just memories. Nothing to worry about.” But the thought carried little conviction.

Scully. He wanted – no, he needed – to talk to Scully. He’d wanted to talk to her earlier on that terrible journey from the hospital. Drowning in a sea of memories, he’d dragged himself up, focusing on Scully’s presence as the anchor that could keep him from drifting away again. But then he’d seen the look on her face – a look of resentment, even of anger. Knowing that her anger was directed at him, he’d turned away, scared to say the first word. The silence in the car had pressed down on him, stifling his hopes and plunging him into a morass of depression, but silence was infinitely preferable to hearing the words of Scully’s anger. “You’re weak. You can’t run away from the truth.” The words had filled his mind and he’d known it was true – known that he fully deserved Scully’s hatred and that no reproach of hers could equal the self-reproach that already tormented him. But he’d been too cowardly to say anything, scared that any word from him would unleash a torrent of reproach -reproach he couldn’t bear to listen to because he knew he deserved it.

Then her face had softened and she’d turned to him and he’d known in an instant that he’d been wrong – that Scully didn’t hate him, even though he deserved it. He’d nearly told her everything then, but her phone had rung and they’d been called to the crime scene. And then suddenly it hadn’t mattered so much. The memories had become a distant shadow that had still hovered at the fringes of his consciousness but had receded further with every minute, driven out when he put his mind to the case. He hadn’t even had to fight them. He’d even begun to think he didn’t deserve them.

But now they were back – the ghosts of memory which expunged the present and incessantly whispered their treacherous messages. He knew that his one hope was to talk to Scully before they overwhelmed him. He was driving aimlessly now, his mind wandering down the shadowed pathways of memory, his body performing the motions of driving as if on auto-pilot. He was suddenly aware that he’d left town, unconsciously heading out into the woods where he could be alone with his thoughts. Making an effort to focus on the road, he resolved to turn round at the next opportunity. He’d find Scully and talk to her, then everything would be all right and he could concentrate on the case with an uncluttered mind. “It will be okay. Everything will be okay.” He repeated it like a prayer, desperately wanting to believe.

Just as soon as he reached Scully….

Scully was in the middle of an autopsy, swathed in an overall too big for her, her eyes dark with concentration. Suddenly aware of his presence she looked up, frowning with annoyance. “What are you doing here?” Her voice was harsh. “I’m busy. One of us has got to do some work on this case.” She turned back to the body, ignoring him.

“What are you doing to catch him, Mulder?” Mulder looked round, eyes wild, trying to find out who had spoken. Perhaps it was his conscience. “What are you doing to catch the man who did this.” The body was glaring at him from the autopsy slab, her eyes mirroring Scully’s reproach, her voice relentless.

And then Scully joined in, advancing on him, bloody scalpel in hand. “You want to talk?” She reached out a hand, her voice soft and soothing, and he started to nod, accepting her offer of help. “You want to talk?” She was shouting now, her voice full of incredulous contempt, the scalpel glittering in her outstretched hand. “Damn it, Mulder! This is more important than your petty problems. A woman’s dead, and you only want to talk about yourself. You’re so selfish!”

Then Ellie curled up and wept, tears of blood trickling down her face. “They’ll never find him now,” she cried, and couldn’t be comforted. “Look what you’ve done now!” Scully yelled, her eyes sparkling with hate as she screamed at him to get out.

Chilled by her hatred, Mulder clamped his hands over his ears, desperately trying to shut out the sound, but he could still hear the scream. It was positively inhuman now, obliterating the sight of Scully’s hatred, dragging him back to the present – to a present which was full of the sound of a blaring horn and the terrifying sight of a truck bearing down on him. Desperately grabbing the wheel, Mulder wrenched it around, missing a head-on collision by a second as he swerved out of the centre of the road, then wrestling with the wheel with all his strength as the car suddenly skidded out of control, heading straight for the trees.

It seemed like hours before the car finally stopped, leaving Mulder gasping for the breath that had been forced out of him when he was thrown against the safety belt. Deeply shaken, he reached up with a trembling hand, gingerly rubbing his throbbing head. He’d no idea what he’d hit it on during the desperate struggle to avoid a crash when his senses were overwhelmed by a maelstrom of confused impressions. A small trickle of blood snaked into his left eye. He didn’t wipe it away.

A blast of a horn reminded him that he was still blocking the road, but he didn’t know what to do. He knew he wasn’t safe to drive. Overwhelmed by terrible images, he’d wandered into the middle of the narrow road, allowing the truck no space to pass on either side. He’d been lucky to escape with his life, and if it happened again he might not be so lucky. Starting up the engine, he limped the car into the next lay-by and pulled in. “Just for a few minutes. Just until I calm down,” he resolved, and then, still too shaken to put up any resistance, he shut his eyes and surrendered to the darkness.

~&~&~&~

Dana Scully washed the autopsy stench off her hands, wishing it was so easy to remove it from her mind. Then, bending down, she scooped water up in her cupped hands and let it trickle down her face, not caring of it removed her make-up and turned the ends of her hair into rats’ tails. She shut her eyes, savouring the cold cleanliness of the water, but knowing that it could do little to erase the memories of the autopsy she’d just finished. No death was pleasant, but from what she’d just discovered Ellie Benton’s had been truly horrific. Scully’s hand had trembled as she’d held her scalpel, reluctant to subject the poor woman to any further mutilation, wanting only to cover her wounds and lay her to rest. The sight of the cold surgical instrument cutting through the ill-treated flesh would haunt her for a long time.

She glanced at her watch. It was only 4.30, though the autopsy had seemed interminable. Ridgewood’s morgue facilities were generous and apparently not much in demand, so they had been able to schedule the autopsy without delay. She wondered what Mulder was doing. She’d half-hoped that he’d exhaust the potentials of the crime scene and come and join her at the autopsy. He didn’t like the things – who would? – but had often been at her side during autopsies in the past – sometimes out of impatience to get information about some case that had aroused his enthusiasm, but sometimes, she suspected, to provide quiet support to her at a particularly traumatic death.

She considered calling him – even went as far as to half-dial his number – but then thought better of it. It still rankled slightly that he’d withdrawn from her outside the hospital, curtly rejecting her offers of help. Although she was filled with concern about his well-being, she didn’t want to push and risk driving him away. He’d said he’d call her. If she called first he might just see as over-protectiveness and respond with anger. She knew she was probably misjudging him, but Mulder had been so unpredictable these last two days that she didn’t dare risk it. After all, Gardiner was very likely glued to Mulder’s side, and would have called her if anything had gone wrong.

Sighing, she set to work on her report, silently willing the phone to ring, but it remained stubbornly silent.

~&~&~&~

Mulder opened his eyes to darkness.

The heavy shadow of trees lay over the car, cutting out the little light that still remained in the deep dusk of a winter evening. For hours, he’d floundered in a dark swamp of memories and even more terrible imaginings, which had tried to pull him down into the depths from which he wouldn’t return. This time there had been no Scully or Gardiner – not even a deadly truck bearing down on him – to drag him back to reality, and he might have given in entirely had it not been for the insidious cold of the winter’s evening which penetrated him to the bone, rousing him to awareness of reality.

But now the ghosts had left him again, leaving behind nothing but a dull depression which chilled him more than the biting air. He refused to switch on the heater, feeling that only physical discomfort could keep him anchored in the present. He turned on the light for the same reason, hoping to keep his senses alert, but then caught sight of himself in the mirror and plunged himself willingly into darkness again, filled with self-loathing.

He had no idea how long he’d been there, but he knew that it had been far too long. Scully would be worried. With a sudden pang he remembered he’d said he’d call her, and knew he’d let her down yet again. He suddenly longed to hear her voice, even if it was full of justified anger with him for letting him down, but when he tried to use his phone he discovered it was dead. Thinking back into the darkness of the past week, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d recharged its batteries. Throwing it down on the passenger seat, he started the engine, pulling out past another car which had arrived in the lay-by at some point during his stay. He’d not been aware of its arrival. The driver appeared to be asleep. Mulder could only hope that his dreams were peaceful.

He drove back into town, realising belatedly that he had no idea where he’d driven that afternoon. As he cruised the streets, searching for landmarks, he suddenly recognised the crime scene. Without planning to, he stopped the car and got out, his presence activating the security light so that he flinched from the sudden glare.

And then he was suddenly fully alert, his hand unconsciously reaching for his gun. Something else had been roused by the sudden light. It had been nothing but the merest flicker of movement in his peripheral vision, and a whisper of sounds so faint that it might not have been there at all, but the meaning was unmistakable. There was somebody else there – somebody who didn’t want to be discovered.

Mulder silently whipped out his gun, creeping forward stealthily, cursing the security light that deprived him of cover. His every sense was aware that a serial killer could be just yards aware. He’d never had much faith in the old maxim “a murderer always returns to the scene of the crime”, but then he’d been proved wrong over Tooms. He half-smiled at the memory of that case – of Scully openly supporting him over her old friend who’d laughed at him, knowing that she could be harming her promotion prospects by doing so. He’d forgotten he had any happy memories. But then the memory was suddenly not so happy as he remembered again what Scully had suffered as a result of that decision. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, aware that any lapse of concentration could cost him his life.

He supposed he should have called for back-up. Scully had told him again and again, but when an idea took him he just forgot. It was too late now. He couldn’t turn round and expose his back to whoever was waiting around the corner. Even as he reached the limit of the illuminated area he knew he was making a mistake – was walking into a situation where every advantage was on the enemy’s side. He was suddenly aware that a little part of him was glad of this, hoping only that the murderer would kill him quickly. Beating that thought down, he took a deep breath to steady himself, then swung around the corner, finger poised on the trigger as he shouted his presence.

A pair of eyes glittered at him in the darkness as a gunshot rang out in the enclosed yard.

~&~&~&~

It was ten to six – only three minutes later than it had been last time she looked at the clock. The minute hand seemed to be positively crawling around, as if aware of her gaze, but there was still no word from Mulder. Scully was in her hotel room, writing up her own autopsy report and studying the reports on the other two victims, but she was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the work.

A sudden knock at the door made her heart pound with sudden hope. “Come in!” she called, confident that it was Mulder. It was all she could do to stop her smile fading when the door opened to reveal Gardiner.

“Where’s Mulder?” he asked. “Here are the preliminary results of the examinations he asked for.” He gestured to a folder proudly clutched in her hands.

Scully tried to hide her unease. “I don’t know. I thought he was with you.”

Gardiner shook his head. “I haven’t seen him since two o’clock. He went off to get some lunch. He wasn’t feeling too good.”

Without waiting for him to finish his sentence, Scully threw herself across the room, grabbing her phone and dialling his familiar number. “Come on, Mulder. Answer!” she urged him even before she’d finished dialling, but his phone was not responding. She hoped this just meant he’d forgotten to recharge the batteries. She preferred not to contemplate any other explanation.

Gardiner was looking at her in concern, not understanding her worry. Scully was suddenly aware that, to his eyes, she was probably over-reacting. “He’ll be okay,” Gardiner reassured her. “We’d have heard if there had been any road accidents.”

Scully took a deep breath, knowing that he would never understand the terrible fear that gripped her whenever Mulder was late. No-one who hadn’t lived through the sorts of dangers they’d encountered over the last two years could hope to understand the ever-present terror that every parting could be the final one.

She forced herself to be calm, more for her own sake than for his. “He’s probably just found something interesting and lost track of time.” She tried to sound convinced. She knew this was the most likely explanation.

Gardiner looked puzzled, as if still baffled by her recent near-panic. “Does he do this often?” he asked.

Scully couldn’t help but laugh, although it was a grim laugh, with no real humour in it. “Does he do this often?” She could have kept him busy listening for hours if she told him about all the times Mulder did a disappearing trick. Instead she just said “Yes,” in a grim voice, leaving him to wonder.

There was nothing Scully could do but wait.

~&~&~&~

The flash from the gun filled the dark corner of the yard with a sudden light, illuminating the streak of fur which shot across the yard and disappeared under the thorn hedge. The cat had been undeterred by the crime scene tape which still cordoned off the hedge, though it had found few pickings amongst the garbage tonight, as much of it had been removed by the FBI and local police for examination. Mulder cursed out loud, furious at himself for shooting without thought, startled into sudden panic by the cat’s eyes. He was glad he’d missed, though of course his faulty aim didn’t say much for what his survival chances would have been had the eyes really belonged to the murderer. He listened intently, sure that the gunshot would bring the police, tensing when he heard the sound of a car stop nearby, but no-one came.

He stayed still awhile, trying to get into the feel of the place, concentrating on the mind of the murderer. Despite what he’d seen of Ellie Benton’s murder and of Steve Roger’s grief, he couldn’t bring himself to feel hatred for the killer. When he’d been capable of rational thought, he’d wondered several times over the last few days why he was so sure that the killer was possessed. Possession was a term so resonant of horror movies and medieval superstition that he still felt suspicious of the word, despite his experiences with the Calusari.

Now he was at the crime scene he felt no doubt, but also knew, with a terrible certainty, that he was more culpable than the blameless murderer.

He can’t help it. He tries to stop it. But what’s your excuse for hurting people? What are you doing to stop it?”

He sank to the ground, knowing that there was no escape from the relentless questions which hammered in his mind. “Not again!” he cried, as he passed his hand over his eyes. “Leave me alone!”

But the ghosts wouldn’t leave him alone. They showed him Scully dying, Samantha hurting, Scully worried. Scully worried! Even now he was hurting her, and he couldn’t stop. “Who causes the most pain? Him or you?” He knew there was no doubt about the answer – an answer which made him want to retreat into the darkest corner of the yard and never emerge.

~&~&~&~

Scully gave in to her panic at seven o’clock.

She’d struggled to keep her mind on the case, telling herself Mulder would walk in any minute, but she was too haunted by the horrible images prompted by her autopsy report. Every word she wrote brought with it pictures of wounds on an agonised body – but that body was no longer Ellie’s but Mulder’s. Blinking, she struggled to focus on the screen of her laptop, but tears pricked the back of her eyes as she gave into terrible imaginings of Mulder in the hands of that monster.

Rushing out of the door, she ran to Newman’s room, not caring if she looked hysterical, and told him she was going out to search for Mulder. Mulder had the car, so she was dependent on the loan of another agent’s. She was all for calling Skinner before she left, to report Mulder missing, but Newman took her by the shoulders, looking steadily into her face until she calmed herself.

“Agent Scully.” Newman’s voice was calm and slow, as if he was talking to a child. At any other time Scully would have resented his tone as patronising, but right now calm reassurance was what she most needed. “Don’t call anyone. For one thing, it’s Sunday evening and no-one will be there.” Scully had lost all recollection of time. Nothing else mattered but her worry. “Second, there’s not much Washington can do right now even if Mulder is missing. And thirdly, you’ll be very embarrassed when you have to call again later and say he’s just wandered in.” Scully appreciated the use of the word “when.” Newman, despite his dislike of Mulder, was handling the situation well.

Seeing that Scully’s worry was sincere, Newman offered to search himself, urging Scully to stay in the hotel to meet Mulder when – “when”, again – he returned. “I don’t trust myself not to hurt him when he wanders in as if nothing’s happened,” he said, by way of an explanation. Scully knew he was just humouring her – would just drive around a few streets in a perfunctory fashion – but, lacking a car, had to accept his plan. Gardiner also volunteered to search, and Scully smiled her thanks, knowing he’d scour the streets all night, if necessary.

Biting her lip with concern, Scully paced up and down Mulder’s room, waiting.

~&~&~&~

Lost in a sea of dark thoughts, Mulder never heard the heavy footsteps approaching him – didn’t know anything until a hand roughly grabbed his shoulder, pulling him abruptly into the present. Turning, he found himself looking into a pair of eyes that glittered with hatred, even through the dark shadows of the yard.

“Agent Mulder!” Newman’s voice was harsh. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Mulder made no reply, unable to explain himself to Newman – unable even to explain to himself.

“Are you hurt?” Newman’s voice held little real anxiety. Mulder managed to shake his head.

“Then just what are you doing here? What have you been doing all day? Have you written your profile?” Newman was almost shouting, his fingers still digging into Mulder’s shoulders, but his face was changing, his words drowned out by other shouted accusations. “Do you have the tape?” He’d hit Skinner for that question. He hadn’t known why. “You are way out of line, Agent Mulder.” The weight of authority coming down on him whenever he penetrated behind their facade of lies. “The X-Files are closed down.” They’d always wanted to do it. They still wanted to. Older men in superior office – they were always the ones out to get him. Men like Newman….

“Fight him, Mulder.” That wasn’t a memory, but he could still feel the satisfying thump as his fist hit Skinner’s jaw. “Fight him.” “You’re becoming a player.” A grating voice, with a smoke-induced edge – and eyes that looked at him in contempt because they knew he’d not have the nerve to shoot. “You show them, Mulder! Do it!”

“No!” Mulder shouted, lashing out at Newman’s arm, forcing it from his shoulder.

The treacherous memories vanished and he was alone with Newman in the yard.

Newman raised his arm, swinging his fist towards Mulder’s face with a look of fury, but suddenly stopped before the blow had landed. His hands fell to his sides, his fists clenching and unclenching. “There’s nothing I’d like more than to hit you for that, Mulder,” he hissed at last, “but I know what Agent Scully would be upset if you got hurt, and she doesn’t deserve that.”

There was a short silence, broken by Newman. “So, are you going to tell me what you’ve been doing?” he sounded like a stern teacher faced with the class delinquent. “Have you done anything to help on this case? Did you ever stop to think that Agent Scully would worry about you? God knows why. You don’t deserve her.”

Mulder was torn between conflicting emotions. He knew the truth of Newman’s last words. He’d upset Scully. He didn’t deserve her. He knew these thoughts well by now. But at the same time he resented Newman’s accusations, remembering how he’d seemed to personify all that was oppressive and positively dangerous about senior officers.

Resentment won. “I was working!” He was aware that he sounded like a petulant school boy. “I need to feel the atmosphere of the crime scene before I can write a profile.” It sounded like a lame excuse even as he uttered it.

Newman sighed, turning away. “I won’t waste my breath arguing with you, Mulder. Save your excuses for Agent Scully. She’s been so worried about you, and you couldn’t even call her.” He turned back, face blazing with sudden anger, a finger pointing accusingly. “You’re despicable!”

Mulder saw a sudden picture of Scully, her face drawn with worry, choking back tears as she paced up and down his hotel room, and he could only agree. It took all his control to fight back tears himself as he silently followed Newman to the car.

~&~&~&~

Hearing footsteps in the corridor, Scully rushed to the door and flung it open. Newman had called several minutes earlier to say he’d found Mulder. He’d assured her that he was all right, but his voice was grim and she knew there was something he was keeping from her.

“Mulder, are you okay?” she asked before he’d even stepped onto the threshold.

Newman interrupted, harshly. “He’s okay. I found him at the crime scene, not even working. There’s no excuse at all for his behaviour.”

“Thank you, Agent Newman.” Scully was all politeness, but she was desperate for him to go – to leave her alone with Mulder so they could talk.

“Well?” she demanded, when Newman had left. “Is it true? Do you have any excuse?”

Mulder looked at the ground. Scully took his silence as meaning that he could indeed think of no defence.

“Damn you, Mulder!” she shouted, suddenly furious. “I’ve been terrified that something had happened to you. I thought you’d had an accident – or that you’d been taken by the killer.” Her voice cracked a little, shaken again by the images she’d seen of Mulder on the autopsy slab, wounded with Ellie’s wounds. “Do you ever think of me?” The memory of what she’d feared only made her more angry. “Why do you do it, Mulder? Why? It happens every time.” She laughed, harshly “Oh, if I’m very lucky I might get some melodramatic little e-mail like when you went to Alaska, but you don’t usually bother with even that, do you? Do you even care about my feelings?”

Mulder was still silent, but his silence only served to increase her anger. “Don’t you have anything to say for yourself? God, Mulder, I deserve an explanation. You owe me that at least.”

He looked at her now, his eyes full of misery, but she was relentless. “Oh, I see. You’re going to tell me that you were sad.” She put as much contempt as she could muster into that word. “That you needed to go off and ….and….sulk.” She knew she was being unfair, but felt compelled to carry on – to make him suffer in return for putting her through such worry. “Well, let me tell you, Mulder…. I feel sad too sometimes. This morning in the hospital …. You weren’t the only one who found that boy’s grief disturbing. Don’t kid yourself that you were the only one affected. I’d have liked to have been able to withdraw like you – to shut my mind to him and retreat into a safe little dream world – but I didn’t. And do you know why I didn’t? Because, unlike you, I care about my responsibilities. That boy needed me, so I put his feelings before my own.”

She paused for breath, but Mulder offered no defence, so she continued. “Sometimes you’re so damn selfish, Mulder. You want it both ways – to retreat from tough cases like this morning because you feel sad, but at the same time you reject me when I try to help you. You really upset me this morning, when you wouldn’t talk to me. I don’t suppose you even noticed I was upset.”

She ran out of words, and stood in silence, taking deep breaths, and then suddenly her anger faded as quickly as it had come. “Mulder, I’m sorry,” she said, suddenly contrite. “I didn’t mean it. It’s just that …. ,” she broke off as tears came unbidden into her eyes. “It’s just that I was so worried, and then when you came in and had no excuse….” She tailed off, letting the sentence hang, unable to explain quite what had caused her to lose her temper with him more devastatingly than ever before. “Look, Mulder, it’s been a tough day. I’m sorry.”

She looked at him properly for the first time, suddenly noticing that he was shivering with cold. There was a small trickle of dried blood above his left eye, and he was holding his right hand stiffly around a gash in the palm. “My God, Mulder. You’re hurt.” She was all concern now, reaching out to pull him over to the bed where she could sit him down and be able to examine him without standing on tiptoes.

Mulder flinched at her touch, a hoarse cry escaping his lips. “No!” It was the first word he’d spoken since he’d arrived.

“Mulder, it’s okay. I won’t bite.” She smiled, trying to restore something of their old easy relationship, but he retreated from her. “Come on, Mulder, I only want to look at those cuts. Though I’ll never understand how you manage to hurt wherever we go.” She smiled again, though his reaction worried her.

“No!” he cried again. “Scully, you don’t understand! I don’t deserve this. It is all my fault.” And with that he disappeared into his room, shutting the connecting door. Before she could recover from her surprise enough to follow him, she heard the key turn in the lock.

“Mulder!” She ran to the door, desperately rattling the handle. “Mulder! Let me in! Please! We need to talk about this!”

There was no reply.

“Mulder!” She called again and again, but the door remained stubbornly closed. Her cries grew louder and louder until she was suddenly furious again, hammering at the door until her fist throbbed with pain. “Mulder! Let me in, damn you! Let me in, or I’ll …. I’ll …. I’ll shoot my way through. And then…. and then…. I’ll shoot you too! I’ve done it before, remember.” Even as she made these threats, she realised how ridiculous she sounded, and her anger faded, leaving only worry.

“Mulder!” Her voice was much quieter now. “Mulder, please let me in. We need to talk. I won’t shout at you, I promise.” She put her ear to the door, desperate to heat the sound of approaching footsteps, but there was nothing.

“Mulder!” She tried again, feeling her voice catch as tears of frustration welled in her eyes. Then she was silent, her ear pressed against the door, listening for any sound. She could hear nothing. She almost wished she could hear sobbing, or shouting, or the sound of breaking ornaments – anything would be better than the utter silence which emanated from Mulder’s room.

Eventually she had to resign herself to the fact that he wasn’t going to come. “Mulder!” she called, gently, “I’ll be here, if you want to talk to me. I’m not going anywhere.” And with that she crossed the room and threw herself down on the bed with a sigh.

After a while, she got up and retrieved the notes from the autopsies of the three murder victims, and opened a file up at random. An hour later she was still staring at the same page, having failed to take in a single word she was seeing. The page was upside-down. She hadn’t noticed.

~&~&~&~

November 13th, 1995

Scully’s eyelids felt like lead and her limbs rebelled when she ordered them to move. A thin line of light from a crack in the curtains fell across her face, telling her that it was morning. At last. She doubted if she’d been asleep at all, with worrying all night. The worry still sat heavy on her chest, though her mind, fogged by drowsiness, couldn’t remember what it was she was worried about. She bit her lip with concentration, struggling to remember, as she forced her body out of bed, stretching her tired muscles, and rubbing her tired eyes to acclimatise them to being awake.

Mulder! The memory hit her like a physical blow. She’d lain awake most of the night, consumed with worry about him, praying that every creak of a floor board, every noise of a cooling pipe, every sound of people in the corridor, was him coming to her room. But he never came, and she lay awake, staring into the darkness, seeing in her imagination Mulder depressed, Mulder ill, Mulder hurt – even Mulder dead.

But now there was something different. With a sudden burst of hope she realised that the connecting door was slightly open. Tiredness forgotten, she ran across the room, forgetting even to knock in her eagerness to open the door and reassure herself that Mulder was all right. “Mulder, are you….?” But then the words died on her lips at the sight that greeted her in his room.

He wasn’t there.

His bed looked unslept in, and there were files everywhere, spread out on every available surface. There were notes on the current case, and old X-Files on alleged cases of possession, which he’d obviously brought with him in anticipation of the case. There were pages of notes scribbled in his own writing, and his laptop was out, suggesting he’d also been typing up notes as well. He’d even managed to get his hands on her autopsy report, which he’d neatly annotated in pencil. Her resentment was not eased in the slightest by the fact that this was just her draft copy.

Scully stamped in frustration, although the effect of a raging Fury was somewhat lessened by the sudden yawn which overtook her. The yawn served only to increase her bitterness. She’d lost a whole night’s sleep, desperately worried that he was paralysed by the same intense emotions she’d seen at the hospital, when all the while he’d been working on the case as if nothing was wrong. And he didn’t even bother to tell her he was okay. He’d refused to open the door for her, but had no problems with opening the door to get the autopsy notes. He must have seen then that she was sleepless with worry, but hadn’t spoken to her. A little voice in the back of her mind reminded her that she’d obviously been asleep after all, if she hadn’t noticed him come in, but she ignored that thought, refusing to let it lessen her resentment.

Feeling suddenly territorial, she reclaimed her autopsy notes and stomped back to her room, feeling an immense sense of satisfaction as she locked the connecting door and threw the key into the bin. She knew she was being petty, but she still revelled in the clunk the key made as it vanished into obscurity.

As she went for a shower, she longed for Mulder to return from wherever he’d gone to. Let him see what it was like to be locked out, she thought, relishing the thought of him confidently trying the door, sure that she’d always be there for him to call on when he needed her. Or to ignore when he so chose, she added, bitterly. She wished she could see his face when he realised she’d locked him out. Serve him right. The number of times he’d ditched her, shut her out, withdrawn from her, and every time she’d been there for him when he decided he needed her again. But not this time.

To her immense disappointment, he didn’t return, denying her the chance to ignore him.

~&~&~&~

Mulder wasn’t in the breakfast room, so Scully was deprived of another chance to ignore him. She was only stopped from scowling by the happy smile of greeting which she received from Gardiner, the only other agent who’d yet emerged for breakfast. Forcing a smile in return, she took her place next to him, the appetising smell of his breakfast reminding her that she’d forgotten to eat in the confusion of the previous evening.

She’d barely finished ordering her breakfast when Gardiner started talking. “Has Mulder had any more ideas about the case yet?” he asked, his voice overflowing with enthusiasm.

“How should I know.” Scully’s voice was bitter. “He doesn’t tell me anything.”

Gardiner flinched from her bitterness, and was profuse in his apologies for annoying her. Regretting the fact that she’d taken her annoyance out on an innocent bystander, Scully hastened to reassure him. “I’m sorry. It’s not you I’m annoyed at. It’s Mulder.” She didn’t like revealing her resentment to a stranger, but felt she owed him an explanation after snapping at him.

“Don’t you like working with him?” Gardiner sounded incredulous.

Scully was tempted to say that she didn’t, but her conscience wouldn’t let her. She knew she that would be untrue – speaking out a temporary anger which didn’t reflect her true feelings. Instead, she shrugged non-commitally.

“You know,” said Gardiner, shyly. “I worked with Mulder on my first case. Since then I’ve always wanted to be like him.”

Scully couldn’t suppress a scornful laugh. “Be like Mulder?” she exclaimed. Aware of Gardiner’s enquiring gaze, she moderated her voice and attempted to explain. “Mulder’s the despair of everyone who knows him. He has no career prospects, no life outside work, most people in the Bureau laugh at him, and he’s nearly managed to get himself killed countless times. How can you want to be like him?”

Gardiner looked defensive. “Yes, I know all that. I know his life isn’t happy, but he keeps on going. He just goes straight for what he knows is right, despite the obstacles that are in the way. He’s not afraid to risk his career, even his life, for what he believes. That’s what I admire. It’s a strength of purpose I wish I had.”

Scully reflected on his words, struck by the strangeness of the situation. It had so often been the other way round – her defending Mulder to yet another of his enemies – but here was a stranger who understood Mulder better than she did right now, blinded as she was by a resentment she now admitted was undeserved.

She nodded, smiling ruefully at Gardiner. “Yes, you’re right. Thank you.” Gardiner looked puzzled at her apology, but Scully didn’t explain how his words had helped diffuse her anger, and probably prevented the day from degenerating into a painful mess of shouting and recrimination. “But that’s enough of Mulder. I need lighter conversation while I eat my breakfast.”

To her surprise, she enjoyed the ensuing conversation. That first night he’d annoyed her with his loquacity, but that was just because her attention had been elsewhere and she hadn’t contributed anything herself to the conversation. Now that they were both engaged in the conversation, it flowed easily, and she found that they had several common interests. They were deep in discussion over the merits of a favourite book, when Scully was suddenly aware that Gardiner was looked past her towards the door.

“There’s Mulder,” he said, and she turned in time to see Mulder turning away from the room and heading out again.

“Excuse me,” she said, as she pushed her chair away from the table and ran out of the room, smiling an apology to the astonished waiter.

She caught up with him half way up the stairs, His hair was damp from the shower, and his cheeks were slightly flushed from jogging in the biting morning air. He stopped when she called his name, but didn’t turn.

“Mulder,” she kept her voice deliberately calm. “Please come to breakfast.”

“I saw you there, with Gardiner. You were laughing.” She didn’t know what point he was trying to make. There was no sound of accusation in his voice.

Scully forced a carefree laugh. “So? We’d like you to join us.”

“I can’t make you laugh.” His voice was emotionless. She couldn’t see his face.

Scully ran up a few stairs so she was able to look him in the eye. He returned her gaze, and she sighed with relief. Although he was still depressed – his words had told her that – there was no sign of the terrifying state he’d been in the previous day. “Mulder, I’m sorry about those things I said yesterday. I wasn’t fair.”

“No, it was my fault. I’m sorry I was late. I’m sorry I wouldn’t talk to you afterwards. It was all my fault.” Scully didn’t like his tone of voice, which suggested that he was already finding another cause of guilt to torment himself with.

“Look, Mulder. It was just a misunderstanding, right? We were both a bit to blame, but there’s no point feeling bad about it. Can we just forget it and be friends?”

Mulder nodded, touching her gently on the shoulder. “Thank you, Scully,” he said. There was a faint flicker on his face that may have been a smile.

He set off towards the breakfast room, but Scully stopped him, well aware that their brief conversation had only temporarily papered over the cracks. “If you want to talk about anything, I’m always here, Mulder. When you’re ready.”

Mulder acknowledged her with a barely perceptible nod. “I know, Scully,” he said, as they entered the room and walked over the join Gardiner at the table.

“Have you had any new ideas, Mulder?” Gardiner asked, before they’d even sat down. Scully sighed. She’d hoped for a non-controversial topic of conversation that wouldn’t place any strain upon their recently restored relationship. She should have known that Gardiner’s enthusiasm would be unchecked.

The waiter came over for Mulder’s order, so he was unable to reply immediately, but Scully was relieved to see that his eyes shone with enthusiasm. She supposed it could be prompted by the thought of a large fried breakfast -after all, she doubted that he’d eaten at all the previous day – but she suspected that it was because of the case. She’d seen this look many a time before.

Deciding that the case was a safe topic of conversation, she quickly joined in. “Yes, Mulder. We’ve been here for a day and a half and I haven’t even heard the details of your theory yet. Normally you can’t wait to try and shock me with your latest weird ideas.” She hoped he was up to a little gentle teasing, and was relieved to get a smile.

Mulder didn’t reply for a while, so she prompted him, deliberately exaggerating her usual sceptical expression. “Possession?” she said, investing her voice with as much incredulity as she could muster. It was difficult to oppose him when she knew he was still upset about their fight, but she knew that if she tried to spare his feelings by agreeing with everything he said, he’d be offended, suspecting, rightly, that he was being humoured. He enjoyed countering her arguments, and she hoped his depression would lift a little if he had some wild theory to argue passionately for.

Mulder rose to the challenge. “Why are you still so sceptical, Scully? We’ve both seen cases of possession. How do you explain that school in New Hampshire, that one with Mrs Paddock? You saw that man – he was about to kill us then something took him over and he had to turn the gun on himself and his friends. You said yourself that it looked like something was controlling him.” Scully noticed that Gardiner was listening with eyes wide and mouth agape. “And then there was Colonel Belt,” Mulder continued “trying to sabotage the shuttle at the same time as desperately trying to save it. His actions are inexplicable unless you accept he was possessed by something – whether an entity from space or something else. We’ve seen it with our own eyes, Scully. It exists.”

“I know you believe it, Mulder, but why do you believe that this case is possession?”

“It was the same as Colonel Belt – it looked as if the murderer was both committing the murders and trying to stop them, just like the Colonel with the shuttle sabotage. You must admit that no-one else has been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation of those calls. Possession seemed to fit.”

Scully was about to reply when she noticed the tense Mulder was using. “Seemed?” she said, suddenly suspicious. “Seemed? You mean, you don’t believe it any more?”

“No, I don’t think it is possession.” Gardiner looked crushed, but Scully was relieved. She hoped this meant he’d accepted that there was nothing paranormal in this case and would settle down to produce an uncontraversial profile that even Newman would accept.

“It doesn’t seem right,” Mulder continued. “When you said that the caller didn’t know where the body was yesterday….. why shouldn’t he know if he’d been there?”

Gardiner and Scully objected simultaneously. “Maybe he did know but didn’t say.” This was Scully’s objection, while Gardiner said, “Maybe he was only there in body not in spirit, so didn’t know.”

Mulder dismissed both their objections. “He knew where the bodies were the other two times, and he told us too. No, we need another explanation for this.” He took a deep breath before continuing, looking guiltily at Scully. “And then there were your autopsy results.” Scully was pleased that he looked a little sheepish at mentioning them.

Scully interrupted, aware that Gardiner hadn’t been told what she’d discovered. He’d still been at the crime scene when she’d summarised her findings to Newman and the other agents. “Although she was killed at the scene, the woman had been methodically tortured over about two days,” she said, trying to suppress a shudder as she remembered what she’d seen. “It was no frenzied attack. I won’t go into details, but it was carefully thought out. The first victim looks like having suffered the same, though the autopsy wasn’t done very thoroughly. She was covered with stab wounds, so the cause of death was obvious – they didn’t bother examining too closely. The second victim…. she was killed quickly, so we decided yesterday that the killer was possibly interrupted.” She turned to Mulder, realising that he was probably unaware of this fact. “Newman’s putting out an appeal in the local papers and television this morning. It’s possible that someone surprised the killer without even being aware of it.”

Mulder had been nodding while Scully summarised her findings. “Methodical, that’s what you said. Of course, possessed people can be methodical – that sabotage on the shuttle was methodical. But it doesn’t seem right. If it was a frenzied attack then I’d say that the murderer -or, rather, the physical form used by the murderer – was possessed for that short time. But two days …. not that there’s a time limit on the period a body can be possessed, of course …. but he called us during those two days. If he could escape from the thing that was possessing him enough to call us, why didn’t he let her go? It just doesn’t fit.”

Scully smiled. “So, you’re actually accepting that a case isn’t paranormal. That’s a first!”

“Actually, Scully, I think it’s telepathy.” Scully sometimes wondered if Mulder was deliberately provocative. No, she knew he was sometimes deliberately provocative.

“Telepathy,” she said, with a sigh. “All right, then, Mulder, tell us why.” Her voice was weary, but Gardiner was leaning forward, his chin in his hands and his eyes shining.

“I think our caller has telepathic powers and is somehow seeing the murders – that’s how he can tell visual things like where the bodies are. That last one – he could tell us her body was with the garbage because that’s what he’d seen, but he couldn’t tell us exactly where because he didn’t recognise the place.”

Scully kept her expression sceptical, and Mulder continued, more earnestly. “Come on, Scully – you know there have been lots of cases where the police have used psychics in criminal investigations. This isn’t such a radical theory.”

Scully had to agree that, as Mulder’s theories went, it was one of the least exotic, but she was painfully aware that Newman wouldn’t see it this way. Anxious to ease the confrontation that was inevitable if Mulder pushed his theory, she resolved to give him no encouragement. “Mulder,” she sighed, “you had no real grounds for your original theory, and now, for no good reason, you’ve changed it to another one equally lacking in supporting evidence. I know you believe it, but it’s just a hunch -a feeling.”

“Yes, it is a feeling, but I know it’s right. It’s not a theory I’ve just thought up on the spur of the moment. I was working all night on it. I’ve really thought about it and it all fits.” He gesticulated with his knife as he spoke, causing Scully to flinch involuntarily as the blade flashed closer to her face than she was happy with. Mulder didn’t appear to notice. “Our caller’s seeing the murders. I don’t know why. He might have some connection to the murderer, but I think it’s more likely he’s seeing through the eyes of the victims – perhaps their suffering is so intense that it’s transmitted to anyone sensitive enough to receive it.” He paused, noticing her hostile expression. “Why are you so opposed to this, Scully?”

Scully was tempted to tell him emphatically that telepathy didn’t exist, but couldn’t bring herself to make such a categorical statement. Although still sceptical about anything that smacked of the paranormal, she’d seen enough in her years with Mulder to make her reluctant to assert that such things definitely didn’t exist. Instead, she searched for another objection to his theory. “But the caller says the murders are his fault. Why should he feel guilty if he’s no more than a long-distance witness?”

“Of course he feels guilty. He’s a witness to a murder, and witnesses are often tormented by guilt – by feelings that if they’d acted differently they could have saved the victim’s life. And he’s seen not just one murder but three. At least three. ” Mulder’s voice was suddenly filled with emotion, a look of horrified realisation on his face. “If he can see these murders, how many more has he seen in his life? How much suffering has he experienced? Imagine what it’s like to feel the suffering of a whole town, but to be powerless to stop it….? No wonder he speaks as if he killed them himself. He saw them die, but couldn’t help them …. How can he live like that – with his mind taken over by other people’s pain which reaches in and blocks out any other feeling -a constant reminder of his guilt that he can’t stop them ….. How can he live like that?”

Mulder’s fingers were white as he clenched the knife, and his eyes were clouded with some dark emotion. Scully quickly reached over and prised the knife from his grip, laying it down on his plate. He started at her touch, recalled from some troubled train of thought. “Sorry,” he said, absently, gesturing towards the knife.

Scully was distinctly unhappy with the course of the conversation. He didn’t know what had started Mulder off this time, but the look on his face as he’d talked about his hypothetical telepath had warned her to take a firm grip on the conversation. “Look, Mulder, we’re here to find the murderer. Even you believe that the murderer is an ordinary human with no special powers. Now, we have medical reports, samples from the crime scene currently being examined, and possible witnesses. Can’t you just concentrate in these, and forget your theory about telepathic powers. After all, it won’t help find the murderer.”

“Why are you so against this Scully?” Mulder was almost shouting. “Why are you opposing me on everything .”

Scully sighed, aware that she hadn’t handled the situation very well. “Mulder,” she started, her voice quiet with exaggerated patience. “It’s not that I’m opposed to you, it’s just that……”

“Good morning, Agent Scully, Gardiner.” Newman sat down next to Scully, smiling his greeting, although a curt nod was all the acknowledgement he made of Mulder’s presence. Scully silently cursed, annoyed that her explanation to Mulder had been cut short. She tried to catch his eye, to communicate that she wasn’t opposing him, but he didn’t look at her.

“Has he done his profile yet?” Newman gestured towards Mulder, although his question was directed to Scully. Scully glanced anxiously at Mulder to see how he reacted to being ignored, but he was lost in thought, apparently unaware of the slight. He’d picked up the knife again, absently running his finger up and down the blade.

“He’s working on it.” Scully tried to make her voice express a confidence she didn’t feel. “I expect he’ll have something written up for you this morning. He was working all night on it, weren’t you, Mulder?” She kicked him under the table to catch his attention, gaining a vague and far from convincing grunt of agreement.

“Yes, he was just telling us his latest ideas. He thinks…..” Gardiner broke off suddenly as he too received a firm kick. Luckily Newman had no inclination to hear about Mulder’s ideas and didn’t press Gardiner for more information.

“Good. Get started then.” Newman have Mulder a pointed look, but he didn’t move. Scully’s eyes kept on moving to the knife blade with a horrified fascination, expecting any minute to see him draw blood.

“Have there been any developments?” Gardiner gave Scully a quick glance as he asked this, and she assumed that even he had picked up on the tense atmosphere and was attempting to change the subject.

“Possibly,” said Newman. “Although we’re still waiting for the lab to send back the analysis of the trace evidence you collected yesterday. That was good work, Gardiner. I didn’t get chance to tell you yesterday.”

“But, Sir,” Gardiner protested, “That wasn’t me….” Scully shook her head, and Gardiner subsided, much to Scully’s relief. She didn’t want to draw Newman’s attention back to Mulder. It would only provoke him further if he spoke to Mulder and got no reply, and Mulder’s expression was such that she knew he was unaware of his surroundings.

“Please tell us more, sir.” She knew sounded hopelessly gushing, but was desperate to keep Newman’s attention distracted while she desperately kicked Mulder under the table to try and recall him to the present.

“We may have a witness,” Newman declared. “That appeal for witnesses went out in this morning, and a man called in a few minutes ago. He says he was walking his dog the night Jennie Lawrence was killed, and thinks he saw someone behaving suspiciously. I’m sending Martinez and O’Brien to talk to him just as soon as they have their breakfast.” He gestured towards the two agents who’d just arrived and sat down at the next table.

“I’ve had my breakfast,” said Gardiner. “Would you like me to go instead?”

Newman nodded his agreement. “Okay. You go with him, Agent Scully. Unless you need more time to work on those medical reports?”

Scully was tempted to say that she needed to stay, anxious not to leave Mulder alone with whatever it was that was bothering him, but honesty compelled her to admit that she had no plans for the morning. “Is that okay, Mulder?” she asked, loudly. Mulder suddenly looked up, blinking, as if he was struggling to focus on the scene before him, and gave a confused nod. Scully doubted he knew what he was agreeing to.

Newman handed her the witness’s address as she stood up and prepared to leave with Gardiner. “When you’ve finished, we might have that profile at last,” he said, with a hostile glare at Mulder.

To Scully’s surprise, Mulder suddenly stood up, dropping the knife in his haste. “I’ll do it now, sir,” he snapped, and hurried away from the table, frowning with anger. At the next table Martinez and O’Brien exchanged glances, commenting with amusement about the eccentricities of the notorious “Spooky”. Ignoring them, Scully could only stare in amazement as Mulder stormed out of the room, heedless of the resentful glare he received from a fellow guest who was forced to swerve to avoid a collision in the narrow doorway.

“Are you coming, Agent Scully?” Scully sighed as she joined Gardiner and headed to the car, trying to concentrate on the case, but she couldn’t stop worrying about Mulder. She had tried to convince herself that he was simply depressed – that the events of the past two years were finally taking their toll – but she was beginning to fear it was something more – something that was too big for her to handle. Mulder needed more help than she could give.

~&~&~&~

Matthew Lewis had watched her as she’d passed him, her face solemn even though she was surrounded by her companions. One of them had cracked a joke and the others had laughed, but her eyes had been unsmiling, clouded with worry. Soon they would be troubled with emotions yet darker. She was pretty, he noticed, with blue eyes and that beautiful hair. It was pity she had to suffer for something that was nothing to do with her, but as soon as he’d seen her he’d known that she was the one. She would be the instrument of the final stage of his plan.

He smiled as he contemplated his revenge. Everything had proceeded according to plan – no, better still -everything had exceeded his expectations. His parole officer was under the happy misapprehension that he was behaving himself – she wouldn’t even miss him for several days. And his enemy ……! He could barely smother a gleeful chuckle as he thought of his enemy, of the state of his mind. He felt he couldn’t take much more, but he was going to have to. He’d been doomed the moment he took Matthew Lewis on as an enemy, all those years ago, for who could stand a chance against someone with powers like his? He’d been strong before, of course, but nothing like now. Some good had come out of those terrible years in prison, he reflected, remembering how he’d used the time to develop his new powers – powers he was using to get his revenge.

He’d take her first, and then launch his final assault. He’d kill him, of course, when all else was finished, but that could wait. Why give him the quick release of death when he could torment him with a living hell? Why simply kill his body when he could destroy his mind first?

His hand clenched his knife with anticipation, imagining it slicing into the flesh, hearing the cries for mercy -cries he wouldn’t heed. He preferred not to dwell on her terror. She would just be the means to an end. But it could wait. Why rush it, when the anticipation of the final victory was so exciting? He wondered if he would ever be able to kill him, when he could have so much fun tormenting him when he was alive.

~&~&~&~

Kevin Briggs lay amongst the tangled sheets, reluctant to open his eyes to another day.

At first it had been better during the day, when his eyes could see enough reality to drown out the terrible pictures in his mind. But now he’d seen so much death and suffering that their image was permanently etched in his memory, driving out reality, turning daylight into the horrors of a waking nightmare.

He wanted to scream, but his voice was hoarse, drained by days and nights of torment. There had been three so far. Only a week, and three dead already. Not a second went by without him praying that there would be no more, but he knew it was a vain hope. He didn’t think his sanity could take much more, but knew he couldn’t run away. He owed it to the women to stay and share their suffering, as long as there was any chance that he could help them. But there was more to come. With a terrible certainty, he knew that the worst was yet to come.

~&~&~&~

Dana Scully sighed as she shuffled her papers on her lap, scanning them again and again in the hope that they’d relent and yield some useful information. To her intense frustration, they remained stubbornly useless. Five hours – nearer six, if you counted the time they took over lunch, discussing the case all the while – and she and Gardiner had failed to come up with a single lead. The initial witness had been promising, giving a vague description of a man he’d seen in the woods at around the time Jennie had been killed. But it had all fallen down when he revealed that this man had been running towards the place the body was found, approaching from the east, and certainly not dragging an unconscious girl. Jennie had been taken from her car about a mile to the west of the place the body was found, so, although they’d taken the description down and would pursue it, they doubted that anything would come of it.

After that, they’d been on a frustrating trail of dead ends. Newman kept on calling them as potential witnesses came forward, sending them to interview the most promising, but nothing useful came from their interviews. The other agents had spent the morning talking to the friends of the victims, trying to establish some sort of link between them, whether any of them had mentioned being followed, or any of them had any enemies, but they’d also drawn a blank. It looked as if the women had just been the unfortunate victims of a random killer.

The only promising news had come when Newman had called the say that the lab reports had arrived, with the analysis of the samples Gardiner had taken at the crime scene. Most of the hair and blood on the thorns was Ellie Benton’s, suggesting that the killer had used her as a shield to push his way through the vicious hedge, but they had found a short brown hair that belonged to someone else. While this was of little use when it came to tracking down the suspect, it could prove invaluable in confirming they had the right man when they managed to find a suspect. If they managed to find a suspect. Scully tried to be hopeful, but it had been a frustrating day.

While she’d been thinking, they’d arrived back at the hotel without her noticing. Gardiner came round and opened the door for her, smiling at her as he gave her an arm to help her out. He was quite cute when he smiled, she realised, although too like an over-enthusiastic puppy dog for her taste. She didn’t want to take his proffered arm, but forced herself to suppress her resentment. She knew he was just being polite and it was unfair to assume he was patronising her, treating her like an incapable woman.

Her first thought was of Mulder. She’d called him earlier, unable to cope any longer with worrying about what had happened after he’d stormed out after breakfast, and he’d told her he was working on the profile. His voice was expressionless, giving away nothing about the true state of his feelings, but she had been forced to accept what he said and get on with the work she’d been assigned. He’d only be angry if she was over-protective and had pestered him, refusing to believe him. If he was lying, it was because he didn’t want her to know the truth, and she knew him well enough to know that she had to respect that.

Her pace unconsciously quickened as she headed up the stairs towards Mulder’s room, raising her hand to knock.

Suddenly Mulder’s door burst open and Newman came rushing out, his face red with anger. “Sir?” Scully asked, as she stepped out of his way. “What’s the matter?”

“Ask that partner of yours,” he snapped over his shoulder, as he stamped down the corridor. Scully and Gardiner looked at each other as the heavy footsteps sounded into the distance, suddenly terminated by the slam of a door.

“Mulder?” Scully knocked at Mulder’s door, pushing it open when she heard a faint grunt of acknowledgement. Gardiner followed, oblivious to her silent pleas for him to disappear. Judging from Newman’s reaction, she feared Mulder was in one of his unresponsive moods, and didn’t want a virtual stranger to witness his turbulent emotional state.

Mulder was sitting at his desk, staring at the computer. He looked up as she entered, his eyes weary but focused. The concern she’d felt quickly evaporated as she realised that Mulder had been fully aware of his actions when he’d done whatever it was that had annoyed Newman.

“Newman didn’t like my profile.” Mulder answered the unspoken question she’d asked with her eyes.

Without a word, Scully walked over and read over his shoulder. “He sees other people’s pain,” she read. “Maybe their happiness too, but that’s drowned out by the pain. There’s more pain in the world. Pain. Suffering. Guilt. Grief. He sees them all – experiences them for other people. He can find no peace anywhere. He travels the country, trying to find somewhere to settle that’s free of pain, but he can’t escape it. He never knows happiness.”

Scully gripped the back of Mulder’s chair as she read, horrified by what she was seeing, but unable to stop reading. “He came here for peace – a small town, low crime rate. Maybe he lives out in the country, a few miles from town – anything to escape the pain. But that’s not far enough to escape the pain of murder. He sees them all – he feels their torture as if it’s his own – he feels the knife that kills them – he sees them die. But he can’t stop them. He can only watch in horror. And so he does the only thing he can think of to help them – he calls us, hoping that we can stop the horror, but we’ve let him down – we’ve let them down.”

A gasp from Mulder distracted Scully from her reading. She hadn’t been aware that her hand had moved from the back of the chair and was now tightly gripping Mulder’s shoulder, her fingers digging deep into his flesh. She relaxed her grip, taking a deep breath to try and calm herself. There was more on the screen – much more – but a quick scan told her it was more of the same. She didn’t read it.

“Mulder!” She tried to keep her voice calm but she couldn’t disguise the anger she felt. “Why have you written this? How can you do this? Are you going out of your way to provoke Newman? This isn’t a profile – this is insane ramblings about the mind of a man who doesn’t even exist.”

“Yes he does, Scully.” Mulder’s voice was surprisingly calm. “He exists, and he’s the key. Who can be a better witness than a man who’s actually experienced the murders? If we find him – if we win his trust by showing we understand him – then we’ve found our murderer.”

Scully sighed, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “Mulder, right now I’ve had enough. I’m going after Newman. God knows how I’m going to get you out of this one.” She knew she sounded harsher than she intended. Although she didn’t agree with Mulder’s basic premise, she had to admit his subsequent reasoning was sound. But for him to tell all this to Newman….! Sometimes Mulder was so tactless she just wanted to hit him. He didn’t seem to care who he offended, leaving her the arduous task of smoothing ruffled feathers and making excuses for him. From the look on Newman’s face, she had a hard task ahead of her, and was bitterly angry at Mulder was putting her in this situation.

Without another word, she turned and walked out of the room.

~&~&~&~

“Hey, that’s really ….er…. impressive.” Mulder started at the sound of Gardiner’s voice, suddenly recalled from the reverie he’d fallen into after Scully’s abrupt departure. Forcing himself to take his eyes off the closed door, he turned and looked at Gardiner. The younger agent had finished reading the profile, but his eyes were confused. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but Mulder was suddenly reluctant to discuss his controversial profile and silenced him with a glare. Staring at the screen without properly seeing it, he pointedly ignored Gardiner, hoping he’d take the hint and go away.

Gardiner remained stubbornly still. “Agent Mulder?” His voice was tentative, startlingly different from the tone of awed eagerness that he usually when addressing Mulder. Mulder made what he hoped was a discouraging sound, but Gardiner wasn’t deterred. “Agent Mulder? Can I talk about ….. about Agent Scully?” He sounded extremely shy as he mentioned her name. Taking a deep breath, he continued, his face red. “I spoke to her at breakfast. I think we got on well.” He looked pleased with himself, even through the evident embarrassment. “I was wondering …. well …. would you …..? I mean, do you mind?”

Mulder was listening properly now. “Do I mind what?” he asked.

“Do you mind that I spoke to …. to Dana this morning?” He blushed even deeper as he spoke her name. “I mean, would you mind if I …. well, if I ask her if I can speak to her again …. I mean, over dinner or something?” He took a deep breath, looking relieved that he’d finished.

Mulder froze as he realised what Gardiner was asking. He wanted to ask Scully on a date. “No!” he cried, silently, full of horror at the thought of Scully starting a relationship with someone else – of the difference it would make to his own life. Scully was always there for him. He could call at all hours of the night and she’d be there on the other end of the phone, ready to drop everything to pursue a case. He could turn up on her doorstep – he even had a key – without warning, and she’d be there, ready to help him. She’d even let him spend the night in her bed, that terrible time when his father had been killed, with no jealous boyfriend who could misinterpret the situation.

Nothing would be the same if she had a lover. He couldn’t call at night in case he was interrupting something. He certainly couldn’t expect her to give up her weekends any more. He’d no longer be first in her thoughts, but merely a partner – important during work hours but forgotten outside work.

“Unlike you, Mulder, I want a life.” The memory spoke as clearly as if Scully had been in the same room, stabbing him with a terrible realisation of how selfish he was being. She’d been on a date then, two years ago, and he’d stopped her, calling her at the restaurant to drag her off to chase that beastwoman. She’d never said how much she’d resented him for ruining her date, but he could see the anger in her eyes. It was strange he’d not noticed it at the time, because it was so clear in the memory. He’d been blind to her feelings then. How many other times had he unknowingly done to same?

Maybe sometimes she had been with a man when he’d called her, selfishly assuming that she’d have nothing to do but join him on a case. How many potential romances had he ruined by assuming that Scully was like him in desiring no life outside work? He’d assumed she was willingly putting her personal life on hold to pursue the X-Files. Now he was suddenly certain that he had forced her into the situation. He was amazed she’d put up with his selfishness for so long.

“Agent Mulder?” Gardiner touched Mulder’s arm, a worried expression on his face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” Mulder’s self-reproach made him harsh. “If you want to take Scully to dinner, you should ask her. It’s not right for us to make decisions for her as if she has no say in the matter.” A little voice in his head relentlessly reminded him that this was precisely what he’d been doing to her for two years.

Observing Gardiner’s crestfallen expression, Mulder softened. His harsh tone had been intended more for himself than for Gardiner, prompted by thoughts of his own behaviour rather than by Gardiner’s question. “I’m sorry,” he said, forcing a smile before hastily changing the subject. “Now, tell me what you found out this morning?”

Gardiner looked relieved to be back on firm ground, but his explanations were quickly cut short when the door opened and Scully came in, her face grim.

“I’m sorry, Agent Gardiner,” she said. “I want to talk to Mulder alone.”

Mulder couldn’t meet her eyes, knowing he’d find nothing but hostility there. He suddenly knew she’d been with Newman, working with his enemy to get him off the case, even to ruin his career. He wondered how many other cases she’d secretly undermined him on, and was suddenly sure that she’d always opposed him.

He’d seen through her once, the day after his father died. “You’ve been against me from the start, making your little notes!” He’d confronted her and she hadn’t even denied it. It had all been so clear then. He wondered why he’d forgotten, afterwards. For a few days he’d understood the truth – that everyone was his enemy. He’d hit Skinner for it, but had never been strong enough to attack Scully. Although she opposed him, he needed her. And then she’d taken him away, and worked her treacherous lies on him, and he’d believed that she was on his side. God! Even after she’d shot him he’d still believed her. She was as much an enemy as Cancer Man -worse, even, for she hid her hostility with a mask of friendship and support.

“I don’t need to listen to you!” he shouted, as soon as Gardiner was gone. “I know what you’re going to say. Go back to your friends and carry on plotting against me!”

Scully flinched, her eyes full of hurt, and Mulder suddenly knew he’d misjudged her. Scully wasn’t a heartless enemy – how could he have thought such a thing? He knew she’d tried to win his trust, had been prepared to sacrifice anything for him. “I’d never put my career on the line for anyone but you,” she’d said, and she’d done it, again and again, lying to Skinner, passing him information when the X-Files were closed down, chasing him to Puerto Rico. She’d nearly lost her job after New Mexico, because of him….

“But she shot you. She took your gun. She made you go alone to that boxcar. She left without waiting to find you.” And there was Scully’s face, full of anger. “You’re on your own on this one, Mulder…..”

“No! She was trying to help you. She nearly lost her job. She did lose her sister. All because of you.” He saw her again, uttering the same words, but this time her voice was gentle, her face full of regret and apology.

He bit his lip, hard enough to draw blood, torn between the insistent memories that warred in his mind, knowing they couldn’t both be true. He didn’t know which to believe. Neither offered any comfort.

“Mulder, what’s wrong?” Scully’s voice was weary and Mulder knew that he’d been wrong to shout at her. She’d tried to help him. She’d risked her career and her life to help him and he’d repaid her with pain and suffering. The fact that she was working with Newman to undermine him was no more than he deserved.

“I’m sorry, Scully.” He had to struggle to get the words out above the confusion memories that filled his mind. “I’m sorry. You have every right to oppose me.”

Scully sighed. She seemed to be working hard to control her temper. “I’m not opposing you.” She spoke slowly, as if repeating a lesson to a child. “I’m trying to help you. Newman was threatening to do all he could to end your career. I only went after him to try and make excuses for you.”

Mulder resented her tone. “I don’t need your help. I’m not a child. I can look after myself.”

Scully laughed, mirthlessly. “I’ve never met anyone less capable of looking after themselves, Mulder.” She shook her head, ruefully. “Anyway, carry on that way you’re going and you’ll be beyond my help. Newman was all for making a formal complaint about you. I talked him out of it …. this time.”

“Carry on the way I’m going?” Mulder was genuinely surprised. “I’m not working this case any differently from normal.” He knew full well that this wasn’t true, but he hoped that Scully was ignorant of the internal torment that had nearly paralysed him these past few days.

“No, you’re not.” Scully sighed again. “That’s the problem. You’re acting just the same as you always do. I really thought there was hope this time. That first night – for the first time you seemed to know the meaning of the word “tact” – all that talk of moderating your theories so as not to offend Newman.” Her voice softened suddenly. “Look, I know it was my fault that it didn’t work, and I’m sorry for that, but after that you just gave up trying. You’ve made no attempt to fit in with him. You must have known what his reaction would be when he read that so-called profile, yet you still wrote it. It wouldn’t have cost you anything to profile the murderer for Newman and then pursue your telepathy angle without telling him.”

“But, Scully. The “telepathy angle” is the key to it all. You can’t expect me to ignore it.”

“No, I don’t expect you to ignore it, but there are times to keep quiet about your theories. You’re your own worst enemy, Mulder. You just speak your mind to everyone, no matter how hostile they’ll be, and then leave me to pick up the pieces. Just think of that Tooms case. He’d never have been released if you’d just kept quiet, but you had to tell them theories that you knew they’d never believe until they thought Tooms was positively sane compared with you.”

“It was the truth, Scully.”

Scully shook her head with exasperation. “Mulder! You and your “truth”! Haven’t you learned yet that there’s a time to be less than honest with the truth?”

“You sound like Cancer Man.” Mulder’s voice was dull. He felt drained of emotion.

“Oh, Mulder.” Scully sighed, reaching out to touch his arm. “It’s just that you make it so difficult for yourself. And for me.”

They were both silent awhile, lost in their own thoughts. At last Scully broke the silence. “Mulder, I’m …. I’m worried about you.”

Mulder was taken of guard, unsure how to react. “I’m okay,” he mumbled, at last, knowing it was a lie.

“Mulder.” Scully sounded tentative. “Do you think you should talk to someone?”

“Talk to someone?” Mulder knew what she meant but was stalling for time, desperately trying to think of excuses.

“These last few days, you’ve been ….. strange. These mood swings – just now you were furious at me one minute, then you suddenly looked so sad and guilty, and all without me saying a word to provoke the change. And it’s been worse. This morning you were fine, talking about the case, when suddenly you seemed to switch off for no reason. You barely noticed when I kicked you.” She paused, reaching for him again. “I’m sorry I have to talk like this, but this isn’t normal. I mean,” she added hastily, “it’s not normal for you. I’ve never seen you like this before, and it worries me.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be okay.” Mulder tried to sound convincing, but certainly failed to convince himself. He knew she was right. Looking back on his thoughts of the past hour, he knew he’d been frighteningly inconsistent, firmly believing one thing one minute and the opposite the next. But at the time, it had all seemed so convincing, even ideas which flatly contradicted what he’d been certain was true just minutes before.

Scully’s doubt was evident on her face, so he sought out more words of reassurance. “I know you won’t believe if I say everything’s fine, but it is getting better. When I concentrate on the case it’s not too bad.” This was true. He’d been untroubled all night, his mind focused on the case and completely free from the unwelcome memories that had invaded his thoughts the previous day. “I’m working on it, Scully. I’ll be okay.”

Scully was plainly not convinced, but he knew she wouldn’t push him against his will. “I can’t make you talk to someone if you don’t want to, but don’t forget I’m here too. If you change your mind and want to talk, I’m here for you.”

“I know you are, Scully. Thank you.” But he wouldn’t confide in her – not yet. At its worst, over the last few days, he’d been scared he was losing his mind. Whatever happened, he didn’t want Scully to know that. “You can’t hide it much longer. Soon everyone will know.” He tried to suppress the little voice in the back of his mind, but it refused to die, keeping up its treacherous reminders until he wanted to scream at it to leave him alone.

The ringing of Scully’s phone shattered the silence, penetrating Mulder’s thoughts and killing the voice at last.

“That was Newman,” Scully said, when she’d finished her short conversation. “Our caller’s been in contact again. He says there’s been another one – a little girl.”

~&~&~&~

Scully was overwhelmed by a sense of her own impotence, knowing it was beyond her powers to provide the comfort they so desperately needed. She desperately searched for the right words, but even as she did so she knew it was in vain, that no words could help ease the pain. She longed to be able to reach out and assure them that everything would be okay, but deep down she knew that their worst fears would almost certainly be realised. She could only hope they wouldn’t be exceeded by some horror beyond their wildest imagining.

With shame, she remembered the relief she’d felt less than an hour previously, when the terrible wait had been finally over. All the agents had felt the strain of those few hours. Although Mulder hadn’t been there, the relationship between the other agents had soon degenerated into fractious bickering. Gardiner had been very attentive, trying to keep her spirits up with inconsequential chatter, but she’d only been irritated. She’d borne it for as long as she could, reluctant to hurt his feelings, but had finally snapped and curtly told him to be quiet, preferring to wait in silence.

The two hours had seemed like an eternity. They’d all tried to work, staring at files and sporadically discussing the case, but everyone had more than half their attention on the phone, willing it to ring. They knew that somewhere nearby a girl was suffering, and they were powerless to do anything to help her until someone missed her enough to call the police. It was doubtful they could do much to help her even then, but at least they’d have a name, and some sort of starting point.

And then the call had come, rousing them to an instant activity. A Mr and Mrs Williams, unable to bear the worry any longer, had called the police to report that their ten year old daughter, Sophie, was over two hours late returning from school. As Scully had rushed to the car the only emotion she had felt was relief – relief that the long wait was over and she could now do something positive rather than passively awaiting events. But now, looking at the grief-lined faces of Sophie’s parents, she was filled with shame for her initial reaction.

“That murderer’s got her, hasn’t he.” It wasn’t a question. Mrs Williams’s voice was strangely calm, although Scully knew it was taking all her strength not to break down.

Scully was at a loss for an answer. Although she was desperate to offer comfort, she knew it was wrong to offer false hopes. “We don’t know that,” she said, after too long a pause. “She’s only been gone a few hours.”

“Don’t lie to us!” Mr Williams was shouting, tears pouring down his face. Scully was about to speak, but Mr Williams spoke again, his voice calmer now he’d taken a few deep breaths. “Look,” he said, making a visible struggle to keep his voice even, “We know you believe he has her. Why else are you here? A few years back a friend’s son went missing all night, sleeping out in the woods as a dare. His parents called the police but they refused to do anything at first, saying he’d probably return of his own accord. But now the same thing’s happened to us, and we get the FBI round straight away. We’re not stupid. We know what you’re thinking.”

Scully realised the time had come to be honest. “Yes, we are investigating the possibility that she’d been taken by the killer you’ve heard about, but that doesn’t mean that she has been taken by him. We wouldn’t be doing our job properly if we didn’t explore every possibility, even if it turns out to be false.”

“I’m sorry to ask you this, but it’s got to be said.” Gardiner broke the short silence, his voice apologetic. “Has there been any trouble at home – any cause for her to run away?”

Mr Williams was about to shout in outrage, but his wife squeezed his hand to check his outburst. “No,” she said, sadly. “She was a quiet child, but always seemed happy.” Scully didn’t like her use of the past tense, implying that she’d given up hope already. “She was worried this morning – something about a test she’d forgotten about. She was always top of her class and was terrified at the thought of failing. But that was this morning. Her friends say she did go to school, and seemed relieved after the test saying it had gone well. She wouldn’t have run away. She’s never been as much as five minutes late for anything in her life.” Mrs William’s control was beginning to break, silent tears trickling down her cheeks. Her husband had long since surrendered to his grief, and was audibly sobbing.

“We’ll do all we can, Mrs Williams.” Scully reached across and touched her arm. “The police department is already putting together a search party, and our colleagues are talking to her friends. We should soon be able to reconstruct her last known movements.”

“You will tell us if there are any developments, even if it’s bad news?” Mrs Williams grabbed Scully’s outstretched arm, leaning forward to look at her earnestly. “Whatever time it is, we’ll be waiting. We need to know what’s happened to her. Anything – even bad news – is better than not knowing.”

Scully assured her that they’d be kept informed, and then she and Gardiner took their leave. As they pulled the door shut behind them, she could hear the sobs which announced that Mrs Williams had finally allowed her control to break. Shutting the door, she left them alone with their grief.

“I want to stay here for a minute,” she said, when they reached the car. “I need to think.”

Gardiner was obligingly silent, leaving Scully alone with her thoughts. There was just enough light in the car the illuminate the picture she’d been given of the missing girl – a picture that would no doubt be staring out of front page of tomorrow’s newspapers. She hoped the headline above the picture wouldn’t read “murdered”. Sophie appeared to be looking straight at her, blue eyes meeting blue, urging her to save her from the terrible suffering she was about to undergo – was probably already undergoing. Scully shivered as she remembered her discoveries on the autopsy slab, imagining this golden-haired girl suffering the tortures that she’d seen. Three dead already and they had few leads – nothing that engendered optimism about their chances of preventing a fourth. And the fourth was worst of all. All violent death was horrific, but she had no words to express her disgust at someone who could torture a little girl.

At least Mulder had been spared it. Even amidst her horrified contemplation of the crime she could take comfort in that. She knew Mulder always saw his sister in any missing girl, and the parent’s emotions would have been painfully close to home. She was never far from his thoughts, living in his memory every day, but something like this always brought the full force of his emotions crashing back. It was bad enough at the best of times, but in his current mood she didn’t know if he could have coped. “Anything – even bad news – is better than not knowing,” Mrs Williams had said, but Mulder had lived with not knowing for over twenty years. She knew it never got better. If anything, it had grown worse – the recent discoveries he’d made only posing more questions than they’d answered. She knew he never forgot, but she was grateful he’d been spared such a painful reminder. She had no doubt that it would have been even worse for him than the interview with Steve Rogers the previous day. And that had nearly overwhelmed him.

But Mulder hadn’t come. As soon as he’d heard of the anonymous call he’d been adamant that he needed to be there to talk to the caller if he made contact again. “I’m the only one who understands him,” he’d said, as he’d picked up his coat and marched to the door. “I’ve got to be there next time he calls. He’s our key.” She’d been all determination, no trace of the darkly absent mood he’d been in just minutes earlier. Nothing could talk him out of it, and he’d asked – no, demanded – to be allowed to stay at the police station, where he could be called to the phone at a moment’s notice. It was a grim determination she’d seen in him many times before, although he normally reserved it for UFO cases. She wasn’t sure whether it was a new development in his worrying moodiness, or a sign that he was heading back to normal. She hoped the latter, but knew that recently nothing she’d hoped for had come true.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of her phone.

“Agent Scully? It’s Agent Martinez. I think we’re onto something here, but we need your help. Could you come over?”

~&~&~&~

“Thanks for coming so fast.” Scully was surprised when the door of the neat suburban house was opened by Agent Martinez. “Come in – they’re expecting you.”

Scully allowed herself to be directed into a tidy living room, although she refused to take a seat, feeling very much an intruder in someone else’s house. To her surprise, Martinez immediately left and went to join his partner whom she’d noticed sitting in a car outside the house. The engine immediately started up and the car drove away. Feeling strangely alone and uneasy, Scully wandered over to the window and peeped out of the curtains, reassured to see that Gardiner was still there. Dropping the curtain, she let her eyes wander over the room, taking in the numerous photos, all of which showed the same girl, occasionally with a woman who was presumably her mother. There had been similar photographs at the Williams’ house, she recalled with a pang of sadness.

Just as Scully was wondering how long she should wait, steps sounded on the stairs and the woman from the photographs came in, her eyes red-rimmed from crying. “Agent Scully? I’m sorry you had to come over.” Scully hastened to assure her that it had been no trouble. It had only been a five minute drive. “It’s Jo, my daughter. She’s Sophie’s best friend, and she told me she saw Sophie talking to a strange man after school today. But that’s all she’ll say. She refused to talk to your colleagues at all when they asked her to describe him, but just cried and shrank away from them. Ever since her father….” She suddenly broke off with a gasp, as if stopping herself from saying too much. “She’s never happy with men,” she continued at last. “I thought she might confide more in a woman.”

Promising to be gentle, Scully followed her upstairs and into the girl’s bedroom. Jo was curled up on the bed, clutching a stuffed lion. Her face wasn’t visible.

“Jo,” her mother began. “This is Agent Scully….”

“Go away! I don’t want to talk to you!” Scully dodged as the lion flew across the room, hurled with all the force of childish grief.

“I’m here to help.” Picking up the lion, Scully crossed the room and sat down on the bed. “But I can’t do that unless you talk to me.”

“If I talk to you it makes it true.” The words were barely audible, muttered into the pillow. Scully sat patiently, waiting for the sobs to subside, absently playing with the lion’s mane.

“I know why you’re here,” Jo said at last. “You think she’s …. she’s….all chopped up like the boys said those ladies were.” Scully could well imagine the gory speculations which local children, full of horrified fascination, had no doubt indulged in. “If I talk to you it makes it true.”

Scully tried to express a confidence she didn’t feel. “If you talk to me, tell me what you saw, it might help us find her.” As she spoke she held out the lion. At last, Jo took it, looking at Scully for the first time.

“I saw her with a man.” She spoke in a quick monotone, as if she felt that if she spoke fast enough the words would not be true. “He was talking to her outside school, then she went off with him.”

“Did you see where they went?”

“No. It was crowded. I only saw them for a moment.”

“What did he look like?”

“White …. tall …. quite old …. er …. brown hair.” She suddenly started crying again. “I can’t remember! I don’t know!”

“You’ve done very well. What you’ve said has been very helpful.” Scully hastened to reassure the crying girl, although the description offered little to go on. To a ten-year-old, any man would seem “tall” and “quite old”. She hoped the girl wouldn’t have to face an identity parade if they found a suspect.

Jo was incoherent with grief once more, so Scully took her leave, realising that it would be unwise to push for information, although she left a note of her number in case Jo remembered anything else useful. Once in the car, she leant her head back on the head rest with a sigh, feeling drained by all the intense grief she’d been exposed to. Realising that Gardiner was looking at her in concern, she forced the emotions down, struggling to show an appearance of professional detachment.

“What shall we do now?” Gardiner asked, when she’d told him the results of the interview.

“Tell Newman,” said Scully, reaching for her phone, although she knew that he would have no easy answers. Unless any of Sophie’s other friends had more to add, they could do little but wait. They’d go public on the report of the strange man, appealing for witnesses who’d seen someone answering his description, but until they got any response they were working blind, without any real leads to go on.

“Unless that telepath’s contacted Mulder…..” said Gardiner, hopefully, after Scully had finished her brief call.

Scully silenced him with a look.

~&~&~&~

November 14th 1995

Someone was shaking him. He was in a safe place, and someone was shaking him, trying to drag him away. He didn’t want to be dragged away. He couldn’t remember the other place but he knew he’d been unhappy there – that he’d be unhappy there still. He tried to sink yet deeper into the safe place, hoping that the person would give up, but the shaking grew more insistent. He could hear noises too – a phone ringing, people talking, footsteps which came closer then passed by. And a voice close to his ear, calling his name, making the safe place fade away into oblivion.

“Mulder?” It was Scully, her voice gentle, though her hand was firm as she steadily shook his shoulder. “I’m sorry to wake you, but you’re in the way.”

Blinking to dispel the last vestiges of sleep, Mulder looked up, trying to remember where he was, taking in the unfamiliar office, the desk he was slumped on, the police officers busy at work around him.

“I’ve been asleep!” He was fully awake now, and angry with himself. “I was going to stay awake. I might have missed him!” He couldn’t remember being tired. As the hours of night had turned into early morning, he’d been filled with energy, his mind rejoicing in being free from the dark thoughts that had been assailing it just hours earlier. He didn’t know why they were gone, but their absence had left him suddenly inspired with ideas on how to proceed on the case. He knew he’d been awake at four, for he’d looked up at the clock then, pausing in his writing to stretch his tired muscles. It was now nine o’clock.

Scully looked worried. “Don’t push yourself too hard. You need the sleep. I know you got no sleep at all the previous night.” Thinking back, he realised this was true. At the time he’d been too busy working to notice. “Anyway, I’ve asked. He didn’t call.” She smiled suddenly. “And after the way you spoke to them yesterday, they’d certainly have woken you if he had called.”

He flinched with shame at the memory of how he’d behaved yesterday, storming into the police incident room, insisting that he was the only one capable of dealing with the anonymous caller. He couldn’t remember why he’d been so sure. Now, the initial euphoria of being in control of his own thoughts having worn off, he wasn’t sure of anything.

“What did you find last night?” he asked, in an attempt to distract himself from the memory.

“Nothing.” Scully shook her head, distress evident in her eyes and her frown. “Nothing since I was here last night.” She’d already told him the results of her interviews with the parents and Jo. “We’ve put an appeal out for witnesses and can only hope that someone comes forward. Apart from that….. well, we’re searching the neighbourhood, hoping to stumble on the place he’s keeping her, but we’re searching blind. He covers his tracks well.”

She looked weary. He wondered how much of the night she’d spent in fruitless searching, or else lying awake, her head ringing with the parents’ cries of grief, or, worse, with imagining Sophie’s cries of agony. He shuddered at the thought of her tormented by such imaginings. She’d had the worst of the case, performing an autopsy and facing the inconsolable grief of Sophie’s parents, while he’d just sat in his room wallowing in his own thoughts, too weak to fight. She had more cause to break down than he did, but she was strong, refusing to let her own feelings interfere with her effectiveness on a case. She put him to shame

“What have you got?” Scully was peering over his shoulder, attempting to decipher the scrawled pages that had issued from his pen during those hours of inspiration.

Mulder tried to drag his thoughts back to the case, attempting to recover the enthusiasm he’d felt before falling asleep. “Ideas on how to track down the telepathic caller,” he said, at last.

Scully sighed, scepticism manifest on her face. Mulder made no attempt to argue with her, offering no defence in the face of her evident disbelief. He could no longer summon up any real enthusiasm for his ideas, although they had seemed so promising last night.

“Let’s hear them.” Scully’s voice was resigned, but she still prompted him a second time when he failed to respond at first.

“He’s new in the area, otherwise he’d have made contact before, last time he saw a violent crime. He probably came from an area with a high crime rate, trying to find peace away from people. For the same reason he probably lives in the country, some way out of town. He can recognise the park and the woods by sight, but can’t identify the clinic where Ellie Benton was found. He might have a criminal record – something that makes him scared to trust us if he came forward with his story.”

His voice was dull. He was merely paraphrasing what he’d written the previous night, without feeling any of the enthusiasm he’d felt then. Full of hope because his dark thoughts had lifted, he’d really believed that he could solve the case – that his ideas could even save a girl’s life. Now he knew he’d been wrong. Wrong to think he could do anything worthwhile in the case. Wrong to hope he could be happy. Wrong to think he deserved to be happy.

Scully nodded, although her expression was strained. “That makes sense, if – if – your basic premise is correct. But ….” Her voice faltered, as if she was reluctant to continue.

“But?” he prompted.

“I’m sorry to sound like Newman, but have you profiled our serial killer yet – not some “telepath” who’s watching the killer, but the killer himself?” She didn’t look him in the eyes, as if scared of how he’d react, and she sighed when his silence gave her all the answer she needed.

Mulder was saved from having to reply by the sudden entrance of Gardiner. “I missed you at breakfast,” he said, with a bright smile at Scully.

Remembering Gardiner’s expressed interest in Scully, Mulder attempted to gauge Scully’s reaction to him, but he couldn’t see her face. Yesterday the merest suggestion that Scully was interested in Gardiner had brought an overwhelming array of painful thoughts and images. These had left him now, at least for a while, but in their place had left nothing but a great emptiness. It didn’t seem to matter any more. As long as she was happy….

“What have you got, Mulder?” That question again, but Gardiner this time. Unable to summon up the energy to repeat his worthless ideas, Mulder looked beseechingly at Scully, who came to his rescue. As she relayed his ideas to Gardiner, Mulder let his eyes wander across the room. Someone was on the phone, scribbling down notes on a pad, her eyes full of enthusiasm. A lead, perhaps, but even this left him unmoved. He felt as if the overpowering emotions of the last few days had driven out all his normal feelings, leaving nothing but the certainty that he was not free yet.

“What is it?” Scully was suddenly alert as she turned to face the woman who’d taken the call. She was now standing up, holding her pad up in triumph.

“We’ve found him!”

~&~&~&~

Scully reached for her gun, anxious to feel its reassuring presence at her side, smiling a little when she suddenly realised this was the third time in the last minute that she’d performed this particular nervous gesture. And in that whole minute no-one had come to the door. She reached out and knocked again, louder this time, her heart pounding with anticipation of what might be about to happen. The frosted glass in the front door revealed little of the house’s interior, but every second that passed made her more certain that it contained death. The overgrown garden, the peeling paintwork, the looming forms of boxes just visible through the windows -everything suggested a perfect hideout for a murderer to take his victim. Even the weather was adding to the atmosphere, producing a dark bank of clouds which welled up from the north, making the mid-morning light as grey as late dusk.

She and Gardiner had wasted no time, visiting the girl as soon as the call had come in. It was another girl from the same school as Sophie, although not one of her close friends. She’d been ignorant of Sophie’s disappearance, hearing the news only when she reached the school, where no-one could talk of anything else. Hearing about the mysterious man that Jo had seen, she’d suddenly broken out in hysterical screams, claiming that there were dead bodies next door to her and that the killer would come for her next. It had been a while before her teacher could get the whole story out of her, but as soon as he had he’d called the police, for she too had seen Sophie going off with a man. Unlike Jo, however, she could identify him, saying he’d just moved in to the empty house next door to her family. She’d been calmer by the time Scully and Gardiner arrived, admitting enough doubt for them to feel it inadvisable to raid the house in force, but there was still enough evidence for Scully to feel that they could well be knocking on the door of a serial killer.

“Should we break the door down?” Gardiner looked nervous.

“Not yet.” Scully wondered how Gardiner had lasted so long in the Bureau. He actually had more years of experience as a field agent than she did, but was constantly seeking her approval before doing anything. She could only assume that he was competent enough when not dazzled by working with the X-Files team. Either that or the Bureau’s recruitment policies left a lot to be desired.

She raised her hand to knock one more time, the other hand reaching for the gun. This time it wasn’t a nervous gesture. She kept her hand on the weapon, ready to draw it at a moment’s notice.

“No answer.” She made up her mind at last, turning to Gardiner to give him his instructions. If he wanted her to take the lead then she would. Better than standing on the doorstep all day while a killer laughed at them from inside. “Call for back-up! We’ll go in.” If Mulder had been there, she thought, he’d probably have been in long ago, no thought of back-up. He’d have found the killer, too, although would doubtless have been knocked unconscious in the process.

Suddenly the door opened. It took all Scully’s self-control not to pull out her gun there and then. She didn’t think her heart could pound any faster, but when she saw the person at the door, she was sure that it speeded up even more from the shock. In all her dark imaginings of what the house contained, she had never expected this.

“Do you want my Daddy? He’s in the shower.”

The “killer” she’d nearly threatened at gun point was a little girl of no more than seven.

~&~&~&~

“I guess we’re back where we started – with nothing.” Scully sighed, shutting her eyes as she leant back on the head-rest.

The man they’d visited had been the man seen with Sophie, but he’d only stopped her to ask for directions to the principal’s office. It had been hard to explain so she walked with him a little way, taking him to within sight of the office, then had left him. That was all he’d seen of her. He’d known nothing of her disappearance, not having set up an order for the local newspaper and being too busy unpacking to watch the television. He’d have come forward straight away had he known, he assured them, although he’d spoken to her so little that he couldn’t say for sure that it had been Sophie he’d spoken to, although, of course, if there were witnesses then it must have been. He was very busy making the new home habitable, but he’d be more than willing to drop everything and join the search for the poor girl. He felt some responsibility, being possibly the last person to see her alive. Apart from the murderer, of course, and he’d do everything he could to help apprehend him.

“Shouldn’t he still be a suspect?” Gardiner refused to let it drop. “He is new the area, and the murders only started a week ago. All those big crates and boxes he’s been carrying into the house …..perfect places to hide a body.”

Scully shook her head. A call to the school principal confirmed that he had indeed had an appointment with her after school the previous afternoon, and had stayed with her for half an hour, by which time Sophie was already five minutes late. Instead it looked more and more as if Sophie had indeed been taken by an unknown man, but not until she was nearly home. Newman had called and said that several witnesses thought they’d seen her at various stages of her journey. Martinez and O’Brien were on their way to interview a woman who thought she saw her heading for an area of waste ground commonly used by children as a short cut. In good weather it would have been crowded, but in the winter most children were taken to school by car.

Even then Gardiner wasn’t subdued. “Maybe Mulder’s come up with something,” he said, eagerly.

Scully preferred not to think about that.

~&~&~&~

“What have you got?” Newman’s voice was gruff as he crossed the room in a few angry paces.

Mulder, sitting behind the desk he’d appropriated in the police station, made no response, staring down at the notes in front of him. Scully, who’d been leaning on the back of the chair when Newman entered, suddenly doubted that Mulder was actually seeing the notes – if indeed he was even aware of his surroundings. As soon as they’d returned from their fruitless morning, Gardiner had seized upon Mulder’s ideas for tracking down the alleged “telepath”, enthusiastically planning out their afternoon of chasing the leads. Scully, playing her usual sceptic’s role in the face of such enthusiasm, hadn’t noticed how little Mulder was contributing to the conversation. Looking back, she couldn’t recall him saying a word.

Newman repeated his question, louder this time, recalling Scully to the present, but Gardiner got in first. “Mulder’s got some great ideas for tracking down the tel…. er… the caller.” At least the man had some tact.

“I don’t want to hear about the caller!” Newman shouted. “I want to hear about the killer! Have you done your profile yet?”

Everyone in the room turned round, roused by the shout, but Mulder made no response. Newman took his silence as a no.

“Damn you, Mulder! Three days you’ve been here, and still done nothing. I was right about you all along. I only agreed to ask you here because Gardiner begged me, and because, as he kept on telling me, you once had a good record for being able to catch monsters like this. I want to solve this case – that’s my top priority – so I was prepared to give you another chance – to put aside my dislike of you because Gardiner believed you were the best hope of solving this thing without any further deaths. But there have been more deaths. One – probably two.”

Mulder started. Recalled from whatever dark reverie he’d been in, his attention was certainly on Newman now. He offered no defence. Newman continued, relentlessly.

“I don’t know if you could have prevented them. I believe in good old-fashioned police work – in hard work, searching the area, talking to witnesses. I don’t know about psychology. I don’t know if a psychological profile could have stopped all this. Perhaps not.” He leant across the desk, his face only inches from Mulder’s, an angry finger stabbing at his chest. “But if there’s even the smallest chance that a profile might help, then it is your duty to produce one – it was your duty to produce one. That’s what you’re here for. Everyone else has done all they can to track him down, and what have you done? Moped around God knows where, sat in your room, sat here doing nothing. If I find out there was anything you could have done that would have prevented these deaths –anything– then I’ll hold you personally responsible.”

Mulder remained silent, though Scully could tell from his rapid breathing that he was hearing everything that was said. Worse, was believing it.

“It’s all a game to you, isn’t it?” Newman shouted. “A game. Trying out your crazy ideas, seeing how far you can go with them. But these are real people you’re playing with here – real people who are suffering because you’d rather use this case – use them – to test your latest theory. Just because the killer doesn’t fit into one of your paranormal theories you can’t be bothered to profile him. But you can’t pick and choose on a case like this, pursuing only things that suit your interests. It is our duty to do whatever we can to solve this, however boring, or uncomfortable, or disturbing it might be. There are lives at stake, and you don’t give a damn. Three women dead. Three families devastated. A young girl probably being tortured to death even as you do nothing. Real people, Mulder. Not dry theories on a piece of paper. People.”

Scully knew she should stop this – should have stopped it before it went this far – but Newman’s words held her gripped by a horrified fascination. Gardiner was rigid, mouth open with shock. She couldn’t see Mulder’s face.

Newman straightened up, anger fading from his face. To her surprise, Scully saw tears shining in his eyes. “Can you even begin to imagine what it’s like for that poor girl – for her family?” His voice was still reproachful, but was quieter now, full of sadness. “I’ve just talked to them. Their lives have been devastated. Could you look them in the eye and explain why you haven’t done your profile? They’ve lost their daughter – a ten year old girl. Can you imagine what they’re going through?” He paused for a moment, showing visible emotion. “Well, I care. Even if you don’t, I care about finding the man who’s got their little girl. And if you want a career to go back to when this is over, I suggest you get on with that profile. Now.” And with that he turned and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Scully let out the breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding, suddenly aware that she’d been gripping Mulder’s shoulder. When she relaxed her grip he slumped forward, resting his head in his hands. He was still silent. Everyone else in the room had heard the scene – they couldn’t help but hear it – and looked embarrassed, trying not to stare openly. Scully still felt stunned, overwhelmed by the force of Newman’s resentment, his words still echoing in her ears: “can you imagine what they’re going through?” She gasped as the implication hit her, realising suddenly why Mulder was reacting the way he was. She cursed herself for not seeing it earlier, and for her failure to anticipate Newman’s attack. She could have prevented the scene. She only hoped that she could prevent another.

“Mulder? I’ll be back soon.” She doubted he’d heard her, but there was no time to get through to him. She was anxious to catch Newman before he left.

Newman was just down the corridor, standing at a window, obviously still wrestling with his emotions. Scully had been angry with him for his attack on Mulder, but the sight of him reminded her that she had no right. Newman genuinely wanted to solve the case, genuinely felt intensely for the victims and their families. As far as he was concerned, Mulder was jeopardising the case and deserved to be rebuked.

“Agent Newman?” Scully kept her voice low. “Please don’t be too hard on Mulder.”

Newman snorted. “He deserved everything I said.”

Scully hesitated before replying. Much of what she knew about Mulder’s childhood had been told to her in confidence and she didn’t want to break that to anyone, least of all to someone who disliked him as much as Newman did. But at the same time she though it important, in the circumstances, that Newman knew. She was prepared to do anything to prevent another scene like the one she’d just witnessed. “No he didn’t,” she said, at last. “That bit about him not understanding what the girl’s family are going through – you weren’t to know, but he does know exactly what they’re going through. His sister disappeared when she was eight, and was never found. Because he was baby-sitting at the time he blamed himself – still blames himself. He’s never got over it.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Newman looked sincerely sorry. “But that doesn’t alter the fact that he’s deliberately obstructing this case.”

“No he’s not!” It came out as an angry protestation, forcing Scully into a quick apology. “Sorry,” she continued, voice deliberately calm. “He’s not doing it deliberately. He’s not normally like this, but he’s under a lot of stress at the moment. To be honest, I’m very worried about him.” She hadn’t intended to reveal Mulder’s problems, but couldn’t leave Newman thinking Mulder was deliberately obstructing a murder investigation.

Newman sighed, his expression softening. “Look, I don’t like Mulder, I admit that. But I’m not a total monster. If Mulder’s suffering from stress then he has my full sympathy. But if that’s so he shouldn’t be on the case. If he’s having emotional problems that are interfering with his work, then he shouldn’t be working. It’s as simple as that. He should take sick leave, have a vacation, talk to a therapist, resign from the Bureau -anything but jeopardise an investigation by working on it when incapable of giving it his full attention.”

Scully was about to argue, but suddenly realised that Newman was absolutely right. “Yes, I know,” she said. “I’ll talk to him – try to persuade him to get help.”

That would be no easy task, she thought, as she walked back to the incident room, pausing at the door as she steeled herself to face what was inside.

~&~&~&~

“I hold you personally responsible.” He wondered who had said that. He thought he’d heard it very recently, but the voice was his father’s, and he was dead. “Can you imagine what they’re going through?”

“Yes!” he wanted to shout. “Of course I know.” He’d put his parents through the same grief all that time ago, and then more recently still. “Do you know what this will do to your mother?” He’d cried then, knowing it was all his fault, but his father had been remorseless. He’d deserved it. He’d lost her twice. “But the second one wasn’t….” A little voice in his mind, ruthlessly suppressed. “She might have been. You lost her anyway. You didn’t protect any of them.”

And then it was all there. Stratego. A bright light. A bridge. Ice. “Where is she?” he’d asked, again and again. No answer. “You’re making a big mistake.” He couldn’t even do that right. Always out of reach, floating away from his every move. Calling for him. Shaking his shoulder…..

“Mulder? Mulder! It’s me.” Why didn’t she call him Fox?

“Mulder? Please talk to me.” She was very small now, far off in the bright light, nearly gone. “Samantha!” he shouted, reaching for her. And someone was there, warm beneath his grip.

Scully.

Her face was full of concern. “I’m okay, Scully.” He forced the words out, but they sounded less real in his head than the voices of his memories.

Scully shook her head, sadly. “I don’t think you are, Mulder. You’ve got to talk to someone.”

“I’m not crazy, Scully.” The voices had gone now.

Scully sighed. “You must realise how strange your behaviour has been recently. All these mood swings and these periods completely unresponsive. Don’t you think you’d be better taking some time off, just to get some rest?”

“No!” Mulder knew suddenly that he couldn’t stop working – that work was the only thing keeping him sane. Lose his work and he’d lose his focus in life – lose all chance of keeping the terrible memories at bay. “I’m coping, Scully. It’s only memories.” He struggled for an explanation. “When you were away I had some time to think, and to brood on the past. I just need a little more time, but I’ll forget them.”

Scully looked weary. “Mulder, you know that’s not true. I know you – you’ve lived with these memories every day of your life. You’ll never forget, not without help. But you can get help.” She looked at him, earnestly. “I’d support you. Skinner would give you time off if you needed it, but you could still do unofficial research on the X-Files if you feel you need to work. Don’t be ashamed to admit you need help.”

He’d been about to nod, accepting the truth of her words, already feeling the relief that came with handing over a problem to someone else rather than tackling at alone. But then…. “she wants you to forget.” That voice again, drowning out reason. “No!” he shouted, out loud, noticing Scully flinch. “No! I don’t need help. I mustn’t forget. I need to remember what I’ve done.” He saw the hurt in her eyes, and was filled with guilt that he’d caused her pain once more. Just like he’d hurt everyone else.

“Leave me alone, Scully.” He made his tone brusque, driving her away. She could only be happy away from him. “I’ll do that profile now.”

Scully opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. She reached out to touch his arm but he made himself flinch away. He couldn’t let her get close enough to get hurt. “Go away. I’m trying to work,” he snapped, but the look on her face was enough to bring the voices back.

Drowning in memories, he didn’t even notice when Scully left.

~&~&~&~

She should have stayed. She knew that now – now that it was too late. Sitting next to Gardiner in the car, coming back from an afternoon of fruitless investigation, the case was the last thing that Scully was thinking of.

She’d been forced to put Mulder from her mind for hours, focusing all her attention on interviewing witnesses. By combining the various statements they’d been able to get a clear picture of when and where Sophie disappeared, but as yet no-one had reported seeing anyone acting suspiciously in the area. The other agents and the local police, joined by a large band of civilian volunteers, had searched waste ground, woodlands, deserted buildings – anywhere that might hide a criminal, or a body – but they had merely scratched the surface of possible places. It seemed increasingly likely that Sophie would be found dead, if she was found at all. It was not something that Scully liked to dwell on.

But putting the case from her mind and thinking about Mulder offered no comfort either. When he’d shouted at her to leave she’d been so angry, so hurt, that she had stormed out, slamming the door, determined to teach him a lesson by staying away for hours, ignoring his calls. But even as she did it she knew she was being unfair – that Mulder was only driving her away because he was too upset to talk. She knew she should have stayed – should have persisted in offering comfort until eventually he’d open up to her. She knew that something was disturbing him deeply, and she really felt for him, but at the same time she was hurt and angry when he excluded her, rejecting her offers of help. Now, looking back at it, she knew she should have suppressed the anger, letting him know that she’d be there for him as he dealt with his problems in his own way, even if that wasn’t the way she’d have preferred. But at the time it was always so difficult not to feel angry that even after all this time he still didn’t trust her enough to tell her what was worrying him.

“Agent Scully …. er…. Dana?” Gardiner’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Can I ask you something?”

“What?” Scully snapped, her voice expressing her annoyance at the distraction.

“Oh, nothing. It doesn’t matter.” Gardiner’s face fell, and Scully was full of remorse.

“I’m sorry,” she said, forcing a smile. It was unfair to take out on Gardiner all her frustrations about Mulder. “You took me by surprise. I was just thinking about Mulder – about that scene earlier.”

For once, Gardiner didn’t launch into the enthusiastic praise that he normally expressed whenever anyone mentioned Mulder’s name. Instead he looked grave. “Er….About Mulder….. Are you and he ….er….?”

He looked so bashful that Scully wasn’t offended by the question. “No.” She almost laughed. “It’s nothing like that. We’re just….” She paused, unsure how to explain the relationship she had with Mulder. “We’re partners,” she said simply.

Gardiner looked relieved. “Agent Scully ?… I mean, Dana?” He took a deep breath, blushing furiously. “Please could I ask you to dinner?”

Scully was stunned. It was the last thing she’d expected, and she was at a loss for an answer. In the past when a man had asked her on a date she’d at least anticipated his interest and considered her reply. But Gardiner ….She’d never thought about Gardiner in that way at all, never contemplated a relationship with him. She needed time – time to think about him as a possible date rather than as a naive young agent who’d spent the case by her side, in Mulder’s place. Dinner was no commitment, she knew. She could say yes – go to one meal with him and then go their separate ways if it didn’t work out. But Gardiner’s face, shy and hopeful, told her that it would be unfair to say yes unless she was serious.

“Ask me again when the case is over,” she said, at last. “I couldn’t enjoy myself until this is finished.” Although she said it as an excuse to postpone her decision, she realised it was true.

But when the case was over she’d have to decide. She had to admit that she was flattered that someone was interested. She’d almost forgotten what it felt like to know that a man found her attractive and wanted to spend some time with her. Of course, Mulder always wanted to spend time with her, normally at unearthly hours of the night, but he wanted her for distinctly unromantic pursuits. Mulder didn’t count. He didn’t seem to notice she was a woman. Of course, she conceded, she was normally glad of that, aware that too many male agents judged a female agent by their sex rather than by their achievements. But, still, it was good for the ego to be admired every now and then – admired for appearance and character as well as for skill in tracking down some psychopath. And if anyone was going to admire her, Gardiner was a good enough choice, being well-meaning and genial. He was quite good-looking too, with a round face, curly fair hair and a ready smile. It wasn’t the type she normally found attractive but he was pleasant enough.

She almost turned to him and said yes there and then, but stopped herself just in time, aware that she was reacting simply to the pleasure of being noticed by someone -anyone. Gardiner was pleasant, and was interested, but it ended there. She’d lived perfectly well for two years without a date, and wasn’t so desperate that she should accept the first unobjectionable man who came along, as if she wasn’t capable of having a life without a man.

The X-Files hardly allowed room for romance, anyway. It wasn’t just the time. The X-Files – and Mulder – took up so much of her thoughts that there was little left over for a relationship. Although she sometimes longed for an ordinary life-style, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to reduce her emotional connection to the X-Files. Certainly not to Mulder. Right now he needed her to be there for him, not away starting a relationship with someone else.

She sighed as she realised that her thoughts had travelled back to Mulder again. He needed her there for him – she’d just told herself that – but he made it so difficult for her to support him. If he hadn’t done that profile, she feared he was beyond anyone’s help. If he wasn’t already.

~&~&~&~

“Mulder?” Newman was speaking through gritted teeth, his eyes not reflecting the forced apology he was trying to express. “I’m sorry about earlier. Scully’s told me some things, and I know some of the things I said were undeserved.” He paused a little, shrugging ruefully. “I guess this case is getting to me more than I thought. I just get furious at the thought of anyone not pulling their weight.”

“I deserved it all.” Mulder’s voice sounded strange in his own ears, accustomed as he’d become to the voices of thoughts and memories which hammered on his senses more insistently than reality.

Newman’s grunt suggested that he fully agreed. Mulder knew he’d only been pushed into apologising by Scully and he was grateful, although he knew she was wrong to defend him – that his actions were always indefensible.

“I suppose it’s better than nothing.” Newman broke the short silence, looking down at the rough notes he held in his hands. It wasn’t a properly written profile, but the disjointed notes and ideas contained all Mulder’s thoughts on the killer. “I only wish you could have bothered to do this earlier. It wasn’t difficult.”

But it had been difficult – so difficult that Mulder felt totally drained from the effort. Writing the profile had suddenly seemed the most important thing in the world, but the memories just wouldn’t leave him alone, assailing him with images more insistent than any he’d seen before….

“Write the profile. Please help me!” It had been Sophie’s face, but the voice had been Samantha’s, shouting so loudly that he could find no room in his mind for anything else. “Hurry up. Write it now. It’s nearly too late!” The bright light had nearly swallowed her now, as blood had dripped from Sophie’s wounds.

Desperate to help, he’d tried to think of the case, tried to analyse the killer’s actions, but the pleading cries had drowned out everything else. “I’m trying!” he’d cried with all his mind. “Leave me alone and let me think!”

And then his thoughts had cleared and he’d known he would be able to write the profile, but even as he relaxed her voice had sounded from a long way away. “You told me to leave you alone. You don’t love me any more….”

Her voice had expressed more grief than he’d ever heard, but he knew he mustn’t give in. “You’re not real. You’re not real.” He’d repeated it over and over, summoning up all his strength to keep the thoughts at bay.

It had sometimes worked. Sometimes he’d produced a line before his resistance crumbled. Sometimes he’d only managed a few words, regaining control sometime later to find he’d not left enough to enable him to recover the thread of the thought. Once, with an effort that left sweat pouring down his face, he’d managed a paragraph.

If it had been anything other than a serial killer’s profile it would have been easier, but he’d felt as if he was clearing his mind of one horror to dwell on another -forcing out the terrible images that tormented him in order to contemplate the mind of someone who revelled in torturing people.

Every detail of the case had prompted a fresh attack.

“He gets pleasure out of other people’s suffering”, he’d written, full of repugnance for the killer. But then…..“you’re not so different.” The voice of his conscience, always there, whispering. “Who causes more pain – him or you?” “It’s a game for you,” Newman had said, and his conscience had remorselessly shown him the people who’d suffered while he played games for his own pleasure. Scully. Deep Throat. Melissa. His father.

“He’s attacking our social mores by killing the innocent and respectable.” But even as he’d written the words they’d been blurred by his own tears. “They were innocent too.” Scully, Melissa, Samantha – especially Samantha. “You spared the guilty.” Cancer Man. He’d lowered his gun then and left him unharmed, knowing that Cancer Man was less guilty than he was himself. “You wanted revenge. You wanted to punish the guilty. Then you should have turned the gun on yourself.”

Now the memories and the tormenting conscience had left him for a while, and he didn’t have to fight for control of his own mind. He felt no relief. He remembered what they’d told him and believed it. When the thoughts came as the vivid bursts of images they could be dismissed as insane delusions, but when they came coherently in his conscious mind he knew they were all true. He’d rather be insane than guilty of everything they’d shown him.

~&~&~&~

Seething with impatience, Scully wondered how Gardiner could turn the simple task of getting out of the car into such a major operation, anxiously straightening his tie in the mirror and smoothing out every crease from the coat he’d retrieved from the back seat. When he started flicking through all the notes he’d made on the afternoon’s interviews, attentively sorting them into order, she gave up, leaving him with only a muttered explanation and heading alone into the police station.

Her heart was pounding, and it was all she could do to keep herself from breaking into a run, although at the same time part of her was full of trepidation, anxious for any sort of delay which could keep her from the confrontation which she feared might ensue. She knew matters had come to a head, and was painfully aware that if Mulder had still failed to produce a profile Newman wouldn’t hesitate to put in an official complaint. Given Mulder’s past record, she feared that this could herald the end of his career. It was one thing for Skinner to intervene on Mulder’s behalf when the complaint issued from the shadowy forces whose influence he resented almost as much as Mulder did, but this was something different. Skinner could turn a blind eye to Mulder breaking the rules when he was fighting enemies who had no qualms about breaking the law themselves, but he’d consider this sort of dereliction of duty in a criminal investigation unforgivable. The only hope was to plead a temporary breakdown caused by job-induced stress, but even this would look bad on his record – if his record could possibly look worse than it no doubt did already.

Outside the incident room she paused a while, straining to catch the hum of conversation which drifted through the closed door. Although she couldn’t make out any words, she could distinguish Newman’s voice, and supposed it was a good sign that he wasn’t shouting.

Before reaching for the handle, she struggled to calm her breathing, suddenly aware of how stressed she must appear. Mulder needed to see her calm and in control if she was ever going to convince him to open up to her and trust her with his problems. He wouldn’t want to burden her with his own problems if he knew how bothered she was by his behaviour. Instead he’d likely add her stress to the long list of things he could feel guilty about. She was painfully aware that she’d singularly failed to keep her cool over the last few days, handling Mulder’s depression badly.

“Are you okay, Agent Sc…. er…. Dana?” Wrapped up in her own worries, Scully hadn’t heard Gardiner approaching, his footsteps muffled by the drab institutional carpet. She blushed at being caught listening at doors like a little girl. She only hoped she wasn’t blushing as much as Gardiner did every time he used her name. He was looking concerned and embarrassed, and was clutching a briefcase full of the notes which he’d evidently sorted to his own satisfaction at last.

Smiling her reassurance, Scully opened the door, forestalling Gardiner who was reaching for the handle, preparing to play the gentleman.

“…. So we can stake out here …. and here …. er …. and here’s another one.” A tight knot of agents and police was gathered around a chart on the wall, sticking little pointers in at various locations. Their voices were full of the eagerness of a promising new lead. Scully fervently hoped this lead had been provided by Mulder’s profile. He wasn’t part of the group, but was over by the window, staring out at the rain-sodden streets. He didn’t turn round when she came in.

“Oh, hello, Agent Scully, Gardiner.” Newman turned round, a sincere smile on his lips. He seemed to bear no grudge over Scully’s criticism of the way he was dealing with Mulder. She hoped this meant he recognised that he’d been wrong, but knew it more likely that Newman had just agreed to differ with her when it came to Mulder. This suspicion was confirmed when he gestured towards Mulder, his expression darkening. “He’s done that profile, at last. If you can call it a profile.” His voice expressed no approbation.

Scully took the proffered document, skimming though it quickly as the other agents continued to discuss tactics. “He’s got a grudge against society,” she read. “He’s attacking our social mores by killing the innocent and respectable – undermining everything society holds sacred. He’s killed a teacher and a doctor – caring professions who have a special place in society – and what better way to shock society than to torture and kill a child? And then there’s more. Not only does he kill the innocent, but he also defiles the places associated with them. Clearly he keeps his victims elsewhere, but before killing them he transports them to a specially chosen place which he can symbolically defile by killing them there. The teacher is killed at a children’s play area in the park. The doctor is killed next to a clinic….”

“Right. Let’s go!” Their campaign sorted out, everyone began to collect their things in preparation for their departure. Scully speeded up her reading.

“He gets pleasure out of other people’s suffering and pain, but he’s not just attacking them, he’s attacking society. He feels society has let his down. He was probably abused as a child but for whatever reason received no help. Consequently he feels that society – in particular teachers and doctors – failed him. He attacks symbols of the people who let him down, and also children who represent the life he didn’t have. A child from a happy home. A teenager in a loving relationship – a thing he’s never had himself. Society had given him nothing, and he wants his revenge.”

There was more of the same, which she skimmed quickly, heading for the conclusions at the end. “By past precedent we can deduce that he’ll kill Sophie Williams in an appropriate place. Probably a school, though he won’t be so obvious as to chose the one she attended. Possibly a church.” Sophie’s father was a prominent local preacher. “It will be tonight or tomorrow night, probably very late. We should stake out as many possible sites as we can.”

She found herself nodding in agreement as she read. Although it wasn’t written as a formal profile its conclusions seemed sound enough. She wondered why no-one had noticed how appropriate the crime scene locations were. It occurred to her that Mulder wasn’t the only one who’d neglected his duty to the case. Assuming that profiling was Mulder’s job, no-one had bothered to think about the killer’s motives, ignoring any part of the investigation which was properly the job of a profiler. Had anyone bothered to think, they’d have no doubt noticed the connection days ago.

Aware that several people had already left, she quickly leafed back through the pages, looking at Mulder’s description of the suspect which she’d skimmed over earlier. “We’re looking for a young man, probably early twenties, not more than half a dozen years out of school. From evidence at the scene of Ellie Benton’s murder we know he’s got brown hair. He lives alone, or at least is alone at the moment, without a job, and possibly has a minor criminal record. He’s had a few years of adult life, watching his contemporaries find work and relationships, while failing to find them himself. He’s begun to realise his upbringing means he never has any chance of being an accepted member of society, and the resentment has been building up until finally he’s cracked, launching his offensive on the society that first failed to protect him and then rejected him. We must approach him with extreme caution. Law enforcement is another pillar of the society he hates, and he would not hesitate to kill.”

“Damn you, Mulder! I thought you’d seen sense at last.” Hearing Newman’s shout, Scully dropped the profile in alarm. Newman was standing behind Mulder, his face livid. “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” he shouted, jerking roughly on Mulder’s shoulder, turning him round.

Scully caught her breath at the sight of Mulder’s face, the relief she’d briefly felt when she found he’d done the profile rushing out of her in an instant. He looked utterly exhausted, almost on the point of collapse. If she hadn’t known that he’d spent the afternoon sitting at a desk, she’d have deduced that he’d been enduring some immense physical exertion that took every ounce of his energy.

“He won’t come with us,” Newman offered by way of explanation for his anger. “If he’s right we need to stake out dozens of places. We need every man we can get, and he won’t help.”

His voice was rising again, leading Scully to fear another torrent of accusation that she feared would push Mulder over the edge, if he wasn’t there already. “Let me handle this,” she said, anxious to protect Mulder from Newman’s anger. Although she kept her voice placatory she looked firmly at Newman, relaxing her gaze only when he got the message and crossed to the other side of the room, granting them some privacy although he kept a keen eye on them.

“Mulder,” Scully whispered urgently, anxious not to be overheard. By now half the police department had no doubt heard the content of Newman’s tirade, and she didn’t want to any more of Mulder’s problems to become common knowledge. If he was having a breakdown it was bad enough without it becoming a spectator sport.

He looked at her when she spoke his name. She’d feared he was lost in some dark reverie, unaware of his surroundings, but he was focused on her presence, even though he looked exhausted.

“Why won’t you go with them?” She was careful to keep her voice level. “I’ve just read your profile. It’s good. If you understand how this man works you’d be useful out there with them.”

“I need to stay here.” The words came out as if simply speaking required a greater effort than he really had the energy for. “I must be here if the caller makes contact.”

Scully couldn’t suppress a sigh. When she’d read the profile she’d assumed Mulder had given up on his fixation on his telepathic caller. “If he does, they’ll talk to him.” She gestured at the officers stationed next to the phones, ready to take any call related to the case. “Finding the killer’s the most important thing, and they could really use your knowledge there.”

This is more important, Scully.” Mulder’s voice was firmer now, the urgency he obviously felt over-riding his still-evident exhaustion. “The caller’s our best way to find the killer. Those other things I wrote – they’re just extra ideas, not much chance of working. But the caller’s the key. I understand him.” He grabbed her arm, looking earnestly into her eyes. “I don’t know why I know this, but I do. I understand the man. If I talk to him I might be able to persuade him to help.”

He was staring at her intensely, looking almost like the old Fox Mulder, obsessively fixed on pursuing a case beyond all reason. But then he sighed, weariness suffusing his face again. “Don’t ask me why, Scully,” he said quietly. “But this is important to me. More important than anything. For the first time in my life I want to do the right thing.” These last words came out as a quiet mumble, probably not intended for her ears at all, and the implications filled her with horror. She’d always known he felt guilty about certain things in his life, but had no idea it had become this bad.

“Mulder.” She reached for his hand, sympathy outweighing any anger she might have felt for his constant provocation of Newman. Any credit he might have gained by writing the profile would be wiped out by this refusal to leave the phone. She searched for words of comfort, but didn’t know where to start.

“Agent Mulder!” An urgent call interrupted her attempts at comfort, jerking Mulder into an instant alertness. “It’s him!”

Newman made a cry, stepping across the room as if to stop Mulder taking the phone, but Mulder was too fast for him, moving with a pace that belied his exhausted appearance.

Scully strained to hear, but the voice at the other end of the line was too quiet. Newman was desperately signalling instructions to trace the call, although the practised officers were already carrying out the necessary procedures. “Keep him talking!” he mouthed to Mulder, but Mulder didn’t appear to notice, his attention thoroughly focused on the anonymous person at the other end of the line.

“Listen! I know it’s not you!” he said, urgently. There was a brief pause, in which the caller obviously objected. “No! It’s not you. You’re just a witness. If you come forward, I promise you no-one will accuse you.” Newman gasped, his face reddening with fury, only just preventing himself from crying out. “Where is it?” Mulder was talking again. “Is it a school? A church?” Another pause, as the caller answered. “As soon as you do know, call us. I know it’s difficult to think when you see things, but you must call us. I’ll be here. Ask for Agent Mulder.”

After a short pause, Mulder put the phone down. “He’s gone,” he said, unnecessarily. “He said she’ll be killed tonight.”

There was an explosion of voices. “Damn! A few seconds more and we’d have got him!” That from a police officer whose name Scully didn’t know, but his words were cut out by a bellow of anger from Newman who rounded on Mulder, fists clenched as if he wanted nothing as much as to beat Mulder to a pulp.

“My God, Mulder!” he shouted. “How could you do that? That was probably our killer, calling to taunt us with our inability to find him, and what do you do? You promise him he’ll not be charged, and then you go and tell him the places where we’ll be waiting for him. “Is it a school? A church?” Well, thanks to you it won’t be either now, and our one advantage gone.”

“It’s not the killer.” Mulder was stubborn, showing no sign of remorse.

Newman took a deep breath, speaking through gritted teeth, struggling to contain his anger. “I won’t waste my breath on this any more. You’re not worth it.” He reached for his coat. “Unlike you, I want to catch this killer, although you’ve probably just ruined any chance of getting that girl out alive. Every second I spend telling you what I think of you is a second less spent on this case, so I’m going out there to look for him.” He paused at the door. “Don’t even think of coming with us. You stay here and wait for your caller – this killer you’re doing everything you can to help. Just don’t come out on the streets with us. No-one wants you there. No-one wants your kind of “help” You poison everything you touch.” And with that parting shot, he slammed the door behind him.

“Mulder, I’ll go and talk to him,” Scully said hastily, “Calm him down.” She knew it was a hopeless task even as she said it, but felt it had to be done.

“Sir,” she said, running next to him as he strode to his car, so he couldn’t accuse her of delaying him. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t think it was Mulder’s fault the caller didn’t hang round long enough for us to trace him.” That was true. Had Newman taken the call, he’d have doubtless accused the caller of murder and forced him to hang up even quicker than Mulder had.

Newman stopped. “Agent Scully. I respect you as an agent, but frankly I’ve had it up to here with your constant attempts to defend Mulder. I’ll welcome your help in our search, but just leave Mulder out of it.”

Scully refused to be daunted. “But, Sir. We don’t know the caller is the killer. Mulder might be right.”

Newman laughed incredulously. “Right that he’s a telepathic witness?” He shook his head. “No, I know we don’t know who he is, but it’s most likely that he’s the killer, taunting us with our ignorance. For a while I thought we might be dealing with some sort of split personality, but Mulder’s profile makes no mention of that.” He smiled, mirthlessly. “I’m not so unreasonable as you think. I admit that his profile makes sense. It’s probably the one thing he’s done right on this case, even though it was days late. I’m still going to stake out schools and churches. If the killer’s playing games, calling us to give us clues so he can enjoy outwitting us, he might rise to the challenge. If he knows we’re on to him it might make it all the more exciting for him to kill her unseen under our very noses. We might still salvage something from the damage Mulder’s done.” He held up his hand, forestalling her objection. “Don’t waste your breath, Agent Scully. You won’t alter my opinion of him.”

Scully sighed, ruefully. “I guess I should have learnt that by now.” She knew Newman was basically a good man, who genuinely cared about the victims and families and wanted to help them. His priority was to solve the case, and he had nothing but contempt for people who obstructed it. She was well aware that Mulder’s behaviour, to someone who didn’t know him as she did, seemed obstructive in the extreme.

“I’ll come and join the team,” she said. “But I want to talk to Mulder first.”

Newman nodded. “What I said earlier …. I was wrong. I do respect you for your attempts to defend Mulder. You’re loyal, and that’s a quality no partner should be without. Of course,” he added, as he climbed into his car. “I don’t think he deserves your loyalty, but that’s not the point. I only hope he appreciates you.”

It was a hope Scully fervently repeated as she turned and walked sadly back into the building. If only Mulder could bring himself to trust her enough to tell her what was worrying him. She couldn’t force him, but his refusal to talk was stretching her patience to the limits. Part of her wanted to take him in her arms, comforting him like a mother would a distressed child, assuring him that everything would be okay. But at the same time part of her wanted to shake him, shouting her hurt at the way he was excluding her. She didn’t know how much longer she could hold things together.

~&~&~&~

November 15th 1995

Mulder no longer noticed the ringing of the phone. At first, long dark hours ago, he’d been jerked into alertness every time it started its insistent tone, hoping desperately that each call would be the breakthrough, the stab of disappointment becoming harder to bear with each false alarm. He didn’t know how he could cope with another disappointment, so he reacted by filtering out all outside noises, attempting to lose himself in his own thoughts. He was rational now, unassailed by the paralysing memories that had so often rendered him unaware of his surroundings, even of himself. He almost wished they’d return and take him away from having to confront the reality of his own failure.

He’d really hoped he could make a difference. He knew that nothing could wipe out his past failures, but, like a drowning man offered a lifebelt, he clutched at this one hope that he could in same way redeem himself. It couldn’t bring Samantha back but he still felt that his own guilt could be lessened if he could take this chance to save another girl who needed him. So often in the past he’d let people down, causing them to suffer, even to die. Everything Newman had said was true. By reflecting on his past mistakes he’d been about to fail another innocent, selfishly wallowing in his own misery when he should have been ignoring his own feelings and concentrating on the case. The past couldn’t be changed, but he could still influence the future. He’d been so convinced that he understood the caller and could get through to him and, by persuading him to share his knowledge, could prevent any further deaths. This hope had been the only thing keeping him going, and with every second that passed it became less likely that it would be fulfilled.

The clock ticked remorselessly. It was nearly 2 o’clock now, the wet wintry streets devoid of traffic, no stars shining in the sky. Too late. Far too late. In the previous cases the caller had reported the whereabouts of the body at round about midnight, never later than quarter past. Nearly two hours late now. Mulder knew with a dreadful certainty that Newman was right. He’d said the wrong thing to the caller, and somewhere nearby, somewhere no-one had thought of looking, a girl lay dead because of him. He was no longer certain that the caller wasn’t the murderer. He wondered why he’d ever been certain of anything, why he’d ever been so presumptuous as to assume he could do anything right.

Beneath him the sodden streets seemed strangely peaceful, silver puddles twitching as raindrops disturbed their smooth surface, water trickling off the shiny tops of the parked cars. He leant further forward into the window, resting his forehead on the glass, staring at the cold ground as his thoughts drifted. Behind him the phone rang, but he didn’t hear it.

“Agent Mulder!” The urgency of the shout penetrated his thoughts, forcing him to turn round to see who had called him. Seeing a police officer holding the phone towards him, he was filled with dread, knowing that it was bad news at last. They’d found the body. He’d failed.

His feet were rooted to the spot. Although he knew what he’d hear, he didn’t think he could face actually hearing the words. It might be Scully, her voice full of pain at the suffering she’d witnessed. He hoped it was Newman. Unlike poor misguided Scully, Newman wouldn’t spare him and would assail him with reproaches he richly deserved.

“Agent Mulder! It’s the anonymous caller! He’s asked for you by name!”

His certainties vanished, replaced by a rising hope he knew he shouldn’t feel. “This is Agent Mulder,” he said, grabbing the phone.

There was silence. No, not silence, for although there were no words there were sounds – the pounding noise of rain at a public phone – choking sobs of someone in torment.

“What can you see? Where is it?” Mulder had to ask several times before the caller could produce a coherent answer.

“The Catholic church out on Jackson Street.” The words sounded as if they had to forced out with immense effort, and were followed by an inarticulate howl of pain. “It’s terrible! We must stop him!”

“Don’t go there….” Mulder began, but there was no-one there to hear him.

Without hesitating a second, he dialled Scully’s number, all his doubts forgotten in the urgency of the situation. More than a girl’s life was at stake in this case.

“Come on Scully, answer!” he urged, silently, as the ringing seemed to go on for an eternity.

And at last she did. “Er…. Scully.” She sounded more than half-asleep. She’d presumably been resting between her shifts on the stakeouts. Mulder had no time to apologise for getting her out of bed.

“Scully! I know where it is! We’ve got to get there now!”

Scully’s voice was business-like, roused to instant wakefulness by the urgency of the situation. She didn’t waste time by asking for more details. “I’ve got the car. I’ll come and pick you up.” He could hear her throwing open drawers, struggling hastily into her clothes. “Call Newman and tell him. He can probably get there before us.”

Mulder had to obey, recognising that she was right, but he didn’t relish the idea of Newman arriving first at the scene. He feared the caller was heading for the scene, drawn by the strange connection he had to the victims, and knew Newman would assume he was the killer.

“It’s Mulder,” he said, as Newman answered, speaking fast to forestall any hostile comment. “The caller’s just made contact. He says it’s the Catholic church on Jackson Road.”

“But can we trust him?” Newman spoke as to a respected fellow agent, no trace of the usual hostility. Mulder supposed he was too good an agent to let personal antagonisms interfere at the potentially crucial part of a case. Better than he was in this respect, certainly. “It might be a trap. Or else a distraction to lure us away from the real place.”

“I know it’s real,” Mulder insisted. “I know you’ll never believe me, but you can’t afford to take any chances. There’s too much at stake.”

“You’re right.” Newman spat the words out as if they burnt his mouth. “I’ll take some men over there.”

“Wait….” Mulder began, anxious to warn Newman about the caller’s probable presence, but Newman was gone. He supposed he could call back, but knew it was probably a hopeless case anyway. Newman still believed the caller was the murderer. As he stood in the road, watching the approach of Scully’s car, he could only hope that Jackson Street, wherever it was, was a shorter journey for them than it was for Newman and his men.

~&~&~&~

“Mulder! Come back!” Mulder ignored Scully’s impatient cry, wrenching open the car door before she was any where near stopping. He landed awkwardly, stumbling on an uneven patch in the wet road, but he didn’t stop to nurse the sudden stab of pain which erupted in his ankle.

A second’s delay could make all the difference. Although they’d arrived at the scene quickly, with Mulder urging Scully on to ever more flagrant breaches of the speed restrictions, as soon as they’d turned into the road it had been all too obvious that Newman and his party had arrived first. The church was surrounded by cars, each one silent and still, their occupants already swallowed up in the building’s interior.

Scully had urged caution, pointing out that it was unwise to rush into such a delicate situation without establishing whether their help was needed. An ill-judged entrance, she’s argued, could do more harm than good. Normally Mulder would have agreed, but this time he’d barely listened to Scully’s arguments, unbuckling his seatbelt even as she was speaking.

All his thoughts had been focused on the scene inside, and it had been unbearable to consider waiting impotently outside while Newman handled the situation. He’d known he’d neglected his duty earlier in the case. He could still repeat every one of Newman’s accusations and he’d known he richly deserved them. The least he could do was to be there at the finish. He’d have been unable to forgive himself if he’d missed this too.

Stabs of pain shot up from his ankle at every step but he barely noticed them. Nothing else mattered but the slender hope that he could prevent a needless death.

“Sir! I must ask you to stay back!” A hand grabbed roughly at his shoulder, arresting his desperate eruption into the cavernous interior of the church. The voice was respectable, a hushed whisper that barely reached Mulder’s ears, but the grip was firm. When Mulder tried to break free, another hand shot out, grabbing him firmly by the wrist.

“Let me go!” Mulder kept his voice low, catching the officer’s desperate signal for him to be silent.

The grip tightened, but suddenly Mulder didn’t want to struggle any more. He stood as if frozen, eyes riveted on the scene that was before him.

The first thing he saw was blood. Lots of blood. There were drops even at his feet, and a smeared trail led from the door along the wide aisle between the rows of seats. On Sundays church goers would fill these seats, their mouths expressing praise and their hearts full of charity. Now the empty seats only looked at death. For there before the altar rail, where countless worshippers had drunk the wine which they believed became the blood of Christ, there was a rich pool of real blood, glistening darkly in the beams of torchlight which sliced the dark shadows of the building like so many knives.

And there, in the heart of the bloody puddle, was a body. She was undoubtedly dead, but only recently so, for blood still trickled from the gaping wound in her throat, though slowly now. She had little blood left to shed. Mulder felt the horror like a physical pain in every part of his body. “She’s dead! I’ve failed her!” The self-accusation beat at his brain like a hail of hammer blows. He was dimly aware of shouting in the building -peremptory orders in a voice that was familiar – but the words couldn’t penetrate his guilt. He’d failed, and she was dead. If only he’d done the profile earlier. If only he’d been strong enough to put the case before his own emotions. If only….

But the results of his failures were there before his eyes. Yet another little girl who’d never grow up. More parents who’d never know peace again. He knew how they’d feel. He’d seen it in his own mother. It had been his fault then too.

“I said freeze!” Newman’s voice barked out the command, the hatred echoing amongst the saints and angels which looked down serenely on the scene of carnage. This time Mulder heard his words.

Like an insect impaled on a pin, a man was caught in the intersecting beams of the torches, half a dozen guns levelled at his body. His hands were smeared with blood, and he was clutching the back of a seat for support, his eyes glazed over with horror. Mulder knew he was lost in some terrible memory of the agony that this place had just seen – a vision which expunged reality and made him unaware of the danger he was in. He doubted that the man even heard the orders that were yelled at him or saw the guns which could kill him at any second. As Mulder watched, the man lifted a shaky hand, passing it over his eyes as if to drive out the lingering vision. His hand left a bloody trail across his forehead.

Newman’s finger tightened on the trigger.

“No!” Mulder put all his strength into the shout. Gardiner turned round, his aim wavering, but the other guns never faltered in their deadly aim.

“Mulder! No!” An urgent whisper from Scully who’d crept up behind him, but again he ignored her. Although he’d failed to save Sophie, he was determined to save an innocent man from being shot down like a common criminal. He didn’t stop to think that he might be wrong – that the man with blood on his hands might be the murderer after all.

“No!” he shouted again, wrestling with the firm grip that still held him close to the door, powerless to move. The urgency made him violent and he exerted all his strength, stabbing with his elbows and kicking with his feet. There was a grunt of pain and the grip relaxed, allowing him to pull himself free.

“Don’t shoot! It’s the wrong man!” Hands brushed his ankles, but he was moving fast, evading the flailing arms of the felled guard who’d tried to trip him up.

“Mulder!” Newman didn’t turn, but his voice was terrible. “Go away now! You’re jeopardising this arrest!”

The man blinked, roused by the commotion. His eyes darted around, a look of wonder on his face as if he was taking in the scene for the first time. Ignoring the guns, he began to move, taking a faltering step towards the door.

“This is your last warning! Freeze or we shoot!”

There was no time to be lost. The man showed no signs of reacting, moving like a sleep-walker through the pool of blood. Newman had half-pulled the trigger already, the other officers waiting for his order, all equally ready to shoot.

Quick as thought, Mulder ran forward, pushing his way through the circle of gunmen. He was dimly aware of hands that tried to stop him but he shook them off, all his attention focused on the blood-stained man in front of him. Stepping on the trail of blood, he slipped, his damaged ankle responding with a fresh burst of pain. He flailed, trying to keep his balance, forcing himself to cover the last few feet that stood between him and the man. There were shouts and movements behind him, but he didn’t listen to them. Nothing else mattered but getting to the man, protecting him from the fatal bullet.

Then the resounding crack of a gunshot drove out all other sounds, and the world was filled with a flash of fire. Mulder crashed into the man, wrapping his arms round his waist and pushing him to the floor, but they hit the ground too late. The bullet had done its work well, and fresh blood welled out to mingle with Sophie’s blood on the floor.

“Mulder!” Scully’s voice sounded as if from a great distance, but Mulder scarcely heard her. All he could see was blood.

~&~&~&~

“Mulder! You could have been killed!” Scully was furious, and was determined to tell Mulder in no uncertain terms what she thought of his behaviour.

They were standing outside the church, pressed up against the side of the building to avoid the rain. Flashing lights from the police cars and ambulance cast unearthly shadows on the wet street, flickering like some hellish nightmare. Mulder looked hellish himself, still streaked with blood. At least she knew now it wasn’t his own. When he’d fallen, clasped around the murderer, there had been so much blood that she hadn’t known who had been hit. She’d scarcely dared approach the scene, dreading that she’d find him hurt, or dead. Her relief at finding out he was unharmed was tempered only by a sudden fury at him for putting himself into this situation – for putting her through the worry she’d just experienced.

Mulder didn’t answer, his eyes fixed on the ambulance. The man they’d arrested was being carried in by paramedics, closely guarded by two police officers. Newman was smiling triumphantly.

“You could have been killed!” Scully repeated. She’d overheard Newman say exactly the same thing, adding grimly that it was a pity he hadn’t been. “What were you thinking of?”

“I had to do it.” Mulder still didn’t look at her. “No-one would listen.”

Scully lost her temper. “Can you blame them?” she shouted. “The things you say – the crazy ideas you come up with…. no wonder no-one listens to you. After all you’ve done to antagonise Newman, did you really expect him to stop in the middle of an arrest just because you tell him to? If so, you’re more stupid than I thought.” She paced violently up and down as she spoke. “Anyway,” she continued, “you shouldn’t have gone in in the first place. We didn’t know the girl was dead. It could have been a delicate hostage situation which you could have unbalanced. She could have caused her to be killed. If you’d even thought of her, instead of wanting to score points off Newman by getting there first…. Just because it was you that insisted on waiting for the caller and you who took the message, you couldn’t bear to leave the arrest to Newman. Perhaps he was right about you after all.”

“They’ve got the wrong man.” Mulder spoke with a quiet determination.

His calm response fanned Scully’s anger. She’d wanted him to shout – to get angry so they could vent their feelings on a proper fight. “My God, Mulder! How can you say that? He was caught red-handed – literally. There was blood all over him. He even fits your profile, as far as age and appearance go. Of course he’s the right man.”

“He’s the wrong man, ” Mulder repeated. He looked her in the eye for the first time. Meeting his gaze, Scully found her anger fading. The dark shadows under his eyes reminded her of how much he’d suffered in the last few days. He’d been almost his old self in the last hour -certainly no sign of the terrifying unresponsiveness she’d witnessed earlier – and she’d completely forgotten how precarious his emotional state was. Anger certainly wouldn’t help, especially since she knew well that her anger was a simple reaction to the worry she’d felt when she’d seen Mulder fall.

She sighed, struggling to suppress her anger. “Well, even if he was the wrong man, you shouldn’t have gone in like that. You could have been killed.” Mulder had looked away again, his eyes following the departing ambulance. Scully reached for his hand, squeezing it comfortingly. “Mulder,” she said, softly, “I know you’re having a difficult time right now, and that it sometimes gets so bad that you think you wouldn’t mind very much if you did get killed, but please believe me when I say that I’d mind. I’d mind very much.”

Mulder squeezed her hand gently in return, but he didn’t face her. She thought she saw a tear trickling down his face but it might have been the rain. Several times she thought he was about to speak, but he was silent. Much as she longed to, she knew better than to force him.

There was a short silence. Eventually Scully broke it. “Shall we go back to the hotel?” The crime scene seemed well under control, and she knew Mulder had scarcely slept in the last few days. She also knew she very probably had an autopsy to face the next morning, and was anxious to get some rest before facing that particular horror.

“No!” Mulder’s voice was urgent. “They’ve got the wrong man. I’ve got to talk to him.”

Scully’s heart sank. She should have remembered that for Mulder the case was far from finished.

“You can’t” She decided not to take issue with Mulder’s belief that they’d arrested the wrong man, sticking to more practical objections. “He’s hurt. The doctors won’t let any one see him for several hours at least.”

“Then I’ll wait. I’ve got to see him. The real killer’s still out there, and he’s our only hope of finding him before he strikes again.”

His tone of voice was all too familiar. Scully knew from bitter experience that nothing would be gained by arguing.

After dropping Mulder off at the hospital, Scully drove to the hotel alone, her heart heavy. The case was as good as over, and she feared Mulder’s refusal to accept it derived less from any real evidence than from a desperate attempt to find a distraction from his own worries. She dreaded his reaction when he finally had to admit he’d been wrong. She couldn’t help fearing that the worst was yet to come.

~&~&~&~

“You have no right to throw me out!” Newman was furious, shouting at the doctor before he was fully out of the hospital room. In the early morning light he looked crumpled and unshaven, but his eyes were blazing.

The doctor was undeterred. “I have every right. That man is under my care. You were distressing him with your questions, and in his condition that could be dangerous.”

“Distressing him?” Newman’s voice was harsh with contempt. “What about the distress he’s caused? He’s a murderer. He’s got no rights.”

“Everyone’s got rights, even a murderer.” The doctor was getting angry now, although he didn’t raise his voice. “And you must remember he’s not even been charged yet, let alone found guilty.”

“He’s guilty all right. He was caught red handed.”

“That’s as maybe. But even if he is, he has the right to remain silent. You can’t force him to talk, certainly not here. I treat all my patients the same, whoever they are, and I won’t have you upsetting them.”

“He’s not even badly hurt. You said yourself it was only a minor injury. He’s hiding behind it, pretending to worse hurt than he is, so he can get out of answering questions until he’s thought of what lies he can tell us. You know as well as I do that it was all an act – all those agonised little groans that he gave whenever I asked him anything about what he’s done. Over an hour I was with him and he scarcely said a coherent word, but if he’d wanted to he could have been as lucid as you or I. He’s probably laughing at you right now for falling for his play-acting. Why should a murderer have the right to laugh about the suffering he’s caused when parents haven’t got the right to find out what happened to their little girl?” He pointed an angry finger at the doctor’s chest. “You people make me sick – always going on about the right of the criminal, never about the rights of the victim.”

He made as if to enter the room again but the doctor barred the way. “Agent Newman,” he said firmly. “When he’s discharged from hospital you can talk to him all you like, but right now he’s under my care, and I forbid you from entering that room again.”

They stared at each other for what seemed like a long time, the tension almost palpable. The guard, who’d looked embarrassed during the whole exchange, swallowed anxiously, obviously wondering if he should call for help. He shot a desperate look of appeal at Mulder, but Mulder didn’t stand up. He knew it would only exacerbate the situation if he intervened.

“Look,” said the doctor at last. “I’m just doing my job. I’m not trying to interfere with the course of justice here. If – and it’s not been proved yet – if that man’s a killer then I want him brought to justice as much as you do…..” Newman interrupted him with a derisive grunt, but the doctor was undeterred. “But,” he continued, “you have to admit that you weren’t getting any answers from him anyway. Even if I hadn’t stopped the interview you’d probably have learnt nothing from him. I just didn’t feel your approach was appropriate in the situation.”

Newman snorted, but said nothing.

“I don’t know why you’re so angry.” The doctor looked genuinely puzzled. “After all, he did offer to talk. Why don’t you send for the agent he asked for, then you can get an interview without endangering my patient.”

The doctor was smiling, looking confident that this was a mutually satisfactory solution, but Newman responded with a sudden fury. “Send for him?” He gestured violently towards Mulder. Mulder hadn’t thought Newman had noticed him, so intent had he looked upon facing up to the doctor.

Mulder stood up and walked over to Newman’s side, but Newman moved in front of him, blocking the door. “No wonder he wants to talk to him.” He was speaking as if Mulder wasn’t there. “After all, Mulder did his damnedest to ruin his arrest and let him get away. He probably thinks he’s on his side.”

Mulder didn’t try to defend himself, realising there was no point, but the doctor had no such qualms. “Agent Newman,” he said firmly. “You claim you want to bring this man to justice, but it seems to me that you’re putting your own feelings before your case. You want your man to talk. Well, he said he would talk – to Agent Mulder. So, are you going to move away from that door, or shall I call security to have you removed?”

There was nothing Newman could do but back down, and he stepped back, his face red with fury.

“Mulder!” Newman sounded as if he could barely get the words out past his anger. “Don’t expect to have a job to go back to when you get out of that room. As soon as I can, I’m calling your superior and telling him about your behaviour. You’ve gone too far now. You’re finished!”

Mulder closed the door behind him, shutting out Newman’s threats. He knew Newman was right to hate him, and richly deserved to lose his job for his conduct on the case. Whenever he thought of Sophie’s body, killed because he’d neglected his duty, he knew he couldn’t continue in the FBI. He couldn’t contemplate life without his work, but that was all the more reason to go. The more it cost him, the more fitting a punishment it was. But it wasn’t just to punish himself that he would resign. It was his duty, too. As an agent he had the power of life and death over the people who needed his help, and he couldn’t ever let himself be relied on like this again. Whenever anyone had relied on him he’d let them down.

The man in the bed had his eyes shut, his face turned away. Mulder stood awhile, looking down at him. His chart declared him to be Kevin Briggs, aged 26, but he looked twenty years older, his face gaunt and deeply scored with suffering. Seeing him properly for the first time, Mulder was convinced that on this, if on nothing else, he had been right. This man wasn’t a killer.

Mulder cleared his throat, unsure what to say. Kevin Briggs turned his head, his eyes screwed up as if the light dazzled him. Mulder wondered what dark pictures he’d been seeing in his mind.

“You said it wasn’t my fault, but it was.” Briggs spoke at last, his voice listless.

“No it wasn’t!” Mulder leant forward, looking intently into the man’s eyes, horrified by the guilt he saw there. He wondered what sort of suffering could so distort a man’s way of thinking that he blamed himself for things that were completely beyond his control.

“I saw them die. I knew where they were. I could have stopped them. If only I’d been stronger….. if only I hadn’t tried to resist…..” His voice trailed out, swallowed up by sobs.

“No! You did all you could. You mustn’t blame yourself for something you couldn’t change. You didn’t kill them. That’s no-one’s fault but the killer’s” But even as Mulder spoke he knew he was lying. The murderer was not the only one with blood on his hands. Although he’d washed his hands and face, specks of Sophie’s blood still stained his sleeves. It was warm in the hospital but he’d kept his jacket on so he could see them and remember his guilt.

“Agent Newman thinks it’s my fault.”

“Agent Newman doesn’t know anything. Not about you, anyway. He’s only got circumstantial evidence. We’ve got samples from one of the crime scenes. As soon as the tests come back we’ll have proof it wasn’t you. You won’t even get charged.”

“You said you understood, but you don’t! You’re worse than Agent Newman. He doesn’t understand me, but at least he knows I’m guilty.” Briggs was shouting, his face twisted with grief. He tried to sit up but gasped suddenly, sweat beading on his forehead. He fell back on the pillow and lay still.

Mulder glanced anxiously at the door, wondering whether he should call the doctor, but slowly Briggs’ breathing steadied and his face grew calmer, although still far from peaceful. Mulder doubted if it could ever be that.

“For how long have you seen these pictures?” Mulder asked at last, breaking the long silence.

Briggs opened his eyes with a start, clearly surprised that Mulder knew. “All my life,” he answered, simply. He paused, then took a deep breath, clearly deciding to tell Mulder the whole story. “Oh, it wasn’t too bad at first. I only saw them occasionally, and then only from people very close. I had a happy family, so even when I saw things they weren’t usually bad. Perhaps I was even happier than most children, for I shared my parents’ love in a way normal people can never hope to.” He was almost smiling as he recounted the memory.

“But then things changed.” He wasn’t smiling now. “I reached puberty. My body started changing and I guess my …. er… “gift” started changing too. And that’s when the “gift” started to seem more like a curse. I started seeing things more and more often, and from people all over town.” He grabbed Mulder’s arm, looking into his eyes. “You wouldn’t believe how much pain there is behind the closed doors of a “respectable” neighbourhood.”

Mulder couldn’t meet his gaze. His family had been “respectable” too….

“Unhappy marriages, child abuse, suicide – I saw them all.” Briggs made no sign of noticing Mulder’s reaction. “Oh, I saw pleasure too, but not as much. Pain is so much more intense than pleasure – it transmits a stronger signal. And, anyway, I only saw pleasure. I didn’t feel it. I felt like some sort of pervert, invading people’s privacy.”

“Couldn’t you shut it out?”

“No! Don’t you think I haven’t tried? I’d give anything to be able to shut them out, but I can’t. At first I couldn’t control them at all. Now I can fight some of them, if I really try to focus my mind on something else. Usually I just drug myself into forgetfulness and hide where they can’t reach me. But even there most of them get through, and those the worst of them.”

“Can you deliberately make them come?” It took all of Mulder’s concentration to keep asking questions. All he wanted to do was to weep with sympathy for the tormented man before him, horrified by this glance into an existence spent a prey to other people’s feelings.

“I know what you’re thinking. If I could make them come I could seek out the murderer right now and tell you where he is. I’ve tried. Of course I’ve tried.” Tears were running freely down his cheeks. “I can’t!” he sobbed. “I can’t control them. I can’t deliberately read anyone’s mind. The pictures come when they choose to. I don’t control them – they control me.”

“What do you see?” Mulder forced himself to keep on asking questions, trying to keep control of the situation, though he wasn’t sure how much more he could bear to hear.

“Pictures. Never words. It’s like a silent movie. I see the pictures that are in someone else’s mind. Sometimes it’s what they’re actually seeing with their eyes. Sometimes it’s images in their memory or imagination. The mind’s eye can sometimes be stronger than reality.” Mulder knew this was true, although it was hours since he’d been overwhelmed by the images of his own memory. He wondered when they’d return, knowing he’d not escaped them forever.

Briggs took a shuddering breath. “But it wouldn’t be too bad if it was just pictures. It’s feelings too. Like the music they put with silent movies – you know, violins with romantic bits, menacing music when something frightening’s about to happen. You can’t hear what people are saying, but the music tells you their mood. It’s like that. I can’t read people’s verbalised thoughts, but I know what feelings go with the pictures. I share those feelings, yet somehow it seems I feel them twice as strong as they should be. Sometimes it’s a real physical pain.”

He paused, trying to regain control of his voice. Mulder was silent, waiting for him to compose himself. Briggs cleared his throat, then continued. “When it’s really bad, like this last week, then I lose track of who I am.” That girl in the field the other day – I can’t remember how I got there at all.” He was speaking fast, obviously trying not to think about the scenes he was describing. “One minute I was at home. The next thing I remember I was outside looking down at her body. I don’t know how I got there. I guess I saw through her eyes and recognised the place, and without knowing it was drawn there. Last night was the same, but when the pictures started coming I remembered what you’d said on the phone. I fought as hard as I could, and managed to break free for a minute. That’s when I called you. But after that it’s all a blank.”

Briggs was staring at nothing, lost in memory. Mulder could find no words to comfort him.

“I’ve never told anyone before,” Briggs said, suddenly. “I didn’t think anyone would understand. No-one has before. Not even my parents. Once this all started, I started getting in trouble at school. Of course I did. How could I concentrate on lessons when I was sharing all the unhappiness that there is in any school? I tried to tell my parents the truth but they were furious, saying I was insulting their intelligence by expecting them to believe such a stupid excuse. And then things went from bad to worse. I left school with no qualifications. I had no friends, certainly no girlfriends. Everyone thought I was weird, because I kept on blanking out in the middle of conversations. I did get a job once, but that only lasted a few days. The boss caught me “slacking” – I was sharing the grief of a couple whose baby had died, and forgot where I was – and dismissed me without a reference.”

He looked at Mulder and smiled mirthlessly. “I came here to escape, can you believe that? I wanted escape, and I ended up with four murders. My parents were killed in a road accident as few years ago and I inherited some money, so I bought a place right out on the edge of town, with no close neighbours. I thought if I was away from people I’d be free. I thought I didn’t need people.”

His smile was sincere now, though his face was still lined with grief. “I guess I was wrong. I do need people. I know it’s not changed anything, but it does feel better now I’ve talked about it. I don’t know why I talked to you, a stranger, when I’ve never been able to talk to anyone else. I guess it’s because I knew you’d believe me – that you’d understand. I don’t know how I knew.” He leant forward suddenly, grabbing Mulder’s wrist. “Do you see things too? Is that it?”

Mulder shook his head. “No, I don’t see things like you do. I only see my own memories, not other people’s.” And even those had nearly overwhelmed him. How weak he was compared with Briggs, who’d seen thousands of memories and still lived.

Briggs relaxed back on the pillow, though he kept his hand on Mulder’s wrist. “Thank you for listening,” he said, with fervour. “I’ve been carrying this around for so long, it feels like a weight off my mind to share the burden with someone.”

Mulder tried to smile, but he couldn’t. He knew he was being unforgivably selfish, but he wondered how he’d cope with the burden of someone else’s problems on top of everything else.

And, of course, the killer was still out there, and they had no leads.

~&~&~&~

Despite her lack of sleep, Scully had woken early, a heavy sense of dread in her stomach. Although she had performed hundreds of autopsies in her career, she could still sometimes find them disturbing. Sophie’s looked like being one of the worst yet, both for the manner of her death and for her youth.

Scully had felt no appetite for breakfast. The man at the next table had piled his plate high with bacon and sausages, and Scully had been unable to keep her eyes off his plate, watching with horrified fascination as the knife sliced into the flesh, her mind full of images of Sophie’s tortured body cut open on the autopsy slab. The man had caught her gaze and she’d attempted to make conversation, embarrassed at being caught staring, but he’d cut her off, saying he had an important project nearing completion and needed to be left undisturbed to think about it. So Scully had been left alone with her thoughts, barely touching her own breakfast. When Gardiner had appeared she’d known she wasn’t in the mood for his endless chatter so had made her excuses and left, heading for the morgue in the hope she could get the autopsy over with quickly.

She had been disappointed. There was no autopsy bay available until late afternoon, and Sophie’s autopsy had been booked for four o’clock. Eight hours away. Desperate for something to do to distract herself, she’d called Mulder, but he’d still been at the hospital, still waiting to talk to the suspect. Eventually she’d tagged along with Martinez and O’Brien, who’d been ordered to search the suspect’s house, looking for evidence. It had seemed like just the sort of tedious, routine work that she needed if she was to keep her mind off the impending autopsy.

Now, driving back from Kevin Briggs’ house after a fruitless morning, she admitted she’d been wrong. It had been tedious work, but it had also been deeply frustrating. They’d searched the house all over, several times, but hadn’t found anything that could link Briggs to the crimes. They’d found evidence of drug taking, and copious amounts of alcohol, but no evidence of murder. True, there had been a few blood stains, but Scully had found shards of glass in the bin, some of them marked with blood, and had assumed Briggs had cut himself on the broken tumbler. Still, she’d taken samples and intended to run tests on the blood, although she doubted it would belong to any the victims. It certainly looked as if Briggs hadn’t kept his victims at home. But then the man didn’t even appear to have a car, making it difficult to see how he could have carried his victims anywhere else.

Scully sighed. It looked as if Mulder was right, and they hadn’t yet caught their killer. She wondered why she’d been so adamant that they had caught the right one. Although she didn’t believe many of Mulder’s wilder theories, when he was as sure of something as he had been the previous night she usually gave his arguments careful consideration. After all, he’d been right more times than she cared to admit. She supposed she’d wanted Briggs to be the right man so much that she’d shut her mind to any objections. The sight of Sophie’s body was terrible anyway, but it would have been unbearable without the consolation that at least the perpetrator of the atrocity had been apprehended.

She gasped suddenly. “Unbearable!” She nearly spoke aloud. It would be unbearable if the killer was still out there. Briggs had to be the right man – he just had to be. She was missing something. She didn’t know what. She didn’t even know why she was so sure. All she knew was a sudden overwhelming feeling that she’d missed something in the house. Something important. Something that would prove beyond all doubt that Briggs was guilty, and get him put away where he couldn’t hurt anyone else. Then at least Sophie’s death wouldn’t have been completely in vain.

The feeling was so strong that it wiped out all other thoughts. Convinced that the whole case depended on her going back to the house right now, she turned suddenly, earning an angry blast from a driver who had to swerve out of the way. Shaken back into awareness, she briefly considered calling Mulder and telling him where she was going, but a sudden picture of him came into her mind. He was laughing scathingly. “He’s the wrong man, Scully, I keep on telling you. Don’t bother going back there, because you won’t find anything.” And there he was again, later, his eyes full of admiration and apology. “You were right, Scully. He was the right man after all. We’d never have found out if you hadn’t gone back.”

“No!” she said, aloud, amused by the vividness of her imagination. It had almost been as if Mulder had been speaking to her out loud. “I won’t tell him,” she thought. “Let him wonder where I’ve gone for a change. I’ll teach him he’s not the only one to have wild hunches which turn out right.” She smiled at herself in the mirror. “After all,” she added, “there’s no need to call. It’s not as if there’s any danger.”

~&~&~&~

Matthew Lewis couldn’t stop smiling when he thought about his plan. It was all going so well – better than he’d ever hoped. All those murders…. all that blood…. Perfect! And that little girl – she’d been the best yet -better than he could have hoped for. She was so …. appropriate. He knew he shouldn’t really think of their suffering in these terms, but there was a greater plan to consider. They’d just been there at the right time, so he had used them, and to what effect! Anyway, they were dead now so he couldn’t do anything to hurt them, not any more.

But he could still hurt him. He knew what had happened this morning – knew who he’d talked to. Of course he knew. He hadn’t interfered – not then. Let him think it was all over. Let him begin to hope that he could be free. But it wasn’t over. The worst was yet to come.

He’d seen her several days ago and known she was the one. It hadn’t been time, then. There was still the matter of the little girl. She’d been too good an opportunity to miss. But now she was dead, and it was time to move on. Time for the final stage.

She was close now. It had all been so easy. Like a fool, she’d fallen straight into the trap, taking the bait as soon as it had been presented. Just a few minutes now. He’d take her, and then….. then he’d give a few lessons on what it really was to suffer.

~&~&~&~

Scully considered ignoring it, but the phone’s ringing continued to jangle on her nerves, demanding attention. With a sigh, she pulled the phone from her pocket, annoyed at the interruption. The interruption – from what? She paused suddenly, looking again at the house in front of her. Now she was here it didn’t feel promising. She’d searched it thoroughly before and found nothing. She wondered why she’d seen so sure it would be different this time, but even as she wondered she knew the answer -knew that she’d been clutching at straws, so desperate was she to know the killer was behind bars. The phone had recalled her to reality. She probably wouldn’t go in after all.

“Hello?” She leant against the side of the car as she spoke.

“Agent Scully?” It was Skinner’s voice. Scully braced herself for trouble.

Skinner didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ve just had Agent Newman on the phone, complaining about Agent Mulder. He says he jeopardised an arrest – nearly let a suspect go. Is this true?”

Scully paused before answering. She knew she had to tread very carefully. “I don’t think he did, sir,” she said, at last. “At least, there was no danger of the man escaping. He just didn’t want Newman to shoot him.”

“Shoot him? Why? Was he resisting arrest?”

Again, Scully had to consider well before replying. Although she was anxious to defend Mulder, she didn’t want to say anything that would get Newman in trouble. “I don’t think so,” she said, carefully. “But I can see why Newman thought he might be.”

“But Mulder thought he wasn’t?”

“Mulder thought – Mulder thinks – we’ve got the wrong man.”

“Do you think it’s the wrong man?”

“No!” Scully exclaimed before she could stop herself, but even as she spoke she realised she wasn’t so sure any more. Just a few minutes ago it had been so clear. “I mean, I don’t know…. I don’t think so.”

“Hmm.” Skinner was evidently digesting the information, trying to come to a decision.

“Are you going to call us back to Washington, sir?” She couldn’t keep the hope from her voice. Although it would be a pity if Mulder was dragged home in disgrace, she hoped she’d have a better chance of persuading him to get help if they weren’t currently working on a case.

“No.” Skinner didn’t appear to have noticed her tone. “If Mulder thinks it’s the wrong man, then I’m sure he has his reasons, though probably not reasons you or I would agree with.” He laughed, wryly. “But, although some of Mulder’s reasoning is more than a little …. unusual, I have to admit that he often comes up with answers to cases that no-one else could make anything of. So, I’m not going to be the one who pulls Mulder off this case, just because of a difference of opinion with another agent. After all, Mulder could well be right, and I want you both to stay until it comes clear one way or the other.”

He paused, before continuing in a sterner tone. “You keep him out of trouble, Scully. I don’t want this happening again. I’m getting tired of having to field complaints from people Mulder has irritated. If he and Newman don’t get on – and it’s clear that they don’t – they should be able to sort it out without running to me like children. That Newman – he left me five messages this morning, while I was in a meeting. I’ve got more important things to do than sort out squabbles.”

“Sorry, sir. I’ll try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Though it probably would, she thought. Mulder was incapable of keeping out of trouble.

She took a deep breath. “Sir? Can I talk to you about Mulder? There’s something else.” She hadn’t wanted to discuss Mulder’s problems, feeling it an invasion of his privacy, but she now felt she had no choice. Mulder had been lucky – very lucky – in that Newman’s complaint had caught Skinner in a rare moment of charity towards his most troublesome agent. It was unlikely to happen again. It was better if Skinner knew what had been happening. If he forced Mulder to take some leave and see a therapist -well, Mulder wouldn’t be pleased with her, but it was better than him losing his job because of an official complaint.

Skinner didn’t answer. She could hear a door opening in the distance, and muffled voices talking.

“Sir?” She tried not to sound impatient.

He spoke at last, sounding rushed. “I’m sorry. Something’s come up. I’ve got to go.”

“But, sir….!” There was a click as the connection was severed.

Scully cursed in frustration. She’d hoped Skinner would take matters in hand, relieving her of the responsibility of deciding what to do about Mulder. She suspected she should have told Skinner days ago. For his own good as well as the good of the case, Mulder should have been sent home as soon as the problems started. But she hadn’t wanted to admit that things had grown so bad, carrying on as if there was nothing wrong, perhaps even hoping that, by ignoring it, she could persuade the situation to go away of its own accord. She was being as unrealistic as Mulder.

And the case offered little hope either. She glanced again at Kevin Brigg’s house, debating whether to go in and search it again. There wouldn’t be anything there -at least, nothing important. It would be a waste of time to go back. It was stupid to kid herself that she’d find something. If she went back she’d only have to suffer the cruel dashing of false hopes.

But then…. Well, she was here after all. It would do no harm to go in and have a quick look. They might have missed something earlier. She knew how easy it was sometimes to overlook the blatantly obvious, simply because it was so obvious that the mind didn’t bother processing it. She’d never know unless she looked.

It was decided. Putting her phone back in her pocket, Scully set off up the short path to the front door and let herself in.

Once she was in, she knew she’d been right. She could feel it again. There was something here – something important that she had to find. She didn’t know what. She didn’t even know why she was so certain. She could only assume that she’d seen something last time – something that her subconscious had remembered even though her conscious mind hadn’t noticed its significance. She harried her memory, trying to get it to release its secrets, but it provided no clues. She could only hope that when she got to the right place it would jump out at her.

“The kitchen!” It came to her as clearly as if someone had spoken out loud. How could she have forgotten? It was so clear now.

Full of excitement, she ran down the narrow passageway, heading for the cramped and gloomy kitchen. A dense tree outside the window blocked out much of the light, shrouding everything in deep gloom.

Scully’s heart was pounding in anticipation. It was here, she just knew it. The major breakthrough, and it was just waiting for her to find it. She smiled, thinking of what was about to happen, thinking of what she would discover.

She was still smiling when an arm swung out of the darkness behind the door. A pan crashed down on her head, driving her to the floor, driving all thoughts from her mind.

The darkness folded over her and she lay still.

~&~&~&~

“No!” It was an inhuman cry of pure terror, slicing the sterile atmosphere of the hospital room like a scalpel.

Mulder’s eyes snapped open, his mind wrenched back into the present by the tortured cries coming from the man in the bed before him.

“What is it?” He leant forward, reaching for Briggs’ arm, looking intently into his face, but he already knew the answer. The case still had fresh horrors to offer.

For two hours, Mulder had shared the man’s tormented existence. Once Briggs had decided to trust him the whole story had come pouring out – a whole lifetime of suffering that he’d had to deal with alone. Although his memories had frequently been swallowed up by tears, Brigg’s face had visibly relaxed as he’d shared the burden of his suffering. It had been a cathartic experience to talk about it at last – cathartic for him, at least. Mulder had listened, knowing it was his duty to help. Briggs had needed him, and he couldn’t let him down the same way he’d failed everyone else. For the first time, he would do the right thing, whatever the cost to himself.

But the cost had been high. Hearing of a lifetime of unimaginable suffering, the only escape had been into the unreality of his own mind, but the guilt and memories he’d found there had offered no real hiding place. He’d been trapped between the nightmares of the mind and the nightmares of reality, unable to find for himself any of the hope what he’d been able to provide for Briggs.

And now, reality was taking a new and more terrible turn. He didn’t know if he could take any more reality.

“No!” Briggs showed no signs of being aware of Mulder’s presence, staring at a horror that was far from the hospital room. “Leave me alone! Why should I live like this?”

Mulder leant over, grabbing Briggs by the shoulders. “What is it? Has he got someone else?” His heart was pounding with dread.

He distantly heard the door open, and squeak of soft shoes crossing the floor. Someone spoke, but he didn’t hear what they said. All his attention was focused on the man in the bed.

“Let go of me! Don’t hurt me! I don’t want to die!” Briggs’ face was a terrible mask of terror, his arms flailing around in a desperate attempt to escape. Mulder narrowly escaped a claw-like slash in the eyes, but it wasn’t Mulder that Briggs was trying to hurt. He was deep in another’s mind, seeing through their eyes, consumed by their fear.

Someone grabbed him shoulder, weakly trying to pull him away, but he shook them off. “Please! Get the doctor!” It was a nervous female voice, close behind him. The sound of running feet faded down the corridor. Mulder was aware of all this only dimly, like a dream. The world had narrowed. No-one really existed but Briggs, and, through him, the person who was torturing him with their thoughts.

“Look at him! Can you see his face?” Mulder was using all his strength now, gripping Briggs’ wrists to keep them still. Blood was seeping through the bandage high on Briggs’ side where the wound had been reopened by his struggles. The nurse stopped trying to drag Mulder off, moving round the bed to tend to Briggs’ injury.

“No!” Mulder didn’t know if Briggs was answering his question or still lost in the nightmare of the killer’s new victim. The nurse, who’d been about to touch him, jumped back at the cry, obviously thinking he was talking to her. She glanced nervously at the door but no-one else came.

“No!” Briggs jerked suddenly, wrenching his hands from Mulder’s grip with a cry of pain. Mulder instinctively raised his hands to protect from the blows he knew would come, but there was no need. Briggs lifted his hands and clutched at his temple, his face twisted with pain. “No! Leave me alone! Get out of my mind!” He shut his eyes, squeezing them shut until his face screwed up with the effort. “I don’t want to see this!”

The nurse bit her lip. She was very young, and way out of her depth.

“No!” Mulder grabbed Briggs’ wrists again, prising them from his face. “Don’t fight it! I know it hurts, but you must stay with it.” Briggs whimpered, trying to pull away, but Mulder was relentless. “Look! You have to look! What does he look like? Where is he?”

His breathing was almost as fast as Briggs’ and he could feel sweat beading on his forehead. The killer had taken another victim and would kill her like the others unless he could get through to Briggs and persuade him to surrender to the nightmare long enough to extract some clues. All he wanted to do was run away and hide from the horror, but he had to keep going. He had to find the strength for two now, giving Briggs the will to keep going. If he failed, yet another innocent would die.

Someone was shouting in his ear, but he ignored them. Then strong hands reached out, prising his fingers away from Briggs’ wrists. He was roughly dragged away from the bed, but then Briggs cried out again, and the doctor had to leave Mulder and hurry to Briggs’ side. He turned to the nurse, saying something about drugs, and she hurried out.

He had no idea how long it went on. Briggs struggled, at times fighting the killer through the eyes of his victim, at times fighting the visions themselves. Whenever this happened, Mulder pushed him back with words, urging him not to fight her suffering. Each time it was harder to get the words out. Seeing Briggs’ tormented face, Mulder knew that he was inflicting as much pain as the killer was. The fact that it was necessary made it no less terrible.

It finished just as he knew he couldn’t take any more. There was more movement behind him, and the sound of several pairs of feet. He felt himself grabbed with the strength that allowed no resistance, and was dragged towards the door. Although he knew this meant he’d failed, it was a relief not to have to fight any more. He’d never have been able to forgive himself if he’d been the one to give up the struggle. At least this way someone else had taken the decision out of his hands.

“I know that place!” Briggs’ exclamation came just as he reached the door.

“Where is it?” He hadn’t thought he could feel hope again.

Briggs was silent, taking huge shuddering breaths. His eyes were open, darting round the room as if surprised by his surroundings. Mulder knew he was back in the hospital again, but this time didn’t try to send him away. He said nothing, offering no resistance to the security guard. He knew if he spoke he’d be hustled away even further and the chance would be missed.

“I saw it,” Briggs said at last. His voice was hoarse. “He’s got another one. He’d hurt her already. She was unconscious but woke up when he dragged her out of his car. She tried to escape but he’s got her inside.”

He spoke slowly, as if he had to force each word out past the visions that were still more real than reality. Mulder really didn’t want to hear this, but knew he had to.

“But I know the place.” Briggs smiled with sudden hope. “I know where she is!” The smile was incongruous on his ravaged face. His eyes sought out Mulder’s across the room, and he pushed away the solicitous attentions of the doctors.

“Where?” Mulder took a step forward. He hadn’t been aware that his hand had been unconsciously reaching for his gun, until the guard reached out and stopped it.

He’d been given another chance to redeem himself. He only hoped he wouldn’t go wrong on this one as well.

~&~&~&~

“For the last time, Mulder – get out of my way!” The tone of Newman’s voice spoke eloquently of the likely consequences of non-compliance.

Mulder didn’t move. “But you don’t understand……”

“Oh, I understand all right.” He imbued the word “understand” with a bitter sarcasm. “I understand how you’ve obstructed this case from the beginning. I understand how we nearly lost Briggs last night because of you. I understand that this is just one more of your sick attempts to twist other people’s suffering to your own particular interests. What I don’t understand is how you have the nerve to stand here with this ridiculous story when a little girl is dead because of….”

“No!” he shouted, drowning out Newman’s final word. He couldn’t listen to any more. There was no time for guilt. Not yet.

“No!” he repeated, forcing to control his emotions. “There’s no time for this. The killer’s got someone else.”

“The killer’s under arrest – no thanks to you.”

“Briggs isn’t the killer!”

Newman sighed angrily. “I won’t waste my breath arguing with you, Mulder. Now, will you let me past?” He looked at Mulder with hatred. Clearly only pride was stopping him from bodily pushing his way past.

Mulder tried to look conciliatory. He had to get support on this. He needed transport – Scully had their rented car – and the job required a whole team of agents. Although he’d not normally think twice before going alone into a dangerous situation, there was more than his own life at stake this time.

“Look, ” he said, keeping his voice low, although he wanted to shout with the urgency of the situation. “You’ve got to support me on this. If there’s even the slightest chance that I’m right – that Briggs isn’t the right man – then you have to follow up a lead like this. You can’t take the risk. Imagine what people would say if the killer is out there, and you do nothing. Imagine what you’d feel if someone dies because you do nothing.” His voice cracked as he spoke. He knew what that felt like. He cleared his throat before continuing. “You’ve got no choice!” he said, taking a step forward until he was eye to eye with Newman, and very close.

“Are you threatening me, Agent Mulder?” Newman’s voice was taut with menace. He didn’t step back, although they were too close now to be comfortable.

“No!” Mulder protested. He hadn’t meant it to sound like a threat. He searched his mind for something – anything -that could get through to Newman. “Look, I promise you’ll have no more trouble with me, not after this. If you support me on this and I’m wrong, then you can do what you like with me. Put in a formal complaint if you like -I won’t defend myself.” How could he? No-one could defend the indefensible. “Do it if I’m right as well, if you want to. Whatever you like. But please support me on this.”

He meant every word. Nothing mattered any more. Nothing, except undoing some of the damage he’d already done. He’d failed to profile the killer in time, and now he had someone else in his clutches. With every word he spoke, he could see the blade descend, see the quick flash as it sliced into her flesh, adding fresh torments because he was too slow. He should have gone alone, ignoring Newman when he stopped him to ask where he was going. Like a fool he’d poured out the whole story, asking for backup. He should have known that his own behaviour had ruined all chances of Newman’s support. There would be no rescue attempt – no hostage negotiation. All because of him. She had no chance now.

Newman was silent, his face unreadable. Mulder blinked, tears pricking his eyes, despair in his heart. Newman wouldn’t provide help. The woman would die.

He took a step back, lowering the arm he’d stretched out to block Newman’s path. He’d go himself, though. She’d die anyway. This way, at least he might too.

“Okay. It’s a deal.” Newman’s voice penetrated his thoughts, making him draw a quick breath in surprise. “I’ll go with you, and then you resign when we find there’s nothing there.” He smiled, triumphantly. “That fool Skinner can’t argue with that – can’t accuse me of being petty if you hand in your resignation yourself.”

Newman turned and headed to the door. “Come on!” he said, impatiently. “You said yourself there was no time to lose.” He rubbed his hands together, chuckling with anticipation. “I can’t wait!”

“What about the rest of the team?”

“Oh no, that wasn’t in the deal. I’m going with you because I don’t want you going off alone and harassing some innocent member of the public just because you think their house is sheltering a killer.” The house Briggs had seen was in a respectable suburban neighbourhood. “But I’m not wasting anyone else’s time on this.” His voice brooked no argument.

Mulder knew this was the best he was likely to get and remained silent.

Nothing more was said as they walked to Newman’s car. Mulder briefly considered calling Scully and asking her to come along, but he thought better of it. She had an autopsy to do. She’d hadn’t called all morning, so had presumably still not finished. He wouldn’t call her from one scene of death to face another. She didn’t deserve that.

As Mulder opened the car door, he glanced at Newman’s face, receiving a hostile glare in return.

It was so much more appropriate this way, he realised -better than if Scully had been there. It was entirely fitting that the last job of his career should be in the company of a man who despised him. He deserved no less.

~&~&~&~

“See? I told you so!” Newman’s face was triumphant as he gestured towards the house that Briggs had identified. “Doesn’t look like the house of our killer – or have you forgotten your own profile already? After all, you put little enough effort into it.”

Certainly, there was nothing about the respectable-looking suburban house to suggest the horrors that Mulder still believed were hidden within. The mailbox announced it to be the abode of a Dr and Mrs Hansen, and everything about the exterior suggested moneyed civility. But it was certainly the house Briggs had described. Unlike the other houses in the area, it had a tower in one corner, incongruously added some time in the past by an enterprising householder. Looking at it now, Mulder remembered what Briggs had said. Unimaginable suffering could hide behind the most respectable of facades.

Mulder was afraid to move. He’d spent the journey in an agony of impatience, willing Newman to hurry, sure that every second could make the difference between life and death. But now they were here he was full of dread, suddenly certain that they had come too late. It was too much to hope for a happy ending, not when he was involved. Just like last time, they’d let the killer slip through their fingers, and would find only the lifeless body of his victim. If only he hadn’t been so slow convincing Newman….

Newman had no such doubts. While Mulder was steeling himself to face the bloody outcome of his own failure, Newman strode up the drive with as little stealth as a door-to-door salesman. As he neared the door he raised his hand, ready to ring the bell.

“No!” Mulder noticed just in time, running up the drive with all the speed he could muster. His ankle still hurt a little, but he ignored it. “No!” He kept his voice down to an urgent whisper, grabbing Newman’s arm just a fraction too late. The sound of a bell echoed in the dark interior of the house.

Newman shook him off, his face dark with fury.

“We should have been more careful,” Mulder explained, in a whisper. “We shouldn’t have told him we were here. He’s got a hostage in there.” Although he felt certain she was dead, he knew they had to act as if she was still alive, just in case.

Newman glared his contempt, but said nothing. He turned his attention back to the door, awaiting an answer.

No-one came.

Newman rang again, but he was already turning to go, clearly not expecting anyone to come.

“You can’t just go!” Mulder intercepted Newman half way down the drive, grabbing his arm again. “We haven’t looked properly yet. Someone might be dying in there!” He wanted to shout, but forced his voice down to a whisper. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that the killer was inside, watching them.

“I said I’d come. I’ve come. Now it’s time for your side of the bargain.” Newman spoke at his normal pitch.

Mulder felt like screaming with frustration. “Our bargain? You’ve not kept to that. You’ve come, yes, but you’ve not treated this with any seriousness. On far smaller leads than this, standard practice would be to take a team in, cautiously, doing everything possible to secure the victim’s life. No-one would ever just go up and ring the doorbell, and then go away just because the killer doesn’t come to the door and give himself up.” His hands were sticky with emotion. “I know you don’t believe, but I thought you cared enough about saving lives not to take any chances on this.”

“I’ve heard enough, Agent Mulder. I’m going back now.” Newman made no response to Mulder’s accusations, and began to walk down the drive.

Mulder was about to argue, to accuse Newman of endangering a life, but he stopped himself just in time. He knew it was his fault. If he hadn’t earned Newman’s hatred by neglecting his duty earlier in the case then Newman would have treated the situation more seriously. Like the boy who cried wolf, he couldn’t expect anyone to listen to him now, not after letting them down so often in the past.

Mulder made no attempt to follow. “I’m going in there myself.”

Newman stopped mid-stride, wheeling around to face him. “If you do that, you’re finished.” He grabbed Mulder’s arm, trying to pull him away from the house. “You’ll be up against criminal charges.”

“You say I’m finished already.” Mulder shook off Newman’s grip. He glanced nervously at the house again, convinced that the killer was in there laughing at the sight of his potential captors brawling just yards away from his victim.

“Are you looking for Dr and Mrs Hansen?” Startled by the interruption, Mulder and Newman both froze for a moment. Newman soon collected himself, rapidly straightening his suit and tie, a polite smile on his face.

An old lady was standing a few feet away from them, wrapped up against the cold in a long red coat and a furry hat that had probably been the height of fashion several decades ago. Two be-ribboned Pekinese dogs fussed around her ankles.

“You won’t find them,” she continued, unprompted. “They’ve gone to Europe for three weeks – went two weeks ago. They’re probably in ….er….let’s see… it was Venice first, then Paris, then ….er…. yes! They’ll be in London by now, and then…..”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Newman smiled politely, but was edging down the drive, trying to make an escape. She looked like the sort of person who talk for hours if given the slightest provocation.

“Is their son in?” Mulder asked suddenly, interrupting an account of the Hansens’ itinerary. Newman looked at him sharply.

Her son,” the old lady corrected. “Yes, he’s here. I heard his car come in about half an hour ago.”

Mulder gasped in mingled hope and dread. It had just been a stab in the dark – a hunch. He hadn’t expected to be right.

He won’t come to the door,” the old lady continued, her scarlet mouth twisting in disapproval. She lowered her voice, leaning forward as if imparting a secret, although her eyes shone with salacious enjoyment. “He spends all hours in bed, or out God knows where. His poor mother just doesn’t know what to do with him, but better have him here than living out on the streets, or back in prison. The poor woman! And after what she went through with her first husband….”

It was enough. The killer was there, and he knew they had come for him. It was too late for surprise now. Ignoring Newman’s cry, Mulder turned and ran round the side of the house.

There was a car there, still radiating the warmth of a recent journey. It had been carefully manoeuvred so the back door was right up against a side door of the house. That, as well as a dense hedge of overhanging evergreens, shielded the car from the prying eyes of neighbours as well as passers-by on the road. Mulder realised with a shiver that anything could be unloaded from this car, even in broad daylight, and no-one would notice. But the tower – the distinctive tower that meant that Briggs could recognise the house – that was still visible on this side, casting a dark shadow over the back of the car, ready to catch the eye of the poor woman who’d been dragged out to face her worst nightmares.

And then there was the blood. Not much, but enough. A delicate smear on the ground, trailing between the car and the house. A larger pool, still wet, soaking into the grey carpet beneath the back seat of the car. There were a few hairs, too, caught in the crack at the bottom of the car door – a rich chestnut colour, a bit darker than Scully’s, although he couldn’t see properly in the deep shadow cast by the building. He shivered again, feeling the chill of that shadow. That house had cast the shadow of death over so many people now.

He stepped towards the side door, silently trying the handle, not surprised to find it was locked. He hesitated, unsure how to proceed. As he’d told Newman, it was unwise to burst in without proper support, but at the same time every second counted. He was desperate to rescue her, but at the same time sure she was dead, and afraid to find out.

He wasn’t given time to come to a decision.

Suddenly, the sound of a bell echoed through the building, an insistent ringing that went on and on relentlessly. But Mulder had no time to feel relief about Newman’s evident change of heart, for the ringing was drowned out by another sound – a sound that chilled him to the very marrow.

It was a scream.

It was muffled at first, as if a cruel hand was trying to suppress it, but it suddenly broke free of all restraint, sustaining a blood-curdling note for several seconds before fading away into nothingness.

A gun sounded from the front of the house, and the sound of repeated hammering. Mulder supposed Newman was trying to break the door down, and knew that he should do the same, but he couldn’t move, so transfixed was he by the horror of the scream.

Then there was the sound of feet and a key fumbled in the lock just inches in front of him. It was the killer, he knew that. She was dead, and now he was coming for him. He deserved it. He wouldn’t fight.

The door opened and a man rushed out, his face wild. Seeing Mulder, he reached out a strong arm, grabbing him by the throat, raising a knife above his head.

To Mulder, it all seemed to be happening in slow motion. The knife was hanging there, death reflecting in its cold steel blade. It seemed to take an eternity to descend. Mulder leant forward, awaiting the fatal blow.

There was blood on the blade, and on the hand that wielded it.

Blood. Her blood. Their blood. “No!” Mulder suddenly knew he’d got it all wrong. The blood was on the killer’s hands, not his. Whatever his own failings, this was the man who’d killed them, and he owed it to them to capture him. His own death would be futile if their killer escaped to kill again. There would be time to face his own guilt later.

“No!” He was struggling to breathe now, but desperation gave him strength. He grabbed for his assailant’s wrist, deflecting the blow just as it was about to descend. He felt the knife brush the sleeve of his coat, and felt the killer waver, thrown off balance. He grabbed that advantage, bringing up his knee hard into the killer’s groin, making him bend double, howling with pain. Feeling his own strength weaken, he kicked again and again, floundering desperately now, but he managed to make contact. There was a clatter as the knife fell to the ground, and the grip upon his throat loosened, allowing him to take great gasps of air.

Sirens sounded in the distance, but Mulder gave them no thought. This was his fight, and for now nothing else existed but the man in front of him. The killer’s eyes were darting around frantically, a look of terror on his face. He flailed out wildly, but there was no thought behind his blows. Mulder was in control now, and he knew it. “Not so brave when you’re facing someone who can fight back, are you?” he shouted, wrestling the killer face-down to the ground.

“Okay! Okay! You’ve won!” The killer stopped hitting out, his voice full of defeat, but he still squirmed, refusing to lie still. He was right up against the car now. “You’re hurting me!” he complained, when Mulder shouted at him to be still, but Mulder didn’t move, sitting astride the killer to keep him down.

When the killer eventually lay still, Mulder dared risk letting go his grip upon his wrists, reaching into his pocket with his right hand to get his handcuffs. Just as his hand closed on them, the killer darted out a quick hand, reaching under the car. Mulder had forgotten about the discarded knife and had been unaware that the killer’s wriggling had moved him inexorably to where he could make a grab for the weapon. With a sudden movement, the killer turned himself over, clutching the knife in his hands.

There was no time to think. Mulder just hurled himself down on the hand, expecting any second to feel the knife bury itself into his chest. There was a cry, though for a moment he didn’t know who had uttered it. And then there was the killer, clutching his wrist in agony, the knife once more discarded on the ground. Mulder wasted no time wondering how this had happened. Ignoring the killer’s pain, he forced his wrists into the handcuffs.

The killer cried out as the cuff closed tightly on his injured wrist. Mulder was suddenly furious. “Oh, it hurts, does it?” he shouted. “Well, that’s not half as much as you hurt those women – that little girl.” He reached for the knife, holding it at the killer’s throat. “Shall I show you how they felt?” He pressed the blade against the skin, watching the look of terror in the killer’s eyes. He longed to kill him, longed to avenge the pain of the victims. He even hoped that with the killer dead he’d be free of whatever it was that had haunted him during the case. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t. That wasn’t the answer. Terrible as this man’s deeds were, he couldn’t make him a scapegoat for his own failings.

With a stifled sob, he let the knife drop, hearing the clatter as if hit the gravel. There was another noise in the gravel too. Running feet, crunching up the drive. Voices. Screeching tyres. Sirens.

With a sigh, Mulder stood up, handing over responsibility for the killer to the police officers who now milled over the scene. He felt strangely empty now, the adrenaline that had sustained him through the fight now drained away. As if in a dream, he walked into the house through the still-open side door, drawn by some terrible compulsion. He knew what he’d see. He knew it would be horrible. But he had to see it. He thought he’d prepared himself for it.

But when he got there it was worse than he’d ever feared.

~&~&~&~

His gun was on the table beside the bed.

Mulder lay on the bed in his hotel room, the curtains shut in an attempt to exclude all light. It wasn’t enough. He could still see. Even when he shut his eyes he could still see. It was as if her terror-stricken face was burnt into his retina. There was no escape. Unless….

His gun was on the table, only inches away.

He’d thought he’d been without hope before. He’d been wrong. However bad it had been, he’d been sustained by that little glimmer of hope – the hope that he could catch the killer – that he could prevent further deaths. It had kept him awake for two nights, waiting for Briggs to call. It had led him to rush into the church, desperate to find out what Briggs knew of the killer. It had led him to the house that morning, even at the cost of his career. It had kept him going, kept him from giving in, even when the memories were at their worst. But now it had gone. There was nothing to look for in the future. Nothing….

Only inches. So close.

There was so much guilt. Briggs, in torment in his hospital bed, blaming himself for pulling away too soon from the previous visions, for not seeing the house earlier. Newman, even Newman, white-faced with shock, standing over the still-warm body, reproaching himself for not taking Mulder seriously, for ringing the doorbell that last time, making the killer cut her throat in sudden panic. He’d not mentioned a word about Mulder’s resignation, his customary hostility dulled by remorse. He’d do it, anyway. He couldn’t stay in his job now. But resignation wasn’t the only way out….

It would be so easy. It couldn’t be as painful as this….

“No!” He pulled his hand back, suddenly horrified by what he’d been considering. That wasn’t the answer either. What had Scully said the previous night, an eternity ago? He’d hurt her, worried her, made her angry but still she’d taken his hand, telling him how much she’d mind if he died. He couldn’t do that to her, not after everything else he’d done to hurt her. His mother, too. They seldom spoke, but she’d cried with joy when he’d come back from New Mexico, alive. Though why she’d care he couldn’t guess.

He lay back, tears freely pouring down his cheeks. He didn’t attempt to stop them. If that road wasn’t open to him, what could he do?

Scully. He couldn’t keep her out of his mind. So many times she’d offered to talk and he’d rejected her, not wanting her to know his problems – not wanting even to admit that he had problems. But he couldn’t deny it any longer. He’d nearly picked up his gun, and if he had he’d have pulled the trigger without a second thought. He wondered why he’d been so opposed to talking to Scully. He supposed he felt she’d lose respect for him if she saw him break down. Now, that all seemed so unimportant. It didn’t matter if she lost respect for him, if she mothered him, treated him like a child in need of help, even had him committed. Anything. As long as he was getting help. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than this.

He reached for his phone, his hand shaking. He didn’t know what he’d say. “Scully, help me. I need to talk.” But she might be busy, and he didn’t want to put pressure on her. “Scully?” He’d try to sound casual, though she’d probably notice the shake in his voice. “Could you come over when you’re free?” And then he could wait in the dark, secure in the knowledge that she was on the way, even if she couldn’t come immediately. “Scully, help me ….please, help me…. I need you…. I can’t carry on.” He was whispering under his breath, rocking backward and forward as he sat on the edge of the bed. He hadn’t dialled her number yet, his hands were shaking so much.

He took several deep breaths, forcing himself to calm down, rubbing his face to wipe away the tears. “It’s just for a minute,” he told himself. “Just a minute, just till I talk to Scully. Stay in control for that, ask her calmly to come over, and then….” And then there’d be no need for control. Scully would be on the way.

She didn’t answer. She was probably at an autopsy, and he nearly broke down again at the thought that there was now another body for her to examine, because of him.

She wasn’t there.

He was alone…..

Suddenly his call was answered.

“Scully?” He tried to keep his voice calm, digging his fingers into his palms.

“Agent Scully is …. er …. a bit tied up at the moment.” It was a man’s voice, laughing.

“Where’s Scully?” Mulder nearly dropped the phone with panic.

“I can’t tell you that, Agent Mulder. I can’t have your friends – I mean, your colleagues – coming and rescuing her before I’ve finished.”

“What have you done to her?” Mulder shouted. He balled his fists, longing to smash them into the face of the man who’d hurt Scully. Though he’d hurt Scully too….

“Nothing …. yet. She’s okay. A bit sore on the back of the head, but okay. She’s no good as a hostage if she’s dead.”

“What do you want?” Whatever it was, he’d make sure it was given.

“You.”

Mulder was shocked into silence. “Me?” he managed, at last, his voice confused.

“Yes, you.” He sighed. “My God, Mulder, you’re so slow. To think they all said you were so clever.

Mulder didn’t ask why. That didn’t matter, yet. All that mattered was getting Scully back. “What do you want me to do?”

“Leave your gun. Turn right out of the hotel and walk to the end of the road, to the small park. Then call me again and I’ll give you the next bit. You’re not getting it all at once.”

Mulder nodded his agreement. There was nothing else he could do.

“Good. I’m glad you’re being sensible.” Although he hadn’t spoken, the man assumed Mulder’s assent.

“You will let Scully go if I come?” Mulder wanted to make absolutely sure of that. It never crossed his mind to worry about what Scully’s kidnapper had planned for him.

“Yes. As long as you do what I say. It’s you I want.”

Mulder picked up his gun. It was cold and he’d be wearing a long coat. No-one would notice if he took his gun, and with any luck he could use it, force Scully’s release if the caller seemed like breaking his word.

“Put it down!” He dropped the gun with a guilty start. “If you break our bargain – if you tell anyone about this – then Scully dies.” Mulder wondered how he could be so confident. “Ah, but I can afford to be confident,” the caller continued. “I hold all the cards here. You can’t risk disbelieving me, not if you want Scully to live. If you break our bargain, I’ll know. If you even as much as think about it, I’ll know. You can’t escape me, Mulder. I’m always with you.”

As Mulder clutched the now silent phone, he knew that this was the last voice he’d ever hear. There was another way out after all.

~&~&~&~

Death was so close now. He was standing outside the row of derelict apartments, alone in the street yet not alone. It was late afternoon, the deepening gloom lowering upon the street like a funeral pall. Soon it would be a funeral pall.

He was so close now. Scully’s kidnapper had stopped using the phone several blocks back. He had other ways of communication. He was with him now, too. Mulder could feel him, knew that he had no secrets. He wondered if he’d ever find out the identity of his murderer, but it didn’t really matter. It had to someone, sooner or later. If not him, then someone else, some other time. Perhaps it would even be by his own hand. This way was better. If he could save Scully then at last he’d done something worthwhile. This was a cause worth dying for – not like those self-indulgent crusades he’d risked his life on before, trying to expose the “crimes” of people who were less guilty than he was.

“Over here!” The voice in his mind directed him to the third door in the street. It was still painted red, although the paint was chipped and stained.

He pushed open the door, blinking at the sudden darkness inside. All the windows had been boarded up, but he could just make out that he was in the entrance hall of an apartment block, facing a flight of solid stone steps.

Now he was here he felt strangely calm. He knew it was because he’d stopped fighting – stopped trying to return to what he once thought was “normal”. The decision had been made for him, and there was nothing more he could do. At the very end, he knew what he was doing, and knew that it was right. There was no need to fight any more.

“Stop! Put your hands up!” The voice came from nowhere and everywhere, but he could just make out the barrel of a gun pointing at his head from a deeply shadowed corner.

He put his hands up, shutting his eyes and awaiting death.

It didn’t come. Instead came the sound of feet crossing the floor, the steps sounding unnaturally loud in the resonant interior of the deserted building. The sound of feet. Just one pair of feet. Scully wasn’t there.

“Where’s Scully?” Mulder suddenly shouted, lowering his arms. He couldn’t believe what he’d been about to do -calmly facing death as if that was the only thing that mattered. Once he was dead, there was no guarantee that his killer would keep his word and release Scully.

He backed away towards the door. “Let her go first. Please let her go. Please.” His voice cracked as the myth that had sustained him just minutes ago crumbled into pieces. It wasn’t all under control. He still needed to fight. “You can kill me afterwards, but please let me see that she’ll be okay.” He was panicking now, his mind full of images of Scully injured, Scully dead. He took a step forward, blindly reaching for the man, ready to fall on his knees and beg if that would ensure Scully’s safety.

“Keep back!” The man’s voice was peremptory although there was a waver in it, just the merest hint that he wasn’t entirely in control either. “Stay still!” He was edging back himself, taking small steps in the direction of the stairs.

“Is she up there?” Mulder shouted. “Let me see her! Let her go!” He started to run, all control gone, thinking only of making sure Scully was all right.

He never even completed his first step. There was an ear-splitting explosion, and the room was filled with a flash of light which shone white, and then red, and then faded to blackness.

~&~&~&~

Time had no meaning here. Scully had no idea how long she’d been in the darkness, restrained by handcuffs that didn’t begin to yield to her desperate struggles. It had probably been only a matter of hours, but every second dragged on as an interminable nightmare of uncertainty.

No light penetrated the windowless cellar, but her other senses more than compensated for her lack of vision. She’d grown used to the dank smell of decay, but the sounds still tormented her. She started at every scuffle, knowing it was probably mice but at the same time filled with fear that it might be the sound of her captor returning. She heard him in every sound, felt him with every touch. There were spiders there, and insects -creatures that crawled across her skin like the silken caress of a man with death in his touch.

She felt the uncertainty worst of all. She didn’t know where she was, or who had taken her. She remembered entering the kitchen of Briggs’ house, and wondered now at the elation she’d felt then, when she’d been so certain that she was about to make a major breakthrough in the case. After that everything was sketchy – vague impressions of being bundled into a car, of travelling along face-down on the back seat, of her head hurting. By the time she’d recovered full consciousness she was here, a prisoner in the cellar of what smelt like a long-deserted building. It smelt like 66 Exeter Street, she thought, remembering the chill of evil and death that hung over that place. At first the smell had choked her, tormenting her with insistent fancies of death. Was it blood she could smell? Was it the death agonies of Sophie Williams and the others? Was this the smell of her own death? And then she’d struggled, pulling at the cuffs until she could feel the warm trickle of blood on her hands, shouting till she was hoarse, calling her unknown captor to tell her what he planned to do with her.

But no-one had come. No captor. No help. No-one knew where she was. No-one would find her. And so she’d sank back, exhausted, awaiting her fate.

And now someone was coming. There was a sound. It was faint at first – a thud thud of measured footsteps somewhere above her. But then it came closer and grew louder, and as it came down the stairs the smell seemed to return – the stench of decay surrounding her with a fresh intensity, mocking her, tormenting her. “Soon you’ll be nothing but rotten flesh”, each footstep seemed to taunt her, the smell pounding with every sound. And then she could hear breathing – long choking breaths that reeked with the stench of putrefaction, getting louder and louder until they filled her whole head.

“No!” She hadn’t intended to beg for mercy, but the scream was ripped out of her by pure terror as the door suddenly burst open, dazzling her with the sudden bright light. A dark figure was silhouetted in the doorway. As she cowered in the corner, it began to walk towards her.

She screamed again, but her assailant continued his relentless approach, crouching down and reaching out for her. She couldn’t see his face but could feel the murder in his eyes and in his touch, and knew with despair that she would die without knowing why.

~&~&~&~

“Damn it, Gardiner! Stop evading my questions!”

Gardiner looked hurt at her tone. “But, Dana…. You shouldn’t worry about these things, not yet. You’ve been though a terrible ordeal.”

“Yes! I have!” Scully was furious now. “I’ve been through a terrible ordeal. Me, not everyone else. Haven’t I got the right to know about what happened? Since I was found, everyone’s been asking questions. The police, taking statements, asking me to search my mind for any clues as to my captor’s identity.” She shook her head in outrage. “The way they went on you’d have thought I was deliberately being uncooperative by not knowing anything. They seemed to by trying to make me feel guilty.”

“I’m sure they weren’t….” Gardiner began, but Scully cut him off.

“And then those doctors at the hospital, treating me like a child. Is my vision disturbed? Am I nauseous? Questions, questions. Everyone’s expecting answers from me, but no-one answers my questions. But as you say it was my ordeal. Surely I have the best right of anyone to receive answers? Can’t you realise that the worst thing of all is the not knowing?”

She paused for breath, suddenly noticing Gardiner’s hurt look. She sighed, trying to keep the anger from her voice. “Is there something you’re not telling me about what happened? Do you know something about who took me?”

“No!” Gardiner shook his head fervently. “I’ve told you all we know. We didn’t know you were missing – everyone thought you’d gone straight to the morgue after leaving Briggs’ house with O’Brien and Martinez. Then the police got a call saying they should go to the cellar of 1 Arthur Street. So they did, cautiously, not knowing what to find….”

“And found me,” Scully finished the sentence for him. She looked across at him, studying his face for signs of deceit. “Are you sure that’s all? It seems strange. You mean there was no ransom demand? No signs of anyone running away when the police came?”

Gardiner shook his head. He looked as if he’d be a poor liar, and Scully had to believe he was telling the truth.

“Why would anyone do that? It makes no sense,” she wondered, aloud. “Why go to all the effort to take me half way across town, just to leave me and then tell the police where I was, assuming it was him that made the call? I mean, he didn’t tell anyone he had me, so wasn’t after a ransom. He didn’t harm me, so wasn’t after…” She preferred not to finish that thought.

“I know,” said Gardiner, taking a hand from the wheel and touching her nervously on the arm. “I know it’s strange, but we’ll find out. Don’t worry.”

“I hope so,” Scully said fervently. It was the uncertainty that was the hardest to bear, her imagination tormenting her with terrible “what ifs”. “You know,” she said suddenly, twisting her hands on her lap. “I thought I was going to die.” She was surprised to find herself confiding in Gardiner, but was anxious to compensate for shouting at him earlier. “I thought I’d been caught by the same man who killed those women – that he’d do those terrible things I saw in their autopsies.” She shrugged, unable to look at him. “And when that police officer came in – I thought it was him, coming to kill me. Oh, I know the killer’s already been caught, but … well, Mulder always said it was the wrong man.”

Gardiner gasped. Turning to face him, Scully could see the guilt written all over his face.

“What is it?” she demanded. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Gardiner was silent, his face twisted in an agony of indecision.

“Is it Mulder?” Scully asked, in sudden panic. “Is something wrong with Mulder?” She’d wondered all along where Mulder was, expecting him to turn up every moment since she’d been found. But Gardiner had come instead, and she’d refrained from asking about Mulder, anxious not to make Gardiner feel he was only second best.

“No! Mulder’s okay.” Gardiner sounded as if he was telling the truth. “At least, as far as I know, he is. I’ve not seen him since just after…..” He stopped suddenly, biting his lip as a blush suffused his face.

“Since what?” Scully demanded, her voice leaving no room for argument. “Look, I’ll find out, anyway, so you may as well tell me.”

Gardiner sighed. “Briggs wasn’t the right man. But don’t worry,” he added, hastily. “We’ve got the right man now.”

“How?”

“Briggs led us to him. Or rather he led Mulder to him. The official line is that Briggs was an accomplice, but no-one’s been able to get anything on him yet. But I agree with Mulder. I think Briggs is psychic.”

Scully tried to laugh. “I don’t suppose Newman’s very happy to hear that.”

Gardiner flinched, looking away guiltily.

“What else aren’t you telling me?” Scully asked, wearily. Then she gasped suddenly as the realisation hit her. “Why didn’t you want to tell me that? It’s not bad news that the killer’s been caught. Why should you want to protect me from it, unless… There was another one, wasn’t there? He killed someone else.”

Gardiner nodded slowly. He didn’t meet her gaze.

Scully leaned back on the headrest, shutting her eyes in silent shock. They’d arrived back at the hotel now, but she was in no mood to get out of the car. Another death. She’d been five hours in that cellar, her mind tormented with terrifying imaginings of what her captor might do to her. For her, that’s all it was. Just imaginings. But for some other woman, the nightmare had become a reality. She felt her fear as if was her own, as indeed it had been her own just a short while ago. But with it was guilt. Two women taken. Why should she have been the one to survive?

Gardiner released his seat belt, turning to face her. He took a deep breath, as if resolving to tell her everything. “Newman’s taken it really badly,” he said. “He blames himself. Mulder warned him what would happen but he didn’t believe him. He thinks if he’d been more careful she’d still be alive.”

“Well, at least Mulder won’t blame himself on this one, then,” Scully thought, with some relief, then immediately felt guilty for thinking that way, shocked that she could see anything good in a situation in which a woman had died. It was just that, in light of what had happened to her that day, she knew she couldn’t handle any more of Mulder’s guilt.

She struggled to pull her mind away from her own feelings, knowing that she shouldn’t think of such things, not now. She still had a duty to the case. She owed as much to the woman who’d died – a woman who’d died when she’d lived.

“The autopsy!” she cried, suddenly. “I was supposed to do the autopsy this afternoon. And now there’s another one too. I must go and do them.” She turned and looked earnestly at Gardiner. “Please take me there.”

Gardiner made no move to start the car. “No! You can’t even contemplate doing an autopsy now, not after what you’ve been though. You mustn’t think of such things.”

Scully was suddenly furious. “You mustn’t think of such things!” she repeated. “Who are you to tell me what I should think about? As you said, this was my ordeal, and it should be up to me what I think about and what I do. Stop treating me like a child! I’m perfectly capable of deciding for myself what I should do, and I don’t need you to protect me.” Gardiner shrank back in shock, but Scully was too far gone to stop now. “Just leave me alone! I just want to return to normal. Nothing happened. I wasn’t even hurt. I’m okay!”

She reached for the door, shaking with anger. “Dana!” Gardiner reached across the car, grabbing her arm. “You’re not okay. I just want to help.”

“Get off me!” she screamed, shaking him off. An elderly couple getting out of a nearby car glanced disapprovingly, commenting audibly about how young people didn’t know how to behave in public. “I’m okay!” she shouted, slamming the door behind her. “Just leave me alone! I can look after myself!”

She could hear Gardiner calling her, following her as she ran into the hotel, forcing the elderly couple to swerve out of the way. Ignoring him, she slammed the door of her hotel room and threw herself on the bed. She thought she was angry, but as she pounded the pillows to get rid of her fury she found that her body was shaking with sobs.

~&~&~&~

Someone was knocking at the door.

“Who is it?” Scully asked, warily. The sobs had been exhausted a long time ago, and she was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. She’d put the television on without sound, but with the brightness turned way up, and had put all the lights on. She’d even gone into Mulder’s room and brought in his bedside lamp, plugging it in next to her own. After the cellar, she didn’t want any corners of the room to be left in darkness.

“My name is Sandra Hellman. I’m a trained counsellor. Would you like to talk?” She had a pleasant voice that invited trust, but Scully wasn’t sure she was quite ready to trust, not yet.

“I don’t need to talk.” Scully walked across to the door but didn’t open it yet.

There was a pause. “Do you really believe that?” said the counsellor at last, her voice quiet.

Scully reflected. She’d been to a counsellor before, when a case had got too much for her. It had been hard to swallow her pride enough to admit she needed help, but it had helped.

Reaching out, she unlocked the door, then turned and walked away, sitting on the bed with her back to the door. She heard someone come in, soft-soled shoes crossing the floor, and felt the bed move as someone sat down.

“Why have you come, Ms Hellman?” She didn’t look round, keeping her voice unfriendly.

“Call me Sandra,” said the counsellor. She made no response to Scully’ tone of voice. “I work with the police. It’s normal to offer counselling in situations like this.”

“I don’t need help!” Scully shouted. “You should be helping the family of that woman who died this morning. I’ve seen what that man does to his victims. They need help, not me.”

“Why are you resisting this so much?” Scully felt the bed move as Sandra leant forward towards her, but she still didn’t look round. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of about needing someone to talk to.”

“I know. But I shouldn’t need someone to talk to. Nothing happened to me. There were two of us taken today, and she died. Why should I be feeling bad when I was unharmed? It …. it seems to trivialise what she went through.”

“No it doesn’t,” Sandra said, earnestly. “You were unharmed, yes, but at the time you didn’t know you’d get out safely, did you? You went through all the same feelings, all the same fears, as you’d have gone through even if the outcome had been different. It’s those feelings that you need to talk about, that you need to address before you can come to terms with your experience.”

“I need to talk about,” Scully quoted. “I need to address. How can you say what I need to do? You’re as bad as Gardiner.” She looked up suddenly, realisation dawning. “It’s Gardiner, isn’t it? He called you in. And after I told him to leave me alone!”

Sandra didn’t attempt to deny it. “He’s worried about you. He’s only trying to help. Why are you so angry that he’s concerned?”

“I’m angry because …. because …. he’s treating me like a child. I’ve been through situations like this before and I coped then without people like him telling me what to do. What does he know about what I can cope with?”

“He didn’t know. But he was genuinely trying. You know, after a traumatic event it’s often nearly as difficult for friends and family as it is for the person affected. They want to help but they don’t know the right way to behave. Sometimes it’s helpful just to tell people right at the start how you want them to behave.”

“Mulder knew, that last time. I’d been kidnapped and nearly killed by a …. a human monster who had a fetish about my hair. Mulder knew how to treat me. He was there for me when I needed him, but didn’t push.”

“Is Mulder your partner?” Scully nodded, and Sandra continued. “Agent Gardiner isn’t your partner. He doesn’t know you very well, but he was doing his best.”

Scully turned away again. She knew she was being unfair, but she couldn’t get rid of the anger.

“Are you angry with Agent Gardiner for not being Mulder?”

“No! Yes!” Scully looked up in sudden realisation. “I suppose I’m angry with him for not being Mulder, but most of all I’m angry with Mulder for not being here at all. At least Gardiner bothers about me. Mulder hasn’t even noticed I’m gone. It’s over six hours now since I was taken and he hasn’t thought about me once.”

“You don’t know that,” Sandra said, calmly.

“Oh yes I do.” Scully’s voice was bitter. “He’s my partner. I know him. He’s always calling me at all hours. As soon as he thinks something he’s on the phone telling me all about it, even if I don’t want to hear. If he’d thought of me today he’d have called me, and if he’d called me he wouldn’t have got an answer, since I was in that cellar. And if that happened he’d worry, and send out search parties for me.” Sandra opened her mouth, but Scully didn’t let her speak. “Oh yes, he’d have worried. We’ve been through enough danger in the past that he’d always assume the worst. But this time he’s obviously not thought about me all day.”

“He’s probably been busy on the case you’ve been working on. After all, no-one had any cause to worry about you. Gardiner says they all thought you were working on an autopsy. Mulder probably didn’t want to disturb you.”

“No!” Scully objected. “You don’t understand. He probably wasn’t busy. That’s the worst thing about it. These last few days, he’s had real problems. I think he was only getting though it at all because he was convinced everyone was following a wrong trail on the case. But now they’ve got the right man – well, I don’t know how he’ll have taken it. He’s probably not here right now because he’s off walking around town, overwhelmed with depression.” She was crying now, angry with Mulder and with herself. “I shouldn’t be angry with him, but I am.”

“Why?” Sandra touched her hand, her voice calm.

“Because he won’t talk to me,” Scully admitted. “Oh, I know it’s a terrible thing to think, but I wish he’d just pull himself together. But of course, at the same time I know he’s not doing it deliberately. But he keeps it all to himself. He just broods over it all, and it gets worse and worse. He won’t share it with me, and that really hurts. It’s as if he doesn’t trust me. I know his feelings are his own affair, but it does affect me too. It hurts me when he rejects my help. And now, because he wants to be alone, he’s not here for me when I need help. He’ll go off for hours and come back when he’s ready – he always does – but he doesn’t seem to realise that I’m affected too – that I might worry about him, or that I might need him even if he doesn’t need me.”

“Is this what makes you most angry – that he won’t talk to you about his feelings? That he prefers to tackle them alone?”

“Yes. I know I shouldn’t feel like this, but we’re supposed to be partners. We’ve gone through so much together. It’s as if he doesn’t trust me enough to share things with me.”

“Do you remember that a few minutes ago you were refusing to talk, saying that your feelings were no-one’s business but your own and you should handle them in your own way? And then how you said how good Mulder had been that last time, when he didn’t push you to talk if you didn’t want to?” Scully gave a guilty start and Sandra squeezed her hand, speaking in a kind tone. “Look, I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty. It’s just that you’ve got so much anger inside you, and it’s getting in the way of your own healing. You need to get rid of that anger before you can address your own feelings about what happened to you today.”

“I have talked about my feelings,” Scully said, defensively, although she recognised the truth of Sandra’s words.

“No you haven’t. Not much. You’ve talked about Gardiner, about Mulder.” She smiled. “You’ve talked about your feelings about talking about your feelings. But you haven’t spoken about what happened to you today.”

Scully sighed, all anger gone. “I…. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I’m sorry. But you have helped. I was wrong to be angry. I guess my experience has aroused more feelings than I wanted to deal with, and the easiest outlet for them was anger. I’ve no idea who took me, so can’t take my anger out on him, so it was easiest to take it out on other people.” She smiled, regretfully. “Poor Gardiner. It’s just that I hate not being in control. That was the worst thing about this afternoon -being helpless. I thought I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do about it. But then Gardiner acted as if I was helpless all over again.” She sighed. “I know he thought he was acting for the best. Could you apologise to him for me? I don’t think I’m ready to see him yet. I need some time alone, to think about things. Could you go now, please.”

Sandra stood up, but her eyes were full of doubt.

“I’m okay!” Scully said, quickly, but then realised there was no point trying to lie. “No, I’m not okay. But I’m dealing with it.”

Sandra looked at the television, and at the two bedside lights, and her eyes were full of doubt. “Here’s my number. Call me when you feel ready to talk,” she said. walking towards the door.

And then Scully was left alone with her thoughts.

~&~&~&~

When he remembered, the realisation was more painful even than agonising throbbing in his head, which had until now driven out all coherent thought.

“Scully! Where’s Scully?” It was a weak croak, but he couldn’t manage anything more. He didn’t know if anyone was there to hear him.

“You’re awake.”

The voice came from behind him. He tried to turn round but the slightest movement made his head explode in agony. It had been like that earlier, too, unknown hours ago. He’d drifted to some semblance of consciousness only to find himself in darkness still, but this was a darkness that cramped his legs and filled his ears with an inhuman droning. Now he knew he must have been in a car, but then he’d been too hurt to think. Confused by his surroundings, he’d tried to move, only to be thrown back into unconsciousness by the pain in his head. And then he’d drifted between one dark place and another until he was unable to tell which was which, except that in one there was no pain, and no need to think.

He wasn’t in a car now, but lying on his side on a wooden floor. Deep shadows fell across the room, cast by some light source behind him, and it was very cold.

“You made me shoot you,” the voice continued, reproachfully. “You could have been killed. I don’t want to kill you – not yet.”

He could hear movement, and the shadows danced as the light was picked up. Footsteps thudded in time with the heart beat that still pounded in his head, and a pair of feet came into view.

“What have you done with Scully?” Mulder asked. He knew his voice sounded pleading, but he didn’t care.

There was no answer. The man crouched down, putting the lamp on the floor near Mulder’s face. Ignoring what the light did to the pain in his head, Mulder stared up at the man’s face, trying to read Scully’s fate in his eyes. He saw a young man, fair-haired and handsome, probably still in his twenties, although his face was aged by deep lines of hate. He looked vaguely familiar, although he couldn’t think enough to place the memory.

“What have you done to Scully?” he asked again, his voice cracking now. Ignoring the pain in his head he tried to sit up, tried to reach for the man who’d captured her, maybe hurt her. But he couldn’t move his hands. Metal rattled on metal as the handcuffs shifted, straining tautly but remaining secure.

“There’s no point struggling,” the man said, as Mulder sank back, exhausted. “I told you – you can’t escape me.”

“Where’s Scully?” He blinked, trying to clear the blood that still partly obscured his vision. “Just tell me where she is….. Please.” He bit his lip, trying to stifle a sob.

And then he got his answer.

“She’s dead.”

He couldn’t speak. Blood pounded in his head, his forehead throbbing with every pulse, but this was an agony far greater than the physical pain. This time, it wasn’t blood that blurred his vision.

“No!” he sobbed, at last. He couldn’t make out the man’s face through the mists that swam in front of his eyes, but he could hear his laughter.

“No!” he repeated, but this time it was a cry of anger -anger at a man who could kill – who could kill Scully -and still laugh. “Why did you kill her? She’s not done anything to you!” He struggled to sit up, anger wrestling with grief. He felt an overwhelming desire to take the man’s throat in his hands and choke the life out of him, like he had so nearly done to Duane Barry, but he couldn’t move. “How could you do that? What sort of a man are you?”

The man leant forward, his face twisted with hate. There was no sign of laughter now. “How dare you reproach me?” he shouted, his voice making Mulder’s head erupt in a fresh burst of agony. “How dare you – you of all people – ask me that? What sort of man am I? How can you ask that? You made me what I am!”

“That’s not true! I’ve never seen you before!” But even as he said it, he remembered. The first morning of the case…. Newman briefing them in the foyer of the hotel, forcing them to obstruct the other guests…. A man, standing at reception, his eyes blazing with anger….

“Not that!” The man laughed scornfully. “I’m Matthew Lewis. Remember!”

“I don’t know you,” Mulder said. Although everything else had fallen apart, he was still sure of his own memory.

Lewis stared at him for a while and then his eyes seemed to lose their focus. He bit his lip, staring intently at nothing, his brow furrowed with concentration.

You killed her,” Mulder continued, struggling to suppress the memory of those hate-filled eyes. Lewis gave no sign of hearing, but Mulder continued to accuse him, shouting as loudly as the pain in his head would let him. “You can’t evade the responsibility, and pass it off on me. This wasn’t my fault.” His voice cracked. He knew he was speaking as much to convince himself as to accuse the other man.

And then the tears flowed freely, washing the anger away. Scully was dead. That was all that mattered. She was dead, and no amount of anger could bring her back The enormity of her loss was more important than any petty squabbling about blame.

“Why?” he said, at last, his voice almost drowned by grief. “Why did you kill her?”

Lewis looked up suddenly, his eyes regaining their focus. “You really don’t know!” he exclaimed, incredulously. Each word was louder than the last, until he was shouting. “You don’t remember!”

Suddenly he leant forward, grabbing Mulder’s shoulders and pushing him roughly until he was lying on his back. Mulder felt a stab of pain as his hands were crushed against the hard wooden floor, the handcuffs digging into his wrists. “You don’t remember!” Lewis shouted again, leaning over so his face was only inches above Mulder’s, his eyes dark with hate. “You ruined my life and you don’t even remember!”

Then he jerked his hands, shaking Mulder’s shoulders with fury so that his head thumped against the floor and Lewis’s face disappeared in an explosion of pain. But as the blackness swallowed him up, he could hear the man’s voice: “I’ll show you – I’ll show you what you did to me.”

And then it was still dark, but another place entirely. He was being hunted. They were coming to get him, although he’d done nothing to deserve their hatred. But, although they were cruel, he felt confident, his confidence investing the dark warehouse with a warm feeling of security. It was safe here, for he knew how their minds worked, knew that they’d come the same way they’d come last time, and the time before. It was all so easy. There was never any need to plan, or to waste his energy in tiresome efforts to put them off the scent. Let them come. He had plenty of time to get away.

But then, he suddenly felt real fear. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this…… They were everywhere. They had guns in their hands and murder in their hearts. There was no escape. They would get him and his life would be over. The darkness deepened and pulsed with despair….

Despair….

Scully was dead.

“No!” Mulder shouted, pulling away from the memories that weren’t his. “This is nothing to do with me. I won’t watch!”

Scully was dead.

“Yes you will.” The voice was like steel, the hands still pushing down on his shoulders. “You’ve got no choice.”

“No!” Mulder cried, inside his mind. “I won’t watch.” He struggled for a memory to hold on to. “Scully’s dead…. Scully…. Sc….”

Then she drifted from him, and he was back in the warehouse, but it was no longer dark. The moon was shining, and the place was warm. He could have been at home here. It was a safe place that didn’t know death. A cat purred in the distance, and he could hear the gentle scuffle of a mouse foraging for food. He could be safe here, but the hunters wouldn’t leave him in peace.

They were there now, the threat that emanated from their minds turning the warehouse into a place of deathly menace. They had guns, and as they burst in through the doors and windows they pointed their guns at his head, shouting obscenities at him. He cowered on the floor, offering no resistance, but they wrestled him to the ground. Their jackets said “FBI” in large white letters on the back, but their faces were twisted like wild animals. They kicked him and beat him and dragged him across the floor, leaving a trail of his own blood that glistened in the light of their torches. But even though he was so ill-treated he was still able to see into the minds of his captors. He read hatred in some. In others he saw indifference. That was much worse – to know that his capture was but a chore to these men – a few minutes work, instantly forgotten. But then he looked into the mind of the leader, a fair-haired man with a face scarcely human, so twisted was it with menace. And there he saw….

“Look at him!” Lewis hissed into his ear. “Look at him -you know him.”

And Mulder looked at that face, seeing through the mask of hate imposed by Lewis’ memory, and he remembered….

“Hey, Mulder!” A difficult case had just been wrapped up and he’d been relaxing over a cup of coffee in the FBI cafeteria. It was before the X-Files, but he’d already gained enough of a reputation to be drinking alone. But now someone was sitting down next to him, slapping him on the back in hearty greeting.

“Ed!” He’d smiled, putting down his coffee. “How’ve you been?” They’d been friends in the Academy, but their careers had taken different paths and they’d seldom seen each other since then. They’d met in the corridors sometimes, making vague promises to meet up one evening, but nothing had ever come of it. Even then, he’d been reluctant to trust anyone enough to call them a friend.

Ed had frowned. “I’m on a tough case.” He’d launched straight into the details with an eagerness that had told Mulder that this had been the real reason for their meeting. “A bank robber. He takes incredible risks, bursting into heavily guarded banks, but so far he’s been very lucky. The first bank, he got there when they had a computer failure. The second one, he challenged some poor girl on her first day at work. She panicked and forgot about the alarm. The third one, he was half way through loading his bag when someone in a back room saw him and was about to call the police. There was no way he could have seen this, but still he decided to leave just then, without taking all the money.” He’d shaken his head grimly. “But his luck will run out soon. One day he’ll find a bank that’s ready for him, and then people might die. There’s no way he’d take such risks – going alone into well guarded banks – unless he was prepared to use his gun. It’s incredible that no-one’s been hurt yet.”

“Have you any leads?” Mulder had asked.

“Yes. Lots of them. That’s the really weird part. It’s as if he doesn’t bother to cover his tracks. We’ve twice now found the place he’s hiding, but when we’ve got there he’s gone. It’s as if he’s known we were coming, but of course he couldn’t have.” He’d sighed, taking a sip from his coffee. “I’m leading a party tonight. We think we’ve found him again, and are going in as soon as it’s dark. It’s the first raid I’ve led. I really want to do well.” And then he’d looked down at his cup, not meeting Mulder’s eyes. “If you have time, could you look over the case with me – see if I’ve missed anything.”

“Me?” Mulder had asked. “Of course I will, but why ask me?” He’d scarcely seen the man in two years.

Ed had looked embarrassed. “I keep on hearing about you. It’s Mulder this, Mulder that. Everyone’s talking about you. But I’ve been the same time in the Bureau and I’ve not done anything to distinguish myself….. This is my big chance.”

“It was you!” Mulder said, looking at Lewis. He had no trouble breaking free from the memory this time.

“Go on,” urged Lewis. “Remember!”

The memory of Scully’s death still haunted him, but now he wanted to remember. He owed it to Scully to find out the reason behind her death. Shutting his eyes, he looked back over the years until he was there again, back in that time before Scully, before the X-Files….

His coffee had been cold when he’d finished reading the files, but his head had been full of ideas. “What if he isn’t just lucky?” he’d asked, aloud. “What if he knows?”

“You mean, he’s got an accomplice inside the bank?” Mulder had been talking to himself, forgetting that Ed was still there, but Ed’s voice had brought him back to the present.

“No.” He’d looked at Ed, although he’d not expected him to believe him. “I mean, you said yourself that he’s been extraordinarily lucky. It’s as if he knows just the right time to do anything, whether rob a bank, or run away when you come to arrest him. It’s as if he can read people’s minds.”

Ed had laughed, but the laugh petered out when he’d seen that Mulder was serious.

“It all fits,” Mulder had continued. He hadn’t bothered to explain the details of his theory. No-one usually believed this sort of thing, and, anyway, he’d known that Ed was only really interested in ideas about how to conduct the impending raid. “Look,” he’d said, “How did you do those last two raids?”

“We went in as a group, relying on surprise. Then we burst in, knowing that if he tried to shoot anyone everyone else would have him covered. He’s too dangerous for any other method.”

“That would work with most people, but not him,” Mulder had said. “He’s no ordinary man. If you want to catch him you should make sure that all his escapes are covered. Don’t worry as much about the surprise. Just put one man on every door, at every window, at anything that could be an escape route. Then, even if he does know you’re coming, it won’t give him any advantage.”

“But that would mean spreading ourselves too thinly,” Ed had objected. He hadn’t commented on the mind-reading theory. “He’s armed, and dangerous. We’ve got to go in in a group, and overwhelm him with force.”

“I don’t think he is dangerous,” Mulder had said. “He’s never used his gun, not even to wound someone. You said he never covers his tracks. It doesn’t look as if he’s a very good criminal. He seems too lazy to bother hiding properly, and I don’t think he’s prepared to shoot. I think he can read people’s minds, and relies on that to get him out of trouble. If that fails him, he’ll be left with nothing. He won’t have a fall-back option for escaping, and he won’t shoot.”

Ed had looked doubtful. “I don’t know about….”

“Look,” Mulder had urged. “You don’t have to believe me. But you’ve tried you method twice now and it hasn’t worked. Why not give it a try? You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing it because I suggested it – or what I said about your man. Just say it’s a change of tactic -that you’re trying it because the last two raids didn’t work.”

Ed had looked doubtful, but he had returned the next day, full of gratitude. He’d done what Mulder had suggested, and the man had been caught. He hadn’t put up any resistance. No-one had been hurt…..

“No!” Lewis shouted. “That’s not true. I didn’t put up any resistance, but someone was hurt. They hurt me. They couldn’t catch me by playing fair, so they cheated…. You made them cheat. I knew how their minds worked – I knew the rules of the game. But then you cheated. You changed the rules!”

“I didn’t….” Mulder started, but then he found himself pushed back into the dark place – a dark place now slashed with the cruel beams of many torches. He tried to resist, but the pressure was too strong. “No! Give me back my own mind!” he cried, silently, but Lewis was unrelenting.

There were dozens of them now – dozens of hunters, baying like wolves for his blood. But then he saw into their leader’s mind, and he knew that none of these men were responsible for tricking him of his freedom. That was someone else, someone who had so little interest in his fate that he hadn’t even come that night. “Mulder was right.” He could sense gratitude coming from the leader of the party. “We wouldn’t have caught him if it wasn’t for Mulder.”

And with the thought came memory. A conversation over coffee…. Mulder smiling as he planned his fate. “I don’t think he’s dangerous…. He won’t shoot.” And then he’d smiled again, his mouth twisting with casual cruelty. “Cover every exit. Don’t leave him any hope. Hunt him down without mercy. Hunt him, then hurt him.” He’d sipped his coffee, calmly plotting another man’s fate, revelling in the pain it would cause him…

“It wasn’t like that!” Mulder wrenched free again, chasing his own memories. They had been so clear just a moment ago, but now they had been invaded. He didn’t think he’d smiled like that, didn’t think he’d urged that Lewis be hunted down without mercy, was almost sure he hadn’t spoken about hurting. But then, he’d just seen himself do just that. These pictures were clearer than what he’d thought was his real memory. “It wasn’t like that?” he repeated, but now his voice was full of doubt.

“That was my life you were talking about.” Lewis’s voice came from a great distance, fighting through a sea of memories. Darkness …. hunters….. hate…. smiling over coffee …. Scul….

“No!” Lewis shook him again, forcing that thought from his head. “You won’t think anything unless I want you to.”

And then the darkness exploded into light. A bright building, shiny metal and new carpets, no shadows anywhere. A bank. He was excited, mostly confident, but a little nervous. His hand shook slightly on the gun. “Hand over the money!” he’d said, pointing the gun at the girl. She couldn’t have been more than eighteen, and he could read her thoughts. He knew she wouldn’t call for help. She’d been scared then, but only a little, only for a few seconds. There’d be no lasting damage. After he’d gone she would recover. He hadn’t hurt anyone. No-one.

“You knew that!” Lewis wrenched him back to the present. “I saw it in your memory. You knew I wouldn’t hurt anyone, but you still planned to hunt me down without mercy. Why did you do that?”

Mulder couldn’t find any words. He wasn’t sure if he could think his own thoughts any more.

“It meant so little to you,” Lewis continued. “Just a few minutes over coffee, then it was forgotten. You think your memory’s so good, but I was so unimportant that you couldn’t even remember me. I was just a coffee break to you, but to me…. to me it was my whole life.”

He pushed again, and Mulder found himself in prison, once more in the dark. It was night, and he was alone. Completely alone. His family refused to see him – because of him. He had no freedom – because of him. His gift was now a curse – because of him. By his gift, his horizons had always been unbounded. All his life he’d seen things, felt things, experienced things that were not of his own mind. But now – and that was the worst of all – there was nothing but misery surrounding him. A thousand minds all leaden with the lack of freedom. He could shut them out, of course, but that left him with something still worse – being alone on his own mind. He didn’t think he could bear the loneliness.

“Being in prison is like being dead.” Lewis’s voice spoke though the memory. “You killed me.”

And then the memory lifted, but Mulder was still in prison, still alone.

Scully was dead.

“You understand why she died now.” Lewis’s voice was tired. He’d moved back, leaning against the wall, his eyes shut.

“You …. killed…. her.” It was difficult to think enough to get the words out.

Lewis sighed, wearily. “After all I’ve showed you, you still don’t understand.”

Mulder tried to shake his head but it hurt too much. He knew now why Lewis hated him, but why Scully – why kill Scully? She had nothing to do with it.

“Mulder,” Lewis turned his head to look at him. “It wasn’t my fault. It was you. You killed Scully.”

~&~&~&~

Gardiner was shifting from one foot to the other, nervousness written all over his face. “I’m sorry,” he began, as Scully opened the door, his voice full of awkward remorse.

“No!” Scully forced a smile. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you like that.” She invited him in, shutting the door behind him. “Please, sit down.” She gestured to a chair as she picked up the remote from beside the bed and turned the television off. It had been showing some sixties science fiction show, all bright colours and garish metal, and the sudden blank screen made that corner of the room darken noticeably.

“I’m sorry,” Gardiner said again, twisting his hands. He hadn’t noticed her offer of the chair and was perched awkwardly on the edge of the bed, his body partly obscuring the light from the bedside lamps.

“Stop apologising!” Scully snapped, but instantly recollected herself. The sudden darkening of the room was making her tense. She sighed. “Look, you did nothing wrong. You were only trying to help me, I know that. You weren’t to know that….” She swallowed against the lump that was threatening to grow in her throat and obstruct her words. “You weren’t to know that … that I need to know everything that’s happened, even things you think might upset me. I need to know. Nothing can be as bad as not knowing.”

Gardiner nodded. He kept his arms stiffly at his side, as if he wanted to reach our and comfort her but didn’t know how to do it without upsetting her.

“Right now,” she continued, pacing up and down the room. “Right now I need to think about what happened to me…. Oh, not in the way that counsellor meant – not about my feelings, at least not yet. I mean, I need to think about the facts – look for clues, follow up theories, join in any investigation there is into my …. my disappearance.”

She stopped, reluctant to say it all. She didn’t want Gardiner to know that if she stopped trying to make sense of it, stopped treating it like one more case that needed solving, then the feelings of fear that she’d felt in that cellar might overwhelm her.

Gardiner looked up. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then stopped, biting his lip anxiously. Scully hoped she hadn’t frightened him into perpetual silence by her earlier outburst.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said brightly, anxious to steer the conversation onto a slightly safer topic. “What if there was something there at Briggs’ house, something that would incriminate him, and link him to the murders?”

“But we’ve found nothing, nothing apart from the calls he made, and you know what Mulder thinks about those,” Gardiner objected. He’d clearly found his tongue now they were no longer talking about feelings. “And that man we caught this morning – he was definitely the one.” He shuddered, suddenly. “You should have seen the inside of that house….” His voice trailed off as he started guiltily and looked away.

“I know,” Scully said, abruptly. She knew Gardiner was protecting her again, but this was no time to think about that horror. “But I did feel something.” She paused, wondering how she could explain it to him. “Have you ever felt certain that there’s something important you’ve got to do, but you can’t remember what?” Gardiner nodded. “It was like that,” she continued, “but even stronger than normal. There was something there – something obvious that we’d missed.” She stopped her pacing, turning to face him. “Now, what if Briggs had an accomplice, and this accomplice went back to remove this evidence, whatever it was. Then I came in and surprised him, so he had to get me out of the way – somewhere far off where no-one would think of looking – long enough for him to remove it and get it far away. And then, when he was safe, he called the police so I’d be found safely.”

Gardiner nodded, but Scully could tell that he was only pretending to agree because he didn’t want to oppose her. Now that she’d explained it, she wasn’t convinced either, but she shook off her doubts. It had all seemed so plausible, earlier, and even now she was determined to cling to it, reluctant to abandon all semblance of an explanation for what had happened to her.

Gardiner cleared his throat, opening his mouth as if to speak but then changed his mind.

“What is it?” Scully leant forward. It was happening again. “What have you found out? Tell me!”

Gardiner reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellular phone, handing it over to Scully without a word.

“My phone!” Scully grabbed it, holding it protectively. Now Mulder would be able to get through to her when he called. If he called, she thought with sudden bitterness. “Where did you find it?” She shook her head to drive away the seeds of anger which threatened to burst forth anew whenever she thought of Mulder’s absence. As she’d established with Sandra, it was wrong for her to feel angry.

“The same street we found you,” Gardiner said. “But a different building – number 3 Arthur Street, this was.”

He looked at her, taking a deep breath. “We found something else too.”

Something in his tone of voice made her gasp. “What?” She hardly dared hear the answer.

“Blood.”

“Blood?” Her mind was racing. She wondered why Gardiner had tried to protect her from this.

“Yes,” said Gardiner. “A pool of blood, smears of blood leading to the door, and a bullet embedded in the wall.”

“Blood,” Scully repeated. She tried to assimilate this new discovery with her theory. “Well, I might still be right. It might have happened as I said, but there was another accomplice who wanted to betray the whole thing, so the man who took me shot him …. Or maybe, this new man shot the one who’d taken me, and it was him who called the police…. Or….”

Her voice tailed off. She knew as well as anyone that serial killers usually worked alone, and here she was suggesting at least three accomplices for the killer they had in custody – Briggs, her captor and another. She sighed, her theory crumbling into dust. She felt strangely bereft, and knew that she’d clung to her theory because any explanation, however flawed, was better than no explanation. Now she was back with nothing, and the unknown could be worst of all.

At last, Gardiner plucked up the courage to reach out for her. He touched her sleeve gently. “Well,” he said, comfortingly. “We’ve taken lots of prints. We should know more in the morning.”

Scully smiled wanly and turned away. She knew this was the best she was likely to get, but it offered little hope for the long dark night ahead of her. She wished Mulder was there. His unorthodox outlook was just what she needed on a case like this, and, even if he didn’t find the truth himself, she’d always found him useful as a sounding board. Just verbalising her own ideas, and having to justify them in the face of his comments, had always helped her come to her own conclusions. It was why they worked so well as a team, she realised now. Although they often disagreed, often followed totally different lines of enquiry on a case, they helped each other towards the solution.

She sighed, picking up the remote and turning on the television, suddenly anxious for its reassuring presence, even though the sound was still off. She heard Gardiner stand up and head towards the door, but, preoccupied with her thoughts, she didn’t turn to say goodbye until it was too late.

On screen, the implausibly dressed hero was about to be attacked by a horde of giant reptiles. Idly, she switched channels, not caring about his fate.

Outside, it was raining, the wind lashing against the windows. It was after nine o’clock, and steps sounded in the corridor as other guests went about their evening business.

She lay back on the bed, shutting her eyes. She could still see the light red through her eye lids.

“Oh, Mulder – where are you?” she asked, silently.

~&~&~&~

“Are you broken already?” Lewis’s face swam into focus, his voice penetrating the darkness.

Mulder said nothing. The light hurt his head and he hated the voice for dragging him back to consciousness.

“You haven’t asked me why,” Lewis continued. His hair shone like a halo as he leant in front of the lamp, throwing his face into deep shadow. “You haven’t even thought it.” He shook his head. “I tell you that you killed your partner, and you don’t even wonder how that can be true! Are you broken so much that you don’t even care?”

Mulder shut his eyes. There had been no need to ask for an explanation. He knew it already. He had killed Scully, as sure as if he’d pulled the trigger himself. As soon as Lewis had said it, he’d realised how blind he’d been, trying to blame Lewis alone for something that was his own fault. If it hadn’t been for him, she’d never have been captured in the first place. Even then, Lewis had promised not to hurt her, as long as Mulder did what he was told. But he hadn’t done what he was told. He’d panicked, rushing for the stairs in a vain attempt to rescue her, and so she had died. It was all his fault. There was no way it could be anyone else’s.

Lewis sighed. “It’s a shame you feel like that already.” He smiled in mock sympathy. “I’m so sorry. You see, I had hoped that you’d put up a fight – that you wouldn’t accept it was all your fault. Then I could have had the fun of breaking you over the next few days – of breaking you as you so nearly did to me. I wanted you to feel the despair that I felt in prison, and then I would kill you.”

He stood up, and Mulder could hear the thud of his feet as he walked away. Somewhere a drawer opened, and there was the sound of metal clashing against metal.

“But now,” Lewis continued, his voice raised so it would carry over the noise he was making, “you’ve taken the fun out of it.” He shut the drawer and crossed the room, crouching next to Mulder again. His right hand was behind his back. “Where’s the fun in breaking you if you’re broken already?”

There was a short silence. The question hung in the air, but no-one answered it. At last Lewis sighed. “It’s my fault, I suppose,” he said. “I should have done this several days ago. I let it go too far. It’s just that case you were on …. it offered so many opportunities to torment you with. I had to exploit it – it was just too tempting not to. But now I’ve already pushed you so far that there’s nothing else I can do. I might have to kill you now.”

He pulled out the knife he’d been concealing behind his back. It was a long carving knife with a serrated edge. His knuckles looked white as they clutched the handle. Mulder could see his own face reflected in the blade, although it kept on flashing out of view as the knife shook.

“I might have to kill you….” Lewis repeated. He leant forward, his breathing rapid in Mulder’s ears. His left hand reached out towards Mulder’s throat as his right hand clenched and unclenched on the handle of the knife. He bit his lip. If Mulder had wanted to he could have kicked and struggled and made him drop the knife, but there was no point.

“Unless….” Lewis smiled suddenly, lowering the blade. He leant back, his breathing suddenly quieter. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I can make you….”

Mulder’s eyes were still fixed on the knife. He was scarcely listening to Lewis’s words, certainly not thinking about them.

“I understand now,” Lewis said, suddenly, his voice full of relief. “I know why you didn’t say anything when I told you that you’d killed Scully.”

Mulder stared at him. His head was pounding again, a drum beat that threatened to drown out Lewis’s words. Clouds of darkness hovered at the fringes of his vision, threatening to take him.

“It’s because it’s nothing new, isn’t it?” Lewis continued. “After all, it’s happened before – that you’ve killed people who care about you.”

“What?” He was suddenly fully focused on Lewis, the dark clouds dispelled.

“Your father…. your sister,” Lewis said, casually. He was staring into the distance, not looking at Mulder.

“My sister?” Mulder hadn’t thought it could get any worse. “I didn’t kill her!”

Lewis laughed. He nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“Why do you say that?” Mulder knew he was losing control but it didn’t matter. “Why do you say I killed her?….. I didn’t kill her!…. I didn’t look after her and it was my fault she was taken …. I know it was my fault…. But I didn’t kill her! She isn’t dead!”

“You don’t know that.” Lewis was remorseless. “You don’t know what happened.”

“Neither do you. You can’t say I killed her. I didn’t kill her!”

“Ah, but you forget that I can see into your mind. I can see things not even you can remember.”

“No!” Even now, even despite everything, Mulder retained enough thought to doubt. “You can’t do that. You can’t see things that aren’t there …. can you?” Desperation was creeping into his voice.

Lewis smiled.

“What did you see?” He still didn’t think he believed it, but he had to know.

“I saw….” He paused, smiling again. “No, I think I’ll let you worry about that one. I won’t tell you – not yet.” He picked up the knife and stood up. Mulder couldn’t see his face.

“You’re lying! You can’t see anything! I didn’t kill her!” But even as he said it he knew it was untrue. He had killed Samantha, although not in the way that Lewis suggested. “I’m your sister, Fox. You have to trust me.” And there was a woman, her long brown hair slightly curly, standing on a bridge at night, her eyes trusting. “I’m in danger, Fox,” she’d said and he’d promised to protect her, but she had died just like the others. “Was this your decision?” his father had asked, and it had been. She hadn’t been his sister, he knew that now, but at the time he’d truly believed it, but even so had let her die. “It should have been you!” The voice came from the river, gasping out its last breaths before being claimed by the freezing water, reproaching him in death.

“Why didn’t they take me?” he shouted, silently, knowing he would get no answer. He was deep underground now -another dark place. But this time there were files -files full of names. His name was there, although hers had been written over it. It should have been him. He knew suddenly that his father had chosen to keep Samantha, knowing already what sort of person his son was. But They never played by the rules, and had taken the child he’d chosen to keep. “It should have been me!” He didn’t know if he’d spoken aloud this time. And then he saw a sudden vision of a world in which it had been him who’d been taken. Scully alive, happy, respected. His parents still together. Melissa alive. Deep Throat alive. Samantha.

And then the pictures went and he was back in a room where the light hurt his head. His vision was unclouded now, but he could see nothing but bare boards where the knife had been.

He shut his eyes, trying to force the darkness to come and take him, but he could still see the light.

Not far away, someone laughed.

~&~&~&~

November 16th 1995

His gun was on the table by the bed. Scully felt her eyes irresistibly drawn towards it as she lay curled up on Mulder’s bed, her mind troubled by the implications of its presence.

She’d first noticed it just after midnight, hidden in a fold of the bedclothes. Then, it had been a relief. “He’s not suicidal, then.” That had been her first thought, although she’d felt almost guilty for thinking it. Depressed as Mulder had been lately, she had no reason to assume he was suicidal. Even at the worst of times over the last few years he’d shown no signs of ever considering taking his own life. Still, it had been a relief to see that he had left his gun. Clearly, he hadn’t been going into any danger. She’d considered the possibility that someone had contacted him – one of his mysterious sources sending him off on some fresh mystery. There was enough precedent for that – many occasions that he’d gone without a word, chasing some UFO sighting or other. But not this time. He wouldn’t do that without his gun.

And so worry had quickly followed relief. If he hadn’t gone following a lead, and hadn’t taken his gun, where had he gone? Quite apart from the fact that he was completely against regulations by leaving his gun unattended where any member of the hotel staff could take it, it was most unlike Mulder not to be prepared for any eventuality. She knew he could have gone to a bar, could have found a pretty girl and gone home with her. It was entirely possible that he could be using drink or women as a last ditch effort to take his mind off his problems. Indeed, when she’d finally called the police some time after one o’clock they’d almost laughed at her, suggesting that if a young single man was out all night then there was no doubt at all about what he was doing. Of course it was possible, she knew that. But if that was so, why was his phone dead when she called him?

As she looked at the gun again she couldn’t help thinking that, even if Mulder hadn’t expected any danger, he was unprotected should any dangerous situation arise.

It was three o’clock now, and still no sign of him. She was alone. Alone with her worries about Mulder. Alone with the memories of her own ordeal – memories that would not keep away even though she tried to drive them out with light.

She rolled onto her back, biting her lip to stifle the sobs that threatened to engulf her. She wished she could sleep, but she couldn’t bear to leave the light.

~&~&~&~

It looked different in the grey light of early dawn. Lewis was asleep, snoring gently, and didn’t stir even when Mulder painfully rolled over, jangling the metal of the handcuffs. He could barely feel his hands now, but the cramped muscles in his arms and shoulders stabbed with pain in protest at the slightest movement. His head still throbbed but at least his mind was his own, for now. Seeing Lewis asleep, sprawled on a couch in the corner of the sparsely furnished wooden cabin, Mulder realised suddenly why the pictures had never come at night. But now he didn’t need Lewis’ pictures to remind him of what he’d done.

Scully was dead.

At least, that’s what Lewis wanted him to believe….

He wasn’t sure if he’d slept at all during the night, or if he’d been lost in some other darkness, but now it was dawn the doubts were creeping in. Lewis had said Scully was dead, but he’d also been adamant that he’d never liked to hurt anyone – no-one that mattered, anyway. What if he hadn’t killed her? What if she was lying somewhere in the dark, alone, tied up, waiting for help that wouldn’t come? What if he’d shot her, or stabbed her, and left her for dead, but she’d survived, bleeding and in pain, where no-one could save her? He couldn’t bear to think of it, but knew he had to.

It hadn’t crossed his mind to try to escape before, but if there was just the slightest chance that she was alive and imprisoned somewhere then he had to try to get a message out. He didn’t know where he was, couldn’t hope to get himself rescued, but that didn’t matter. But if he could tell people where Scully was…. At best, it would save her life. Even if she was already dead, it would give her mother a body to mourn over and bury properly. Otherwise it could be months before she was found, her mother never knowing what had happened to her. As Mulder knew too well, anything was better than not knowing.

And then he saw it. Dim in the early morning light, on the wooden table which separated the main room from the kitchen, was a phone. His own cellphone.

His heart started to beat fast. Careful to make as little noise as possible, he slowly forced himself to sit up. His head swam with the movement, but there was no time to give in to the pain. Blood pounded in his ears, but he could still hear Lewis’ snores. Awkwardly, he moved his cramped legs, pushing himself first to his knees and then to his feet. Then suddenly room span like a maelstrom and he lurched to one side, unable to stay upright. Instinctively he tried to reach out a hand to support himself against the wall, but they were still held tight behind his back and he’d half slumped to the floor again before he was able to catch himself, his right shoulder slamming against the wall with a thump that made him glance over in horror, certain that Lewis must have been disturbed.

Lewis stopped snoring. The couch creaked as he turned over, but he didn’t sit up. He breathing changed rhythm but was still the slow deep breathing of sleep.

Mulder shut his eyes, concentrating with all his strength on stopping his giddiness, on driving out the rushing noise that pulsed in his ears. After what seemed like an age, he was ready. He pushed himself away from the wall, carefully moving one foot in a faltering step. He’d only moved inches, but to his amazement he managed to stay upright. Slowly, he attempted another step. It was like walking in water – painfully slow, as if fighting against a strong current – and he was unable to see where he was going. The room wouldn’t stop spinning enough for him to be able to focus on his feet.

But somehow he made it. Just as he knew that no amount of will power would take him through another step, he reached the table. His phone was lying there, just inches away. If his hands hadn’t been shackled behind his back he could have reached out and picked it up, contacting the outside world and bringing help to Scully. But he couldn’t move his hands.

There was no sound in the room but his own breathing and the blood rushing in his head. Nothing existed but the phone. He had to use it – had to. Refusing to give up, he leant forward, twisting awkwardly, determined to use his elbows, his chin, his mouth – anything that would enable him to reach the phone and talk into it.

But then suddenly the dawn light faltered and died. In the darkness which now surrounded him he heard rather than saw the phone crash to the floor, but that no longer mattered. It seemed as if he held a torch, its cruel light illuminating the darkness, revealing darting shadows as mice scurried out of his way. His steps echoed hollowly in the empty stairs, motes of dust flickering in the torch beam as he stepped where only mice had trodden for years. There were smells in the dark, too. Damp. Mould. Dead animals. And another one dead soon….

He reached out and pushed open a door, its hinges stiff with rust. His hands were no longer restrained behind him, and he appeared to be walking without faltering. And then he was in a cellar, and there were sounds here too, but new ones. Human sounds -whimpering, crying, desperate words which cried for mercy. Scully. She was frozen in the torch beam, her face a mask of terror. There was dried blood on her face, on the front of her beige suit. He suddenly found himself thinking that he’d never seen her in a suit quite like that before, although the colour was familiar, but immediately cursed himself for thinking such a trivial thought when Scully was about to die. For she was going to die, he knew that. And suddenly there was a gun in his hand, the torch now in his left hand, and he raised it and pointed it at her head and fired and fired until she was dead. When all was done, he couldn’t even look down at her dead face, for she no longer had one.

“I did kill her!” Lewis took a step forward, his face only inches from Mulder’s. His expression was one of fury. “Don’t doubt me again!”

And Mulder knew it was true – knew that he’d just seen the true manner of Scully’s death. It was so vivid, no man could have made it up. It had been a tiny gleam of hope but now it too was gone. There was nothing left.

“I never wanted to kill anyone,” Lewis continued. “You made me what I am. You made me a killer.” He raised his foot and brought it down hard on the phone, crushing it beyond hope of repair. “You thought I couldn’t kill anyone.” He wasn’t looking at Mulder. He seemed to be speaking more to himself. “Well, I’ll show you. I’ll show you that I can kill someone!…. I can!”

Suddenly he jumped forward, hands around Mulder’s throat, pushing him to the floor. Scarcely able to stand anyway, Mulder made no resistance, falling like a dead weight. He hit the floor heavily, his bound hands twisting awkwardly underneath him as he landed with all his weight on top of them, although the sudden fiery pain which erupted there was as nothing to the explosion of pain which he felt as his head hit the stone floor of the kitchen. It was almost enough to send him back into unconsciousness. Almost, but not quite.

Lewis sat astride his body, one hand still pressed into his throat, pinning him to the ground. The other one reached above his head, groping on the kitchen work surface. Then there was a scraping noise as something was picked up, and Mulder knew that Lewis had a knife.

“I am going to kill you, this time,” Lewis hissed through clenched teeth. He moved his right hand quickly, pressing the knife up against Mulder’s throat before he could see the light reflect on the blade. The steel was cold against his neck.

And then Lewis looked into Mulder’s eyes, although his face was obscured by patches of mist that floated across Mulder’s vision. Time slowed. Nothing existed but Lewis’s eyes and the knife blade that still stayed unmoving, pressed into Mulder’s throat. Nothing else mattered….

But then there was Scully. Scully dead without a face, her blood thick on the floor of the foul smelling cellar. Scully dead because of him.

Mulder gasped at the memory, and tried to lean forward, tried to force his throat onto the cruel blade that still hovered so near, but refused to move close enough. He could feel the warm trickle down his neck as the serrated edge sliced through his skin.

“No!” Lewis’ voice was firm. “You die when I want you to!” And he pushed down harder with his left hand, pushing up against Mulder’s chin, forcing his head back against the floor. The movement jerked his other hand slightly, barely at all, but enough for Mulder to feel the blade move to one side, cutting further into the soft flesh of his throat.

Lewis was breathing fast now, and the knife was shaking. At each tremor Mulder could feel fresh trickles of blood on his neck, but knew there was still not enough. He couldn’t feel the pain of the cuts. His head was now throbbing with a pain that seemed to fill his whole body, obliterating any other hurt.

“No!” Lewis cried, suddenly. He drew the knife back, although he still kept hold of Mulder’s throat. With his fading vision, Mulder could see that the edge of the knife was stained red. “I don’t want to kill you yet. Not yet.” He smiled, although he was still breathing deeply. “Because then I’d have nothing to look forward to.”

And, leaving Mulder bleeding on the cold stone floor, he stood up and was swallowed up in the darkness.

~&~&~&~

He had come back for her. This time there was no escape, although she cowered into the bed, trying to make the bedclothes swallow her up into invisibility. He had come back for her, and he would kill her. This time she would die in the light, for she could see it still even though her eyes were closed. But the light offered no protection from the man who was even now pounding on the door, death loud in every knock.

“No!” she gasped, wrenching herself free from the waking dream. “It’s not true. I’m safe.”

But the knocking continued.

“Mulder?” It was Gardiner’s voice. “Have you seen Da….er.. Scully? Concern was evident even through the closed door.

Trying to stop herself shaking, Scully stood up, running her fingers through her tousled hair. She was still in Mulder’s room, but there was still no sign of him, even though the light that snaked through a gap in the curtains proclaimed that it was morning.

“Coming!” she called, trying to keep her voice calm. It suddenly occurred to her that she should perhaps have tiptoed through the connecting door and tried to pretend that she’d spent the night in her own bed, but it was too late now.

“Dana? Are you okay?” Gardiner’s solicitous questions greeted her as soon as she opened the door. “When I got no answer from your room, I thought…..” His voice tailed off. He was anxiously peering over her shoulder, trying to see into the room. Scully suddenly realised what he must be thinking.

“Mulder’s missing,” she said, abruptly, trying to keep the tremor from her voice. “He never came back last night.” Even through her worry she could still feel embarrassment that Gardiner had discovered she’d spent the night in Mulder’s room, waiting for his return. If -when, she hastily corrected herself – when Mulder returned she didn’t want him to know how weak she’d been, worrying all night when he was probably off with a woman somewhere. At least, that was the belief she had to cling to.

Gardiner shrugged. “He’s probably just …. just…. “

“What are those?” Scully pointed quickly at the sheets of paper Gardiner held in his hand. She hadn’t wanted to hear Gardiner’s suggestions. She’d gone through all the possibilities herself many times.

Gardiner sighed with evident relief. “These… ” He raised the papers, handing them over to her. “We’ve just got the results back from those finger prints. We’ve got a name for the man who took you…. and a picture.”

Her worry temporarily forgotten, Scully grabbed the papers, flicking through them, looking for the picture. As she’d lain in the dark cellar, the fact that she wouldn’t see the face of her killer had somehow seemed the worst thing of all.

“His name’s Matthew Lewis,” Gardiner went on. “A bank robber, but out on parole at the moment. It’s strange, but he’s got no record for kidnapping, or violence of any kind, and no known connections with this area.” He touched her shoulder. “But we’ll find him, don’t worry. We’ve already started to trace his family and friends -then we’ll check out anywhere he might be hiding. We’ll find him.”

But Scully was scarcely listening. “I know that man,” she said at last. The picture was shaking in her hands as she stared into his eyes. It was a poor quality scanned image, but the features were plain enough. “Don’t you recognise him?” She pushed the picture into Gardiner’s face, her voice more urgent that she’d intended.

Gardiner shook his head.

“He was here!” Scully almost shouted. “Here! He used to have breakfast at the next table to us every morning. I…. my God!…. I spoke to him yesterday morning!” She shuddered. “He said he had an important project to complete, and he smiled – a menacing smile, though I didn’t notice at the time.”

She paused, frowning. There was another memory too -something about a car…. “I remember now!” she exclaimed in horror. “He was following me, that first morning we were here.” She tried to stop her hands shaking as she remembered. “We were coming back from the hospital and he was following me, real close. Then he overtook and blocked me all the way back to the hotel. All the way. And then, when he got out he …. he looked at me – right at me – and then he smiled …. but it wasn’t a friendly smile. Just as if he was thinking even then about …. about what he wanted to do to me.”

It was her worst nightmare – Donnie Pfaster all over again. She knew now that this was nothing to do with the case – nothing to do with Briggs or the killer. This was something completely different.

“My God!” She felt violated. “He was at the next table! He could hear everything we said. Everywhere we planned to go, he knew, and he followed. That’s why he knew I was going to Briggs’ house.” She couldn’t remember what she’d said at breakfast, but she supposed she must have mentioned it then. “But then I went with Martinez and O’Brien so he couldn’t take me then, but he waited in case I went back, and I did. If I hadn’t, he’d have tried again later, some other place. It was as if …. as if I had no secrets from him. He knew everything about me -where I was going, who I was with!”

She knew she was beginning to sound hysterical, but the wounds inflicted by Donnie Pfaster were still raw. She’d wanted to know the truth, but this was worse than anything she’d imagined. Someone had seen her, followed her, and tried to kill her. At least…

“Why didn’t he hurt me?” she wondered, aloud. Gardiner just shook his head in bewilderment. He looked way out of his depth. “And that blood….?” There were still things that didn’t make sense.

“Look,” she said, abruptly, trying to take control of her emotions. There was no time to follow those doubts. Find Lewis, and it would all come clear. “Give me half an hour. I’ll shower and get changed and then I’ll be ready.”

“What for?” Gardiner looked genuinely confused. Scully wondered again how he’d managed to meet the Bureau’s entry requirements.

“For looking for Lewis, of course,” she snapped. “He followed me for days. I don’t want him out there a second longer than necessary…. not if I can do anything to stop him.”

“But, you needn’t worry about it.” Gardiner found his tongue at last. “It’s all under control.” He looked up, noticing Scully’s glare. “Oh …. sorry. Whatever you want.” But his eyes were doubtful.

“I’ve told you before,” Scully said, emphatically. “I need to be out there, doing something. I need to look for him.”

But Mulder was out there too, a little voice nagged in the back of her mind, and she wasn’t out looking for him.

“No!” She pushed that thought down. She’d spent enough of her time these last few years worrying about Mulder, trying to track him down when he did one of his disappearing tricks. But finding Lewis was important to her. She couldn’t let it go.

But that didn’t keep the doubts at bay.

~&~&~&~

He’d thought he was safe, cocooned by soft layers of darkness, but even there they could reach in and hurt him. He could feel it now – a cold wetness on his face that trickled down his neck, needling its way into his consciousness, reawakening the pain in his head and his hands. Something wet was passing over his face, its touch at once soothing and agonising as it probed the fiery centre of the pain in his head, high up on his temple, forcing him back to a place where the darkness offered no protection.

Mulder opened his eyes. A cloth, once white but now stained pink with his own blood. A hand, holding the cloth. A hand, tending to his hurts. Scully! A heaviness clenched in his stomach at the very thought of her and he felt a sudden certainty that some terrible memory was lurking just out of reach, but he dismissed that at once as the lingering effects of some dark dream, for who else but Scully would be cleaning his wounds? He wondered what had happened, why he was hurt, why the ground was so hard beneath him. He couldn’t quite focus yet, but when he could he’d see her face and read the answers in her expression. He hoped he hadn’t gone off rashly by himself again and left her to pick up the pieces. He didn’t think he could bear it if she looked reproachfully at him.

The hand moved away suddenly. It had been in front of his eyes and he knew that now he should be able to see where he was, but although he blinked, trying to see properly, everything was too far away, floating dimly beyond the range of his vision. He still couldn’t see her face. He could hear the cloth being washed and then wrung out, and knew she was just behind him, just out of view, but he didn’t think he could turn his head to look – not yet.

“Sc…” He was waking up now, finding his voice. “Scully?”

There was a splash as she dropped the cloth back into the water, and she moved and leant over him, her face coming into view. But it wasn’t her after all.

And then he remembered, and pain in his head faded into insignificance.

“You’re alive!” Lewis said, though Mulder could barely think enough to hear him. “You’ve been out for hours. I was scared you were dead.” He smiled quickly. “I don’t want you to die until I choose to kill you.”

“Kill me now!” Now it was important enough he could find the words easily.

Lewis made no sign of hearing. “I’m in control now. Your whole life – and death – is in my hands now.” He reinforced his words by running a finger along the deep gash on Mulder’s forehead, tracing the path torn by the bullet, his touch burning like molten lead. “See?” he continued, jabbing with the finger for emphasis. “I can hurt you whenever I like and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He moved his hand away, the tip of his finger now stained red, and there was a splash as he dipped it in the bowl of water. “But I don’t want you to die – not yet.”

“Why not?” Mulder was fully conscious now. “Why not kill me now? You said last night that….”

“Oh yes, I know.” Lewis stood up and walked away a few steps. There was a scraping sound as he picked something up from the work surface. Mulder hoped it was the knife. “I know I said there was no more fun to be had out of you alive, but I still don’t want to kill you yet. I want more time …. I want time to savour the anticipation of killing you. I’ve waited for this for five years – that’s too long to finish this quickly. I want it to be worth the wait.” He crouched down again, smiling with anticipation. “And it will be.”

“It has been already. Kill me now!” Mulder urged. He was going to die anyway, but didn’t think he could bear any longer in this amount of pain – a pain far worse than the physical.

Lewis didn’t reply. Instead, there was a hiss as he opened the can he was holding in his hands. “Drink this,” he said, putting one hand behind Mulder’s neck and raising his head.

Mulder turned away. His head had been hurting so much that he hadn’t noticed how dry his mouth was, but now the liquid was so close he suddenly realised that he was desperately, painfully, thirsty. But he didn’t want anything that would make it better – anything that would drag him further away from the darkness where there was no pain.

“Are you sure?” Lewis’s voice was dripping with false concern. “I wouldn’t want you to collapse with dehydration. After all, I know you often forgot to eat these last few days when you were …. distracted.”

He tipped the can, just enough for a small trickle to snake down Mulder’s chin and needle its way into the cuts at his throat. Mulder clenched his teeth, refusing to accept the drink, although his whole mouth now felt raw with thirst.

“Okay, have it your own way,” Lewis said, lowering Mulder’s head harshly to the floor. “I could force you, of course, but that would get messy.” He shrugged, smiling. “And, anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’ll have killed you myself long before the dehydration does my job for me.”

“Kill me now.”

Lewis said nothing. Leaning back, he raised the can to his lips and drained it in one go. When he’d finished he wiped his mouth with a satisfied smile.

“Kill me now,” Mulder repeated, more urgently.

“That was good.” Lewis gestured to the empty can. “There’s nothing like a drink to make you feel better on a long hard job.”

“Kill me now.” Mulder felt a pricking in his eyes, and his voice was hoarse. He looked around but couldn’t see the knife.

Lewis yawned and stood up, stretching his limbs. “Muscles a bit stiff,” he said, casually. “Comes from staying too long in the same position. You should try it.”

“Please!” He put all his strength into the shout, but even then his voice sounded strangely feeble in his ears.

Lewis’s feet echoed across the floor and there was a creak as he sat down on the couch.

“Please!” Mulder could feel the tears trickling down his face. He struggled to roll over, but his crushed arms hurt too much to give him any leverage. Behind him, Lewis crunched noisily and the smell of chips set Mulder’s mouth watering painfully.

“Please!” His voice was fading now. He knew his pleas wouldn’t be answered, but he had to try one last time. “Please! Kill me now!”

~&~&~&~

“Please, turn the car round. I want to go back.” Scully surprised even herself with the abruptness of her decision, but as soon as she said it she knew she was right.

“Are you sure?” Gardiner looked at her in concern. She knew he’d wanted her to go back to the hotel all day, but he’d learnt not to say anything more about it, and she’d appreciated his consideration.

“Yes,” she said, firmly, staring out of the window at the lengthening shadows cast by the watery sun on the sodden earth. “There’s no point in this. We’re not getting anywhere.”

It was already after three, and if she was honest with herself she had to admit that the whole day had been futile. As Gardiner had said, the job could as well have been done by other agents, or indeed the police. She’d called Lewis’ parents, who’d professed themselves horrified by what their son had done. They’d had no contact with him for years, they’d said, but were only too willing to help by suggesting friends he might take refuge with, although, as they’d said regretfully, he’d never had many friends. Although Scully had been desperate to fly out and interview them face to face, probing their expressions for evidence of lying, she’d been forced to admit that they’d sounded sincere, especially as the prison authorities had confirmed their story. The prison had also come up with some more suggestions, giving her names of people Lewis had associated with during his time at prison but who were now released. But neither line of enquiry had yielded more than a few names, and already more than half of them had been contacted and eliminated, either by Scully herself, or by local agents sent out at her request in the more distant locations.

Scully had tried to stay optimistic, telling herself that the big breakthrough was just around the corner, refusing to consider the possibility that he might escape them entirely. That was an eventuality she’d address in time, if necessary, but it was too early to come to terms with it yet. For her own peace of mind, she’d needed to believe that he would be caught, and some explanation provided for her ordeal.

Even now she could smile at one memory of the soul-destroying futility of the day. Skinner had proved most understanding. Strange how he was always so much more amenable when Mulder wasn’t there, she thought, although the reminder of Mulder’s absence soured the memory and made her chest ache with worry.

She’d called Skinner that morning, explaining what had happened, asking for more time to pursue answers to what had happened to her, even though she knew that strictly speaking she would be deemed too close to the case to be allowed to investigate it.

“Agent Scully,” he’d replied, his voice gruff. “Haven’t you still got several days work left on that serial killer case you’ve been on?”

“No,” she’d said, defensively. “He’s been caught. Someone else has taken care of the autopsies, and the local agents are wrapping up the case.”

“Well, it sounds as if there’s more than enough to keep you busy for several days, maybe even longer. I won’t expect you back until next week, or even later.” And then he’d coughed, and she’d realised what he was trying to do, and wondered who was in his office, listening.

She’d been glad then that she hadn’t told him Mulder was missing, although she’d never really been tempted. She didn’t want to get Mulder into trouble for disappearing while on the job, if he’d simply gone out drinking and picking up women. The only way she could explain her concerns properly would be to tell Skinner about the way Mulder had been acting, implying she was scared he was a danger to himself, and that wasn’t something she wanted to put on Mulder’s record if she could help it.

But she was scared he was a danger to himself. She didn’t really think he wanted to kill himself, but she remembered how he’d been acting, and was suddenly overwhelmed by a terrible vision of Mulder, desperate for help after a night of hellish despair, returning to the hotel and finding her gone.

“Is this really what you want?” Gardiner asked again, anxiously. “I mean, after you said how important it was to you that you were out here looking…. And we’re over half way there.” One of the places suggested by Lewis’ parents was a cabin in the mountains, only a few hours drive from Ridgewood. It was owned by the family, and would be empty at this time of year. As it was fairly close, Scully had decided to go there herself, rather than leaving it to one of the other agents.

“I’ll ask the police to check there, when they’ve finished the other places,” Scully said, as Gardiner turned the car around. “But he’s probably several states away by now …. if he’s out there at all.” She still remembered the blood they’d found, and knew it could well be Lewis’s. “We’re not getting anywhere on this. I just want to go back.”

She knew nothing had changed. She still couldn’t rest easy until Lewis was caught, but this was no longer her priority. There was no point wasting her time in a fruitless search when every minute took her further away from Mulder, who might need her.

~&~&~&~

“You don’t even ask to die now.” Lewis crouched down, grabbing Mulder’s collar and stared into his eyes. “Why don’t you ask me to kill you any more?”

“You know,” Mulder said, at last. There was no point explaining when Lewis could see his whole mind.

“Oh, but it’s much easier if you tell me.” He shrugged, casually. “All that reading your mind …. well, it was all very useful when I couldn’t get close enough to you, but it’s so tiring. I don’t like to do it if I can help it. It’s so much easier face to face.” Then he leant forward suddenly, the casual look gone from his face. “Talk to me!” he hissed.

Mulder said nothing. Shutting his eyes, he tried to retreat from Lewis’s stare, determined to retain some privacy in his thoughts.

“Why won’t you talk?” Lewis was relentless. “Is it because you find it humiliating to reveal the full extent of my victory? Do you feel that if you talk about your feelings I’ll know how far I’ve destroyed you?”

Humiliating? Mulder thought about it and realised that this had been the reason he hadn’t wanted to talk about the decision he’d come to. But now he realised that he was wrong to try to preserve this last shred of dignity. He didn’t deserve it.

“I …. I don’t ask you any more …. I don’t ask you to kill me,” he started, slowly, “because …. because I want you to. I want to die. I want you to kill me. I don’t want to live another second like this, knowing what I’ve done to …. to Scully, to Samantha …. to everyone.”

His voice cracked as he spoke but he forced himself to keep going. It was difficult to talk about it, but he had to. It was a sort of penance. “But because I want to die – that’s the reason I can’t ask you to kill me. I was wrong earlier. I was only thinking of myself. I just wanted to go somewhere where there’s no pain …. no guilt.” He couldn’t stifle a sob. “I still want that…. But that’s why I shouldn’t be allowed it.”

Lewis smiled, but looked away.

“I don’t deserve any choice in it,” Mulder continued. “I’ve made people suffer. They couldn’t run away from what I did to them, so I shouldn’t try to run away now. The harder it is, the more I have to bear it.” He was talking to himself more than to Lewis now. He had to remember this. The darkness was still too tempting. He knew he was being selfish, but he still hoped Lewis would kill him soon.

“What if I decide to keep you alive for days …. weeks …. even longer?” Lewis asked. “You still wouldn’t ask?”

Mulder shook his head. He shut his eyes, trying to find for a second the comforting darkness that he’d now turned his back on. But instead of darkness he saw a bright light, cruel and cold. And there, imprisoned in the middle of the light, was a little girl, tied down to a table, screaming as grey-skinned creatures with hollow pits for eyes touched her and probed her and hurt her. Then she opened her tortured eyes and looked at him accusingly. “I’ve suffered twenty two years because of you,” she said, her voice made indistinct by the things they had done to her mouth. “Suffering worse than you can ever dream of. Every second of that time I’ve longed for the escape of death, but it never comes.” She grimaced as a spasm of agony passed through her fragile little body. “You sent me here,” she gasped, when she could speak. “Why should you escape when I never will? How can you be so selfish as to even think of it?” Then she disappeared in a scream of agony.

“No!” Mulder cried. “I don’t deserve to die!”

~&~&~&~

Before the first ring had died away, Scully had grabbed for the phone as if a second’s delay could make the difference between life and death. But now she paused, her hand poised above the phone, suddenly terrified to move any closer. As long as she didn’t answer, she could go on hoping that this time, after so many false alarms, it would be Mulder.

The ringing continued. Six. Seven. Eight. Echoing shrilly in her head, filling her with dread. Eleven. Twelve.

She took a deep breath. She had to face it. “Hello?” she said, trying to keep her voice level. “It won’t be Mulder,” she repeated over and over in her head, schooling herself to face yet another report of another dead-end in the search for Lewis. There had been so many of them now, but they no longer aroused in her any emotion but a crushing disappointment that yet again it hadn’t been Mulder on the phone.

“Agent Scully?” It was a male voice – not one she knew.

“Yes!” she said, more impatiently than she’d intended.

“This is Special Agent Ed McCarthy?” His intonation was questioning, as if he was prompting her memory, expecting her to have heard of him, but the name meant nothing to her. “I’ve just heard you’re looking for Matthew Lewis?” Another question, but this one at least she could answer.

“Do you know where he is?” she asked, urgently.

“No ….. oh, sorry – I didn’t mean to get your hopes up like that. No, it’s just that I led the raid that caught him the first time, five years ago. I….” He sounded embarrassed, coughing to clear his throat. “I …. Well, it was the first team I led, and …. you know what it’s like … I felt a sort of territorial interest in him after that. I kept an eye on him in prison, visited him, followed his activities … things like that.”

“And?” Scully wished he’d get to the point.

“Nothing,” he said, apologetically. “I don’t know anything yet – anything that will help. It’s just that …. well, it’s not far from here to the prison he was in, and I thought I could go there and ask around – see if anyone can tell us anything that might help.”

“We’ve already asked the prison authorities. You needn’t go to any trouble.”

“Oh, but I want to,” he continued, earnestly. “The prison authorities don’t have the time to follow this up properly, but I do. I’ve just finished a case. I want to help.” He paused, clearing his throat again. “You see – I feel sort of responsible. I testified at his trial saying he wasn’t a danger to anyone – that I didn’t think he’d hurt anyone. No-one else thought that …..well, except …. oh, but you know about that. Anyway,” he continued, before Scully could ask him what he meant. “I was partly responsible for him getting such a short sentence, so I want to do everything I can to stop him now if he’s started hurting people.”

“Thank you.” Scully was touched by his concern, but found herself strangely unmoved by this fresh gleam of hope in the search for her kidnapper. She knew now that this, like all the others, would probably come to nothing, and, even if it didn’t, her concern for Mulder was now so great that nothing else really mattered, not now.

“Dana? It’s me!” A voice at the door disturbed her train of thought. She felt a sudden surge of warmth for Gardiner. Now he was aware of the depth of her worry about Mulder, he was announcing his presence before knocking, so as to avoid raising false hopes.

“Hang on,” she said to Agent McCarthy as she walked over and let Gardiner in. “It’s the agent who arrested Lewis back in 1990,” she mouthed, gesturing to the phone, and Gardiner, nodding his comprehension, took an unobtrusive station against the wall. She could tell by his face that he didn’t have any news either.

“Er…,” she began, speaking at McCarthy again. She didn’t know what to say. She knew she should be bursting with questions, desperate for any information that would help in the search. Even though she had given up hope, there were still people out there, searching on her behalf. “Er… how did you catch him, back then? Does he – did he – have any weaknesses you could use against him?”

“Hasn’t Mulder told you about that?” McCarthy sounded confused.

“What?” Scully was all attention now, her heart racing.

“I mean ….. You are the Agent Scully who works with Mulder, aren’t you?”

“Was Mulder there? Was it Mulder who caught him?” Suddenly the situation had taken on a whole new and terrifying perspective. Scully had never forgotten John Barnett, and the deadly lengths he had been prepared to go to in order to get revenge on Mulder.

“No!” McCarthy sounded surprised at the question. “Hasn’t he told you? He wasn’t even there.” But before Scully could feel any relief that her sudden fears had been groundless, McCarthy explained. “But, still, it was thanks to Mulder that he was caught at all,” he said, oblivious to the fact that his words were draining the blood from Scully’s face. “I was stuck. I was desperate to get it right …. you know how it is. So I asked Mulder for his opinion. He looked over the case, just quickly, and came up with some suggestions. I did what he said, and we caught him. Of course,” he continued, his voice apologetic, “everyone praised me for catching him, but I couldn’t have done it without Mulder.”

“Does Lewis….” Scully could hardly speak, her voice choked with dread. “Does Lewis know this.”

“About Mulder? I don’t think so…. I don’t know. I suppose I might have mentioned it to someone, and there’s a chance he might have overheard, but I don’t think so.” He laughed suddenly. “But, of course, Mulder thought he could read people’s minds.”

“I …. I…..” Scully could scarcely think enough to speak. “Thank you… I…. I’ve got to go.”

She could barely put the phone down for the shaking of her hands, and she could feel sobs welling up deep in her chest. She was dimly aware of hands reaching out for her shoulders and gently guiding her to a chair. Then footsteps sounded across the room, disappearing out of earshot and then back, and a glass of water was thrust into her trembling hands.

“He’s got him!” she exclaimed, when she could speak. A drop of water shook free from the glass and spilt onto her lap, sharp and cold through her skirt.

“Who?” Gardiner crouched down in front of her, his face full of bewilderment and concern.

“Mulder!” Scully shouted, annoyed that Gardiner didn’t understand when it was all so horribly clear now. “Lewis has got Mulder!”

Gardiner stroked the back of her hand soothingly. “You’ve had a difficult time these last two days. Don’t you think you should get some rest?”

“Don’t patronise me!” Scully snatched her hand away as if it had been burnt. “It’s obvious! How can you – how could I have been so blind?” She was angry at his denial of the obvious, but at the same time even more angry with herself for failing to see it earlier. “I’ve just heard -it’s due to Mulder that Lewis was caught in the first place. That’s what this was all about – revenge. Think about it ….. it explains everything. He was using me as bait, to get Mulder. That’s why he didn’t hurt me – why he called and told the police where I was. He’d got what he wanted then, and I was no longer useful.”

“But….” Gardiner glanced over his shoulder, as if searching for help he knew wouldn’t come.

“My God! How could I have been so selfish?” Scully continued, interrupting him. “It wasn’t me he was following about – it was Mulder. I didn’t even consider that. I was so selfish, so wrapped up in myself, that it didn’t even occur to me that it wasn’t me he was stalking…. But it was Mulder all the time.”

“No….” Gardiner trailed off. He plainly wanted to comfort her, but at the same time was terrified that he would offend her again. “So, you’re saying that Lewis contacted Mulder and told him he was holding you?” Scully nodded, grimly, and Gardiner continued. “And then Mulder went to rescue you, and got captured himself?” he shook his head doubtfully as he spoke.

“Yes!” Scully’s voice was nearly swallowed up by tears. “It’s obvious.” She couldn’t see why Gardiner was still looking so dubious.

“But, it doesn’t fit.” Gardiner’s voice was quiet. He was obviously torn between a desire to reassure her that her fears were groundless, and a deep reluctance to contradict anything she ever said. “He wouldn’t go by himself, unarmed, without telling anyone where he was going. If he really wanted to rescue you he’d have told someone, made some plan to get you out some safer way. Lewis need never have known.”

“How dare you suggest Mulder didn’t really want to rescue me!” Scully blazed. “Can’t you see? He couldn’t tell anyone because he believed Lewis could read his mind!”

“But….” Gardiner was floundering now. “It’s possible…. But there are lots of other plausible explanations.”

“Like what?” Scully snapped. “We couldn’t come up with anything this morning, nothing that really made sense. This is right – I feel it.” Her anger faded, drowned out by tears of self-reproach. “If only I hadn’t been so selfish…. I should have realised ages ago.”

“Well, we’re looking for Lewis anyway,” Gardiner began, reassuringly.

“He’s probably dead now!” Scully interrupted, tears choking her words.

“But he didn’t hurt you,” Gardiner pointed out, gently. “He could easily have hurt you, but he didn’t. And he has no record of violence of any kind.”

Scully tried to believe it, but suddenly there was another memory, an icy fist of horror closing on her heart. “He was hurt!” she exclaimed. “That blood you found…. ” She buried her head in her hands, sobbing. “He was shot – hurt…. He was all alone with someone who was going to kill him…. There was no-one to help him….. His only hope was that I would be looking for him, and would find him in time – but I was too selfish to even notice he was in trouble…. And he was so depressed recently….” Her voice trailed off in despair. She realised she was talking as if he was already dead.

Gardiner patted her shoulder, but said nothing.

“I mustn’t give up,” she said, at last, taking a deep breath. “I’ve got to be strong, for his sake. He needs me to be strong, to look for him. I’ve got to believe he’s still alive – I’ve got to…. ” She was speaking to herself, forgetting Gardiner was in the room. “If I give up now I’ll be failing him yet again. I’ve got to go out there looking for him.”

“What do you want to do?” Gardiner asked, hesitantly, reminding her of his presence. She wasn’t sure whether to be grateful to him for letting her make the decisions or annoyed at the fact he wasn’t taking control, strongly assuring her that everything was being taken care of. Although she needed to be out there, searching, part of her just wanted to curl up under the covers and cry, letting other people do the thinking.

“The same as we were doing, only faster…. Talk to everyone again…. Get a bigger team out on it…. Get appeals out on television …. Oh, everything we normally do…. Oh my God!” She froze in horror as the realisation hit her. “That cabin! I must go back to that cabin. We were half way there and then I made us turn back! What if he was there all the time? ….. Mulder could have been there, needing me, and I turned my back on him!”

“Don’t think like that,” Gardiner said, touching her arm. “There’s no reason why he should be there. You’re just thinking like that because we decided not to go there, but he could be anywhere by now…. ” He checked himself with a gasp. “Oh, I mean …. I don’t mean that we won’t get him, because we will…..”

And Scully knew she had to cling to that hope. She could only pray that it wouldn’t be too late.

~&~&~&~

“You don’t ask me anything.” Lewis’s voice was almost petulant. “It took me years to perfect this revenge and you don’t even ask about it.”

He sighed, drumming his fingers. As the afternoon had dragged on into evening, Lewis had been getting increasingly restless. The more Mulder grew resigned to fate, the more Lewis began to exhibit signs of stress.

“I’d have thought you’d have been interested, even now,” Lewis continued. “I’d make an intriguing X-File – as intriguing as all those that have aroused your curiosity in the past and led you to endanger Scully’s life investigating them.”

He paused, frowning in concentration. “You’re not even thinking about it,” he declared, incredulously. “You’re not even wondering where we’re going!”

Mulder said nothing. It took all his concentration simply to sit upright in the car.

“But, then, I shouldn’t be surprised,” Lewis continued, with a rueful shrug. “After all, I knew you had no fight left in you. That’s why I took those cuffs off.”

Mulder’s hands were free, lying limply in his lap. Now the circulation had returned, they throbbed in agony right up the arms to the shoulders, and one was slowly turning purple at the wrist, presumably broken when he’d fallen heavily onto it. Even if he’d had any desire to struggle, he doubted if he could have got much use out of either hand. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to think fast enough, and his vision was badly blurred now, however much he blinked to clear it.

But he could still sit up, if he really tried. He was sitting in the passenger seat, next to Lewis. As Lewis had explained, there was a chance – a very small chance -that the police were looking for them, and it would look less suspicious if Mulder was sitting in plain view. “And they’ll hardly think you’re being taken against your will if you’re sitting there in the front seat and they can see you’re not restrained in any way,” he’d said, wiping away the trickle of blood that had seeped out of the poorly-closed wound on Mulder’s forehead.

He didn’t know how long they’d been travelling, but he was still upright even though it had been long enough for the dying sun to fade into total darkness. Lewis had reached over and jabbed him in the ribs whenever he slumped too much, overcome by the mesmerising thrum of the engine which seemed to call him towards oblivion. “You don’t want to be rescued, do you?” Lewis had hissed, knowing the answer. And so Mulder had sat up straight, although the effort was agony. He didn’t want to be rescued. Although he knew he should be saved from death and forced to live with what he’d done, he couldn’t bear the thought of well-meaning people who knew nothing trying to tell him he was wrong to feel such guilt.

“Where are we going?” he asked at last. He didn’t really care, but he needed Lewis to speak again – needed something to focus on to keep him conscious.

“Home,” said Lewis, with a smile. When he reached the next lay-by he pulled off the road, turning off the engine. “I’ll show you.”

And suddenly Mulder felt himself running across the grass beneath a deep blue sky, past flowers more colourful and fragrant than any he’d seen before. He was crying at the pain in his knee, but at the same time felt safe, for she was inside and she’d make things better. And then he was inside and gentle arms enveloped him and held him close. “What is it, honey?” Her voice was warm from baking. “Oh, poor thing! Have you cut your knee? Mom will look after it.” She was fair and beautiful and dressed in pink, and just looking at her face filled with an immense sense of safety, although at the same time part of him was unmoved, realising that there was no safety for him here.

Then suddenly she was much smaller, smaller than him, and her fair hair was tinged with grey. “Don’t forget, Matthew,” she said, as she helped him pack his bags. “Whenever you need help … If things don’t go right ….. Dad and I are always here for you. Don’t be too proud to come back and ask for help.” She smiled, almost shyly, although her eyes were grave. “Whatever happens, you’re still our little boy. We’ll always be here to help you sort things out.” There was the fragrance of summer flowers in her words.

“But she didn’t!” Lewis shouted. There were tears in his eyes. “She didn’t – because of you!”

There was no flowers in the place he was now. It was dark, stark and grey and full of despair. But today there was hope, lighting the darkness like the first flower of spring. Soon he’d hear her voice and everything would be all right again. Boots resounded in the corridor and a key clanged in the lock, and then darkness descended on his soul. “You parents have said that they don’t want you to contact them any more,” the cold voice announced. He was too grief-stricken to probe the guard’s mind and read the gloating relish that surely hid behind the emotionless voice. “No letters. No calls. Nothing,” as the door slammed shut on his hopes, leaving him with nothing.

“But it was all your fault!” Lewis shouted. “They don’t know that. I’ll go home and show them …. you can tell them. Tell them it’s all your fault. They’ll believe you.” He smiled, although there were tears in his eyes. “Then it’ll all be like it was. They’ll forgive me -they’ll know there was nothing to forgive. She’ll make everything better, like she used to.”

He cleared his throat, starting up the engine again. “This was the worst thing you did,” he said. His voice was dull now, as if exhausted by emotion. He wasn’t looking at Mulder at all, but was concentrating on adjusting the mirror. “You upset my Mom so much that she didn’t want any reminders of how much it hurt. But I’ll show her. I’ll show her how much I care – how much I cared all along.” He pulled out of the lay-by, and his words were nearly choked by the sudden noise of the engine. “I’ll kill the person who caused her pain.” He bit his lip and sighed. “Then everything will be all right.”

~&~&~&~

Scully knew there was news as soon as she saw the police officer’s face, grimly illuminated by the car’s headlights.

“What is it?” she shouted, jumping from the car before it had fully stopped. “What have you found?”

“Take a look,” he said, after he’d inspected the ID which she’d pulled from her pocket with a shaking hand.

Scully wasn’t sure if she wanted to see, but knew she had to. Now that it had happened, she knew she’d never really expected to find anything here at all. Her obsession with the place derived more from the fact that they’d so nearly visited it hours before than from any real hope that they’d find anything.

Her steps faltering with impatient reluctance, Scully slowly walked into the small cabin, needing to know the truth but terrified at what she might find. At least there were no bodies. She could see that at once, her worst fears laid to rest.

Somebody’s been here recently,” the police officer explained, gesturing at an apple core, brown now but still intact. “And then there’s this….” He pointed at the work surface in the small kitchen, and Scully’s blood ran cold with horror.

It was a knife, cruel and serrated. A knife designed for carving thick lumps of meat. A knife now stained with blood.

“Probably used for cutting animal flesh,” the police officer continued, oblivious to her reaction. Scully wondered how much he’d been told about the case. He didn’t look as if he was being deliberately insensitive. “It is hunting season after all.”

But Scully knew with a terrible certainty that when they ran tests on the blood they’d find it was human. Mulder’s blood.

“And then we found this,” the officer continued. He was pointing at the waste basket. “We left everything where it was until you came.”

Scully pulled a latex glove over her shaking hands, reaching in and pulling out a twisted and cracked cellphone.

“It’s Mulder’s!” she croaked, barely able to speak. Now she had this proof she realised that she’d never really been certain, deep down, that Mulder had been taken by Lewis. She’d feared it, certainly. She’d thought she’d known it. But now, seeing the confirmation, she realised she hadn’t been prepared to have her fears proved true.

Unable to stand, she sank down on the kitchen floor. From this level she could see the splashes of blood on the dark stone floor. She wondered if the despair she was feeling was anything like as great as the despair Mulder must have felt as he’d lain bleeding in the same place, just hours before.

“I was right,” she sobbed. This was one situation in which she’d have given anything to have been proved wrong. “He was here, and I turned my back on him. If only I’d carried on this afternoon I might have found him. It’s all my fault!”

“You weren’t to know.” The police officer had tactfully withdrawn and Gardiner had taken his place. “They might not have been here then. He probably just came here to spend the night and left this morning. Please don’t blame yourself.”

“Oh, but it is my fault – all of it!” she cried. “If I hadn’t been so stupid yesterday morning.” Was it really yesterday? She’d been through a lifetime of emotion since then. “I shouldn’t have gone back to Briggs’ house on nothing more than a stupid hunch. And if I hadn’t done that, Lewis couldn’t have captured me, and then Mulder would be all right….”

“It’s not your fault.” Gardiner took her hands and tried to lead her to the couch, but Scully refused to move from the floor. She felt closer to Mulder here. “If you’re right and Lewis really wanted to get at Mulder, he’d have done it anyway. If not through you, then some other way….”

“But I should have realised earlier!” Scully returned to the thing she found most distressing. “I should have known. When I’ve been in trouble Mulder had always known, and had come to help me. When I was missing even my mother gave up on me, but not Mulder. He did everything he could to get me back, and I know something of what it cost him…. But me – I wasn’t there for him! I didn’t even notice anything was wrong. My God! I was even angry with him for not being there after I was found yesterday.” She wrapped her arms tightly round her knees, rocking to and fro in her grief.

“Let’s concentrate on finding him for now,” Gardiner said, biting his lip. His own eyes were glistening at Scully’s outpouring of guilt. “Worrying about who’s to blame is no use to him now.”

“But he’s probably dead now, because of me!” It was a cry of pure anguish.

“He’s not dead,” Gardiner said, soothingly. “Look at that knife. There’s not that much blood on it. Not enough to kill someone.”

“Maybe he was dead already,” Scully sobbed. “Remember the blood you found yesterday.”

“But if he was dead already, why was Lewis …. I’m sorry to have to talk about this …. why was Lewis using the knife on him?”

And then Scully remembered the autopsy she’d done on Ellie Benton, and the excruciating agony that a knife could inflict on someone still living. “Maybe he would be better dead.”

~&~&~&~

November 17th 1995

She sighed, hastily drying her hands, nearly knocking over a full mug of coffee as she threw down the towel. “I’m coming!” she called, even though she knew that her voice wouldn’t carry as far as the front door step.

Alexandra Blake glanced anxiously at the clock as the knocking continued. Eight o’clock already, and the boys nowhere near ready for school. “Boys!” she called, as she passed the bottom of the stairs on her way to the door, “For the last time, hurry up!” Their voices sounded shrill in their bedrooms and she doubted if they’d heard her. Still, they always made it out in time in the end, despite her worries.

Then she composed her face into a neutral expression, as she reached for the door, checking it was on the chain before she opened it.

“Hello?” she said, smiling at the stranger on the door step. He was fairly young, at least half a dozen years younger than she was, and quite good-looking, although he looked unkempt and his eyes were troubled.

“Oh ….er ….” He frowned with confusion. “Where are my …. where are Mr and Mrs Lewis?”

“Oh, I am sorry,” she said, smiling a sincere apology. “They moved away several years ago. We bought the house from them.”

The man’s face fell, and all the life went out of his eyes. He reached out a hand, as if clutching at the wall for support, and his mouth opened and shut several times as if he wanted to speak but couldn’t find the words. Observing his reaction, Alexandra nearly took the door off its chain, aware of how unfriendly she must look crushing a man’s hopes through a crack in the door, but she decided against it. Although this man didn’t look like a criminal, she didn’t want to take any risks, not with the boys in the house.

“Do you …. do you know where they’ve gone?” he asked, falteringly.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said, full of sympathy. She could have told him more, but didn’t want to relate local gossip to a stranger. She hadn’t thought about it for months, but now she remembered that first day in the house, a confused jumble of crates and boxes, when Mrs Gates, neighbour and inveterate gossip, had come round to welcome them to the area. “Those poor people!” she’d exclaimed, over a hastily unearthed cup of coffee. “They loved this house, but after that business with their son….” She’d paused, as if expecting them to ask for more details, but then continued, determined not to let their lack of interest interfere with her story. “He went to Washington and turned bad – robbing banks, threatening people with guns. It’s a wonder he didn’t kill anyone. It simply broke their hearts. Of course, no-one would dream of talking about it, but they still felt they couldn’t live here where everyone knew their family’s shame. They moved away to make a new start where no-one knew what had happened. The poor woman – she was crying as she left.”

“Are you all right?” she asked, suddenly, recalled from her memories by a pained gasp from the man on her door step. He looked close to collapse, his eyes focused intently on nothing. “Can I get you something? Water, or something?” She glanced anxiously at the chain again, debating whether to risk letting him in.

“No …. no,” he muttered. He was scarcely coherent, his voice lifeless. “I’ll be okay…. I’ll….”

“Are you sure?” He looked exhausted, devoid of hope.

“Yes…. I….” He smiled suddenly, although it was closer to a grimace, and spoke with a forced lightness that was belied by the expression in his eyes. “I’ll just have to change my plans. It’ll be okay.”

And then he turned and walked away. She heard a car door slam, although the dense hedge of evergreens shielded him from her anxious gaze.

“Mom! Who was that?” Feet pounded down the stairs. She never ceased to marvel at the fact that feet so small could make so much noise.

“There was another man in the car! We saw him out the window!” A six-year-old voice, shrill with gleeful relish. “He was dead!”

“No he wasn’t, stupid!” Eight-year-old Ben spoke with all the wisdom of an older brother. “He was just asleep.”

“But there was blood on his clothes – I saw it!” Little Ryan’s lip was trembling and he stamped his foot. “I did! I did!”

“That’s enough, boys.” She tried to look stern. “Ben, don’t call your brother stupid. And, Ryan, that’s enough of your gory imagination. I think I must let you watch too much unsuitable television.” Then she smiled, reaching out and tickling them. “But if you don’t hurry up and get ready….”

“You’ll turn into a monster and eat us and there’ll be blood everywhere!” Ryan screamed, laughing with all the delights of a six-year-old imagination.

“I despair of you sometimes,” she said, fondly. “A dead man in the car – whatever next?”

But then she thought of the stricken expression on the man’s face, and wondered if she should have insisted on giving him the help she feared he so badly needed.

~&~&~&~

During the endless torment of the sleepless night, Scully had learnt that nothing could be worse than the horrors which lurked in her imagination. Although she’d known that Lewis and Mulder were probably miles away by now, she’d insisted in checking into a hotel as near as possible to the cabin, refusing even to go back and get any clean clothes. As she’d argued to Gardiner, the chances were that Lewis had only stopped at the cabin as it was en route to wherever it was he was headed, so at least she was an hour or two closer to Mulder if she stayed.

But there had been no news all night, only waking nightmares.

It was after eight o’clock now, and the phone was ringing.

“Hello?” she said, urgently, the phone slippery in her hand. Although the call might be announcing bad news, anything was better than not knowing.

“Agent Scully? This is Agent McCarthy. I’ve just heard what’s happened… I … didn’t know you needed to know about Lewis so urgently, or …. I’m sorry….”

“Do you know something? Something that will help?” Scully was scrambling for a pen and paper, although she knew she mustn’t really let herself hope. Although the organisation of the search had been taken out of her hands and given to a large and competent team, nothing at all had been found that gave any clues as to Mulder’s whereabouts.

“I went to the prison last night, after I spoke to you,” McCarthy said. “I spoke to people who knew Lewis – not that there were many of them. No-one really liked him. They said he made them feel uneasy. Several people said they got very depressed when they were near him, remembering painful memories they thought they’d forgotten, and things like that. Not that they blamed him, of course, but they all said he used to look at them in a strange way when that happened, almost as if he was enjoying their pain….”

“And?” Scully prompted, impatiently, wishing he’d get to the point. The fact that Lewis’ fellow prisoners were depressed had nothing to do with the search for Mulder, and that was all that mattered.

“Sorry,” McCarthy said, quickly. “Well, I didn’t think I was getting anywhere, but then someone remembered that Lewis had said he’d go back to his parents when he was released. They never contacted him in prison and he took that badly.”

Scully dropped the pen and paper with a sinking heart. “We’ve tried his parents. They’ve not seen him.”

“No, I know.” McCarthy’s voice rose with excitement. “But I spoke to the prison authorities again. They rechecked his file and they found out that his parents moved house shortly after he was imprisoned, and …. listen to this! …. they specifically asked that he wasn’t told where they’d gone. As far as Lewis knows, his parents still live in North Carolina.”

“What’s the address?” Scully’s heart was pounding as she reached for the pen again.

“Oh, I hope you don’t mind…. As soon as I got in this morning, and found out what had happened, I called the local police. I called them before I called you. They’re on their way round already. I gave them your number so they can tell you if they find anything.”

“I …. what …. er…. Thank you.” Scully remembered to express her gratitude even though her mind was racing with mingled hope and anxiety. She knew it wasn’t likely to come to anything, but it was the best lead they’d had since the previous night.

“I …. I’m sorry. It was the least I could do. I should have told you earlier. I found this out last night, but it was quite late. I didn’t want to call you on your cellphone in case you were asleep. I knew you’d gone through a lot. I called the hotel and left a message at reception, just in case, but …. I’m sorry …. I didn’t know it was so important.”

“Of course it was important!” Scully shouted. “Even if Lewis hadn’t got Mulder, it was still important for me to find him, to know I was safe from him, that he wasn’t still out there, waiting. You should have told me as soon as you knew! If I find out that Lewis called there last night and went away again, because no-one knew to look for him….” She left the threat hanging, feeling guilty even as she said it. It wasn’t McCarthy’s fault, any more than it was Gardiner’s fault. She was the one who should have noticed something was wrong earlier. If it was anyone’s fault, apart from Lewis’, it was hers.

“I’m sorry,” McCarthy said, again. “I didn’t know…. If anything happens, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Scully forced herself to say, anxious to repair the damage she’d done, although she was desperate to get off the phone, knowing that the police might be trying to contact her with news. “I wasn’t being fair. You didn’t know. I should have told you. I …. I’m sorry. It’s just that …. everything’s so difficult at the moment.”

“I know.” McCarthy’s voice was understanding, although still tinged with guilt. “I’m sorry.” He took a deep breath, speaking quickly. “I’ll go now, let you contact the police. I hope you find him.” And then there was a click as he hung up.

Just seconds later, the phone rang again.

~&~&~&~

“Get up!” An angry foot impacted heavily with Mulder’s stomach, driving the breath from his lungs. As he lay gasping, trying to fight his way back through the pain, the foot landed again, even harder.

“Get up!” Lewis shouted again, although his kicks gave Mulder no chance to obey. “We’ve got to get inside, quick! Someone might see us.” He was staring round urgently, although there was no-one in sight.

“Come on!” he hissed, and then, when Mulder was still unable to draw sufficient breath to do more than lie gasping on the ground, he bent over, pulling hard on Mulder’s arms. “I’ll help you,” he said, although there was no concern in his impatient voice.

This time, partially supported by Lewis, Mulder found he was just about able to stay on his feet, although Lewis immediately set off towards the door, walking at such a pace that several times Mulder nearly stumbled. He was saved from falling only by clutching tightly to Lewis’s arm, the strength of his grip causing pain to shriek up his arm from his injured wrist.

The door was already open – a welcoming gateway to death. For Lewis’ behaviour since his short visit to his parents’ house had left Mulder in no doubt that this was the last place he’d ever see on earth. Lewis had driven around aimlessly for a while, several times only narrowly avoiding a collision, before turning off the road suddenly and heading up a long drive. At the end was a house, far away from any neighbours, and completely empty, not just of people but of furniture. While Mulder had tried to clamber out of the car, a sudden burst of dizziness sending him crashing to the ground, he had heard the sound of breaking glass as Lewis had broken into the house.

Everything was barren earth, grey sky, echoing emptiness. It was a fitting place to die, deserted by all humanity. No-one would come. No-one would drag him from the darkness this time.

Ten to nine, according to Lewis’ watch, peeping from his sleeve. His cuffs were splashed with blood. Strange he hadn’t noticed it before, for now it was as if his eyes were riveted to it. Blood. Scully’s life spurting onto his sleeves, his hands. But there was more blood on his hands, where it belonged.

Ten to nine. How much longer….?

Then Lewis abruptly released his hold. Lost in his thoughts of death, Mulder had no time to brace himself to stand unsupported. He crumpled at the knees, falling heavily on his hands. The scarlet stab of agony from his broken wrist caused him to instinctively snatch it away, and so he rolled over to one side, cradling one hand with the other, clutched protectively against his chest, although he immediately cursed his weakness in trying to avoid the pain. It still wasn’t enough – not as much as he deserved.

Lewis’ feet were only inches away from his face, and he knew he would be kicked again. He tensed his muscles, bracing himself for the attack. Although his mind knew it was only right that he was punished, his body wasn’t as strong, screaming in his head that it was afraid, that it couldn’t take much more, that it wanted to rest. However much he tried, he couldn’t stop his body instinctively flinching from the blows.

But the blows didn’t come, not this time. The feet stepped over him, and steps sounded across the room, pacing heavily up and down the resonant floor.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” Lewis cried. There was a loud thud as he slammed his fist into the wall, just visible on the fringes of Mulder’s clouded vision. “It’s not supposed to feel like this! It was… it was all supposed to end happily!” His voice was muffled as he buried his head in his hands. “Why’s it all gone wrong?” These last words were barely audible, almost sobbed, but suddenly he raised his head, slamming his fist into the wall again. “Why’s it all gone wrong?” he shouted, a wail of anger, or of pain.

“Why are you looking at me?” he shouted, his face twisted in fury as he wheeled round to face Mulder. “Why are you looking like that?” He took a step forward, then another. “You think I’m weak? You think I can’t go through with this?” He bent down, grabbing Mulder by the collar, twisting the fabric tightly in his fist. “But I am in control! I am!” His face was only inches away now. “I am!”

The rest of the house disappeared into a dark obscurity, and the world narrowed until nothing existed but Lewis’ face, staring into Mulder’s, his eyes swimming with anger. He was breathing fast, rapid shallow breaths, and the veins stood out on his forehead. Time slowed. Nothing else mattered. Mulder hardly dared breathe for fear of breaking the spell.

But Lewis broke it first. “I’ll never find them now!” he sobbed, tears trickling down his face. “They left…. They left to get away from me ….” He seemed to have forgotten all about Mulder now, although his fist was still clutching his collar. “They’ll never forgive me now …. I …. I don’t know what to do….” Absently his thumb traced the lines of the cuts on Mulder’s throat. “This was supposed to make me happy, but it … when it started to …. ” He left the sentences hanging. “I didn’t know what to do …. but they …. but they were supposed to make it better … But they’ve gone… they’ve gone!”

“But I’m still in control!” he shouted, suddenly, dashing the tears from his eyes with his free hand. “I’m in control!” He let go of Mulder’s collar and stood up. “It’s still your fault! Your fault it’s all gone wrong… And you’ll still suffer for it.” He turned round, and took a step away from Mulder. “It’s still your fault?” His voice seemed to be shaking.

He seemed to sob again, but then the sob turned into a shout of anger. “It is your fault! It is!” he cried, and, swinging round, his drove his foot again and again into Mulder’s stomach until his whole world was filled with pain and he thought he’d never be able to breathe again. But it was not enough to drive him into the safe refuge of unconsciousness….

Dimly, through the red haze of pain that obscured his senses, Mulder heard Lewis speak. “I’ll think of something!” he muttered, as he landed a heavy blow on Mulder’s ribs. “Everything will be okay!”

~&~&~&~

Alexandra had been unable to settle ever since the police had come, hours ago now, and the insistent knocking at her door provided a welcome distraction. Hastily clicking on “save”, although the amount of work she’d done scarcely justified the precaution, she stood up and hurried to the door.

It was only after she saw who was there that she realised the risk she’d taken. Although the police had told her little, they had implied that the man she’d spoken to was dangerous. He’d been to her house once. Who could say that he wouldn’t return? And she was alone this time…

“Mrs Blake? We’re with the FBI.” The man spoke before she could follow through this particular chain of thought. “Could we ask you a few questions about what happened this morning?”

Remembering this time that it was always better to be careful, Alexandra scrutinised their proffered ID, satisfying herself that they were who they said they were, although the woman in particular looked very different from her picture. Although she was obviously trying to look rigidly professional in her stance, her clothes were creased, her hair unwashed and her eyes lined with deep dark circles.

“What do you want to know?” she asked, as she showed them into her living room. “I’ve already told the police everything. I can’t remember anything else.”

“You’ve got to,” the woman began, earnestly. “You must have seen….” But then the man shot her a quick glance and she cut herself off, biting her lip.

“Yes, we know,” the man said, soothingly. “We know you’ve told them everything. You’ve been very helpful. Thanks to your information the police were able to set up road blocks within half an hour of his leaving here. We know he’s still in the area.”

“So he’s still here?” Alexandra felt her hands shaking. “Do you think he’s coming back? Is that why you’re here -because we’re in danger?” She had a sudden terrifying picture of the boys, laughing as they walked home from school, unaware of the murderer who was stalking them.

“No!” the woman – Agent Scully – said, almost shouting. Now it was her turn to flash a warning glance at her partner. Meeting her gaze, his shoulders suddenly slumped, and he looked abashed. “We’re here because …. because….” She took a deep breath. “We know you told the police everything you thought was important, but we …. but I…..” Her voice seemed to shake, but Alexandra assumed she was imagining it because when she continued speaking it was in a voice held under rigid control. “This case is important to me…. I need to hear it for myself….”

Her eyes held a deep sadness and Alexandra wondered again what dark tragedy she had stumbled on when she’d opened the door that morning. Not just Agent Scully, but the man himself, for, despite what the police had said, her abiding memory of him was of a man haunted by misery. She wondered again whether the police had misunderstood the situation.

“I really can’t remember any more than I said this morning,” she explained, looking only at Agent Scully, never at the man. She couldn’t even remember his name. “He knocked on the door and asked for Mr and Mrs Lewis. I told him they’d moved away, and then …. then he looked devastated. I thought he was going to faint. He looked as if …. as if all his hopes has just been destroyed. I offered him a drink, but I was scared to let a stranger inside. That was right, wasn’t it?….” Her voice was defensive. Despite what she’d been told, she still felt guilty at her failure to provide help, and needed reassurance that she’d done the right thing. But it was not forthcoming. Agent Scully was chewing her lip, staring into the distance, and the man’s attention seemed to be completely taken up by looking anxiously at his partner.

“You said earlier that your boys….” Agent Scully’s voice faltered. She looked almost scared to ask. “You said that they saw someone in the car?” The question came out in a rush, as if she was afraid that if she delayed she’d lose her nerve and never ask at all.

“Yes,” Alexandra answered cautiously. From the rigid tension of Agent Scully’s body she knew that this was the key to the whole thing.

“Could they see ….. Was he all right?” She shut her eyes as she spoke, visibly bracing herself for the answer.

Alexandra didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t told the police what Ryan claimed to have seen, dismissing it as the product of a lively imagination. She’d lost count of the number of times he’d gleefully announced that he’d seen a dead body, when of course he never had. Indeed, the police hadn’t even asked, staying only long enough to determine that , yes, the man in their photograph was the man who’d come to her door, and, no, she hadn’t seen where he’d gone. But this was different. Agent Scully seemed so much more involved in the case. Perhaps she ought to be told everything….

“I don’t know. They couldn’t see,” she said, at last. She had no desire to break Agent Scully’s heart on nothing more than a six-year-old’s fantasies. But seeing her slump back against the chair as if deflated, she wasn’t so sure she’d made the right decision.

“Thank you,” Agent Scully said, at last. “Thank you for your time.” She looked bereft, as if the only thing keeping her going had been the hope that Alexandra would remember something else, something she hadn’t told the police.

“Er…. excuse me…. could I ask….?” Alexandra plucked up her courage and spoke just as the agents were rising to leave. “It’s just that the police…. they didn’t tell me anything….. ” They stopped in the door, but didn’t respond to her prompts, so she had to come right out with it, although she scarcely dared look at them for fear of a rebuff. “What’s happening? Who was that man?” She still could hardly bring herself to believe she was dangerous.

There was a moment’s silence. She couldn’t see Agent Scully’s face, but she could see the hand which crept out, reaching for the support of the door frame.

At last, the man turned round, glancing anxiously at his partner as if seeking her approval. “His name’s Matthew Lewis,” he explained. “He’s the son of the people who used to live here.” And then it all made sense – the memory of the criminal son – the reason he took it so badly when he was told they’d moved away. Although there were still some things unexplained….

And then a voice broke into her thoughts – a tight voice, shaking with unshed tears. “He’s kidnapped my partner.” Agent Scully still didn’t turn round. Her knuckles were white on the door frame. “He’s already hurt him, and he’s going to kill him.”

~&~&~&~

“I thought this was what I wanted.” Lewis’ anger had long since burnt itself out and he was now slumped on the floor, leaning listlessly against the wall. “I thought this would make me happy.” He shook his head regretfully as he spoke, his voice quiet as if he was talking more to himself than to Mulder.

It was sunny now, a watery sunlight that was diffused by the haziness of so much recent rain, but it was still cold. Although the shards of glass sparkled in the sun, the broken window let in a biting blast of winter air that filled the abandoned house with a deadening aching chill. Mulder had no idea how long they’d been in the house – indeed, he scarcely cared any more. The passage of time was just one more thing from the outside world that had no real meaning any more. All the trappings of humanity had been stripped away. No food, no furniture, no telephone, no people. Nothing existed but Lewis, and the death that lay in his hands.

“…..you’ve done to me.” Mulder’s mind had wandered, lost in the dense fog that made seeing and listening so difficult, but the sudden intensity of Lewis’s voice made him fight his way back to the light. “See what you’ve done …… No, I want you to feel it.” And then the light faded again but this time into a hellish darkness of clanging doors and the echoing thud of boots and bitter hatred and despair – despair so great that every second dragged like a year of torment. But worst of all was an immense loneliness. There were no minds to look into here, for all the thoughts were deadened by imprisonment. For the first time in his life he was truly alone. Deserted by his parents – that was bad enough -but alone with his own thoughts as well when he’d never before had to spend as much as a few hours imprisoned in his own mind.

But in the depths of the darkness was one hope – a hope that was the only thing keeping him from succumbing utterly to the despair – a hope that became the overwhelming aim of his life. Revenge. One day he would have revenge, and then he would be happy. He could do it too, for in the long hours alone he concentrated and he struggled and he worked harder than he ever had done in his life until he had developed new powers that made him invincible. For now not only could he read minds, but he could also transmit thoughts into people’s minds – not enough to directly control their action, but powers of suggestion strong enough that he could effectively control them. Although he was in torment now, with these powers he would get revenge, and then he would be happy. He knew that with an absolute certainty. When he got revenge he would be happy. He would be happy……

“But I’m not …… I’m not happy.” Lewis’ voice cut through the layers of darkness, and the despair in that lonely prison cell became an impenetrable morass of agony. “I’m ….. oh, I’m tired …. I’m so tired.” His voice faded away, and the darkness suddenly disappeared, cut off abruptly as Lewis withdrew the memory, although the prison Mulder was now in was just as lonely and just as dark with despair. “I can’t do this any more. Once it was worth the effort…. but now…..”

Lewis sighed, his voice thick with unshed tears. “I’ve kidded myself that I didn’t want to kill you because I wanted to prolong the agony ….. or that I’d been too long anticipating this to let it finish too quickly. But I’ll never ….. killing you won’t make me happy.” The tears started to flow now. “I’ve lived for this for so long. It was the only thing keeping me going….. I ….. I can’t live without this to look forward to.” He picked up the gun from the floor beside him, absently running his hand along the barrel. “I think I realised this yesterday, but didn’t admit it to myself. That’s why I wanted to see my parents ….. Everything was going wrong….. They’d make it better …. they always made it better.” His finger moved towards the trigger but he didn’t quite touch it. Mulder stared at it, as well as he could, willing the finger to pull the trigger, although the gun wasn’t pointed at him. “But now they’ve gone…. I’ll never find them …. There’s no-one to put this right. No-one. I’ve…. I’ve got nothing left.”

He gestured with the gun as he spoke, sometimes pointing it at Mulder, sometimes at himself, but the finger stayed off the trigger. Suddenly he started, staring at the gun as if he’d only just noticed he was holding it. He grimaced and threw the gun away. It landed near the door, nearer Mulder than Lewis, but Mulder knew that, hurt and concussed as he was, he had no chance of reaching it without being stopped. Better not to try at all than to have death snatched away again. But it was so tempting, a ray of sunlight reflecting off its metal barrel. Although Mulder knew he mustn’t try to finish things before their time, Lewis’ talk was making him increasingly anxious that death wouldn’t come at all, at least not at Lewis’s hands. He couldn’t bear the thought of having to live with what he’d done.

“I don’t really want it any more, now I’ve got it,” Lewis continued, ruefully. “I thought it would make me happy, but the only happiness I was getting was of anticipation. Those first few days, last week …. I was happy then, in a way – happy because I knew that soon, when I’d killed you, I’d be even happier and my life would go right again…. But now…. I know now ….. it won’t make me happy ….. I’ll have nothing left to live for.” He leant forward, staring intently at Mulder. “You know how I feel ….. It’s like you and your sister. You don’t really want her to come back…..”

“I do!” Although Mulder meant it was an impassioned shout, it came out as a tiny croak, his voice almost vanished in the long hours of silence.

“No you don’t,” Lewis continued, earnestly. “You’ve based your whole life around the search for her ….. what would you have to life for if she came back? You don’t want her really. That’s why you killed that woman you thought was your sister.”

“No!” Mulder hadn’t thought Lewis could find anything new to hurt him with. “No! That’s not true!” But then he remembered everything else that had happened, everything else he’d done to hurt people. Lewis had been right about those…. “It’s not true?” He raised his head as far as he could, looking beseechingly at Lewis.

“It’s true,” Lewis said, firmly. “Don’t forget I can see deep into your mind. I can see things you don’t even admit to yourself.”

Mulder shut his eyes. He hadn’t thought it could get any worse, but now, at the end of everything, he had to face the realisation that the crusade he’d based his whole life on was worthless. He’d thought he’d made so little progress because They had blocked his work, but now he realised he’d always failed because he hadn’t really wanted to succeed. And all the people that had suffered along the way, as he pursued a meaningless goal….

“No!” Lewis suddenly cried. “I can’t do this, not now.” He pulled himself to his feet, walking over to Mulder. “It’s not true. I can’t see that. As far as I can see, you do want your sister back, although, if that had happened, you might have felt the same as I do now. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.” He reached out, shaking Mulder’s shoulder. “Listen to me! It’s not true. I shouldn’t have said it. It just seemed the best way to get you to understand. I wanted you to know how I’m feeling – to know the full results of what you did back then when you so casually arranged my capture.” He sighed, his voice turning inwards. “This was my one hope….. but now it offers no hope at all.”

“Why are you talking?” Mulder asked, suddenly. He’d heard what Lewis had just said, but knew it wasn’t true. What he’d said before, that was the truth. “Why are you telling me this? Why don’t you just k….?” He broke off just in time, remembering his resolution not to ask any more. But with every second it was getting harder to endure the wait.

“Because I want you to know how I feel,” Lewis snapped. “I want you to know how you’ve ruined my life. All my misery ….. I want you to know it ….. I want you to feel it. I want you to know as you die that your death is completely meaningless. It won’t make anything better. It won’t even make me happy. It’s just ….. nothing.”

“And Scully’s.” This was the worst of all. Scully had died an innocent victim in a cause that no-one believed in any more. “Scully’s death …. for nothing.”

Lewis looked away and cleared his throat, but said nothing.

“But you will kill me?” Mulder tried to keep the hope from his voice.

Lewis made no reply, standing up suddenly and walking to the door. There was a blast of icy wind as he went outside. Just as Mulder wondered if he was going to leave his alone to die slowly of the cold and starvation, Lewis re-appeared, carrying a can which he put down in the middle of the room.

“They won’t catch me,” he said, firmly. “I won’t go back to that place. If I can’t be happy after killing you, then it’s better …… ” He shut the door with a loud bang. “There is another way out after all.”

~&~&~&~

“Nothing!” Scully slammed the cellphone down on her lap. “All this time and they’ve found nothing! They can’t even be trying!”

Gardiner bit his lip, turning his face towards her, although his eyes were still on the road. “They’re doing the best they can. Please don’t get so upset. They’ll find him.”

“Don’t you patronise me!” Scully needed someone to shout at – needed to be angry. It was the only way to keep despair and grief from overwhelming her. “I’m not some child who needs humouring. I’ve got to face facts. They might not find him. They probably won’t find him, not after all this time. They’ve let him slip through their fingers.”

It had been as much as she could do not to shout as much to the sheriff when he called to give the latest update on the search, but, even though the anger threatened to choke her, deep down she realised that she was being unfair. As Gardiner said, they were doing all they could. If it was anyone’s fault it was hers, but that was something she would have to face afterwards. For now, she had to shut her mind to the guilt, keep herself in control and focused on the search. This was not the time to fall apart.

Gardiner opened his mouth and then shut it again, clearly desperate to comfort her but not knowing how to do it. She wondered why he bothered trying. Couldn’t he see that nothing could comfort her – nothing apart from finding Mulder was okay?

“How much have they searched?” he asked at last.

“They’ve covered all the obvious hiding places in well over half the area now,” Scully said, desperately trying to keep her voice steady, trying to relate the facts with professional detachment. “But, of course, it’s too big an area for them to do a house-to-house search, and their road-blocks didn’t cover the minor roads. There’s no guarantee he’s still in the area at all. He could be hundreds of miles away by now….”

“I think he’s probably still here.” Gardiner’s voice was tentative, as it always was when he was voicing an opinion. “That …. er ….. Mrs Blake we spoke to this morning …… She said that Lewis looked ….. er ….. bereft when she said his parents had gone. She said he didn’t seem to know what to do, where to go. I think …… I think he’d just hole up somewhere and wait for the end.”

“What do you mean?” Scully snapped, covering for the chill which ran through her at his words. “The end? Do you mean he’s killed Mulder already?” She clenched her fists, suddenly furious at Gardiner for making her feel like this. “Don’t say that!” she shouted. “He’s not dead! He can’t be dead! We’ll get there in time! We’ve got to!”

Gardiner flinched, his face full of pain, and Scully knew she’d been unreasonable again, but she couldn’t bring herself to apologise. Her outburst had been addressed more to herself than to Gardiner. “He’s not dead! He can’t be!” she murmured, knowing that the alternative was just too horrible to contemplate. Whenever she thought she was certain he was dead, there was always this little hope there, whispering in the back of her mind, telling her that everything would be all right, that they’d get there in time, that Mulder would be okay. He had to be okay. He had to.

But as she stared unseeingly at the countryside, so serene and peaceful in the winter sun, she was far from convinced.

~&~&~&~

“I can’t keep on like this.” Lewis’ voice broke the long silence which had settled like dust upon the deserted house. “I was wrong.” His voice was quiet, despairing. “I shouldn’t have done this – any of this.”

Lewis stood up slowly, a cloud of dust sparkling in the sunlight, and walked over the Mulder, looking down at him sadly. He crouched down, his hand hovering tentatively over the gash in Mulder’s forehead, a look of regret on his face. “I wish I could make it better,” he said, shaking his head, “but I ….. but there isn’t even any water here. I can’t …. I don’t know what to do …..” He touched Mulder quickly on the good hand, the one that didn’t hurt quite so much. “I don’t think it’s too bad. They’ll know what to do at the hospital.”

Mulder had barely been listening. All the attention he could muster had been focused on the can of gas that Lewis had brought in from the car, hoping with all his strength that death would come soon. But at last the implication of Lewis’ words penetrated his thoughts, bringing him back to a reality he’d hoped he’d never had to face again.

“But ….. but I thought you were going to kill me.” His voice was shaking with anxiety.

“I thought so too,” Lewis said. “For five years I’ve thought of little else, but now ….. I can’t – I can’t do it.”

“No!” Mulder cried, terrified, his last chance of escape slipping away from him “Give me the gun! I’ll do it!” He tentatively flexed his hand. Although it hurt, he thought it could still hold a gun. His vision was blurred but he wouldn’t need to see in order to aim true this time.

“No!” Lewis had tears on his cheeks. “I’m sorry I’ve done this to you. You don’t deserve it.”

“I do!” Mulder said, vehemently. “How can you say that? You can see into my mind, my memories. You know what I’ve done!” Samantha screaming as grey-skinned creatures probed her body. His father, a broken man already, blood trickling from his mouth as he lay dying. Deep Throat. Melissa. The other Samantha. And Scully worst of all. Scully dead, her face shot away, her body accusing him of her misery and her death.

“Even if that was true, it wouldn’t be for me to punish you for them. Not like this….” Lewis shook his head. “Not at all.”

And then Mulder broke away from the memories and saw Lewis’s face – the tears on his cheeks, the despair in his eyes. Another life ruined, because of him.

“But you showed me!” Lewis, the innocent victim, hunted like an animal, beaten, lonely in the dark torment of prison, all hope extinguished by a few uncaring minutes of Mulder’s time. This time, he didn’t need Lewis’s help to live in the memory. “I ruined your life too. You should punish me for that.”

“No, I shouldn’t.” Lewis’s voice was emphatic, although his eyes were full of pain. “It wasn’t your fault – none of it. It’s only here, right at the end, that I’ve seen it clearly. It was all my own fault.”

Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but Lewis silenced him. “Listen to me!” he hissed, urgently. “You’ve got to understand. It was all my fault! I chose to do what I did….. All my life, I used my gift to get what I wanted. I just told myself that no-one got hurt – that I was just taking what was mine by right – a sort of reward because I had skills that no-one else had.” He sighed. “But I was kidding myself. All my life …… It was my own choice….. My fault.”

“But they beat you ….. the darkness ….. I…..” Mulder struggled to get out of the memories of Lewis’s arrest. The dark menace, the despair, the laughter – his own laughter as he callously plotted to ruin another’s life.

“There was no violence,” Lewis said, sadly. “It ….. it wasn’t like I showed you. I guess I’d even convinced myself that it was like that, but it wasn’t. I …. I needed to remember it like that. I had to think it was everyone else’s fault, not mine. But no-one beat me. Everyone was just doing their job – even you. I deserved it. I had hurt people – not physically, but physical hurt heals faster than the hurt I inflicted. I deserved to be caught.”

Mulder wanted to protest, but he couldn’t find any words. Everything was falling apart again.

“When I was caught,” Lewis continued, “it was as if …..” He tailed off, biting his lip in pain. “I…. I couldn’t deal with it. I’d never had anything go wrong for me before. I’d always got everything I wanted. When it all collapsed, I ….. I could hardly bear to live. The loneliness, the failure, my parents disowning me. I couldn’t bear it as it was. I definitely couldn’t handle guilt as well. If I’d let myself believe that anything that had happened was my own fault, then …… then it would have pushed me over the edge. I needed someone to blame.”

“But it was all my…..”

“No!” Lewis shouted. “For five years I believed that. I’ve built my whole life around thinking that, and planning revenge. Everything had gone wrong, but I convinced myself that it was your fault, and that I’d be happy when I’d got revenge. But now …. now I realise it was all based on a lie. I was living a lie. My whole life has been based on …… nothing. On a lie. A cowardly lie because I couldn’t face the fact that the only person to blame for my own unhappiness was myself.”

Lewis buried his face in his hand, his voice muffled. “I guess I began to realise the truth this morning, when I found out my parents blamed me. I thought ….. deep down I hadn’t really believed that they’d meant to disown me. I thought maybe it was the prison guards being cruel, or a misunderstanding. I’d really expected them to be there for me, same as they’d always been. But when they weren’t……” He lowered his hands, looking intently at Mulder. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kicked you. I lost control. Everything was falling apart. I needed to convince myself that it would still be okay, that everything was still your fault, just as I’d always believed. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing that – of losing the belief I’ve clung to for five years.”

“You’re not going to kill me,” Mulder said, dully. Although he’d heard all Lewis’s words, this was the only thing that really mattered. The rest of it …. he knew that wasn’t true, knew everything was his fault, whatever Lewis might say now. “You’re not going to kill me!” He’d resolved not to ask any more, but that was when he’d known death would come soon, anyway. But if Lewis didn’t kill him he might have a whole eternal lifetime to live with the guilt.

Lewis stared at him. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking. “I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve to die, but …. I’ve already done far worse to you already. I’ve only just realised quite how cruel I’ve been. Guilt -it’s harder to cope with than physical pain. I ran away from guilt back then, but I’ve …. tortured you with guilt these last few weeks. You didn’t deserve it.”

“I do!” Mulder cried. “All those thing I’ve done! Scully….. Samantha …… All the suffering I caused. Like you were just saying, I shut my mind to what I’d done. I tried to blame other people. Like when Scully was missing, I ran round trying to find someone to punish, when it was my fault all along. And Samantha ….. I based my whole life on finding someone to blame for her disappearance, but it was all my fault…..” The urgency of the situation was clearing his mind, making the words flow. He knew his life could depend on how clearly he argued the cause of his own guilt. “But the truth was all in my memory. I couldn’t hide from it forever. Now I know…..”

“No!” Lewis leant over, grabbing Mulder’s shoulders. “It’s not true. None of it’s true. All those memories you had – those pictures, the voices – I put them there. They weren’t true. You only thought them because I made you.”

“But they were true!” Mulder protested. “Everything. I know you made me remember them, but they were there all the time, there in my memory. I’d just shut my mind to the truth, remembering them wrongly. I …. I couldn’t let myself remember how reproachful Scully looked when she woke up in hospital – how she told me it was all my fault – so I remembered her smiling. And when Dad died -I remembered him saying “forgive me” but I now know he said “I won’t forgive you”. And….”

“It was me, all of it!” Lewis was shouting now, his face red. “I just read your memories and changed them subtly, then I sent them back to you. I even enjoyed it, then, planning which “memory” was likely to be the most disturbing in every situation….. But it was wrong….. ” He shook Mulder’s shoulders. “Listen to me! Everything you felt – all the guilt – everything – I put it there. It’s not true!”

“Yes it is. Scully’s dead.”

“No she’s not. I……”

“She is. I killed her.” Nothing could take that guilt from him.

“She’s not dead!” Lewis shouted. “I lied. I wanted to hurt you, so I told you she was dead, but she’s alive. I even called the police and told them where she was.”

“Why are you doing this?” Mulder struggled to sit up, but Lewis’s hands were still on his shoulders. “Why are you lying? Why are you telling me things aren’t my fault when I know they are?”

“Aren’t you listening?” Lewis snapped. “I just told you. None of it’s your fault. I just made you think that. I showed you Scully dying – but I made it up. It was all in my imagination. Just like all your “memories” that I showed you.”

“I just needed you to show me the truth. Why can’t you understand? It’s like you were just saying – like what you said you had done. I couldn’t cope with the truth, with the guilt, so I shut my mind to it. You helped me remember, but that doesn’t stop it being true.” Mulder stopped struggling, slumping back on the floor, his eyes closed. “But now…. now you’ve helped me remember ….. I can see everything clearly now. I know how things really happened …..”

And this time he didn’t need any help from Lewis to see the truth. Blood-drenched memories full of guilt. A kaleidoscope of glimpses of the people he’d hurt, their faces twisted with pain, pointing accusing fingers at him. Scully covered in tubes in hospital, her mother crying with grief and hate as he’d approached the bedside…..

“No! That’s not true. It didn’t happen like that!” An urgent voice, hands shaking his shoulders, but all from a great distance, not enough to drown the memories.

Scully, pale and devastated, by the empty bed that had been her sister’s. “She died because of you!” she’d hissed, through her tears, flinching away from him as he tried to offer comfort……

“Listen to me! It’s not true! It’s not your fault!” The voice was angry now. “Damn you! Listen to me!”

His father, unable to bear being in the same room as him. “You’ve lost her again!” he’d shouted. “This will break you mother’s heart.” And the next time he saw him he was dead, accusing him with this last breath…..

“It’s not true! None of that happened!” And this time the hands shook his shoulders so violently that his head thumped against the floor and the darkness came a step closer, although this time it was a darkness full of memories which offered no comfort at all.

And eventually the hands left his shoulders and the voice cracked into sobs. “It’s too late. I realised the truth too late,” Lewis sobbed. “You won’t believe me, and ….. and it’s too late to put it right….. I’m too tired.” There was the sound of feet walking towards the window, distantly pounding through the memories of guilt and accusation.

“They’ll come for me soon,” Lewis said, quietly. “It’s too late.”

~&~&~&~

“So, what do you know about this guy, then?” Dan Rosenberg asked his partner as they cruised along the deserted road, looking for abandoned cars, deserted buildings, unexplained tracks – anything suspicious.

“Matthew Lewis? I was at school with him,” Steve replied, shaking his head. “He was strange.”

“How do you mean?”

“Oh, he was kind of quiet – always in a dream world of his own. But when he came out of it – now, that was weird. He always seemed to get whatever he wanted.”

“You mean he was a bully?”

“No!” Steve’s voice was firm. “He never hurt anyone, as far as I knew. One of the few boys who was never in a fight. No, he wasn’t a bully, except……hey! I’ve just remembered something else weird. When I was about 15 I was …… well, you know what it’s like when you’re that age …… I was dating two girls at once, and Matthew …. somehow Matthew found out – I don’t know how – and threatened to tell unless I gave him money.”

“You mean he was a blackmailer?”

“I suppose so. I never thought about it since. I broke up with both of them just after anyway, so never paid him. But he always had so many possessions. I wonder if he was blackmailing lots of people – or maybe stealing. I remember a few years back, when we all found out he’d been robbing banks – people did talk then, hint that he’d been stealing from other children when he was young. But of course, no-one would say anything. His parents were respectable people, big in the community, and they just adored their boy. They had big plans for him, everyone said.”

“But they say he’d a kidnapper, maybe a murderer.”

Steve shook his head, doubtfully. “Yeah, they say that. But you know what these Feds are like. Never there when you want them, but they as soon as they think one of their own is in danger they can’t do enough – and make us all do their work for them as well. I reckon they’ve got it wrong. I don’t think Matthew would killed anyone.” He started to drive faster, not looking out of the window to check out everywhere they passed.

“But we’ve got to assume he will, won’t we?” Dan said, anxiously. He was new to the job, and still took his responsibilities seriously. “That’s what we’re here for -to protect people who are in danger, even if it might be a false alarm.”

Steve laughed. “You’ll learn, kid. You’ll……”

“Slow down!” Dan called, urgently, peering out of the window. “I just saw….. Has anyone moved into the Davies’s old place?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“There are tracks on the drive, where the mud’s still wet from last night’s rain.” Dan’s voice rose with excitement. “It would be a good place to hide. Empty, miles away from anywhere……”

“Let’s check it out,” said Steve, reversing the car quickly and turning into the long drive.

Dan anxiously reached for his waist, checking that the gun was still there. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.

~&~&~&~

“They’re coming!” Lewis jumped up, staring out of the window towards the dying sun. “I can feel them.”

He walked over the Mulder, a few firm steps. “This is the end. I know what to do now.” He looked calm, no trace of his earlier despair and anger. “I know what I need to do. I’ve stopped struggling. It’s better this way.”

He wasn’t looking at Mulder, his eyes fixed on the can of gas. Mulder allowed himself to feel hope again – a hope Lewis’ earlier words had nearly extinguished. He looked towards the burning sun, knowing it was the last time he’d see it before other burning flames claimed him.

“Can you walk?” Lewis asked, with concern. “I’ll help….” But Mulder was already struggling to his knees, ignoring the pain in his head, his hands, his ribs, his whole body. He couldn’t have managed it for anything else, but this was worth one final effort. Though it hardly seemed necessary. The flames would consume the whole building soon enough.

Lewis reached out his arms, helping Mulder to his feet, steadying him firmly when the giddiness made him sway, holding him still until his vision steadied enough for him to move. “Come on!” he urged. “They’ll be here soon.”

Everything was blurred, and the blood pounded in Mulder’s head, filling the house with floating patches of shadow. He couldn’t see where he was going, concentrating only on putting one foot in front of the other, but then suddenly everything got brighter, although he hadn’t heard an explosion, and couldn’t feel the consuming heat of flickering flames.

“There’s no more time,” Lewis’s voice spoke close to his ear. “I’ll put you down here. It’s still too close, but there’s no time. They’ll be here soon.” Mulder let his knees buckle, shutting his eyes, but Lewis took the weight, lowering him gently to the ground. “I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you.” Mulder wondered why he was speaking like this. Soon, nothing would matter any more. “I hope it’s not too late for you – that you’ll be able to recover.”

And then there was the sound of steps getting further away, and Mulder opened his eyes to see red and orange and burning, but it was still cold, bitterly cold, and there was wind on his face. He was outside, and the glow came from the setting sun.

“No!” he shouted, struggling to get up again, realising what Lewis had done. It was his final revenge – cheating him of death right at the very end. “No! You promised!”

Without Lewis’s help he couldn’t get to his feet, but he could pull himself up to his knees, although only one hand was able to take any weight, and even then it screamed in protest.

A car sounded in the distance, though not as loud as the sound of his heart pounding in his head, but nothing mattered but getting to the door, getting inside the house again.

Inch by inch, he edged his way forward. There was a roaring sound in his ears that might have been the sound of a blazing fire inside, and a red glare all around him – blood in his head, the sun on his back, and death in front of him.

The heat hit him as he crawled across the threshold, but he didn’t flinch. The house reeked of gas, and the whole far end of the room was ablaze, flames licking up to the ceiling. Through the flames he could see a figure, arms outstretched, dark against the burning, mouth open in a scream which was only dimly audible over the consuming roar of the fire’s unquenchable appetite.

Not far now. Not far. Mulder bit his lip with concentration, putting every last bit of strength into reaching the flames, willing them to rush forward and take him in case he collapsed just short of death.

Then suddenly there was a sharp pain in his hand as he leant on a piece of glass from the shattered window. Although it was but a tiny hurt when his whole body was ablaze with pain, he instinctively snatched his hand back, losing his balance and falling heavily onto his side.

The flames were still too far away, and there were shouts outside.

“No!” he whimpered. He couldn’t bear them to come and rescue him. He struggled to focus, trying to measure the distance he had to drag himself before he could die, but instead of the fire his gaze fell on something else.

A gun. Lewis’s gun, neglected where he’d thrown it a lifetime ago. He reached out, closing his hand round the weapon, revelling in the feel of it. There was another way out after all, if he didn’t reach the fire in time.

The fire crackled and came closer, the heat stroking his cheek, the smoke making him choke, although every cough was agony on his bruised ribs.

Once he’d been terrified of fire, but now….. He’d longed for death, any method of death, but he knew now that fire was the only way to cleanse him of his guilt. As the flames crept closer he thought of that other time, as clear as if he was still there, forgetting for a while which fire was a memory and which was real. He’d been hurt then, too, hurt and alone with the dead – a hellish tomb of twisted bodies, forgotten in the dark. And someone wanted them to stay forgotten, for suddenly the world had exploded into light, searing heat chasing him along the dark passages dug by so many desperate dying creatures decades earlier. But then the fire had gone, and he was in a beautiful place, peaceful and free of pain. His father had been there, and Deep Throat. People who were dead, but they had spoken to him, and they had been kind, although he knew now what he had done to them. Blame didn’t exist in that place, or guilt. He’d nearly stayed there forever, but they’d persuaded him to go back to the world.

But now there was another fire, and this time he wouldn’t go back. Through the fire was the only path to that place. There would be no pain, no guilt. And Scully would be there now…..

“Scully!” he muttered, dragging himself on his elbows towards the fire, keeping a grip on the gun just in case.

So close. Only a few feet to go.

He could almost see Scully already, her face in the flickering patterns of the flames. She was smiling, and she reached out an eager arm of flame, beckoning him to join her.

She was smiling still as the black smoke rolled above his head, and the flames reached out towards him. He didn’t need to struggle any more. It had come for him.

~&~&~&~

When Dan realised what was happening he didn’t stop to think, but pulled open the car door and jumped out without waiting for Steve to stop. “I’ll see if anyone’s in there!” he cried. “Call the fire department!” They’d already called for backup as soon as they’d rounded a bend in the long track and seen the blue car outside the house where no car should be.

“Dan! Come back! You can’t go in there!” Steve called, but Dan ignored him, although flames and thick black smoke were billowing from the windows at the far end of the house and the air was acrid with the smell of gas.

“There might be people in there! I’ve got to try!” Dan shouted, before his voice trailed off into a cough. He wasn’t at the door yet, but already the smoke was thick and black.

He crouched down, breathing the purer air below the worst of the smoke, preparing to plunge through the open door. Gasping a lung-full of relatively fresh air, he crawled in, blinking as the smoke and heat assailed his eyes.

He couldn’t see anything at first, his eyes reeling at the dazzling light, but then he saw something that made his heart freeze with horror. A quick glimpse of a human figure, on the far side of the flames, revealed as the fire danced to one side as it made its flickering progress across the room. A figure that had seemed to move.

Although the heat made him flinch even from just next to the door, he took a step forward. Deep down he knew that the person didn’t have a chance, but he couldn’t leave them to die alone, without doing his best. He took another step, although the fire was only a few paces from the door now, and would soon consume the whole room.

And then he heard a voice. “No!” some-one said. “Get back!” Blinking through the smoke, Dan could just make out another figure, much nearer this time, just on the fringes of the fire. It was kneeling, facing him, and when the smoke thinned for a second he could see that it was pointing a gun at him.

“Are you crazy?” Dan asked, through his coughing. He tried to take another step, but the gun was still pointing at him. He thought he could hear screams coming from the other side of the room. “Someone’s dying there! I’ve got to help him.”

“Get back!” The voice was more urgent now, although the gun seemed to shake.

Dan reached for his own gun. “Let me through, or I’ll shoot!” He knew his own voice was shaking, but the screams from the heart of the fire echoed in his head like a hellish torture. What sort of a person would stop him from trying to rescue someone who screamed like that?

“Get back!” the voice said again, though weaker now. The flames were very close now.

Dan pointed his gun. He hated himself for doing this, but he was given no choice. He’d hate himself more for not doing it, for ignoring the screams from the fire’s centre.

“Put the gun down or I’ll shoot,” he warned one last time. It only occurred to him much later that if the man had intended to shoot him he’d have pulled the trigger before he even got a chance to aim his own gun. At the time, unable to think clearly because of the heat and the smoke and the screams, he almost believed that if he shot this man with the gun, then the person who was screaming would be miraculously saved.

His finger squeezed the trigger.

As the bullet hit him in the chest, the man crumpled to the floor, the unfired gun still resting in his unmoving hand.

In the heart of the fire, the screams stopped.

~&~&~&~

He tried to struggle but he couldn’t move, couldn’t think, could barely breathe…..

He’d thought he was dead, safe in the darkness, the pain of life burnt away by the flames. But there was still pain here, although he was in the darkness still, and strong hands were holding him, dragging him into the cruel cold, away from the flames.

“No!” He wanted to speak, but he couldn’t breathe enough to form the words. He struggled, fighting against the smoke in his lungs, and something else, a worse pain in his chest that smothered every breath he tried to take. He didn’t need to breathe, but he needed to speak, to tell whoever it was to leave him alone, to let the fire take him.

Then there was fresh air, cold on his face, biting in his lungs, and voices, distant in the darkness, snatches of voice that rose and fell, loud, soft, inaudible, swallowed up by the waves of a deeper darkness that kept on washing over him. “…..shoot him …… screaming …… tried to get ….. couldn’t ….. horrible” And another voice, further away: “……. not Matthew …… ambulance …… soon”.

He stopped trying to breathe, although it was too much effort to actively try not to. He knew his body would keep on trying, instinctively, but would give up soon. Already the voices were fading, although he could still feel someone touching his chest. “… bleeding…..” The voice was a merest whisper through the thick darkness. “…… survive?…..”

The last thing he heard was the wail of sirens. He hoped they’d come too late.

~&~&~&~

They were too late. Scully felt that with a terrible certainty as soon as she saw the flames, the dense black smoke, the grim weariness on the faces of the people already at the scene.

“What happened?” she forced herself to ask. Although she knew it would be torture, she had to know everything she could about Mulder’s death. Not knowing would be the worst of all.

“I …. I …..” The man she’d addressed was barely looking at her, lost in some dark torment of his own. “I tried ….. I couldn’t …… He was right there, just the other side of the room. I …. I could hear him screaming …… dying …… right in front of me.” There were pale streaks on his black-stained face, glistening wet in the flickering light of the inferno. “The other man …… he had a gun ….. a gun! He tried to stop me saving him. Those terrible screams, but he wouldn’t let me save him …… He’s dead!”

It was all Scully could do not to scream herself. Although it was the answer she’d expected, nothing had prepared her for the onslaught of grief – of emptiness -that hit her as she heard these words. “No!” she cried, glaring at the man, desperate for someone to blame for tearing her life apart like this. “Why didn’t you try harder? You should have …… He can’t be ….. Why?” She was beyond tears now, shouting at a world that let this happen. “Why?”

Someone touched her arm, Gardiner’s voice quiet in her ear. “Dana, I think you should come away….. ” He was close, too close. No-one should get that close to her, not now, not ever again. Not if it led to feelings like this. Better to stay alone, trusting no-one, than to feel such pain of loss.

“Get off me!” she hissed, shaking his hand away. “Just leave me alone!” She ran forward, feeling the searing heat on her skin, the choking smoke in her eyes.

“Mulder!” she cried, a secret hope in the back of her mind whispering that they’d got it wrong, that he was still alive, that he would walk up to her, unscathed, some wry joke on his lips. He’d disappeared into fire before, her cries going unanswered in the lifeless desert, but he’d returned then, back from the dead.

But this time there was nothing….

“Please, stand back!” A fire fighter, swathed in protective clothing, grabbed her arm, pulling her back from the brink of the conflagration, but she was already turning to go, turning back to face a new life of emptiness and grief.

She closed her eyes, unable to watch any longer. “It’s not supposed to be like this!” she cried, silently, remembering all those occasions when she’d feared Mulder was dead and been proved wrong. The terror she’d felt rushing into that hospital in Alaska. The relief she’d felt when she got his heart started again when everyone else had given up. “He’ll be okay!” she’d said fiercely then, simply because the alternative was too horrible to contemplate. She’d arrived just in time, then, but now …… “Oh, Mulder, I was too late!” she said, silently, “I’m sorry!” Too late in noticing the depths of his depression. Too late in realising he’d been kidnapped. Too late now, right at the end, right at the end of everything.

“My fault!” she whispered, her words drowned by the roar of flames. “It’s my fault!” If only she hadn’t been so stupid as to let herself be used by Lewis as a bait to catch Mulder….. If only she hadn’t insisted on coming on this case in the first place, when Mulder had intended to go by himself ….. If only she’d been more supportive when Mulder was obviously so depressed, rather than being angry when he wouldn’t talk about it …… If only she hadn’t been so wrapped up in finding the answers to her own kidnapping that she failed to realised that Mulder was in trouble …… If only she hadn’t turned back from that cabin when they were so close …… If only…… If only……

A siren cut into her thoughts as yet another vehicle roared up the track and screeched to a halt in front of the building. Scully opened her eyes briefly, but, seeing it was an ambulance, shut them tightly, wincing with pain. An ambulance! What was the point? Mulder was dead. That was all that mattered. He was dead, and all an ambulance could do was ferry his unbearably burnt body to the morgue. How dare the ambulance mock her grief by coming here, pretending that it could do any good, that there was any hope?

“Dana? ….. er…… I think you should come over here.” Gardiner’s face was white beneath the black smudges from the smoke. “He’s ….. he’s still alive.”

Lewis! She’d forgotten about Lewis. But now she remembered the police officer’s words. A man with a gun. A man who stopped him from rescuing Mulder as he died in the heart of the flames. Lewis.

“He’s alive?” she asked, suddenly filled with hatred. What sort of a world was it where Lewis could survive and Mulder die?

“Yes, but he’s hurt. It’s bad …… I …. er ….. they don’t know if he’ll ……” Gardiner bit his lip, his eyes full of pain. She knew how hard it was for him, having to bring her the news that Mulder’s killer still lived, and she recognised his sensitivity – his understanding of how much the news would hurt her.

“I want to see him!” she said, suddenly. She hoped he was still conscious and able to see her hatred. She would look into his eyes and make him realise what he’d done and make sure he would die in torment. She would allow him no peace. She would follow him to hospital and would be there, wherever he looked, reproaching him and haunting him with what he’d done until he would long only for the escape of death.

“He’s just over there.” Gardiner gestured towards a group of paramedics, a frenzied knot of activity half-obscured by the thick smoke which wrapped its tendrils around her vision.

“I want to see him,” she repeated, quieter now, recognising the futility of her plan of revenge. What did revenge matter, when Mulder was dead? Nothing would bring him back. But she still wanted to look into the eyes of his murderer, to see if she could read the truth of Mulder’s death, even though the answer might be the worst torment of all.

It was only a few dozen paces but it seemed like eternal miles. She found that she was shaking, her breath coming in nervous gasps, catching on the smoke that now covered the whole visible world. Soon she would see the man who’d taken Mulder away from her. Would she break down in tears, or would she erupt in anger? Would the sight of Mulder’s murderer provide answers that would be essential in the healing process, or would his face haunt her dreams for the rest of her life?

She was there now, trembling with trepidation. She shut her eyes, desperately trying to summon up her courage to look. Time slowed. She barely heard the voices of the paramedics, or Gardiner’s supportive murmurs.

“I’ve got to look, I’ve got to look!” she told herself, over and over, her eyes still squeezed tightly shut.

Then she heard one of the paramedics speaking, the voice cutting through her thoughts. “That’s all we can do here. Let’s get ready to move him!”

“I’ve got to look! It’s now or never. It’ll be too late.” Her lips were moving, although she didn’t speak the words out loud. Gardiner squeezed her hand. Although she wanted to flinch away from his touch she appreciated the support of something solid.

At last, taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes.

It was then, only then, that she started crying.

~&~&~&~

He’d been so close, only a breath away. He’d even heard Scully’s voice, calling his name through the darkness. She was there, waiting for him, but they wouldn’t let him go to her. Why did they try to drag him back to life? Why wouldn’t they leave him alone?

There were more voices now, shouting in the distance, urgently talking nearer him, snapping instructions he couldn’t think enough to understand. And then there was a bang of doors slamming shut, and everything started shaking, and he knew he was being taken away, away from the fire which could have saved him. He wanted to cry out with the horror of it all, but something was covering his mouth.

He tried to move his hand, desperate to signal to them that he needed to be taken back, but there was something warm holding his hand, something living.

“Can you hear me?” A voice from one place, the place of life, cut through the darkness. “Try not to go to sleep. Stay with us.” But there was also Scully’s voice, calling him by name. “Mulder, I’m here. Stay with me, please. Please don’t go, just when I’ve found you again.” And Scully was dead, so her voice must be in the other place, the dark place which, although it was the place of death, knew no pain. He knew now that he didn’t need to go through the fire to get there. That place was right here, so close he could reach out and touch it. If he just concentrated hard enough he could go there……

“Come on!” The voice again. Not Scully’s, but the voice from the life. “We need you to help us. Try ….. try to breathe. We’re nearly there, then you can go to sleep. They’ll look after you……”

But Scully’s voice was louder, urging him to stay with her, closer to him now than the other voice was. He’d killed her. He couldn’t leave her now.

“Hurry!” He could barely hear that other voice now. He’d nearly escaped fully into the darkness. “…… nearly there …… lose him……”

Someone seemed to be crying, but then that too faded into darkness.

~&~&~&~

November 21st 1995

“Did he wake up?” Scully was breathless as she flung the door open, speaking before she was fully into the room.

Gardiner shook his head, and Scully sighed, a look of profound relief on her face. Shutting the door with exaggerated care, she walked silently across the room. Gardiner stood up as she approached, taking a step back. He knew he didn’t really belong here.

Scully leant anxiously over the bed, touching Mulder lightly, checking his pulse, his temperature, his breathing. Gardiner suddenly knew that nothing else mattered for her at that moment. If he’d spoken to her, she’d not have heard him. She’d probably even forgotten he was there.

“Good night, Dana,” he whispered, taking one last look at her back before turning round, preparing the leave the room. As he’d expected, she made no reply. But, although he’d expected it, her silence still hurt him. He knew how naive he’d been to hope she might be interested in him, but still……

He shut the door behind him, pulling it slowly so it would make no noise, but just as it was nearly closed someone grabbed the handle on the other side, pulling it open again.

“I’m sorry,” Scully said, smiling sincerely. “I didn’t thank you.”

Gardiner shrugged, embarrassed. “That’s okay. It was nothing.”

“No, really, I’m very grateful. You’ve sat with him for hours now, over the last few days, and I never told you why ……. ” She glanced anxiously over her shoulder as she spoke, shifting her position so she had a clear view of Mulder. “You must have thought it really strange, why I wanted someone to be with him all the time, but you still did it.” She wrenched her eyes away from Mulder’s bed, looking straight at Gardiner for the first time. “It means a lot to me. Thank you.”

Gardiner shrugged again. He’d been happy to help, anxious to do anything that would put life back into Scully’s face, and hope in her eyes. He’d never asked why. If Scully wanted his help, that was enough reason for him.

“It’s just …… I don’t want him to be alone,” Scully continued, constantly glancing across at Mulder. “He’s woken up several times now, and …..” She bit her lip, her eyes glistening. Gardiner wanted to reach out and enfold her in his arms, to comfort her as she cried on his shoulder, but he knew he mustn’t. “When he woke up, he …… he thought I was dead – that he’d killed me. He was so distressed I was afraid ……” She shuddered at the memory, not finishing the sentence. “Of course, I talked to him, told him I was here, that I was alive, but …… I don’t think he really believes it yet. I don’t want him to wake up and find I’m not there. Or, if he has to, because I can’t be there all the time, I want someone to be there, someone he’ll recognise, who can tell him where I’ve gone, and assure him I’m still alive.”

“Why does he think he’s killed you?” Gardiner asked.

“I don’t know,” Scully exclaimed, her voice full of distress. “He’s not in a state to talk about what happened yet. God knows what that man did to him!” Her knuckles were white with tension. “It looks as if he told Mulder that I was dead and Mulder – of course Mulder would blame himself – he always does.” Her eyes darkened with anger. “If I could get my hands on that …… that monster! Burning was too good for him. Not content with torturing Mulder physically he had to do this to his mind too. And he was so depressed before all this started!”

“But ….. he will get better, won’t he?” Gardiner was almost scared to ask, so intense were Scully’s emotions.

Scully took a deep breath. “Physically, yes. He’s out of danger now.” She looked across at the bed again, her face grim.

Gardiner stood silent, chewing his lip. He knew Scully hadn’t told him everything, but he was scared to prompt her, scared of her anxious expression.

“It’s just that he ….. he doesn’t seem to want to live.” It was a sudden outburst of pain. “He doesn’t seem to think he deserves it. It’s not just thinking I’m dead. There’s more to it than that – much more.” She was breathing deeply, all her muscles clenched in a visible effort not to cry.

Gardiner moved his hand, overwhelmed with the desire to comfort her, but let it fall again.

Scully noticed the movement, guessing what was in his mind. “I’m sorry,” she said, her face full of sympathy. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been fair to you, right from the start. You deserved better.”

He opened his mouth to assure her that she had nothing to apologise for, but she held up a hand to stop him. “No, I’ve been unfair, all along. I shouted at you, I’ve taken out all my anxieties on you, I’ve taken advantage of you.” She smiled, a sincere smile despite the worry that haunted her eyes. “But I couldn’t have got through this last week without you. I want to thank you.” She offered him her hand. “I hope you ……”

Although she didn’t finish the sentence he knew what she meant, but he knew what she was saying. She hoped that, one day, he’d find someone who could return his affections, someone who could make him happy. He probably would, but right now, looking at Scully’s face, feeling the sadness catch in the back of his throat, it seemed as if he’d never forget her.

“And Mulder?” she asked, desperate to distract himself from that chain of thought. “What…..?”

“He’ll recover!” Scully said, fiercely. “It’s going to take a while, but he’ll recover. He must!” She had half turned her back on Gardiner, all her attention focused on Mulder, although, as Gardiner suddenly realised, she hadn’t ever really stopped thinking about him, even as she’d been talking to him. “I’ll be there for him, as long as it takes,” she continued. “We’ll get through this.”

Gardiner turned and walked slowly away, knowing that this time no voice would call him back.

He shook his head sadly. “I hope you do,” he murmured, although there was no longer anyone to hear him.

END

Continued in “Purgatorio”.

–––––-

Purgatorio

by Pellinor

()

~~~

DISCLAIMER: The X-Files and its characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox, and I torture them without permission but without thought of profit.

SUMMARY: Three months on, and Mulder shows no signs of even attempting to come to terms with what happened to him in “Inferno,” and Scully begins to feel the strain of having to constantly sacrifice her own needs to the needs of her desperately unhappy partner. Things come to a head on a murder case when Scully simply can not accept Mulder’s theory. Will their partnership survive?

You could call this a relationship piece, but it is NOT a romance. It is the story of a relationship in crisis. It is also an X-File.

RATING: PG-13 (some violence)

CLASSIFICATION: X, A

This is set some three months after my story “Inferno”, but the main plot and the X-File are self-contained. Mulder and Scully’s emotional states are affected by the events in “Inferno”, but everything you need to know about that story is covered here, mostly in the first scene.

FEEDBACK: Please send any (polite) comments to

~&~&~&~

Thursday 1 February 1996

Washington DC

~~~~

PART 1

“I must stay calm!”

Scully’s nails were digging into her palms, sharp stabs of pain shooting up her arms to her brain. But it was not enough – not enough to drown the turmoil of her thoughts.

“I must stay calm!”

She whispered it over and over like a prayer, frowning with concentration, desperately trying to soothe the emotions seething inside her, threatening any minute to boil over. More than anything she wanted to scream, to shout, to hurt, but she knew she mustn’t. Terrible as the situation was, that would only make things worse.

She was in darkness now. When she’d heard the noise, she’d reached out and switched the television off, and her eyes hadn’t yet adapted to the darkness. The after-images of its bright pictures still flickered across her retinas, although for hours she’d watched them without the images once reaching her brain. Was this how he spent his nights, she wondered – long hours staring unseeingly at the television, his mind wandering down the dark pathways of memory and contemplation?

“I must stay calm!”

But her heart was pounding now, echoing in her head louder than the footsteps outside the door – footsteps which paced up and down, now close outside, now further away, coming and going, causing her to freeze with tension each time they paused on the threshold.

It seemed like hours since the thud thud of steps had filled her world and still no-one had come in. She wondered if he knew she was waiting inside, her mind made up to face him whatever the cost. She knew he would be scared to face her, and that he would fight.

And then the handle turned, and her hand unconsciously reached towards the gun on the table in front of her, filled with a sudden doubt. It might not be him after all. She could never forget all those times enemies and murderers had penetrated the privacy of their apartments. Eugene Tooms. Duane Barry. The unknown assassin who shot through his window. Best to be prepared, she thought, her shaking hand tightening on the gun.

“I must stay calm!”

Then he was inside, his shape dark against the light from the corridor and then invisible again as he shut the door behind him.

He took two steps forward, and then stopped. She could hear his quick intake of breath as he realised that someone was there, but then there was nothing.

Silence.

Scully didn’t dare speak, knowing that any word could make all the difference between…. between what? She hadn’t liked to think about what would happen if she failed to get through to him, but the prospect filled her with a dread all the more terrible for being undefined. She knew she shouldn’t think of it as a life and death situation, but the memories were still so recent. Mulder had wanted to die then, and, despite what he said, she had no real reason to believe he was over it.

Time slowed down. It seemed like an age that they remained silent, staring blindly towards each other in the dark, although it was only a few seconds. Then a car went past outside, its lights moving across the room, casting eerie shadows on the walls, illuminating her gun with a sudden bright reflection of light.

He let out a long breath. A sigh, almost of relief.

The car passed and the gun was enveloped in darkness again, but the spell was broken. Suddenly aware he might be thinking she was some assassin waiting for him in his apartment, she reached out quickly for the lamp, blinking as the sudden light assailed her eyes.

“Scully.” Mulder broke the silence first. It was probably her imagination but he looked almost disappointed.

“Mulder.”

Silence. Still he didn’t move, but stood frozen to the spot, just inside the door. Biting her lip, she stared at him, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze.

“I must keep calm!” Scully urged herself, silently. There was nothing she wanted more than to shout at him, demanding that he tell her where he’d been for so long, demanding that he talk to her rather than shut her out, ignoring her concerns as if she was of no importance. But that would be the worst possible thing to do. She still lay awake at night consumed with shame, remembering how impatient she’d been with him when his problems had started, urging him to pull himself together. And then she’d attacked him to anyone who’d listen, accusing him of selfishness for not being there for her when she’d needed him, when all the time he’d been in the hands of a criminal, tortured both physically and mentally.

“So, where have you been the last…. since you left?” She tried to keep her voice casual, to avoid any sign of accusation. It was thirty-four hours, twenty-three minutes since he’d picked up his coat and left the office without a word, but she knew he mustn’t know she’d been counting. Treat it casually. As if she could….

He still didn’t look at her. “Oh…. I don’t know…. Nowhere.”

Scully peered at his face, scanning it for the familiar signs of deception. The number of times he’d run off, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for some case, and then tried to hide it…. Well, she’d learned to recognise that look by now. Normally it made her mad, but now…. Now she’d give anything to be ditched on a case because Mulder found it so exciting he forgot to tell her about it. But recently he’d lost interest in X-Files as well. There was no sheepish enthusiasm, no endearing remorse in his look now. Instead there was…. nothing.

“Mulder,” she said, soothingly, standing up and making as if to cross the room to his side. There was no point making an issue of it. “Just as long as you’re back okay, that’s all that matters. I don’t mind where you were…..”

“I was just driving around….. I went to a hotel. I just wanted to think…. to be alone. I’m sorry.” Mulder looked at her for the first time, and at last there was emotion on his face. “I’m sorry you were worried….”

“That’s okay,” Scully lied. She knew he was lying too. He’d left his wallet on the desk in this office, so she knew he’d had no money, no car keys.

“Come here!” she said, softly, reaching out a hand, trying to draw him towards the couch where they could sit down together and….. and talk? She had to keep hoping that was possible. Nearly three months now and still he hadn’t talked, not really. She’d tried reasoned argument, appealing to his psychologist’s training, pointing out the healing value of sharing a traumatic experience. She’d tried pleading with him. She’d tried ignoring it, acting as if nothing was wrong in the hope that he’d forget. She’d tried – God! – she’d tried shouting at him, expressing all the anger she felt at him even as she understood his pain. What was left?

“Come here!” she repeated, quieter now. She wanted to get him sitting down where she could pull him towards her, comforting him like a child, making him feel safe. Maybe then he’d confide in her….

“No!” Mulder pulled away from her touch, and retreated away from her. He moved over to the window and stood, his back to her, gazing down at the wet streets below.

Silence.

“Mulder,” Scully sighed, breaking the silence at last. Perhaps honesty would get through to him. “We can’t go on like this.”

“Then go!” Mulder’s voice was harsh. “You can get out of this whenever you want.”

Scully felt her rigid control snap. “Damn it, Mulder! That’s not what I meant, and you know it!”

“It should be,” Mulder replied, his voice dull. “You should want to get out. You can get any position you want in the Bureau. It’s not too late – not for you.”

Scully sighed, convulsively clenching and unclenching her fists in an attempt to keep the tension from her voice. “Look, Mulder, it’s been nearly three months now, and you still won’t talk about what happened.” Mulder opened his mouth to speak, but Scully carried on regardless. She’d heard all his excuses before. “I know you say you’re over it, that there’s nothing to talk about, but it’s just getting worse. Every day….”

“I keep telling you!” Mulder turned round, his face dark with anger…. or fear. He was shouting, forcing Scully into silence. “I am over it…. I mean, there was nothing to get over anyway. Nothing happened. Nothing real.”

Scully wanted to give up there and then, but knew she couldn’t back off, not this time. The situation had to be dealt with, even if it meant forcing Mulder to confront some painful truths. “Mulder! You’ve got to face up to it sometime. Just three months ago, not even that, you were….” She took a deep breath, forcing herself to look him in the eye. “You were…. suicidal.”

Mulder flinched, and Scully felt her voice crack at the memory. She still had nightmares about that terrible day when Mulder awoke in hospital. She’d been so relieved then, convinced that their troubles were over, and that the police were wrong when they’d told her he’d been trying to kill himself when they’d found him. But then he’d woken up and screamed with despair when he realised he was still alive, trying to attack the nurses and doctors who were treating him.

She walked over and touched him gently on the shoulder in silent apology for having to remind him of what had happened. “You went through a terrible ordeal. If a victim in one of our cases went through even half as much as you went through, you’d urge them to seek counselling. But you…. You’ve refused to talk about it to anyone, even to me.”

Mulder said nothing, and Scully felt again the bitter feeling of frustration, even anger. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to yourself…. and to me?” she asked, sharply, although she regretted those last words even as she uttered them.

“I’ve told you!” Mulder said, at last, his voice fast and frantic. “There’s nothing to talk about. Everything that happened, everything I felt…. it wasn’t true. It was Lewis. I keep telling you. He was telepathic. He made me think those thoughts. He told me I’d killed you. He made me want to die. Everything…. it was him. It…. it wasn’t true. I know that now…. I know. It wasn’t me. It was all him, and he’s dead now.”

Scully’s nails sought out the familiar deep indentations, red in her palms. “I must keep calm!” she repeated again, silently in her head. “Mulder!” she said, at last, her voice quivering with the effort to keep it calm. “Mulder, you….”

“It wasn’t true! None if it was true! He made it all up!” Mulder was almost shouting now, frowning with intensity. He wasn’t looking at her.

“Mulder.” Scully carried on as if he hadn’t spoken. “I know Lewis kidnapped you and hurt you.” The scar on his forehead was still all-too-visible, and as she spoke his hand reached up and absently touched it. She wished he’d comb his hair so it was covered. His refusal to hide seemed almost symbolic – a refusal to forget what had happened. “I know he told you I was dead – that it was your fault I was killed,” she continued. “I know he convinced you – falsely – that he had telepathic powers and could see terrible things in your memory. I know he did all this. But….” She took a deep breath, hating what she had to say. But she had skated around the issues for too long. It was time to confront them, even though it would hurt him. As if he could be hurt more…. “But your problems started way before Lewis came onto the scene….”

“I keep telling you!” Mulder repeated, fiercely. “That was him too! He was putting thoughts into my head for days – weeks – before he actually took me.”

Scully wanted to scream with frustration. In the past, while investigating cases, Mulder’s insistence on paranormal explanations had been almost enjoyable. She knew he often came up with wild theories just to tease her, and she enjoyed the game they played as they argued their opposing explanations. But this time…. This time it was no joke. This insistence of his that all his problems came from a telepathic criminal was an obvious case of being in denial. It wasn’t as if he even believed it himself. His every action over the past few months showed that he still had problems, that his mood was only a short step away from the terrible despair he’d shown when he’d been rescued.

“Mulder.” She forced herself to be calm, although she wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him – either that or pull him into her arms and rock him like a mother would a sad child. “Please…”

“I want to be alone now, Scully.” His voice was dull, his forehead pressed against the window, his eyes unfocused as they gazed unseeing at the street below. “Please leave me.”

“Mulder, I…..”

“There’s nothing to talk about. I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.”

And that was probably true, she reflected, remembering that he’d been out on the streets for a day and two nights. But still, she wasn’t going to let him escape that easily.

“Mulder, I’m not going till we talk about this,” she said, firmly.

I said, there’s nothing to talk about.” He pushed away from the window, and strode across the room, reaching for the door handle. “If you won’t leave, then I will.”

“No!” Scully ran over to the door. It was raining outside, and Mulder was already soaked through. As far as she knew, he’d been outside in the rain the whole time he’d been away. He’d certainly had no money for food. “Stay here. You need to get some rest.”

“I know. I just told you. But you wouldn’t let me. You wanted to talk.” His voice was harsh, but she could see through the feigned anger. He was scared – scared of having to break the habit of a lifetime and talk – really talk – about what was bothering him. But there was nothing she could do. He’d forced her into a position where she had to let him get his own way, or drive him out onto the streets again. And this time, there was no saying how long he’d be away before coming back.

Scully bit her lip with indecision, wondering whether to try one last effort to get through to him, but Mulder forestalled her before she could say anything.

“Look, I’ll be at the office tomorrow. I’ll get some sleep. Then we can talk about it….” His touched her arm gently, although he still didn’t meet her eyes.

And with that she had to be content, although she knew that he had no intention of “talking about it” the next day.

“Good night, Mulder,” she said, and left the room before he could see the tears which had started in her eyes.

~&~&~&~

PART 2

Friday 2 February 1996

FBI Headquarters

~~~~

“Is Agent Mulder there?”

Scully caught her breath. As soon as she’d answered the phone, its ringing loud and startling in the empty office, she’d known Skinner would ask about him sooner or later, but she hadn’t managed to think of a plausible reason to give for his absence. She’d had to cover for him so much these last few weeks that the excuses were wearing thin.

“Er…. Not right now,” she said, falteringly, knowing that her hesitation was obvious in her voice. When she had to, she could lie with the best of them, telling the disciplinary panel that Mulder certainly didn’t have the digital tape, telling Skinner that Mulder couldn’t have attacked Tooms because she’d been with him all night. But those times she’d known she was doing the right thing, that she was acting in Mulder’s best interests. Right now, she had no such certainty. Perhaps it would be better to tell Skinner the whole truth, regardless of the consequences to Mulder’s career. The only thing that stopped her was the knowledge that Mulder would consider this a betrayal, and she didn’t like to contemplate the likely consequences of that. Right now, more than ever, he needed to know he could trust her.

“Do you know when I can talk to him?” Skinner asked, relentlessly.

“I don’t know. He just…. just went out for a minute, to check on something,” Scully lied. “Can I take a message?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Skinner said. “I only wanted to talk about the case you were on last week.” His voice became grim. “I’ve just been talking to Agent Bowen.”

Scully picked up a pencil, anxiously turning it round and round in her left hand. She wasn’t sure of she wanted to listen to what was coming. Skinner only ever called to follow up on a case when someone had complained – a new member of the sizeable club of people antagonised by Mulder in the course of their investigations. She couldn’t remember him annoying Agent Bowen, but then she’d been so worried by the state of his mind that she hadn’t really been interested in anyone else’s.

“He was very pleased with your work, and had nothing but praise for Mulder,” Skinner continued, after a short silence. She could hear the sudden smile in voice.

“What?” she said, sharply, irritated at the way Skinner had broken the news. Couldn’t he have told her straight away that there was good news? The situation was too serious to play games.

“You sound surprised, Agent Scully,” Skinner continued. “Hasn’t anyone ever praised Mulder before?” He was almost chuckling. Skinner laughing? Just wait till Mulder hears about that one, she thought, momentarily forgetting that his state of mind was such that he probably wouldn’t even find that worthy of comment.

She tried to collect herself. “No, sorry, sir. I was just thinking….” She found it hard to find the words. During that last case she’d been so worried about Mulder. True, he’d gone by the book, been a model of tact and had effectively solved a case in days that had had the local agents stumped for weeks. She knew all that. But his manner…. He’d been so different from normal. There’d been no enthusiasm in his eyes. It hadn’t even been an X-File, not really, but he hadn’t complained. Even the very fact of going by the book had been so unusual as to be worrying. She’d have given anything to have had the old Fox Mulder back – impulsive, infuriating, rushing off on unfounded leads, breaking the rules, leaving her to pick up the pieces and placate the enemies he left in his wake. To her, it had been so obvious that something was terribly wrong. It had never occurred to her that to outsiders, people who didn’t know Mulder, there was nothing worrying in his behaviour. To them, he must look more “normal” now than when he was being his usual self.

“Are you okay, Agent Scully?” Skinner’s voice recalled her to the present.

“Sorry, sir. I was just…. thinking. Sorry.” She supposed that even Skinner hadn’t noticed anything wrong. She could hardly ask him to force Mulder to take leave on the grounds that his emotional state was affecting his work if for the first time ever Skinner was receiving enthusiastic reports about him. ‘Please, sir, Mulder’s doing his job too well. Can he have some time off so he can remember how to break the rules, irritate everyone and waste Bureau money on cases most people think shouldn’t be investigated.’ Yeah, right.

“Is Mulder okay?” Skinner continued. Scully stiffened. Maybe Skinner wasn’t as unobservant as he’d seemed, all those times over the last few weeks when he’d appeared to accept her feeble excuses for Mulder’s absences.

“Ye-es,” she said, slowly. “As well as can be expected.” Which was more or less true. After what he’d been through, no-one could be expected to bounce back immediately. It was just that her own expectations had been rather higher than they could have been.

“Good,” Skinner replied, with feeling. He’d come out to see Mulder shortly after they’d found him, and Scully had been deeply touched by the gesture. Thankfully, Mulder had been past the worst of his psychosis by then, but Skinner had still emerged from the room with deep grim lines etched in his brow and round his mouth, and had pronounced that Mulder could have all the leave he needed. Although Mulder, being Mulder, had insisted on returning to work sooner than anyone thought he should. Normally when he did that his eyes were alight with enthusiasm at escaping the boredom of convalescence. This time, although he’d insisted on returning to work, there had been no sign of enthusiasm in his eyes. He almost seemed to be punishing himself, pushing himself harder than he should, harder than he wanted.

“Sir, about Mulder….,” Scully began, but then checked herself. She really didn’t know what to say. She knew they couldn’t carry on the way they had for the last few weeks, but at the same time she was reluctant to ask Skinner to force the issue.

“Yes?” Skinner asked

“Er…. Nothing,” Scully said, reluctantly. “Just….”

She started as the door opened, dropping the pencil she’d been twisting in her left hand. It was Mulder, grim-faced, eyes rimmed with grey. As if he’d ever looked any different these last months. He didn’t look at her. She hadn’t heard his footsteps in the corridor and suddenly wondered if he’d been listening at the door, hearing her conversation with Skinner. She didn’t think she’d said anything he’d consider a betrayal, but you could never tell with Mulder, not in his present mood. He could take one innocent word and turn it into vast waves of guilt and reproach.

“Scully?” Skinner’s voice was anxious. She wondered how long he’d been speaking to her, prompting her to continue.

“Sorry, sir. Something’s just come up. Will that be all, sir?”

She hastily said her good-byes and put the phone down.

“Mulder?” she said, tentatively. She found her heart was beating faster, and cursed herself for her inability to keep calm on this issue. Mulder was the one with problems, so why was she finding it so difficult? “That was Skinner,” she said, at last.

Mulder spoke at last. “Were you telling him what you told me last night?” He still didn’t face her. “That you can’t work with me any more. That you think I’m suicidal. Did you ask for a transfer? Or did you just ask him to retire me on grounds of mental instability?” Despite his words, there was little anger in his voice.

Scully tried to keep calm. “No,” she said, resisting the urge to go over to him. “He was congratulating us on that case last week – the one in Boston. Apparently, Agent Bowen’s given an enthusiastic report on your work.”

“So, he’s checking up on me, is he? Asking Bowen to report on my behaviour, because he expects me to go crazy, just like you do?”

“Damn it, Mulder. You’re not being fair to him. He didn’t need to tell us. He just wanted us to know that Bowen liked your work. He probably hoped it would make you happy.” She’d even dared hope the news would make him happy. It was months since he’d been able to see any good in anything.

Mulder didn’t reply. He was ripping open the mail on his desk, skimming through the letters with no real sign of interest. She often wondered if anything interested him now. Certainly not work. It was past eleven now, but even so this was the earliest he’d arrived at work since he’d returned from leave, apart from when they’d been on a case. They’d done two since he’d returned, both carefully chosen by Scully to avoid any potentially disturbing material.

“Mulder, please can we talk?” she said, at last, aware of the desperation in her voice.

“Look at this, Scully.” Mulder laughed suddenly, completely ignoring her request. There was no real amusement in his voice, and she knew he was once again trying to change the subject, terrified of having to talk about what had happened, of having to face up to the fact that he did have problems. She knew he couldn’t run away for ever. Sooner or later he’d have to face the fact that he couldn’t blame his problems on some fictional telepathic criminal.

“Mulder!” Scully didn’t take the proffered letter.

“This woman killed her husband. Says she was framed by aliens! Have you ever heard something so ridiculous?” He put the letter down in front of her. “Read this. I’m just going…. going….” He shrugged, as if giving up on finding a plausible explanation for his absence. “I won’t be long.”

“Mulder!” Scully called, but her only reply was the thump of a closing door.

Slowly, she let her head sink into her hands, blinking back the tears that she didn’t want to let fall. If she let herself start, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop. She hadn’t cried once since that terrible evening they’d found Mulder, nearly dead, inside the burning building, and there were three months’ of tears waiting for an outlet. She knew she mustn’t shed them. She had to be strong. Mulder needed her to be strong.

But it was so difficult.

“Stop it!” she chided herself, aware that her thoughts were sliding into dangerous territory again, areas she shouldn’t dwell too much on unless she wanted them to overwhelm her. Not that she’d thought of much else these last few months…. But still, she had to be the strong one. She had to keep her focus. She at least had to escape the past so she could help Mulder escape it too.

In an attempt to distract herself, she found herself skimming the letter that Mulder had put on the desk. She read it idly first, then sat up and read it again, a plan forming in her head.

“Why not?” she thought. “Why not?” She’d tried begging Mulder to talk about his problems, and he’d just run away. She’d tried to distract him from his problems in the hope that they’d go away if he had something else to occupy his mind, but the cases she’d chosen had been by necessity boring – cases which obviously had no paranormal or disturbing element – and he’d solved them but shown no real enthusiasm. But this one….. It probably wouldn’t work, but it had potential. Alleged alien involvement, so he might find it interesting. No abducted or murdered little girls, so he wouldn’t find it disturbing. A personal request for help from some woman who knew his name through a UFO organisation, so he’d have some personal motive to get him interested but not enough to get him obsessed. Yes, it could certainly work. At least it was something. Something to think about. Something to hope for.

“And now to get Skinner’s permission,” she thought, as she reached to the phone, resolving to tell him everything she needed to in order to be allowed to investigate this case.

She was almost smiling as she dialled his number. She’d forgotten what it was like to feel hope, but this….. Well, it was hardly grounds for wild optimism, but it was at least promising.

She chose not to listen to the part of her mind that was sure it wouldn’t work.

~&~&~&~

Saturday 3 February 1996

Southampton, Massachusetts

~~~~

A clash of metal on metal, rattle of keys, dull thuds of footsteps echoing in the dark corridor, resonant with hopelessness. A weak beam of silver glancing through the bars, making the motes of dust sparkle briefly before they floated away into the darkness. A bed, cold and hard. Grey blankets, scratchy wool rustling with the woman’s every movement. The guard’s eyes, outside, cold and blue, staring with impassive contempt.

A prison cell. Cold…. cold and empty, devoid of colour, of life…. of hope.

Yet at the same time strangely comforting. The door had clanged shut, the keys turned in the lock, the world kept at bay by the bolts and the bars. Cold…. cold and empty, yes. But at the same time it was somehow…. safe. There was no need here to make decisions – little innocent decisions which could have terrible repercussions on other people’s lives. You didn’t even need to make decisions on what to have for dinner, what to wear. There was nothing….

But then he caught his breath suddenly, shaken by the thought. There was nothing. Nothing to do but think. And he knew better than anyone the results of too much thinking. Lewis had told him all about that. Long dark hours in prison, nothing to fill the mind but brooding on the terrible past and the more terrible future, thoughts full of recrimination and accusation. But at least Lewis had known that someone else was to blame for everything that had gone wrong. Someone else. Not himself. What would it be like to face long years in prison, knowing that you had only yourself to blame for your predicament? No-one could escape responsibility for their own actions – he’d learnt that the hard way. But, sometimes, accepting responsibility was the worst thing of all.

“….and this is Special Agent Fox Mulder.” Scully’s voice recalled him to the present and he managed a half-nod at the woman who was sitting on the prison bed. Realising from Scully’s expression that she expected more from him he cleared his throat, shifting his position slightly, the floor screaming hideously as the wooden chair scraped against the stone, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

“You contacted my partner?” Scully prompted, turning away from Mulder with a sharp look. She glanced down at her lap, eyes skimming over the pages of notes she’d gathered in preparation for this interview. “You say you have no memory of the night your husband was….. killed?”

Hilary Carpenter didn’t answer Scully but turned an earnest face towards Mulder. “I never dared hope you’d come. I have contacts….. no, friends….. in various UFO groups and one of them suggested I contact you. He said you were the only person in law enforcement who’d be any help.” She turned away, her voice cracking. “But I didn’t think even you would believe me. I thought you’d be busy with other things. I know the authorities aren’t interested in what happens to ordinary people like me.”

Mulder leant forward, desperately trying to find the right words, knowing how difficult it would be. “I…. I….” He tailed off, aware of Scully’s concerned glance, and tried another tack. “We do care what happens to ordinary people.” He was suddenly inspired, thinking of all the ordinary people who’d suffered, been let down. “I…. we …. just want to help people, want to set things right – the past….”

He spoke with feeling, relieved to find the words flowing after all, but Scully interrupted him sharply. “Mrs Carpenter, we haven’t got much time. Can you tell us what you remember of the night in question?”

“I can’t remember anything!” she snapped, turning fiercely towards Scully. “I went to bed as normal, about midnight. My husband wasn’t home – probably off with one of his women.” Scully nodded knowingly at the woman’s bitter tone, and Hilary noticed. “Oh, I know what they say. Everyone knows we weren’t happily married. He was going to leave me – everyone knew. I know I had a motive to kill him…. But I didn’t! You’ve got to believe me! It was them!”

“Them?” Scully prompted, her face giving nothing away.

“Them! The aliens! They’ve been taking me for years. Taking me away, keeping me for days on end, doing their tests. Everything that’s gone wrong in my life is due to them. Of course this was their doing too. When they take me, I can’t remember what happens to me. I can’t remember what happened to me that night. So obviously they’d taken me then too.” There were tears pouring down her face now, although her voice was strangely calm, remorselessly logical.

“You…. you can’t remember?” Scully asked. There was a strange intonation in her voice, one that Mulder couldn’t quite pin down.

Hilary leant forward, looking Scully in the eye, and carried on speaking, but Mulder deliberately let him mind wander, reluctant to listen to her ramblings. He leant back, resting his head on the bare wall, feeling the cold seep into his skull, calming his thoughts. The chair scraped again as he moved, a hideous noise in the bare cell, but Scully didn’t look up.

Mulder could feel his heart beating fast. He was disgusted with himself – disgusted that at one time he might have believed the nonsense this woman was spouting – disgusted that he’d spent his whole life doing exactly what she was doing now. Of course there was no alien involvement, he knew that. The woman had killed her husband because he’d been about to leave her. Everyone said so. She’d been found the next morning, asleep in bed, and had claimed complete ignorance of her husband’s murder, but there’d been no sign of any break-in, and her fingerprints had been on the handle of the knife that killed him. No-one – no-one – could doubt her guilt.

“You’ve no idea what it’s like not to remember!” The woman had been speaking for…. minutes? He hadn’t bothered to listen, knowing it would be painful to hear to her feeble excuses, so like his own. Scully would fill him in later, if necessary – as if she’d say anything important! But she was shouting now, her voice cracking, difficult to ignore. “And then to return to this…. nightmare.” Her voice grew quieter, though still shaking with sobs. “But it wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. I must have been in my bed all night, I know. I had a terrible nightmare. I wouldn’t kill him. It was them again, it must have been. But I just…. can’t….. remember.”

Why couldn’t she just admit it, taking the responsibility for her own actions, rather than trying to blame aliens for her own crimes? It was the right thing to do, he’d learnt that now, although at times it seemed easier to hide your mistakes in a cloak of forgetfulness. But that was the wrong thing to do. The right thing was the hardest thing. Accept that the blame lies with yourself, rather than spend your life seeking others to blame. Shadowy men in spaceships, stealing her away from their room. Shadowy men in black suits, calmly blowing smoke in his face when he confronted them. Seeking blame in the shadows, always elsewhere, when he should have known the answer all along.

“They’ve ruined everything! They’ve taken weeks of my life! Now they’ve taken my freedom!” The woman’s voice again, cutting though his thoughts. Her face was only inches away from Scully’s now, the two of them frozen in a rigid tableau in the faint light from the small barred window. Two women, sharing confidences. No place for him.

Scully’s face was cut in stone, firm and impassive, her eyes staring intently into the woman’s eyes. Why did she listen? Couldn’t she see what so obvious to him – that the woman was just trying to shift her own overwhelming guilt onto someone else? Burdening Scully with her outpourings of feigned pain. And he knew more than anyone just how much pain Scully had been forced to bear these past few years. Of course he knew. He’d caused it, although here too he’d fought against the responsibility, trying to blame others. Waiting in the dark with a gun for the men who’d nearly killed her. Recalled to life by her sister, putting him on the right course, though it wasn’t until a year later, three months ago now, that someone else helped him the whole way, made him see the whole truth.

“We’ll do what we can, Mrs Carpenter. But I’m sure you know that they have a good case against you.” Scully again, a voice of reason. Of course she hadn’t believed the woman – how could he have thought it of her? Scully – always sensible, seeing the human motivations through his own fanciful interpretations. But now, of course, he knew she’d always been right. Why look for explanations out of this world when the human spirit is capable of such…. evil? It was the same thing again – evading responsibility, seeking paranormal answers because the ordinary answers were too horrible.

“We’ve checked into a motel. We’ll be here as long as it takes to get at the truth.” Scully’s voice was sincere, her hand touching the woman’s arm with a strangely tender gesture.

He wondered again why there were here, what Scully saw in this case that he’d missed. Even before – before he learnt the truth – he doubted he’d have seen anything worthy of investigation in a crime so obvious, but if, for some reason, he had decided to investigate he could imagine Scully’s objections. “Come on, Mulder!” she’d urge. “Not even you can believe that story!” But there would be no malice in her stress on the word “you”. Scully, God alone knew why, never mocked him along with the others, full of amused contempt for the crazy ideas of “Spooky” Mulder. In fact, God help anyone who laughed like that in her presence. He doubted if Tom Colton’s career had ever recovered.

And, no, he wouldn’t have believed it, even then. Now, of course, he knew that the X-Files had always been a misguided attempt to shift the blame from himself. Devote his life to searching for his sister, branch out into related areas, convince himself he was doing some good, but all the time getting further and further from the true answer which lay in his own heart. Of course he didn’t believe it now.

Oh, he’d carry on working with the X-Files, put his mind to the cases he was offered. He shouldn’t really do it, now he knew how futile it was, but he knew of no other life. He wasn’t ready, not yet, to give it up. And, besides, anything was better than the overwhelming emptiness of his own apartment, a cell where he was imprisoned with only the past for company. No, he’d work properly on the cases Scully chose for them, pursuing them to the best of his ability. But this one….. This one was strange. Why had Scully chosen such a….. non-case?

He’d thought, as he’d boarded the plane next to her, forcing himself to talk about a movie he pretended he’d watched the previous night, that she was just doing it to distract him from the truth. He knew that she hadn’t come to terms with what had happened yet. She couldn’t bring herself to accept that everything that had happened had been orchestrated by Lewis. She still thought he was crazy, suicidal even. He couldn’t get her to understand that he was recovered. He understood now that Lewis had controlled his behaviour. He knew Lewis had lied to him about Scully’s death. But he also knew Lewis had taken memories – real memories – buried deep in his mind and had reminded him of them, teaching him the truth about his life. He knew all that, but Scully didn’t. She still hoped she could talk to him, turn him into the man he had been, before it had all happened – a misguided man who didn’t know the truth. He knew why she was doing it – because she was concerned – but he knew she was wrong.

And so he’d assumed that this case was just another attempt, another misguided attempt, to make him “pull himself together.” Get Mulder on a case, a nice easy one, not too traumatic but with the suggestion of aliens in it – he loves aliens – and he’ll find it so exciting he’ll forget about what happened and we’ll be back to normal. Yeah, nice try, Scully. He almost smiled at the thought, although he knew he shouldn’t. He knew Scully was only thinking like that because she was desperate. She shouldn’t have to deal with all this. She’d had a tough time too.

But now, looking at her face as she stood up to leave the prison cell, observing the intensity in her eyes, in the set of her jaw, he suddenly wondered if there was more to this than he’d realised.

~&~&~&~

PART 3

He was following her, damn him! Following her, that look of concern on his face, leaning close towards her, trying to talk. Why couldn’t he see she only wanted to be left alone? But she couldn’t quite bring herself to slam the door in her face, not yet. Somehow, even through her turbulent thoughts, the anger bubbling inside her, she knew that would be like slamming the door on their past, on what was left of their relationship.

“Scully, what’s wrong?” That question again; the voice anxious, concerned.

“Nothing,” she snapped as she sat down, making a space between the bags that were still piled on the bed. She hadn’t unpacked before visiting the prison. Although she’d hoped, when she’d begged Skinner to let them investigate Hilary Carpenter’s claims, that Mulder would show some interest in the case, deep down she’d known it wouldn’t work, that they’d very likely be flying out almost as soon as they’d arrived.

“Don’t give me that, Scully. I know something’s wrong. The way you shouted at Sheriff Thomson back then. It was…..”

“Oh, so you’re the only one who’s allowed to shout at Sheriffs, are you?” she interrupted, knowing she was being unfair, but unable to stop. “He deserved it, dismissing that woman’s claims, refusing to investigate properly just because rumour has it that she had a motive to kill him. What I don’t understand is why you could stay so calm, so unbothered by his attitude.” She could feel the anger inside her, threatening to explode. Three months’ anger and frustration that she’d ruthlessly denied an outlet, easily triggered by the slightest provocation.

But Sheriff Thomson had deserved it, in her view. He’d come striding into the prison, arrogance evident in his look and whole bearing, intercepting them as they left. He’d been hostile, but there’d been more to it than the territorial resentment they often encountered whenever they investigated things local law enforcement could reasonably consider to belong within their jurisdiction.

“I can’t believe you even listened to that…. that murdering bitch!” he’d shouted. “Everyone knows what she’s like. The number of times she’s disappeared for days, even weeks, at a time, not caring who she lets down – you know…. work, local events she was involved with, that sort of thing. Then when she comes back she says she’s been abducted by aliens when more likely she’s been off with some man she’s picked up. That way she needn’t deal with the responsibility….”

“Sheriff Thomson,” Scully had interrupted, feeling anger rising inside her. “Most people who claim alien abduction really believe it happened.” She’d glanced anxiously at Mulder, seeing how he was taking all this, surprised he hadn’t said anything himself, but his face was impassive, although she could tell he was listening.

“Oh, I know!” The sheriff had laughed dismissively. “I know there are some crazy people who really believe this stuff. I know that.” She’d glanced at Mulder again, but there was still no response. “But she’s not crazy. She knows she’s not been abducted. She’s a calculating bitch, just pretending. Though why she bothers, I don’t know. She can hardly expect people to believe her.”

“Anyway, Sheriff Thomson.” Scully had still been in control of her anger at this point. “You’re entitled to your view, but we intend to stick around for a few days, just to investigate a few things.”

“Sure, do whatever you like,” the sheriff had replied, surprisingly. “After all, I don’t intend to waste any time investigating such an obvious matter, so you won’t get in my way if you want to waste your own time on this.”

And that had been the point that Scully had finally lost her temper….

“Scully?” Mulder leant over her, his eyes full of anxiety, recalling her from the memory that still made her want to shout with anger. “What’s the matter? Please talk about it.”

Please talk about it? Please talk about it? Scully suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to laugh, hysterical laughter closer to panic than amusement. “Mulder! You’re asking me to talk!” she managed to get out through the laughter. “You! I thought that was my line.” And then she knew that if she allowed herself to carry on laughing the convulsions that shook her body would turn into great racking sobs and she’d never be able to stop.

“I’m sorry,” she said, slowly, forcing herself to calm down. Laugher, anger, tears – they all had to be suppressed or she’d find herself overwhelmed by emotions she couldn’t control.

“What’s the matter?” Mulder asked, quietly. “What is it about this case that’s bothering you?” He didn’t say anything about her outburst of hysteria. She wasn’t sure how this made her feel. Part of her was grateful he wasn’t pushing her to talk about her emotions. But at the same time she was disappointed he didn’t say anything about his own failure to talk.

“Don’t you know?” she said, at last.

“No,” he said, simply, lowering his gaze. He looked ashamed of his ignorance.

Scully said nothing for a while, staring towards the window, listening to the noise of the cars on the street below. The emotions were threatening to take her over again. Anger first – anger at Mulder for failing to see what had affected her about this case. She’d thought it was so obvious, but he’d clearly not been listening in the prison cell. Instead, he’d been following his own train of thoughts, leaving her to do all the work, knowing she’d tell him anything important that had been said. She knew that his own train of thought had probably been grim and full of self-reproach, but that did little to ease the anger. He almost seemed to be wallowing in it, refusing to talk, refusing anything that might make him better, and once again it had made him blind to the fact that sometimes she needed help, sometimes she found things difficult.

Listening to her anger, she was almost tempted to stay silent. Why not give Mulder a taste of his own medicine? Let him see what it was like when someone you cared about was obviously in torment but refused all offers of help, even insisted that nothing was wrong. Why not? At best, it might shock him into talking about his own problems. If it did nothing else, at least it might make him realise what he was doing to her by his refusal to talk.

But even as she pulled away from his touch, sighing angrily, she realised she was being petty. This wasn’t the solution, not if she genuinely wanted things to get better between them. Best that one of them, at least, was honest about their feelings….

She clenched her fists, trying to calm the beating of her heart, knowing she was going to have to talk about a subject that affected her deeply. “It’s just that…..” she began, feeling tears start in her eyes. She blinked them back fiercely before continuing. “That woman….. Hilary. I don’t believe her story, not for one minute. I don’t believe she was framed by aliens.” She tried to smile, desperate to lighten the atmosphere before she had to talk about….. what she had to talk about. “Don’t worry! I’m still me. I don’t believe.”

Mulder didn’t smile. He was looking at her intently, eyes dark with anxiety.

“I don’t believe her story,” Scully continued. “But, when she started talking with such feeling about what it’s like not to remember…..I…. I….” She took a deep breath. “You know how I feel about…. about not remembering. She…. When I was…. away…. They could have done anything….. They could have returned me next to a dead body, smearing blood on my hands, and there would be nothing in my memory to tell me I hadn’t done it.” She tried to calm her shaking. “I…. don’t think she was taken by Them, but what if she was? Or what if there’s some other reason? She may have been drugged. Or sleepwalking. Or framed by her husband’s mistress. Whatever. But she can’t remember. I don’t want anyone else to go through life with gaps in their memory. I want to do everything I can to help her find out what happened.”

“Even if it turns out she did kill him?” Mulder asked, quietly.

“Yes,” Scully said, firmly. “It’s the not-knowing that’s the worst. I know what happened to me that time was probably terrible, but I still want to know.”

Mulder looked away. “Sometimes forgetting is easiest. Sometimes the truth is…. more than you can take.” His voice was quiet, and she could barely make out the words.

“But I want to know. Hilary wants to know.” She spoke firmly, only realising much later that Mulder might not have been talking about either of them.

Mulder took a deep breath, pushing himself to his feet. “Well, let’s get started, then.” He turned towards the door. “I’ll just get settled into my room, then we can go out and investigate.” Then he paused, suddenly. “You are all right with this, are you?” he asked, his voice full of concern.

Scully nodded, although she was still feeling shaky. “I’ll…. I just want a shower. I’ll come to your room when I’m ready.” She wanted to feel clean, purged of all the fierce emotions that made her chest ache. This was no time to let them out.

“Okay. See you soon.” Mulder shut the door behind him, leaving Scully sitting immobile on the bed, struggling to come to terms with what she’d just seen. Just before he’d left, she thought she’d seen a spark of interest in Mulder’s expression. Just for a moment, she’d seen a glimpse of the old Fox Mulder, rushing off an a case, rushing through all obstacles with his boundless enthusiasm.

She wondered if she dared let herself hope that this was the turning point – the start of the slow road back to normality.

~&~&~&~

Strange how heavy feet can feel, how hard it is to walk, when the spirit is dull with a sense of failure.

It was only twenty yards, thirty at most, from the parking lot to their rooms, but it felt like miles – miles of dull asphalt, pale yellow in the slanting light cast from the windows, cutting through the night’s gloom.

His footsteps, dull thuds on the ground. Hers were higher, harsh clicks of her heels. Steps, footsteps, sounding out their failure, taking them closer to their rooms, to their respective nights lying awake in the dark, knowing that the day had yielded…. nothing.

But they had no choice. What more could they do? How to investigate when all the evidence pointed to the woman’s guilt, and the truth, if indeed there was another truth, locked in her mind, no witnesses to help her unravel it?

Oh, they’d tried. Of course they’d tried, braving the hostility of the local police, Scully’s face white and closed, her eyes speaking of the strain she was under, though she hadn’t spoken about it. They’d searched the crime scene, unguarded now for several days, but found nothing, or, at least, nothing that the police hadn’t already found and noted – evidence that strongly suggested that Hilary Carpenter had killed her husband.

Then they’d returned to the prison and spoken to Hilary Carpenter herself, but she still insisted she knew nothing – nothing that could help them reconstruct the truth. No, she didn’t take drugs. No, she hadn’t seen any sign of anything suspicious that evening before she went to bed. No, she hadn’t taken food or drink from anyone that evening, drinking bottled water – yes, bottled water, although she failed to see the relevance of the question – just as she always did. And, tempting as it was to agree that her husband’s mistress might have been framing her, she couldn’t believe that was true. She was welcome to the cheating son-of-a-bitch, and Hilary had said as much to her, making it clear she wasn’t going to stand in their way, as long as she got a fair financial settlement. All of which was circumstantial, of course, but they’d checked out the mistress’s alibi, and it held.

So, all in all, it had been a frustrating afternoon – and evening. It was past ten now, Scully’s grim determination to uncover the truth ensuring that they hadn’t stopped working until ready to drop with exhaustion. For his part, Mulder had felt almost as determined as she was. Although he suspected – no, knew– that the woman was guilty – that her loss of memory, if it was genuine, was her unconscious attempt to avoid the truth about herself – he could see how it affected Scully. It was important to her that they work to find the truth. So, naturally, it became important to him, too. He knew why Scully found it so disturbing, knew it related to her own abduction experiences, but he knew that this too had been his fault. The least he could do was help ease the pain now, although he could never hope to atone properly for what he’d done to her life.

“Mulder?” Scully’s voice, sharp, close to his ear. He hadn’t realised that he’d stopped walking, reluctant to hear the pulse of footsteps taking them ever further away from finding the truth, ever closer to the long night of regret and recrimination.

“Sorry, Scully. I was just thinking. About….. er….. regression hypnosis.” Not true, of course, although he had thought about it earlier, had mentioned it to the woman. She’d been reluctant to try it, preferring to prove her innocence by some method that was admissible in court. Scully had tersely commented that vague allegations of alien involvement were hardly admissible in court either, then had flushed with shame, smiling her apologies to the woman in the cell. Mulder had chosen not to push the issue, appreciating her reluctance to find out the truth about herself. Sometimes ignorance was bliss, as they said. Perhaps always.

“Come on, Mulder,” Scully said, her voice sad, resigned. “There’s nothing more we can do today. Perhaps it’ll look different in the morning.”

And then she took a step back, pressing herself against the shadows of the wall, watching as a crowd of people, dressed as for a party, emerged from their cars. She clearly felt the same reluctance to enter her room as he did.

“Saturday night,” she observed, a wry smile on her lips. She shook her head, ruefully. “What’s become of us, Mulder? We should be out there, like them, socialising, enjoying ourselves…..”

Mulder didn’t answer. He knew the answer. He was the reason she was here, no life, no hope, on a Saturday evening. After what he’d put her through, was there any wonder she felt incapable of peace, of relaxed enjoyment? She’d missed Thanksgiving, sitting with him in hospital. Nearly missed Christmas too, insisting on staying with him, looking after him in his empty apartment. She’d only agreed to spend a few days with her family when he’d pretended he was spending Christmas with his mother and then checked into a cheap motel for two nights. Hell, if he was going to watch television alone all day it may as well be in a damp motel room as in his own apartment.

“Listen!” Scully turned to him, eyes alert, whispering urgently. “Something’s wrong!”

The other guests were talking in shocked voices, two car loads congregating in the darkness, just yards from where Mulder and Scully stood. Several of them were openly weeping. The others, men mostly, comforting arms around their crying partners, were white-faced with shock, crying inside even if they refused to cry openly.

“It was horrible!” A female voice, racked with tears. “Why did he do that? Just…. stabbing her like that? Why?”

“I don’t know.” Another voice, obviously trying to soothe, but sounding hopeless more than anything else. “I guess we’ll never know, now he’s dead too.”

“I heard someone say he claimed he couldn’t remember doing it, after they’d managed to get him under control. When they told him, that’s when he killed himself.” Mulder instinctively disliked this speaker, hearing the salacious desire for scandal even through the horror.

“And on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary as well!” The first speaker again. “That makes it so much worse, somehow. They…. they always seemed so happy.”

Scully turned a horrified gaze towards him. “It’s happened again!”

Mulder was baffled, and let her know it by his look.

“Another murder,” Scully said, impatiently. “Another unexplained murder. Someone apparently killing their partner, but not remembering anything afterwards.”

She took a step forward, moving as if to talk to them. Mulder reached out a hand and grabbed her arm.

“Scully!” he said, urgently. “You can’t just push in there and ask them what happened. You can’t.” Though he knew all too well – Scully’s look reminded him all too eloquently – that he would have done just the same, just months ago. It was just that this one…. This one was different. He knew how important it was to Scully and would investigate with dedication for her sake, but at the same time he was certain that Hilary Carpenter had killed her husband pure and simple, no need for any other explanation. There was no way any other murder would be linked.

Scully shook herself free. “Look, I know it’s probably not linked. But it’s happened. We’re here. We’re in a position to investigate. If there’s the slightest chance that they are linked, we should pursue it, at least until we have evidence to the contrary.” She sighed, impatiently. “You know this, Mulder. You’re the one who taught me this in the first place. Why is this case so different?”

He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it without saying anything. He suspected she knew the answer anyway. It wasn’t the case that was different – it was him. He was different now, and recognised his old conduct on such cases for what it was – futility. Risking lives – her life – to find truths that weren’t out there at all. Deep down, she knew he could never be the same again, now Lewis had taught him the truth, but she was finding it difficult to accept. He was painfully aware he was hurting her with his behaviour, but he couldn’t do what she wanted and act the same way he’d have acted….. before. He’d lived a lie too long. Now was the time for the truth.

But, then, this case was important to her, so he owed it to her to pursue it with all the enthusiasm he’d once have reserved for some case that was close to his heart – that touched on the issues he’d once thought important. It was the least he could do.

And so he said nothing, but merely followed her through the night, hand reaching into his pocket to display his ID, mentally preparing questions to ask. Long years of interrogating people’s grief, offering false hopes of happy endings. Long years in the past, and now yet more….

He’d leave most of the talking to Scully. He wasn’t quite ready to look into their eyes. Not yet.

~&~&~&~

PART 4

The blood was everywhere, inside and outside the house. Sparkling puddles of red, flashing reflections full of all the life that used to flow in the veins of the people who now lay dead. Thick sheets of liquid, pulsing like a heart beat as the lights from the police cars flashed on and off, on and off, on and off…….

She hadn’t known there would be so much blood.

Oh, she’d known it with some part of her mind, known she was going to see two violent deaths. The motel guests had told them everything, their horror still so great that they saw nothing intrusive about total strangers asking them what had happened, clinging instead to the hope that the two agents could find answers in the chaos that had engulfed their lives. They’d described what had happened, the horror in their eyes eloquently filling in the gaps when their words failed them.

Now she saw it, she could fully understand that horror.

“Scully? Are you okay?” Mulder was still at her side, his voice full of concern, his hand at her elbow.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she snapped, irritated at herself for her reaction. She’d seen so many deaths in the past few years and these were no worse than any others she’d dealt with. So why was she so shaken, now? “I’m fine,” she said, more gently, suddenly aware of how sharp she’d sounded. “Let’s take a look.”

She took a deep breath, forcing herself to be all competent professionalism. She knew her reaction to the scene had more to do with her own state of mind than it did with the crime itself. Sometimes she felt that the events of the last three months had taken almost as big a toll on her as they had on Mulder, although she felt guilty even thinking that. Mulder needed her to be strong. How could she ask for help when he’d gone through so much more himself? It would look so…. selfish.

“What are you doing here?” Sheriff Thomson had noticed them at last and intercepted them before they could take more than two steps inside the house. “Who told you about this? They had no right.”

Scully tried to stay calm. “We have every right to be here, and you should have called us yourself. This…..”

“Why the hell should I have called you?” the sheriff interrupted, his face red with anger. “This has got nothing to do with that woman’s case. Nothing! I chose to put up with you poking around in her case, although I knew you wouldn’t find anything. But this one – this is a tragedy. It’s nothing at all like what she did.”

“Why not?” Scully kept her voice level, icy cold.

“Hell, I knew these people!” he burst out. “That Hilary Carpenter – she’s just a calculating bitch, killing her husband because he was leaving her. But Jim….. There’s no way this ought to have happened. It can’t have been him. Not unless he was under the influence of…. something.”

“Let me get this straight.” Every word emphatic, distinct. “You’re investigating these cases simply based on personal preference. You liked this guy, so he can’t be guilty. You didn’t like Hilary Carpenter, so she is.” And then the hot anger burst through the cold, her voice suddenly loud and furious. “You’re no better than the criminals you claim to protect people from. You…. You make me sick!”

She was shaking now, tears of anger threatening to choke her, and quickly turned away, away from the warmth and light, quick angry steps taking her outside, to a place she could be alone.

But she wasn’t alone. Feet followed her, a hand reaching for her shoulder, a voice in her ear.

“Scully? Are you…..?”

“Don’t say it!” she snapped, whirling to face him, suddenly furious at the look of concern in his eyes. Couldn’t he see that he was the reason for her reaction, that the stress she’d been under for months now made her over-react at the slightest provocation? “I know I was out of line. I know I shouldn’t have said that! I know! Just….. Just don’t tell me, right?”

Mulder took a step back, his hand falling to his side. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, his face full of guilt and apology. “I wasn’t going to say all that. I was…. worried about you. I’m sorry.”

“Damn it, Mulder! Stop apologising!” The words burst out of her before she could stop them.

Silence.

“Look, I’m sorry. Sorry I shouted at you. Sorry I shouted at the sheriff.” She tried to keep her voice low and calm, tried to return to normality. Do what they always did – immerse themselves in work and ignore the fact that they were breaking inside. “Shall we go back? I…. I want to take a look at the crime scene – at the bodies – before they take them away.” She knew they should talk more, but she did want to examine the scene, and already the police were finishing what they had to do, and soon the bodies would be removed.

“Do you really think this is linked?” His voice was so humble again, the question so uncharacteristic, that she almost wanted to laugh – or cry.

“I don’t know,” Scully sighed. “Probably not. But it’s quite a coincidence – two people apparently kill their partners and claim no memory of the event. In New York, perhaps, or some other big city. But here…… I checked the murder statistics earlier, Mulder. Before this week, the last murder was in 1994, and before that 1992.”

And everyone agreed that this one, at least, was a mystery. Jim and Jenny Ferguson, models of middle-aged domesticity, had invited all their friends and family to a party to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. She’d spent the previous night in Boston, staying with a friend, shopping for a suitable dress, and they’d returned together to find her husband behaving strangely – anxious and irritable. But, as he said he’d slept badly and had some terrible nightmares, they’d put it down to tiredness and made him go to bed again. He’d been asleep when the guests started arriving and she’d decided to give him a few more hours, explaining to guests that she’d wake him when everyone had arrived, but several hours went by before she could escape from the conversations that everyone wanted to involve her in.

And that was when it all happened…..

“I was talking to her just before….. before….. you know!” one of the women at the motel had said. “She said she was going upstairs to check on Jim. She laughed, and said….. said…..” Deep breath. “She said he’d kill her if she let him miss his own party. And then…..”

Another guest had rescued her at that point, his voice calm and emotionless, although Scully had known it was just a front. “And then there was a scream – a terrible scream. There were thumps from upstairs and Jenny just appeared at the top of the stairs, blood everywhere. She tried to walk, but collapsed and fell downstairs. Someone checked. She was dead.” Then he’d gulped, desperately trying to keep his mask intact. “I…. Several of us went upstairs to see….. We thought it was an intruder. But it was only…. Jim was there, sitting on the bed. He had a knife, and blood all over his hands, a vacant look of his face. We shook him, talked to him, and at last he seemed to see us. Someone – Jenny’s brother, I think – grabbed him and asked him why he’d killed her, and he just looked at us, his face white. ‘I can’t…. I can’t remember. What….? Is she dead? I…. I can’t remember.’ Something like that. And then he shook us off, screaming, and ran to the window and just jumped out. He was dead too…..” Scully shook her head quickly, trying to shake off the memory of the grief and horror reflected in the guests’ eyes, of the far-greater grief and horror that was related in their words. Later, alone in her room, was the time to think of these. For now, she had a job to do.

~&~&~&~

Sunday 4th February

~~~~

Mulder decided to walk, in the end, suddenly desperate to feel the biting chill air of an early February morning, sharp and invigorating after a long night with too much memory and not enough sleep. Actually, he’d have preferred a run, his body feeling heavy and lethargic after too much inactivity, but he’d promised Scully he’d meet her in the morning. There’d been no answer when he’d knocked at her door so he assumed she was still at the morgue, having spent a hellish night surrounded by death.

Once again, he reflected guiltily, she was the one who ended up with the worst job. An autopsy, maybe two, when she should be in bed, recovering from whatever it was that had been bothering her.

He wished she could have been spared this, but the sheriff had been insistent that an autopsy be performed as soon as possible, desperate to discover if any reason could be found for his friend’s murderous behaviour. However, because of the late hour, there had been some doubt about whether there would be any properly qualified staff available, so Scully, making a visible effort to overcome her dislike of the man, had offered her services and been accepted.

And so they’d split up. She’d ridden to the hospital with the sheriff, leaving Mulder to take their hired car back to the motel. Of course he’d protested, insisting that he’d rather stay with her and support her through what was coming, aware of how much this case was affecting her. But then she’d turned on him, shouting that she was competent enough to perform an autopsy without him holding her hand, and claiming that she wasn’t the one with a problem. Seeing the anger in her eyes he’d suddenly felt unable to speak, or even to look at her, and had been left with no choice but to leave. He couldn’t remember how he’d made it back to the motel.

But now, this morning, he would see her again, and once again offer the support he knew she needed. She’d been so good to him three months ago when he’d needed help, but not known how to ask for it. Now that he was recovered, he’d try to be as good to her as she’d been to him.

She was outside when he arrived, sitting on a low wall to one side of the door, her face turned away.

“Scully?” Mulder asked, quietly, touching her shoulder solicitously.

She started violently, flinching away from his touch. “I…. didn’t hear you coming,” she said, at last. “There weren’t any cars…..”

“I walked,” Mulder explained. “I’m sorry….” Then, after a pause. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just…. tired. It’s been a long night.”

But her voice, her whole appearance, suggested she was far from okay. She was white, her eyes staring far away, full of some dark emotion he couldn’t make out. She looked as if she could barely stand.

Mulder searched for the right words, knowing how easily he could alienate her if he chose to make an issue of her obvious distress. “You look exhausted,” he said, at last. “I’m sorry I left the car behind. I’ll call a cab.”

The guilt was threatening to choke him again, reminding him how, once again, he’d put his own needs before Scully’s, selfishly leaving the car behind without thinking that she would have had a terrible night, that she was dependent on him for transport, that she couldn’t be expected to walk two miles when ready to drop with exhaustion.

“No!” Scully shouted, then sighed, continuing more quietly. “I’m sorry. I…. I don’t want to go back, not just yet.”

“I’ll walk back…. get the car.” And then help her into the motel, cover her with blankets and watch over her as she slept, keeping her safe from everything that might hurt her.

“Mulder! Just drop it, can’t you? I don’t mind about the car. It’s just…..”

There was a long silence. Mulder desperately wanted to speak, but knew how she hated him to push. “Just what?” he said at last, scarcely above a whisper.

“Nothing!” But her voice was doubtful now. Then she took a deep breath, as if making a difficult decision. “Mulder, I found something in Jim Ferguson, during the autopsy.”

“Something?” His mind was racing. “You mean, an….. implant?” It had to be. Nothing else could explain her reaction.

Scully shook her head, fiercely. “Not an implant. A cut in the neck, in the same place as I…. as my implant was.”

“A cut?” Mulder asked, desperately racking his brains, searching for something he could say to make this better. “In the man’s neck?” He grabbed her shoulders, looking intently into her face. “Scully, he’d fallen through a window. I saw him. There were cuts everywhere….”

“This was different.” Her voice was level, her jaw clenched with the effort of keeping it so. “This was done with a knife, after he’d died. I’m sure of it.”

“But, Scully….” he began, then stopped himself. There was no point arguing with her on this, although he’d have done anything in his power for this not to be true. “When…..?”

“Oh, any time.” Her voice was bitter. “I had to wait several hours before I could start the autopsies. The body was unattended in the morgue. Any one could have come in.”

“Have you….?”

“Of course I’ve asked!” she snapped, her eyes blazing. “Just because I’m upset by this doesn’t mean I’m incompetent! Several people went in and out, but they all seemed genuine. No-one really bothered about them, or kept a record of who they were. It could have been anyone!”

Mulder was still holding her shoulders, and could feel her shaking beneath his grip, but he didn’t dare say any words of comfort, didn’t dare take her in his arms and console her like a child. He knew he must never do that.

“Scully,” he said, at last. “Do you think that you’re…. Maybe you should drop this case. It’s getting too close.” He ignored her flashing eyes, resolving to get through what he wanted to say. “I can see how much it’s upsetting you, and God knows you don’t need any more upset, not now….”

“Oh, so you want to send me home, like a weak woman who can’t cope!” Scully pulled away as if his touch burnt her. “It’s okay for you to carry on working even though anyone with half a brain can see you’re still on the verge of a breakdown, but me…. If I just show half as much stress as you’ve shown every day for the last three months, then you think I can’t take it, you try to send me home. Mulder, I don’t need this. I don’t need you to…. patronise me like this.”

“But, Scully…. I just want to take you away from what’s obviously upsetting you….. I hate to see you so upset.”

“Well, maybe you should have thought about that when you refused to see a therapist about your problems. Can’t you see that by refusing to make any effort to get better, you’ve landed everything on me? Damn it, Mulder…. You’re what’s upsetting me.”

Mulder tried to speak but his throat felt blocked and no words would come. “I’m sorry,” he mouthed at last, soundlessly, turning to go although his limbs felt like lead, his eyes refusing to focus on anything.

And then a hand grabbed his arm. “I’m sorry, Mulder. I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean it.” Oh, you did, he thought. And it’s true as well. “It’s just this…. implant. It…. I still haven’t dealt with it properly. It just brings everything back. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

Mulder took a deep breath, fighting for control. Although he knew Scully had been right to blame him, he also knew there were other people out there who’d hurt Scully as well – the people who’d taken her and put the implant in her neck. He owed it to her to investigate this case, to do what he could to find these men. Wallowing in guilt wouldn’t help her now.

“It’s okay, Scully. I know you didn’t mean it,” he lied. “But you’ve been up all night. Why don’t you grab a few hours’ sleep, when we can see what we can find out? Did you find anything else in the bodies – anything to explain what had happened.”

Scully shook her head. Her face was still white, but she was making a visible effort to focus on the case. “No. It looks as if Jim Ferguson did kill his wife, but there was nothing – no drugs or anything – to explain his behaviour, or his confusion afterwards. Nothing…. except…..” She trailed off into silence, as if she couldn’t even say the word.

“It could be a coincidence,” Mulder offered, not really believing it.

Scully laughed mirthlessly. “I thought that was my line.” Then she sobered, her eyes full of anxiety. “Two people kill their partners, and have no memory of the event, and both of them possibly ab…. I mean, they possibly experienced the same…. whatever I experienced.”

Mulder wondered why even after everything she still couldn’t say the word “abductee.” But, then, his own faith in alien abduction had been seriously shaken too. He still believed that it existed, but knew now that sometimes aliens were simply a convenient scapegoat for purely human failings.

“I’m not going back to the motel,” she said, suddenly, cutting into his thoughts. “I want to stay her for a while – go through the autopsy reports again.” He suspected she’d already gone through them dozens of times already, in her desperation to prove that the man’s behaviour had nothing to do with the implant. “Then I want to talk to Hilary Carpenter again.”

“I’ll come…”

“No!” she said, firmly. “Sorry…. Thanks for offering. But this is something I want to do by myself. I’ll….. I’ll call you.”

“What shall I do?”

Scully frowned, the anger in her eyes again. “You don’t need me to tell you what to do, Mulder. It’s normally you with all the plans, and me who has to follow you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, again. “I’ll go….. I don’t know. I’ll think of something.” And then, in an attempt to hide the emptiness that had suddenly descended on his mind, he took a step forward, reaching for Scully’s hand. “You will be okay?” he asked.

Scully nodded, smiling weakly, but said nothing.

~&~&~&~

He’d been in the room for nearly half an hour before he noticed it – half an hour sitting slumped in the chair, head in his hands, images of Scully’s tormented face dancing before his eyes.

She was so disturbed by this case. Her every move, every word, showed it, even though she refused to talk about it, refused his offers of help. More than anything he wanted to help her, wanted to solve this case quickly and get her back to the relative safety of home, but at the same time he was scared to proceed. If the two murders were related to the implants, could Scully bear the truth? He knew more than anyone that, while ignorance was torment, the truth was sometimes worse than any horrors that dwelt only in the imagination.

And then, opening his eyes, staring wildly about the empty motel room as if it could provide the answer, he saw it…..

An envelope, plain and brown, under his door, half hidden by the thick doormat.

Slowly, he stood up, every step sounding loud in his ears as he walked across to pick it up. There was no writing on its surface, not even his name, and for a moment he even doubted if it was meant for him. Once, he’d have felt no such hesitation, his heart racing with anticipation of the latest clue that would help him in his search for the truth. But recently….. Since his experience with Lewis his sources had remained silent, as if they knew, somehow, that he was no longer the naive Agent Mulder who believed that the truth was something external, rather than something inside himself.

Taking a deep breath, he inserted his finger behind the flap, ripping the envelope open. It was only afterwards that it occurred to him that he should perhaps have left it alone, had it dusted for prints, but he didn’t really think it mattered. These men never left evidence.

At first he thought there was nothing inside, but when he shook the envelope several small pieces of paper fell out, fluttering aerodynamically to the floor. He picked one at random, and saw it was a small article clipped from a newspaper, circled with red to leave him in no doubt about what he was supposed to read.

“Police in Newport are investigating the disappearance of Mr George Jackson, who was last seen on January 27th,” he read, remembering from the map that Newport was a small town some thirty miles away. “While they are not as yet treating his disappearance as suspicious, they are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.”

He reached for another. This was from a different newspaper, a different town, but the article was similar. Another disappearance at about the same time, although there was some doubt about exactly when the man had disappeared as he lived alone.

Interested now, in spite of himself, he scooped up the other two pieces of paper. One of them was yet another similar article, while the fourth was a plain piece of paper with two more names typed on them, together with their addresses and dates of disappearance. He wasn’t surprised to see that these had all disappeared at the same time, as well, although they were all from different towns in a forty mile radius of Southampton.

Sighing, he sat down on the bed, the clippings held loosely in his hands. For a moment, just a moment, he considered investigating, assuming that someone was pointing him towards the answer to the mystery. That’s what he would have done, even quite recently. Five mysterious disappearances in the area, just days before two other people, possibly alien abductees, started acting unusually. There certainly could be a link. The old Fox Mulder, the naive Fox Mulder, would have jumped at the clue, throwing himself into the investigation until he either proved or disproved the link.

But then he remembered Scully’s face as she’d spoken about the implant, as he suddenly realised in a flash what all this was about.

For a while, earlier, desperately trying to find a solution as he sat in the motel room, he’d begun to doubt whether there really had been an implant. He was still suspicious of Hilary Carpenter’s story, reluctant to believe that her actions, at least, had anything to do with anything other than her own free will. And if she had acted of her own volition, why not Jim Ferguson? Oh, everyone said how happy they were, but he knew all too well that respectable facades could cloak the most tormented of families. Maybe he’d seen his wife with another guest at the party, getting too close, and, consumed with jealousy, had killed her. There was no reason to blame it on anything else.

But at the same time he knew there were people out there, desperate to do anything they could to destroy the X-Files team. Anyone could have slipped in and made a cut on the man’s neck and thus torment Scully with all sorts of painful emotions without even having to do anything more themselves.

But now he knew this wasn’t the case. They were onto something here. He didn’t know what it was, but someone didn’t want it to be discovered. Scully had gotten too close, discovering there’d been an implant, and they were scared to let her get any closer. And so they tried to distract him, collecting clippings about random disappearances, suggesting that they were linked. God, people disappeared every day, especially if you widened your net to include towns up to forty miles away. There was nothing suspicious there. It was just that someone out there wanted him to believe it was suspicious – wanted to divert them from the truth.

Suddenly furious at whoever it was who was playing with them, he threw the clippings down on the floor, ripping the empty envelope to shreds. Then he reached for his cellphone to tell Scully.

He’d nearly finished dialling her number when he suddenly stopped, cutting off the connection. There was no need to tell Scully. She was distressed enough by this case. If he told her what had happened, told her the danger he now knew she was in, she would only get more determined to uncover the truth, persisting with the investigation even when her body cried out for sleep, her mind for peace. It was better not to tell her, perhaps even try to convince her that the implants had nothing to do with it. Then perhaps she’d agree to talk about her problems – maybe even go home while he tried to find the men who had done this to her.

The crumpled clippings lay on the floor, untouched.

~&~&~&~

PART 5

Her eyes were shut, dark smudges of grey in the pallor of her face, but as the metal door swung open, hitting the wall with the loud crash, she sat up quickly, eyes open and full of hope.

“Oh, it’s you again,” she said, blinking in the light. Or was she blinking back sudden tears?

“Yes, I…. wanted to talk to you.” Scully shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. She’d had it all worked out, rehearsing it in the cab as she’d been driven to the prison, but Hilary’s reaction had put her off her stride. Whom had the woman been expecting when she’d looked up so hopefully?

“I’m sorry,” Hilary said, a wan smile of apology scarcely perceptible on her lips. “You took me by surprise. What do you want to talk about?” She shook her head sadly. “I can see by your face it’s not good news.”

“Not bad news, either,” Scully hastened to assure her, trying to show an optimism she didn’t feel. “Something’s come up. It might prove…. relevant.” She hesitated, knowing she couldn’t say too much about Jim Ferguson’s case, not to a prisoner – not to anybody. She hadn’t thought to find out quite how much the public was being told about what had happened.

“Why are you here?” Hilary asked, suddenly, breaking the awkward silence. “I mean, I heard Agent Mulder was the one who believed. But yesterday…. He hardly listened to me. And when he did notice me he looked at me with contempt.” She took a deep breath, her voice shaky. “That really hurt. I’d come to believe he was my only hope. If he can’t believe me, who will?”

“Agent Mulder has…. been through a difficult time lately,” Scully said carefully, thinking hard about each word before she said it. She knew she mustn’t say too much, but wanted to say enough to take away Hilary’s hurt. “He’s…. distracted. Don’t take it personally.” She forced a smile. “But I listened to you. I want to help.”

“How? I’ve got to face it. There’s no hope.”

“No!” Scully crouched down, grabbing the woman’s hands and staring into her face. “Don’t think like that! Don’t let them win!”

“Them? So you believe?” The words were a gasp through her tears.

Scully bit her lip, searching for words. “I….. don’t know,” she said, at last. “Not in aliens. But I believe someone takes people, people like you and…..” Even now she couldn’t finish the sentence, the word “me” the smallest of whispers in her mind. “And I think it’s possible that what happened to you last week was somehow connected to…. to that

Silence. A tear trickled through Hilary’s fingers, teetering on the back of her hand before plummeting to the stone floor, a darker patch on the grey. Then another…. and another.

“I need to ask you something.” Scully ripped her attention away from the shining drops on the floor. She coughed, aware that her words had been swallowed up in her throat, an unintelligible croak. “I need to ask you something,” she repeated, as soon as she felt confident of her voice.

Hilary took her hands from her face, but said nothing.

“When people are…. taken,” Scully began. “Sometimes they have implants in the back of their neck. I think you should be X-rayed to see if you have one too.” So easy. Just two short sentences, but they were among the hardest things Scully had ever had to say.

Hilary started to breath fast, a look of panic on her face.

“It won’t hurt you,” Scully said, reaching for her hands again. “It’s just to see… It might help explain what happened to you.”

“No!” Hilary ripped her hands away, shrinking to the wall. “No! I though you believed me! You said you believed me! But you don’t! I know what your game is. You’re going to X-ray me, say you found nothing, then dismiss the truth.”

“But….”

“Don’t deny it! I know what happens. Whenever someone has any memory of abduction they say they had implants put in their body. Then some doctor comes along, examines them, says they can’t find any, and then dismisses the whole experience. I won’t let you do that to me!”

“But, I didn’t mean that!” Scully was hurt by the force of Hilary’s anger. Then, when Hilary continued to shout and the guard’s anxious face appeared at the door, she leant forward, held the woman by her flailing arms and said the only think she could think of that would convince her of her sincerity. “Listen to me! I wouldn’t do that. I had an implant too…..”

There was silence, expect for the sound of their breathing – Hilary’s slow shuddering breaths, breaking on unvoiced sobs – Scully’s fast and shallow as she tried to calm the rising panic which her admission stirred up inside her.

“I think the implants might explain what’s happening here,” Scully said, at last, seeing that Hilary was about to speak. She couldn’t let her ask about her “abduction” experiences. She had already said more than she’d ever wanted. God, she’d told Hilary more than she’d even told her own mother!

“I can’t!” Hilary said, her voice still catching on sobs, although she was quieter now. “If you’ve been taken, then you know….. They do things…. tests. Probing our bodies. Examining….. I’ve never been able to face a doctor since then. Anyone doing things to my body….. I just can’t cope with it.” She shook her head, sadly. “I’m sorry, but I can’t go through with this. It would be my worst nightmare.”

“But it wouldn’t be the same. They wouldn’t hurt you.” Scully didn’t want to push, but it was so hard to be so close to proof only to have it slipping away. The cut on Jim Ferguson’s neck – it was suggestive, enough so to make her panic, but it wasn’t proof. But if Hilary had an implant too…. “It might be the only thing that could free you….” Although even there she was doubtful. What jury would believe the story, if the evidence even made it to court? More likely, the evidence would “disappear” along the way and they’d be left with nothing.

“You said you understood! If you truly understood, you’d understand how I feel and not force me.” Hilary’s voice was calm now – intense but not angry. “I can’t go through with this. I’m sorry, Dana.”

“It’s okay, Hilary,” Scully said, the use of first names signifying the confidences they’d exchanged.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t okay at all.

~&~&~&~

“Agent Scully?”

They both started as the key turned in the lock, even though this time the door opened with the merest of squeaks.

Scully glanced at her watch. Mid-day. Only three hours since she’d left Mulder outside the hospital, an hour since she’d arrived at the prison, but she’d gone through enough emotion to fill a week. Drained by their conversation, she and Hilary had sat side by side in the little cell, talking sporadically but mostly letting the minutes pass in silent thought.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

It was Sheriff Thomson. Scully stiffened, bracing herself for a nasty confrontation. After what she’d said the previous night she’d expected some repercussions, but nothing had been said. Then she’d discovered the cut on Jim Ferguson’s neck and an angry sheriff had been the least of her worries.

“I’m sorry…” she started, as soon as they were outside the cell. She wasn’t sorry at all, but knew the case was stressful enough without having to contend with hostility from the local police.

The sheriff held up his hand, stopping her apology. “Look, I can’t pretend it’s easy saying this, but I’m an honest man, not one to shirk my duty.” He took a step forward, standing closer to her than she was happy with. Not as close as Mulder usually stood, but she was used to his habitual invasion of her personal space. “I was wrong,” he said, firmly. “What you said last night…. I deserved it. I was judging the cases on personal prejudice, both Jim’s and hers. A quick gesture over his shoulder towards Hilary’s cell.

“Sometimes it’s hard not to,” Scully said, wondering why she was trying to make this easy for him. Probably because she was painfully aware that she was doing just the same, assuming Hilary’s innocence just because she felt some fellow feeling for the woman.

“But you made me think, last night.” The sheriff continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “If I’m ready to find another explanation for what Jim did, then I should be willing to consider one for what she did too.” He sighed, passing a hand over his eyes, and Scully remembered for the first time that he’d lost two friends in the previous night’s tragedy. “I don’t know what that explanation is, but it seems to me that you and your partner have some ideas. So….. I guess what I want to say is that I don’t mind if the two of you stay here and investigate what’s happened. I give you my full support.”

“Thank you.” Scully was genuinely touched by the apology, realising how difficult it must have been to say. “We’re both busy following leads at the moment.” She glanced back at the cell, wanting already to be back in there, finding it strangely comforting to pursue her own thoughts in the company of someone who understood. “I’m going to stay here for a bit, and I don’t want to be disturbed if possible. If anything happens, call my partner first. Here’s his number.”

She knew she was being selfish, landing the burden on Mulder, but it was enough she could do to cope with what had been discovered, quite apart from any horrors that the future might hold. If there were any new developments, she’d have to deal with them, of course, but for now she just needed a day to think, to come to terms with…. Oh, it wasn’t just what she’d discovered during the autopsy, it was everything…. the last three months, the last three years, even her whole life?

Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the corridor as she turned and walked back to the cell, willingly walking into the gloom inside.

~&~&~&~

As soon as he heard it, Mulder was across the room in one quick movement, picking up the phone before it could complete its second shrill ring.

“Yes?” he said, eagerly, not bothering to say his name, sure it would be Scully.

“Agent Mulder?” It was a man’s voice, gruff and solemn.

Not Scully. Oh God, not Scully. Was she okay? Why hadn’t she called? Where was she? Scully, alone with the horrors of her mind. Scully….

&&&*

He’d called her once, just once all day, long hours ago now. She’d answered quickly, sounding…. not quite angry, but…. terse…. distracted? Even after so long together, it still disturbed him how little he could read her mood, sometimes.

“I said I’d call you, Mulder,” she’d said, somehow knowing it was him even though he hadn’t said a word.

Then, when he’d asked how she was, anxiety spilling from his voice, she’d sighed. “You don’t have to protect me all the time, Mulder. I don’t expect it, and I don’t need it.”

And she’d sounded genuinely exasperated, as if she really hadn’t realised the danger she could be in. He’d known how disturbed she was about the implant, and had assumed it was because she feared she was at risk from whatever it was that had caused Hilary Carpenter and Jim Ferguson to behave so devastatingly out of character. Oh, he knew her implant had been taken out, but who could tell what other things had been done to her body during her disappearance? Just because the implant was all that had been found, it was naive to assume there was nothing else there, better hidden and possibly even more dangerous.

“Mulder? Are you there?”

Her voice had been anxious, anxious and tired, but he’d been unable at first to manage more than a whispered “yes”, his words swallowed up by the images which turned his heart to lead, his blood to ice. Images of Scully in prison facing the terrible consequences of committing murder. Somehow, the fact that very likely it would be him that she killed didn’t bother him at all, except in that it would make the situation that much worse for her, having to live with guilt as well as everything else. Although, of course, she’d have nothing she ought to feel guilty for, not having acted of her own volition, but he knew she’d not see it like that, cursing herself for not being stronger, not resisting more.

“Mulder?” There had been an edge to her voice, nearing panic.

“I’m sorry, Scully,” he’d managed, enunciating every word clearly to get them past the lump in his throat. “I was just thinking about the case…. looking at notes…..”

Scully must have heard the desolation in his voice, for suddenly her voice had softened. “Look, Mulder. I know you meant well…. But, I just need some time alone with this….”

And then her voice had tailed off, and Mulder had suddenly wondered if she had realised the danger she was in and was keeping away deliberately, afraid that…. whatever it was…. would lead her to attack him if she was with him. Maybe she’d even felt the first stages of the process in the extreme emotions she was experiencing. Maybe she was the one protecting him.

“Please don’t call me again. I’ll come and see you later,” she’d added. “I think I’ll be ready….. We can talk about it this evening.”

No, she hadn’t been following the same train of thought. Unlike him, she was honest. She was disturbed by the reminders of her own experience, and needed time to come to terms with it. There was no more to it than that.

He hoped.

And so he’d put the phone down, and tried to put his mind on the case, although more than half of it was on Scully, desperately wondering if she was okay.

He hadn’t been idle, though. Second thoughts had gotten the better of him and he’d rescued the newspaper clippings from the floor, flattening out their creases until they were legible. Although part of his mind knew that by investigating the disappearances he was doing just what his enemies wanted him to do, he couldn’t miss a chance – any chance – to prove that the implant business was just coincidence, that Jim and Hilary had acted of their own volition, and that there was another case more worthy of their investigation elsewhere. Anything to set Scully’s mind at rest….

So he’d spent hours on the phone, calling police, family, friends, finding out all he could about the people who’d disappeared. Nothing he’d learnt had altered his initial assumption. The police weren’t treating any of the disappearances as suspicious. All the people who’d disappeared had histories of mental illness, and were given to a certain vagueness about their movements. Further, two of them had even disappeared before, but had always wandered back, alive and well, days, or even weeks, later.

No, nothing he’d learnt had altered his initial conviction that the clippings were an attempt to distract them from the truth. Suddenly consumed with fury, he’d ripped them to shreds and tossed them across the room, cursing loudly that he’d wasted a day investigating nothing. Once again, he’d done just what his enemies wanted, wasting his day on irrelevancies while Scully wrestled with the truth.

He could only hope that the truth wouldn’t destroy her.

~&~&~&~

And now, after those long hours of futility and worry, the phone had at last answered his silent pleading and chirped into life, shattering the tense emptiness of the room, filling him with hope…. and dread.

But it wasn’t her….

“Agent Mulder?” the voice repeated, impatient now, although there had only been a few seconds of silence after his first words.

“Yes?” Mulder tried vainly to keep the disappointment from his voice.

“This is Sheriff Thomson. Agent Scully….”

“What’s happened? What’s wrong with her?” He reached out a hand, seeking the support of something solid, feeling the room float before his eyes.

“Nothing.” The sheriff sounded genuinely bemused. “She’s okay. It’s just that she said….”

“Whatever she said….” Mulder interrupted, forcing his voice to remain level and tactful, even though he was sure it was shaking. His hands certainly were. He could hardly keep hold of the phone. “Whatever she said…. She’s under a lot of stress. Please go easy on her.” Oh God! This was all she needed – a complaint from local law enforcement about her attitude. But, judging from the sheriff’s face when she’d shouted at him the previous night, it would be difficult to talk him out of it.

“Agent Mulder,” the sheriff said firmly. “I know I was hardly friendly to you or Agent Scully yesterday, and I can see what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. Agent Scully and I had a talk earlier. We got things sorted out, and I agreed to give you my full support on your investigation…..”

There was a muffled noise in the background as someone said something out of earshot and the sheriff excused himself to deal with them. Mulder was grateful of the delay, taking deep breaths to calm himself down, trying to convince himself that things couldn’t be that bad if Scully had been able to carry on a polite conversation with Sheriff Thomson, whom she’d appeared to hate. Maybe he’d been over-reacting when he’d been so worried about her.

“Hello?” The sheriff returned to the phone, apologising for his absence. “Look, I’ve got to be quick. We’ve a situation here. That’s why I called you. Agent Scully said I was to let you know if there were any developments, and I think there have been. I think we’ve got another one.”

“What happened?” Mulder was already standing up, reaching out for his shoes and coat.

“It was a teacher, name of Martin MacDonald. Just walked out of the house, half-dressed, and attacked his neighbour with a pair of scissors. Stabbed him right through the chest.”

“Where?” Mulder asked, mentally bracing himself to see lots of blood, but grateful at the same time that Scully would at least be spared this crime scene.

“Oh, the crime scene’s under control. But MacDonald…. He resisted attempts to apprehend him at the scene and has run away into the woods to the north of town. We’re pretty sure he’s still there. We’re getting a party out to look for him, but can always do with extra help.”

“I’m on my way,” Mulder said, quickly, heading for the door. Then, after a short pause, “Have you told Scully?”

“No. She said she had things to do and didn’t want to be disturbed unless it was important. That’s why she gave me your number. I did think of calling her, but this might get…. difficult. It’s a man’s job, I think, chasing a fugitive.”

Mulder was that close to objecting, but stopped himself just in time. Although he didn’t agree with the sheriff’s reasons, he was entirely in agreement about one thing – that Scully shouldn’t be told. He had no desire to expose her to any more danger or pain. It was a resolution he’d made three months ago, and nothing since had made him change it. Lewis had shown him how much she’d suffered because of him. At that point he’d thought she was dead and the only thing he could do was feel guilty, allow himself to suffer, even to die, in atonement. But when he found out she was alive he knew he’d been given a second chance to make it up to her, and swore he would never again expose her to danger.

He knew the fact that this case disturbed her so badly was a mark of his failure. His fault, again, as much as the fault of the shadowy men who’d put the implant in her neck. But the knowledge that it was partly his fault only made him more determined to uncover the truth, hoping he could make some small amends for what he’d done to her. It was too late to change the past, but he could still change the future – her future.

And so he headed out into the night, his mind full of Scully, but alone.

~&~&~&~

PART 6

Her watch told her it was nearly seven o’clock, but as far as Scully was concerned it could well have been mid-day, or midnight, or tomorrow. Time hadn’t mattered that day, as she’d sat in Hilary’s cell and just….. thought.

Some of that time had been spent talking to Hilary, trying to determine if she had any memory of the night her husband was killed, but for the most part Hilary had seemed content to remain silent too, even falling asleep for several hours in the afternoon. Judging from the sour taste in her mouth, the stiffness of her joints, Scully had to conclude that she had probably fallen asleep as well, although she had no memory of it. There was little difference between wandering down the dark pathways of conscious thoughts and the dark pathways of disturbed dreams.

Mulder had called once, long hours ago, just as her thoughts had strayed onto the unbearable situation they’d been living with for the last three months. Still more than half immersed in her thoughts, she’d been terse with him, more terse than he deserved, forcing him into an obviously-distressed silence, and she still felt a pang of guilt when she thought about it, although not enough to make her call him. She’d done so much of that lately, calling him, looking for him, worrying over him, that for once, now she was the one who needed to be alone, she was determined to allow herself all the time she needed. She didn’t think it was selfish, for how could she help Mulder when her own thoughts were in turmoil?

But now she felt rested, somewhat calmer, more ready to face the grim discoveries that might lie outside the safety of the prison walls, even though she knew her thoughts hadn’t led to any conclusions. In fact, if she was honest, it was the sleep that made the most difference, as she’d gone without sleep the previous night, expect for a few hours on a chair outside the morgue as the paperwork was done before the autopsies.

She stood up, stretching, and opened her mouth to explain to Hilary that she was leaving.

She never got the chance.

Suddenly the door burst open and a man came in, his eyes dark with concern. “Hilary!” he exclaimed, his eyes never leaving her face, not appearing to notice Scully’s presence.

Hilary’s eyes lit up, but her body remained rigid. She coughed, awkwardly, gesturing with her head towards Scully.

“No,” the man said, solemnly. “I know what you’re trying to say, but I think it’s time to tell the truth.” Ignoring Hilary’s cry of outrage, he turned towards Scully. “Who are you?”

“Special Agent Dana Scully, with the FBI.” Scully was surprised at how normal her voice could sound. “I’m investigating Mrs Carpenter’s case.” And then, glancing at Hilary, who wouldn’t look at her, she added, warmly, “I’m also her friend.”

“Gary Beck,” the man said, shaking her hand firmly. “I think we should go outside for a moment. There’s something you should know.”

Scully glanced at Hilary, doubtfully. The woman had remained utterly silent after her one cry. She was white-faced, her arms wrapped round her knees, rocking to and fro on the bed. But she was silent, not even crying now. She seemed beyond horror.

“What is it?” she asked, when she’d finally managed to drag herself from the room and the woman, her friend, who was so deep in grief.

Gary Beck sighed. “Look, I don’t know what she’s told you, but I’m willing to believe she’s told you something about aliens.”

Shaken, realising what was probably coming and not wanting to hear it, Scully could only nod.

“I’m sure I needn’t tell you there were no aliens,” the man continued, with a grim laugh. “I don’t know what possessed her to think of that as an excuse. Probably because she’s got friends, people she knew at college, who are on to that stuff, and she wanted to be like them. Whatever. I suppose it sounded much more glamorous than the truth.”

“The truth?” Scully prompted, although she knew the answer.

“We were having an affair, the two of us. We have been for years, on and off. Nothing heavy – just weekends every few months, sometimes evenings when her husband was out. I only found out a few months ago that she covered her absences by saying she’d been taken by aliens.”

“So it was all a lie,” Scully said, bitterly.

“No!” Beck said, surprisingly. “I mean, it was a lie, but somehow she almost came to believe it. I don’t know why. She’s not crazy – at least, she doesn’t seem to be, not in anything else she does. But with this – it seems she lied so much, made up so many details, that she came to believe it – not deep down, I don’t think, but most of the time.”

“So that night her husband died…..”

“No! Not then! I don’t know about that. I’ve been out of the country for two weeks. I came here as soon as I found out.” He shook his head, sadly. “No, I can’t give her an alibi for that night. God! I wish I could, but I can’t. I just thought you should know that whatever happened, it had nothing to do with her disappearances over the last few years. I don’t believe she’d ever kill someone, of course I don’t. But I think you should look elsewhere for the answer, not to her past, or her supposed memories.”

But by now Scully was scarcely listening, choked by painful emotions. Without an other word, she turned sharply and stamped into the cell.

“You lied to me!” she shouted, shutting her mind to Hilary’s stricken face. She knew she’d feel bad about it later, but what the hell? For now, it certainly vented her frustrations.

“I trusted you!” she continued, face close to Hilary’s, finger to her chest. “I told you things I haven’t even told my own mother because I thought you’d understand. I…. I….. As soon as you started talking about lack of memory yesterday, it…. it raised up all sorts of painful memories for me. You saw that, didn’t you? So you carried on, went further, got me all involved so I’d help you.”

Hands were prying at her shoulders, strong fingers dragging her back. “I told you!” A hiss in her ear. “She wasn’t doing it deliberately.”

She whirled to face him. “Oh, you believe that, if you want to. I can tell you, it doesn’t make any difference. I told her secrets, things I don’t like even thinking about, just because of what she told me. And now to find out it was all a lie…..”

She could feel tears burning the back of her eyes. “Oh God! Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Don’t cry!” she repeated to herself, over and over, knowing that if she started she’d never be able to stop.

“I’m …. sorry.” Little tiny words from the woman on the bed – not “Hilary” now, not a friend – muffled by sobs and the strong arms that held her.

“And all that about tests….” Scully was remorseless, unable to look at the shaking woman in case she lost her anger. She needed to feel anger. The alternative was the succumb to the grief of betrayal and memory. “All that about not wanting an X-ray. It was all calculated, wasn’t it? To cover the fact that you haven’t got an implant because you were never taken.”

And then she stopped. Overwhelmed by the sense of betrayal, almost of violation, she hadn’t thought of the implications this discovery had on the case. The woman didn’t have an implant. She didn’t have an implant. The case was nothing to do with implants.

Stunned, she sank down on the hard wooden chair, wrestling with her thoughts. At first all she could feel was stunned, but then other emotions started trickling through. The horror she always felt when she thought of implants came first. Then disappointment that they were back at square one, just for a tiny moment. But then, over-riding everything else, even her anger, came relief.

Relief.

It wasn’t anything to do with the implants

She drew a great shuddering breath, feeling her hands shake more now, now she knew she’d been worrying over nothing, than they’d shaken all day, when she’d really believed she was being engulfed in her worst nightmare.

It wasn’t anything to do with the implants

It was only now that she realised she’d been scared – scared that she was at risk from whatever had caused Hilary and Jim to commit murder – scared that, even thought the implant was gone, something remained.

But Hilary hadn’t been abducted. There was no need to be afraid. Whatever it was that had happened, if indeed there was any explanation other than never-to-be-understood family tragedies, posed no threat to her, needn’t stir up any more dark memories.

She even managed to convince herself that, blinded by sudden panic, she’d misinterpreted the cut on Jim Ferguson’s neck. There had been cuts all over his body. When she’d seen the cut on his neck, she must have been seeing what she expected to see, misinterpreting the evidence to suit her beliefs. Just what Mulder always used to do, and she’d been the first to put him right then.

“I think you’d better go.” A hand at her elbow, Gary Beck’s tense face looking down at her coldly.

“I’m sorry,” Scully said, sincerely, all anger gone, washed out by the relief. She took a step towards Hilary, a sobbing heap on the bed. “I’m sorry….”

But Hilary gave no sign of hearing her.

“I’m sorry….” Only the guard heard her parting whisper as she shakily walked towards the door and out into the echoing corridor.

She felt bereft, suddenly, the thoughts that had filled her mind all day suddenly gone, leaving her with nothing but the wordless feeling of relief. She suddenly felt completely and utterly alone – alone with the exhausted emptiness inside her head.

“Mulder!” she muttered, under her breath, earning an odd look from a guard as she passed. There was no need to be alone…..

She reached into her coat and took out her phone.

~&~&~&~

Mulder liked to hunt alone. Even when Scully was with him, they usually split up, partly so they could cover more ground in the time available, but partly because Mulder preferred it that way. Alone, his hearing attuned to the silence, his every sense could focus on the surroundings, hearing every little sound, seeing every little movement that flickered on the edges of his peripheral vision, sometimes even sensing trouble even before he saw or heard it.

And so he’d let the rest of the search party crash through the undergrowth away on either side of him, their every movement sounding as loud as a shout in the rustling calm of the wood at night, their torches cutting though the darkness like a beacon.

But Mulder preferred to stay alone, responsible only for himself, knowing that, if he did encounter any danger, no other lives would be risked if he made a mistake..

Over an hour now since they’d started searching, and they’d found nothing, although the woods were barely two miles across. Of course, their fugitive could have escaped, be even now safe in some building in the town, but they had the boundaries well patrolled as soon as he went in and he hadn’t been spotted. No, it was more likely MacDonald was still in the woods, hiding down in the roots of a tree. Even with only four square miles of wood, that was a hell of a lot of trees to search, especially as the over-zealous members of the public who’d chased him to the woods in the first place had so trampled the ground that no clear tracks or scent could be made out.

Besides, Mulder somehow felt that he was here, several times felt himself shiver as he stepped through the damp earth, the smallest hissing of mud the only sound he made. Someone was there, and he could almost feel their eyes on him, burning into his back. But always, when he whipped around, gun pointing, there was nothing but empty wood, bare tree trunks, mud showing the dull gleam imparted by the almost-black of the clouded night sky.

He hadn’t switched on his torch, preferring to let his eyes adapt to the night. That way he could see movements and shadows right across his field of vision, not just in a single beam ahead of him, the torch light turning the rest of the wood into an unfathomable hole of darkness which could hold all manner of horrors. It was strange how bright blackness could be, how much he could actually see in the dark. A fallen tree-trunk, a blacker lump in the all-over blackness of the wood. A bird stirring on a branch. Ghostly shadows as large branches swayed gently in the breeze. And something, there…. something…. just beyond his vision, but there all the same.

His gun felt sticky in his hand, and he realised for the first time how tense he was, how sure that he was being followed. He tried to take deep breaths, to shake off the fear, telling himself he was imagining it. They were tracking a half-crazed fugitive who’d run half-naked into the wood, not a calculating criminal who could cover his tracks, hide successfully and stalk a prey. Unless…. The nagging doubt whispered at the back of his mind. Unless whatever it was that was controlling him planned two deaths today.

He stopped stock still, listening intently to every sound. The wind moved the trees with a steady rushing, like the breathing a large animal, hot hungry breaths from behind the teeth. And even with his dark-adapted vision, the world around loomed like deep wells of blackness, threatening to swallow up living creatures in their depths. Miles and miles of open countryside, full of…. what?

The breathing got louder, although he couldn’t feel any increase in the wind….

And then there was a noise, a shrill noise that make his heart pound against his ribs and his hands to clench in sudden terror.

A noise. What…..?

It rang twice before his fear-dulled mind recognised it as his phone.

“Mulder,” he said, whispering, anxious not to betray his presence to…. whatever it was that was out there, although knowing it was probably futile.

“Are you okay?” It was Scully, her voice slightly hoarse, but sounding calm, ordinary.

“Scully!” Still shaking, he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He knew he could never find the words to express the relief he felt at hearing her voice, at knowing his fears had been groundless.

“Mulder.” She said his name slowly and carefully, as if savouring the sound.

Silence.

“Are you okay?” he asked at last, still reeling from the strange tone of her voice.

“Yes,” she said, doubtfully, then again with more conviction. “I’ve done some thinking. I think things are sorted out now. I just needed to talk to you, to hear your voice, to know I can always talk to you when I’m ready.” She sounded almost embarrassed by the admission.

“I’ll always be here when you need me, Scully. I know I haven’t always in the past. But I’ll try…..”

And then it all went wrong.

Suddenly the undergrowth erupted as a small animal rushed out, squeaking with all the anguish of certain death, pursued by a larger animal, indistinct in the dark. The ensuing conflict was loud in the woods….. too loud….

“What’s that?” Scully’s voice was sharp. “And why are you whispering?”

“I’m in the woods,” he began, reluctantly, knowing she wouldn’t let him escape without extracting the full details. He’d tell her, of course. He couldn’t lie to her. He could neglect to tell the truth, but he couldn’t lie to her, not to a direct question.

She listened to the rest of his reluctant confession in an unforgiving silence. He could almost see her expression, cold and set, her eyes flinty with reproach. He knew his every word was making it worse, but he couldn’t stop until he’d told her everything.

“So, you’re out there, chasing a murderer, by yourself, and you weren’t going to tell me.” Her voice was like steel, each word carefully enunciated, full of suppressed fury.

He nodded, miserably, forgetting she couldn’t see.

“I’m coming right over,” she said, firmly, before terminating the call.

He stood still, listening to the silence, his mind full of Scully’s anger. It had just been the tip of the iceberg, what he’d just heard. There would be more, much more, when they were back at the motel when she could vent her anger without jeopardising their search.

There was a dark blot in the darkness a few yards away, the blood and guts of the poor dead animal whose life had been taken as he’d stood and watched and done nothing. He took a step forward, then another, the mud making a rich squelch as he moved his foot, sunk deep by so long standing still. Then, heedless of the mud which would ruin his clothes, he knelt down, rubbing the sticky blood between his fingers, wondering what sort of animal it was who lay so horribly dead, wondering how many killers were at large that night.

Minutes passed. Blood on his fingers, Scully’s anger in his mind, the dark all around him and inside him….

Then suddenly he felt the menace again, the feeling that someone was watching him. He stood up slowly, hearing his breathing sound loud in his head, the breathing he’d taken for the wind in the trees.

Silence, except for the sounds that ought to be there…. Breathing, wind in the trees, rustling…..

And a voice.

Indistinct, words filtered out by the wind, but a voice.

Tightening his grip on his gun, he whirled to face the noise, peering into the darkness to pick out any movement, any lump of darkness blacker than the rest of the night.

Nothing. There was nothing there – nothing that he could see.

He took a step forward, frowning with the effort of looking. He was suddenly filled with an overwhelming desire to switch on his torch, but knew he mustn’t alert whatever it was to his position. Although it probably knew all too well….

The voice sounded again, nearer now, and he took another step forward, peering into the distance, not focusing on his feet.

He saw it just in time. A shape, a man, threw itself from the undergrowth just on the fringes of his vision, hurtling towards him with outstretched hands reaching for his throat.

Just as the body was about to crash into him, knocking him to the ground, Mulder took a sudden step to the side, raising his gun.

But then everything whirled and he lost track of what was happening, unaware until he hit the ground that he’d tripped over a tree root and fallen heavily onto his front. Dark mud filled his vision, dark mud little different from dark trees, dark sky.

Quick as thought, he reached out with his hands, pushing himself to his knees, reaching for his gun. He turned his head quickly to see where his attacker was. Not in front. Not left. Not right. That meant…..

Strong hands grabbed him from behind, dragging him onto his back in the mud, a lumpy tree root digging into his spine. And then the dark sky was wiped out by a deeper darkness as the man leant over him, hands closing on his throat.

Everything slowed down. Nothing existed but himself, the attacker, and the death that was in his hands.

Death….

And then he saw an image of Scully’s face, twisted with grief and reproach. She’d be tormented with guilt if the last words they ever exchanged were in anger, and he knew he’d do everything in his power to save her from that.

And so he fought, hands, arms, knees, hitting out, trying to dislodge his attacker’s grip on his throat, feeling some of his blows land and knowing he’d done damage.

But he was running short of air. Already he was feeling the dizziness on him, feeling his thoughts cloud over. There was so little time…..

~&~&~&~

PART 7

“Let me through!” Scully put all the anger she could muster into the order, aware even as she did so that the tall man probably found her fury ridiculous, even amusing.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. There’s a dangerous fugitive in there. My orders are to keep everyone out of the wood until he’s found.” Especially a weak woman like you, his eyes seemed to be saying, as he looked down at her, speaking as to a child.

It was only then that Scully realised that she hadn’t shown her ID. Consumed with anxiety about Mulder she’d leapt from the cab, thrusting too much money into the hands of the driver, and had run for the main path into the woods. It was so obvious to herself what she was doing that it hadn’t crossed her mind that it wasn’t obvious to everyone else.

“I’m a federal agent,” she said, forcing herself to speak at normal pitch. “Now, will you let me in?”

Angry and worried as she was, Scully was still able to feel immense satisfaction at the look on the police officer’s face as he stepped back, allowing her past.

She rushed forward, staying on the broad dirt track, surprised at how quickly the noise and light from the road faded into nothingness. For a while she was blind, her steps faltering until she stood quite still, trying to get her bearings. The woods had seemed silent, like a great slumbering beast, silent but alive, but as her senses adapted she realised it was full of its own sounds, small sounds inaudible except to someone ready to listen.

Slowly, she pulled out her gun, startling herself with the noise the almost-silent action made. It was only now, now it was too late, that she realised how stupid she had been. Angry at Mulder for going alone into a dangerous situation she’d done exactly the same herself. Overwhelmed by the image of Mulder attacked in the wood, alone, hurt, even dying, she’d known she had to do everything she could to prevent it coming true. With her rational mind, she knew she was over-reacting, but at the same time she knew she had to over-react. She never again wanted to go through the grief and guilt she’d felt three months ago when she’d thought Mulder was dead, dying alone and despairing because she hadn’t noticed he’d needed help until it was too late.

Savagely, she shook her head to clear the terrible memory, to wipe the flames of that burning house from her mind, forcing herself to concentrate on the darkness, and the future that could still be changed.

Her eyes had adapted to the darkness now, and she found she could see quite well, as long as she stayed on the path. She took a step forward, faltering at first, then another, more confident. When she neither stumbled not slipped she started walking at a normal pace, eyes on the ground, ears attuned to picking up any noise, any human noise that would help her find where Mulder was.

It startled her, when it came. A feathery whisper as a sudden gust of wind awoke the branches from their silence. And with it, carried on the wind, the noise of human voices….

Her heart suddenly pounding in her head, she looked up, looking wildly around left, right, ahead, peering into the dark, trying to track down the direction of the elusive noise carried this way and that by the treacherous wind.

And then the shadows started to dance, dark trees writhing like something from a nightmare. Shadows…. But to get shadows you needed….

Light. An eerie yellowish light, pulsing through the trees. The sort of light made by people with torches, their light swaying as they ran, winking out as they passed behind trees.

Light. People. Someone was coming….

She didn’t need a sudden gust of wind to hear the next sound. A sound that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. A sound that held her frozen in a horror that wouldn’t let her breathe.

A gunshot.

~&~&~&~

Scully.

Oh God! Scully.

He couldn’t die, not like this, not with Scully’s guilt-tormented face so clear in his mind that he could almost believe she was here, real, her face the only thing he could see properly through the clouds that obscured everything else.

There were tears brimming in her eyes, a single drop of grief spilling out and gouging a path down her cheek like the path of devastation he’d driven through her life.

“No!” he cried in his mind, making a last great effort to escape the hands holding his life in their grip. Flailing, hitting, kicking, forcing every tired muscle to move, knowing it was the only way to stop Scully’s tears.

And then suddenly, distantly, he was aware that somewhere a blow had landed hard, knee against something soft. Almost instantly, the grip on his throat was loosened with a groan of agony.

There was no time to think. Fist crashing into face, blood dripping down onto his own face, chilling and warm. Hand to the hand at his throat, prising at the fingers, slackened by pain. Gasping breaths of air, dark and biting, but alive, restoring his blood, driving away the shadows. Fists, feet, hands, fighting together now, a blow here, a blow there, both drawing blood, splattering in the dark mud.

Then a blow landed on his cheek and the world exploded into light. Light that made the blood sparkle red, the mud shine rich and black. Light that showed the beads of sweat on the other man’s face, his grimace of pain as blood coursed from his mouth. Light that didn’t go away when he shook his head violently, desperate to clear it. Light.

He didn’t know where the light had come from.

And noise too. Something….. Someone? Saying something? Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter. Nothing existed outside the narrow focus of fists and fighting and hurting and winning.

But then the light and noise came together, suddenly, terrifyingly. An explosion of light and sound that seemed to slow down time – life moving painful frame by painful frame, agonisingly slow.

The fist paused, hanging frozen in the air mid-swing.

The bleeding mouth dropped open, a wordless cry that no-one would hear.

The eyes opened wide, boring into his own soul, full of hatred and agony and menace, speaking threats that could never be carried out.

Then slowly, slowly the blood started to flow.

~&~&~&~

Blood. He had blood all over him, although he was alive, alive and talking, kneeling in the mud, bending earnestly over someone who lay still.

“Mul-der?” Scully’s breathlessness forced her to break his name into two distinct syllables, her voice squeezed out weakly through great gasps for air. As soon as she’d heard the gunshot she’d run as fast as she could towards the lights, heedless of the tree roots that reached out long fingers across her path.

His lips moved, talking again to the person in front of him, but he showed no sign of having heard her.

“Mulder?” Her breathing was easier now, though she could still feel her heart pounding in her head. She edged forwards into the circle of light cast by the torches, hearing the abrupt commands shouted between the other people at the scene but not listening to them, not bothering to sort the sounds into words.

He still didn’t look at her. He was bent over a man, holding him by the shoulders, face close to his face.

“I…. don’t…. remember.” The man’s voice was the faintest breath of anguish, scarcely distinguishable from the wind in the trees. “I…. I was dreaming….. Then….”

“Stay with me!” Mulder leant closer, tightening his grip on the man’s shoulders. “You mustn’t go to sleep. What happened?”

The man’s face twisted in concentration. His broken lips twitched, trying to shape themselves to make a sound, wincing when he failed to speak.

Mulder shifted position suddenly, moving around and away from Scully, closer to the man’s face. He leant forward, his ear only inches from the man’s mouth. As he moved his head, a drop of blood fell from his cheek onto the man’s lips, a tiny drop in the welling red of his face.

“Mulder!” Scully shook her head quickly, forcing life into her voice, her limbs. Mesmerised by their frozen tableaux, the quiet voices, she’d neglected to notice the obvious. “What are you doing? This man needs medical attention now. Get away from him.”

Her hands reached for the man’s unbuttoned shirt, the only clothes he appeared to be wearing apart from underwear, pulling it open to find a gaping bullet wound high up on his side, under his arm.

“Has someone called an ambulance!” she shouted, without looking round.

“Yes. I called as soon as….. it happened.” A young voice at her elbow. Turning quickly she saw a police officer, face taut with stress. “I tried to…. I didn’t know what to do.”

“I’m a doctor,” she told him, watching his face relax as he realised he could hand over care of the wounded man to someone who knew what they were doing. She only wished she could share his confidence. To tell the truth, there was little she could do for him but wait, and hope.

“Shh!” She jumped at the sound of Mulder’s voice, an urgent hiss. “He said something. I couldn’t hear.” Then he slapped the man’s face. “You’ve got to stay awake!” he urged. “Talk to me!”

It hadn’t been a hard slap, but it echoed through Scully’s mind like a gunshot. Suddenly, unexpectedly, she was furious.

“Mulder!” She grabbed his arm, pulling harshly to drag him from the man. “I can’t believe what you just did! This man is badly hurt, and you slap him! I don’t know what you want him to tell you, but he said he doesn’t know anything. Stop bullying him.”

“No, Scully!” He pulled from her grip. “You don’t understand! You didn’t see what happened just after he was shot. I’ve got to talk to him, now, before he’s properly himself again.” His eyes were fiery dark in his blood-stained face. “He might know, Scully! He might have the answers to the case.”

“Mulder.” Scully tried not to shout, aware of the terrified eyes of the wounded man, half-closed now with pain. “Are the answers worth…. torturing…. this man for?”

“But I want the answers for you!” Mulder turned away, his voice suddenly quiet. “I’m doing this for you. It’s…. it’s the least I can do.”

“Oh, so you nearly got yourself killed for me? You lied to me, for me?” Scully’s voice was heavy with sarcasm. “You’re doing this for me, even though I keep telling you I don’t want you to? Damn it, Mulder. Who are you to tell me what’s best for me?” She kept her voice quiet, aware of the other people on the scene, but suddenly his actions ripped a shout from her. “Mulder! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Mulder was trying to roll the man over onto his side, reaching for the back of his neck. He was talking all the time, low words of comfort to the wounded man, assuring him he wouldn’t hurt him, that he just wanted to find answers that were for his own good.

“Where was it, Scully?” Mulder asked suddenly. He showed no signs of having heard what she’d said.

“What?” Even amid her anger, Scully was genuinely baffled. But then, suddenly, the terrible realisation dawned. The implant. He meant the implant. “Oh no, Mulder. Not that!” God! Was he intending to cut the man’s neck even as he was alive and conscious?

“It’s the only way, Scully.” Mulder didn’t look her in the eyes. “I hate doing it, but we’ve got to know, now, before anyone can get there first like they did with Jim Ferguson.”

“Mulder!” Scully didn’t care who heard her now, she was so furious. “You get off that man right now or I’ll…. I’ll…..” Unable to think of the right threat, she reached for him bodily, pulling at his shoulders with all her strength. “It’s not about implants, Mulder! Can’t you see? It’s not about them!”

He pulled away from her grip, turning to face her. His face, even through the bruises and blood, expressed…. almost pity? “I know it’s hard for you to accept, Scully.” His voice was quiet, caring, full of guilty sorrow.

She’d never been so tempted just to hit him as she was at that moment. It was either that, or to cry with grief for him…. and her. She knew she’d been unreasonable, shouting at him for not knowing she had proof it wasn’t about implants when she’d never told him anyway, and he just took it as if he deserved it. His whole attitude was infuriating, patronising, but also heart-breaking.

Sirens sounded in the distance, eerie in the night, alerting Scully to reality. Intent on arguing with Mulder, she’d forgotten where she was, forgotten there was a wounded man in her care.

Pulling away from Mulder’s gaze, she leant down, reached for the man, and….

“My God, Mulder! You’ve killed him!” Horror made her relentless in her anger.

Mulder shut his eyes, bowing his head for interminable seconds, his brow furrowed with guilt. Then suddenly he raised his head, eyes still shining with unshed tears but now suddenly filled with purpose.

“Why did you shoot him?” he turned savagely on the young police officer she’d spoken to earlier. “It wasn’t necessary. I had the situation under control.”

“I thought….. I did shout, first. I saw the blood. I thought he was about to kill you. I…. I didn’t mean it to be fatal. I was aiming for his arm but he moved. I…. I’m sorry.” The officer was stammering, overwhelmed by Mulder’s anger.

“You killed him,” Mulder repeated, relentless. “Now we’ll never know what happened.”

Scully stepped firmly between them, hands covered with blood. “Mulder!” she hissed, seeing that the young man was almost on the point of tears. “Stop doing this. Just looking at you I can see why he thought you were in trouble.” She’d seen the bruises before, of course, the deep marks of hands on Mulder’s throat, but had tried to ignore them. Right now, she didn’t want to lose her anger. Later would be the time to lie awake in horror at the fact that once again he’d nearly died.

“But, Scully. We were nearly there. We could have solved this, then you could go home. I know you’ve got problems on this case.” Mulder’s voice was barely above a whisper but was laden with intensity. “And now he’s dead…. We still don’t know.”

“Oh, just shut up, Mulder!” Scully snapped suddenly. “I can’t take any more of this. Just…. just go away.”

“Scully….” His hands reached for her shoulders, his eyes full of concern.

“Mulder!” Her voice was steel. “I don’t want to talk to you any more. I don’t want to say something I’ll regret later.” Though she knew she already had, knew that every word she’d said would come back to haunt her in the sleepless hours of early morning, and she would see again and again Mulder’s guilty expression as he took her attacks as if he deserved them.

The paramedics crashed through the undergrowth, carrying a stretcher that came too late. No need to hurry, now. Just another dead body for the morgue, another human tragedy to be a minute on the news, then forgotten.

Mulder turned away silently and was swallowed up in the dark of the woods.

~&~&~&~

PART 8

Monday 5th February

“Scully.” It was a barely perceptible whisper, a tiny thread of sound forced past his bruised throat.

A cough. A rattle of keys across the parking lot. The low drone of a plane a lifetime away. An engine humming on some distant road. Noises…. Unimportant noises.

There was no sound from Scully’s room.

“Scully.” A louder whisper this time, though he thought her name with the intensity of a shout. He needed to see her, to speak to her, but he knew he mustn’t wake her if she’d managed to find some escape from the long sleepless nights of worry.

Silence still. But her light was on, a yellow slit snaking under her door….

He swallowed, pain squeezing his throat like bruising fingers, his breath loud in his ears. “Scully,” he said, again, no longer a whisper, as he gently knocked on the door.

No answer.

She was asleep, exhausted after the trauma of the day and the previous night. After the horrors of the past few years, was it any wonder if she felt the need to sleep with the light on? After all, she knew more than anyone how doors and windows offer little protection from the terrors that dwell in the dark. So, the light was on, but she was asleep. She needed sleep. He shouldn’t wake her.

But what if she wasn’t…..?

The door handle was slippery to his shaking touch, darting cold on his palm and fingers. Tongue between his teeth, concentrating on silence, he turned it, slowly…. slowly…. barely at all…..

And it opened.

Scully’s door was unlocked.

Dread swept through him, freezing his breath, turning his limbs to lead. He needed to know…. but he couldn’t bear knowing. He shut his eyes. Blood on the table, on his fingers, in the ruins of her apartment. Blood on a smashed coffee table, illuminated by a bare bulb in his shaking hand. Blood…

Oh God! Had she been taken again, for getting too close to the truth? Or was her body still here, her life soaking into the sheets, her eyes cold? Oh God! After one o’clock. If only he’d come back hours ago…..

Step – eyes still closed, hand clinging to the door handle behind him. Step – arm pulling taut, blood pounding in his ears. Step – fingers slipping from the door handle, hand unable to find any support. Step….

“What….?” Scully’s voice…. Scully’s voice! “Where….?”

Mulder opened his eyes, forcing the room to stop swaying so he could focus. Scully was lying on the bed, fully clothed, still with her shoes on. She’d pulled herself half onto her elbow, blinking in the light with confused eyes.

“Mulder?” Still a half-sleeping mumble. “What are you doing here?”

“I…. The door was unlocked.” His voice was hoarse and tears of relief stung the backs of his eyes.

“Un…. unlocked?” Scully rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “I…. I don’t remember….” She glanced down at her clothes, blinking in confusion. “I fell asleep….I was dreaming…..”

There was something about her tone, about her words…. He’d heard it before, somewhere. But he was still weak with emotion, unable to spare any thought to pin down the memory.

“What were you dreaming?” He touched her gently on the arm, a silent apology for waking her.

Scully shook her head abruptly. “Oh, I can’t remember.” She stood up, arm slipping away from his touch. “It doesn’t mat….ter.” This last word was almost drowned out by an enormous yawn.

“I’m sorry.” Mulder took a step back quickly. “You’re tired. I’ll go. I’m sorry I woke you….”

“No!” Scully grabbed his wrist, fingers digging into his flesh. “Don’t go. I’ve got…. There’s something I want to say.” There was no trace of sleep in her voice now.

Mulder froze. He knew what she was going to say, and knew he deserved it. He’d seen the anger in her eyes earlier, in the woods, and knew that conversation was still unfinished.

But Scully’s words came as a total surprise. “I’m sorry,” she said, though her voice was taut with suppressed emotion. “I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I was angry, yes, but I let it blind me to…. fairness.” She gave a grim laugh, a quick harsh sound. “I didn’t even ask you how you were, and you know what I’m normally like when you get hurt.”

“I’m….” Surprise made him speechless. “I’m okay…. It’s okay….” He heard her words, but couldn’t understand why Scully felt the need to apologise.

“No.” Scully held up a hand to stop him. She took a deep breath and he could hear the quaver as she exhaled. “I guess I knew at the time I was wrong but I couldn’t stop myself. Just shouting…. It made me feel better, I suppose, just for a while. I’ve kept things bottled up so long….”

“It’s okay.” He stepped forward, gentle hands on her shoulders. “Don’t apologise. I deserved it….”

Scully sighed, a loud sigh that was almost a shout, and pulled away from his hands as if they burned her. Mulder let his hands fall bereft to his side. He didn’t know what to say, what to do. He’d upset her again, but didn’t know how.

“I owe you an explanation.” Scully’s muscles were visibly tense with the control it took to keep her voice level. “When I shouted at you back then for looking for the…. implant.” She said the word as if it choked her. “I hadn’t told you what happened today. That Hilary Carpenter…. I thought she understood. I told her things….. things about what happened to me. But then I found out she was never abducted by anyone. Her whole abduction story was made up to cover the fact she was having an affair.” Her voice was bitter, though her face looked empty and lost. “Her lover told me all about it.”

“I’m sorry….” Mulder started to raise his hands to touch her, but let them fall again. He opened his mouth to speak, to offer comfort, but couldn’t find the right words.

“Oh, you weren’t taken in, were you? Is that what you want to say?” Scully’s eyes were shining, her voice sharp.

“No!” It came out as a tiny whisper, swallowed up in his throat. He didn’t think he’d been thinking like that, but he had doubted Hilary’s story from the start, believing it was only an excuse for her own misdemeanours.

Scully shut her eyes, breathing deep, then opened them again. A sheen of moisture lined her lower lids. “I guess I was so angry with you because of her.” Her fists were white with tension, but her voice was quiet and level. “I trusted her, then… I just felt so betrayed. And then when I found out you didn’t trust me….”

“I do!” Despite his sore throat he managed a shout. “I do trust you. I trust you with…. everything.” His throat swallowed the last word until it was almost a sob.

“Then why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” The words were fired out like bullets.

“I didn’t want….” He couldn’t complete the sentence. He hadn’t wanted her to get hurt, that was the truth. But she hated him to protect her. She couldn’t seem to realise it was only right for him to try to prevent her suffering any more after all that had happened. “I didn’t….” Then he had a sudden inspiration. “You told me not to disturb you. You said I mustn’t call you…. That you’d call me.”

Scully was pacing up and down like a panther about to pounce, but his words caused the tension to pour out of her. “Yes…. I suppose I did. I forgot.” Her voice was small and apologetic.

Silence. Feet shifting awkwardly on the carpet. Hands clenching and unclenching at his side. Doubts seething in his mind.

“Scully….”

Her head snapped up. He hadn’t known he’d spoken his thought aloud.

“Nothing….” He took a step backwards, edging towards the door.

“Mulder!” Her voice was rising with tension again. “What is it? Tell me.”

“I…. I’m sorry….. But I’ve got to ask…..” He dug his fingers into his palms, speaking quick and fast to get it over with. “Are you sure you can believe Hilary wasn’t abducted?” He couldn’t look at her, but heard her sharp intake of breath. “That lover of hers…. He could have been paid by them to lie…. put us off the scent. Or just because some of her absences are explainable it doesn’t mean….”

“Damn it, Mulder! Are you trying to make this hard for me?” Scully’s voice sparked with anger.

“No…”

“Well it sure as hell looks like it. You didn’t believe Hilary’s story earlier, when all I wanted was to get you interested on this case. Now I believe she’s lying, you suddenly want to cast doubt on it, when you know how much it upsets me to deal with these…. implants.”

“I know…. I’m…. I’m sorry….”

“Why – are – you – doing – this – Mulder!” A hiss through clenched teeth, her hands gripping her forehead.

“I’m….. sorry.” His bruised throat seemed to swell, strangling the words.

“No, Mulder.” Scully lowered her hands, her voice hard with determination. “I want to know. What has happened to make you change your mind on this case?”

Mulder shook his head. He couldn’t speak.

“Tell – me – Mulder!” Her eyes bored into his, her words as sharp as knives. “Even if it might upset me, I want to know what has happened. I can take it. I’m not weak.”

Mulder never thought she was weak. But the things she’d gone through – the things he’d put her through – in the last three years would try the very strongest.

“Mulder! I can see you’re hiding something. I can see it in your eyes. Please don’t do this. I need to know. Can’t you see? I need to know the truth.”

“I…..” He coughed, forcing his voice above a whisper. “I got sent some clippings from newspapers this… yesterday morning. They were about people – five people – disappearing last weekend, all within fifty miles.” He couldn’t look at her as he spoke, but he could feel the anger radiating from her body. “I checked them out and there was nothing suspicious about any of them. They were just attempts to divert us from…. from whatever it is we’re onto here. They were put under my door just after you saw through their attempt to remove Jim Ferguson’s implant, so…..”

“So you assumed the implants are the key to the case,” Scully finished for him, voice quiet and deadly. “But you didn’t intend to tell me, did you?”

“I…. didn’t think it was important.”

“Oh yes you did. You thought it proved we were onto something big – something they want covered up, and you didn’t tell me!” Her voice was loud with incredulity.

“I didn’t want you to be upset!” The words spilled out of him before he could stop them.

“Can’t you see, Mulder?” She grabbed his shoulders, forcing him to look her in the eye. “If this case was linked to…. whatever happened to me, I could have been at risk. I could have been like Hilary, or Jim Ferguson, or Martin MacDonald. Of course that upset me…. But that’s all the more reason why I should have been told everything so I could have been prepared.”

There were unshed tears choking her anger, but even so Mulder felt a sudden hope. “You’re using the past tense. You don’t think….”

“No, Mulder.” She spoke as to a child. “It isn’t about implants. I checked MacDonald – no implant.” She counted the names off emphatically on her fingers as she spoke. “Hilary – no implant – no unexplained absences. Jim Ferguson – oh, I don’t know…. Maybe he really had one, by coincidence. Maybe your clippings are the real answer and someone was trying to put us off the scent by implying he had an implant. Most likely it was just a cut from the glass and I over-reacted… saw what I feared to see. I don’t know….”

“Or maybe….” Mulder broke in suddenly, remembering he still hadn’t told her what had happened after MacDonald had been shot, but Scully held up her hand.

“Look, Mulder. I don’t want to think about the case right now. I’m tired.”

“I’m sorry.” Mulder was immediately remorseful. “You go to sleep. I’ll think…”

“Don’t talk to me like that!” Scully snapped. “You’re trying to protect me again – tuck me up in bed while you investigate.”

“I wasn’t….” Mulder stammered, but then she moved into the light and he saw her shadowed eyes, her taut face and he couldn’t stop himself from touching her gently on the cheek. “It’s just…. This case is hurting you so much…. You’ve been hurt so much…. I’m sorry.”

“Damn it, Mulder!” Scully grabbed his wrist, throwing his hand away violently. “It’s not your fault. Stop apologising with every breath!”

“But, Scully….” A choked whisper again, emotion swallowing up all other words. He couldn’t understand why she still denied the truth.

“Mulder, can’t you see? You’re treating me like…. oh, I don’t know….. like I can’t make my own choices. You’re not responsible for me. It’s demeaning to me that you blame yourself for everything that happens to me. It implies I’m too weak to look after myself.” Her fingers squeezed into his wrists. “I decided to stick with the X-Files, even after I knew the risks. Me. My decision. You didn’t force me. You didn’t charm me or seduce me, so I went along with you like some weak woman against her will. I’m big enough to act on my own judgement. You’re not responsible for anything that happens to me.”

Mulder bit his lip, trying to force back the tears that swam in his eyes. How could she still be so blind? He knew she’d made her own decision to stay with him, but couldn’t she see that without him she’d never have had to make that decision in the first place? It had been his quest, his futile quest, that had started it all, and she’d stayed only out of some misguided loyalty to him, even though from the start she hadn’t believed.

“Look.” Scully’s voice vibrated with forced self-control. “I know why you’re acting like this. I know it’s because you’re still not recovered from…..” She let the sentence tail into silence, eyes moist with memory. “I know you’re not doing it deliberately to hurt me. But right now, I’m not in a mood to be understanding. Please just go, before I say something I’ll regret tomorrow.”

Neither of them moved. He could feel the muscles in his hand quiver as he resisted the urge to reach out and hold her while she let out the tears that were swimming in her eyes.

“Just go, Mulder.” Scully’s face was closed against him.

Silence. He could see her muscles, tense on the back of her neck and shoulders.

“Get – out – of – my – room!” Her tone sent shivers of dread down his spine.

He had no choice but to obey.

~&~&~&~

PART 9

He was there, of course, his face drawn with worry, his eyes far away, his hands gripping the rail outside her door as if he depended on it to stay upright.

Scully swore softly under her breath, watching him from a distance. The anger was threatening to take over again. Hadn’t he listened last night when she told to stay away, not to hover protectively over her every move? Before eight in the morning, and already he was there, her self-appointed and unwanted guard dog.

He moved suddenly, glancing at his watch, chewing his lip with anxiety. Even from this distance she could see the blackening bruises on his cheek and throat.

Perhaps she should have left a note. Her rational mind strove to smother the anger. After all, if the situations were reversed, she would have worried too. If she was honest, she had to admit that she’d behaved very uncharacteristically the previous night, surprising even herself with the force of her anger. And then, after that, to disappear early in the morning without a note…. Anyone would worry. He wasn’t being over-protective. He was just being human.

“Mulder!” She walked quickly across towards him, calling out softly. “I’m here!”

His head snapped up, relief washing over his features. “Scully….” His voice was still hoarse. “I thought….. ” He took a deep breath. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mulder. I’m sorry I didn’t leave a note.”

Mulder put a hand on her shoulder. “That’s okay. I’m just glad you’re…..” And then he checked himself with a gasp. “I’m sorry….”

Scully wanted to scream with frustration. Why wasn’t he angry with her? She was always angry with him if he disappeared without telling anywhere. But he just apologised for worrying about her. God! What had she done to him, that he was scared of her anger with every word he said? Since when had their every conversation been a mine-field?

“I just went to the morgue, to check on the autopsy findings. You had to car keys, so I walked” Scully tried to keep her voice calm, although inside she was seething. “After what you said last night, it made me doubt. I just wanted to make sure….”

“I’m sorry.”

Scully dug her nails into her palms, taking deep breaths to calm herself. Apologising again! If she shot him in cold-blood he’d probably still insist it was his fault. But still he insisted he didn’t have problems! The heart-breaking thing was that he genuinely believed it. Heart-breaking, but utterly utterly infuriating.

“Anyway,” she said, at last. “It’s not implants.”

Something in Mulder’s expression made her pause. A barely perceptible movement of the mouth and muscles round his eyes. A small catch in his breathing. Almost nothing. But something was there. Almost….. disappointment?

She reached for her keys, shaking her head to banish that thought. Probably her imagination. “I thought we could start with checking out those newspaper clippings, just in case they’re linked to our case” she said, forcing herself to sound calm and professional. “Even if they’re not, they might still be important as a separate case.”

Her hands shook as they fumbled with the lock, listening to Mulder’s silence. She hoped, even prayed, that he’d accept her suggestion. Now the emotive issue of implants was removed from the case, a day working together, side by side, was their best hope. She couldn’t ignore their problems, of course, but she knew that if they talked about them now she’d end up shouting, or in tears. Better to work together as if nothing had happened, to restore their relationship slowly, then discuss what needed to be discussed later, when they were calmer.

“Mulder?” she said, at last, when the silence had become unbearable. There was a sharp edge to her voice that she hadn’t intended. Snapping again. What was wrong with her?

No answer. He hadn’t moved, still standing outside, a look of dread on his face.

“Mulder?” Oh God! It was happening again. What now? What else hadn’t he told her? “What is it?”

“Last night,” Mulder began, not looking at her. “I didn’t tell you what happened after MacDonald was shot.”

“Another secret, Mulder,” Scully snapped. “How many more…..?” She stopped herself just in time, a faint memory struggling through the anger. He’d tried to tell her something last night, but she’d stopped him, even thrown him out.

“He was trying to kill me.” Mulder made no attempt to defend himself from Scully’s unjust accusation. “He’d been trailing me in the woods, carefully and rationally, toying with my fears as if he enjoyed it. Then he was shot. I looked into his face as it happened. For a while, just a few seconds, he looked at me and his eyes were cold, evil, full of menace. It was if he was telling me that he would kill me.”

He was still standing on the threshold, not meeting her gaze. Scully suddenly realised he wouldn’t come in uninvited, not after she’d thrown him out last time. Her anger calmed by the reminder of how close she’d come to losing him again, she raised an arm to beckon him close to her, but he wasn’t looking.

“But then it all changed,” Mulder continued, before she could say anything. “Suddenly his eyes just…. blanked out. There was nothing for a second, then he blinked as if he’d just woken up. That’s when he started asking where he was. I asked him, and he couldn’t remember anything. He came home from work, had a shower, got half-dressed again, then lay down on the bed, and then….. That’s all he could remember. The only thing he knew was that he’d had a disturbing dream, but couldn’t remember what it was about.”

“So?” Scully’s voice was harsher than she intended, but she had a sudden memory of Mulder bullying the dying man, trying to get the information he was now telling her.

“I’ve been thinking about it all night,” Mulder continued. Scully tried to tell herself that this was a good sign. Mulder up all night on a case…. that was a normal thing – a thing she’d almost given up hope of seeing again. But his face told her it was too early to hope yet. The results of his all-night thinking had not been good.

“I think that someone – or something – is controlling these people. It’s more than mind control. It’s more as if they’re completely getting into their bodies. These people are literally not themselves. The person who attacked me wasn’t Martin MacDonald.”

“You mean possession?” Scully said, trying to keep her voice neutral.

“Something like that. I don’t know how it works. It seems to be connected with sleep. Everyone who’s been….. “possessed”, if you like, has been asleep just before. I think that…. whatever it is can’t take control of someone when they’re conscious.”

“But, Mulder….” Scully tried to object but her heart wasn’t in it. If she was honest with herself, she no longer really cared what the answer was. Now she knew it wasn’t to do with implants, all that mattered was that things between them would be as they were.

“It’s not that different from what you were thinking, Scully,” Mulder continued. “When you thought it was something to do with the implants, weren’t you thinking that they were somehow sending messages through the implants – messages that acted on their minds, making them act out of character?”

“I don’t know, Mulder!” Scully found herself shouting. “I don’t know what I thought. I just…. panicked. But that’s over now. It’s nothing to do with them.”

“No, it’s not.” Mulder shook his head slowly, and that look was in his eyes again.

There was a long silence.

“Damn it, Mulder! What is it?” Scully snapped first, unable to take it any more. He’d explained his theory. Why then did he look at her as if she’d break?

“I think….. I think you should go home.” It was a barely-audible mumble.

“What?”

“I…. There’s nothing here for y….. I mean, you’ve been so upset these last few days. You need to get away from m…. from it.” He was edging back, little steps away from her blazing anger.

“Are you saying I’m unfit to do my job?” Her voice was high with incredulity. “Are you saying I need time off on grounds of instability?”

Yes, a little voice whimpered inside her. I do time off. I do need to talk to someone. I can’t take this any more. I should have talked to someone months ago. Just because Mulder’s problems were worse than mine doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to find it hard too.

“Damn it, Mulder!” She ignored the little voice, surrendering to the anger. “If anyone’s unfit to work it’s you. If anyone’s unstable, it’s you. Just before Lewis took you, I was on the point of asking Skinner to make you take psychiatric leave. God! How I wish I had. ” She’d thought it so often, when his behaviour became more than she could bear. But why why why was she saying it – shouting it – now, to him?

Mulder’s eyes were swimming, but he took a step forward, coming into the room at last, his face full of…. pity?

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she snapped.

“I don’t know how…. I…..” He took a deep breath. “I think you should sit down.”

“Damn it, Mulder!” Scully ignored him, listening only to the anger. “Why don’t you fight back? Why don’t you defend yourself? Why are you doing this to me?”

“Because it’s not you.” He held her shoulders, his eyes sincere and sad.

“It’s not…..?” And then realisation dawned. “God, Mulder! You can’t mean…. No!”

“I think it’s taken you over now.” Mulder held her wrists now, stopping them from lashing out at his face, too close to hers. “Last night, perhaps, when it left MacDonald. It couldn’t get a proper grip until you were asleep….”

“So where’s the dead body? Where’s the murder weapon? Why are you still alive?” Scully heard her own voice, cruel with sarcasm.

“I think…. circumstances weren’t right last night. Like the first night it took over Jim Ferguson. His wife said he’d slept badly the previous night, and was anxious and irritable all day.” His fingers dug into her flesh as she tried to pull away from his grip. “I think it only has full control when someone’s asleep, but it leaves its mark at other times too, making the….. victim prey to wild emotions they don’t have full control of.”

“How did you work out I was affected.” Scully hissed the words out between her teeth, still tingeing them with heavy sarcasm.

“Last night, when I came….. Your door was open, but you couldn’t remember opening it. You spoke about a dream, just like MacDonald did – just like Hilary and Jim Ferguson did. And then you were…..”

Scully wrenched her hands free at last. “Right. My door’s unlocked, and from that you deduce I’ve been possessed?” She sighed with exasperation. “Mulder! Hasn’t it occurred to you that I forgot to lock the door because I fell asleep accidentally? And that I shouted at you because…. because you deserved it? Just because I get angry with you doesn’t mean I’m possessed.”

“But you….”

“No, Mulder. You listen to me. I will not take any more of this. I should have stopped it long ago. As soon as you started denying your own problems by saying they were put in your head by a telepath, I should have made you go into therapy. It’s partly my fault, I suppose.” But her voice held no remorse, only anger. “But I will not let you do it again. If I’m angry, it’s because I’m genuinely angry, not because some…. thing is possessing me.”

“But, Scully….”

“Mulder!” The anger made the words flow, even as she knew she shouldn’t say them. “I know things have been difficult lately. But it’s you with problems. If I’m stressed, it’s because of you – of your refusal to deal with what’s happened. The only thing that will cure it is for you to go into therapy – for you to deal with your own problems and stop landing them all on me.”

“I will…. I’m sorry.” Mulder’s voice choked on the words. “I…. didn’t think how much it affected you. I’m sorry. I’ll see a counsellor if it will help you.”

“Mulder! You’re still doing it!” Scully almost hated herself for shouting at him when he was so upset, but the words were ripped from her, a cry of exasperation. “You’ll do it to help me? Why can’t you do it for yourself? Why can’t you see you’re the one with a problem?”

“I’m sorry.” Mulder was so deep in reproach he showed no signs of hearing her. “I made you stressed. That probably made it easier for it to take control….”

Never in her life had Scully needed to use as much control as she did at that moment. “You said I should go home,” she said, when she was able to open her mouth without screaming. “Right. I’m going home.”

Mulder looked as if he’d been punched in the stomach. “It’s the right thing to do.” He spoke so quietly it was as if he was talking to himself.

“I’ll…. I’ll take some samples from the bodies to the lab at Quantico,” she stammered, suddenly desperate not to leave him without some reason, however implausible, for her departure. She couldn’t tell him the truth – not yet. Carried away by anger, she’d said for too much already. “They might find some other explanation for what has happened.”

Oh God, oh God. Please let them find something….. A well-concealed drug….. Something….. Anything…. Anything to finish the nightmare. Anything.

“I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Why did he look so bereft? He’d told her to go, begged her to go. But he needed her… She couldn’t be needed all the time. Sometimes she had to think of herself…..

“Please go now, Mulder.”

How could she live with herself if she left him? Oh God, how would she live if she stayed with him?

Oh God! I can’t go on like this. We can’t go on like this. Help us, please….

~&~&~&~

PART 10

The print was swimming before his eyes again, letters, words, sentences blurring together until they were unreadable.

Scully…. Come back to me, Scully. You’re all I’ve got….

Fiercely, Mulder dashed his hand over his eyes, forcing himself to focus on the papers in front of him. He had to solve the case – had to. Even if all he wanted to do was curl up in a darkened room and wait for her to come back, soft and caring like she used to be. Like she was before he pulled all the happiness from her life.

Selfish, that’s what you are. Selfish. His conscience, stern and unforgiving. How can you expect her to stay when you’ve made her life miserable? She’s pulling away – escaping. Another day with you and she’d have cracked. You don’t deserve her.

The papers blurred again and the focused, the letters forced together by a supreme act of will. Words. Names. Names of the people who’d disappeared. Names of people who knew them, of places they’d been. Pages and pages copied down from phone calls, printed out by computers, sent over faxes. Words, words…..

But no leads yet. No clues. Nothing.

Oh Scully, I’m sorry. I’m trying. I’ll try harder. I’ll try and solve it for you, then you can be safe. Safe from whatever it is that’s feeding on your stress, making you angry, making you shout at me when I can see the guilt in your eyes as soon as you utter the words. I deserve the words, but it hurts you to say them. I can’t bear it when you’re hurt. But I hurt you most of all…..

But if you want to be safe from me too, safe forever, what then….?

“No!” He didn’t know he’d spoken aloud until someone coughed. A police officer glancing anxiously at him, taking in the bruised face, the brimming eyes.

He chewed his lip, trying to pretend he was deep in some work-related thought prompted by the papers before him. He should have gone back to the motel, but the records were so much easier to access from the police station. Besides, there were people here – distractions. Back in his room he’d just have given in to his loneliness and Scully would come back and find the case no further advanced than when she’d left. But here, he had to force his emotions down or people would see. It made his chest quiver, his throat ache, his eyes sting, but it was best for the case – best for her.

Words, Mulder. Think of the words. Focus. Find out what’s done this to Scully. Find out, and stop it. Make her safe. Focus.

But I’ve done this to Scully!

No!…. Yes. Yes, you have. But something else, too. Find it, and stop it. Focus. Stop it hurting her.

Two o’clock striking on the old-fashioned clock. She’d be home now. Had she really gone to the lab? Or was she seeking safety in her mother’s arms, safe from him?

Two o’clock, and nothing, yet. Nothing on the case – their case. Nothing on the disappearances to link them, either to each other or to the murders. Nothing. Just words, names, words.

I can’t solve it without you, Scully. I must, but I can’t. Three years working with you, and I can’t think without you. You never believed, but you let me bounce my ideas off you, putting me on track, making me question. We can only function together. Without you, I’m nothing. Whenever I ran off and left you, I went astray, I got hurt. I worked alone before you came along and see where that got me? Scully, I need you.

But you don’t need me. You can only be happy without me.

Words. Names. A name! Suddenly, clear through the swimming blur of the pages. Dr Kim Bradshaw. He’d seen that name before, on a previous page.

He was suddenly alert, leafing through the pages like a man possessed. There it was again, a few sheets on. Then again, later still.

The papers shook in his hand. Here, at last, after hours of futile searching, was something. All the people who’d disappeared had visited the same psychiatrist.

He stood up, chair grating against the floor, jacket brushing the papers so they fluttered to the floor, a careless cascade of white.

There was no time to pick them up.

~&~&~&~

“Thank you for seeing me at such short notice.” The voice was little, insecure – the voice of a stranger.

Walter Skinner pushed his sleeve back, a slow and considered movement. “I’ve got a meeting at four thirty,” he said, his eyes still on his watch.

Five past four. He knew it already, of course, having checked the time barely a minute earlier, but looking at his watch provided a distraction – a cover for the awkwardness he suddenly felt upon seeing her. He was amazed at the devastation a few days could wreak. Three days ago, when she’d begged him to authorise their current investigation, he’d seen the stress underneath her controlled exterior, but it had been nothing like this. Now, pale, small and tense, she sat as if there was a bomb underneath her chair.

He cleared his throat. “Is there a problem, Agent Scully?” His voice was gruffer than he’d have liked, but he knew Scully neither expected nor wanted special treatment. Say what he wanted to say and he’d appear patronising, treating her as less than professional.

“No!” An instinctive shout, more of defensiveness than truthfulness, for then she shook her head, sadly. “I mean, yes….”

Scully fidgeted, her knuckles white on the arm of the chair. He’d never seen her at a loss for words before. Stress always seemed to inspire in her a steely determination. He’d never forget her anger in those terrible days when she’d returned from New Mexico. “Agent Mulder is dead!” she’d stated, her face a mask of contempt even as she was crying inside. He’d been one of the enemy then, in her eyes, and on the receiving end of her anger. But now, he hoped, she knew he’d always be fair even if he couldn’t be friendly.

“What is it, Agent Scully?” Skinner deliberately kept his voice hard. He hated the way he sounded, but he couldn’t act any other way. “I thought you were on a case. Why have you come back?”

“I’m sorry, sir.” Scully straightened her shoulders, wiping all emotion from her face. As he’d hoped, his tone helped her pull herself together. “I came back to do some work in the lab.” A monotone, as if she was reading a prepared speech. “While I was here, I thought I’d come and ask….” She stopped, biting her lip, losing the script.

“It’s Mulder, isn’t it?” Skinner spoke quietly, coming to her rescue. No need to make this any harder than it had to be. “It’s you and him, as partners? You want me to do something.”

Just for a second, hope blossomed in Scully’s face. She leant forward slightly, looking at him as if he’d given her the key to a dungeon. But then she sank back, the brief light fading in her eyes. “What could you do? I shouldn’t have come. Until Mulder accepts that he needs help…..”

It pained him to see the defeat in her eyes. Three months ago she’d been full of fierce determination. “We will get through this!” she’d almost shouted, seeing the shock he’d felt upon leaving Mulder’s hospital room. “However long it takes, however difficult he finds it, I’ll support him through it. He will recover.” Her eyes had flashed fire, furious at anyone who dared suggest otherwise, furious at the doubt she’d seen in his eyes.

He softened at the memory. God! She’d been so strong for three months, fighting an impossible fight all alone. Who could blame her if she couldn’t take it any more?

He shook his head, sadly. “Maybe I can’t help Mulder, but I can help you. You’ve been through as much as Mulder has. Maybe more, as you’ve had to stay strong for him, put his needs before yours.” A quick glance at the side door of his office. He knew there’d be trouble if he said it, but what the hell? “I can transfer you away from the X-Files.” He held a hand up, stopping her outburst. “It needn’t be permanent, just a few months. You could still see Mulder out of work hours, of course, but wouldn’t have the stress of coping with him all the time.”

Scully’s eyes blazed ice. He was strangely comforted to see it, reminded of her old determination. “Is that what would go on my record? Transferred because I couldn’t cope with a little stress?”

Skinner shook his head emphatically, but Scully didn’t give him the chance to speak.

“But that’s what people would think, and it’s not fair. I’m not the one with a problem here. It’s Mulder. If anyone should be transferred…..” She broke off suddenly, shaking her head. “No,” she continued, more quietly. “If I leave, he’ll just get worse. It won’t solve anything. But if I stay…..” These last words faded into a nothingness of choked throat and welling eyes.

“If you stay,” he said grimly, “you’ll soon be in no state to help Mulder, or yourself. Better for both of you if you get out before it goes too far.”

“No. I can’t leave him.” It was almost a sob. “That’s not the answer.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” A firm voice again, to recall her from her nightmare.

Scully sighed, her body tight with control. “I want you to force Mulder to take some time off and to talk to a counsellor.” She spoke quickly and quietly, as if she scarcely dared to be audible.

“On what grounds?” Skinner asked, gruffly. Of course he knew the answer. He’d seen with his own eyes that Mulder had scarcely even begun to get over what Lewis had done to him. But that didn’t alter anything. His superiors expected him to follow procedure, and he couldn’t make exceptions. “Is his behaviour affecting his work?”

Slowly, oh so slowly, Scully shook her head.

“I got a good report on his work after your last case,” he reminded her, knowing that he was trampling on her last hope. He leant forward, unable to keep the regret from his voice. “You know I can’t do what you ask unless his work is affected.”

“But it is!” Scully burst out. “Can’t you see how different he is?”

“Agent Scully.” Skinner made his voice stern. “If he’s different it’s because at last he seems to be following orders, showing no inclination to pursue lines of investigation that are strictly forbidden. Much as it might sadden me personally to see him lose his drive, in my position as his superior I must officially welcome the change, not discipline him for it.”

Scully turned her face away.

“Agent Scully.” The words hung in the air like a threat until finally she turned to face him. “I’m sorry.” Quick, urgent words full of unspoken meaning. “I can’t do this for you. It’s not fair to put this on Mulder’s record when he’s done nothing wrong. Especially as you were the one antagonising local law enforcement this time, or so I’m told.”

He glanced sharply at that door again, hoping she’d catch the warning, remembering the smug satisfaction with which that particular fact had been reported. Nothing Mulder and Scully were doing right now went unnoticed. He only wished he could be wrong about the reason for this sudden intense interest in their activities.

“So you’re saying I’m the one with a problem?” Scully snapped, showing no signs of understanding his warning. “Just because Mulder isn’t causing trouble, you shut your eyes to the fact that he’s got serious problems. As long as he can drag himself through the working day, you won’t accept there’s a problem, and if I try to get you to accept there is a problem then I’m obviously over-reacting and getting stressed.”

He should have spoken sternly to her for her outburst, but he hadn’t the heart to do that to her. How could he, when she was completely right in everything she said? The terrible thing was that his stance was right too.

“No-one can blame you for finding it difficult,” he said, at last, leaning across the desk towards her. “I’m not ignoring Mulder’s problems. But….” A deep breath, anticipating her anger. “But I think you’re ignoring your own problems. If the situation’s affecting your work….”

Scully pushed the chair back and stood up. “What will it take to make you listen?” she cried. “I’m not the one who needs help. It’s Mulder. Can’t you see what he’s doing to himself?”

Skinner moved quickly to her side. “Agent Scully.” He kept his voice low, eyes on the door. “I can see it, believe me, but I can also see what he’s doing to you. You’re being just as blind as he is – as you accuse me of being.”

Scully’s eyes shone with emotion, but she turned towards the door without a word.

“My offer’s still open, if you change your mind,” he reminded her softly, thinking again how a temporary transfer could well be their only hope for survival.

His only answer was the slam of a door, the faint sound of receding footsteps.

Skinner sighed, leaning back against his desk, shutting his eyes briefly against the after-image of Scully’s anger. His eyes shut, he didn’t see the other door open, but he heard the slow creak, smelt the smoke.

“You got what you wanted.” Skinner made no attempt to hide his distaste. “She didn’t accept.”

A lung-full of smoke was blown in his face. “Ah, but you shouldn’t have offered. You were told not to.” There was no menace in the voice. There was no need for it. They were winning.

Skinner still hadn’t looked at him. He wished he didn’t have to speak to him, but he had to ask the question, even though he knew the other man would see it as a sign of weakness. “How’s Mulder taking her absence?” he asked, trying to sound casual and knowing he’d failed. There was more than Mulder’s happiness riding on the answer. If Mulder wasn’t coping, Scully would never agree to leave him.

“Why do you think I know that?” God! He hated that voice, answering questions with questions.

“Damn you!” He whirled on the other man, hands clenched into angry fists, remembering too late his resolution not to acknowledge his presence with a look. “Can’t you leave them alone?”

“We have a right to defend our interests.” A bored monotone, wheeling out the tired old excuses.

“But they’re not…..” Not a threat, not to anyone but themselves. But what was the point of saying it? Why betray Mulder and Scully by discussing their problems with the enemy?

“No.” A satisfied smile, a slow twist of the cigarette in the ashtray. The other man had read his unspoken thought.

“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” He’d suspected it already, of course, but had desperately tried not to believe it. “It’s not this case they’re on?” He fervently hoped it was. He understood how this man’s associates genuinely believed there were secrets that should be kept at all costs. Although he disliked their methods, he could at least understand their motivations, and knew that Mulder had taken them on with his eyes open, accepting the risks. If this sudden interest in observing his agents came from something they’d uncovered on this case, then he could tolerate it – not like it, but tolerate it. But if it wasn’t….. The alternative was even more cruel than he’d expected, even for them.

“What do you think?” The other man, his hands empty now, curled his mouth in a thin smile.

Skinner turned his back, collecting his papers with exaggerated gestures, making a show of preparing to leave for his meeting.

“You should be pleased.” The smoke-edged voice was relentless. “You reopened the X-Files. You’ve fought for them to stay together. Now that’s what we want too.”

Skinner tried not to rise to the provocation, but it was too much. “Damn you! You want them to stay together just long enough to destroy themselves. That’s not defending “national security”, or whatever you call it. It’s cruelty.”

“Defending our interests, as I said.” There was a spark as he lit another cigarette. “Prevention is better than cure, as they say. You saw the…. unfortunate consequences last spring when Mulder acquired that tape. This way, we make sure there won’t be a repetition. It’s better for everyone.”

“Not for them.”

“But we’re not doing anything to them. That’s what’s so…. convenient. They’re doing it to themselves. Self-destruction, while we just have to wait and watch. Much more effective than anything we’ve done to them.”

“Was Lewis….?” Oh God! He’d never considered that.

A grim laugh. “No. We had nothing to do with that. But he did our work for us. Now we reap the consequences.”

Skinner turned away in disgust. What sort of a man could laugh while two people tore themselves apart?

“Get out!” he suddenly shouted, turning around in fury.

~&~&~&~

PART 11

He wasn’t at home, either. The windows were sightless holes in the night, the walls radiating a sense of emptiness.

Mulder sighed, resting his elbow on the mailbox as he scanned the house. It hardly seemed worth walking up the path. Dr Bradshaw was clearly out, and from the pile of newspapers at the door it looked as if he’d been away for more than a few days. Another dead end, just like the hours spent at the university twenty miles away where the doctor had worked. His office locked, with no-one to give him the key. His colleagues singularly uninformed about his research. The doctor himself absent on leave for over a month, getting some rest after months of almost ceaseless work.

He pushed himself away from the mailbox, stepping forward onto the path even as his mind was telling him all the reasons why there would be no point. He wondered why he’d paused. Of course he was going to investigate. Any chance, however small, of solving a case that was hurting Scully just had to be taken. And it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do. There was no contest. A long lonely night following leads that came to nothing, or a long lonely night in a motel room thinking of the way Scully’s eyes had burned with torment. No. No contest. Anything was better than that.

He paused at the door, the slanting shadow of a neighbour’s tree flickering on the chipped red paint, the scuffle of newspapers at his feet. Kicking them aside, he knocked at the door, listening dutifully for sounds he never expected to hear.

Silence, but for a small sound as his foot touched a newspaper, scraping it softly on the stone step.

Suddenly he stiffened, realisation washing the lethargy from his mind. A week’s supply of newspapers. But he was sure the mailbox had been empty….

His hand sought the cold security of his gun. Already the house seemed darker, the noises he’d dismissed as whispering trees suddenly sounding like human menace. Walking silently to the window, he peered in, not surprised to see fallen furniture, books scattered on the floor, eerie shadows in the almost-dark room. It could have been a burglar, of course, attracted by the blatant advertisement provided by the pile of newspapers. But deep down he knew it hadn’t been. This was something else.

He was hardly surprised, after all this, to find that the door handle turned easily, allowing him to explore the extent of the damage. He walked slowly through the ruined rooms, the torch beam falling on scenes of devastation. A mound of papers. A smashed plate. Books everywhere. A familiar sight, now, from so many dreams of sitting in the ruins of his apartment waiting for the call to say that Scully had died, seeing her unconscious face on every trampled page.

Oh, Scully…..

He caught his breath at the memory, sinking down into the grey couch, comfortless but strangely familiar. He started as his fingers met something hard, but it was only the remote, slipped down behind a cushion. Suddenly desperate to hear another human voice, he pressed the on button, but nothing happened. They’d taken the television, trying to disguise it as a simple burglary. But of course it wasn’t. He’d seen the result of their work before, seen the particular sort of damage done when searching for something.

He leant back and shut his eyes, feeling the coldness of the house penetrate his spirits. A cold house, not a home. No ornaments, bare furniture, hundreds of videos for the long lonely nights, takeaway numbers by the phone. And the papers…. Everywhere in the house were books, papers, files, and all of them about work. This was a man who lived for his work, because he had nothing else to live for. God! He’d disappeared for over a week, and no-one had noticed. Was this his own future? Was this his own present? No-one to care where he was, except Scully, and now he’d driven her away too?

The silence pressed down on him like a leaden blanket, making him want to shout. Hours now since he’d heard a human voice. Days – weeks, even – since he’d received a smile. It had been different once, he was sure. Scully with her torch, creeping through the house, making her own observations. She’d be upstairs now, her footsteps faint on the worn carpet, a look of mock-scolding on her face when she came down and found he’d sat down next to the doctor’s video collection. Then they’d share opinions, sometimes with a joke or a smile, sometimes deadly earnest, but always together.

Had it ever been like that, or was that just as idealised memory of what should have been? He knew now – Lewis had taught him – how memory could play tricks, fooling you into believing the past was other than what it had been. The summers of childhood always sunny, the first love never surpassed, the past tinged with the rosy lies of nostalgia.

He stood up, suddenly, letting the remote fall to the floor with a crash. What was wrong with him? There was no time to wallow in self-pity. Scully was in danger, and he had to help her. The past couldn’t be changed, but the future could – Scully’s future. For her sake, he had to fight the clutching tendrils of memory and focus on the case.

But it was so hard….

He picked up a file from the floor, leafing through the contents, knowing he wouldn’t find anything important. They were thorough. They’d have removed anything that looked remotely important, leaving behind nothing worth a second glance. They never did. Sure, they left little clues sometimes, toying with him, leading him to small painful truths, but the bulk of their activity was always secret and always would be. What was the point in looking at all?

To help Scully. To find out what was possessing her, threatening her sanity and life….

Yeah, right. With a sound close to a sob he threw the file back with the others – a useless pile fit only for garbage. Whom was he kidding? Scully wasn’t possessed. She was just – just! – cracking under the strain of dealing with him. It was all his fault – she’d told him as much. He thought he’d leant to face the truth, but once again he’d run away from his own guilt, trying to hide behind some non-existent paranormal explanation. What was the point of carrying on?

He switched off the torch, letting the darkness enclose him, although he could still feel the devastation. Faceless men emptying drawers, piling up papers, eyes dispassionate as they tore someone’s life to shreds. He could feel their presence still, like the lingering after-image of a lightning flash. Had they found what they were looking for? Perhaps not. Someone had come back, emptying the mailbox. They could be out there at that very moment, watching him, monitoring him, even taking aim at his head through the uncovered windows.

Not that it mattered. If they were watching they’d see him turn towards the door, feeling his way through the wreckage with his hands. No point in staying. Three years into the struggle, and he’d only just leant that now. Deep Throat, Mr X, Skinner…. He’d ignored them all, stumbling into situations way above him head, learning little but losing much – making others lose more. Never again. All the truths in the world were not worth risking Scully’s life for. This time, he’d back off before she got hurt.

But…. His fingers clutched at the door handle at the sudden memory of her tormented eyes in the night. But what if she was affected by…. whatever it was? He couldn’t just walk away without finding out…..

Oh God! Scully. I need you here, Scully. I don’t know what to do. Help me.

But if she was here, would he tell her? Of course not. It affected her, so he wouldn’t tell her, wouldn’t put her through any more pain. He’d seen how close she’d come to breaking down entirely when he as much as suggested she might be possessed.

Might be possessed. Might be…..

He slid down the wall, crouching on the carpet, head leaning back on the cold plaster. He just didn’t know what to believe any more.

He squeezed his eyes shut, imagining Scully’s presence, hearing her cool tones echo in his head. She’d know what to do. A quick tap of her heels as she explored the house, a glance outside to see they weren’t being watched, a realistic assessment of whether they should carry on with the case.

He could almost hear her now. A creak from the kitchen. Light footsteps in the hall, muffled by carpet. Scully….

Strange how realistic imagination could be.

Shaking his head to clear the memory, he rose to his feet, hearing the silence of the house. No sound but his own breathing.

A step forward. A sudden noise made him start but it was only the crackle of paper under his feet.

Another step. There was a small click as he switched his torch on, directing the beam onto the floor, trying not to look at the detritus of the doctor’s life.

Then a sudden noise behind him made him turn, spinning the torch around in a disorientating whirl of light.

A pair of eyes, blinking in the sudden glare. And then a flash of dazzling silver as the knife held in the man’s hands began its descent.

~&~&~&~

His mouth moved, though no sounds came out, and his eyes spoke with an eloquence that was more than words. Their faces were only inches apart, dark eyes locking with light. She only came up to his shoulder, and her head leant back, resting on the arm he’d placed around her neck, turning her lips up towards his. Murmuring silently, his lips began to move slowly towards hers….

“God!” Scully reached for the pause button and froze the lovers into an eternity of not quite touching. She’d already turned the sound off, finding that the swelling violin score made her eyes prick and her chest convulse with inexplicable sobs, but had found the human presence strangely comforting, even if they were only actors on a screen, probably long dead now. It was just some old movie. She couldn’t remember the title, couldn’t be bothered to check the video case to find out. She’d grabbed it at random on the way home, hoping she could escape into the world of fiction.

As if she could forget….

She stood up, picking up the cold pizza from the coffee table. She’d eaten half a slice, forcing lumps of chewy cheese down her throat as if they would choke her, but the rest sat there, cold and repulsive. An evening in with a movie and pizza. What could be more normal than that? And what could be more blind and stupid? She wondered what she’d hoped to prove. That she was okay? As long as she could pass an evening doing normal things, then everything was normal and she needn’t worry?

God, she thought again, tipping the pizza into a plastic storage box, although she knew she’d never touch it again. What’s wrong with me?

She glanced at the television again, suddenly seeing a hint of Mulder in the hero’s eyes, shining with silent intensity. “Damn you!” she shouted, surprising herself with her anger. Mulder again. He was always intruding – calling her, slipping into her thoughts, disturbing her peace. “Leave me alone!” She switched the television off, wishing she could wipe Mulder from her life so easily.

She sighed, guilty at the thought. Of course she didn’t mean it….

Yes, I do. The little voice of her anger, relentless in her mind. I don’t want anything else. The Mulder who makes me furious, heart-broken, and sleepless…. the Mulder who’s driven me away from this case by his behaviour….. the Mulder I worry about all my waking hours, leaving no time for myself…. I don’t want anything more than to be rid of him.

“No!” She spoke aloud, desperate to silence that train of thought. That’s not the real Mulder. He’s being difficult now, but he needs me to stay with him, however hard it is for me. I’ll help him, then he’ll get better. He’ll be himself again.

But what if he doesn’t…..?

“Stop it!” she shouted, sinking down on the couch, her head in her hands. She couldn’t let herself think like that. She had to find some other to get through to him, to make him realise he needed help. Whatever she did, she couldn’t leave him, not even for a few months, as Skinner had suggested. However difficult, she had to stick it out. He needed her.

She bit her lip against the despairing howl that was threatening to burst out. When she was young, fourteen and never been in love, an older girl had told her smugly about her boyfriend. “He’ll never leave me,” she’d said, a satisfied smile on her lips. “He’s unhappy away from me. He needs me.” She’d been so jealous then, wondering if she’d ever meet someone who needed her like that. How could she have been so blind? Being needed was like being in prison. Just leaving him for one night could destroy….

She glanced at the phone. She ought to call him. He’d be feeling hurt, lonely and anxious, scared to call her in case she shouted at him. She ought to call him – reassure him she was coming back. And if he sounded okay, then perhaps he could survive without her and she could….

“No!” She shook away that thought, reaching for her cellphone. She ought to call him. Ought to.

But the very thought of hearing his voice made her want to scream

She dropped the phone, listening to the loneliness of her apartment. God! She’d come home to get away from Mulder, to try and restore some sort of sanity in her life, and what was she doing? Sitting there in silence thinking about him. Like a poison in her bloodstream, he invaded every aspect of her life, leaving her with nothing she could call her own.

“Damn you, Mulder!” she shouted, and on sudden impulse picked up her car keys and headed for the door.

~&~&~&~

PART 12

“Stop the car!” A quavering order close to his ear.

Mulder had no choice but to obey, aware of the gun – his gun – still aimed at his forehead, although the man was now using his left hand to support the shaking right.

“Are you going to kill me?” He hadn’t the heart for the black humour he normally used in situations such as these. What was the point? If he was going to die, then he was going to die.

“Keep you hands on the wheel where I can see them.” The gun pressed closer to him temple, cold against his skin.

God, but he’d been stupid. Letting the man creep up on him like that, getting himself pressed against the wall by the knife at the throat while the man’s other hand reached to pull his own gun from the holster. Then, threatened by knife and gun, he’d been marched to the car and ordered to drive, until at last they’d arrived at the end of a dark lane, apparently in the middle of nowhere. It would be days before they found his body.

“What were you doing in the house?” the man asked, cutting into his memory.

“I could ask you the same question.”

“But I’m the one with the gun.” There was a painful circle pressed into his forehead now, little stabs of pain coming whenever the gun shook. “This time, I want the answers.”

Mulder turned to face him, pushing against the gun, suddenly knowing that the trigger wouldn’t be pulled. “You’re not one of them.” It wasn’t a question. Now he could see the man properly for the first time it was obvious. He was dishevelled, unshaven, his face radiating anxiety.

“Don’t look at me!” The man raised his hand quickly, then brought it down, letting the hard metal of the gun crash into Mulder’s forehead, although there was little force in the blow. “You know I’m not.” But his voice was less sure now, shaking with doubt.

“Put the gun down,” Mulder urged. “It’s loaded. It might go off accidentally.” The man lowered the gun, though he still kept his finger on the trigger, still stared warily at Mulder. “Who are you?” he asked, at last.

“My name’s Fox Mulder. I’m with the FBI. My ID’s in my pocket, if you want to check.” He paused long enough for the man to reach and take it, looking straight at him to allow him to compare him with the photograph. “I’m investigating the disappearance of Dr Kim Bradshaw and five of his patients,” he lied, hoping this was the right answer.

The man leant back against the passenger seat, gun forgotten. “Only five? So they got most of them after all. He hoped….” Then he gasped, stopping himself abruptly, raising the gun a little. “Are you trying to trick me?”

Mulder nodded towards his hands, palm up on the steering wheel. “You’re the one with the gun, Mr…..” The man didn’t provide his name. “If I was with them, do you think I’d go all alone to that house and let myself get caught?”

“If you were really with the FBI, would you really go all alone to that house and let yourself get caught?” the man responded, but there was a wan smile on his lips. “No, I shouldn’t believe you, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.” He glanced over his shoulder, staring into the night. “If this is a trap and your friends are out there, then I don’t think I really care. In a way, it will be a relief to get this over with.”

Mulder raised his hand to his aching forehead, massaging it gently. “No. My friends aren’t out there. I’m alone.” He tried to keep the tremor from his voice, but knew he wasn’t entirely successful. Damn it, Mulder, he reminded himself. This is no time for wallowing in self-pity. Concentrate!

There was an awkward silence.

Mulder broke it first, needing a sound to distract himself from his thoughts. “So, what’s all this about then?” A good open-ended question. Prompt the man into a long explanation, so he needn’t think enough to come up with probing questions and comments. He didn’t feel quite focused enough for that.

“Why are you really here?” The voice was sharp and suspicious, although the gun was now untouched on the man’s lap. “I know you’re not here because of Kim’s disappearance because I know no-one’s reported it.” He smiled, almost apologetically. “But I did hear that the FBI were here poking their noses – sorry, my… informant’s words, not mine – in some murder case.”

Mulder decided to trust the man, though for all he knew he was playing a double game. He could have been the one who had sent the clippings, for some agenda of his own. “Yes I – we– were investigating several murders, but the case got…. complicated. I was given reason to believe they might be linked to Dr Bradshaw….”

“Kim would never kill anyone!” A hot protestation of outrage.

“No,” Mulder hastened to assure him. “No-one thinks he did. But the murders were apparently committed by people who were…. not quite in control of their minds.” He chose his words carefully. “And Dr Bradshaw was doing research….” He let the sentence tail off suggestively, although he had no idea what Dr Bradshaw was doing research on. But he had a strong feeling that the other man did know, and that the best way to get at the truth was to bluff.

The man let his breath out in a horrified rush. “Murders?” he stammered. “Five patients disappeared? Oh God! It’s just what he was afraid of.”

“Perhaps we can stop them, if you tell me what you know.” Mulder spoke softly, not wanting to push too hard and arouse the man’s suspicions.

The man sighed shakily. “Yes. I….” Then he collected himself. “But it’s not my secret to tell. I can’t….”

“Look.” Mulder leant forward, taking the man by the shoulders. “I can’t prove to you that I’m not one of them, but you just have to trust me.”

The man’s finger tightened on the trigger. “And I still have the gun, just in case.” There was no threat in his voice, only doubt.

“What’s your name?”

“You mean, you don’t know already?” The man’s eyes were still distrustful, but then he shrugged. “Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But I guess I’ve no choice but to trust you. My name’s Mark Coates.”

“And what’s your connection to Dr Bradshaw?” God, but the man was making this difficult. Would he have to fight like this for every scrap of information?

“Kim was my friend.” Coates shook his head sadly. “I hope I mean is, but I’m not sure any more.”

Mulder paused while the man collected himself, feeling the man’s grief even though he didn’t express it openly.

“We shared a room at College,” Coates continued at last. “We ended up living in the same state so managed to keep in touch after we left, although recently we only met every six months or so. I knew he was busy on his project so kept away, though I made him promise to come and stay for a week when it was all over.” He managed a wan smile. “Ironic, huh?”

“You mentioned his project?” Mulder suspected this was the heart of the matter, but tried to keep his voice neutral.

Coates smiled, sadly. “Oh, his project. God! I sometimes used to hate that project, back at College. He used to keep me up till all hours of the night, telling me all about his theory, and how he’d devote his life to putting it into practice. I humoured him, but… well, everyone has dreams when they’re young. How many people ever fulfil them?” He laughed bitterly. “I was going to be more famous than Freud, of course. And now I just teach psychology to High School kids who aren’t interested in it.”

Mulder felt some reply was expected. “I was going to be an astronaut,” he managed to say, although his mind was on that other dream – the real childhood dream – that he still hadn’t achieved. Maybe that’s all it had ever been – a youthful dream as unrealistic as flying into space, and, like other youthful dreams, best forgotten.

“I never thought he’d be successful,” Coates continued after a pause. “I thought he was throwing his life away on a fantasy, sacrificing everything for something that was essentially unattainable.”

Mulder knew the words weren’t meant for him, but found he couldn’t meet the man’s eyes. He swallowed quickly and looked away into the dark countryside, struggling to keep his mind on the explanation.

“But then he called me a few months ago and said he thought he was successful!” Coates was speaking fast now, fortunately not needed prompting. “He said he was taking all the leave he had owing from the university to test it at home on his patients.”

Mulder had already found out that Dr Bradshaw, as well as carrying out research at the university, kept one of his rooms at home as a consulting room and saw a small number of patients.

“What…. what was the project?” Mulder managed to ask at last, turning back to the light.

“Astral projection, he called it. He had this theory that most of the illnesses of both mind or body could be cured if you could find a way to separate the two. He thought most illnesses were essentially psychosomatic, and presence of the mind just slowed down the recovery of the body by distracting thoughts of fear and pain. It was his great dream – unite the disciplines of psychology and medicine. He as a psychologist would do the research, and then medical doctors would use it to help people.”

Mulder was silent, waiting for more, but Coates misinterpreted his expression. “You don’t believe it’s possible, do you.” It was not a question. “I can’t blame you. I was always sceptical. But it’s not a new idea, he always told me. All he wanted to do was find a way of doing it that was acceptable to modern science, but lots of cultures have done it for centuries – or believe they have. He used to spend months down with the Navajo, talking to their medicine men.”

Mulder turned away, looking into the darkness, seeing again the field of stars and the men who’d come and talked to him while his body was in the hogan. If he hadn’t listened to them then – if he’d stayed in the stars and not come back – what then? Would Scully be any happier?

“….a few weeks later.” Coates’ words cut into his memories. “He said only six of them were able to do it, even with the drug, but they were getting better and better at it every time they did it. He thought they’d soon be able to do it without the drug, just with the self-hypnosis.”

“Did you ever….?” Mulder stopped, unsure of quite how much he’d missed.

“No. I didn’t come and watch, or even ask how it was done. He was going to tell me when he’d finished the trials.” He sighed. “But that was before….”

“Before what?” Coates’s tone had been grim.

Coates took a deep breath, as if plucking up the courage to relate something he didn’t like to think about. “About three weeks ago he called me. It was late – after midnight. He sounded as if he’d been drinking, although he seldom drank. He said it was all going wrong. Or rather, it was going too well. He said he’d started getting all the six together at regular sessions where they could practice their skills in a group. And it was only then that he found out….”

Mulder squeezed the steering wheel, listening to the words hang in the silence.

“He found out that they could return to the wrong body.” Coates laughed, mirthlessly. “Two of them did it as a joke, that’s how he found out. Of course he was horrified. Effectively he’d created people capable of taking over other people’s bodies, making them do….. whatever. It was like a horror movie come true.”

“So he stopped?”

“Oh, how I wish he had.” It was a cry of anguish. “He knew he should. He was terrified of what he’d created. But he couldn’t just walk away. He needed to find out more, even though he knew he shouldn’t. He was like a drug-addict, unable to stop even though he knew he had to.”

“So he experimented on those people, even though he knew it was dangerous.” Mulder couldn’t keep the contempt from his voice, his mind full of memories of the hideous medical experiments done in the name of science – Operation Paper Clip, Dr Ridley, the Eves….

“Don’t you judge him!” Coates’s eyes blazed with sudden fury, his shaking hand raising the gun. “He had to carry on, even though he knew the consequences. It was twenty years of his life. Can’t you understand?”

Of course he understood. He’d have done the same – he had done the same. But that didn’t make it any more forgivable.

“Anyway.” Coates’s voice was softer now. “They were all willing volunteers. That’s what worried him most – that they’d do it themselves, outside his supervision. Either that, or….”

“What?” But he knew the answer, knew what they could do with such an ability.

Coates blinked several times, his eyes shining. “He called me again, last weekend, for the last time. He said that some men had come to see him – men in expensive dark suits, claiming to be doctors working for the government. They said they’d heard about his research and it sounded promising – too promising for him to do by himself. They offered him unlimited funding if he’d come and work for them, saying that was the fruits of his research could be available to the whole country much faster.”

“And he refused.”

“Yes. He told them he’d think about it and they said they’d come back later, but he wasn’t stupid. He saw the menace through their smiles. So he did all he could. He burnt all his patients’s records, even the ones not in the group, and then he packaged up his research and he….” The words stopped as if they’d been cut with a knife.

“What….?” Though the rest of the sentence was obvious. Why else was the man on the run?

Coates shook his head, a quick guilty start. “I don’t know.” He changed the subject quickly. “He called me and told me all this, so if he disappeared I’d know the truth, maybe be able to do something about it.” He sighed. “I think he knew nothing could be done, though.”

“But they found the patients anyway.” The five missing people from the clippings.

“I suppose so. I don’t know how. But one got away…..”

“Our murderer.”

There was short silence, both of them lost in their own thoughts.

God! What about….? He grabbed the man, firing questions at him. “What sort of people can he take over?” He tried to keep his voice level, but knew he wasn’t succeeding. “Do they have to be unconscious themselves? How long can he stay in their bodies?”

“I don’t know!” the man shouted. “I’ve told you all I know. It’s all in the research notes….. I guess.”

“You haven’t read them?” Mulder was incredulous.

“I don’t want to know! I daren’t look at them. If I don’t know the details then maybe they’ll let me go!” Coates cried out with sudden panic, tears running down his cheeks.

“Why don’t you give them to me?” Mulder suggested, gently. “Then you’ll be out of danger.” And I’ll know if Scully’s at risk, he added, silently.

The gun fell to the floor with a clatter as the man covered his face with his hands. “I shouldn’t,” he said, though his tone suggested otherwise. “I don’t know if I can trust you, but….. ” A shuddering sigh. “I can’t live like this any more.”

“You don’t have to.”

You’re playing right into their hands, a little voice at the back of his mind told him. Who do you think sent the clippings? They’re waiting for you to lead them to the truth, while they only need to watch. If you take the research you’re as good as giving it to them, and risking your own life at the same time.

No! The little voice of reason couldn’t compete with the shout from the rest of his mind. What’s a little risk? I need to know the truth, for Scully’s sake. If this person is possessing her, this might be the only chance to stop him.

But Scully would be at risk too. The voice wouldn’t give up. Think of what happened when you took that digital tape, thinking only of yourself, not of her.

“I’ll keep it safe for you.”

His mind was made up. Scully wasn’t here – wouldn’t be till tomorrow. She was safe from their retaliation if they tried to gain the research. He was only risking himself, and what did that matter?

~&~&~&~

PART 13

“I got another letter too – from Mrs Harper. You remember her, don’t you, love?”

Silence, but for the slurp of cold coffee swilled in the half-full mug.

“You went to kindergarten with her son Patrick.” Still no answer. “You kicked him in the face when he tried to look up your skirt. Then you cried because they took him off to hospital to stitch up his lip, and you wanted to do it yourself.” She forced a laugh. “I guess that’s when we knew you were going to be a doctor.”

The coffee swilled round and round, creeping ever closer to spilling over the rim.

“Dana?” Margaret Scully touched her daughter gently on the arm.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Dana gave a wan smile. “That’s…. interesting.”

“She asked about you.”

“She?” Dana stammered, looking bemused. Then she shook her head, sudden understanding on her face. “Oh, yes. Of course. Tell her I’m… okay.” Her voice wavered on that last word.

Margaret Scully felt tears gathering in her throat. “Oh Dana, why can’t you just tell….?”

“So how are they?” Her daughter’s voice was desperate, even scared.

“Who?”

“The boys, of course!” Her voice was almost angry. Where had that come from? “You were going to tell me their news.”

They’re okay.” She’d talked about her sons some five minutes ago, but let it pass.

“Good.” Dana’s eyes were shining with unshed tears.

“Dana.” Margaret tried to take the mug but her daughter’s hands tightening around it protectively, her knuckles white. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I keep meaning to call them.” Dana ignored the question, speaking fast and loud. “I keep forgetting. I’ve been…. busy recently.” Her voice cracked again.

“Dana. It’s Fox, isn’t it – I mean, Mulder?” She corrected herself with a small laugh, hoping to provoke a smile from her daughter at the old teasing argument they always carried on.

Dana wouldn’t meet her concerned gaze. “That’s a new picture, isn’t it?” She spoke with a heart-breaking forced lightness, eyes focused above her mother’s head.

Margaret Scully made up her mind. It was one thing not to push, but this was too much. She was her mother. She put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “I know how difficult it’s been for you lately, but you can’t bear all this alone.”

“I can’t turn my back on him, however much….” Dana cut herself off short, eyes blazing with sudden anger. “Don’t you suggest that too!”

“I wasn’t saying you should.” Margaret kept her voice soft. She wondered who else had suggested that as a solution. Her boss, perhaps. Or maybe just part of her mind she was trying to ignore. “But maybe you could be more help to Fox if you think of yourself more. You can’t help him if you’re too stressed yourself.” She chose her words carefully, knowing her daughter’s fierce loyalty to her partner. The best way to get through to her was to appeal to this loyalty – convince her that by helping herself she’d be helping him.

“It’s always him!” Dana pulled away, knocking the mug over, splashing cold coffee on her knees. “Skinner…. Now you…. Think about the effect you’re having on him. You can’t be stressed – you’ve got to be strong to look after him. Pull yourself together so you can go back to him and let him to this all over again.” She voice was harsh and bitter, twisting other people’s words.

“Dana, that’s not….”

“What about me?” It was a cry of anguish. “It’s not selfish to want to be happy!”

“Of course it isn’t.” Margaret held her daughter’s hands, quickly rethinking her approach. “I am thinking of you – and of Fox. Neither of you can carry on like this.”

“We’ve come through bad times before.” A little voice, oh so doubtful.

“Oh, Dana…” She reached out her arms for a hug, but her daughter pulled away, wrapping her arms tightly around her own body. She couldn’t find any words of comfort. Yes, they had survived the bad times before, but at what cost? Dana crying in her arms when she returned from New Mexico. Fox in his apartment on the brink of darkness, recalled only by Melissa. Melissa herself. Could that really be called “getting through”?

“Yes,” she said, at last, trying not to show her doubt. “But this is worse, isn’t it? The cumulation of all those other bad times, all getting on top of you.” And the direct result, perhaps, of the two of you failing to deal with all those other bad times, she thought, going back to work each time as if nothing had happened. Just like you’re doing now, storing up even worse trouble for the future.

“It’s not me. It’s Mulder,” Dana said, defensively. “I can deal with things. I don’t need help. At least,” she admitted, “not like he does.”

Margaret nodded, even as she wanted to disagree. Fox did need help. She’d only seen him a few times in the last few months, but what she’d seen had shaken her deeply. But why couldn’t Dana see that she had problems too. Just because her problems derived from his didn’t make them any less real, or deserving of attention.

“Dana. I’m your mother. Please talk to me.” She tried to sound strong, like a child’s fantasy of a mother, godlike and solving all problems, but she couldn’t keep the shake from her voice. “It will only get worse if you don’t talk.” She grabbed her hands. “Listen, Dana. You told me yourself that you wished Fox would talk about his problems. Can’t you see you’re doing the same?”

Dana pulled away, looking at her watch. “It’s late. I must go. I’ve got to go back to…. Mulder tomorrow morning.”

Her voice only shook a little. Still her independent little girl, trying ever so hard to be brave. “I’m not crying!” she’d whimper, through gritted teeth, when she fell over trying to keep up with the boys. “Crying’s for little girls.”

“Why don’t you stay here?” Margaret asked, suddenly.

“Oh Mom, I couldn’t.” She was trying to sound so confident, but her eyes betrayed her.

“I want you to, dear. We don’t see each other much, and it’s good to have company. We can do whatever you want. Watch a video…. talk…..” She said a silent prayer. Please let her talk. She needs to talk about this before it overwhelms her.

Dana sat down, not putting up a fight, although Margaret had twenty other reasons prepared to persuade her stubborn and independent-minded daughter to stay. “I’d rather just talk.”

Margaret sighed deeply with relief.

“No!” Dana shook her head, reading her mother’s mind. “I want to talk about…. things. The family. What you’ve been doing. Normal things.”

“Dana….”

“Mom! Please!” Dana’s voice was desperate. “It helps, it really does. Can’t you see I want to forget things, just for one night. I want to be normal.”

“I’ll go make some coffee.” Margaret turned away to hide her disappointment, knowing there was no point in arguing.

~&~&~&~

“I’ve never handled a gun before.” Coates’s voice was shaking, his fingers drumming relentlessly on the window. “You’d better take it.”

Mulder glanced out of the window, blinking to focus his eyes, weary after several hours of night driving. There was no sign of any watchers, but he knew that didn’t mean anything. Invisible eyes could be watching them from the dark buildings, their presence unknown until a bullet ripped away a life.

“You hid it in a school?” he said, at last, when he took in their surroundings.

Coates bridled at his tone. “It’s very secure. It would take weeks to go through all the paperwork in there.” Then his face crumpled, his pretended confidence washing away. “It’s all I could think of. When I got the package…. There was a note in it. Kim told me to hide it somewhere safe. I didn’t know…. Of course I’ve got no experience in this sort of thing. I’d have thought it was a joke, except…..” He took a shaky breath. “He regretted sending it to me as soon as he’d done it. He called me, telling me he’d put me in danger. He said I was to destroy all his research without opening it.”

“Why didn’t you?” Mulder reached to the floor of the car and picked up the gun.

“It was twenty years of his life!” Coates exclaimed, as if the answer was obvious. “I couldn’t do that!” He shook his head regretfully. “I guess I should have, though,” he continued, more quietly. “I didn’t realise then how serious it was. I thought he’d just misunderstood the situation – that we’d laugh about it later. I was just humouring him by hiding it.”

Mulder clenched and unclenched his hand on the gun. “Do they know about this place?”

Coates shook his head. “I don’t know. If they know I’ve got the research then I guess they do, but I don’t know. When I found out Kim had disappeared I just panicked and ran. I haven’t been home since then, though I called a neighbour who says there’s been some men in car outside my house for days.”

There was a short silence. Both men were breathing too quickly.

“Let’s go in,” Mulder said at last.

Coates heaved a shuddering sigh, picking up the knife from his lap. “Yes,” he said, shakily.

Mulder tried to shut the car door quietly, but the noise seemed to reverberate through the night until he was sure that some hidden enemy would emerge, but all was still. No sound except their own footsteps, sounding louder than was natural. No movement but the wind-driven clouds, dark grey against the black sky, their movement reflecting on the staring windows of the building.

He couldn’t stop a sudden gasp when a noise, harsh and jangling, shattered the silence, but it was only Coates, digging into his pocket for a bunch of keys.

“This one opens the main door,” Coates whispered, his eyes bright with tension. “Then we have thirty seconds to unlock the office on the right and punch in the combination. If we’re too slow, the alarm goes off.” He stooped as the keys slipped from his nervous fingers. “The trouble is, the alarm is connected to all the internal doors as well. I’ve got to leave it off while I’m inside.” He glanced over his shoulder, peering into the enveloping darkness.

Mulder gripped the gun tighter. “I’ll stay here and guard the door. You go as fast as you can and get the package.” He reached into his pocket, handing over his torch.

“Okay.” Coates nodded, his voice quaking. He still hadn’t put the key in the lock. “I’m sorry.” He gestured to his shaking hands. “I’m not used to this sort of thing.”

Mulder tried to smile encouragement but knew it was probably more of a grimace. “It’ll be okay,” he managed, sounding more confident than he felt.

Coates took several shuddering breaths, then turned the key in the lock and was gone.

Mulder stood still, all his senses alert, holding his gun with both hands. Every little noise made him tense into an instant watchfulness, his finger tightening on the trigger, but each time it was nothing. A distant car. A dog barking somewhere. The drone of a plane far overhead. Nothing.

He glanced at his watch. A minute gone now, though it seemed like much more, each second dragging out in an agony of impatience.

He took his left hand from the gun, flexing the fingers to relieve the aching muscles, then passed it quickly over his face, feeling the tense dampness on his brow. Then he took a step backwards, edging towards the open door though his eyes were still probing the dark emptiness outside.

Two minutes. He was counting the seconds silently in his head. God! Where was he? He didn’t think he’d missed any sound, but they could act instantly and silently if they had too. What if….?

A crash of broken glass broke off that thought with the sudden cruelty of a gunshot. Breaking glass! And it was coming from inside the school.

Quick as thought, Mulder ran into the building, following the sound down a corridor to his left. His footsteps echoed like drums off the deserted walls, but the noise didn’t matter any more. Speed was what counted – what could make the difference between life and death.

Suddenly the sound of his footsteps changed. A crunch from one step. A screech, shivering painfully down his spine, as the next step made something sharp scrape against the floor. The sound of broken glass, crushed beneath his feet.

Mulder stopped, swinging around quickly with his gun pointed at the shadows, his finger poised and ready to shoot. Left – no-one. Right – no-one. Oh God! What about….? He whirled back, heart pounding, but there was no-one behind him, even though he could almost feel the menace in the twisted shadows.

Silence. There was no-one there.

Then who….?

Then everything fell into place. Mulder took another step forward, only for his foot to come up sharp against an object in the middle of the floor, in the heart of the scattered glass.

“Damn!” he cried, silently, furious with himself for falling for the trap. A brick through the window to distract him while….

He was already running when he heard the noise. A muffled shout. Scuffling footsteps. A door opening and shutting.

As fast as he could in the almost-darkness, Mulder ran back the way he’d come, following the noises, trying to ignore the rising wave of reproach which was building up inside his mind. How could he have been so stupid?

He paused when he came to a row of lockers, strangely illuminated from below, casting tall shadows on the wall. It was his torch, still rolling gently to and fro with a soft scraping noise against the tiles. He stooped to pick it up, wincing when his fingers told him that the glass was broken. He didn’t switch it off. What was the point? They knew he was here anyway, and he could find them all the faster if he could see where he was going.

One locker door was wide open, and he didn’t need to shine the torch inside to know that it was empty.

He slammed the door shut in sudden fury, heedless of the resounding crash that echoed through the building. Crash…. echo…. echo…. and then…..

The muffled shout again, still somewhere in the building. Perhaps he could redeem himself after all.

“Hey!” he called, giving up all attempt at surprise as he ran towards the noise. Feet pounding down the corridor. A swinging double door. Another corridor branching into several doors. Which one….

He turned suddenly, feeling a breath of cold air on his cheek. Just to his left was short flight of steps, seven or eight, leading to an external door. An open external door. And through the door was the sound of a car door shutting, and engine being started.

“Stop!” he shouted, throwing himself down the steps two at a time, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste. “St…”

A fist swung from the darkness, driving him back against the wall, forcing the air from his lungs.

“No!” he croaked, trying to find the energy to close his fingers tightly round his gun, to train the weapon on his attacker, but another blow made him stagger and lose his balance, felling him heavily to the ground.

He shook his head urgently, trying to recover control, but another blow, a kick this time, landed in his ribs, driving all coherent thought from his mind as he struggled to breathe.

Then there was a click, and suddenly everything was clear again.

A gun.

There was a gun trained on his head, held by a cruel-faced man with eyes of deadly ice.

As Mulder watched, every second seeming like an eternity, the finger tensed on the trigger.

“I’m going to die,” Mulder thought, and was surprised to find that this time he felt no real emotion at the realisation. Scully would be sad, of course, but it would probably be…..

There was a shout from the car – a name, perhaps.

The man swore, lowering the gun with a look of hatred. Slowly he took a step back, his eyes full of reluctance. He swore again.

Another shout, more urgent this time.

Quickly now, the man stepped forward. “I’d just kill you, Agent Mulder,” he hissed, but before Mulder had a chance to wonder what he meant, a foot landed in his ribs, exactly the same place that was still throbbing from the last blow, and everything was wiped out in a red haze of pain.

With gritted teeth, Mulder dimly saw the feet slowly walk away to the car, dimly heard the screech as the car sped away, taking his hopes away with it.

“Oh God!” he muttered, pulling himself with difficulty to his feet, clutching to the door for support. “I’m sorry.” Sorry to Scully for losing the answers to the case. Sorry to Coates for letting him down. “I’m sorry.” He could feel tears cold on his cheeks, forced out by the pain of the kicks.

He was still leaning against the door with his eyes shut when the night was shattered by the wail of police sirens and flashing lights shone through his closed lids.

He sighed with resignation, but didn’t open his eyes.

~&~&~&~

Tuesday 6th February

The soft padding of footsteps in the night penetrated Margaret Scully’s dreams. Her breathing changed pace as she half-wakened and rolled over, but her eyes remained shut, her mind still wandering in the pathways of sleep.

Then there was another noise – a creak, sharp and loud.

With a gasp, she sat up in bed, jolted into an instant wakefulness. She knew that noise, although she’d seldom heard it for several years. The family, out of long years of habit, avoided that particular squeaky floorboard without having to think.

Feeling her heart pound, she glanced wildly around the room, looking for something – anything – that could be used against an intruder.

Nothing.

She sighed with resignation. She supposed, after what had happened to Melissa and Dana, that she should have taken more precautions. Dana was always urging her to get some protection. She always said it was just a general precaution everyone should take, but her eyes were full of more fear than her words could express.

The house enclosed her in silence. She sighed, leaning back on the pillow, trying to convince herself it had been her imagination, or some unidentifiable sound of the house cooling down at night.

She’d almost convinced herself when the sounds started again. Pad pad of soft footsteps getting closer and closer. Hesitant footsteps. Little bare footsteps like a child….

“Dana!” She whispered it aloud, relief flooding through her body, relaxing muscles she hadn’t known she’d tensed. In the confusion of being woken from sleep, she’d forgotten Dana was staying in the house. She shook her head briskly, driving out the last vestiges of sleep. If Dana wanted to talk – and she most fervently prayed that she did – she’d need all her wits about her.

“Dana!” she called, louder this time, as she heard the door handle turn slowly, painfully slowly. She reached for the bedside light but then withdrew her hand from the switch, reluctant to subject either hers or Dana’s night-adapted eyes to the sudden glare of its harsh light.

The door opened and the footsteps padded hesitantly across the carpet, but there were no other sounds. No words. Not even the sound of crying.

“Dana? Are you okay?” She reached into the darkness but couldn’t reach the darker shadow that was her daughter.

No answer.

“It’s okay. You didn’t wake me. Come and sit down.” She kept her light, noisily patting the edge of the bed to guide her daughter through the darkness.

There was no response, not even the faintest of movements.

“Shut your eyes, dear. I’m putting the light on,” she said at last, unable to stand the silence any more.

Light flooded the room, making her blink and shade her eyes with one hand. Frowning against the glare, she peered up to see her daughter, eyes shut against the light, her expression unreadable.

Margaret threw the covers of the bed and stood up, moving to her daughter’s side. “Dana?” she asked, in concern, touching her daughter’s arm.

Dana started violently, but didn’t move away. “Mom?” she stammered. “I’m sorry. I…. I…. I couldn’t sleep. I was…. thinking…. But I must have slept because I dreamt….” She broke off, her eyes shining with tears.

“Tell me about it,” Margaret murmured, leading her to the bed like a child.

Dana leant into her mother’s shoulder. “I was in prison. It was…. horrible. I had to get out or they’d kill me. The man in the next cell was going to help me escape but then he wouldn’t.” She was reciting it in a tense monotone, as if only that could keep her from breaking down. “I was desperate. When the guard came with my food, I attacked him. I took his gun and shot him. Then another came at me and I shot him too. And another. And another. There was blood everywhere…..” Her voice cracked at last, as tears soaked into her mother’s night dress.

“It was only a dream, honey,” Margaret crooned, stroking her hair. She was anxious to ease her daughter’s distress, but at the same time relieved to see that she was crying. She’d kept too many emotions bottled up inside these last few months.

“You don’t understand!” Dana’s voice was fierce, even though broken with sobs. “The guards I killed – I looked at their faces when they were dead, and they were… they were all Mulder.”

“Shh!” Margaret wrapped her arms around her daughter, rocking her gently. “It was only a dream.” But she was fighting tears herself, recognising the truth behind the dream’s images.

Dana pulled away from the embrace, visibly fighting for control. “Is that what will happen?”

“I don’t know.” Margaret couldn’t offer the complete reassurance her daughter needed. “But if you talk about it, maybe you’ll be able to cope with it better, and then you won’t feel you need to escape.”

“I…. I….” Dana struggled with words for a while but the sobs proved too much for her. “Oh, Mom!” she whimpered, seeking her mother’s arms again.

~&~&~&~

PART 14

The knock on the door was hesitant, barely there at all. She’d have missed it if she hadn’t been expecting it, sitting rigid on the bed, her heart already speeding up in anticipation of what might happen.

“Come in!” Her voice came out as a little croak, and she coughed several times, partly to clear her throat, partly to cover her confusion and…. dread?

There was a short silence, full of so much tension that she almost wanted to scream.

Just as the silence was threatening to drag into minutes, they both spoke at once – inarticulate sounds hastily cut off when they realised the other was talking too.

Silence.

“Mulder….” Scully said at last, desperately.

“You came back.” He spoke in a monotone, a simple statement of fact. He was half turned away so she couldn’t see his face.

“Yes.”

“I thought….” Mulder began, but then trailed off into silence.

“What?” Her voice had a sharp edge she hadn’t intended, but she knew what he’d been going to say and was angry that he had so little trust in her as to think she’d just leave like that and never come back.

“Nothing.” Mulder waved a hand to dismiss that train of thought. “Did you find anything?” he continued, quickly.

“Er….” What was he talking about? “No….?”

Mulder shook his head sadly, his shoulders slumping. “I didn’t think you were….”

“Oh!” Scully exclaimed in sudden realisation. She’d told him she was going to examine the samples in the lab. “I’m sorry. I took them there. They haven’t found anything yet, but will contact me when they finish the tests.” It was all true, although she’d completely forgotten about it.

Mulder sighed, absently brushing a bit of carpet too and fro with his foot. She knew he didn’t believe her, and thought she’d just gone to get away from him.

“Mulder…” she began angrily, then bit back the words, realising that it was true. But now Skinner had turned down her request, she had to restrain the anger and try to salvage their relationship.

Neither of them spoke for a while. Scully found herself tensing up in irritation at the scraping sound of Mulder’s shoe against the rough carpet, but dug her fingers into her palms and said nothing.

“Where were you?” she asked at last, trying to make it sound like an idle enquiry.

The foot froze, leaving a darker patch of carpet brushed the wrong way. “I was just…. out. Working on the case.”

“You were out all night.”

“You called?” Mulder looked up at last, his voice rising with anticipation of her reply.

“No.” It was only when Mulder sighed that she realised how much he’d been hoping that she had, but it was too late to undo the damage. “When I got back this morning, the receptionist said someone had been looking for you last night.”

“Someone?” Mulder frowned. “I was out last night too.”

“Mulder, he says this man came somewhere around eleven, and was still waiting for you at three, maybe later, for all he knows.”

“What sort of man was it?” Mulder’s voice was desperate, although he must have known she wouldn’t let him get away that easily.

“Look, you can’t hide things from me, Mulder.” Scully stood up, forcing him to meet her gaze. “What happened last night that you don’t want to tell me?”

Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but seemed to recognise it was futile. “I was arrested,” he muttered, looking at the floor.

“Arrested!” Scully’s instant reaction was anger, but she soon realised the potential of the situation. Not affecting his work, she muttered, silently. Well, let’s see what Skinner has to say about this.

“It’s okay,” Mulder added quickly, dashing her hopes. “I explained things to the police and it’s all sorted out. I had to stay for a few hours to sort out the details, and the town was several hours away, so I couldn’t get back until now.”

Scully tapped her foot. “I’m waiting,” she said, folding her arms.

Mulder walked across to the window, leaning with both hands on the sill. He seemed to be walking more carefully than normal, bent over slightly to one side.

“Are you okay?” Scully took a step forward, concern stopping the angry response she’d been about to make to his silence.

“I’m fine, Scully. Someone kicked me, that’s all.” Mulder kept his back to her.

Scully pulled on his shoulder to turn him around. “Let me look.” She led him to the bed and gestured to him to sit down.

“It’s nothing,” Mulder smiled in an obviously forced attempt at lightness, although he drew his breath in sharply when she pulled up his shirt and gently touched the large bruise on his ribs. “The guy was pointing a gun at my head. Believe me, this is nothing.”

“Someone pointed a gun at you?” Scully started in sudden shock, her fingers moving sharply against Mulder’s skin, making him cry out softly. “What happened?” she asked, when she could trust her voice to stay level. She wasn’t sure if she was more frightened about the fact he could have died, or angry that he’d put himself in such a situation again.

Mulder stood up, pushing her hands away and tucking his shirt in again. She didn’t argue. The bruise, although obviously painful, wasn’t serious. He walked across to the window again, his back to her.

Scully took several deep breaths, her fists clenched into tight balls. “Mulder, just start from the beginning and tell me,” she hissed, through clenched teeth. God! How she wished for the days when he’d talk for hours on his latest theory, even if she showed no signs of interest. It had sometimes driven her crazy, but now she’d have given anything to be back with that Mulder. Getting anything out of him right now was like getting blood out of a stone.

“Okay.” Mulder sighed, still staring out of the window. “I found out some of the answers to our case.” He spoke slowly, as if thinking carefully about every word. “It was a psychiatrist called Kim Bradshaw. He was doing research in…. hypnosis, using some of his patients. The research was so successful that the patients could effectively…. hypnotise someone in an instant, causing them to do things they’d never do otherwise.”

Scully felt the anger rising up again. It was obvious he believed there was more to this than hypnosis, but once again he was patronising her with half-truths. “Mulder,” she said, sharply, cutting off his explanation.

Mulder made no reply. He was drumming his fingers on the windowsill, the noise nagging in her skull, insistent and irritating.

“Nothing,” she said, at last, remembering again the need to avoid a confrontation. If they had to work together, then they had to repair their relationship. Perhaps Mulder had the right idea. Maybe avoiding controversial issues was the best solution, even if that meant lying. Neither of them were ready to talk about what really mattered, not yet.

“Anyway, they found out about it,” Mulder continued, his voice strained. “I suppose they thought it would be a good weapon. They took Bradshaw, and his patients – they’re the people in the clippings. But somehow one of them got away. He’s probably out there, causing the murders.”

“You still haven’t explained how you nearly got yourself killed.” Scully refrained from commenting on the rest of his explanation.

“Bradshaw sent his research to a friend. This friend…. came to me and offered to hand it over. We went to get it and…. they were there. They took him and the research, and were gone before the police came….”

“So why didn’t they kill you?” Scully cut in, sharply. She felt shaky inside, thinking of how easily he could have been murdered, miles away from her, without anyone knowing where he’d gone. “God, Mulder! Why weren’t you more careful?”

“I’m sorry.” Mulder leant forward, resting his head on the glass. “I should have… I was guarding him. They took him. They distracted me and I fell for it. I was so stupid.” Quick harsh words of self-reproach.

“Mulder…” Scully raised a hand to touch his arm, but drew back. What was the point? She’d spent so many hours arguing with his guilt, all to no avail. He never listened, never even seemed to hear her. She couldn’t face that rejection again, not right now.

“I wanted to….” It was a quiet murmur, barely audible.

“What?” Scully asked, firmly.

Mulder shook his head, shrugging as if to say “nothing.”

Silence. Scully supposed she should ask more questions, but she really couldn’t face one of Mulder’s theories. She was terrified that, if she pushed, he’d suggest again that she was acting under the control of this fugitive patient. He seemed to have dropped that idea, but he was obviously not telling her the whole truth.

“So, we’re going home,” she said, breaking the silence at last.

Mulder’s head jerked up. “What?”

“Well, if what you say is true, then they already have the answers. There’s nothing left.” She murmured a silent prayer. Both of them needed to be away from the pressure of a case before they could hope to salvage the future.

“But there’s someone out there, making ordinary people kill – people like y…. ordinary people like…. Hilary Carpenter and the others. We’ve got to stop that.” He was speaking with something resembling his old determination.

“Mulder!” Scully almost shouted, furious at what he’d been about to say. He’d stopped himself before completing the word, but she knew what he’d meant. “It’s too dangerous. You’ve already let one person get….”

“Killed.” Mulder completed her sentence, his voice full of pain.

“Think about it, Mulder,” Scully urged. There was no time to deal with his guilt right now. “They probably gave you those clippings. They knew this man would never deal with them, but he might trust you. They used you to lead them to him. Why do you think they didn’t kill you last night? Because you can still be useful to them. If you carry on with this case, you’re doing their work for them.” The words came out in a rush. She believed them, too, although the main reason she wanted to go home was personal – so they could talk about their problems in a less pressured environment.

“But there’s still someone out there, Scully.” His voice was low and intense. “They’ve got what they want now. He’s no use to them. But we…. Scully, that person’s killing people, hurting people. If we can stop it….” He turned round, his eyes shining with emotion. “He’s hurting people. I know how he’s doing it. I’ve got to do all I can to stop him. I owe it to….. I’ve got to.”

Scully sighed, sitting down heavily on the bed. She’d thought she’d have been overjoyed to see him so determined, but there was something about his intensity she found worrying. It was something personal – and painful.

She leant her head back, massaging the back of her neck with her hands. “Okay,” she said, reluctantly.

Mulder let out a great breath. “I’ll just go have a shower,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“Mulder, I’m not the one who….” Scully exclaimed in indignation, then stopped, shaking her head. “Forget it. Just…. go, Mulder. We’ll talk about it later.”

As soon as the door shut, she threw herself face down onto the bed, grasping great handfuls of bedclothes in her fists, squeezing them until the knuckles stood out white. God! How much more of this could she bear? She’d thought she felt calmer after finally crying at her mother’s, but as soon as she saw him, it was all starting again. How much longer could they go on?

Slowly, she relaxed her muscles, forcing herself to take deep calming breaths. Think positive, she told herself. He doesn’t seem to think I’m possessed. He’s actually interested in a case. He showed some tact in not telling me his whole theory until we’re calm enough to take it. It could be a good sign.

Could be….?

“You just go on telling yourself that,” she said, out loud. “Because the alternative…..”

She wouldn’t let herself complete that thought.

&&&*

The blood was still there, still moist, staining darker patches in the trampled mud. Although the ground had dried out a little over the last two days, it still shifted underfoot, yielding with a rich slurp, making twisted semi-solid sculptures of red-tinged mud.

When he found the right spot, Mulder crouched down, letting his eyes and his mind explore the scene. Neglected yellow tape flapped limply from the trees, marking this as a crime scene, but there was no-one else in sight – no-one else interested in the loss of a stranger’s life. No-one….

Suddenly, he caught his breath, holding every muscle tense, apprehension tightening on his stomach like a clenched fist. Something had moved, somewhere on the fringes of his peripheral vision.

Slowly, casually, he stood up and turned towards the movement. Nothing. Not even the smallest quiver of the undergrowth, the smallest breath of sound. Nothing.

He took a step forward, then another, starting violently when a twig cracked under his foot, shattering the woodland stillness like a gunshot. And he wasn’t the only one startled into sudden movement. There was a sudden flurry of noise, undergrowth violently shaking, as some animal fled away from the imagined threat. It wasn’t quite where he though he’d seen the earlier movement, but it was close. Close enough.

He took a shaky breath, feeling the relief flood through him. An animal. God! What was wrong with him, that he tensed up with fear at an animal, out here in the woods where there were probably thousands of the things? He wondered what he’d expected it to be. Someone following him? Hardly likely. He wasn’t the one in danger, and Scully…. Scully was safe in the town, surrounded by other people, working in an office. No, there was no danger yet.

He walked back to the spot where MacDonald had died, resting his hand on the trunk of a tree for support as he closed his eyes and played back the scene. Hands on his throat, squeezing the life from his lungs. Scully’s face floating before his eyes, tormented with guilt because he’d died after she’d shouted at him, no matter that he’d deserved everything she’d said. And the man’s eyes, so full of hate, threatening vengeance, before they suddenly changed, wiped out by blood, blinking with confusion. A different man. One man had done the crime, and the other had paid for it with his life.

“No!” he muttered, fiercely, his mind suddenly full of Scully’s face, painfully tense with barely-controlled anger. He mustn’t let her suffer the same fate. He didn’t know if he really thought she was possessed by the fugitive patient, but if she was…. He shuddered, his fingers digging into the soft bark. God! If there was just the slightest chance that she was possessed, then he had to do all he could to stop it.

But how?

He opened his eyes, surveying the crime scene sadly. What had he hoped to discover by coming here, by visiting the sites of the other murders? To find some evidence that the murderer returned to the scene of the crime, to survey the aftermath of his actions? He supposed he’d hoped that the murderer, after being forced to leave MacDonald’s body, had found some way of returning, to view the rest of the tragedy. But if he had, there was no way of knowing. The place was so churned up with footsteps that nothing could be learnt.

Nothing.

It was all he could do not to cry aloud with frustration. Scully needed help, and he didn’t know how to give it. Maybe she was possessed – maybe. Maybe he was just clinging to that idea because the alternative was far worse – that she was having some sort of breakdown, with no third party to blame for it. But what could he do? Whenever he came close, expressed some concern, she pushed him away, fire blazing in her eyes and telling him it was all his fault.

Oh Scully, I’m sorry…. I’m trying, he whispered in his mind. I want to help you but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know anything any more. I’m trying. Help me….

There was a movement again, somewhere behind him, but he didn’t bother turning to face it, although he felt the apprehension rising inside him again. What was the point? It was either an animal, or…..

The barrel of a gun. Sunlight glinting on a knife. The shattering weight of brick. Choking fingers. Eyes full of hatred and vengeance. A voice hissing “I’d just kill you” as a foot slammed into his stomach. Pain. Darkness and pain.

Scully’s face closed against him, stabbing him with her words. “Get out of my room.” “Go away.” “Can’t you see what you’re doing to me?” Scully, small and frightened after finding that implant. Scully erupting into painful emotions whenever she saw him.

Last time it was only the thought of her that had him fight, but maybe it would be for the best, best for her….

He rested his head against the moist bark and closed his eyes, listening to the silence, feeling hundreds of eyes upon him, their gaze pressing on his closed lids. Imagination, probably, but maybe…..

~&~&~&~

PART 15

It was quieter now, phones jangling less often, the hum of office conversation dimming as people began to go home. Some voices remained, the threads of their conversations weaving in an out of Scully’s mind without engaging her attention. Half past six, dull inside and dark without.

Scully leant forward, burying her face in her hands, her fingers rubbing her weary eyes. Half past six. Five hours of work, poring over page after page of notes, until the words seemed to reach out and attack her, making her eyes and head throb with the strain. Five hours of work, and all for nothing.

She exhaled, long and deep, picking up the next sheet and preparing to read it, knowing even as she did so that it would yield nothing, feeling at the same time a stab of guilt at her attitude. On a case, you couldn’t afford to be defeatist. You had to follow every trail, even through days and days of dead-ends, still hoping that somewhere there would be a breakthrough. But sometimes it was just so difficult.

The words danced before her eyes, refusing to settle, so she focused on the distance a while, trying to rest her eyes. The window. Darkness outside. Outside….

Where was he?

Suddenly desperate for something to squeeze, she picked up a pen, holding it between her fingers until the plastic gave little cracking sounds, threatening to break.

“Stay calm. Stay calm.” She mouthed the words silently, willing herself to fight the anger that was threatening to rise again. She’d kept it in bay all afternoon, settling down to go through the doctor’s papers, knowing that Mulder was elsewhere following leads of his own. It had been his idea that she take the papers to the police station, requesting their support in the investigation, and she hadn’t argued, finding that the presence of other people – normal people who spoke freely without having to think about every word – calming. Playing back their conversation at the motel again and again, she’d even managed to convince herself that there was hope – that he was beginning to get back to normal – that they would get through this after all.

But where was he? Five hours, and no word.

She’d decided against calling him, scared that every conversation would easily degenerate into an argument. She’d known she’d have to face him sooner or later, of course, but every passing minute was making her calmer, more ready to talk to him without exploding into anger. Better later than sooner, she’d decided, trying to convince herself she wasn’t just acting out of cowardice.

But now the anger was threatening to return. Where was he?

She shut her eyes again, resting her forehead on her hand. Half an hour. She’d give him half an hour, then call him.

Footsteps came and went. The door opened and shut. Soft voices entwined in the distance. Footsteps, padding towards her. Footsteps. The rustle of paper. A hand….

She jumped violently. A hand on her shoulder….

“Scully?” Mulder’s voice, close to her ear.

“Mulder.” She tried to calm her breathing, but knowing she could never breathe easily while he was around, not right now. “Where….” She stopped, knowing that if she said more it would come out like an accusation.

Silence. She was suddenly acutely conscious of the other people in the room, feeling their eyes boring into her back, their ears hearing every nuance of their conversation.

“Are you okay?” Mulder’s hand hovered uncertainly above the back of her own hand, then withdrew.

Scully sighed, passing her hand across her eyes. “Yes. I…. I’m just tired. There’s nothing here.”

“No.” Mulder’s eyes were focused above her head, his voice barely audible.

“What?” She jerked her head up, speaking sharply “What do you mean? Did you know there was nothing here?”

Mulder shrugged. “Er…. no. No, I didn’t. But…. I told you earlier, Scully. They took lots of his papers. We both knew they were unlikely to have left anything important, but we couldn’t afford to assume that without double checking.” He still didn’t meet her eyes.

Scully nodded quickly, conceding the point, but then returned to the offensive. “You’re hiding something, Mulder. I can tell. What have you been doing?”

“Nothing!” It was quick and defensive. “I just went back to the crime scenes to see if we’d missed something…. but….” His tone completed the sentence.

Footsteps passed close by and they both froze, words drying up until the person had passed. It was as if they both realised the knife-edge they were walking in their relationship, and didn’t want witnesses.

Scully ran her hand wearily across her face. “So….. What now?”

Mulder was silent, his brows knitted in some enveloping thought.

“We could check at the university – see if there’s anything there to say who his patients were,” Scully offered, desperately.

“No.” Mulder shook his head absently, still half lost in thought. “He destroyed…..”

“What?” A chair scraped across the room, as someone half rose, alarmed by her shout. “What?” she asked again, as quietly as her anger allowed.

“Nothing.” Mulder’s eyes were dark with deceit, and…. fear?

“Mulder!” Scully stood up, gripping him by the upper arm. “What were you saying? Do you mean to say that you let me slave here for five hours – five hours, Mulder – when you knew I’d not find anything because he destroyed it all himself?”

Mulder chewed on his lip, his eyes darting left, right, left – anywhere but look at her.

“Do – you?” She fired her words at him like little darts of ice.

Silence.

“Damn you, Mulder!” She kept her voice low and deadly. “Why did you lie to me? Was it….” She dug her fingers into her palms, trying to keep from shouting. “Was it because you were doing something dangerous this afternoon and wanted me safe?” She tried to keep the bitter sarcasm from her voice, genuinely anxious to know his reasons, but wasn’t able. “Or was it….” She threw her hands up in frustration. “Oh God, Mulder. I really don’t understand you.”

“I couldn’t!” Mulder spoke quick and fast, sounding like a fugitive cornered in a dead end. “I couldn’t risk….”

“Risk what, Mulder?” Hands on hips, voice hard as stone.

“He might know, somehow….”

“He?” Then she understood, and wished she didn’t. “Oh God, Mulder, not that!”

Mulder began to speak, the words pouring out like turbulent water, scarcely intelligible. “I don’t know if I believe it, Scully. I really don’t. But maybe…. Scully, we can’t take the risk. What if he is somehow in your mind? It’s more than hypnosis, Scully. He really gets into people’s minds. What if he is in yours? We can’t take the risk of ignoring it. He might know everything you think – everything you know. I had to get you somewhere safe – somewhere researching something that was no threat to him….”

Scully squeezed his wrist, using pain to break his flow of words. “So you tricked me into doing a useless job so I don’t pass on useful information to some killer inside my own head?” She could feel a bubble of hysterical laughter rising deep within her, even through the icy fire of her anger.

“I…. I….” Mulder made no attempt to escape from her grip, although his fingers were turning dark from the pressure on his wrist. “I’m sorry. I just don’t want you to get hurt….”

Scully laughed then, a harsh and angry sound. “I don’t understand you, Mulder, I really don’t.” She was aware of other people in the room shifting uneasily but was beyond caring. She was sick of having to control her feelings. “You’ve such a…. warped view of reality. When I try to get you to address your problems you shake me off, saying there’s no need, saying Lewis was telepathic and made everything up – even though you obviously still believe everything he told you.” She was shouting now, no control left. “And now I finally react to the strain, you say I’m possessed. God, Mulder!” She grabbed his other wrist, holding them both with all the anger she felt. “You take the blame for everything that isn’t your fault. Why can’t you accept the blame for something that really is your fault?”

Mulder’s eyes were shut, his face white. He opened his mouth several times, trying to speak, then cleared his throat, ran his tongue over his lips. “Scully….” he said at last. It was not much more than a croak. “I’m….”

“I don’t want to hear it, Mulder,” she snapped. She felt dizzy suddenly – claustrophobic. “I…. I want to go back to the motel.” Her voice was hoarse from the shouting.

“Scully….” His eyes were shining, his throat working convulsively.

She couldn’t speak. Deep down, she knew she’d said too much already, but right now couldn’t feel sorry, couldn’t hear his remorse. Silently, she walked past the staring eyes of the other people and collected her coat, her heels sounding unbearably loud in the hush of the office.

“Scully….” He reached out a hand and tried to grab her sleeve.

“Get off me, Mulder!” she snapped, and Mulder’s hand dropped as if it had been shot.

Scully took several deep breaths, feeling the anger quieten. “Look, Mulder,” she said, more quietly. “I…. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said all that…. But right now…. ” She sighed again. “I don’t know. Perhaps you needed to hear that. Perhaps it will make you think about what you’re doing to me…. to us. Perhaps….”

“I’m sorry….”

“Mulder!” She’d shouted again before she could stop herself. “Look, right now I just need some time alone with this, okay?”

As she opened the door to leave she was surprised to find tears evaporating cold on her cheeks.

~&~&~&~

There were voices in the night. A giggle from a young couple, struggling to take their hands off each other long enough to turn the key to their room. A quick burst of rapid conversation escaping through a briefly opened door. Distorted music blaring from the road, changing pitch as the car roared past with a screech of tyres. And Scully….

“Get off me Mulder!” Her voice twisted with anger and pain, pounding in his head. “Why can’t you accept the blame for something that is your fault?” For her grief and stress. For the suffering shown by her white knuckles, red-rimmed eyes. His fault.

Scully, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry….

He didn’t know why he was here, not any more. Sitting close to her door, withdrawn into the shadows, keeping guard. He didn’t really think she was possessed, not now, though the danger still lingered in the back of his mind. If she was, and came from her door, her heart full of murder, then he’d be there for her, there and waiting to stop her. But if not….

He sighed, accepting the truth at last. If not, then she was right. He’d driven her to this. It was his fault. But even so he’d be there for her still, watching her door, knowing he wanted to be with her, knowing he’d never get the courage to knock on her door and hurt her with his presence. Maybe later. Not now. Not yet.

“Why can’t you accept the blame….?”

God! He’d been so blind, so sure he’d accepted the truth about everything he’d done, when all the time he was too cowardly to realise what it was doing to Scully. Nothing had changed. Still running away from his responsibilities, still trying to blame the results of his actions on something other – something paranormal.

But not any more. Now was the time to face the truth. Now was the time to….

Oh Scully, you were right. I can’t cope with all this alone. I thought I was in control of it, but I do need help, more than you can cope with. If – when, I mean when – we get back, I’ll talk to someone. I’ll get help. I will, I promise.

And there was more, too. More words. “You take the blame for everything that isn’t your fault….” She’d said that, too. Maybe, just maybe….

Oh, she’d said it before, of course, her voice soft with concern and sadness, trying to tell him that he wasn’t to blame for everything that had happened to her, but he’d never even tried to believe her, not recently. She was lying, of course, trying to make him feel better, knowing the truth always hurt. How could her words have half the weight of those vivid pictures Lewis had shown him – pictures unearthed from the suppressed depths of his memory – pictures that showed the truth?

Or so he’d believed, even after he’d found out Lewis had lied about other things, never questioning what he’d been shown.

But now….?

“You take the blame for everything that isn’t your fault….” This time he’d spoken out of anger, not afraid to hurt him with her words, but still she’d insisted that not everything was his fault. Why should she say it if it wasn’t….?

Scully, I’m sorry. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he did lie to me. Maybe he did make up memories. Maybe…. Maybe I’ve run away from the truth even as I thought I’d accepted it. Maybe you’re right. Maybe…. Maybe I haven’t ruined your life, at least not before today. Maybe that’s why you’ve stuck with me, even though you’ve broken under the stress. Maybe….

He shook his head, fiercely. It was too soon. He’d believed one thing for three months and it was too much to overturn that in an instant. But maybe, just maybe, when they got back, he’d think more about it.

Maybe….

Probably.

~&~&~&~

Skinner had been right, she saw that now. Right, and she’d stormed from the room, not realising the escape he was offering, slamming the door on his solution.

She looked at the phone, for the twentieth time in the last few minutes, wishing it was daytime, wishing she could call him and say she’d changed her mind. But there were long hours of painfully crawling seconds to be endured first, and another night to get through.

Oh God, let it not be too late!

Her words echoed in her head like hammer-blows of guilt. “It’s your fault, Mulder.” She’d as good as said that to him, knowing as she said it that it would hurt but not even caring. “Leave me alone.” The hurt look on his face, the tears welling in his eyes.

I’m sorry, Mulder. I couldn’t help it. I’ve kept things bottled up so long, I had to say it. I’m sorry.

He wasn’t there to hear her explanation, of course. She wondered if he’d ever be there again, if they’d ever be close again. Not if she stayed with him, that was for sure. The anger was still there, hot inside her. Skinner was right. If she stayed, she’d say worse to him tomorrow, even worse the next day, killing him with her words. But if she left….

Oh, it wouldn’t be permanent – of course not. They’d shared too much to throw it away without a fight. But if she was away from him during the day, working somewhere without stress, then she’d be able to call him in the evening, visit him at weekends, offer support and help with a clear mind untroubled with the overwhelming anger she’d been feeling. It would be best for him.

She chewed on her lip, shaken by a sudden sob. Best for me, too, she cried silently. I need this, too. I need it desperately. It’s not selfish to think of my own needs too, is it?

If only she’d accepted it when Skinner offered, a whole stressful day away. Before the despair at her mother’s. Before that horrible argument. It would have been so much easier then. The longer she delayed, then more likely she was to say something to Mulder that was so hurtful that nothing could save their relationship.

It’s not too late now, is it?

It’s not too late, it’s not too late. She stamped her foot, trying to set her doubts at rest. It wasn’t too late. Nearly, but not quite.

She hoped.

It was best for both of them. Temporarily break their partnership in order to preserve it. Best for her. Best for him.

She sat down heavily on the bed, feeling a small glimmer of hope, the first she’d had for days. It would all turn out for the best.

But how could she tell Mulder?

~&~&~&~

PART 16

He kept his eyes shut, his head leaning back wearily on the wall. It wasn’t Scully, and that was all that mattered. Soft-soled shoes coming from the road. A low masculine cough. A hand on his shoulder. Not Scully.

“Agent Mulder?”

Mulder opened his eyes slowly, not wanting to be dragged from the dark of memory. He nodded slightly but didn’t say anything.

“I came yesterday, but you weren’t here.” The man moistened his lips, nervously, shifting a little so the light fell on his face.

“It’s you.” Mulder turned away, remembering how this man’s over-zealous use of his gun had killed Martin MacDonald, depriving them of the chance of getting at the truth. He hadn’t found out his name then, and wasn’t interested now.

“I…. just wanted to apologise,” the man stammered. “You were so angry, and it made me think…. I killed someone. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”

Mulder said nothing. He wanted to be left alone with his thoughts, not burdened with someone else’s guilt.

The man sat down next to him, twisting his hands. What did he expect – sympathy?

Silence.

The man broke it first. “I saw you earlier – at the station.” His voice was nervous, though his face seemed strangely calm. “You were talking to your partner. I…. overheard…. I’m sorry, but she seemed stressed…. Is it something to do with what happened to MacDonald?”

Mulder ran a hand over his eyes, trying to rub them to alertness. He didn’t want to talk to this man, but his words demanded his attention. What had he seen in Scully that made him make that connection?

“Do you think it’s some sort of mind control or possession?” the man asked, quietly.

“I… ” Mulder made a decision. There was a whole night ahead to think, but for now he’d talk. “What’s your name?”

“Andrew Christopher,” the man replied. He reached a hand into his coat as if to get his ID but Mulder shook his head and the hand didn’t emerge.

“What makes you think it’s…. mind control, or….?” He tried to sound casual, though his heart was beating fast. Had Christopher seen something he’d missed?

Christopher frowned. “I thought you said…. I mean, I saw how MacDonald changed after…. I’d shot him. And then I saw the same sort of confusion in your partner’s eyes. I just thought….”

“You think Scully’s…. affected?” Mulder leant forward, grabbing the man’s arm. he could feel the sweat beading on his brow. And just after he’d decided she wasn’t….

“I thought…. I heard you say….” Christopher stammered to a halt. “I’m sorry. Forget it.”

“No!” Mulder almost shouted. “Why did you think that?” God! Scully seldom accepted his theories, and she’d been with him for years. Why should this stranger so readily agree, unless…. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?”

Christopher was silent for a while. “I suppose you’re out here to protect her, in case he takes over her mind tonight.” His voice was low, casual.

Mulder had glanced away at his words, reassuring himself that the light still snaked beneath Scully’s door, but something in the man’s tone of voice made him look up suddenly, in time to catch the faintest of movements about the man’s mouth. A movement like…. a smile?

Slowly, with forced calm, he felt for his gun. “He?” he asked, as if it was of no import.

It was a smile this time, no doubt about it. “Ironic, huh?” Christopher said, no hesitation in his voice now. “That you should be out here alone, thinking to protect her….”

He didn’t finish the sentence, striking quick as thought with the knife concealed within his coat, slashing for Mulder’s throat.

But he was not fast enough. The knife flashed through the air, landing with a clatter too far away to reach.

“It’s you,” Mulder hissed, one hand at the man’s collar, the other on his gun, pushing it into his face. “If you’ve hurt her…” He squeezed tighter, savouring the man’s grimace of pain.

“I…. I….” The man’s face was red with the effort of talking through the constriction at his throat. Mulder relaxed the pressure just a little. “Let go, and I’ll talk. I’ll tell you everything. Just…. don’t hurt me.”

“Why not?” Mulder was not in a mood to be forgiving. “You’ve hurt…”

“And so have you.” The man’s eyes stabbed like daggers. “I know what Agent Scully thinks about that.”

Mulder relaxed his grip, struggling to keep the gun steady. He knew. That meant…. God! He had been right after all, and so had Scully. His fault, but Christopher’s too. But there was no time to think of that now. Remorse couldn’t save her, but answers could.

“So, talk!” He kept the gun pressing into the man’s head, made his voice as hard as stone.

“I need to do it,” the man muttered, until a jab in the head made him speak louder. “I need to. Do you know what it’s like, stuck…?” He bit his lip, blinking, leaving the sentence hanging. “I need to live a bit.”

“By other people’s deaths?”

“Oh, don’t get moralistic on me.” The man’s voice dripped with contempt. “Just think about it. This way I can experience the power over taking someone’s life, the fun of trying to outwit you in the woods, the thrill of planning a crime, but without any of the repercussions. Anyone would do the same if they could.”

Mulder shook his head, though the gun started to shake.

“You understand, don’t you.” Christopher read beyond the shaking of the head. “All that deters most people from crime is the fear of being found out. Give anyone the chance to do what I do and they would. It’s the ultimate way of doing what you want without having to face the consequences. No need to face up to your responsibilities. You’d do it, wouldn’t you? I know you have…. problems with addressing your responsibilities. Scully told me.”

“Shut up!” Guilt made him harsh. He didn’t like to think about what the man had just said. If he had to chance to kill Cancer Man, or Krycek, without any repercussions, would he do it? He’d hope not, but who could say?

He tried to keep his hand steady. “I don’t want your excuses,” he said at last, when he could speak clearly. “Just tell me the answers.”

“To what?” Christopher’s voice was calm. “Do you want to know what I plan to do with her?”

“If you hurt her, I’ll kill you,” Mulder hissed.

Christopher carried on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Or do you want to know how I can do this? I’ll answer that one first, I think.” He paused, smiling at Mulder’s discomfiture. “You know about Dr Bradshaw already, although you didn’t tell her all you know, did you? God! That really upset her, you know, worse than anything I’ve done.”

Mulder swallowed hard, swapping the gun into his left hand to cover his emotion, but knowing he’d failed. Christopher was playing with him, and knew he was winning.

“I suppose you want to know how I escaped,” the man continued, smiling, knowing Mulder didn’t really care. “It was luck, really. We all used to meet at his house every Saturday morning. I was early that day, and took a walk round the block to kill time. That’s when I saw it.” He paused for effect, knowing he had Mulder’s attention. “An unmarked van pulling up, and several men getting out and going into the doctor’s house. They looked like cops or something worse. Well, I didn’t want to get into trouble with the cops so I hid and watched. Soon the others started arriving and knocking on the door. They were let in, as normal, but I could see it wasn’t the doctor who was at the door.” He shook his head. “I didn’t know what to believe. I nearly went to the door myself, but then I saw…. shadows against the window. Someone being beaten to the floor.”

Mulder was silent. Something in this explanation didn’t seem quite right, but he was too anxious about Scully to bother pursuing it. What did it matter how he escaped? All that mattered was that Scully could be saved.

“I was terrified, of course,” Christopher continued. “I just turned and ran. I was sure they were after me, but I don’t think they were, because no-one came after I was….” He stopped, momentary confusion on his face, but then he recovered himself. “I was so scared later, that I started using the…. power. The doctor was right. It does make you feel good. He used a drug at first, but after so much practice I could do it without a drug. At first I just did it to feel good, to enjoy things I couldn’t do myself, but soon I realised the real potential of the situation.”

“Can you only take people over when they’re asleep?” Mulder had to ask. From the light, it looked as if Scully was still awake. He needed to know that this meant she was safe.

“Asleep, unconscious, something like that. Then I can slip into their bodies and stay there until their mind begins to wake up. It’s impossible with a light sleeper, but with a deep sleeper I can stay in for hours, until their mind stirs the next morning. I’ve managed six hours today. Poor fool fell asleep at work. Must be a really deep sleeper.” Christopher laughed, a chilling sound. “But it’s as if the body retains some memory of what’s happened. The next day they have some memory of what I’ve done, though they see it as a dream, and some vague feelings of stress and anxiety. Just like your partner.”

“But you have some link with them afterwards? Or you have access to their memories when you take them over?” Of course he had. How else could he know Scully’s thoughts?

“Oh…. er…. yes. Yes I do. Something like that.” Christopher shrugged.

There was a short silence while Mulder played back what had been said, feeling more strongly now that something wasn’t quite right.

“Why did you come here tonight?” he asked at last, to cover his train of thought. “Do you need to be close to her before you can take her over?”

“Oh…. No. Distance doesn’t matter, at least not if it’s within a few miles.” Christopher sighed, looking dispirited. The gun still pressed into his head. “No. I came here to kill you.”

“Me?” Thinking only of the threat to Scully, he hadn’t considered that he might be at risk.

“Of course. I started doing this so I could have the fun of crime without the consequences. That night in the wood, you hurt me before I could get free, you and him. I wanted you to die for that.” His voice was a hiss of hate, although his eyes were still disp