Silence, Sea & Sky by Anonymous

Silence Sea & Sky cover

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Silence, Sea & Sky

Silence Sea & Sky cover

Title: Silence, Sea and Sky

Author: Anonymous

Rating: R

Classification: XA

Disclaimer: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Walter Skinner and the X-Files and X-Files characters are the property of 20th Century Fox, Fox Broadcasting and 1013 Productions. No infringement is intended.

Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate the disappearance of a young girl who may be the fourth victim of a serial killer and complications ensue when Mulder believes that the girl’s sister has psychic abilities.

–––

His eyes. That was all she could think about as she held the sobs back, tried not to let him see how he was affecting her. She knew she was going to die; that was a foregone conclusion. But her strength was the only thing getting her through and she’d be damned if she’d let that go just for a moment of release. So she stared defiantly at him, into those crazy eyes, and willed herself not to shudder.

She remembered that Summer at the lake, when Brad and Will had taken her out on the boat and the storm had hit. It was terrifying, to be in the middle of that fury and still be able to keep her wits about her and help Brad haul an unconscious Will into the boat. And the trip back…she concentrated on that memory, on the terror that kept her going that day.

She had enough terror today but it served only to incapacitate her, turn her into a child. She didn’t know what he wanted; if she had she certainly would have given it to him. But something deep inside her knew. The evil that we fight is an ironic evil; it lives in all of us. She closed her eyes. Where had she read that? His harsh voice made her open her eyes again. His madness was apparent as he gazed at her and he moved forward tentatively, as if he was somehow afraid of her. Which made sense, she thought tiredly. She just wanted it to be over now. Please, just let the suffering be over. Her eyes widened as he reached up with his rough hands and untied her. Her arms prickled as the blood coursed through them and she carefully rubbed her wrists, staring with huge eyes at this man, this monster. He looked at her for a long moment but he didn’t see her as a person. He saw her as…she blinked. She didn’t know. Did he know? She was startled when he slid a notebook across the rough-hewn table, even more surprised when it was accompanied by a dull pencil. She looked up at him.

“I need them to know you’re here,” he said in that hateful, guttural voice. She stifled a whimper. She wasn’t the writer; Brad was. What could she possibly say? She knew she was going to die but they…they probably held out hope. She should reassure them, because she knew they were thinking about her pain and when she was gone, they would have enough pain of their own without wondering if she had suffered her last moments in abject terror. She licked her cracked lips and straightened her shoulders. She would tell them not to worry, that she would be going to a better place. Slowly, afraid to startle her captor, she picked up the pencil in a swollen hand and opened the notebook.

Angela Harper was thirteen years old.

***

Dana Scully watched her partner closely but his face betrayed no emotion. If she didn’t know him so well she wouldn’t have noticed the tiny tremble of his hands, the dull look in his usually expressive eyes. Scully looked down at her hands, which had been twisting the hell out of a napkin for the past half hour. She heard a sigh and looked up. Mulder carefully replaced the document in the folder and looked at her. He spread his hands on his desk, pressing the palms into the blotter. Steadying himself. Scully wanted more than anything to tell him that they should just give up this case but she knew he wouldn’t agree to that. Not now. Hell, it probably wasn’t even an X-File but once again, Mulder’s experience in this area led the ISU straight towards him. Of course, the first thing Mulder zeroed in on was the potential of an X-File.

“So, Scully, judging by the look on your face, you don’t believe in the possibility of paranormal activity in this case,” he said easily. Scully’s mouth quirked.

“In this case, Mulder?” she asked slyly, hoping to jar him out of his mood. His slight smile told her that she was unsuccessful. Dammit, she thought, he doesn’t need this. Hell, WE don’t need this.

“We’ll have to talk to the sister, see what she remembers of these ‘encounters’,” he said, getting to his feet and stretching. He glanced at her. “Feel up for a trip to the country?”

Scully rose as well, discreetly tucking the file into her briefcase. She’d rather Mulder didn’t use it as reading material on the plane.

“For you, anything.”

Mulder raised an eyebrow at her. He was getting awfully good at that, she thought. It was disturbing.

“Anything, Scully?”

“Don’t call me on it, Mulder.”

***

Scully looked around her apartment, a standard practice she utilized before she traveled. She envied Mulder; all he had to do was grab his keys and he was ready to go. She checked her laptop, making sure there was an extra battery. Laptop, battery, overnight case…suit bag. Right. Scully opened the armoire door carefully and peeked in, grateful that her physics degree allowed her the ability to be able to stack boxed precariously on the world’s smallest shelf. Suit bag. Got it.

Suits? Damn. Her favorite tan suit was at the cleaners. They WERE going to the country…Scully carefully hung two navy suits and spent the next fifteen minutes rummaging around for shoes that matched and all that other crap men told women they needed to wear. Finally she sat down on the bed and stared blankly at her mountain of bags. My God. Mulder was going to kill her. The sharp knock on the door startled her and she resisted the impulse to grab her gun. She hadn’t needed her gun when answering the door in…months, she supposed. It was Mulder, of course. Scully checked the time and looked at him.

“I’ve still got two hours,” she said. Mulder looked down. Oh shit. She grabbed his arm and pulled him inside, shutting the door.

“What happened?” she asked in a low voice, one that she generally used when trying not to startle rabid animals. Mulder sank down on her sofa and rubbed a hand over his face. He looked at her bleakly.

“I moved the flight up,” he said quietly. “There’s been a…” His voice trailed off as he looked at her. She sat down, suddenly worried.

“You okay?” she asked. He nodded. Right, like she’d believe THAT, she thought.

“There’s been a strange development and…they want us down there as soon as possible,” he replied, his voice somewhat steadier. Scully felt a cold prickle of fear at the back of her neck.

“What kind of development?”

Mulder hesitated and Scully flushed. Dammit, why did he always hide stuff from her? He must’ve gotten a whiff of her anger because he straightened and looked at her with those earnest hazel eyes.

“I’m sorry, Scully, the local cop in charge wouldn’t tell me much and I – I just don’t know what to tell you. Suffice it to say, the sister has had another episode and in this one…”

Scully didn’t need to finish the sentence but she did.

“She’s dead,” she said flatly. Mulder looked startled.

“Not…exactly. She had a vision about a letter that her sister wrote.”

Scully frowned. Why was Mulder parceling it out this way?

“What kind of letter?”

“A letter that just arrived this morning.”

***

Scully perused the file on the ride from the airport to the small Kentucky town. Mulder drove, as always a little too fast, and whistled tunelessly to whatever was on the radio. It never mattered what he was listening to; the whistling was always the same. Scully had learned to blot it out. Angela Harper, thirteen years old, from a modest but close family, a bright, above-average student. Two brothers, one sister, parents still very much in love. Parents devastated. Father a teacher, mother a homemaker. Nothing remarkable about Angela. She seemed like one of a million sweet little girls. And she’d been missing for ten days, ostensibly taken from her driveway by what Mulder believed to be a serial killer. This man had abducted two other girls in a similar manner. One had been buried alive and one had been strangled, and it was Mulder’s belief that he was also responsible for the drowning death of another missing girl. But Angela…Scully couldn’t figure out why the girl had been allowed to write a letter to her family. Scully shuddered slightly, wishing they didn’t have that to look forward to when they arrived. Mulder turned to look at her.

“Hey, Scully, look!” he said, pointing. Scully looked out the window at the white-painted fences. Horses grazed, glancing up curiously as the Taurus whizzed past. Scully glanced at Mulder.

“Horses, Mulder,” she said caustically. Mulder seemed fascinated, almost twisting around to look at them. Scully fought the urge to grab the wheel.

“I wonder if there’s a Derby winner in there,” he mused.

“No doubt.”

Mulder frowned at her.

“Spoilsport.”

“Always the eternal dreamer, right?”

“Always.”

Mulder slowed the Taurus and swerved out of the way of a feed truck which sent the horses scattering in near panic. Scully watched with amusement as Mulder almost flipped the guy off, then he thought better of it and gave her a lopsided grin.

“Two words: Gun racks, Mulder.”

He affected a look of shocked horror and got out of the car, seemingly delighted to find that the sheriff’s station was next to the farm. Weanlings poked their curious noses through the fence and Scully had to take a firm hold of Mulder’s arm to stop him from feeding them the remains of his Snickers bar.

“Mulder, candy is not good for horses,” she said knowingly. He cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Oh, really? Well for your information, Dana Scully, Equine Sage, I know for a fact that Cigar eats peppermints and Groovy used to eat jelly donuts.”

Scully groaned. That damned eidetic memory…! She never won an argument with Mulder.

“That doesn’t mean it’s good for them,” she said uselessly, sprinting for the door in the hopes that it would dissuade Mulder from continuing the discussion. Mulder cast a longing glance back at the horses and followed Scully inside.

***

Scully enjoyed the bustle of the sheriff’s office. Of course, the fact that Mulder was playing the “Guess the FBI guys” game made it even more pleasant. The sheriff probably thought Scully the jolliest Fibbie in Washington. She nudged Mulder in the ribs.

“I’ll bet they’re playing that game with us,” she murmured. Mulder grinned at her and waggled his violently-patterned neck-wear.

“Not with this tie,” he said. The sheriff, a tall, lanky man with a loose-limbed gait, walked towards them, hand extended.

“Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, thank you for coming,” he said easily. Scully found it easy to return his smile and hearty handshake. This was a capable man undone by the violence of this case. As if reading her mind, he continued.

“I’m the sheriff here, Walter Roscoe. I…I’ve never seen anything like this and I’m grateful for your assistance,” he said, his gaze darting back and forth between Mulder and Scully, as if trying to figure out who would take the lead in this case. Scully had no problem deferring to Mulder on this one and he took the bait.

“Be grateful that you haven’t, Sheriff Roscoe. Serial killers are notoriously hard to catch but the FBI has a lot of experience in this area. Your full cooperation and that of your staff would be greatly appreciated.”

The sheriff nodded vigorously and Scully was amazed at Mulder’s tact. He usually pissed off local law enforcement but she got the impression that he liked Roscoe, too.

“Oh, anything you need, Agent Mulder. Anything. As you can see your local boys are already here.”

“Who’s in charge here?” Mulder asked. Roscoe looked around the room and pointed at the back of a dark-suited agent who was leaning over a desk.

“Agent McGaughey – do you know him?” Roscoe asked as Mulder’s expression darkened. Mulder nodded sharply.

“I’ve worked with him before,” he said shortly. Roscoe looked slightly taken aback, then nodded.

“Well…let me know what you need, Agent Mulder. Agent Scully.”

Roscoe smiled at them and ambled back towards his office. Scully watched Mulder. He stared straight ahead for a long moment, then looked down at her.

“Want to meet one of the most heinous agents in the history of the Bureau?” he asked.

“Um…no?” she asked. Mulder grinned at her as they made their way across the busy office. McGaughey turned at their approach and his eyes sparkled with the same kind of resentment that Mulder’s did. McGaughey was easily as tall as Mulder but built more like a football player. His dark suit hung well on him and Scully imagined that women found McGaughey attractive. Hell, if she wasn’t already aware of the fact that her partner didn’t like him, she would, too.

“Fox Mulder,” he said coldly. “It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough, McGaughey. This is my partner, Dana Scully.”

Scully shook McGaughey’s hand. He appraised her for a long moment and she was careful to keep her expression neutral.

“Pathologist, right?”

“That’s right,” she replied evenly. He nodded thoughtfully, then looked at Mulder again.

“I suppose you want to see the note, Spooky. You here to save us all?”

Mulder’s eyes flashed and McGaughey noticed. He grinned rakishly.

“Spooky still bother you?”

“You bother me, McGaughey. Even my mother calls me Spooky,” Mulder replied. Scully swallowed, suddenly aware of the tension in the room. McGaughey turned to look at her.

“Spook tell you why he hates me?” he asked. Scully glanced at Mulder. She knew what game McGaughey was playing and didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Agents were suddenly clustered around Mulder and McGaughey, their expectant expressions those usually found on the faces of rabid hockey fans. McGaughey had his audience; he didn’t need Scully’s approval to tell his story.

“You still afraid of fire, Spooky?”

That did it. Mulder took a step forward and grabbed McGaughey’s jacket. He got in McGaughey’s face and the other agent actually drew back, surprised at the venom he saw in Mulder’s eyes. Scully itched to grab Mulder’s arm and get him out of there but the truth be known, she hoped that Mulder would pop the guy. He deserved it.

“Don’t give me that shit, McGaughey. We’re here to work on a fucking case, not play twenty questions. Either give me the fucking letter and let me solve this case, you inept piece of shit, or hit me so I can bring you up on charges.”

Bravo, said Scully’s little voice. Mulder was definitely in his “in charge” persona now and McGaughey knew it. He probably also knew that Mulder was still considered one of the best profilers the FBI had ever had and if he knew what was good for him he’d hand over Angela Harper’s letter and defer to Mulder’s brilliance. McGaughey smirked and handed Mulder a copy of the letter.

“Strange vibes there, Spooky,” he said in a haunted tone of voice. Well, one out of two wasn’t bad, Scully thought as Mulder turned away from McGaughey. She could see that imperceptible shake of his hands once again as he scanned the letter. Scully waited but Mulder kept looking at the letter. She watched as he swallowed convulsively and his breathing quickened. His hands began to tremble in earnest and she put a hand on his elbow and gently guided him into the nearest chair. He sat, still staring at the letter.

“Mulder?” she asked, her voice low. She glanced at McGaughey, glad to see that the prick was on the phone, his back to Mulder. Mulder looked up at her, his eyes haunted. She reached for the letter but he didn’t relinquish it.

“Mulder, come on,” she pleaded. He took a deep breath and handed it to her. Scully sat down and read.

“Dear Mom and Dad, The man is letting me write you a letter. I don’t know why he is doing this but I want to let you know that I am safe – I will be safe. I don’t want you to worry about me. He’s going to kill me, I know that now, but please don’t worry! I’m going to a good place, to God’s house. I’ll be with Grandma and Grandpa, and Grandpa Lou…and Aunt Rachel…I miss her so much! I know you’ll miss me. I don’t know what will happen to me. Will I remember anything or will it just be over? I want it to be over now, Mom and Dad, because I’m strong now and I want him to remember that I was strong. It’s strange because I’m not afraid anymore. Now that I know what will happen to me I’m not scared, so don’t think that I was scared or that I suffered. I love you so much and I know we’ll be together again in God’s house, we can all be together and we will be happy. Tell Brad and Will that I love them very much and I don’t want them to be sad and tell Laura that I’m not mad at her anymore for what happened at school. She’s my sister and she’s my friend and I don’t believe in being mad anymore. I love everybody and I especially love God for making me strong right now. Please don’t be sad for me, I want you to be happy. Will you be happy? I’m going to a better place now and I’m NOT SAD. Love, your daughter, Angela”

Scully squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to stop the tears. Oh my God, she thought, control yourself, Dana Scully. Control. She drew in a deep breath and looked once again at the letter, at the sprawling handwriting of a thirteen-year-old girl who had resigned herself to an unfair death. Scully looked at Mulder. He sat hunched forward in his chair, his head in his hands, unmoving. Scully hesitated, then reached into her briefcase and drew out the file. She placed the copy of Angela’s letter in the file, put everything back in her briefcase, then got to her feet and walked quickly to the bathroom.

Scully rested her forehead against the cool white tiles and closed her eyes. She allowed herself to shake for a few minutes, then drew three quick breaths and splashed water on her face. She dried her face carefully with a rough paper towel and examined herself critically in the mirror. Her eyes were still a little puffy. Rummaging in her bag, she found her compact and nearly blinded herself as she vigorously powdered her face. She applied another coating of lipstick and ran a brush through her hair. Much better. She emerged from the bathroom, her shoulders slumping when she saw Mulder still in the same position. Thankfully, McGaughey seemed to be avoiding him. Scully sat down next to him and gently touched his arm.

“Mulder?” she asked quietly. He stiffened his shoulders and looked at her and Scully felt her stomach drop in sympathy. He looked exactly the way she had. His bloodshot eyes stared blearily into hers.

“You okay?” she asked, regretting the question as soon as she’d asked it. He gave a little sigh, a shake of his head, and leaned back in his chair.

“Not really,” he said, surprising her. “I’m not okay, Scully. I’m not…”

Mulder got to his feet, moved his head from side to side, shook his hands out, trying to regain his equilibrium. Scully stood and picked up her briefcase, then put a hand on his arm. He smiled slightly, appreciating the contact.

“We’ve got to talk to the sister, to Laura,” he said, his voice tight. Scully nodded.

“I know. Why don’t we check into our motel first, get something to eat?”

Mulder shook his head.

“We really -”

“That wasn’t a request, Mulder,” she said firmly. He grinned faintly at her.

“I just need some air,” he said unconvincingly. Scully shook her head.

“You need some space and you need some food. And quite frankly, so do I,” she said. Mulder looked at her with compassion.

“Oh, Scully, I didn’t even think -”

“I’m fine, Mulder. I’m not the one who is going to have to write a profile on this maniac. You are. And you’ve got McGaughey to deal with,” she replied. Mulder nodded, the fight going out of him.

“Buy me a French dip and I’ll tell you all about Sam McGaughey,” he said. Scully grinned at him.

“Will I want to eat after this?” she asked. He shook his head, his eyes going dark.

“Probably not,” he said grimly. Scully sighed and followed him out of the sheriff’s station.

“Just how many demons do you have, Mulder?” she asked. He looked at her solemnly.

“Too many to mention.”

*****

Mulder played with his food, unconsciously pushing it around on his plate to make it look as if he’d actually eaten. Scully shook her head. He was missing one damn fine French dip. Scully poured catsup on her fries, wishing that she’d been able to force Mulder to lie down for a few hours. That was rarely possible unless she caught him by surprise and he’d actually been energized by the miles and miles of white fence that protected expensive racehorses from fast automobiles. Scully had never figured Mulder as a big animal person but he mentioned in passing that he’d had an uncle who had owned a breeding farm. Whatever rocks your boat, Mulder, she thought. Scully had, of course, been a horse-crazy teenager. What girl hadn’t? She would have given anything to have been allowed to go away to boarding school and ride a horse across the rolling hills of…wherever. Every teenaged girl wanted to go to boarding school and Scully was no exception. Even now, she felt that pang of regret whenever she saw little girls on tiny ponies. Some things would just remain unfair forever. Scully reached across the table and appropriated one of Mulder’s fries. He looked at her in faint surprise.

“What?” she asked around a mouthful of fry, “You weren’t eating them.”

Mulder grinned.

“Touche, Agent Scully.”

Mulder gave up on maintaining the pretense that he was actually eating. He leaned back against the booth and dumped about three pounds of sugar into his coffee. Scully shook her head and sipped her Diet Coke.

“I wonder if you could fake a horse out and feed it meat,” he mused. Scully wrinkled her nose.

“Yeah, Mulder, turn the poor things into cannibals.”

“They wouldn’t be cannibals, just carnivores,” he said.

“You feed it, you trocarize it when it colicks,” Scully replied. Mulder looked up at her, amazed.

“What?” he asked.

Scully hid a smile.

“You’re talking to someone who read every Walter Farley book ever written, so don’t try to one-up me here, Mulder.”

Mulder held up his hands in mock surrender. Scully leaned forward.

“So tell me about McGaughey,” she said. Mulder sipped his coffee, put his elbows on the table.

“He’s a prick,” he said. Scully nodded.

“And…?”

Mulder sighed, leaned back and played with his coffee cup. Scully envisioned him dumping the coffee in his lap and wondered if it was hot enough to sue.

“We went to the Academy together. My best friend roomed with him. The Bureau went after McGaughey with a vengeance; he was supposed to be some kind of genius. Well, he was, but he was also a vain, self-absorbed, dangerous son of a bitch.”

“Dangerous how?” Scully asked. Mulder brooded into his coffee cup for a minute.

“We never got along; he resented me and I hated him. He didn’t have the…gift…for writing profiles. Couldn’t find a killer if it bit him on the ass. What he DID do well, however, was delegate, organize. It’s too bad that wasn’t discovered until after he almost got me killed.”

Scully waited, not really appreciating the set-up. Obviously this still bothered Mulder to some degree and he was distancing himself from it by dramatizing it. It was making Scully nervous.

“McGaughey and I were paired up on a serial killer case my first year in the ISU. I hadn’t been out in the field before, only written profiles in the Quantico basement, using second-hand information. But this case…my supervisor felt that it was time for me to get my feet wet and McGaughey had already been out in the field three times so he was senior agent, reporting to the ASAC. It was a fucking heinous case. Some psycho UNSUB was carving up women’s faces, leaving them in dumpsters. And there was no rhyme or reason to either the choice of victims or the areas he chose. I looked at the profiles that had already been written, talked to the cops, everyone involved with the case, and I finally got a handle on it. Only McGaughey thought that HIS profile was the correct one. Of course, he appropriated bits and pieces from the other profiles to create his own and mine was pretty far out of range as far as everyone else was concerned. McGaughey used that gulf and had everyone doubting me. He couldn’t see how I was working here so he discounted everything I said and called off a stake-out I’d set up. Well, he didn’t tell me he’d called it off so I went down there by myself, no back-up, just a stupid eager kid who didn’t realize what he was dealing with. Turns out the guy’s a postal worker, believe it or not, and was leaving the bodies along his route. He was also a bat-shit crazy psycho who recognized a green FBI agent when he saw one. I didn’t even see him coming. He decided to hold me hostage, stupid move because the FBI isn’t going to pay for the return of one of their agents. He was holed up in a warehouse and the SWAT team was called in to smoke him out which they did, but not before he set fire to the place -”

Mulder’s voice cracked and he took another sip of coffee. Scully stared at him, her lunch forgotten. Mulder cleared his throat.

“He would have killed me if he hadn’t been stupid enough to think he could ransom me off to the Bureau,” Mulder said quietly. “So I’m grateful to him for being a greedy bastard. I breathed smoke for about fifteen minutes before they found me, trussed up…I thought for sure he was going to kill me and nothing I said made any difference to him. I thought I’d totally failed him and those women…that McGaughey was right and I’d gotten the profile wrong even though all the facts matched. They didn’t match him. I didn’t have any idea what would set him off and I should have…anyway, McGaughey lied about refusing the stake-out and the assholes in the office backed him up, scared bastards who had bought into McGaughey’s bullshit and didn’t want to be called on it. After all, who was I? McGaughey’s only in life for McGaughey and screw anyone who gets in his way. He finally got his hand slapped a few years later, after I’d left the ISU, and as far as I know has always been considered a public embarrassment, which is why he was shuttled off to the middle of nowhere. He hates me six ways from Sunday, which is really ironic considering that even given everything I did to bring his ‘misjudgment’ to light, the Bureau never acknowledged that he did anything wrong. But he saw me give up what he wanted and that nearly killed him. He made me doubt myself, doubt my ability to write a cohesive profile and I’ll never forgive him for the mind-fuck. I don’t want him on this case, Scully. He’s dangerous and he’s egocentric and he’s not here for Angela Harper. He’s here for himself.”

Scully reached blindly for her drink, her mind racing. How did Mulder stay even remotely sane? How many of these stories had he told her in that quiet, steady voice that implied he’d dealt with it? After all she’d seen in her four years with Mulder, after all the violent deaths and the unexplained phenomena…sometimes she had a hell of a time keeping the images of Tooms, Pfaster or the Peacocks out of her dreams. And none of this even began to compare with what Mulder had seen. Was she so weak? Mulder leaned forward, touched the back of her hand.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he said quietly. She smiled, nodded.

“I know, Mulder, it’s just…” her voice trailed off. It’s just what? She didn’t know but he somehow did.

“We have to deal with this stuff,” he replied. “If we don’t, we lose, Scully. They win.”

Scully nodded and felt the strength returning. Mulder grinned as she straightened her shoulders.

“We should go,” he said softly. Scully felt that cold sense of dread in her stomach again. We should go talk to the psychic sister of a girl who pleaded for death. God help me, Scully thought. God help us all.

***

Laura Harper was fifteen and she stared through Mulder and Scully with hollow eyes. Her mother, Grace, flitted nervously from room to room, always a protective arm’s length away from Laura. Scully sat down on the worn sofa and suppressed a shiver. The Harper house had an air of quiet desperation about it and while the family itself seemed strong, they knew enough about the killer to doubt that they’d be seeing Angela alive again. And they’d gotten her letter, which had nearly destroyed Grace. Scully watched as Mulder sat across from Laura, carefully respecting her space yet always ready to reassure her with a touch or a glance. He spoke in low, even, comforting tones and Scully had to shake herself several times to keep herself from drifting off. She could feel Mulder focusing on Laura, using everything he had to interpret what she was saying.

“I don’t know what it felt like,” Laura said in her soft voice. “It was…I just had to wake up. I thought somebody was in the room…”

And no wonder, Scully thought to herself. Laura had to be terrified. After all, if her sister could be abducted right from their driveway, what was to stop the killer from coming back for Laura?

“What made you think somebody else was in the room, Laura?” Mulder asked evenly, giving the girl nothing to latch onto. Mulder needed to make sure he didn’t sway Laura and Scully had to admit that he was doing a damned fine job. If she didn’t know any better she’d think Mulder a skeptic.

“I…” Laura looked helplessly towards her mother, who swooped in and put her arms protectively around her daughter. Scully saw Mulder’s back stiffen.

” Mrs. Harper -” he began. Grace Harper smoothed Laura’s hair and looked at Mulder.

“I understand, Agent Mulder,” she said in the same soft voice as her daughter. “I know you have to ask her questions, but can you just give her some time?”

Scully watched Mulder shift, knowing that he was assessing both mother and daughter. He leaned forward again, hands clasped benignly in front of him.

“I know how hard this is, Laura, and you’re being very brave. We’re not going to let anything happen to you. Nothing will happen to you. Angela doesn’t blame you, Laura, for being left behind.”

Scully couldn’t help an involuntary gasp. Mulder turned towards her slightly, then looked back at Laura. Her brown eyes welled up with tears and her chin trembled. Grace put her arms around Laura again but Laura pushed her mother away and slowly straightened, her eyes fixed on Mulder.

“How do you know?” she whispered. Scully was certain Mulder could feel her eyes bore through the back of his head.

“I know that you and Angela are very close, and I know she didn’t want to leave you. Sisters fight, Laura, but deep down, they always love each other. They never, ever blame each other. I fought with my sister all the time, but she always knew I loved her.”

Scully closed her eyes, feeling the pain and the empathy pour forth from her partner. He was reaching out to this child in the most complete way imaginable and Scully fought to keep herself in control. What on Earth could this be doing to him? Laura kept her steady gaze on him and Mulder didn’t move. He waited for her. Grace stood by, eyes darting back and forth between Laura and Mulder, ready at the first sign of trouble to wrench her daughter from Mulder’s grasp.

“Did you ever tell her you loved her?” Laura’s voice was almost impossible to hear. Scully could see the girl center on Mulder, every fiber of her being waiting, breathless, for Mulder’s reply. Scully had no idea what she would say to the girl. What was Mulder doing?

“I never got the chance,” he replied, his voice as low as Laura’s. “But she knew, Laura, just like Angela knows you love her and that you would do anything, anything at all, to have her back. She knows it the way you always know that your mother loves you even when she yells at you. We can’t be loving every moment, Laura, so we have a special sense that allows us to know that someone loves us. We can think about that anytime we want and feel their love all over again.”

Scully looked down, twisted her hands in her lap. She bit her lip viciously and tried to remain stoic. Fortunately, that was a Scully family tradition and casting her mind back to her favorite Halloween in San Diego always gave her that familial glow that made the ache go away. She looked up again, saw Mulder’s shoulder muscles bunch as he fought to maintain calm in front of Laura. The girl looked at him solemnly, then nodded slowly, accepting his words. Grace, her eyes filled with tears, brought a hand up to her mouth and smiled at Mulder. He kept his eyes on Laura. Scully knew that he wasn’t going to ask her anything else; either Laura would trust him or she wouldn’t. If she didn’t, Mulder would have to devise another exhaustive, emotional way to get Laura to let him in.

“Sometimes my mom or dad comes into my room to tuck me in,” Laura began. “I always know they’re in the room before I hear them. I leave the door open…so I don’t hear the door. I just know. I felt that last night, in the middle of the night and I knew it wasn’t mom or dad. It was something else, and for a minute…it was Angela. I tried to talk to her but she wasn’t listening to me. She wasn’t even really there, but I felt her. I don’t remember going back to sleep but I did, and when I woke up I went out to the mailbox and there was the letter. And before, when Angela was gone…I saw her and I knew she was alive. I would wake up and remember that I saw her…and on Friday when I was in Biology class…I know she tried to tell me where she was but I couldn’t hear her. I can never hear her; I only know she’s there.”

Laura looked anxiously at Mulder, willing him to believe her. Scully’s heart went out to the girl. How many people had she tried to convince? How many people had written off her experience, calling it the hysteria of a scared child? Me for one, Scully reminded herself caustically. And now, sitting in front of Laura Harper, listening to her story, something inside Scully Believed. She shook it off, fought to retain her skepticism in much the same way Mulder desperately clung to his belief.

“Thank you, Laura. Are you sure you felt Angela? You didn’t feel anyone else?” Mulder asked quietly. Laura gave it a lot of thought. It was obvious, thought Scully, that she completely trusted Mulder and would go to any lengths to help him. Mulder had just made a valuable ally, one that Scully probably would have dismissed. Laura nodded firmly.

“Yes sir, it was Angela.”

Mulder nodded.

“Did she seem…happy? Scared? Sad?” Mulder asked. Laura wrinkled her brow, thinking. She closed her eyes and moved her lips, casting her mind back. When she opened her eyes she gave Mulder the strangest look.

“She didn’t seem anything at all, Agent Mulder. She was…far away…” Laura’s voice trailed off as she tried to make sense of her memories. Mulder leaned forward and touched her lightly on the arm.

“Thank you, Laura,” he said quietly. “You’ve been a big help.”

Mulder stood, offered his hand to Grace. She shook it warmly. Laura stood as well, small shoulders squared, like a soldier going off into battle. Mulder didn’t miss this.

“If I have any more questions, Laura, can I talk to you again?”

Laura nodded crisply, thrilled to be involved in the investigation. Scully watched in wonder. Laura Harper’s bearing had done a complete one-eighty. She no longer shrank into her mother’s arms. She stood strong, ready and willing to help Mulder and Scully find her sister. She even opened the door for them, shook Scully’s hand solemnly.

“Please find her,” she whispered. A speechless Scully just nodded. Scully followed Mulder to the car. He didn’t say anything, just got behind the wheel, stuck the keys in the ignition, and stared blankly at the steering wheel. Scully quietly buckled her seatbelt, suddenly nervous. She risked a glance at Mulder out of the corner of her eye but he still sat, motionless. Scully drew a breath to talk but Mulder suddenly turned to her.

“Scully, I’m sorry, can you drive? I’m…I don’t think I…” He stopped, looked down in frustration. Scully already had her seatbelt off and had the door open. Mulder listlessly opened the driver’s side door but still sat, his shoulders slumped, his head bowed. Scully touched him and he jerked, looking at her.

“Slide over, Mulder,” she said firmly. He nodded weakly and took an interminable amount of time moving to the passenger side. Scully nudged him to remind him about his seatbelt and he buckled it automatically. Scully adjusted the seat and did an external check worthy of the DMV. The knot in her stomach faded slightly. Sometimes routine was the best thing in the world. She’d just about convinced herself that there was no child chasing a bouncing ball underneath the car when Mulder spoke.

“I really think I need to go back to the motel, Scully,” he muttered. Scully put the car into drive and looked at him. His jaw was clenched and he wasn’t looking at her. Shit.

“Aren’t you feeling well?” she asked neutrally. He shook his head.

“Bad French dip,” he said. Scully practically took the freeway onramp on two wheels. Mulder was silent all the way back and Scully resisted the urge to check for fever. She knew what was wrong with him and to tell the truth, her French dip wasn’t sitting very well, either. And she’d eaten practically all of his fries. The knot in her stomach returned as she set the brake and got out of the car. Mulder was still buckled in. Scully opened his door and kneeled down.

“Hey, you okay?” she asked. He drew a deep, shuddering breath and looked at her.

“Just nauseous,” he said quietly. Scully stepped aside as Mulder got out of the car. If she didn’t know any better she’d swear he was sick. He moved slowly, carefully, and by the time he’d fumbled for his room key his eyes were half-closed. Scully guided him towards the violently-covered bed and managed to strip off his jacket before he lay down. He put a hand over his eyes and sighed. Scully stood next to the bed, watching him, wondering if she should do anything else for him, wondering if she’d remembered to pack her Rolaids. Hell, she’d packed the travel iron and the blow-dryer with the European plug, she should have Rolaids. Water. That’s what he needed. Scully went into the bathroom, filled the plastic cup with water and brought it back to him, forcing him to sit up.

“Is this a prescription?” he asked as she practically forced the water down his throat.

“This particular plague-infested water isn’t, but generally, yeah,” she replied. The corners of his mouth quirked. He finished off the water and lay back down. The hand went over his eyes again. Scully stood, set the cup on the faux-wood nightstand, and headed for her own room, making sure the connecting door wasn’t locked.

*****

The sound of a door slamming woke Scully. As she usually did when she woke in a strange room, she took a moment to get her bearings. Right. Kentucky. The Harper case. A door slamming? Scully got up quickly and struggled into her robe, casting a glance at the clock. 6:15 AM. She crept over to the connecting door and put her ear to it. Mulder was moving around in there. Grateful, Scully headed for the shower.

Scully rushed through her morning routine, anxious to have a few hours alone with Mulder to find out what he thought about the case. It would be much better for her if she wasn’t surprised by Mulder’s revelations in public. Lord knows the other cops would be, and McGaughey – Scully hadn’t liked his attitude, not at all. First off, he seemed unaffected by the case and especially by Angela’s letter. No wonder he’d been a rotten profiler; he couldn’t empathize with either killer or victim. Now Mulder, on the other hand, had empathized to such a degree with Laura Harper that he’d nearly made himself sick. Scully hated mornings on cases like this. Mulder would either be completely done in or high. It was always impossible to tell. Scully started at the light tap on the door. She drew a deep breath, fastened the clasp of her necklace, and opened the door. Mulder stood there, dressed in one of the gazillion dark suits he owned, his bright eyes locked on her.

“You wanna eat?” he asked. Scully smiled. Definitely high.

“Just let me get a notebook,” she replied, looking over the room to make sure she didn’t forget anything and feeling Mulder’s impatience. Well Mulder, she thought, if I had your memory I wouldn’t need to double-check anything.

“A working breakfast, then?” he inquired, knowing damn well that’s what he’d implied. Scully found her notebook and grabbed her room key.

“Isn’t it always?”

Mulder grinned at her and Scully watched him for a long moment. He had done a complete turnaround from yesterday and Scully recognized the flush on his face.

“Did you go for a run this morning?” she asked as she followed him through his room, trying not to wince at the mess. He nodded, kicking a running shoe under the bed.

“Yeah. Good one, too. Did I wake you?”

“When you came back at 6:15? Yes. I just want to thank you for not waking me at whatever Godawful hour you decided to go,” she said. He nodded solemnly, his eyes sparkling and Scully shook her head, not even wanting to know how little sleep he’d gotten.

***

The coffee shop was brown and it was giving Scully a headache. It was literally ten shades of brown; the tables were brown, the chairs were brown, the paintings on the walls were brown, the waitress’s uniforms were brown…the dishes were brown. Scully felt entirely conspicuous in her blue suit and elderly men with missing teeth seemed to zero in on her as the only bright spot of color in the coffee shop. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Scully chewed her lower lip as she perused the menu. Mulder was already dumping sugar into his coffee, his menu set aside. Scully groaned inwardly, decided on the eggs, and set her menu down.

“You’re not going to eat?” she asked innocently. Mulder methodically opened another packet of sugar and watched as it streamed into his coffee.

“Not hungry,” he said, deliberately avoiding making eye contact with her. The brown-clad waitress sprinted up and Scully barely had time to get her order out before the woman dashed off towards an orange juice emergency. Mulder watched in amazement as the waitress did laps.

“The goddess of all waitresses,” he observed. Scully smiled slightly and Mulder gave her the dog eyes. Scully sighed.

“Mulder, you have to eat,” she began.

“I’ll have a big lunch, Mom,” Mulder replied caustically. Scully gave up. He was in the zone and there was no point in continuing. Scully’s eggs came in record time and she didn’t miss the sick look that flitted across Mulder’s face. Yep, he was definitely in the zone. Apparently, you were not allowed food in the zone. Scully was one of those people whose appetite was not affected by anything other than food poisoning. Sick? Upset? Angry? She could always eat, and these eggs were great. Mulder had gone through four cups of coffee and about thirty little packets of sugar by the time Scully finished her breakfast. Mulder drained his cup and looked around anxiously for the waitress.

“Calm down, Mulder. You won’t die if you don’t get coffee right away,” Scully said. He tore his eyes away from the brown figures and looked at her.

“I order coffee, I expect six refills -”

“No Tarantino,” Scully said severely. She set her fork down and picked up her coffee cup.

“So…is it safe to talk about Laura Harper yet?” she asked neutrally. Mulder leaned back in the booth and smiled as the waitress refilled his cup. He sacrificed more sugar to the caffeine gods and looked up.

“I think so,” he said quietly, and Scully was glad that she hadn’t pressed him last night. She would have given him her skeptical view on what happened and he would have fallen apart. And she knew why. Mulder’s empathy with Laura was so complete that he saw the events as she had. He saw the images coming to him, he saw himself being compelled to go to the mailbox and he saw himself finding Angela’s letter. Now that some time had passed, Scully felt safe in talking about it.

“Do you think Laura is psychic?” she asked as evenly as she could. Mulder blew out a breath and leaned forward, hunched over his cup.

“I…I’m not sure yet, Scully. Before you say anything…I know that you think the trauma of her sister being kidnapped is responsible for Laura’s visions. I know Angela is foremost in her sister’s mind and it’s not uncommon for images like this to appear. I know -”

Scully put a hand on Mulder’s arm and he stopped, looked up at her.

“Mulder…I need to hear what YOU think, not what I think,” she said softly. Mulder smiled slightly and took a sip of coffee.

“I honestly don’t know but I don’t have any other explanation for Laura being compelled to go to the mailbox.”

“She didn’t say if she expected to find anything there, Mulder, only that she went. For all we know -”

“For all we know, Laura gets the mail every morning. I know all of this, Scully, but I felt a connection in Laura…I can’t begin to explain it but I’m not willing to discount either theory. If she DOES have some sort of connection to Angela then we would be remiss if we didn’t use that,” Mulder replied. Scully nodded, her eyes not leaving Mulder’s.

“What are we going to tell the sheriff?” she asked. Mulder smiled twistedly.

“You mean, what are we going to tell McGaughey,” he said. Scully shrugged and he sighed, running a hand through his hair.

“That our talk with Laura was inconclusive and that we may have to schedule other sessions with her and perhaps bring in a hypnotist to see if she remembers more than she thinks she does.”

Scully shook her head.

“God, Mulder. Don’t pull any punches,” she said. Mulder’s eyes darkened.

“I don’t give a damn about McGaughey,” he said in a low voice. “Angela Harper is going to be dead soon and I will do anything in my power to stop that. McGaughey can file whatever report he wants and don’t think he’s not already thought about it, Scully. This is a perfect opportunity for McGaughey to screw me over and he won’t waste it. But what he won’t do is interfere with this investigation. I won’t let that happen, not again.”

Scully nodded thoughtfully and Mulder finished off his coffee.

“Mulder…” Scully didn’t know if she should ask him about this but something inside of her needed to know. He noticed her hesitation and visibly stiffened. She shook her head and smiled, trying to put him at ease.

“I was just wondering…how did you know that Laura felt guilty?”

Mulder looked surprised by the question.

“Well, I DO have that doctorate in psychology, you know…” Scully’s expression hardened and Mulder sighed. “When Samantha disappeared, my mother became very protective of me. She was never a terribly demonstrative person…not that she was cold or anything, she wasn’t, but she became clinging, cloying. She never let me out of her sight. She stayed with me in the hospital and she protected me. I felt safe at first, but then I began to wonder…for months I was never allowed out of the house alone. And this after being trusted to sit with Samantha, to be in charge. Of course, I didn’t understand all of this then. All I knew was that things had changed, that Samantha had disappeared while I was supposed to be watching her, that I had no satisfactory explanation for what happened, and that my mother obviously no longer trusted me to be able to cross the street on my own. Ergo, I felt that Samantha had disappeared because I wasn’t strong enough to protect her. Grace Harper reminded me a lot of my mother. She was always flitting around Laura, touching her, reassuring her but at the same time, reassuring herself that Laura was whole and real and alive. The problem is, this backfires on the child. On some children, anyway, and Laura reminded me of myself, suddenly timid and afraid and guilty. She’s a very strong girl but she needs to be given that by somebody other than her mother, who is grieving for the loss of her daughter but also grieving for the potential loss of another child who reminds her of her daughter, and for herself.”

Mulder stopped, took another sip of coffee. Scully could only stare at him. He related this so dispassionately she wanted to kill him. Did she want him to break down and admit that he still felt guilty for Samantha’s abduction, that this was still what drove him? Of course not, she told herself. And this was where she stumbled. Scully was very good at compartmentalizing her fears, irrational or otherwise, yet when Mulder did it, it infuriated her. She gave an invisible toss of the head, stopped her mind from wandering, and focused on Mulder.

“But you said that Laura felt that Angela blamed her, not that her mother blamed her,” Scully said, genuinely perplexed. Mulder nodded.

“It’s easier for Laura to imagine that the guilt comes from Angela because she needs her mother, and to think in any way that her mother blamed her could hurt her irreparably.”

Of course. Scully nodded, suddenly seeing everything. But how did Mulder do it? How did he diagnose instantly, based only on body language and voice? How do you do it when you see a sick patient, or even a body, her voice asked her. God, Scully, get a clue! Mulder shifted in his seat, obviously impatient with this line of questioning.

“So what do we do today?” she asked coolly.

“This letter is really bothering me. He’s changing his signature and I need to know why…”

Scully waited while Mulder’s gigantic brain derailed. His eyes refocused and he looked at her.

“Why did we get a letter ten days after she had been kidnapped? Why has he held her for this long? The other girls were found four days after their kidnapping….”

Scully wrinkled her forehead and let Mulder’s rather rhetorical questions run through her mind. What was different? The arrival of the heart-wrenching letter had caused pandemonium in the small town. The press was going mad over it, fighting each other for the rights to the Harpers’ story. The press…Scully looked at Mulder.

“Mulder, was this case linked to the others right away?” she asked. Mulder frowned, rubbed his temples with his thumbs.

“Not until the press got a hold of it, no.”

“And when was that?”

Mulder pressed his thumbs into his temples and winced. That’ll teach you, Scully thought. Too much caffeine, no food.

“Well…let me think. McGaughey and his brood didn’t arrive until day before yesterday and once they determined that there was the possibility of a connection, they called us. And the only way they figured that out…”

Mulder dropped his hands and looked at Scully, astonished.

“The only way they discovered that there was a connection was when Laura Harper began having visions of her sister. My God, Scully…my God…”

Scully steeled herself as Mulder mumbled to himself, once again wrapped up in his haze. She’d gotten as far as the realization that the killer needed the press and the police and most especially the FBI to know that he was responsible for the other three murders. That didn’t seem like too big of a leap, but she had no idea where Mulder was going here. And then he dropped the bomb.

“Scully…it’s not Angela who’s causing the visions. It’s the killer!”

*****

Scully had been completely unable to convince Mulder to not tell Sheriff Roscoe or McGaughey about his latest revelation. Now, more than ever, Mulder was determined to delve in Laura’s mind, to flush out the killer. Mulder was brimming over with energy and he’d nearly sideswiped a semi on the way to the sheriff’s office. He parked in a cloud of dust and leaped out of the car, not waiting for Scully. He should wait for me, she thought grimly, because me and my Sig are all that stand between Mulder and McGaughey. Scully had visions of Mulder’s confrontations with Tom Colton and she suppressed a shudder. Ws Colton a bigger prick than McGaughey? That thought occupied Scully as she followed Mulder towards McGaughey’s desk. Mulder surprised her.

“Morning, McGaughey. Look, do me a favor and pull all the press on the murders, will you? Agent Scully and I need to go over the suspects and interviews for the other murders. Got any gum?”

McGaughey was completely taken aback, so much so that he handed Mulder a stick of Big Red. Mulder nodded at him and quite consciously turned his back, indicating the McGaughey had his orders and if he knew what was good for him he’d follow them. Scully took Mulder by the arm and led him towards a quiet corner of the office. He was concentrating on peeling the foil wrapper off the gum.

“Mulder…”

Mulder grinned at her, a lightning-fast look of glee crossing his face.

“Sometimes you’re awfully easy to snow, Scully,” he said around a mouthful of gum. Scully leaned against the wall, spent by Mulder’s reindeer games. He grinned again.

“Mulder, you bastard…you never had any intention of telling McGaughey about Laura, did you?”

“Hey, he knows about the visions, he’s not interested. Scully, I’m not stupid, contrary to popular opinion. I do something wrong, it happens once. I will never make the same mistake again that I made with McGaughey in the first place.”

“What mistake was that?”

“Thinking he was smarter than the average bear,” Mulder responded tartly. Scully grinned at him, damned glad she was on his team.

“So what did you want with the press on the murders?” she asked.

“I think you were right, Scully. Laura didn’t start having visions until Angela had been missing for five days. Until then, nobody had connected the other three murders. But they were connected and the murderer wants us to know that he’s responsible for them and that he’s going to kill Angela. But how could the murders be connected? The first girl was buried alive, the second was strangled, suffocated, the third drowned. There was no connection. The third murder wasn’t even considered a murder until the forensic evidence was in. But we’ve got our connection now, Scully.”

Scully was lost and somewhat ashamed at the blank look she was sure she displayed. But Mulder was never impatient; he always waited for her meek little mind to catch up. And he pulled for her, too, hoping that one day – she stared at him, astonished.

“Mulder!”

“Let’s hear it, Scully,” he said encouragingly.

“Earth, air, water…the elements. Is that it?”

Mulder’s head bobbed as he nodded enthusiastically. The brainstorming was the part of the job Scully enjoyed the most. Mulder’s thought processes stimulated her and sometimes, like now, she’d connect events and clues in such a way that she astonished herself. Earth, air, water…she looked at Mulder, suddenly anxious.

“That’s three, Mulder,” she said quietly. “There’s one more.”

He nodded soberly, the light going out of his eyes.

“Fire,” he said. Scully closed her eyes and sighed. Fire. Of course. McGaughey startled them, smirked nastily as they jumped. He handed Mulder a file folder.

“Here are those reports you asked for, Spooky. Sorry to interrupt,” he said breezily before turning on his heel and striding away to make trouble for his own men. Scully’s eyes narrowed to slits as she glared after him.

“He’s not worth it, Scully,” Mulder said, somewhat condescendingly. Scully switched the glare to Mulder.

“He was yesterday, when you wanted to rip him a new one,” she said caustically. Mulder nodded, his attention divided between Scully and the folder in his hands.

“Yes, he was. But now we are about twelve giant steps ahead of him on this case and basically, he answers to the suits from D.C. That’s us,” Mulder said by way of casual explanation. Scully nodded really slow.

“My, but you’re a rational animal,” she mused. Mulder looked at her.

“Don’t call me rational,” he replied. He sifted through the folder again, then handed the whole thing to Scully.

“I need to talk to Laura again. I’m sorry to leave you with this, Scully, but we need to narrow down the search.”

Scully accepted the folder and stifled a groan.

“So you think our killer’s already been interviewed?” she asked. Mulder nodded.

“Almost certainly. And another thing, we can pretty much ignore the forensic evidence on these cases. He’s not a serial killer by definition.”

Another leap. Scully shook her head, dazed.

“He doesn’t kill because he’s compelled. He’s killing for the thrill of it, and most importantly, for the press, for the notoriety.”

“So he’s even more dangerous,” Scully said quietly. Mulder shrugged.

“It’s hard to say. I don’t have a complete picture of him yet. Think of him as a wild animal. You corner him, he fights back. And there’s a sense of poetry about his killing. He’s obviously read books on serial killers and has chosen his theme, that of the elements. And no doubt once we’ve arrested him, he’ll claim some childhood sexual trauma compelled him to kill. But he’s not smart, Scully, he’s vain. And his vanity will be his downfall.”

“Like Modell,” Scully said. A troubled look flitted across Mulder’s face as he nodded.

“Something like that,” he said softly. “And he’s psychic.”

Whoa. Before giving Mulder her incredulous look, she thought back over what he had said and realized that he had intimated as much when he claimed that Laura was communicating with the killer and not with her sister. And Scully hadn’t seen THIS coming?

“Do you think psychic ability will be indicated in the files?” she asked sweetly. Mulder gave her a severe look.

“We’re looking for somebody who is vain, who appears eager and a little scared, but mostly thrilled, flushed and excited. He’ll offer the police his help in finding the crazed killer and he may have even called them several times to report suspicious characters about. If the cops did their job, they earmarked those they found to be the most suspicious, even though they had nothing on which to hold them. They also should have noted anyone they brought in for questioning more than once. I’d say to concentrate on this group, see if you can narrow it down. Don’t leave anything out but don’t be afraid to dismiss obvious innocents. I’m going to go talk to Laura again, see if I can’t get some information out of her.”

Scully tucked the file under her arm.

“Do you promise to get something to eat during all of this?” she asked. He agreed a little too readily and Scully could only imagine how low his blood sugar would plummet this evening. Thank God he drank coffee with all that sugar.

***

Scully could barely keep her eyes open. The local cops had interviewed practically everyone in the county and they’d even brought a couple of truckers in, men who were literally just passing through. Things like this don’t happen in our county, Scully imagined them saying. She opened what had to be her hundredth file and groaned. Another earmarked file. The cops had interviewed almost every suspect more than once. Scully looked at the stack of files she needed to show Mulder. Twenty suspects. Twenty likely suspects, and hopefully Mulder’s intuition could narrow it down even further.

She looked at her watch. 8:09 PM. Jesus!! She’d been here since after breakfast! No wonder she was tired. And all that talk about Mulder’s blood sugar. Speaking of Mulder…Scully pulled out her phone and swore as she noticed the dead battery. She swiveled in her chair and picked up the extension and dialed Mulder’s cell. No answer. That was strange. She dialed the Harpers’ number and Grace answered.

“Hi, Mrs. Harper, this is Agent Scully. Is Agent Mulder still there?” she asked.

“Why…no. He left hours ago, Agent Scully. Just after lunch,” Grace responded. Scully resisted the urge to ask if he’d eaten anything.

“Did he happen to say where he was going?”

“Why…no. No, he didn’t. He was talking to Laura, asking her questions, and he must have gotten what he wanted, because he left pretty quickly.”

Scully hung up the phone and felt her stomach twist. Mulder had what he wanted. He had been missing since one o’clock. Dear God.

Nobody in the office had heard from him. Even McGaughey seemed surprised.

“Spooky do this often?” he asked. Scully gritted her teeth.

“Not unless he has a good reason,” she answered coolly. McGaughey nodded.

“I see he told you about the fire,” he said, and Scully wanted to punch him in the mouth. McGaughey did not miss this.

“Yep, he told you. Go ahead, hit me,” he said. Scully could feel that Irish temper flare, and wondered if McGaughey’s temper was up to snuff. The barbarian in her wanted to smack that look off his face but Scully refrained. Instead, she handed him the copies of the files.

“If you hear from him, have him call me.”

“And where will you be?”

Scully turned on her heel and walked out the door. The receptionist stopped her as she was leaving.

“Agent Scully? I didn’t think you were still here…”

Slowly, Scully turned and looked at the young woman, that cold feeling of dread penetrating her. The woman’s eyes widened and she looked suddenly frightened.

“I’m – I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Agent Mulder -”

Scully took two swift strides forward and practically ripped the blue message slip out of the terrified woman’s hand. She fought to control her shaking hands. Mulder had called at 2:00. He hadn’t been able to reach her on her cell (damn battery) and he just wanted her to know that he was checking out a suspect. Scully obsessively folded the message slip and left the office.

***

The weanlings stared at Scully as she sat in the car, fists clenched, trying to think. Mulder had been missing for over six hours. He’d gone to talk to a suspect, which in Mulder-speak meant that he knew who had Angela Harper. He’d said that the killer would fight if cornered. And he hadn’t had time to do a profile yet. Something Laura Harper told him had given him all he needed to pin down a suspect. Dammit, Mulder, she thought viciously. Why didn’t you wait for me?

Scully started the car, shifted into Drive, and drove to the Harper house. If Mulder could figure out who the killer was just by talking to a little girl, then Scully should be able to as well. Sure, that spiteful little voice said, you’ve shown an affinity for profiling killers. After the fact. Scully pointedly ignored that voice. She stopped the car in the Harper’s driveway and stared at the homey glow that emanated through the front window. This family was trying to put itself back together and Scully was an inexperienced surgeon, ripping and tearing with no idea how much damage she could cause. Mulder had worked hard at giving Laura some purpose and Scully was more terrified about destroying the trust he’d created than anything else.

Laura knew Mulder was missing. Scully had no idea how, but the girl was bereft, lost. Scully realized how much faith Laura had put in Mulder’s assurances that he’d find Angela and suddenly, Scully wanted to kill him. How could he promise this child that he’d find her sister? How much of this was wishful thinking? Nobody had told Mulder that they would find Samantha. Ever. Laura Harper watched Scully with scared eyes and Scully hesitated, unsure how to proceed. Laura spoke first.

“He wants you to see,” she whispered. Scully was taken aback.

“Who wants me to see, Laura?” she asked gently. Laura’s cool brown eyes bore deep into Scully’s soul and for an instant, Scully wasn’t sure she was looking at Laura. She shuddered.

“HE does,” she said hatefully, her eyes once again her own. “Agent Mulder couldn’t stop him.”

Scully was horrified. What did this girl know? How did she…Scully reined herself in, sat up straight and blew out a breath.

“Laura…when Agent Mulder left today, did he tell you where he was going?”

Laura shook her head slowly.

“He said he knew where Angela was and that he was going to get her back. He knew where she was and he was right,” she said sadly. Scully shifted position and Laura drew back. Jesus, Scully thought bleakly, she doesn’t trust me at all.

“I – how do you know he was right?” Scully asked, redirecting her question and for once, giving in to her innate curiosity. Laura looked down, the light shining off her smooth brown hair.

“He told me the man was playing games with me, that it wasn’t Angela talking to me but HIM.” Laura looked up at Scully, her eyes haunted. “Why is he so mean, Agent Scully? Why does he let me see these horrible things?”

Laura’s look was beseeching, begging. Scully quelled her impatience. Laura needed reassurance and Scully didn’t have Mulder’s intuition to be able to understand where Laura was going. Scully reached out slowly and touched Laura’s hand. Laura hesitated, then her small fingers curled around Scully’s and she looked up gratefully.

“I don’t know, Laura,” Scully said. “There are – there are people out there who want to hurt us and the only way we can stop them is to be strong, to fight them anyway we can.”

Laura didn’t look convinced.

“Is that why you joined the FBI?” she asked. Scully was surprised and gave it some thought, then she smiled at Laura.

“Yes, I suppose it is. Bad people have to pay for their crimes, Laura. We can’t let people hurt others and that’s why we’re working so hard to find this man who has your sister.”

Laura nodded, looked down again. Scully remembered Mulder waiting for Laura to tell him her story and she fought the impulse to question the girl. Laura looked up.

“The man said he was going to kill Angela,” she said in her soft voice. “Then he said he wanted you to see.”

This was getting frustrating. Scully needed to prod, needed to move the interview forward. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew what Laura was saying but the rational being that was Dana Scully dismissed it.

“He wanted you to see what happens when people come after him, when they think they’re smarter than him. But they’re not,” Laura murmured. “They’re not smarter…he’s a smart man. He tells me he’s a smart man.”

And Mulder said smart was the last thing this guy was. Arrogant, yes. Arrogant enough to kidnap a federal agent and prove to the world that he could kill whoever he wanted? Smug enough to want Scully to see his handiwork? Scully fought the nauseous feeling in her stomach and looked at Laura.

“Okay, Laura, I’m going to find him. I promise,” Scully winced inwardly as she found herself making the same promise Mulder undoubtedly had. “But I need you to tell me anything you can about him. Anything at all, no matter how small.”

And with that, Scully gave herself over to extreme possibilities, wholly and completely.

***

Scully ignored McGaughey, who peered over her shoulder as she pored through the files. Laura had only been able to give her snatches of how she perceived the killer but they were proving invaluable. Scully tossed files aside with reckless abandon and McGaughey stared at her.

“We haven’t done the recent background checks on these guys,” he said in that arrogant voice. Scully contemplated him for a moment. Maybe he was the killer…the corners of her mouth quirked, then she dismissed him and went back to work. He stopped her and she glared at him.

“Hands off,” she said, her voice low and deadly. McGaughey cast a glance back at the gathering audience, then looked at Scully.

“Look, Scully, you don’t know that Mulder’s in any trouble. Hell, he was always taking off when I worked with him. This isn’t anything new.”

Scully folded her hands on the desk and gave McGaughey her full attention.

“I don’t like what you’re implying, Agent McGaughey. For your information, my chief concern is in finding Angela Harper. Agent Mulder has been missing for eight hours and his last known location was the Harper house. From my interview with Laura Harper, I deduced that Agent Mulder followed up a lead. He has not been heard from. Therefore I conclude that Agent Mulder was successful in his assessment of the killer.”

“That’s a leap worthy of Spooky,” McGaughey replied, unfazed by Scully’s frosty tone. Scully smiled tightly at him.

“I take that as a compliment,” she said. McGaughey shook his head and stood up. Scully stopped him.

“I have seven possible suspects. We need to bring these men in.”

McGaughey snorted and sat down on the edge of her desk.

“You may be a good pathologist, Doctor Scully, but you’re a rotten investigator. You haven’t even written a profile. All of these men were cleared of the other murders. You have nothing more official than a gut instinct. We can’t bring these men in. We’ve got no cause to do so.”

Scully flushed angrily and McGaughey noticed, a small, lazy smile playing at the corners of his mouth. GOD, he hated her! Scully had been the target of such enmity before where the X-Files were concerned, but usually it was because Mulder had just made some bonehead Reticulan remark. Scully looked down at her scrawled notes and suddenly, her confidence diminished. Hell, McGaughey was right. She was frantic with worry about Mulder, she had no handle on this case at all. She hadn’t even listened to Mulder when he tried to convince her that Laura had a psychic connection to the killer. Scully was playing catch-up, and not very well. Trust her instincts. Yeah, right. Her instincts didn’t make the kind of leaps that they needed to in order for her to nail this guy. Who was she to say that she was connecting any of this correctly? Mulder had always said that profiling was simple, that most psychodramas played out the same, with the same elements and the same causal connections. But Mulder was secure enough in his trust of his own abilities to be able to play with the formula and Scully wasn’t. Hold up there, Dana, her severe voice said. Are you going to trust Sam McGaughey to tell you how to do your job? Mulder would be very displeased. Scully glanced at McGaughey out of the corner of her eye, then she totally shut him out and went back to work.

Mulder had said that this guy wasn’t smart, that he wasn’t a serial killer in the strictest sense. Scully looked at the seven names, read them over and over and over again. He wanted her to see. But he wouldn’t get any satisfaction out of that unless he saw her terror. He knew about her, he knew that she and Mulder were partners. From Laura? Laura had hardly acknowledged Scully. Slowly, Scully opened the files again, completely blotting out McGaughey, who still perched on the corner of the desk, uncertain. He killed because he enjoyed it. He killed because he had no regard for human life but a healthy regard for his own and an intense desire to…what? Think, Dana. What did the killer want out of this? Notoriety. Press. And he didn’t care how he was perceived. He knew they’d call him a heinous child-killer, he knew that if he was caught he’d even be reviled by hardened criminals, who would do their best to stick a shiv through his ribs, run the gears on the poor bastard until he lay writhing on the floor, dying in a spreading pool of his own blood. Gasping for forgiveness. He didn’t just want the press. He needed it. He needed it more than anything, more than the ability to live his life a free man. Because he didn’t consider himself a free man. He was trapped by something…he was trapped…

Scully closed her eyes and let her mind work. She could feel the thread of an idea pulling her along. He wanted to be caught. He needed to be caught. He needed it because he needed to pay for his crimes. His sins. Scully opened her eyes, stunned. Mulder was wrong. This man wasn’t vain; he was desperate. He would put on a great show of vanity and cockiness because that’s the kind of person everyone thought he was, but he was hiding his true self. Always hiding…the class clown was always hiding something and this man hid a world of pain. Why else would he try and emulate the crimes of a serial killer? He knew why serial killers killed. They were compelled. He wasn’t compelled enough to kill by instinct, in the hopes that this would ensure his mental survival. But he was disturbed enough to realize that he needed to ease the pain. Okay. He does kill because he’s compelled, to a degree, which makes him even more dangerous because he can turn it on and off. Now why is public acknowledgment of how hateful he is so important? He feels that he must pay…he must pay for the killings that he’s semi-compelled to commit.

Scully rubbed her temples. Dammit, one circular argument after another and she felt like she was so close…Scully went back to her previous thought about the killer needing to atone. He’d done something in his past that he hadn’t been caught for doing. He’d never been charged. Scully tapped her pen against her teeth, barely realizing that McGaughey was still there, staring at her. Be the killer, Dana. Get under his skin; live him. He has made himself a serial killer because something inside of him – he IS compelled, Scully thought excitedly. He is compelled although he doesn’t realize it. He kills little girls. His signature is only that, that he kills little girls. The elements are extraneous and the manufactured staging of the kills led them off the track.

Scully dove for the folders and her heart stopped as she stared at the craggy face of Max Bailey. He’d been brought in after the first girl was discovered and he’d offered his help to the cops on several occasions because…because why? The other six suspects had done exactly the same thing. Why did Bailey leap out at her? Scully slowed down, read each word of Bailey’s file intently, clearly. And found something that her conscious mind had missed, that her subconscious mind hadn’t. Her subconscious mind had led her on a merry chase. Christ, her subconscious mind was Mulder, she realized wryly. Max Bailey’s thirteen-year-old sister had been killed in a barn fire when Max was sixteen. Scully stared at the file in frustration. Could she just accept this? Was this the inciting incident? Had Max Bailey killed his sister, accidentally or otherwise, and was only now seeking justice? Was the pressure finally too much for him? Another hastily scrawled note took Scully’s breath away. Max Bailey worked for a local feed store. He drove a delivery truck. A feed store. Dear God. The curious weanlings, peering at Mulder and Scully through the fence. Which was right next to the sheriff’s station. Scully steadied her hands, then looked at McGaughey, who was staring at her as if she were…well, Mulder.

“I don’t suppose you would have any objection to a few field interviews, would you?” she asked sweetly. McGaughey shrugged.

“It’s your case, Agent Scully,” he replied. Scully fought the urge to hit him. She handed him every file but Bailey’s.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d do these yourself,” she said shortly, then she collected her things and Bailey’s file and left.

*****

Dana Scully wiped her damp hands on her pants and tried to stop the frantic beating of her heart as she waited for Max Bailey to open the door of the small, weather-beaten cabin he called home. It was a shabby, dreary, depressing house. There was nothing homey about it. It was utterly devoid of anything that could be referred to as a human touch. Scully touched her Sig, comforted by its presence. She would not let this man catch her out. Whatever he’d done to Mulder…Scully tried not to think about that. She knew, in her heart, that Mulder was still alive. He would be a bonus to Bailey; a bounty. What Scully really needed here was for Bailey to crack. She needed to bring him to his knees, make him confess. Fire. She suppressed a shudder. Fortunately, the little house didn’t appear to be on fire. That would be too simple, Scully thought to herself. She started at the door creaked open and Bailey’s face peered out at her.

“Help you?” he asked roughly. Scully nodded and professionally flipped her ID.

“Dana Scully, FBI. May I ask you a few questions, Mr. Bailey?”

Bailey hesitated.

“If this is about those missing kids, I told the cops everything I know,” he said as he began to close the door. Scully wedged a booted foot against the doorjamb and he looked at her in surprise.

“I’m here about Angela Harper and a federal agent named Fox Mulder. I don’t suppose Agent Mulder paid you a visit earlier, did he?” she asked innocuously. Bailey was wise to her.

“You’re welcome to come in and look around, but I ain’t seen no agent here.”

Bailey opened the door wide and Scully knew that Angela and Mulder were not here. Where was he keeping them? This small plot of land was all he had and it was small enough that Scully could tell there was no sign of another building anywhere on it. Bailey’s home was neat as a pin and as it was on the outside, it was devoid of any personal touches. No photographs, nothing. Scully clutched the file, absurdly glad that she’d thought to bring a photograph of Bailey’s sister along. He was watching her with hooded eyes but there was something about his body language that belied the look in his eyes. He was contradicting himself, Scully thought, which was odd because she saw him as the consummate actor. The stakes in the game had been raised. He was preparing for his final catharsis, which would result in Angela’s death and most likely, Mulder’s as well. He was no longer willing to play games with the cops because he could no longer afford to. He was so close now…

Scully took a quick look around, then smiled at Bailey.

“You were so helpful with the police the last few times that I thought perhaps you had some insight in this case that you might be willing to share,” she said in an attempt to draw him out. It didn’t work.

“Afraid I can’t help you,” he said easily, his eyes dancing. Shit. Whatever advantage Scully had had when she walked in had evaporated. See the killer…

“Do you believe in psychic ability?” Scully asked abruptly, as surprised by her question as Bailey. He shook his head.

“I don’t believe in any of that New Age crap,” he said scornfully. Scully nodded.

“Neither do I. Or I didn’t, not until I talked to Laura Harper and she described you.”

She saw Bailey freeze for a fraction of a second and pressed on, changing the topic in the hopes that it would confuse him, put him off-guard.

“Do you know why serial killers kill, Mr. Bailey?” she asked. He shrugged, still not worried. Scully wandered around the cabin and felt his eyes follow her. Two can play at this game, Scully thought.

“They kill because they have to, because some trauma in their lives compels them to. They can’t help themselves, Mr. Bailey. They commit these terrible, horrible crimes because they have no outlet for their pain. It’s a psychological crime. Mass murderers, on the other hand, are not serial killers and kill for the sheer joy of it. Sometimes, as in the Charlie Starkweather case, it gets completely out of hand and they can do nothing but kill for the charge it gives them. Small men trying to act strong.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Scully saw Bailey flinch. She pressed her advantage.

“Of course, humanity condones neither crime. And some serial killers have only a passing acquaintance with trauma. They like it. They like to kill. It starts in childhood. They’ll set small fires, mutilate animals, sometimes wet the bed. You know what I mean,” Scully said casually, every fiber of her being resonating with Bailey. He shook his head, a quick, angry jerk. Scully affected surprise.

“You don’t? Oh, of course you don’t. Sometimes, when I think out loud, I imagine that I’m talking to my partner. Fox Mulder. Remember? Mulder’s a psychologist and a damned good one. He profiles serial killers. He’s taught me a lot about them. He’s taught me how to recognize them and how to pity them.”

Scully had Bailey now. The air had gone out of him and he stood loosely in the middle of his living room. Scully took a step towards him.

“You can’t pity a mass murderer, Mr. Bailey. You can’t even understand them. They’re animals and they deserve what they get. But a serial killer…if you’d heard some of the statements I’ve heard, you’d pity them, too. Many of them, most of them actually, were abused as children. They fear women because they were usually raised in a female-dominated home. They’re sick and they’re weak. They commit heinous crimes only to ease their pain.”

Bailey found his voice.

“Why are you telling ME this?” he asked. Scully could feel him on the end of the hook and she had to choose her words carefully. She suddenly noticed that what she had perceived as nerves as a direct result of her questioning had more to do with the clock that sat on the mantel. The clock…oh shit…he’s already set the fire. He’s already set it and they’re dead…Scully blinked flop sweat out of her eyes and zeroed in on Bailey. You sick fuck what have you done with Angela where’s Mulder STOP IT Scully…

Without thinking, Scully reached into the folder and pulled out the photo of Bailey’s sister. He looked at it and trembled, then glared at Scully. Cornered…like a rabid animal…

“Where’d you get that?” he nearly shouted.

“That doesn’t matter. What does matter, Max, is that your pain is not going to go away if you kill Angela. You are not going to be satisfied because you are lying to yourself. You’ve been lying to yourself ever since you set the fire that killed your sister. You are never going to regain what you’ve lost, you are never going to get the relief that you crave. You killed three girls and if you don’t want the death penalty you will tell me where Angela Harper is and what you’ve done with Agent Mulder.”

Bailey physically staggered backwards and Scully felt herself stagger along with him. She could sense his desperate thoughts as they reeled through his mind. He knows this, she realized. Deep down, he knows this will not solve anything. He knows that his guilt will not be appeased, that he will only pay for the murders of three young girls and not for his sister’s accidental death.

“You didn’t mean to kill her,” Scully continued in a soft, level voice. “But you did mean to kill those girls and those are the murders you will pay for.”

Hot tears spilled down Bailey’s face as he stared at Scully, completely spent.

“Do you believe in psychic ability, Max,” Scully whispered. He nodded as he sobbed, as the tears flowed freely down his face. Scully stepped close to him.

“Where are they?”

***

With one eye on the handcuffed Bailey, Scully drove like a woman possessed and tried to talk on the phone at the same time.

“This is Agent Scully. I need an ambulance and a fire truck sent immediately to 2029 Old Oak Road. Don’t fucking argue with me, McGaughey, I’ve got the killer and every Goddam word you waste is another minute that Angela Harper loses. Just fucking do it or I’ll have you back on a desk so fast you won’t know what hit you.”

Scully hung up viciously and, remembering Mulder’s advice about McGaughey, dialed the number again and asked for the sheriff. He was quite a good deal more accommodating. Scully could see the smoke billowing up from the ramshackle house before she’d even parked the car. She quickly checked Bailey’s cuffs and sprinted towards the burning building. Bailey had set the fire half an hour ago and claimed that he’d come back to his house in the hopes that she’d catch him, but then he’d chickened out when she’d actually showed up. Pretty typical, for a coward.

He’d set the fire in the stone basement which accounted for the fact that the building wasn’t completely burned down yet. Oh God Mulder, she prayed. Scully kicked the door in and ducked to one side but the flames weren’t too bad in the front of the house. Actually…she dashed into the kitchen. No flames…she hastily wet a towel and put it over her mouth and nose and then, taking a breath, turned towards the basement door. The fire hadn’t even reached the house yet. The smoke was escaping through the vent in the basement. Scully trembled as she dutifully felt the door (pretty hot), then kicked it in and whirled to one side. Whoosh! Smoke and air and flames escaped and Scully ducked down and crawled on her hands and knees down the basement stairs. The hot concrete burned her skin but she ignored it.

“Mulder!” she yelled, instantly regretting it as she coughed. She reached the bottom and saw that the fire had been pretty well contained at the back of the basement until she’d kicked the door in. A small form lay unmoving at the bottom of the stairs. Scully grabbed Angela Harper’s shirt and pulled her up the stairs, frantically feeling for a pulse. Nothing. Just as she pulled Angela into the living room the fire department arrived and Scully was hauled out along with Angela.

“My partner,” she gasped. “He’s still in there.” The broad-shouldered fireman nodded grimly, adjusted his mask, and dove into the smoke. Another fireman pulled at Scully’s arm but she jerked away and looked at him.

“Help Angela,” she said, still somewhat breathless. He hesitated and then, seeing the set look on her face, nodded and followed the paramedics out of the house. Scully’s eyes hurt, she stared so hard. God Mulder…please be there…please be alive…

Seconds passed like interminable days before the fireman finally emerged, suit blackened, Mulder’s unconscious form slung over his shoulder. Scully helped the fireman carry Mulder out and maneuver him onto his back. Scully tried to ignore the unnatural angle of his leg and the incredible bloody lump on his forehead as she went about her normal routine, saving Mulder’s life.

***

Scully breathed into the mask, welcoming the oxygen as she watched Mulder’s chest rise and fall. She’d nearly lost him again. She shuddered and pushed that thought out of her head, steadying herself as the ambulance rocketed around a curve. She could hear the rasp of his smoke-filled lungs and tried to avoid looking at the splint on his leg. He was going to have another cast. The paramedic shifted and checked Mulder’s vitals. He glanced at Scully.

“Weak, but steady,” he said, terrified that she’d kill him if he didn’t give her the updates. She nodded and reached out to absently brush Mulder’s hair off his forehead. It took Scully a few minutes longer to get out of the ambulance than she’d anticipated and she felt herself sway as she watched Mulder being carried into the hospital. The paramedic caught her arm.

“Come on, you should get checked out, too,” he said.

“How’s Angela?” Scully asked, her voice raspy. The paramedic hesitated, then shrugged.

“Pretty bad,” he said quietly. “But your partner got her this far.”

Scully stared at him.

“What do you mean?”

He shrugged.

“The fire chief said that from all appearances, your partner moved Angela towards the stairs, away from the fire, and tried to put out the fire himself. Didn’t you notice the burns?”

Scully could feel herself go weak again.

“No, I didn’t,” she murmured. My God, Mulder. My God…Scully shook her head, once more amazed by her partner.

***

Angela Harper was going to make it. Those words echoed through Scully’s mind as she slowly made her way to Mulder’s room. Her family was with her now, praying for her recovery. The doctor had been amazed by Angela’s resolve. She should have died – but she didn’t. Scully pushed open Mulder’s door and quietly crept to the chair by his bed. He hadn’t regained consciousness yet. His leg had been broken in two places, he had a pretty severe concussion, smoke inhalation and second-degree burns covering his chest and torso. And he’d never looked so good to Scully before. She curled up in the chair and watched him. Bailey had confessed all, made a statement, and would be paying for these crimes. Laura Harper had reported no more psychic connections to Bailey and she’d hugged Scully fiercely for bringing her sister home to her. Scully was on top of the world. Except…she’d seen into Bailey’s mind, seen how his mind had created this monster. And she wondered about her own demons, wondered about demons long buried. Was everything in our memories going to haunt us forever? Mulder groaned and Scully leaned over, gently touching his bandaged hand.

“Mulder,” she said softly. “You’re okay, you’re in the hospital.”

Mulder opened his eyes, squinting at the harsh light. A ghost of a smile flickered across his face and he grimaced.

“Scully -”

“Don’t talk, Mulder. You’re going to have a sore throat for quite a while.”

“Angela -”

Like he listens to me, Scully thought.

“Angela’s fine. She’s fine, Mulder. She’s going to make it. She’s very sick, but she’s going to make it.”

We’re all going to make it, she thought.

***

Scully was positive that the Snickers bar could be sensed by the hospital staff but Mulder had convinced her that he would die without it and the truth be known, he’d been a fairly good patient up until now. She crept into his room, carefully shut the door, and flipped the candy onto the bed.

“That is the last contraband I’m bringing in here,” she said firmly. Mulder smiled at her and Scully had to take the candy bar away from him and open it. He looked like Flipper trying to open the package.

“Thanks, Radar,” he said caustically, “where’s that stolen jeep I asked for?”

Scully smiled at him. His voice was getting better and actually, the deep rasp caused by the smoke had half the nurses in the hospital in love with him. She sat down on the edge of the bed and watched as he tore into the candy bar. They still hadn’t talked about Mulder’s ordeal and Scully had relayed her story to him in report form, dry and detached. He’d listened but she knew he hadn’t bought it. His pointed questions suggested that he knew she had had nightmares about Bailey and the fire for days afterwards, and Scully learned from the nurses that Mulder’s sleep hadn’t been all too peaceful either. Now that he was feeling better, she felt safe in digging.

“So, Mulder…” Christ, how should she start? He beat her to it.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. End of story. He bit off another bite of the candy and chewed mechanically. Scully sighed and looked down, playing with the candy wrapper.

“You have to,” she said quietly. He looked up at her, his eyes dark.

“I will if you will,” he said, imitating her tone.

“I told you -”

“No you didn’t. You told me the facts, Scully, you didn’t tell me how you felt. You didn’t tell me what you went through emotionally to break Bailey. I know it affected you and I know how strong you are. You could never appear weak in front of me.”

Scully stared at him, desperately fighting back the tears. He smiled twistedly.

“Gotta put that doctorate to use sometime,” he said softly. Scully gulped and nodded and he reached out a bandaged hand.

“Scully…we both did what we had to do. This case has really fucked me up. I should have admitted that to you earlier…I had no right to expect you do open up to me when I wasn’t being honest with you. We can’t do this kind of work without becoming affected by it. We shouldn’t. We’d end up being like McGaughey, completely out of touch with it.”

“Mulder, you don’t understand! I’m – I’m not trained for this. Forensic pathology is a dispassionate science, an objective science. This is – I just can’t do it, Mulder,” Scully said, angry at the tears that threatened to fall. But Mulder knew her so well, he knew what she needed.

“You can do it and you did do it,” he said firmly. “We’d be dead…Angela and I…if it wasn’t for you. Look, I spent three years getting into these psychos’ minds. Three years of hell, Scully. I know what you’re going through right now and I know how terrible it is for you because you’ve never done it before and you’re not ready for the fallout. It gets better. It’ll never be the way it was before, but it gets better. Sure, a little piece of you dies but you saved our lives, Scully! You did it, with your mind and your intuition and your beliefs. Don’t you feel that?”

Scully thought about what Mulder said and it suddenly seemed clear. Yes, it was worth it. The trade-off was negligible. Lives saved for this kind of realization? For the realization that not only do monsters exist, but that I have the ability to see into them and stop them? Is this power or is it the loss of something dear, the loss of innocence? No, it was the return of innocence. Angela’s innocence and Laura’s innocence. Scully thought about Angela Harper, about the hug Laura gave her when she brought Angela back, about a family that wouldn’t fracture, that wouldn’t break, but one that would become stronger because of the adversity. And Scully applied that to her own life. How long had she resisted this kind of emotional connection? How long had she discounted its importance? She looked at Mulder and realized that she had something even he didn’t have – she had objectivity, and while she could never go back again, in the future she hoped that her objectivity and her training would be able to stop the nightmares, the cold sweat, the terror. Then she smiled sadly, because she knew it wouldn’t. She knew she was lying to herself again and it would be a hard habit to break.

“I do feel it, Mulder, and it’s fucking terrifying,” she said. Mulder looked surprised.

“Language, Scully,” he said teasingly, the serious smile on his face only underscoring the humor. Scully shook her head and smiled.

“Your turn,” she said. Mulder’s face clouded over and Scully was once again reminded of how close to the surface Mulder’s emotions were. He sighed, a shuddering sigh that sent him to coughing again.

“I thought she was dead,” he said in his small, quiet voice. “I didn’t even think about how to handle Bailey; I just went. When he hit me I knew, for a second anyway, that I was wrong about him, that he was compelled to kill and made himself decide to kill me.”

Mulder looked at Scully, an odd look on his face.

“But you knew that, didn’t you?”

Scully nodded slowly. Yes, she’d known that.

“I woke up in that basement and Angela was out cold. I tried to get to her…but my leg…I thought she was dead. I thought my mistake had killed her.”

Mulder stopped, just stopped, frozen, as he remembered his terror. And his terror was always for someone else, Scully thought, born out of the trauma of Samantha’s disappearance, of his father’s neglect, of his mother’s inability to protect him. Jesus Christ. Mulder would have died, could have died, for Angela Harper. He was the most selfless person Scully had ever known and it wasn’t right. Nobody should be this unconcerned for their own personal safety.

“She would have died, Mulder. You saved her life.”

Mulder nodded, eyes still blank. That didn’t matter to him. The only thing that mattered was the potential for tragedy. Mulder’s eyes cleared and he looked at Scully, caught the fleeting look of compassion in her eyes. His mouth twisted in a sardonic smile and Scully flushed, embarrassed. Mulder didn’t want this; he never wanted this.

“You look tired,” Mulder observed.

Scully looked at him, surprised. “I look tired?” she asked. “God, Mulder…”

Suddenly, she couldn’t take it anymore. Mulder was so foreign to her right now, so lost, his experiences so outside the realm of human understanding. Very poetic Dana, her nasty little voice observed. Scully didn’t stop the tears this time. She let them splash over her lids and run down her cheeks. Her hands trembled and she didn’t care what Mulder thought, didn’t care if he really did think her weak. He put a bandaged hand on her arm and she looked at him, stunned to notice that his eyes glimmered with tears as well. Without thinking, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him, burying her tear-stained face in his shoulder. He hugged her back fiercely, coughing slightly as he made a valiant effort to keep the terror inside. But neither one of them did. They held each other for a long time, reminding themselves of the strength of their bond, giving each other the support they needed, reaffirming the search for truth.

Q.E.D.

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