Title Page Chapter Index email dawn home

Chapter 1

11:36 PM
Three weeks later

The faces of the dead were always with her. Shadows that dogged her steps throughout the day became specters haunting her dreams. Liz Marshall. Corinne Peterson. Jenna Culleeny. Emma Watson. Vacant eyes in red, swollen faces. Necklaces of bruises adorning pale throats.

Scully opened her eyes, curling her chilled fingers more tightly around the styrofoam cups. She focused on the lighted numbers above the steel doors, allowing the mechanical rumbling and harsh fluorescents to ground her. Now was no time to begin jumping at phantoms.

The elevator lurched to a stop, and the doors slid open to reveal her boss, briefcase in hand and trench coat slung over his arm. Scully straightened from her slump against the back wall.


"Agent." Skinner hesitated briefly before stepping aboard. He glanced at the control panel, then moved to stand beside her. "Working a bit late, aren't you?"

Scully cocked an eyebrow, keeping her gaze trained on the doors. "I could say the same of you, sir."

"Point taken."

The awkward silence was blessedly brief. The doors rolled open to the correct floor, and Scully got off. Skinner caught her elbow before she'd taken more than a few strides.

"Agent Scully, a moment, please."

She ducked her head to hide the fire in her eyes. It wasn't difficult to guess what this was about. "Of course."

After a quick look around, Skinner guided her into a copier room across the hall. Scully set the two coffees on a cabinet and folded her arms.

Skinner took in her defensive posture without comment. "How is he?"

"If you're speaking of Agent Mulder, he's fine."


She bristled at the skepticism. "Considering the circumstances, yes. He's doing everything humanly possible to catch a killer, as ordered." The words "by you" hung heavily in the air, unspoken.

Skinner clenched his jaw, a muscle twitching high on his left cheek. "I've been getting phone calls."

"Let me guess. He's alienated the original profiler, pissed off SAC Crittendon, and irritated the hell out of the local PDs. The lab folks are tired of him hounding them for results and the Forensics department wishes he'd realize they have other cases besides this one. Descriptors like arrogant, pigheaded, and overbearing were used."

"You left out the part where the custodial staff is refusing to clean the conference room."

"With all due respect, what did you expect, sir? We've both seen enough to know that this is the way Mulder works. If you had issues with his methods you should never have--"

"Scully, I'd like to remind you that, when push came to shove, I had no more choice in this matter than you and Mulder. Don't make the mistake of overestimating my position in the chain of command."

Scully flushed when a quick glance at Skinner's face revealed that, yes, he remembered her brash rebuke. "I know you did your best to keep us out of this case. I just hope you understand that calling him on the carpet now, when he's in this deep, won't help catch this killer."

"I'm not here to reprimand him, Scully."

She frowned. "You're not? But--"

"Crittendon's a former jarhead with zero tolerance for anyone who bends the rules--or has the audacity to think outside the box. I warned him to be careful what he wished for when he set his sights on Mulder. As far as I'm concerned, he got exactly what he had coming to him."

Scully frowned. "I just assumed..."

"This is an unofficial visit." Skinner rubbed the back of his neck, and for the first time Scully noticed the lines around his eyes and mouth. "So how is he--really?"

Scully scooped up the coffee cups and tipped her head toward the door. "He's right down the hall."

They passed the muted activity of the bullpen, where a few staunch souls hunched over their desks, scribbling out profiles or reviewing casefiles. Scully led Skinner to the conference room, the tapping of her heels echoing hollowly through the deserted corridor. A rectangle of light spilled through the open door, but the oblong window had been covered over from the inside.

Scully walked in, set one cup on the paper-strewn table, and continued to where Mulder stood, arms crossed, in front of the back wall. From the corner of her eye she saw Skinner register what Mulder was looking at, then set down his briefcase and scan the room.


He didn't move. She slowly realized he hadn't blinked, his gaze hazy and slightly out of focus. She looked at the photo that had him mesmerized. Emma Watson at the dump site, her hair combed, the blood washed from her face and body, limbs arranged neatly into a position of repose that contrasted sharply with her wide sightless eyes, the scleras blood red with ruptured capillaries.

"Mulder." She tugged his hand free and placed the cup in it.

"He leaves the eyes open. Why?" Mulder didn't look at her, didn't acknowledge her presence in any way. He sipped absently from the cup and continued speaking with the same flat, mildly curious tone. "Is he hoping they'll see him--the person, and not the atrocities he commits? Or is he proud of what he's done, wanting them to bear witness?"

Hyper-aware of Skinner moving quietly around the periphery of the room, Scully tried one more time. "Mulder."

Mulder blinked, focusing on her face. "Whatcha got, Scully?" He took another swallow from the coffee cup and grimaced. "Decaf?"

"What we've got is company." Scully stepped back, giving Mulder a clear line of sight.

Skinner finished perusing the display of crime photos tacked to every available surface and joined them. "Agent Mulder."

"Bit late for a progress report, isn't it, sir?"

"SAC Crittendon keeps me well informed, Mulder. I just stopped by to see if there's anything you need."

Scully watched Skinner closely. If he was at all surprised by Mulder's haggard appearance, he hid it well.

"A killer would be nice." Mulder took one swallow of coffee, made a face, and set it atop a stack of file folders. Rolling her eyes, Scully rescued it before disaster could occur.

"I'd say you've got one." Skinner's dry tone warmed a bit. "When was the last time you slept, Mulder?"

"Not to worry, sir. Agent Crittendon held a briefing just this morning." When Skinner didn't rise to the bait, Mulder sighed. "I've slept. A bit less than usual, maybe, but I've slept."

Scully tucked her chin to her chest, chewing the inside of her cheek. A bit less? He was averaging three hours a night, and his bloodshot eyes, rumpled clothing, and perpetual five o'clock shadow showed the toll it was taking.

For a moment Skinner looked as if he might press the issue, but he simply nodded and gestured to the cluttered table. "How's the profile coming?"

"Which one?"

Scully wanted to kick him when he got like this; she settled for a death glare instead. Mulder raised both brows in a "what did I do?" expression before elaborating.

"I'm currently on my third profile, but hey--three's the charm, right?" He grimaced and ran a hand through his hair till it stood on end. "I'm having trouble getting a handle on this...guy."

Skinner picked up on his hesitation. "Are you thinking it might be a woman?"

"No. Not exactly."

"As you know, sir, only about 8 percent of serial killers are
female," Scully said.

"But you're considering the possibility?"

"There are aspects to the murders that suggest a woman's...touch," Mulder said. "Careful, precise, methodical. And the mutilations express rage that's almost...jealous in nature."

"But?" Skinner prompted.

"It's unlikely a woman would be strong enough to inflict this kind of damage." Scully indicated the Watson photo with a tilt of her head. "Not to mention the fact that the pattern of bruising suggests the killer had large hands. A man's hands."

"Maybe you're looking for two killers, working in tandem."

"It's possible." Mulder drifted back to the photo, his tone turning clinical. "There's a definite duality at work--the almost lavish care of the body is an odd counterpoint to the extreme brutality of the act itself. But are we looking at two killers or one with multiple personalities? Or something else entirely?" He traced Emma's face with his fingertip, frowning.


Skinner's authoritarian growl brought him back. Mulder gave a nearly imperceptible shake of his head. "Sir?"

"Go home." Skinner held up a hand when Mulder started to protest. "You'll never catch this killer--or kill-ers--if you're constantly running on fumes. Go home. Sleep for more than two hours. This will all still be here in the morning."

Mulder's reply was heavy with bitterness. "But another young woman might not be."

Skinner exchanged a pained glance with Scully. Retrieving his briefcase, he paused just inside the doorway. "Keep in touch."

Ignoring her outstretched hand, he brushed past her and picked up a yellow legal pad covered with his hastily scratched notes. She watched him dig through several stacks of papers to locate a pencil, then collapse into one of the padded leather chairs.


He spared her a brief look, then flipped to a fresh page and began writing. "You go ahead, Scully. I've got a few thoughts I need to jot down, and I want to go through Emma Watson's lab work one more time, just in case we missed something."

"You heard what Skinner said."

"Skinner's not here."

Her temper flared, fueled by worry and too little sleep. "He can be, if I call him."

"You wouldn't do that." He didn't even lift his gaze from the pad.

She let her briefcase drop to the floor with a satisfying thud, slipped her phone from her suit pocket, and pressed speed dial before Mulder's fingers closed around the phone.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

She slapped his hand away, furious at the heat in her face and the sting of tears in her eyes. "Preventing you from self-destructing, I hope."


Somehow, his enfolding her in his arms just made her angrier. She didn't want him to respond to her tears--it left her feeling weak and vulnerable. Endless days of living and breathing this case, seeing herself mirrored over and over in the dead, had left her emotions raw and too near the surface.

She shrugged off the embrace and pinned him with a steely glare. "I need a little time to regroup, Mulder. And despite this Superman complex you've got going, so do you."

One corner of his mouth turned up. "No complex here, Scully. I'm nowhere near as fast as a speeding bullet--even on a good day--and I can't leap tall buildings worth a damn." He sobered. "If I were Superman, we'd've caught this monster already."

His self-deprecation drove away the last of her anger. She cupped his jaw, tracing the shadow beneath his eye with her thumb. "Skinner's right, you know. Driving yourself to a state of exhaustion is no way to catch this guy." When Mulder chuckled, she frowned. "What?"

"This is what I do, how I became the one-time golden boy of the BSU. I know it seems crazy to you, Scully, but it's what Patterson taught us. What he demanded of us. Immerse yourself in the case to the exclusion of everything else. Become the monster in order to catch the monster. I spent two years in a state of exhaustion."

Scully didn't like thinking about how those years had been for Mulder. From the little he'd shared, she got the impression he didn't like thinking about it either. "Times have changed. You're not working for Patterson, and you're not in this alone."

Mulder curled his fingers around hers and pressed them to his lips. Then he accepted his coat and gestured to the door. "You win. Let's go home."

Not much of a victory, Scully thought, as they headed down the hallway. His fixed gaze and pensive silence made it clear his mind was still on the case.

"I bumped into Kristen this morning when I stopped by the lab," she said as they got on the elevator, grasping for a distraction.

She could practically hear the grinding sound as he struggled to switch gears. "So...how is she?"

She punched the button and shrugged. "She looked a little rough around the edges. She told me she hasn't talked to Grey in three weeks. And immediately changed the subject."

"I'm not surprised. He stonewalled me when I called last week. Told me he was moving on, and it was time I did too."


"Really. Of course, his partner paints the picture a bit differently."

"You talked to Mark?"

"He got on the line while they were tracking Grey down for me. Said Mr. Congeniality's been nothing but a pain in the ass since he and Kristen split--grouchy, impatient, and generally lacking a sense of humor."

Scully sighed. "In other words, he's miserable."


She chewed her lip. "Maybe if we both tried again, if I talked to Kristen and you--"

"Scully, they're both adults, and you and I hardly fit the role of matchmaker."

"You're right. It's just..." She sighed again. "They belong together, Mulder. I know it. Grey knows it."

The doors slid open and Mulder's hand drifted automatically to the small of her back. "Grey's never going to be able to reach for a future--with anyone--until he lets go of the past."

Scully looked up at him, suppressing a smile. "Voice of experience?"

Mulder crossed to the driver's side of the car. "If there's one thing we Mulders have in abundance, it's a past." He paused, key in hand, then slowly grasped the handle and opened the door.

"What's wrong?"

"It's unlocked."

"So you forgot to lock it." Scully set her briefcase on the back seat and got in. When he continued to stand with on hand on the door, frowning, she leaned across the seat. "Mulder?"

"I would swear I'd locked it, Scully."

"Mulder, I had to turn off the coffee maker three times last week."

"Your point being?" But he slid in beside her.

"You have to admit your mind has been elsewhere lately. If it's not related to this case, you don't see it. You drank half that coffee tonight before you figured out it was decaf." Not to mention we haven't made love in two weeks.

He narrowed his eyes, but turned the key in the ignition. "Elsewhere, huh?"

"A bit."

He navigated through the garage, then reached for her hand. "I'm sorry."

She laced their fingers and squeezed. "I accept that pushing limits is what makes you good at this. But you have to trust me to know when to rein you in."

He smiled. "I trust you, Scully. Always."

"And I trust you. You're going to find this guy, Mulder. I'm sure of it."

He squeezed her hand, then withdrew, his smile fading. "I can't help feeling things are going to get a lot worse before that happens."

Scully looked out the window and said nothing. She felt it too.

Continued in Chapter 2