He turned his head and regarded the empty space beside him, sliding a hand across the cool sheets. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he grabbed his crumpled sweats and slipped them on. He sniffed the air, then sighed. Whatever she was up to, it didn't include making coffee.
He shuffled into the bathroom, yawning and scrubbing a hand through his hair. One look in the mirror convinced him he should shower before seeking out Scully and caffeine.
As he stood under the hot spray, his thoughts drifted to the night before. Scully had been... He smiled as his body reacted to the memory. Last night had given him much more than a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Scully had anchored him, provided a refuge in the eye of the storm. He couldn't help thinking that if she'd been a part of his life during the Patterson days, things might have turned out very differently.
After drying off, he traded the sweats for a clean tee shirt and boxers, then wandered into the living room. A lone lamp burned, but she wasn't curled in the corner of the couch or seated at the computer. Mulder felt a twinge of uneasiness.
The kitchen was dark and silent, but he checked it anyway, flipping on the light and fingering the glasses and plates stacked neatly in the sink. Moving more quickly, he walked through the entire apartment, calling her name.
Now his heart was thudding, his skin prickled with gooseflesh. Mulder drew a calming breath and mentally switched gears to investigator. Her briefcase sat beside the desk, exactly where she'd placed it the night before. As best he could tell, her suits were all hanging in the closet, but a pair of jeans was missing, and the drawer where she stored casual sweaters and sweatshirts was slightly ajar.
His gaze landed on the holster for her weapon, lying empty atop the dresser. It took the edge off his fear, knowing that wherever she'd gone, she was armed. He finished his sweep at the front door, where he ran his fingers over the empty hook that held her keys.
So where the hell had she gone at this hour of the morning--and without leaving a note? Was she on foot, or had she taken the car?
The car. A wave of relief washed over him. She'd awakened early and decided to move the vehicle to a real parking spot, hopefully sparing him another ticket. That had to be it. Scully would walk through the door any minute, grousing about his propensity for flaunting the rules and not so subtly pointing out he owed her--big time.
He picked up the phone and dialed her cell, pacing back and forth. When it switched over to voicemail, he hesitated, then hung up without leaving a message. She'd probably be back any minute. Might as well be proactive and start groveling.
Mulder got the coffeemaker going and set out Scully's favorite mug, as well as a glass of orange juice, the carton of milk, and a bowl of the cardboard cereal she favored. Table set, he grabbed a pop tart for himself and sat down to wait.
Though he tried not to watch the clock, his ear seemed attuned to the methodical click of the second hand. He picked at the pop tart, pulling off bite-sized pieces that stuck in his throat. After twenty minutes he dialed her cell again.
Abandoning the mangled pastry, he headed for the bedroom to get dressed. So much for excuses. Something was wrong; he knew it.
The street was already bustling with early birds getting a jump on their morning commute. Mulder zipped up his coat to ward off the steady drizzle that had turned the pavement a glistening black. He jogged down the sidewalk, slowing as he approached the spot where he'd parked the night before. Even from a distance, he could see the car was gone.
As he circled the vacant space, he pulled his cell and dialed the apartment, hanging up when the answering machine kicked on. A call to the Bureau quickly confirmed what he knew in his gut: no one had seen Scully, and she hadn't signed in. He snapped the phone shut, struggling to understand what had happened.
None of this made any sense. He paced back and forth for a moment, searching for some logical explanation. When none came, he flipped open his cell and once again punched speed dial one, gnawing hard on his lower lip.
The electronic trill sucked all the air from his lungs. Mulder whipped his head around, searching for the origin of the familiar sound. He found it, wedged against the tire of a nearby car, just as Scully's pre-recorded voice asked him to leave a message.
Scully's cell phone.
In his mind's eye he saw her with brutal clarity--swollen face, wide, vacant eyes, neck mottled with bruises. Doubling over, Mulder braced his hands on his knees and fought a wave a dizziness and nausea. The bastard had Scully. But how?
Scully had been home. She'd been safe. He could still feel the warmth and weight of her head pillowed on his chest, her hair tickling his chin.
He pulled a glove from his pocket and slipped it on, carefully easing the cell free and running his thumb over the cracked display. A wall came down in his mind, distancing him from the fear and grief bubbling up.
He had calls to make. A crime scene to inspect. A victim to find.
The bastard had taken Scully. But he was damn well going to get her back.
Scully had vanished, leaving only her cell phone, a few strands of auburn hair, a meager collection of fibers, and a lot of questions behind her. Easy enough to place responsibility on their serial killer, more difficult to guess how he'd abducted a trained agent without a single witness to the crime. All the dead girls had, to a degree, been victims of their own carelessness: out alone, after dark, in remote areas or crime-ridden neighborhoods. Yet by Mulder's account, Scully had been tucked safely in her own bed before she'd disappeared.
On the surface, the man appeared the picture of professionalism. His call to Skinner had been brief, details delivered with clipped, clinical detachment. By the time representatives from the DCPD and the Bureau had arrived, he'd cordoned off the crime scene, bagged the phone, and put out an APB on the missing car and Scully. Skinner knew him well enough, however, to sense the cracks beneath Mulder's calm facade. Mulder might be holding it together now, but soon those chinks in his armor would begin to show.
"I can't make up my mind. Either he's one coldhearted bastard, or he's a time bomb waiting to go off."
Skinner gave the man at his elbow a sharp look, but found no malice in Spencer's face. "Just do your job, Detective. Then you'll never have to find out."
"We'll do everything we can. But this son of a bitch hasn't left us much to go on. You and I both know the odds of us finding Agent Scully alive." He cocked a thumb toward Mulder. "And so does your time bomb."
"Was there anything else you needed, Detective?"
"Nope. We'll let you know as soon as we hear anything on the car. My guess is the guy will ditch it like a bad date as soon as he gets a chance." Spencer flipped his notebook shut and stuffed it into his pocket. "I'm sorry. This case is priority one, believe me. I'll do everything I can."
"Thank you." Skinner waited for Spencer and the uniformed officers to drive away before walking over to Mulder. Anticipating the man's reaction to his next words, he chose them carefully. "Agent Mulder, in light of Agent Scully's abduction, I think--"
Mulder stood abruptly, his eyes blazing. "Don't. There is no way in hell you or Crittendon are taking me off this case."
So much for diplomacy. Skinner could feel his blood pressure rising. "Mulder, you're too close. As the partner, the husband, of a victim you--"
"Have a bigger stake in this case than anyone else!" Mulder took a deliberate step back and lowered his voice. "I was brought on board because Crittendon and the powers that be felt I was their best hope to find this guy. And I will find him, Walter--with the Bureau's help, or without it."
Skinner clenched his jaw, scrutinizing his agent with what he hoped was a dispassionate gaze. Mulder's stubbled jaw, shadowed eyes, and rumpled clothing were hardly reassuring. Protocol--and common sense--dictated he relieve Mulder of his gun, his badge, and active duty. The last thing Skinner wanted was a repeat of the Duane Berry incident. Mulder could become a loose cannon when Scully's life was on the line, a danger to himself and possibly his fellow agents.
The hell of it was that Mulder was right. Crittendon and his profilers had been floundering when he'd finally gone over Skinner's head to the Director. Despite his frustration, Mulder had made more progress in three weeks than the others had made in three months. He had been the BSU's best hope. Now he was Scully's.
Mulder must have read the acquiescence on his face. He nodded, the tense set to his shoulders easing. "I'll meet you at Quantico." He tugged on the hem of his jacket, his wry smile more of a grimace. "I need to change clothes."
Skinner inwardly winced at the tremor in Mulder's hand. God, he hoped he wasn't making a mistake. "You need a lift? I can wait."
Mulder glanced at the empty space still marked by yellow crime scene tape and looked away, swallowing. "Thanks, but I've, ah...got a few calls to make."
Maggie Scully's careworn face appeared in Skinner's mind's eye. How many times had she received one of these calls about her daughter? He cleared his throat. "I'm responsible for Scully as an agent under my command. Let me call her mother."
Mulder patted his shoulder. "I'm her partner, and I'm her husband." He turned away and began walking back toward the apartment. "I'll see you in about an hour."
Skinner let him go. He watched until Mulder disappeared inside the apartment building, then started walking to his car.
Mulder slipped his key ring onto the hook by the door and wandered into the kitchen. After a glance at the phone, he began clearing the table, dumping the untouched cereal, juice, and milk down the garbage disposal. He rinsed the dishes, loaded them into the dishwasher, measured soap, and turned it on. When the tabletop and counters had been wiped and the dishtowel neatly folded, he took one more look at the phone and turned out the lights.
He drifted through the living room and down the hall to the bedroom. Picked up clothing discarded the night before. Made the bed. Dressed slowly and methodically--the navy Armani Scully loved paired with one of the handpicked ties on her "approved" list.
Just because the truth is out there, Mulder, doesn't mean your ties have to be.
He sank onto the bed and dropped his head into his hands. Tears burned his eyes but he stubbornly held them at bay. He was an FBI agent and a profiler and he was damn well going to act like one. He would not fall apart.
He picked up the phone, punched three numbers, then disconnected. Damn it. How the could he do this to her--again? Though Maggie had never openly blamed him for the things that had happened to her daughter as a result of the X-Files, he'd noticed an air of grim resignation and a quick change of subject on the rare occasions when Scully mentioned their work. How was he supposed to find the words to explain her daughter could wind up a serial killer's next victim?
He ground the receiver against the pounding ache in his head. After a moment's hesitation, he punched in a new set of numbers.
At the sound of his brother's familiar drawl, Mulder's throat closed up.
"Hello? You've got five seconds to spit it out or I'm hanging up."
"Fox?" Grey said, his voice warming. "You must be psychic--I was gonna give you a call tonight."
Mulder struggled to draw a breath past the sudden tightness in his chest. "They don't call me Spooky for nothing."
All the levity left Grey's voice. "Hey. What's wrong?"
He ran his hand over the quilt, concentrating on the lines and whorls beneath his fingertips. "Remember that case I was working? The one you said I should keep Scully out of? Turns out you were right."
"What..." Grey sounded sucker-punched. "Fox, what are you saying? Dana's not--"
"I don't know." It was the first time he'd acknowledged the fear rather than dismissing it. Scully could be dead already. "I--he took her, Grey, and...I don't know." He clamped a hand over the mouthpiece when his voice cracked, biting down hard on his lower lip.
"Sweet Jesus." Mulder could practically see Grey run a hand through his hair. "When? How--are you sure it was your killer?"
"I woke up this morning and she was gone. I'm sure."
"Is Walt in on this?"
Mulder barked a weak laugh. "Yeah. I don't think he trusts me to handle things alone. Can you believe it?"
"Good. That's good." Grey spoke to someone in the background, then returned. "I'm gonna need a few hours to wrap up some things. Just hang in there, okay?"
The shock must be catching up with him. Grey's words made no sense. "What?"
Grey must have had the same thought. "I said I've got a few loose ends I need to tie up," he said more slowly. "I won't be able to get there until after dinner."
"Wait. I didn't mean... I'm all right, Grey. You don't have to come."
"Like hell. Dana's not dead until you find a body. I'm not sitting on my ass waiting for the phone to ring. I'll see you in a few hours." He waited. "Fox?"
"Yeah. I'll be here."
Mulder disconnected, swiping the moisture from his cheeks. When he was certain he'd regained control, he took a deep breath and dialed Maggie Scully.