He tore his gaze from the notes in front of him. After considerable effort and some squinting, he refocused on Agent Reed's face. "What?"
"Security called. Someone claiming to be your brother is at the front gate."
He bristled with irritation at the skepticism in the agent's voice. "That's right, Reed. Contrary to popular rumor, I didn’t kill off all my siblings."
Reed flushed to the tips of his ears. "Look, I never meant--"
Mulder waved off the apology. "Tell them to let him through; I'll be right there."
He didn't realize how long he'd sat hunched in the same position until he shoved back his chair and stood. The muscles in his neck and back seized up and left him feeling as if he'd aged thirty years. He stretched until his spine gave a satisfying pop, made a half- hearted effort to straighten his tie, then headed out to retrieve Grey.
In the elevator he fidgeted, jingling the change in his pocket, fiddling with the clip on his badge, and shuffling his feet. For most of the day he'd managed to keep busy and surrounded by people, a tactic that had worked to keep the grief and fear at bay. The silence, combined with the restrictive space, left no such opportunities for distraction. By the time the doors finally rolled open he'd broken into a cold sweat and was closer to a panic attack than he'd been in months.
Grey was facing away from the elevators; he was making small talk with one of the security guards. At the sound of footsteps he broke off mid-sentence and turned, his gaze locking with Mulder's. Quickly closing the distance between them, Grey grabbed him in a fierce hug.
Caught off guard, Mulder could do little but stand woodenly, blinking hard. Grey didn't say a word, just tightened his embrace. After a moment he pulled back, but left his hands on Mulder's shoulders. "You all right?"
"I have to be." Mulder stepped away, dislodging Grey's grip, and walked back toward the elevators. "This way."
Grey jogged to catch up. "Any progress?"
"Not much to speak of. Forensics is still working on trace evidence from the scene."
"Where was she going at that hour of the morning--and without you?" Mulder's expression must have betrayed him; Grey's voice sharpened. "What is it?"
"I can't be sure, but... She was probably moving the car." He stared fixedly at the shifting floor numbers. "We got in late last night; someone was parked in our assigned spot."
With his peripheral vision, he saw Grey's head swivel. "So you parked on the street. Illegally?"
The elevator doors conveniently opened, and he wasted no time getting off. Grey got in front of him, pressing a hand firmly against his chest. "You aren't blaming yourself for this?"
"Forensics should be calling any minute. I need--"
His impatience turned to anger. "I don't have time for this."
Grey blocked his attempt to sidestep, moving with him. "Answer the question."
"Get out of my way."
Suddenly, instantly, it was too much. The exhaustion, the worry, the guilt, the grief--it all fused into something that bubbled hot and volatile in his chest. "Get out of my fucking way!" he snarled, shoving Grey so hard his brother lost his footing and slammed into the wall.
There was a soft thud as bone met cinderblock, and Grey clapped a hand to the back of his head. “Sonuvabitch,” he hissed. “What the hell was that for?”
Mulder chewed his lip and looked away from his brother’s furious gaze. He expected anger--welcomed it, really, since the urge to punch something, punch someone was growing with every passing minute. He jerked when Grey’s palm cupped his neck in a rough- gentle grip, forcing him to meet his eyes.
“I’m not the bad guy here. And neither are you. If you’re gonna have a prayer of finding Dana, you’ve got to stop swinging at the wrong side.”
He shut his eyes against the burn, taking a couple deep breaths until he was certain his voice would be steady. “I could hear it in her voice. Never before, but . . . it was there this time.”
Grey’s hand dropped away. “Whose voice? Dana?”
Mulder forced himself to meet the assessing gaze. “Her mother. Do you know how many times I’ve called with news like this? Dana’s been shot. Dana’s missing. Dana’s been abducted.”
“You both picked a dangerous line of work,” Grey said.
“That’s bullshit.” Mulder tried for anger but it just came out resigned.
“The local ER and my partner say different. We’ve all seen our share of action. Like it or not, it goes with the territory.” Grey paused, maybe waiting to see if he’d argue. “You said you heard something in her voice. What?”
Sorry he’d started this, Mulder ran a hand along his jaw. “Blame.”
“I don’t believe it,” Grey said. “I may not know her well, but from what I’ve seen, Maggie Scully knows the hard truths about working in law enforcement. You’re projecting your own guilt, Fox.”
With his lips twisted in a bitter smile, Mulder shook his head. “You’re wrong. I’ve made it my life’s mission to get under people’s skin. I know pissed when I hear it.”
“I just think—”
“I don’t want to argue, Grey.” Mulder turned and resumed walking toward the bullpen. “The only thing that matters now is finding Scully.”
When he got back to the conference room, Mulder sought out Reed. He waited impatiently as the agent finished a phone conversation while Grey moved to take in the photos and notes stuck to whiteboards along the far wall.
“That was Crittendon,” Reed said, hanging up the receiver. “DCPD is continuing to canvas the neighborhood now that people are getting home from work. No hits yet. And before you ask, forensics hasn’t called either.”
With what felt like superhuman effort, he quelled at least five inappropriate responses to that and settled for a curt nod. Considering Reed’s raised eyebrows, it was obviously not what he was expecting. When his surprise melted to sympathy, Mulder left. The last thing he needed was Reed suddenly being kind to him.
Grey was staring at the crime scene photos for Angela Walters, the last body found, a carbon copy of all the other girls. He compressed his lips to a thin line. “Can say one thing for this guy. He’s consistent.”
Mulder swallowed, his throat dry. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
With a grimace that said he regretted his choice of words, Grey gestured to the scrap of paper beside the photos. “‘Just like all the others.’ Any idea what it means?”
Stepping backward, Mulder surveyed the line of victims. “Like you said, he’s been consistent—with victim selection, killing method, dumping ground, even the damn notes. The one variable we’ve seen is the time elapsed between the abduction and the kill.”
He gestured to the first victim. “From what we can tell, Liz Marshall survived three days before he strangled her.” He continued down the line. “Corinne Peterson, two. Jenna Culleeny survived the longest—five days. Dumping conditions made it difficult to determine for Emma Watson, but probably no more than three. And he only had Angela Walters for 24 hours.”
“Meaning?” Grey asked.
Drawing a hand down his face, Mulder clenched it into a fist. “He’s looking for something. I don’t know what it is, but once he’s sure they don’t have it . . .”
“Just like all the others,” Grey said quietly.
Mulder shook his head with a ragged laugh. “Right now Scully’s best hope is that she’s got whatever this sick bastard needs. How fucked up is that?”
Grey gripped his arm. “Dana is a federal agent, not to mention a damn smart woman. I have no doubt she’ll use her profiling skills to keep this guy happy and keep herself alive until we find her.”
“I know she will.” He looked away, unable to meet Grey’s eyes. “It’s part of what scares the hell out of me.”
Before Grey could reply, Skinner and SAC Crittendon strode into the conference room. “Mulder, Reed, Douglas—listen up.”
Mulder’s gut twisted at the sight of the folder in Skinner’s hand. As they gathered around the table, Skinner nodded a greeting at Grey. When everyone was in place, Crittendon motioned for Skinner to take the floor.
“We’ve got preliminary forensics on some of the samples from the crime scene,” Skinner said, opening the folder. “I’ve been assured we’ll have more to go on in the next 12 hours.”
“That would be nice,” Mulder said.
Skinner shot him a quelling look. “One of the samples of hair found has been confirmed as Agent Scully’s. We’re currently running another through our DNA database of prior offenders.”
“I knew the hair was Scully’s 12 hours ago,” Mulder said. “Her mother could have come up with that.”
“We’re all invested in this case, Mulder,” Crittendon snapped. “My people are working their asses off, so—”
“Don’t talk to me about investment.” Mulder’s tone was arctic.
“As I was saying,” Skinner continued, holding Mulder’s gaze for a long moment before looking back to the file. “We’ve had a breakthrough with a set of fibers found at the scene that we know didn’t come from Agent Scully’s clothing. First, the mass spectrometer registered traces of chloroform.”
“That fits our suspicions for how he managed to take them without a struggle,” Reed said, glancing at Mulder. “We’ve just never been able to get confirmation.”
“The fibers show tearing at the edges, indicating that Agent Scully must have ripped her abductor’s clothing,” Skinner said. “Given that it resulted in our first real trace evidence from the UNSUB, I’m guessing the fact that she put up a fight caught him off guard.”
“Atta girl,” Grey muttered.
“There’s more,” Skinner said. “We were able to trace the fibers and identify the specific brand of cloth. Turns out this particular blend and grade is used, among other things, for a very specific end product.” He paused. “DCPD patrol uniforms.”
Mulder closed his eyes. “That’s how he did it,” he said. “It’s the only explanation for why Scully would let him get close enough.”
“It’s a start,” Crittendon said with more compassion than Mulder had ever heard from him. “Reed, get ahold of Detective Spencer at the DCPD. He needs to re-canvass the neighborhood. People might not register some random guy hanging around, but they’re gonna notice a cop. And while you’re at it, find out if any of his people are missing a uniform.”
“On it.” Reed headed back to his desk in the bullpen.
“Douglas, contact the manufacturer,” Crittendon said. “If we find out where the uniform came from, we might find someone who saw our UNSUB.”
“Got it, Boss.”
“And me?” Mulder asked.
Crittendon and Skinner held a some kind of silent conversation that resulted in Crittendon leaving the room.
Skinner drew in a long breath. “Mulder.”
The tone was too familiar. Mulder had used it countless times during his profiling years—when talking with traumatized family members after a particularly horrific crime.
“Don’t tell me to go home,” he said, curling his fingers around the chair in a white-knuckled grip.
Skinner looked at Grey for help, scowling when all he received was a shrug. “Fine. Run your phone records.”
Mulder rolled his eyes. “Right. Because when staging an abduction it’s only polite to call first.”
Grey huffed a stifled laugh.
“Your apartment is considered an extension of the crime scene, Mulder,” Skinner growled. “And we’re going to treat it as such. Detective Spencer’s people already dusted for prints and talked to your neighbors. We cover all the bases.”
“Got it, Boss,” Mulder replied in a dead-on imitation of Douglas’s eager-to-please demeanor.
Skinner pointedly ignored him. “Try to see he gets some sleep tonight,” he said to Grey. “And for God’s sake, limit his caffeine.”
“Got it, Boss.”
Skinner didn’t look amused. “I’ll check back in a few hours.”
Once Skinner left, Grey cocked an eyebrow. “You’re being pretty hard on him, aren’t you?”
“I don’t like being managed,” Mulder said. “He’s treating me like—”
“Like the family member of a victim?” Grey shook his head. “Hate to break it to you, little brother, but you are. Walt’s going out on a limb allowing you to be a part of this investigation. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?”
“What I haven’t forgotten,” Mulder said, jaw clenched, “is being forced to stand by, helpless, while someone I love is taken from me. Back then there was nothing I could do, Grey. But I’ll be damned if I let it happen to me again.”
Grey looked at him for a long moment before nodding. “Then let’s get to work.”