TITLE: Blood Ties IV: Shredded Hearts(1/2)
AUTHOR: Dawn
EMAIL: sunrise83@comcast.net
ARCHIVE: MTA, Xemplary, Gossamer – others are fine, just let
me know
SPOILERS: Major for Paper Hearts and Beyond the Sea, minor
through season 6
RATING: R -- for disturbing images and violence
CLASSIFICATION: XA, AU
KEYWORDS: MSR
SUMMARY: A serial killer mimicking the Paper Hearts murders
pushes Mulder to the edge of a breakdown. When Skinner removes
him from the case, Grey and Scully talk him into a trip to North
Carolina to get his mind off the investigation. The killer, however,
has other ideas…
DISCLAIMER: I know Scully, Mulder, and Skinner aren’t mine.
They belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. However, if he
is not going to play with them for SIX MONTHS, I’m forced to
take matters into my own hands! Grey McKenzie is my own
creation.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: This is part four in my Blood Ties universe.
You don’t need to have read the others to enjoy this, but you will
be missing some background information (like who the heck is
Grey McKenzie?). You can find parts one through three at
Xemplary and MTA. And as always, undying gratitude to my beta
readers, Laurie and Donna. You guys truly contribute to each story
in so many ways.
FEEDBACK: Remember that slogan, “A day without orange juice
is like a day without sunshine? You get the idea.




Blood Ties IV: Shredded Hearts (1 of 2)
By Dawn

Office of A.D. Skinner
Monday
3:43 p.m.

"Sir, you can't *do* this!"

Walter Skinner fixed his gaze on the file lying on the blotter in
front of him, teeth clenched and the small muscle along his jawline
twitching. The undisguised anger in his agent's voice crossed the
line from protest to insubordination, something Skinner's military
background found intolerable.

"Agent Mulder, you are overstepping your bounds," he growled. "I
not only can, I have. You are off this case until further notice."

"This is bullshit!" Mulder shot back defiantly.

Skinner slowly looked up from the autopsy report, feeling his fury
grow like a living thing. He barely heard Scully's hiss of
reprimand, so intent was he on pinning Mulder with eyes that
glittered dangerously.

"What?"

"I said it's bullshit! This is *my* case, it has been from the
beginning. They aren't going to get anywhere without me and you
know it!"

As Mulder continued his tirade Skinner saw a flicker of movement
and followed it to its source. Scully was surreptitiously squeezing
Mulder's hand, and for the first time he turned his attention to her.
She was unaware of his regard, completely focused on her partner.
Skinner took in the small lines of worry, the teeth gnawing her
bottom lip, before returning his gaze to the ranting Mulder. This
time he looked deeper, attempting to see with Scully's eyes. The
revelation quenched his anger like a bucket of icy water and
reminded him why he'd made the decision which now had the man
so outraged.

Mulder's skin was chalky, deepening to dark, bruised shadows
beneath his bloodshot hazel eyes. The expensive charcoal suit that
he'd often seen the secretarial pool admiring was rumpled and
hung off a frame gaunt with sudden weight loss. And the voice,
though driven by rage on the surface, held a desperate note akin to
unshed tears. Skinner abruptly understood Scully's deep worry and
the reason she'd covertly approached him for help. Mulder was
much more than exhausted, he was dancing on the razor's edge of a
complete breakdown.

"Mulder."

His quiet, firm utterance of the name stemmed the flow of bitter
words in a way that a rebuke never would. Skinner stood and
moved around to lean against the front of his desk, folding his
arms across his chest. Mulder glared at him, eyes narrowed and
lips pressed tightly together. Skinner sighed and chose his next
words carefully, feeling as if he were navigating a minefield.

"Mulder, you need to step back. You've lost sight of what's
important here, of what your priorities should be."

"My *priority* is to find the butcher who is murdering little girls!
Anything else is secondary!" Mulder snarled.

Skinner regarded him calmly, compassionately. "That's exactly
what I mean." When Mulder started to speak he held up a hand.
"You're losing yourself to this maniac, Mulder. When was the last
time you ate? Or slept for more than an hour or two? You were
here all weekend, weren't you?"

Mulder's long fingers clenched the armrests of his chair and he
averted his eyes from Skinner's. Skinner shook his head, leaning
forward just a bit to push the envelope and invade Mulder's space.

"You don't have to answer, Mulder. I can see for myself. You look
like shit."

The words were spoken gently, without condemnation, but
something snapped in Mulder and he thrust his own face forward,
refusing to back down.

"That's beside the point. For some unknown reason, this sick
bastard is trying to impress me. I'm the only one who has a prayer
of finding him, and I need to do my job. Nothing else matters."

The implication of the statement tore at Skinner's heart, the more
so because he knew how completely Mulder believed it.

"It does to me," he said with quiet resolve. "*You* matter. This is
not the damn ISU, Mulder, and I refuse to be cast in the role of Bill
Patterson. You will *not* show your face in this building for one
week. You will *not* call. You will *not* take the file home with
you. If I find out you've violated any of my directives I will
suspend you. At the end of the week I will assess your condition
and determine whether you will be allowed to resume your spot on
the team. Do I make myself clear?"

Mulder's eyes were nearly black and for a moment Skinner was
certain the man would take a swing at him. Wouldn't be the first
time he thought ruefully, squelching the urge to rub his jaw.

"Yes. *Sir*." Contempt dripped from Mulder's reply. "Are we
finished?"

Feeling suddenly weary, Skinner nodded. Mulder flung himself to
his feet and stalked from the office, not even looking back to see if
Scully would follow. Skinner removed his glasses and pinched the
bridge of his nose, wondering if Kim had any Advil. Scully's
voice, when it came, was softly apologetic.

"Don't take it personally, sir. He's not himself right now."

Skinner moved over to sink into the chair that Mulder had vacated.
"Scully, you have a gift for understatement," he said wryly. When
she tried to return his smile and failed, he sobered. "How long has
he been like this? When you asked me to remove him from the
case, I must admit I was afraid you were overreacting. But seeing
him now..." He let the words trail off, feeling slightly ashamed. In
truth, he'd feared that the change in Mulder and Scully's personal
relationship had affected her objectivity.

"It's been steadily building since he received the first heart. But
since the shift in victims..." She swallowed and blinked rapidly.
"It's tearing him up inside. He can't let go if it, even to eat or sleep.
I'd heard the stories about how he'd get during a profiling case, but
living it is different. I'm afraid for him, sir."

Skinner sighed, vividly recalling when his agent had burst into his
office unannounced eight weeks earlier. Mulder's face had been a
blank mask, only the eyes communicating his horror. In his hand
he'd clutched a fabric heart identical to those taken by the deceased
serial murderer, John Lee Roche. In a deviation from Roche's
M.O., however, this killer was mailing the hearts to Mulder with
directions to the location of each body. The collection of hearts
now numbered six, and Skinner had watched Mulder die a little
with each new delivery. The last three little girls had all been dark
haired and eerily reminiscent of his sister Samantha.

"I knew he was working too hard," Skinner admitted, feeling more
than a twinge of guilt at his complacency. "I just didn't realize he
had reached this point. He's very good at hiding it, and we needed
him so badly that I just didn't let myself look too closely. I'm sorry,
Scully."

Scully shrugged, but her eyes were still haunted. "You supported
me, sir. You've let Mulder perceive you as the villain in this, and I
appreciate that. If he knew the idea came from me he would view it
as betrayal."

Skinner reached out to briefly lay a comforting hand on her arm
before they both stood. "Take care of him, Scully. You and I both
know he's going to fight this. Keep him out of here, make him get
some food and some sleep. I'll stay in touch."

Scully cocked an eyebrow and for a moment he saw a flash of her
dry humor. "Your confidence in me is inspiring, sir, I just hope it's
not misplaced. I'll do my best."

Skinner watched her square her shoulders a bit before exiting the
office. Watching over Mulder in his present state of mind would be
no easy task, but he had no doubts that she was equal to it.

Hegal Place
Monday
6:30 p.m.

The phone rang and Scully hastily scooped up the receiver,
wincing a little at the noise.

"Hello?" she said, keeping her voice as low as possible.

Silence greeted her and she was just beginning to feel irritated
when there was a tentative response.

"Dana?"

The smile felt alien on her face, an indication of just how tense the
past weeks had been.

"Hi, Grey! How are you?"

"Can't complain. How 'bout yourself?"

She couldn't disguise the slight hesitation. "Oh, hanging in there.
It's good to talk to you, it's been a while."

"Yeah, well, I've had an awfully hard time nailing down Fox.
Every time I call lately I just get the machine. Hearing your voice
kind of startled me. Is he there?"

Scully gazed down at the dark head pillowed on her lap. Mulder
was still deeply asleep, the lines of worry smoothed and his
breathing deep and even. One arm was curled possessively across
her knees and the other lay face up on the couch, the fingers
slightly curled as if he were trying to grasp something elusive.

"He's here, but he's asleep, Grey, and I'd really rather not wake
him."

She could almost see him checking his watch, feel his puzzlement.
"Dana, it's six-thirty. He's asleep?"

Scully's lips curved slightly at his obvious astonishment. "It's been
a rough few weeks. Mulder's been working a profiling case that's
become rather...personal. He's pushed himself to the point of
exhaustion and Skinner just ordered him to take a week off to
recoup."

"I bet that went over real well," Grey remarked dryly.

She found herself actually grinning and it felt wonderful. "He was
less than gracious about it," she confirmed. "I finally managed to
get him to lay down for a bit and he crashed hard."

In truth, she'd tricked him into watching a movie, knowing he'd
never last. Fifteen minutes past the opening scene his eyes had
begun to droop. She'd pulled him down onto her lap, stroking her
fingers soothingly through his hair in a manner she knew from past
experience would relax him completely. Five minutes later he was
limp against her and she'd switched off the movie she'd never
really wanted to watch, in favor of a book.

"You sound worried, Dana. Just how bad is he?" Grey's voice was
probing, concerned.

She just didn't have the energy to dodge the question, and she
didn't really want to. Suddenly, she was the one in need of some
support. "It's bad, Grey. He can't sleep without terrible nightmares,
so he just doesn't sleep. And he hasn't been eating. Even when I
manage to get him to consume something, half the time he winds
up in the bathroom vomiting it back up."

Grey was silent for a moment, considering. "You said that Skinner
took him off this case for a week?"

"That's right. After that he'll decide if Mulder has recovered
enough to continue."

"Think you could get him down here?"

The question caught her completely by surprise. "What?"

"Fox. Do you think you could get him down here for a few days?
I've wanted him to meet my family for a while now but he's always
too busy with work. Maybe getting completely away from
everything for a few days would do him some good."

A simple idea, but the more she considered it the better she liked it.
In fact, it might just be the only way Mulder would survive the
next seven days.

"You sure you're up for that?" she asked, her mind still working
furiously on the details. "What about work?"

"I'll take a few days off. I've got plenty of time stored up and
things have been amazingly quiet." Grey paused and she could feel
him considering his next words. "I'd like to help, Dana. Fox and I
have lost so much time that we can never get back. I want to be as
much a part of his life now as I can."

The naked honesty of his words brought a lump to her throat, but
her heart soared. "I think it might be just what he needs, Grey. The
hard part will be convincing Mulder of that fact."

Grey chuckled quietly. "Yeah. He does tend to be a bit stubborn,
doesn't he? Let me think a minute."

Scully, amused by Grey's assessment of his brother (definitely the
pot calling the kettle black), was content to wait. Mulder moved
restlessly, his fingers twitching as he whimpered softly. She could
see his eyes moving rapidly beneath the pale lids - a nightmare.
When she murmured something softly reassuring and resumed
threading her fingers through the thick dark hair he quieted.

"You still there?" Grey asked, obviously having overheard.

"Still here. Come up with any brilliant ideas?"

"Tell him I need his help...building a shed. In the back yard."

"That's your clever plan?"

"It's the best I can come up with on such short notice," Grey
replied sounding hurt, and she could almost see the protruding lip.
Evidently pouting was a genetic trait in the Mulder family. "I've
been meaning to do it for years."

"You know, Mulder isn't exactly a handyman kind of guy," Scully
said skeptically. "And do you even have the materials for a shed?"

"I will by the time you get here."

The laughter bubbled up without warning and she struggled not to
disturb Mulder. "Sometimes you are so much like him. I think it's
the whole 'fly by the seat of my pants' attitude."

"I think I'm offended," Grey replied, fueling her laughter until the
tears slipped down her cheeks.

She finally got the giggles under control and sighed. "Thanks,
Grey. You don't know how much I needed that."

"No problem, darlin'. Can I expect you two sometime tomorrow?"

"I'll do my best."

Grey's voice was warm. "Then I'll see you soon. Don't you realize
by now that Fox can't really deny you anything?"

She hung up the phone and gazed down affectionately, her hand
still rhythmically caressing silky strands. *Might as well give up
now, Mulder. Between Grey and me you don't stand a chance. *
The thought brought her a sense of peace she'd not felt in weeks.

Eagle Rock, NC
Tuesday
5:30 p.m.

Mulder was in his own world again, one that Scully couldn't enter
and didn't really wish to. Though his eyes stared out the passenger
window, the focus was inward, his brow contracted with troubled
thoughts. She sighed and turned off the ignition but made no move
to exit the car.

"I miss you," she said quietly.

She wasn't sure if her intention had been to startle him, but it did.
He turned abruptly from the window to face her, his expression
both puzzled and slightly irritated.

"What?"

"I said, I miss you."

The quick, casual dismissal of her words in any other situation
would have made her blood boil. "Scully, not only have we been
working fifteen hour days, we're practically living together. How
can you possibly say you miss me?"

"You really don't see it, do you? You haven't been here, Mulder,
not since you opened that first heart. You're like this, this...shell of
a human being; I don't recognize you half the time."

Anger, sharp and unrestrained, replaced his patronizing air. "What
the hell do you want from me, Scully? It's the only way I know
how to stop this bastard. It's what I *do*."

She tamped down on her own irritation with difficulty, recognizing
the defense mechanism. "I remember reading a story about a
pioneer family when I was little," she said, ignoring his folded
arms and pursed lips. "There were really bad blizzards, so bad that
you could barely see your own hand in front of your face. If they
had to go out in weather like that, say to feed the animals, they'd
take a long rope and tie it to the front door of the house and hang
onto the other end. That way, if they got lost in the storm they had
an anchor, a means to find their way back." She blinked
impatiently at the sudden sheen of tears that blurred her vision.
"All I want is for you let me be that anchor, Mulder. Let me help
you find your way back. Is that too much to ask?"

The anger evaporated as quickly as it had come, and for the first
time in weeks, his protective mask lowered to reveal the deep hurt
beneath. "He's doing this for *me*, Scully. Little girls are dying
because of some sick need to impress me. I have to stop him."

The response was automatic -- one hand cupped the back of his
neck and guided him closer so that she could plant a soft kiss on
his forehead before resting her own against it. "I know that, love.
You just don't have to do it all alone."

Something like a shudder ran through him and his lips caught hers
in a bruising kiss. When he finally spoke, his voice trembled
slightly. "Bear with me, Scully. I'm still adjusting to that."

She pressed her lips to his again before releasing him with a smile.
"No problem, G-man. Now let's go before Grey sees us sitting here
and comes up with one of those cute remarks he's so fond of."

Mulder got out of the car, collecting their bags from the trunk on
his way. Scully slipped her arm around his waist as they walked
across the front yard to the door. She could feel the prominence of
his ribs, the way his jeans hung loosely on his hips. Mulder lifted
his hand to ring the bell, but paused.

"I'll try my best, Scully. But I don't want to be here."

She accepted the statement at face value, not as a reflection on his
affection for his brother but an expression of his frustration with
Skinner's mandate.

"Look at it this way, Mulder. This is the ultimate chance for you to
prove to me that you're a manly man in the full bloom of
manhood."

He snorted, but broke into the first genuine smile she'd seen in
weeks as he pushed the button. A moment later the door was flung
open by Grey, a potholder in one hand and a grin on his face.
Scully saw his smile flicker a little when his eyes rested on his
brother before he motioned them both inside.

"Y'all made good time, did you have a smooth trip?"

"Scully just has a lead foot," Mulder replied, wincing when she
jabbed him in the ribs.

"You can set your bags down by the stairs, we'll take them up later.
Can I get you something to drink?

"Iced tea would be great, if you've got it," Mulder answered, doing
as Grey suggested.

Scully watched his expression turn from startled to bemused as
Grey pulled him into a quick hug and then leaned over to kiss her
cheek.

"Come on back," Grey tossed over his shoulder as he headed down
the hallway. "Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. Hope you two
haven't eaten."

The grimace slipped out before he could stop it. Scully linked her
fingers with his and squeezed gently.

"Please try, Mulder."

The kitchen shone brightly with the late afternoon sun, the air
redolent with garlic and oregano. A large pot of something
simmered on the stove and a loaf of bread browned in the oven.
Grey placed a large glass of iced tea in Mulder's hand, the outside
slick with condensation. Mulder took a long draught, staring out
the sliding doors at the pile of wood near the back fence.

"A shed, huh? How long did it take you to come up with that one?"

Scully shot him a glare of supreme irritation as she accepted her
own glass, but Grey's lips quirked in amusement.

"Not long, really. It was a fly by the seat of my pants kind of
thing."

Mulder scowled at little, looking offended when Scully openly
chuckled and Grey joined in.

"So things have been pretty quiet around here?" Scully asked,
pulling a chair from the table and sinking into it. After a moment
Mulder followed suit, but his fingers drummed nervously.

"To put it mildly. I'm even caught up on paperwork, and believe
me, that's a first," Grey said dryly, stirring the contents of the pot.
"At this point I could use a little excitement in my life."

"Careful what you wish for," Mulder murmured, picking at the
corner of his placemat.

Grey paused in his task, eyeing his brother shrewdly. "Dana said
it's a bad one."

Mulder's shoulders stiffened and his lips compressed to a thin line
but his eyes never rose from the table. "I don't want to talk about it.
Sorry I brought it up."

Grey, about to respond, caught Scully's slight shake of the head
and clamped his mouth shut. He leaned over to pull the golden loaf
from the oven, releasing a blast of hot air and the delicious smell of
just baked bread.

"Let's eat."

Dinner was minestrone soup, savory with herbs and fresh
vegetables and accompanied by the fresh bread. Scully sipped her
wine, feeling the tightness in her chest loosen just a bit when
Mulder managed to consume a slice and most of his bowl of soup.
>From the corner of her eye she saw Grey inconspicuously
observing with a look of satisfaction. With a burst of affection, she
understood that he had designed the entire meal, from soup to
wine, with his brother in mind. In his current condition, soup was
possibly the only food Mulder could have kept down, and the wine
would undoubtedly relax him. She sent Grey a look of gratitude
and received a wink in return.

"Go on into the family room," he urged, collecting Scully's bowl
along with his own and depositing them in the sink. "I'm just going
to put these in the dishwasher and I'll join you."

Mulder stood and silently cleared his own dishes before moving
into the next room. Scully looked about to help Grey, but he shook
his head and inclined it toward the doorway where Mulder had
disappeared. By the time she entered the room, her partner had
already flicked on the television and tuned it to CNN. The
conflicting emotions of anger, sadness, and frustration combined to
form a large lump that lodged in the back of her throat.

"Mulderrrr..."

Mercurial as always, the hostility was back. "I have to know what's
going on, Scully. Skinner won't let me call, what the hell do you
expect?"

"I expect you to let it go, which is what Skinner intended!" she
snapped, her own weariness and anxiety catching up with her at
last. "You are *off* the case, Mulder, and unless you play by the
rules and give yourself a chance to rest, Skinner will never let you
rejoin the team."

She regretted the words immediately, not that they weren't true and
he didn't deserve them, but because they only fanned the flames.

"I can't let it go, don't you understand that? It's with me every
second of every minute of every day! It's there when I try to eat,
and God knows, it's there when I try to sleep. I can't just put it
aside like a book I'll finish later. I have to at least know what's
going on, Scully. I have to know if he's done it again!"

He didn't even realize he was shouting until Grey appeared in the
doorway, a dishtowel clutched in his hand. He couldn't meet his
brother's troubled gaze, and Scully's face was a blend of anger and
worry, so he dropped his head into his hands.

"What are you going to do if he *has* taken another one, Mulder?"
she asked quietly, and a part of him was composed enough to be
grateful that it was uttered with compassion. "All it will do is tear
you up inside. Punishing yourself will not help those girls or catch
this monster."

Before he could reply the anchorman's voice stole his attention and
Scully and Grey slipped painlessly into the background.

"...called Paper Hearts, named after a serial murder case solved
over ten years ago. In what authorities feel is an attempt to copy
deceased killer John Lee Roche, six girls between the ages of
seven and ten have been systematically kidnapped and murdered.
The case received its name because hearts were cut from the
clothing of each of the murdered girls and mailed with instructions
for finding the body. Sources say that someone inside the
investigation has been the recipient of the hearts, though
authorities refuse to confirm the rumor or reveal a name. As of
today, there have been no new developments."

Like a marionette whose strings have been severed, Mulder sagged
visibly in relief at the words. His head pounded and he suddenly
noticed that his hands were trembling. Clasping them firmly
together beneath his chin, he tilted his head up to see Grey
regarding him with a blend of sympathy and horror.

"*That's* your case? The Paper Hearts case?" When Mulder
nodded he ran one hand through his hair, then froze as a second
epiphany struck. "*You're* the one he's sending the hearts to."

Scully's small hand pressed gently against Mulder's thigh and he
slumped back, letting his head drop against her shoulder. "Yeah.
It's me."

Grey turned to fling the dishtowel into the kitchen, then strode
quickly across the room to snap off the television. "Geez, Fox,
when were you going to tell me? That story has been plastered all
over the newspapers and television for weeks, did you think I
wouldn't want to know? No wonder you walked in here looking
like death warmed over!"

Perversely, he managed a small, sardonic grin at that. Scully had
slipped her arm around his shoulders and drawn him closer, a
gesture so simple in its mechanics yet profound to his spirit.
"Death warmed over?"

Grey's lips curved, though his eyes remained troubled. "Hey, don't
knock it. That's my mother's expression. You looked in the mirror
lately, little brother?"

"You've got to admit, that description is eerily accurate," Scully
intoned.

"Ha, ha. If you're not going to let me watch the news can we at
least put on a movie?"

Scully abdicated herself from the choice and simply watched them
haggle -- a spectacle far more entertaining than the sci-fi thriller
finally agreed upon. Grey made popcorn and Mulder actually
lasted three quarters of the way through the show before she felt
his head grow heavier on her shoulder. She reached up carefully to
run her fingers through his hair, grinning a little when he sighed
and snuggled his face into the hollow between her shoulder and her
neck. By the time the credits were scrolling across the screen the
regular puff of his warm breath on her skin told her he was asleep.

Grey

Grey rose to turn off the set and then returned to sit in the large
stuffed chair that faced the couch. His eyes took in his bother's
boneless sprawl and softened.

"I wish you'd told me, Dana. Though I guess I understand why you
didn't."

"It wasn't something I wanted to discuss over the phone, Grey,"
she replied, keeping her voice barely above a whisper while her
hand unconsciously began petting his hair again. "I never intended
to keep you in the dark."

"Why Fox? Why is this psycho sending him the hearts?"

Scully closed her eyes but was unable to block out the images of
nearly three years past: Roche's smug enjoyment as he held the
final two little girls like poker chips, Mulder's face when Addie
Sparks' father asked innocently if there were more unidentified
victims, leaving him alone at his desk with the final heart clutched
between his fingers, too afraid she'd cross the invisible line if she
dared offer further comfort.

"Mulder's profile was responsible for putting away John Lee Roche
in the original Paper Hearts case. We think that the killer has
fixated on Mulder -- sees him as a challenge and is trying to
impress him."

Grey leaned forward and dry washed his face with his hands. "No
wonder Fox can't back off. The guilt must be eating him up
inside." He stood slowly and stretched. "What are you going to do
with him? You want me to help you get him upstairs?"

She smiled and shook her head, tucking her hair behind one ear.
"You go on up, Grey. He'll wake up before long and I'll take him
up then."

"You sure?" When she nodded his brow furrowed. "Dana, I can see
he isn't getting much sleep, but what about you?"

"I'm fine," she assured him, baffling Grey by smiling at her own
words. "Don't worry about me."

"Guest bedroom's to your left once you get to the top of the stairs,
there's a double bed. That is, unless you need me to set up the cot?"
He punctuated the question with a wicked grin.

Brothers. Scully rolled her eyes. "The bed will be fine, and do
*not* go there."

Unaffected by her warning, he gave her an exaggerated wink.
"Good night, Dana. Sleep well."

"You too, Grey. And thanks."

Scully listened to his feet pad up the stairs before silence
descended. She let her head drop back onto the cushion, relishing
the sense of peace. Though little had changed to ease her worry,
Mulder's body was warm against her own, and Grey's proximity
reassuring. For now, that was enough.

Eagle Rock
Wednesday
6:05 a.m.

It took Grey's sleep befuddled brain several minutes to process that
what had awakened him was the snick of the front door closing.
Gazing at the glowing display on his clock, he groaned softly and
buried his face in his pillow. This was supposed to be a day off, for
Pete's sake -- he didn't even get up this early on a workday. His
thoughts had actually begun to disengage and slip sideways into
sleep when a clear image of his brother's pale, too-thin face neatly
short-circuited the process and nudged him fully awake.

Muttering under his breath about insomniacs and tranquilizers, he
pulled on an ancient pair of shorts and a worn U of NC tee shirt.
He padded along the hallway and down the stairs, noting that the
guestroom door was tightly shut. As he'd suspected, Fox was
leaning against the kitchen counter in sweat-stained running
clothes and sipping a bottle of water. He appeared only marginally
less exhausted than the previous evening.

"Good morning."

"You know, you're on *vacation* here, Fox. You don't have to get
up at the crack of dawn," he observed grouchily, plugging in the
coffeemaker and filling it with water.

He regretted the edge to the words immediately when his brother's
face went blank, an expression he'd already identified as
"defensive mode."

"Couldn't sleep. Sorry if I woke you." The words were granite,
smooth and flat.

*Damn*. Grey thought, irritated equally with himself and Fox.
*Why does everything with you have to be so hard*?

"Forget it," he said aloud. "You probably noticed by now that I
don't wake up pretty."

That got him a delighted grin and broke the tension.

"Must be a genetic trait. Scully's no better though. We've learned
to tread lightly and set up the coffeemaker the night before."

Grey leaned back and folded his arms, favoring Fox with a raised
eyebrow. "Things are still pretty new. How's it going?"

His brother's eyes, normally cool and slightly wary, went
amazingly soft and liquid. "Incredible. I don't know what Scully
could be getting out of it, but I intend to treasure every moment
while I can."

Something about that statement disturbed Grey, and his eyes bore
into Fox's. "You make it sound like it's temporary."

The bland look was firmly back in place and Fox shrugged,
suddenly fascinated with the brown stream that dribbled into the
coffeepot.

"Don't give me that crap, Fox! Why would it be temporary? You
figure you'll get bored?"

Like poking a rattlesnake with a stick, but it got results. His brother
flushed and practically growled his response. "Are you crazy?
What would make you say a stupid thing like that? Have you
looked at her lately -- better yet, listened to her? Who could
possibly get bored with that much brains and beauty all in one
package?"

"Then what? What's to stop you from being this way forever, from
growing old together?"

He gave a bittersweet smile at that, like a little kid with his nose
pressed up to the window of a candy store with no money in his
pocket. "*I* will." At Grey's mystified stare he continued. "I love
her, Grey -- beyond reason -- beyond common sense. But I come
with too much baggage, and one day Scully isn't going to be able
to deal with it any longer. It's just a matter of time."

It left him speechless. Anger, pity, sadness -- even a strange kind
of amusement were all wrestling to take the upper hand. There was
no self-indulgence in Fox's face, just resignation. Marveling again
at how he'd been cast in the role of matchmaker, knowing that Kate
must be laughing herself silly somewhere, he considered his next
words carefully.

"So that's it, huh? Dana's not capable of loving someone
unconditionally. Or is it that you're just so astoundingly unlovable
that she can't be expected to?"

Fox gaped like a fish out of water. "I didn't...it's..."

Grey zeroed in for the sucker punch. "It's bullshit. Dana loves you,
baggage notwithstanding, and so do I. Your job is to get over
yourself and do whatever it takes to make her happy."

He wasn't used to vocalizing his feelings -- he was a guy, after all.
But the look on Fox's face before he turned away, blinking rapidly,
told him he'd better try more often.

"By the way, you'd better brace yourself," he said dryly.

Looking relieved at the change of subject, Fox's eyes narrowed
suspiciously. "For what?"

"We've been summoned to Mom's house for a cookout tonight.
You're to meet the McKenzie clan. Think of it as a coming-out
party."

The panic was only half-feigned. "You're joking, right? This is to
make up for all those years you didn't have a younger brother
around to torment."

"Mulder, your paranoia is showing," Scully said, entering the
kitchen and crossing to his side, lips curved. "I made it quite clear
to Grey that *I* am the only one allowed to torment you."

She'd obviously just showered, her hair was still damp and her skin
smelled faintly of soap and shampoo. Grey watched it spread
slowly across his brother's face -- the smile that no one but Dana
Scully could elicit. He glanced politely away when Fox murmured
"good morning" and leaned down for a kiss, his own chest tight
with the sudden sensation of loss.

*Miss you, Kate. Every day*.

Swallowing the grief like a bitter pill, he mustered a smile.
"Coffee's ready. Any takers?"

Eagle Rock
Wednesday
2:47 p.m.


Mulder used the back of his arm to mop vainly at the sweat
dripping from his brow. "I can't believe I let you talk me into this,"
he groaned, flopping down in the shade of an oak tree. "I'm dying."

"Don't be such a wimp. How far did you run this morning,
anyway?" Grey asked, dropping his hammer to rest his hands on
his hips.

"Too far. Can't we take a breather? I need a drink."

"All right, all right. You stay there, I'll get us a soda," Grey
relented, grinning tolerantly.

"Tell Scully I expect her to join us. I'm no chauvinist," his brother
growled, stretching out on his back.

Scully was contentedly ensconced in a patio chair underneath the
sun umbrella, reading a medical journal and sipping iced tea.
"Looks like you two are making progress," she noted when Grey
approached.

"Fox expects you to lend a hand," he replied. "I think it's supposed
to be some kind of reverse discrimination thing."

"Mulder frequently needs to lower his expectations," Scully
returned wryly. "And I think it's more a case of misery loving
company. How's he doing?"

"Let's just say there's a method to my madness. I can almost
guarantee he'll sleep like a baby tonight."

She smirked, but there was a weariness lurking around the edges.
"We could both use it."

When he returned with the sodas Fox's eyes were closed, but they
immediately cracked open and he hauled himself upright, hand
extended. For the next few moments the only sounds were the hiss
pop of the can opening followed by swallowing and a sigh of bliss.

"So, if I must make this foray into dangerous territory, you could at
least arm me beforehand. Who exactly am I meeting tonight?"

"You're nice. Okay, let's see. Mom and Dad, of course. Mom can
be counted on to fuss over you, she's been brutal about wanting to
meet you ever since she heard you'd found me. Then there's
Shannon -- she's just ten months younger than I am. Mom wound
up getting pregnant right after... Anyway, she's married to Rob and
they have two kids -- Patrick, twelve and Amanda, ten. Rob is an
accountant and I think I mentioned that Shannon works for a drug
company. With me so far?"

"Barely. Your youngest sister is Kira, right?"

"Yeah," Grey's face darkened just a little. "She's divorced, and it
was a rough one. The guy used to get physical with her but she put
up with it until he started to be abusive toward their daughter,
Claire. She divorced him three years ago and hasn't seen him since.
He just disappeared -- a sure way to avoid child support. Claire is
seven, now."

He looked up to see Fox was far away. "That's why Mom finally
divorced Dad," he murmured. "She put up with the booze and the
verbal abuse. But after the second time he took a swing at me she
tossed him out."

Grey went very still, afraid to break the spell. Fox so rarely talked
about his years growing up, and had never so openly admitted his
father's abuse. He couldn't help wondering if this new openness
was due to Dana worming her way more deeply into his life.

"I'm sure that took a lot of courage," he finally said, feeling his
way like a man in a dark room. "I know it hasn't been easy for
Kira."

"She never said it aloud, but I couldn't help feeling that she blamed
me somehow. Like if I'd been a better son, Dad wouldn't have... I
don't know. Scully always says I have an overdeveloped sense of
guilt." He actually smiled a little at that.

"Just don't let them all overwhelm you, Fox," Grey warned
ruefully. "We tend to be kind of a touchy-feely bunch. Don't let it
put you off."

Fox rolled his eyes. "No problem. Scully's family tends to be the
same way -- at least, Mrs. Scully. Bill's kind of touchy-feely would
probably be to wrap his hands around my throat and squeeze."

Ah, yes, there was the problem of Dana's older brother. Grey
recalled a vague reference to Bill's less than charitable description
of his brother. Grey got to his feet and held out a hand, pulling Fox
up after him.

"Okay, you had your break. I figure we can get another couple
hours in before we need to get ready for dinner."

"Geez, you're a tyrant! What did you ever do before you had me to
order around?" Fox's voice was longsuffering but tempered by a
mischievous grin.

"Why do you think I went into law enforcement?" Grey
deadpanned. "Now pick up that hammer and get to work!"

Bailey, NC
Wednesday
7:12 p.m.

"You're hiding. Are we *that* bad?"

Startled, Mulder looked up into the laughing brown eyes of Kira.
Grey was off somewhere with his brother-in-law, Rob, and when
last seen Scully was deeply engaged in a decidedly technical
conversation with Shannon about resistant bacteria. Left to his own
devices and a little overwhelmed by the boisterous crowd, Mulder
had retreated to the small gazebo near the back of the McKenzie's
two-acre yard.

"More like your brother wore me out building that shed of his," he
replied, gesturing for her to take a seat.

Kira rolled her eyes. "*Please*. He was talking about that shed
when Kate was still alive. Wonder what finally lit the fire under his
ass."

Mulder chose to keep his suspicions about *that* to himself,
watching as Kira plopped down into the lawn chair and brushed
her long, curly brown hair behind her shoulders.

"Grey says you hate to be called Fox. This must be your worst
nightmare," she noted, her grin exposing a set of matching
dimples.

"Not even close," Mulder said ruefully. "I can't help it if I haven't
embraced my parents' folly the way Grey has, though."

"Don't let him snow you. He went through most of high school
resenting his name. Most of his friends called him 'Mac.'"

"Oh really? That's very interesting. Thanks for the info, Kira.
Obviously I should've been talking to you sooner."

"Hey, what kind of sister would I be if I wasn't willing to expose
all his dirty little secrets?" Kira laughed merrily, and Mulder was
abruptly struck by how pretty she was. She sobered a little, but her
eyes were still twinkling. "So, FBI, huh? Grey explained a bit
about the X-Files. Pretty interesting stuff."

Mulder felt himself tense, then fought against it when he identified
genuine curiosity on her face. "And your mother still invited me?
Most people find my job a little ... disconcerting."

Kira grinned. "Yeah? Well, I guess most people haven't seen every
horrible B horror and science fiction movie known to mankind."

"You?"

"Me."

Mulder clapped a hand to his chest. " Ah, a woman after my own
heart!" He cocked an eyebrow. "Do your students know about this
dark side of you?"

She blew out a small puff of air and chuckled. "Fox, I teach eighth
graders. Anyone over the age of twenty is on the dark side to
them!"

Mulder aborted his reply when Claire stormed up to the gazebo,
her small face screwed up in distress and a bat and softball
clutched in her hands.

"Mommy! Patrick and Mandy are playing baseball and they won't
let me play too!"

Kira shot Mulder an apologetic look before taking her daughter's
hand and drawing her gently closer. Claire's brown eyes brimmed
with tears and her lip trembled.

"Honey, maybe they were already in the middle of a game," Kira
suggested gently. "I'm sure they'll let you play in a little while."

"That's not what they said," Claire said, her voice quavering. "They
said I can't play 'cause I'm no good. I can't throw the ball straight
and I can't hit either. They said I'm too little."

Mulder carefully suppressed a smile, vividly recalling countless
battles with Samantha over the same issue. Never one to be easily
put off, his sister would simply dog his every move until he gave in
or managed to ditch her. Come to think of it, that was where he
refined the technique he'd eventually used on Scully.

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I know how hard it is to be the youngest,
believe me," Kira sympathized.

"I'll *always* be the youngest and I'll *always* be the worst,"
Claire wailed. "It's not fair!"

"That's not true, you know," Mulder spoke up solemnly. "Well, the
part about always being youngest is. But that doesn't mean you
can't be as good as your cousins someday. You just need to
practice."

Claire scowled. "But how am I going to practice if they won't let
me play?"

Mulder pretended to frown in deep thought. "Hmm. I see your
point. I suppose you'll just have to find someone else to practice
with you."

Claire considered this, then lit up like a light bulb. "What about
you, Uncle Fox? Do you know anything about baseball?"

Momentarily caught off guard by the form of address, Mulder
quickly pulled himself together. "Me? Well, I suppose I know a
thing or two."

"Would you play with me? Please?"

A person would have to be made of stone to resist that request.
Mulder reflected that Kira was going to have her hands full in
about another eight years. When he stood up, Claire squealed in
delight, tears forgotten. Kira eyes shifted from her daughter's
happy face to Mulder's.

"Thank you."

"No problem."

Mulder took the ball that Claire offered and backed off a short
distance, waiting for her to shoulder the bat. When she was ready,
he lobbed the ball gently toward her. Claire, her tongue sticking
out of the corner of her mouth in concentration, swung wildly and
missed. Kira abandoned her role as observer and jogged over to
collect the ball and toss it back to him.

"Okay, Claire, just relax a little and don't try so hard," Mulder
urged. "Just let the ball come to you."

When she nodded, her face eager, he pitched the ball again. Claire
was closer this time, but still swung too soon. Determination
turned instantly to frustration and tears welled in her eyes again.

"See? They're right! I can't do it," she lamented.

Mulder caught the ball that Kira threw back to him, but rather than
attempt another throw he trotted over to where Claire stood. He
crouched down in front of the little girl so they were at eye level.

"Don't give up," he admonished her gently. "You can do it, but not
if you quit. Let's try something a little different." He looked up at
Kira. "Think you can take over for a few pitches?"

"If you don't expect anything fancy."

As he'd done with Scully not so long ago, Mulder positioned Claire
in front of him and bracketed her small hands on the bat with his
large ones.

"Okay, Claire, we're going to hit that ball together. You're going to
step forward and swing, and you're going to remember one thing
when you do."

"What?" The eagerness was back in the little girl's voice and Kira
was watching, her smile a little wistful.

"Hips before hands. Like this."

He guided Claire through the motion, half of him remembering the
way Scully had felt in his arms that night. How she'd giggled --
Dana Scully had actually giggled! He'd come so close to telling her
everything, pouring out his heart and soul, consequences be
damned. Later, lying on his couch in his apartment and aching with
loneliness, he'd told himself that everything had turned out for the
best. That a relationship with him would only cause her pain. That
she didn't love him the way he loved her. Thank God he'd been
wrong.

Mulder suddenly realized that he'd let his thoughts drift, and both
Claire and Kira were watching him expectantly.

"So, what is it?" he asked Claire.

"Hips before hands," she piped up, the mirror image of her mother,
right down to the dimples.

Mulder nodded to Kira and she tossed the ball. The bat made
contact with a satisfying crack and Claire whooped with triumph.

"I did it! Mommy, I did it!"

Kira caught the ball and pitched it again, and again the little girl
connected. This time the ball flew past her mother to land several
hundred yards away. Claire dropped the bat and fairly danced with
joy.

"Good job, baby," Kira called over her shoulder as she jogged out
to retrieve it.

"And you said you couldn't hit. Gonna have to start calling you
Claire Sosa," Mulder teased, grinning at the child's enthusiasm.

To his shock, Claire threw her arms around his waist in a bear hug.
"Thanks, Uncle Fox."

"Should I be jealous that you're giving another woman batting
lessons, Mulder?"

He turned to see Scully standing behind him, lips curved with
amusement and arms folded. Claire released him and smiled at her
shyly.

"Did you see me hit the ball?"

"I sure did, and it was a beauty," Scully assured her. "Your
grandma sent me to tell you dinner is ready and you should get
washed up."

"All right! I'm starving!" Claire bubbled and set off for the house at
a run.

Scully chuckled and Mulder slipped an arm around her shoulders,
brushing his mouth across hers in a quick kiss. "You can have
another lesson any time, babe," he murmured. "I've got a few
moves I didn't show you last time."

She pursed her lips and cocked an eyebrow. "I bet you do. But
since Kira is headed our way and considering our present location
I'd suggest you give 'em to me later, stud."

Mulder threw back his head and laughed, delighting her with the
unrestrained sound. When he saw Kira hesitate, an odd look on her
face, he swung his arm in a beckoning movement and tilted his
head toward the house.

"Scully says dinner is served."

Kira fell in beside them as they turned back to the house. "That
explains it. I wondered why Claire was willing to stop playing so
soon."

Mulder noticed the slight reserve to her speech but chalked it up to
the fact that Kira had spoken very little to Scully. They walked the
rest of the way in a silence that gave way to the babble of
organized confusion when they reached the large deck off the
McKenzie's kitchen. They joined the others who were already in
the midst of loading their plates with grilled chicken, potato salad,
watermelon, corn on the cob and a spread of other dishes. The
three children took their plates and climbed up into the small play
fort to eat while the adults gathered around a large picnic table.

Mulder found himself with Scully on one side and Kira on the
other, his brother seated just across the table. He listened to the
others chat easily about children, home improvements and
vacations, feeling slightly surreal. Remembering Scully's talk of a
"normal" life, he glanced down to find her looking back at him, a
Mona Lisa smile on her face. Grinning, he leaned down to whisper
in her ear.

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Dorothy."

She'd just moved her hand to give his a small squeeze when the
conversation jumped to include them.

"So, Fox, is there anything you'd like to know about Grey?"
Shannon asked, grinning evilly. "You know, stuff he wouldn't
voluntarily admit to?" Though equally as pretty, Shannon was the
opposite of Kira in looks -- straight blonde hair and green eyes.

"Shannon," Grey growled in warning.

"Hmm. Well, Kira already let me in on the fact that he hasn't
always been so enamored of his name," Mulder said thoughtfully,
fixing his brother with a baleful glare. "Which is interesting,
considering he lectured me on the same subject."

"That's nothing! We can tell way more interesting stories, can't we
Kira? Like the time he took Jenny Pritchard parking and forgot his
headlights on and..."

"SHANNON!"

Grey leaned over her threateningly as she attempted to fend him
off, laughing wildly.

"Later," Kira promised, shrinking back when her brother turned
from Shannon to her.

Mrs. McKenzie rolled her eyes and shook her head. "It's a good
thing the kids aren't here. Honestly, you three will never grow up."

"In an attempt to save my wife, I'll change the subject," Rob said
wryly. "You and Dana must get to some pretty exotic locations.
What's the farthest you two have ever gone on a case?"

Mulder glanced at Scully, saw she was going to let him do the
talking, and answered. "Well, the truth is that most of our cases are
domestic, though we do a large amount traveling. But we did wind
up in Antarctica last year."

Of course, it got a reaction. Grey's parents looked stunned and Rob
gave a low whistle. "Wow. You just exceeded my expectations."

"What kind of a case took you all the way down there?" Shannon
asked, cupping her chin in her hand and leaning forward in
fascination.

A little sorry he'd mentioned what had been a very dark time,
Mulder shifted uneasily in his seat. "Um. I guess you could say it
was a retrieval mission."

"Am I just obtuse, or are you being deliberately cryptic?" Kira
asked dryly.

He couldn't help grinning at that, relaxing a little. Scully evidently
took pity on him because she finally spoke up.

"What he's not saying is that he was retrieving *me*. I'd been
kidnapped and taken there. Mulder came after me."

Grey's father frowned. "Kidnapping I can understand. But why
Antarctica?"

"I think there's a lot about the job that Fox and Dana can't go into,"
Grey inserted, coming to the rescue. "Details that are confidential."

"Then I suggest we stop pressing them about it," his mother said,
smiling warmly at them both. "I've waited this long to finally get
Fox here for a visit, I won't have the rest of you chasing him away
with your questions. Anyone want more? Fox? You look like you
could stand to put on a few pounds."

"Oh God, look out now," Kira murmured in his ear. "When Mom
starts worrying about your health you know she's officially adopted
you."

Mulder couldn't help joining in her soft laughter. When he looked
back he found Scully watching him, an unidentifiable look on her
face.

"You okay?" he asked, concerned.

She nodded, but her gaze was still speculative as it followed Kira
when she stood to clear her plate. He scooped up Scully's plate as
well as his own and carried them in to the kitchen, returning to
help Grey's mom as she began bringing in the leftover plates of
food.

"Fox, don't be silly, I can handle this," she protested. "Go and
relax."

"I'm relaxed, Mrs. McKenzie. And it's the least I can do after you
gave us such a terrific meal," he replied, carrying in a platter that
had once held the chicken breasts.

He found himself thrown off balance yet again when she turned to
lay her hand on his cheek. "Thank you, and call me Linda, Fox.
Your mother taught you well, she must have been very proud of
you."

He couldn't recover quickly enough -- she must have seen
something in his eyes. Removing the plate from his grasp and
setting it down on the counter she took his hand in her own.

"Fox, Bill and Teena were our closest friends. I loved them dearly
and I would have done anything for them. Taking Grey was both
the most wonderful and the most terrible thing I've ever done. I'll
never forget Teena's eyes when I took him from her arms. And I'll
also never forget walking into her hospital room after your birth
and seeing you fill those arms again. Whatever else happened,
whatever ways they may have let you down, never doubt that she
and Bill loved you very, very much."

Impulsively, surprising himself this time, Mulder blinked hard and
leaned over to place a quick kiss on her cheek. "Thank you."

She squeezed his hand before releasing it. "Now go enjoy yourself.
I can finish up here."

He was on his way back outside when a sound caught his attention
and he followed it into the next room. Rob was seated on a couch
in the family room, television on and the remote clutched in his
hand. He looked up guiltily.

"Shannon will be pissed if I watch T.V. so I'm just checking the
score."

Anything else he may have said fell on deaf ears. He didn't
remember sinking down onto the floor, or Rob running out to find
Scully. All he could see was a little girl's face. All he could hear
was the anchorman's grave voice.

"...eight-year-old Samantha Thomas, discovered missing from her
home in Rockville at seven-thirty this morning. The pattern fits
that of the man dubbed the 'Paper Hearts' killer, and police have
instituted a statewide hunt for..."

He didn't realized he'd dropped his head onto his knees until he felt
Scully's soft hand run through his hair and settle warmly on his
shoulder. He looked up and saw the concern and confusion in her
warm gaze.

"Mulder? What's wrong?"

Her eyes followed his own to the screen and he saw
comprehension and sorrow flood them.

"He's done it again, Scully. Oh, God, he's done it again."

Eagle Rock
Wednesday
9:30 p.m.

Somehow, they'd made their excuses and left. Grey's family had
been more than gracious in despite the slight shock of learning that
Mulder and Scully were so deeply involved in "that" case. Grey's
mother had been particularly solicitous, fussing over Mulder in a
way reminiscent of Margaret Scully. Even Kira had gone out of her
way to give his arm a gentle squeeze, murmuring that she was
sorry and hoped to see him again soon.

Scully had reappeared at that point, back from saying her own
farewells, and had linked her arm in his. Mulder would have been
amused at the possessiveness of the gesture if he hadn't been so
preoccupied with the news of the latest kidnapping. He'd allowed
Scully to steer him out to Grey's car and badgered his brother until
Grey had given in and tuned the radio to an all news station for the
trip home.

When they stepped into Grey's house, Mulder turned abruptly to
pin Scully with an intense and anguished stare. "I want to go home.
Now."

*Here we go* thought Scully wearily, and the battle was joined.

"Mulder, there is no reason to go back. Skinner has removed you
from the case, and if he finds out you've disobeyed that directive
you *know* he'll suspend you." She tried to keep her voice calm
and reasonable, disturbed by the wildness in his eyes.

"Scully, he's taken another one. It's only a matter of time..."

"That doesn't change anything, Mulder. Skinner's orders were very
clear."

Outrage, desperation, fury -- all combined to sculpt Mulder's
features into an expression that made her flinch. "*Doesn't change
anything?* How can you say that? It changes everything! Who do
you think is going to open that next heart?"

"I don't know. But someone will. Skinner will take care of that.
You're on the edge, Mulder. You need to pull back and regroup
before you can continue. I agree with Skinner on that."

He stared at her with narrowed eyes, then suddenly went slack
jawed in astonishment. "It was you all along. *You* put Skinner
up to this. *You* told him to pull me off the investigation."

Scully wanted to deny it but she'd never been a good liar and the
guilt on her face was almost palpable. "I was worried about you.
You weren't eating, weren't sleeping -- you were beginning to look
like a walking corpse!"

"So you went behind my back to Skinner? How could you do that
to me, Scully?"

The betrayal that she'd feared when she asked Skinner to keep her
involvement a secret was all she could see in his eyes. "I love you.
I didn't know what else to do. Whatever you may think, I did it for
you."

"So what -- I'm suppose to be grateful?" Mulder sneered. "Forgive
me if I can't find it in my heart to thank you right now, Scully. It's
a little hard when you've got a knife in your back."

Scully could only stare after him, open-mouthed, as he stomped up
the stairs to the guestroom and the door shut loudly behind him.
Grey winced, seemed about to reach for her, then dropped his hand
back to his side.

"He was out of line, Dana. He's not thinking straight."

Part of her was angry, part just hurt. "Yeah. That's supposed to
make it all right, I guess."

Grey frowned. "No, not all right. Just...comprehendable."

She laughed, but it was a bitter, jagged sound. "Well, you can't
fault me for not knowing him. I told Skinner he'd go ballistic if he
found out I was the one behind this little vacation."

The sound of a door opening and Mulder came down the stairs
dressed in running clothes. "I'm going running," he said
unnecessarily, avoiding Scully's eyes. "I'll be back in while."

"Hang on a minute, I'll go with you," Grey said.

He actually had a foot on the first step before Mulder's empathetic
reply stopped him.

"NO. I need some time alone, not company."

He didn't wait for acknowledgement or acceptance, just
disappeared out the front door and shut it firmly. Grey looked
taken aback, then his lips curved slightly.

"Now, see that? It's not just you he's mad at, it's everyone."

Scully managed a genuine smile, shaking her head ruefully. "I feel
so much better."

"Come on, I'll buy you a drink," Grey chuckled, heading down the
hall to the kitchen. "You know him better than I, is he going to be
all right?"

"Diet Coke, please," Scully said when he'd opened the refrigerator
and looked at her inquiringly. "And the answer to your question is
yes and no. He'll run until he's worked the anger out of his system -
- or at least until he has a better handle on it. Running has always
been one part exercise to two parts therapy for Mulder. But he's not
really in the kind of shape for that kind of exertion right now, so
he'll most likely come back completely wiped out."

Grey sipped his own soda, just mulling over her words for several
minutes. "Dana," he finally began hesitantly. "I don't want to pry,
so feel free to tell me to butt out if necessary. I just can't help
feeling like there's something more about this case that you're not
telling me. I understand Fox's pain over these murdered little girls,
and that the ties to his old case make that pain even more acute.
Still..."

Scully sighed, but her lips quirked. "You Mulder brothers and your
damn intuition. No, it's okay," she hastened to add as Grey began
to backpedal. "You're right. There *is* something else about this
case that presses Mulder's buttons." Another sigh, and she searched
for the right words. "You already know that Mulder's profile put
away John Lee Roche, the original Paper Hearts killer. At the time
Roche had confessed to thirteen murders, but Mulder was always
skeptical, always wondered if there were more little girls we didn't
know about. About three years ago, Mulder had a ... a dream that
lead him to the location of a body. It was another little girl, and her
clothing was missing a piece of fabric in the shape of a heart."

Grey's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "A *dream*? Okaaay.
So I take it that Roche had killed that little girl as well?"

Scully nodded, grimacing a little at the memories that battered her.
"We found Roche's stash of fabric hearts and there were sixteen,
including one for Addie Sparks, the little girl Mulder dreamed
about. Mulder hoped we could convince Roche to come clean
about the last two girls so we went to see him in prison."

"That must have been pleasant," Grey noted dryly.

"He basically jerked us around, but that wasn't the worst of it. He
inferred that one of the two remaining victims was Samantha."

Grey closed his eyes. "Shit."

"No kidding. Mulder lost all perspective. He became convinced
that Roche had killed his sister, and finding out that Roche *had*
been in New England in 1973 and *had* sold his dad a vacuum
cleaner only supported that belief. See, that's how Roche chose his
victims -- selling vacuums door to door." Scully paused and
massaged her temples in a vain effort to quell the headache that
was building.

"Roche wouldn't tell Mulder where Samantha was supposedly
buried -- said he had to *show* him."

*I can't wait to see your face*...

Scully grimaced again, recalling the look on Mulder's face at those
words, her own fury. "Mulder signed Roche out of prison without
Skinner's permission and Roche ended up getting away from him.
He kidnapped another little girl before we could track him down
and was holding her hostage. Mulder had to shoot him."

Grey ran his fingers through his hair, shaking his head. "So Fox
never knew for sure if Roche was telling the truth?"

"One victim is still unidentified," Scully said softly. "I think
subsequent events have shown Mulder that Roche was lying. But I
also think there will always be that one small kernel of doubt."

Grey didn't speak at first, just finished his drink. "Thanks, Dana. I
appreciate you filling me in. It all makes more sense now."

Scully set down her own empty glass and rose to her feet. "I think
I'll call Skinner. Maybe he can give me something that will
reassure Mulder a little. It's worth a try."

She made her way up to the guestroom and dug her cell phone out
of her suitcase, still unable to shake the memories of Roche.
Mulder had nearly lost his job over that incident. She was
determined to see he didn't make a similar blunder now.

Skinner was still at the Bureau, his voice gruff with barely checked
impatience. "Skinner."

"Sir, it's Scully."

A short pause, she could almost hear the wheels turning. "How's he
taking it?"

Part of her wanted to smile at his perceptiveness, part to weep at
the need for it. "Not good."

"Can you keep a leash on him?"

Her lips twisted in the parody of a grin. "I'm not sure. I'm not very
high on his list right now. He figured out I was the one who
convinced you to pull him from the team."

Skinner cursed softly. "I'm sure that went over really well."

"What's the status, sir? Do you have anything I can give him to
pacify him? Anything at all?"

Skinner's sigh spoke of too many cups of coffee and too many
sleepless nights. "I wish I did, Scully. But so far we've come up
empty-handed, and the next heart will be due in less than twenty-
four hours." She could almost see him pinch the bridge of his nose.
"Be straight with me, Scully. Is he going to hare out on you like
last time?"

A spark of irritation flared at his words. Resentment of being cast
in the role of Mulder's keeper once again. Most of the time she
didn't really mind, but today it had been a thankless job.

"I'm doing my best to avoid that, sir."

Skinner obviously detected the sharpness in her tone, since his
voice turned distinctly apologetic. "I know you are, Scully. You're
probably the one person who can."

It eased the tension, and she smiled. "I've got a little help this time.
Grey will sit on him, if necessary."

Skinner actually chuckled at that. "A Mulder against a Mulder.
Now why didn’t I think of that? Keep me informed, Scully."

"Yes, sir."

Scully was just tucking her cell phone away when she heard the
front door open and the sound of laughter. Puzzled, she descended
the stairs to see Mulder standing in the front hall with Kira at his
side, both bearing several plastic containers. Grey had just
emerged from the kitchen.

"Hey, Sis, what brings you to this neck of the woods?" he asked,
smiling.

"Y'all left so quickly, Mom didn't have time to give you any of the
leftover food. I told her I'd drop it off on my way home," she
explained. "I saw Fox and gave him a lift back." She grinned. "He
looked like he needed it."

Mulder grinned back, all traces of his former anger missing -- a
fact which irritated Scully. "She's right. I was hurting."

"You know I never turn down free food. Bring it on back, do you
want something to drink?" Grey offered.

Kira shook her head and handed him her offerings. "Thanks, but
Claire is asleep in the car and I have to get her home to bed." She
grasped the doorknob but paused. "See you tomorrow, Fox?"

Mulder cheerfully nodded. "Guess so, if you're sure."

"I'm positive. Good night, everyone."

Grey locked the door, turning to his brother with a question on his
face. "Tomorrow? What's she roped you into -- talking to her
students?"

"Bingo," Mulder confirmed, wiping his sweaty brow with the hem
of his shirt. "They've been studying different professions and she
thinks the kids would be interested."

"Yeah. She talked me into it last year. Have fun little brother, the
Q&A session can get...interesting." Grey said wryly.

"Great. I'm going to hit the shower," Mulder replied, and Grey
relieved him of his own containers.

Scully was still standing halfway down the stairs, her brain trying
to process his mood swing, when Mulder reached her and stopped.
Grey immediately made himself scarce in the kitchen.

Mulder's expression was contrite. "Scully, I shouldn't have said
what I did. I'm sorry." He pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and
continued past her.

She was abruptly furious. The anger came on several different
levels -- several different flavors, you might say. First, was the
bitter taste from a brief apology that was supposed to magically
erase his hurtful words spoken not an hour before. Then there was
the sour tang from his easy laughter with Kira -- again, not an hour
after he'd basically accused *her* of disloyalty. They formed a
very unpleasant combination.

She stomped up the remaining stairs to find him stripping his
clothes in preparation for a shower. The sight of his ribs, so much
more prominent than normal, gave her pause for a moment but she
bit back her sympathy. Not even attempting to be diplomatic, she
let him have it with both barrels.

"Kira has a crush on you, Mulder."

He gaped. Scully knew the pattern by now -- Sheila Fontaine,
Karin Berquist. For some reason, Mulder seemed unable to accept
the simple fact that women were attracted to him. She folded her
arms across her chest and glared at him, daring him to deny her
words. Mulder's answering scowl appeared within seconds.

"What the hell are you talking about? She's Grey's *sister.* I'm like
another brother, for Pete's sake! Her daughter calls me Uncle Fox."

"Be that as it may, she *does* have a crush on you," Scully
snapped, out of patience. "You'd better be very careful."

He stared at her for a moment before adopting the expression she
could only call his "smartass" look. The one that said she knew
nothing while he, on the other hand, was an authority on
everything. It made her crazy.

"You're jealous, Scully. And while I find that flattering, it's not a
very nice way to treat Kira. Now, I'm going to take my shower."

Scully wanted so badly to slug him her fingers actually curled into
a fist. Instead she forced herself to try again.

"You're the one that needs to take a look at how you're treating
Kira, Mulder. You're going to wind up hurting her if you don't."

Anger replaced amusement. "Drop it, Scully. I'm not discussing
this with you any more. Whatever problem you may have with me,
there's no excuse for taking it out on Kira. You only sound
vindictive."

Mulder stalked into the bathroom and shut the door, cutting off any
chance for reply. Bewildered, hurt, and very angry, Scully was left
standing dumfounded in the middle of an empty room.

Eagle Rock
Thursday
5:48 a.m.

Seriously considering the idea of inflicting bodily harm, Grey
swung his legs off the side of the bed and scrubbed at his face with
both hands. He padded past the closed guestroom door and down
the stairs, not really surprised to find his brother sipping water in
front of the television this time. Tuned to CNN, of course.

"Don't you ever sleep?" he growled, starting the coffee. "And how
often do you run, anyway?"

"Good morning to you, too," Fox said, never pulling his eyes from
the screen.

"I'm serious, Fox, you're in no kind of shape right now to be
running so much. You've already dropped too much weight. Dana's
going to be pissed."

Fox muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously
like "so what's new?" Grey dropped into the recliner, noticing for
the first time that the afghan was unfolded and the couch appeared
to have been slept on. Uh oh.

"You *did* patch things up with Dana last night, didn't you?" he
demanded, brows drawn together.

"Back off, Grey. This is none of your business," his brother
warned, still not meeting his eyes.

"You were a jerk, Fox. If you can't see that ..."

"Just shut up!" Fox snapped, springing to his feet and taking two
quick strides forward.

For a moment Grey actually flinched, certain that he was about to
receive a more physical expression of his brother's anger. Fox only
flicked off the television and turned to glare at him, hands on hips.

"What goes on between Scully and me is *our* business. Leave it
alone."

Grey heard the whisper of sock feet on tile and Dana stepped into
the kitchen. Her hair was rumpled and a white terry bathrobe
shrouded her small form. Dark circles beneath her blue eyes
attested to a less than restful night. Grey watched as her gaze
wandered to Fox and then skittered quickly away, a combination of
anger and hurt darkening her expression. His brother visibly
stiffened, jaw clenched.

"Morning, Dana," Grey greeted easily. "Coffee should be just
about ready."

"Thanks, Grey."

Grey got up and ambled into the kitchen, sensing his brother just
two steps behind. Scully pulled two mugs from the cupboard and
filled both with coffee, silently handing one to Mulder. He
accepted the offering, the brittleness of his mood softening and his
lips curving slightly. Mulder's fingers snagged Scully's after he'd
taken the mug, and entwined with them.

"You look tired," he said softly.

Scully moved closer and leaned into him, looking up into his eyes.
"I didn't sleep so well last night. I was cold."

Sharp enough to realize she wasn't indicating she'd needed a
blanket, Grey opened the refrigerator and busied himself with
extracting English muffins and jam. From the corner of his eye he
saw Fox reach out to cup Dana's cheek, murmuring words he
hoped were some form of apology.

The next few minutes were spent in a fairly comfortable silence
except for the sounds of the toaster popping and the refrigerator
opening and closing. When they had seated themselves at the table
Mulder fixed Scully with a penetrating stare.

"I checked CNN. Samantha Thomas is still missing."

Grey tensed, prepared for a burst of anger that never came.

"I'm not surprised. I talked to Skinner last night. He wasn't
hopeful," Scully said quietly. "Mulder, I know what you're
thinking ..."

Mulder's grip on his mug was white knuckled. "You mean like
there's no way in hell that it's a coincidence this one's name is
Samantha? Or that she's already dead and discarded somewhere,
waiting for us ..." His voice caught and he took several ragged
breaths before continuing. "For *someone* to come dig her up?
Like an object, a ... a prop whose only purpose is to continue this
bastard's sick ego-trip while I sit around pounding nails and
proving I'm no Bob Villa? Because if that's what you know I'm
thinking, then you're absolutely right."

"I know you're frustrated, Mulder," Scully replied, an edge
creeping into her voice. "But driving yourself to the point of
complete physical and emotional collapse won't help those little
girls."

"And this will? I'm sorry, Scully, but I just can't accept that!"
Mulder pushed away the plate that still contained half of a muffin
and stood, his chair scraping noisily against the floor.

"Mulder, please! At least sit down and finish eating," Scully said,
worry masquerading as irritation in the small line between her
eyes.

"I need to shower. Kira's picking me up at 7:30."

The small line became more pronounced. "So you're actually going
through with that? Since when have you been so eager to talk to a
bunch of middle-schoolers?"

Grey watched as his brother, who'd carried his plate to the sink,
spun around with his face twisted in a snarl. "What do you want
from me, Scully? You're on my back about not pursuing the case
but when I try to do something to take my mind off it you give me
grief! Make up your damn mind!"

When Fox had stomped out of the kitchen, Grey turned, expecting
matching fury from the woman beside him. What he did see left
him startled and fumbling for a response. For just an instant Dana's
face bore a naked, vulnerable expression of hurt until she seemed
to feel his gaze and the cool mask slipped into place.

"You've been getting a ringside seat lately, Grey," she said wryly.
"Sorry about that."

Still feeling as if he were nearsighted and operating without
glasses, Grey smiled reassuringly. "I'm not exactly shocked, Dana.
Kate and I had our own share of brawls, believe me. And don't
worry about Fox. Kira will take good care of him, and those kids
won't leave him with any time to get into trouble. In fact, I'm sure
she wouldn't mind if you came along too."

Dana's lips quirked but there was no humor in her voice. "I'm sure
she'll manage just fine without me. Anyway, I have some
paperwork I can catch up on." Her dishes joined the others in the
sink though her exit was far less dramatic than Mulder's had been.

Grey sat alone at the table with his now-cold cup of coffee, trying
to figure out what had just occurred. Dana's expression when he'd
mentioned Kira had been decidedly strained. And though things
were already tense, Dana's reaction over Fox talking to Kira's
students seemed unfair, almost ... Grey shook his head when the
word popped into his mind. Jealous? Dana Scully was an
extremely confident and secure woman, nearly impossible to
picture in the role of possessive girlfriend. If she'd reacted that way
to Kira, she must have seen something he'd missed. He was still
replaying the events of the last twelve hours through his mind
when the front doorbell rang perfunctorily and Kira let herself in
with her key.

"Hey you! I know I'm early, but Claire was itching to get to
daycare and I figured Fox and I could ..." She trailed off, puzzled
by her brother's intent expression. "What?"

Inspiration struck, and Grey leaned back. "Nothing. You can have
a cup of coffee if you'd like. They should be ready soon."

Kira's bright smile faded, causing his gut to churn with
disappointment and sympathy. "They? But I thought just Fox ..."
She stopped abruptly this time, reading the emotions in her
brother's eyes.

"Kira. What do you think you're doing?" Grey said, his voice a soft
rebuke.

"What do you mean, what am I doing? I came to pick up Fox! I
just wasn't expecting Dana to come along."

"She's not. I just said that to see your reaction. It told me all I need
to know, Kira."

Kira's chin came up and her eyes blazed. "I don't know what you're
talking about! I just asked Fox to help me because I thought the
kids ..." She lost steam and her shoulders slumped under his steady
gaze.

Grey stood up and pulled her into his arms. "I know you're lonely,
Kira. You think I don't understand that? But this isn't the way, and
you know it."

His sister clutched his tee shirt in her fists and buried her face in
his neck. "I really like him, Grey. He's sweet and it seems like we
actually have some things in common. And he was so good with
Claire. Do you know how many men turn tail and run when they
find out I have a child?"

Grey reached up to stroke Kira's curls, struggling around the lump
in his throat. "I understand, Mouse. He's a good man, and God
knows you deserve that. But believe me when I say that I have
never seen two people who belonged together more than Fox and
Dana. You'll only hurt them and yourself unless you accept it."

Kira stepped back, blinking back her tears. "I told myself there was
nothing special between them," she said huskily. "I wanted to
believe that."

Grey smiled ruefully, remembering his brother's drugged
confession. *She's everything to me.* "I gotta hand it to you,
Mouse. When you're wrong, you're wrong."

Kira mustered a wisp of a smile, thin and unsubstantial. "I'm sorry,
Grey. I just didn't want to be alone any more. Is that so wrong?"

The lump became a fist, squeezing until his voice was little more
than a whisper. "If it is, I'm right there with you."

"You think we have a chance, that maybe the right person is out
there somewhere?"

Grey thought about Kate -- the laughter, the tears, the love. It was
inconceivable that he'd already received his allotment of that kind
of happiness -- happiness Kira had yet to experience.

"God, I hope so, Kira. I'm counting on it."

Eagle Rock
Thursday
11:52 a.m.

Kira pulled into the driveway and put the car into park, still
laughing softly.

"Well you can't say that Grey didn't try to warn you," she said.

Mulder snorted, running his fingers through his hair. "Yeah. He
said the questions could get 'a little rough.' Major understatement."

She grinned. "Come now, Agent Mulder. They weren't *that* bad.
I think you handled yourself very well."

"Sure until that kid, Mike Pervert."

Kira snickered. "Purvis."

"Whatever. How am I supposed to answer when a fourteen-year
old kid asks if I get to use my handcuffs at home?" Mulder's voice
was righteously indignant.

"You have a dirty mind. He probably meant it very innocently,"
Kira said sternly, but couldn't keep up the fašade and collapsed
into laughter again.

"I'd better let you get back before your entire lunch hour is over,"
Mulder said when they'd regained some semblance of control. He
reached for the door but was stopped by Kira's hand on his arm.

"Fox, wait a minute. There's something I need to say to you."

Puzzled, he released the handle and looked at her expectantly. Kira
took a deep breath and slowly let it out, gathering her courage.
"Fox, I ... I think maybe I've caused trouble between you and
Dana."

He frowned and shook his head, holding up one hand to stop her
from continuing. "Kira, please don't worry about that. Scully just
has this strange notion in her head, but she'll get over it."

"She's right, Fox. She had every reason to be jealous."

Mulder's jaw dropped and he blinked. "What? What are you
saying?"

Kira ducked her head, reddening. "I'm saying that my motivations
for asking you to talk to the kids today were not exactly pure. I like
you, Fox, and I'd hoped ..." She looked up, still blushing but her
face composed and determined. "Anyway, I didn't realize the depth
of your relationship with Dana -- or didn't want to. I'm really sorry.
I hope you understand and forgive me. And I really hope Dana
can."

Still thunderstruck, Mulder grasped for a response. "Kira, I ... I
don't know what to say. I'm flattered. But I also hope that I didn't
do anything to make you think ..."

Kira impulsively laid her hand on his arm and shook her head.
"You didn't. You were fun to talk with and very sweet to Claire. I
saw only what I wanted to see."

Mulder's shock was suddenly subordinated by the memory of
Scully's warning and his own insensitive comeback. He winced,
then looked at Kira.

"Thank you for telling me, Kira. I know this couldn't have been
easy for you to say."

Kira's lip trembled slightly, but she shrugged. "I think I owed you
both than much. Now I guess I'd better get back to school." She
paused. "I hope we can still be friends, Fox."

Mulder smiled. "I'd like that, Kira."

He stood on the driveway long after she'd driven out of sight,
feeling a bit shell-shocked. Finally he wandered around the side of
the house to the backyard, figuring that Grey would be working on
the shed. His brother was nowhere in sight, but Scully was laying
on a chaise lounge, enjoying the late September sun and filling out
an expense report. She eyed him blankly and dropped her eyes
back down to the papers.

"Have fun?"

Her voice was cool, face expressionless and her walls firmly
locked into place. Mulder's stomach clenched.

*I am an idiot, and this calls for some serious groveling*.

He walked over to the chair and sat on the edge, ignoring her grunt
of irritation.

"Move over."

"*Move over?* In case it's escaped your keen, analytical mind,
Mulder, this chair was built for one -- ahhh!"

Scully shrieked in surprise as he slid his body more securely onto
the webbing and reclined, rolling her so that she was neatly
stretched against his side. Scully, now furious at being manipulated
like an oversized doll, struggled to sit up, but he calmly pulled her
back down until her head rested on his chest and was tucked
beneath his chin.

"Mulder, I don't know what you think you're doing, but ..."

"Trying to come up with an adequate apology for being such a
bastard. It isn't easy for me, even when I know it's true."

Scully stopped squirming and went very still. She could hear the
rapid thumping of his heart, feel the tension thrumming through his
limbs. This was no casual request for forgiveness.

"Go on."

"Kira asked me to tell you she's sorry for any trouble she caused
between us. She admitted to me that she...um ..."

Scully took pity on him. "I get it, Mulder. You don't need to draw
me a picture."

"I don't know what to say, Scully, except that you were right. I just
hope you believe me when I say that I never meant to do anything
to make Kira feel that way."

She couldn't help smiling a little at the bewildered note to his
voice. "I know that, Mulder. Just like I know it's remotely plausible
for someone to think you're hot."

He laughed softly at that, and she could feel the anxiety seep from
him. His fingers began to comb gently through her hair and she
sighed, feeling the knot in her own chest loosen.

"I'm sorry too, Mulder."

The hand in her hair froze and he tilted her head up so that her eyes
met his own. "You? What do you have to be sorry about, Scully?"

She ducked her head back down but tightened the arm thrown
across his chest. "I could've handled things better. I may have been
right about Kira, but I was also jealous. I'm still trying to adjust to
the change in our relationship, and I guess sometimes I feel a little
insecure about my place in your life."

He tilted her chin up again and she was overwhelmed by the
unguarded love on his face. "You're in the same place you've been
for the last six years, Scully. At the very center, touching every
part of me. That hasn't really changed." He grinned mischievously.
"I just get to do this now."

He tugged her closer and his lips met her own, softly and tenderly
at first, then with increasing passion as her mouth opened and the
kiss deepened. With an impish smile of her own, Scully abruptly
shoved him backward so that she was essentially on top of him.
She braced her arms on his chest and set about exploring every
inch of his mouth, her tongue twining with his one moment, her
teeth nibbling at his bottom lip the next. Mulder moaned softly and
plunged his hands into her hair, attempting unsuccessfully to hold
her still long enough to regain the upper hand.

"Glad to see you two worked out your differences," Grey drawled,
startling them both so that Scully nearly toppled off the lounge.

They shared a smile, still breathing heavily, before Scully carefully
moved over so that Mulder could stand up. With a smirk, he
handed her the crumpled expense report that had become situated
under his right thigh.

"That's the second time you've done that," he said to his brother,
eyes squinted in annoyance. "Did you ever consider just turning
around and coming back later?"

"Where's the fun in that?" Grey replied innocently. "Anyway, I just
got the mail and there's a letter for you. Must be from work, the
postmark says D.C."

To Grey's surprise the color drained from his brother's face and the
hand that reached for the letter trembled. Scully was on her feet
and at his side in one quick movement.

Mulder's fingers shook so badly it took two attempts before he'd
loosened the flap. Before he could reach inside, Scully's hand shot
out to stop him.

"Mulder, wait!"

She reached down to fumble in her briefcase, finally holding up a
pair of latex gloves. Understanding flooded Grey's face and he
swallowed hard. After donning the gloves, Mulder pulled out a
single sheet of white paper and unfolded it very carefully. He
gently lifted the heart -- soft cotton fabric decorated with tiny
pictures of Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. Mulder's gloved
thumb reverently stroked the surface before he moved it aside so
that they could all see what had been written on the paper. It was
one sentence, composed of letters that had been cut from
newspapers and magazines and glued to form words. The message
was brief, but chilling.

*I'd come back if I were you.*

Eagle Rock
Thursday
1:11 p.m.

Scully watched as Mulder paced the length of the kitchen, turned
sharply and repeated the movement in the opposite direction, cell
phone pressed tightly to his right ear. Skinner was doing most of
the talking at this point, Mulder only injecting soft grunts of
acceptance and an occasional sentence or two of clarification.
Their boss was apparently handling him very carefully, since
Mulder had remained relatively calm and reasonable. Still, she
could see that his grip on the phone was white-knuckled, his jerky,
uneven gait at odds with his usually graceful stride. She glanced
across the table to see Grey watching his brother, his brows drawn
in concern. Grey felt her gaze and regarded her questioningly.

"Think Skinner's going to let him come back?"

Scully pursed her lips, then smiled ruefully. "Since Mulder hasn't
resorted to screaming or profanity so far, I assume that the answer
to that question is yes."

Grey didn't return her smile, his frown only deepening so that he
looked even more troubled. "I'm not sure how I feel about that,
though I know Fox will be glad. I'm afraid all I can see is that he's
going back into the fire, and in no better shape than when you
arrived here two days ago. I'm worried about him, Dana."

Scully leaned across the table to lay her hand on his arm. "I know.
I am too. But it wouldn't be any different if Mulder were to stay
here, Grey, he would only continue to tear himself up wondering
what was happening back home. This monster knows enough
about Mulder to realize that he won’t back down from a
challenge."

Her eyes darkened, and Grey was startled to recognize fear in
them. "What? What are you thinking?"

She shrugged, but her face was still grave. "I guess that I'm going
to be relieved to have Mulder in a more controlled environment.
This killer has fixated on him, and I don't think anyone knows the
full implications of that."

Before Grey could comment, Mulder thrust the phone in Scully's
face. "Skinner wants to talk to you. I'm going to pack up our
things."

Scully put the phone to her own ear, her eyes tracking Mulder as
he exited the kitchen. "Sir?"

"Scully, Mulder has filled me in on the ... suggestion he got from
the killer. I, in turn, informed him that we received instructions for
locating Samantha Thomas's body. I'll need you to do the autopsy
as soon as you get back."

"Yes, sir. I'd anticipated that."

Silence, broken by Skinner nervously clearing his throat.

"Sir?"

"I haven't told Mulder everything. I could sense the killer's note
had upset him badly, and I thought it best to give him a chance to
calm down."

Scully closed her eyes, a chill running up her spine. She was very
sure that she didn't want to hear whatever Skinner had to tell her.

"Go ahead, sir."

"Scully, the directions to Samantha's body contained a heart, and it
matches the clothing she was wearing. I can only assume that
Mulder's heart belongs to another victim."

Several choice swear words she'd learned during life on military
bases flitted through Scully's mind, but she chose to remain silent.
Dread writhed and churned in the pit of her stomach -- both for the
child sentenced to certain death and for Mulder, who would
certainly find a way to shoulder the responsibility.

"Scully?"

Skinner's voice was anxious, prompting a response.

"He's escalating," she said quietly. "From the warning he sent
Mulder I'd imagine it's calculated to bring him back onto the case."

"I agree." The words were spoken in a manner that told Scully her
boss was suffering from his own feelings of guilt. When he
continued speaking, however, his tone was tight with anger.
"That's the *only* reason I'm allowing Mulder to rejoin the team.
I'm beginning to believe Mulder is right; we aren't going to be able
to catch this lunatic without him. Just don't tell Mulder I said that,"
he added dryly.

"He's packing right now, so I'm sure we'll be on the road soon. I'm
also sure that he'll want to go straight to the office once we hit
town," Scully predicted, wishing she'd gotten more sleep the night
before.

"Report to my office then. I'll be here. Would you like me to break
the news?"

Scully thought it over, longing to let Skinner be the one to deal
such a blow. Unfortunately, she knew Mulder would never forgive
her for withholding the information during the drive home. He'd
had trouble enough accepting her involvement in removing him
from the case, she wasn't certain the trust between them could
survive a second hit.

"No. I'll take care of it myself. Thank you for giving me some
advance-warning, sir. He won't take this well."

Skinner made a choked sound of amusement. "He never does,
Scully. See you soon."

Scully pushed the disconnect button and stared at the dead phone,
chewing her lip. She'd actually forgotten Grey's presence until he
spoke.

"Another child's been taken?"

She walked slowly over to replace the phone in its cradle, allowing
herself the extra moments to collect her thoughts and emotions.
She could feel Grey's steady gaze on her, following each
movement and cataloguing it. Finally she leaned back against the
counter and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"That heart that Mulder just received did not belong to Samantha
Thomas. Skinner and the team already have that one, along with
the location of her body." She hated the cold, calculating sound of
her voice even as she realized that it was a defense mechanism.

"Who?"

"That hasn't been determined. I'm sure Skinner is working on it as
we speak."

"Working on what?"

Mulder's reappearance could not have had a more dramatic effect
on Scully if he'd jumped out and shouted "Boo!" She jerked and
spun toward the kitchen doorway, her right hand reflexively
reaching for the small of her back.

"Don't shoot me, copper, I surrender," Mulder said, both hands
raised and a smirk on his face.

"Don't sneak up on me like that!" Scully groaned, sinking back
against the cabinets.

Mulder raised an eyebrow, leaning against the doorframe. "Sorry.
Didn't realize I was sneaking. Working on what?"

Leave it to Mulder to stay on target and not forget the original
question. From the corner of her eye Scully saw Grey quietly stand
and then squeeze by his brother to leave the kitchen. She fought
the abrupt sensation of disappointment and betrayal that washed
over her. Realizing that there was no way to pad the corners, she
met her partner's eyes squarely.

"Mulder, Skinner didn't tell you something important." Scully saw
his eyes narrow and his brow contract, and quickly raised a hand to
forestall any outburst. "Wait a minute! He's not trying to hold out
on you, he just didn't want to burden you with this right away. He
was giving you time to decompress."

"My patience for this overwhelming need you and Skinner have
for protecting me is starting to wear thin, Scully. I'm a big boy and
I'd appreciate it if you'd just give it to me straight."

The words were meant to be spoken in irritation, but Scully knew
Mulder well enough to recognize armor donned in anticipation of
bad news. She ignored his scowl and proceeded cautiously.

"Mulder, a heart was included with the instructions for locating
Samantha Thomas's body, and it matches her clothing."

She watched his expressive face as he processed the information
and quickly came to the heartbreaking conclusion. His pain
transcended even Mulder's substantial ability to feign detachment.
Scully fought an intense inner battle in a matter of seconds,
instinctively wanting to put her arms around him yet knowing how
important it was for him to maintain composure. Giving in to
intuition, she crossed the room and wrapped her arms around his
waist, laying her head on his chest but not speaking.

After only a moment's hesitation, Mulder's arms came up and
around her shoulders. Tiny tremors coursed through his body so
that it felt as if he were shivering, and Scully could hear his heart
thumping rapidly. Her own fluttered in a sympathetic response and
she ran her hands in abstract patterns over the rigid muscles of his
shoulders and back.

"Who *is* he, Scully?" Mulder whispered in a voice liquid with
unshed tears. "What does he want from me?"

"He's a maniac, love. He probably doesn't even know what he
wants," Scully murmured, pulling back so that she could search his
face.

Gratitude met her gaze, but it was coupled with disbelief. "I
disagree. I think he knows exactly what he wants, we just haven't
figured it out yet. That's what scares me."

"Mulder, promise me you'll try to keep your perspective. You can't
get sucked in too far or you'll drown."

Annoyance again, which Scully actually found an improvement
over the hurt. "I know my job, Scully. I only do what's necessary to
get results."

Scully reached up to cup his cheek, attempting to soften the
harshness of her next statement. "You say that, Mulder, and I know
you believe it. But you can't see yourself. Before Skinner pulled
you off the case you looked like you were going under for the third
time."

Mulder's eyes were pleading. "He's escalating, Scully. And we
both know what triggered it." His voice broke and he took a deep
breath before continuing. "The only way I can live with myself
right now is to put everything I have into catching this guy."

Scully blinked at the moisture in her eyes. "I understand that, love,
I really do. But I'm selfish. I refuse to lose you in the process."

Grey chose that moment to slide around them and re-enter the
kitchen. He was carrying a duffel bag that he plopped down onto
the tile before folding his arms.

"I'm packed. Who's driving?"

Both Mulder and Scully were rendered speechless for several
seconds before Mulder gathered his wits to reply.

"Huh?"

Scully pressed her lips together to smother a grin. "I second that
somewhat less than eloquent response. What do you think you're
doing?"

Grey rolled his eyes in a "well, duh!" look. "What does it look
like? I'm going back to D.C. with you. I've got the rest of the week
off anyway, and if I stay here I'll just wind up finishing that damn
shed all by myself."

Scully smiled, communicating appreciation, relief, and affection
with her eyes. Mulder, however, pulled away from her embrace,
shaking his head adamantly.

"No way, Grey, you can't do it. It's too risky."

Grey looked at him, his expression bland. "I'm not the one being
stalked by a killer, Fox," he said calmly. "You're the one at risk
here, not me."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it!" his brother growled,
frowning. "It's one thing to come up for a visit and hang around my
apartment, but this is completely different. You'd be in the middle
of a major investigation involving police and FBI, and swarming
with the press. There's no way to remain low profile."

Grey stubbornly thrust out his lip and Scully had to bite her own to
keep from laughing. Sometimes the similarities between the two
brothers were amazing.

"Fox, I thought I made it clear a long time ago that I don't intend to
let these faceless enemies of yours dictate my life. You are my
brother, and if I'm going to be a part of your life it's going to be on
*my* terms -- not theirs. I'm coming with you."

Mulder opened his mouth to argue, but found he didn't have the
motivation to do so. Though he feared for Grey's safety, the idea of
having his brother's support was extremely comforting.

"I get to drive," he said instead, his tone daring Grey to argue.

Grey just grinned and stooped to pick up his bag. "Whatever you
say, little brother. Just so I'm along for the ride."

FBI Headquarters
Thursday
11:02 p.m.

Scully sighed and leaned heavily against the back of the elevator as
it rumbled slowly downward. Gritty eyes, a backache, and the
clinging odor of decomposing flesh all combined to make her
desire to go home an urgent one. Though she knew getting Mulder
to leave would be a battle, she was determined -- even if it meant
fighting dirty and bringing Skinner and Grey into the fray.

The doors rattled open and Scully walked slowly down the dim
hallway, one hand clutching her autopsy results while the other
kneaded the flesh at the small of her back. Damn autopsy tables
were one size fits all, and it wasn't her size.

The door to the X-Files office stood ajar and she paused, taking the
opportunity to observe Mulder undetected. His dark head bent low
over the contents of the desktop, which he studied with such
complete concentration that he was oblivious to her return. His
jacket shed and sleeves rolled to the elbows, Mulder's arms were
propped on the open surface directly in front of him. Scully saw
that he held something between his long, slender fingers, rubbing it
gently. She moved closer until heartache replaced her curiosity.
Seven photos spread across the blotter, one for each of the
murdered girls, and the object he held with the reverence of a
talisman was the eighth heart.

Mulder caught her movements with his peripheral vision and
raised his head. The eyes behind the wire-rimmed glasses could
have belonged to a 90-year-old man. Scully brushed several of the
photos aside and perched on the edge of the desk.

"Autopsy's finished," she said unnecessarily.

Mulder nodded, waiting for her to continue. Scully flipped through
the papers in her hands, then tossed them onto the desk with a sigh.

"It's all the same, Mulder. Sexual assault, then strangulation.
Exactly like the other seven."

"And identical to Roche," Mulder added, declining to pick up the
papers.

"Yes."

Mulder pulled off his glasses and scrubbed his eyes wearily with
the heels of his hands, then lay his head atop his folded arms.

"I lived through this twice already, Scully," he said, voice muffled
but the anguish still evident. "Why must I do it again?"

Scully's answer -- for there was no answer -- was to run her fingers
through his hair, the tips rubbing his scalp. Eventually his tension
eased a little and she sensed he'd regained full control.

"Where's Grey?" she asked, suddenly aware of the man's absence.
She glanced over to her own desk and saw the folder from the
original Paper Hearts case lying open.

"I sent him on a coffee run," Mulder replied, still muted.

"Mulder, it's late and you need sleep. The last thing you should
ingest right now is more caffeine."

Mulder lifted his head and regarded Scully ruefully. "That's exactly
what *he* said. You two must be comparing notes."

"Can't help it," she answered, ruffling his hair and standing.
"You're our favorite subject."

A glint of pleasure touched Mulder's eyes but disappeared all too
quickly. "Jacqueline Stombres," he said soberly, his gaze dropping
back to the row of little girl smiles, and his fingers tightening
convulsively around the heart.

Scully winced. "Location?"

"Norristown, Pennsylvania."

She frowned for a moment at the nagging familiarity of the name,
then bit her lip. "Addy Sparks. That was where she lived."

Mulder's face said it all -- no need to verbalize.

"Why didn't the police notify us sooner?"

"They didn't realize what they had at first. Jacqueline's parents are
going through a messy divorce, complete with custody battle.
When she turned up missing from her bed and they couldn't reach
Dad, everyone assumed he'd taken her. Next thing you know, Dad
returns from a fishing trip with his buddies only to be arrested by
the cops staking out his apartment."

"Meanwhile our boy has Jacqueline and a big head start," Scully
finished tiredly.

Mulder grimaced. "Guess custody won't be an issue now," he said
darkly.

"Mulder..."

"What, Scully? Don't blame myself? It's not my fault? Is that what
you're going to tell me? Well, maybe on paper you're right. But
right here, " he jabbed his thumb savagely at his chest, "what's on
paper doesn't count. He's killing these little girls for *me,* Scully,
and all I've accomplished is to help dig up the bodies!"

"You've done everything you can, and more than anyone could
ask," Scully replied, walking around to massage the rigid muscles
of his neck and shoulders. "Mulder, no one knows better than I
what this case has cost you -- what it continues to cost you. You
*will* find this guy, for those little girls and for yourself."

Mulder dropped his chin to his chest, giving Scully better access to
his neck. "I appreciate your faith in me," he said softly. "But I don't
know if you realize how truly hopeless this is. Yes, we know his
method of victim selection -- all girls between the ages of 7 and 11,
all taken from their homes in the same cities that Roche preyed
upon. Girls that are sometimes chosen for their physical
resemblance to Sam." He paused, collecting himself before
plunging ahead.

"But what *good* does it do? Even if we can predict which towns
he's likely to hit next, it's impossible to stake out the homes of
every child in the at-risk group. Bottom line, Scully -- unless this
bastard screws up, he could go on killing indefinitely."

Treading carefully now, afraid of increasing his already
overdeveloped sense of responsibility, Scully pressed forward.
"Your profile...?"

Mulder's voice held only resignation and a soul-deep weariness.
"I'm trying. In many ways it's like profiling Roche all over again.
But I have to go deeper this time, Scully. And even though I'm
horrified at the thought of more dead children, that prospect scares
me just as much."

The office door swung wide open, halting Scully's reply before it
could leave her lips. Grey strode inside carrying a cardboard tray
with four cups of Barnie’s coffee, Skinner on his heels.

"Got the good stuff," he announced, handing first Scully and then
Mulder a cup. "I was headed to the cafeteria when I ran into Walt
and he showed me the place across the street."

Mulder's eyebrows appeared to be crawling off his head.
"*Walt*?"

Grey shrugged while Skinner just looked amused. "Hey, he's not
*my* boss."

"Forget it, Mulder," Skinner growled when he saw a smirk spread
across his agent's face. "Don't even start."

Mulder managed to look wounded. "Sir, the deep respect I hold for
you would prohibit me from taking advantage of this situation in
any way..."

"Somebody hand him a shovel," Scully muttered, eliciting a
delighted grin from her partner and an eye roll from Skinner.

"Mulder, I came down because I was wondering if you planned on
making the drive to Norristown to examine the crime scene -- such
as it is," Skinner asked, sinking into a chair. "I know you like to
view them firsthand, but this one has seen a lot of traffic. The local
PD took the assumption that the father was the kidnapper and ran
with it, and their preservation of the girl's bedroom was less than
meticulous." Skinner's furrowed brow and clenched jaw told
exactly what he thought of the Norristown PD.

"I still need to see it," Mulder insisted stubbornly. "I have to get
the feel of it, of what he was thinking. Do we have a photo yet?"

"They faxed it about an hour ago. I'll see you get a copy." Skinner's
gruff manner softened. "She's consistent with the previous
victims."

Mulder ground his teeth together, pushing himself to his feet.
"Who *is* this guy?" he mused, more to himself than to the others.
He paced the small open space in front of his desk, coffee cup
gripped in his right hand and the heart still clasped in his left. "He
says he admires me, that he wants to give me a worthy adversary.
Yet he takes girls who resemble my sister, a choice that clearly
speaks of revenge and aggression toward me personally. He's
watching the investigation closely -- he knew when I left town and
it obviously pissed him off. He wants my complete and undivided
attention. He's accepting nothing less."

Grey watched, disturbed and fascinated, as his brother's eyes lost
focus and his voice dropped all inflection. He glanced uneasily at
Skinner and Scully, but their concentration was riveted on Mulder,
who had stopped speaking but continued to roam restlessly around
the room.

"Go on," Scully said quietly, her voice unobtrusive and deceptively
mild but her body stiff with strain.

"It's like there's a conflict within him," Mulder muttered. "Like he's
being driven by two conflicting motivations. I don't understand the
dichotomy, and I'm not sure how to proceed with the profile from
two opposing angles. What does he really want from me? My
admiration, or my anger? For me to appreciate his work, or for me
to suffer because of it?"

Mulder trailed off, an otherworldly expression on his face as he
stared blankly at the wall. Scully cleared her throat and he shook
his head dazedly, his gaze sharpening once more. He shot an
embarrassed look in the direction of Grey and Skinner, the look of
a small boy caught daydreaming during math class. Mulder tossed
the heart onto the desktop beside the pictures and sank back into
his chair, taking several large gulps of the coffee.

Seeing Scully wince, Grey leaned over. "Decaf," he said
conspiratorially.

Scully mustered a small grin. "Now if you could just get him out of
here..."

"Mulder, I want you three to go home," Skinner said firmly,
studiously avoiding Scully's gaze of gratitude. "Get some rest.
There's nothing more you can do tonight, and you'll think more
clearly on some sleep. Report to me after you've returned from
Norristown and I'll update you on the forensic results of the note
and the heart." He scooped up the baggie with the heart that
Mulder had finally relinquished. "I'll put this with the others."

True to form, Mulder refused to give up without a fight. "Sir, the
profile..."

"Will never be finished if you're too tired to think straight.
Consider it an order, Agent."

Mulder's shoulder's slumped, a sure sign he knew he was beaten.
"Yes, sir."

Skinner nodded slightly in acknowledgement and got to his feet,
sending Grey a knowing look on his way to the door. Scully and
Mulder both noticed the unspoken communication. She settled for
a raised eyebrow, he choosing to verbalize his thoughts.

"What was *that* little exchange?" he demanded, scowling.

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about," Grey replied with
wide-eyed innocence. "Is it my turn to drive?"

Apartment 42
Friday
12:34 a.m.

Grey did drive, and Mulder fell asleep with his neck cranked at an
awkward angle and the side of his face pressed against the
passenger window. The night air crackled with just a hint of cooler
weather, and Grey drank in deep gulps of it while he waited for his
brother to unlock the exterior door to his apartment building,
fumbling with hands still clumsy from slumber.

They plodded into the elevator with all the grace and agility of
three geriatric patients, duffel bags in hand. When they doors
rattled open on Mulder's floor no one moved for a moment, then
each launched himself (or herself) off the wall that was currently
sustaining them and plodded down the hallway.

Scully propped herself against the doorframe while Mulder
searched for the correct key, but he froze before he could push it
into the slot.

"Mulder?" Scully questioned, standing up straight.

He shushed her with a finger to his lips and leaned his head closer
to the wood until his ear rested just beneath the lopsided number
two. The silence in the hallway became palpable until Scully heard
the cause of Mulder's distress -- a low drone of voices from
*inside* his apartment. Mulder stealthily placed his hand on the
knob and rotated his wrist. Though he hadn't used his key, the
knob turned freely.

Adrenaline replaced lethargy in the space between heartbeats.
Almost simultaneously, three duffel bags hit the floor and three
weapons slid from their holsters. Mulder nudged the door open and
reached inside to flick on the lights, training kicking in to control
all movements. A snap of the kitchen switch flooded the room with
fluorescence, revealing nothing, so they continued carefully
onward.

The small lamp on the end table cast a dim glow on Mulder's living
room. He stalked forward, Sig held ready as his eyes rapidly
scanned the room. Scully, only a step behind, was unprepared
when Mulder suddenly gasped as if something had sucked all the
air from his lungs and lurched backward. His blind need to back up
was so great that his legs tangled together and he fell to his knees,
nearly taking Scully with him. To her dismay, he dropped his gun
and buried his face in his hands, body wracked with rough sobs.

"Nooo!" he moaned, the sound like the cry of a wounded animal
caught in a trap and unable to free itself. "Nonononono..."

Grey's own sharp intake of breath pulled Scully's gaze from
Mulder and she gaped at the tableau before her, face draining of
color. Unable to believe what her eyes showed her, she left her
distraught partner momentarily, creeping forward on legs made of
rubber. Grey's hand clutched her elbow and she could hear him
panting like a steam engine in her ear.

Mulder's television babbled cheerfully, Lucy arguing with Ricky
about whether she should perform in his latest show at the club.
The coffee table in front of the couch had been moved carefully to
one side, usurped by a board game with little red and blue pieces.
Propped next to the game with her back against the couch and a
red playing piece clasped in her stiffened hand, was the body of a
little girl, her lips blue against her chalk-white skin and a long
mane of black hair cascading down her shoulders. Scrawled in
black magic marker on the wall behind the couch, a message
caught Scully's shocked gaze and she tore her eyes from the pitiful
figure.

YOU CAN'T QUIT *THIS* GAME. WELCOME BACK.

Concluded in part 2