Blood Ties IV: Shredded Hearts (2 of 2)
Disclaimer in part 1
The soft glow of the bedside lamp illuminated tracks of dried
on Mulder's face. Scully traced one with a featherlight finger, the
smooth softness of his cheek giving way to the rough stubble of his
jaw. Mulder didn't twitch, so far under that even his eyes were
motionless behind closed lids. Tonight, at least, there would be no
dreams -- for Mulder, anyway.
Scully leaned over to press her lips to his, tasting the salty
of his weeping. She stood, and the mattress creaked as if in
complaint as her weight lifted. She rolled her shoulders in a vain
effort to loosen muscles drawn taut with anxiety, then shuffled out
to where Grey slumped on her couch, staring blankly at the silent
television. Scully collapsed, rather than sat, beside him.
"What was that you gave him?" Grey asked after
"Valium," Scully said wearily. "A truckload of
it, in case you were
wondering. He'll be out at least six hours -- maybe longer,
considering his current physical condition."
"You always carry syringes and Valium in that little
black bag of
Scully sensed his uneasiness and guessed the reason.
has nothing to do with Mulder, believe it or not," she answered
She didn't go on to explain that the vial was a souvenir of
cancer. Near the end, the headaches had become so excruciating
her oncologist had suggested it as a means of pain management.
Grey noticed her reticence and left it alone.
"I don't like seeing him drugged," he stated
quietly, the fingers of
his right hand toying with the fringe on her afghan.
"I don't like *doing* it," Scully returned, an edge
to the words. The
raw pain in his eyes diffused her anger and she sighed. "He was in
shock, Grey, and damn near dissociative. It was the Valium or risk
a complete breakdown."
Grey winced at the term, but nodded. Scully could see him
replaying the scene in Mulder's apartment. After Mulder's initial
emotional outburst he'd drawn into himself, trembling slightly with
skin that was pale and clammy.
Thank God, Skinner had taken over supervision of the crime
He'd taken one look at Mulder and insisted they retire to Scully's
apartment immediately. Mulder had not argued, but followed
Scully's lead as docilely as a small child. *That* had alarmed her
more than his tears.
As she drove them to her apartment Grey had questioned his
brother gently, managing to coax a few responses. But Mulder's
answers were sluggish, as if each required a monumental effort and
a great deal of thought. He'd stared out the window with eyes that
didn't really see the passing cars and his voice had been flat and
Once home, Scully had led him back to her bedroom and handed
him pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt, assisting several times when
Mulder lost focus on the task and stood staring vacantly out the
window. She sat him on her bed, administered the Valium, and got
him to lie down, stretching out beside him and holding him close.
She'd kept up a running patter of calming words and gentle touches
until his body went limp. Finally, Scully had allowed her own tears
-- for Mulder, for Jacqueline, and for herself.
"Will he be all right in the morning?"
Grey's question pulled her from her drifting, anchoring her in
here and now. "Mulder has an impressive set of coping
mechanisms, Grey. He'll be better -- much better. But I don't think
any of us will be all right until this monster is behind bars."
"Shame to waste the accommodations," Grey snapped
venomously. "A bullet would be too good for this psycho." He
closed his eyes. "I'm afraid it's going to be a long time before
*that* memory fades."
Tears burned Scully's eyes and stung the back of her too-tight
throat. "At least it will, eventually. Mulder has an eidetic memory."
Grey looked at her in horror. "I guess I never considered
ramifications of that. You mean every crime scene...?"
"Every crime scene, every killer, every victim," Scully said softly.
"How does he keep going? I don't think I could do it, Dana."
Scully actually smiled a little, thinking of Mulder's dry wit
often-irreverent sense of humor in the face of the unspeakable.
"Like I said, he's got an incredible ability to roll with the punches."
"This is different, though, isn't it?" Grey said
doubtfully. "Fox told
me the whole story of Samantha's abduction. I understand as well
as you what that killer did to him tonight. The lookalike, the
Stratego game, the television... That's not a punch, Dana. That's an
"There's more," Scully whispered, teeth clamping
down hard on
She hesitated, then pushed ahead. "I don't know how I'm
tell Mulder this, but if what I suspect is true he'll see it in the
autopsy report anyway. Mulder once told me that Samantha had
broken her collarbone by falling off a tire swing. When Roche
claimed he'd killed her, that was one quick way we had to
determine the bodies we found weren't hers."
"Go on," Grey prodded when Scully paused for a gulp
of air to
steady her jangling nerves.
"I had only a moment to examine the body before we left,
had to be careful because they were still taking photos. But...I'm
reasonably certain that Jacqueline's collarbone was broken."
Grey muttered a quiet expletive under his breath. "How
guy know? Where's he getting this information? It's like he can see
into Fox's head!"
Abruptly, eerily, Scully was reminded of Mulder's words to her
after Roche's death...
*I profiled him, Scully. I got into his head, and somehow he
into mine, got access to all my memories of Samantha. Some kind
of...of nexus was created between us...*
"I don't know how he's doing it," she said aloud,
memory with a sharp jerk of her head. "Newspapers? The
"*A broken collarbone*? *Stratego*? Come on, Dana! You're
reaching and you know it," Grey said, the warmth in his eyes
softening the harshness of the words.
Scully blew out a long gust of air, overwhelmed by the desire
sleep and escape for awhile. "Mulder believed that some kind of
link formed between himself and Roche when he profiled him. He
called it a nexus. He thought Roche was able to draw on his
memories of Samantha."
"But you don't agree."
Scully pressed her lips tightly together to bite back a sharp
"I think other explanations exist. We just haven't thought of them
yet." Grey's raised eyebrow increased her level of irritation.
"Look, as far as I'm concerned, the key question is what
maniac has in mind for Mulder. Tonight's little show only confirms
the depth of the obsession."
"Then we stay on Fox like white on rice," Grey said calmly.
Scully chuckled a little at that, and the darkness drew back
little. "Have I told you lately how glad I am that Mulder has a
Grey grinned. "You just did, darlin'. Now I, for one, am
get some sleep."
"There's sheets and blankets in the linen closet,"
yawning at the mere mention of sleep. "I can make up the couch
"Don't be silly. I've been making my own bed since I was
handle it," he assured her dryly.
"Good night then, Grey. And thanks."
Scully moved quietly into the bedroom and shut the door,
undressing by the slivers of moonlight that slipped through the
blinds. Mulder was curled up on his side, the deep, steady sound of
his breathing a comfort to her battered spirit. She slipped between
the sheets and spooned up behind him, tossing one leg over his and
slipping her arms around his waist. Though still deeply asleep, he
pressed back into her warmth and comfort. And for a little while,
the demons were held at bay.
The hiss of the shower spurred Grey to start a fresh pot of
The water ran for a very long time, cutting off just as he'd decided
to check up on his brother. By the time Mulder wandered into the
living room, hair damp and feet bare, Grey had a mug of the hot
brew to place in his hands. Mulder inhaled the aroma and made a
small sound of appreciation before dropping onto the couch.
Grey studied his brother surreptitiously under the guise of
the newspaper. Fox still looked haggard, like a rubberband
stretched to its limit and a breath away from snapping. But his eyes
were clear and sharp, minus the frightening vagueness of the
previous night. All in all, he looked amazingly composed for a
man who had huddled shivering and sobbing on the floor not
twelve hours earlier. Coping mechanisms -- Dana wasn't kidding.
"Care to share your in-depth assessment with the
asked sarcastically, startling Grey from his reverie.
"Sure. Too pale, too thin, and looks like he could still
about a week. Happy now, little brother?"
Dad had been right when he said the best defense is a good
offense. Grey grinned inwardly when Fox huffed but dropped the
"At Quantico, performing the autopsy. She left about an
Grey's tone softened. "Before she went she made me promise I
wouldn't let you anywhere near the place."
The affection and concern in Grey's face drove Mulder to his
ostensibly to take his now empty mug into the kitchen. While a
part of him craved his brother's open and unconditional love like
rain after a particularly long drought, the cautious, guarded side
warned that his neediness would ultimately result in pain and loss.
When it came to people he loved sticking around for the long haul,
Mulder's track record was laughable.
"Scully worries too much -- so do you," he growled
shoulder as he carefully rinsed the mug and put it into the
dishwasher. He'd have left it in the sink at home, but this was
Scully's apartment, after all.
Mulder expected a sharp retort, probably pointing to his
meltdown as evidence that any worry was more than justified.
Grey said nothing, however, and the silence pulled Mulder back
into the living room. Back into the line of fire, so to speak. He felt
himself mentally gearing up for an argument, hands unconsciously
forming fists. He ignored the nagging psychologist's voice in his
brain that suggested he *wanted* to provoke Grey's anger. That for
Fox Mulder, accepting anger was much safer and more familiar
than accepting love.
As if reading his thoughts, Grey finally spoke. "Worrying
hand in hand with loving, Fox. Sometimes it's nearly impossible to
separate the two."
"I can handle this," Mulder replied stubbornly,
moving onto firmer
ground. "I know I hared out last night, but it won't happen again."
In spite of his declaration his voice trembled slightly, which
served to increase his impatience. Mulder clenched his jaw in an
unintentional imitation of Skinner and glared at his brother.
Grey's response was not at all what he expected, and caught
completely off balance. "What's it like, Fox?" he asked, his voice
hushed and almost reverent.
Mulder licked his lips. "What do you mean?" he
asked, though he
was fairly certain he knew.
"Profiling. Getting into the killer's head and trying to
Mulder sat down on a chair, sparing legs suddenly shaky and
weak. He stared out the window and Grey watched his focus turn
inward. When he finally spoke, the words were as smooth as glass,
as bitter as day-old coffee.
"It's like reaching into a deep, dark hole for something
he murmured. "Sometimes the hole is filled with hideous things --
rotting flesh, the slimy larvae of monstrous mutated insects,
unspeakable creatures with sharp fangs and a taste for human
blood -- but you only have to put your hand in a little bit to find
what you need. Sometimes the contents of the hole are less
appalling but you have to dig much deeper to get to your goal --
maybe even so far that it seems you're hanging onto the edge with
your toes. And then sometimes..."
Mulder trailed off, a small shudder passing through his thin
When he continued, his voice was little more than a whisper.
"Sometimes, .the hole is filled with every conceivable horror and
some not even the most twisted imagination could have conjured
up. And you realize that to get what you need, you have to go deep
into that hole, deeper than you've ever gone before. And once
you're in, the terrible things all around you begin to feel a part of
you and you start to believe you'll never get out. Because you've
*become* the hole, and now you belong there."
He dragged his gaze from the window and over to Grey, half
expecting to see revulsion and disgust. Grey's face was unnaturally
wan but his eyes held only compassion and a profound respect.
"I've seen the emotional toll this exacts from you, Fox.
you keep doing it?"
Mulder sighed and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
"Because I can. Because maybe next time I can stop the madness
before it's too late. And because I swore to myself a long time ago
that I'd never let anyone else be victimized without putting up a
hell of a fight."
He stood and walked briskly back to the bedroom, reappearing
several minutes later fully dressed and carrying his keys. Grey
"Fooox! I promised her! You're going to get me into hot
a woman who packs a gun!" he whined.
Mulder's lips curved in the closest thing to a smile Grey had
since the arrival of the latest heart. "Relax, I'm not going to
Quantico. I'm going back to my apartment to examine the crime
*Like that's supposed to make me feel better*? Grey thought
"You saw the crime scene last night," he said aloud,
placing himself between his brother and the door.
Mulder rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Right. In case you didn't
was the one babbling on the floor." He paused to gather his
patience. "Grey, I'm all right now, and I need to see it. That little
nightmare was engineered just for me, and it's entirely possible that
there's something there that only I would understand. I *am*
going. You can either make my life more difficult or support me in
Grey reluctantly moved aside but his face reflected his
unhappiness. "You know, sometimes I think you have the ability to
irritate me more than anyone else on the entire planet," he growled.
"I just haven't put my finger on how you do it."
Mulder opened the door and grinned smugly. "Check with
She's making a list."
With the body long since removed and forensics departed,
remained to indicate a crime except the yellow police tape and the
scrawled writing on the apartment wall. Grey stayed out of his
brother's path as Mulder prowled around the apartment like a lean
wolf on the scent of its prey. After nearly thirty minutes of
scrutinizing the small living room from literally all angles he
plopped down onto the displaced coffee table with a frustrated
"There's something here, I can feel it. I'm just not seeing it."
"Something in the message?" Grey suggested. "In
the words he
Mulder stared up at the wall, chewing his lip. "I don't
revelations there. He's drawing a parallel between the game
Samantha and I played and the game he thinks we're playing.
Obviously he considers my little vacation to visit you an attempt
on my part to quit."
"Okay. What about the way he's written the letters? Does
handwriting tell you anything about him?" Grey prodded, grasping
To his astonishment his brother abruptly sprang to his feet
stepped closer to the wall, looking decidedly ill. His eyes bore into
the words with frightening intensity.
"Where's that file?" Mulder demanded, the words
"What file?" Grey asked, bewildered.
"The file you were reading last night at the bureau.
Mulder snapped as if Grey were missing the obvious.
"It's in my briefcase, in your car, I think. Why?"
Becoming extremely annoyed with Mulder's dismissive manner,
Grey nonetheless did as asked -- or ordered as the case might be --
grumbling a little under his breath. His brother literally tore the
heavy file folder out of his hands without a word of thanks and
carried it to his desk, where he began shuffling eagerly through the
"*Fox*!" Grey said from between clenched teeth.
Mulder held up his hand, palm out, only to exclaim in
a moment later as he snatched up a piece of paper. Ignoring Grey's
thunderous look he darted back to stand directly in front of the
graffiti, eyes leaping from the wall to the paper and back again.
The paper gradually started to quiver until it was shaking violently.
Still baffled but no longer angry, Grey walked over to Mulder's
side and gently removed the jittering report from the trembling
fingers. His brother noticed only obliquely, eyes fixed on the
"Fox. What is it? What did you find?"
Mulder managed to look at Grey for only a moment before his
gaze was pulled back to the wall like steel to a magnet. "The
handwriting," his said quietly through nearly bloodless lips. "I
thought it seemed familiar. It's right here in the file, Grey. That
handwriting belongs to John Lee Roche."
"I'm still not sure why we're doing this, Mulder,"
staring out her window at the red-bricked ranch house. "You heard
Skinner -- the local police did virtually nothing to preserve the
scene. The photos are probably more useful at this point."
*And you wouldn't have to face a grieving family*.
Scully left *that* thought unspoken.
Mulder shut off the car and turned to face her, jaw thrust out
stubbornly. "I need to see it firsthand," he insisted. "The fact that
the local boys were less than competent only increases the
possibility of finding something they missed."
"And, of course, Fox Mulder will be able to locate this
piece of evidence that neither the Norristown police nor the local
bureau could discover," Scully said sarcastically, short-tempered
from too little sleep and too much worry.
Rather than bristling at her words, Mulder grinned cockily.
catch on fast, Scully."
Rolling her eyes in exasperation, Scully jerked open the car
and got out, waiting with arms folded across her chest as Mulder
exited and crossed the front of the vehicle to reach her side. She
started up the walk to the front door only to be stopped when a
gentle hand on her elbow spun her around.
"Scully, I don't understand what's happening here. How
from this maniac could resemble so closely the writing of another,
very dead serial killer. How this guy knew all those details about
Samantha, right down to her broken collarbone."
Mulder's eyes slipped shut for a moment and he took a deep
before continuing. "I can't think about it right now, not until I
know for sure whether that handwriting is a match. Grey's covering
things at the bureau until the lab finishes the analysis. Skinner's
working with law enforcement in the towns most at risk. My job
now is to finish the profile. And the only way I know to get into
this guy's head is to follow his footsteps. Please, bear with me on
If he'd resorted to the puppy dog face Scully could have held
but a sincere Mulder was impossible to resist.
"I just hate to see you deal with this, Mulder," she
studying his weary but determined features. "These people are
mourning the loss of their only child. It won't be pleasant."
The beginnings of annoyance crept into his eyes, but Mulder
surprised Scully by appearing to consciously shrug it off. Instead
he smiled gently. "Then let's get this over with."
There was no doorbell, only a large, brass knocker that echoed
harshly in the quiet neighborhood, sounding oddly urgent. A
woman with raven black hair cut in a short bob and red-rimmed
blue eyes stared suspiciously at them, opening the door only a
"Anne Stombres?" Mulder asked.
They both held out their I.D.s -- it was practically an
response by now -- and she scrutinized them carefully.
"Agents Mulder and Scully with the FBI," Mulder
said, his voice
as gentle and unthreatening as he could make it. "Could we have a
moment of your time?"
The crack did not widen. "I've already talked to the
the FBI. What more do you need from me?" Her voice was hoarse
from tears, ragged with emotion.
"Anne? Is there a problem?" interjected a deep voice
A large hand wrapped around the door and pulled it completely
open to reveal not only Anne Stombres but also a dark-haired man.
He was easily Mulder's height, but heavily muscled with deeply
"FBI, Agents Mulder and Scully," Mulder explained as
Scully re-extended their credentials for another perusal. "We just
need a moment, Mr..."
"Stombres. Pete Stombres. I'm Jackie's father. This isn't
time for us, you know?"
Scully winced a little at the understatement in those words.
very sorry to intrude, Mr. and Mrs. Stombres. I assure you, we'll be
as brief as possible."
Pete Stombres's lips tightened in irritation but he moved
aside in an
unspoken invitation for them to enter. Both Scully and Mulder
were surprised to see the man slip his arm comfortingly around his
wife's shoulders, and equally surprised when she leaned into his
"What is it you need from us?" Anne Stombres
repeated her earlier
"Actually, we just need to see Jaqueline's room,"
cautiously, not wishing to upset either parent further.
Anne's eyes squeezed tightly shut, but a tear managed to
from beneath the lids anyway. "Agent Mulder, our daughter is
gone. That room is all we have left now. Can't you leave us that
"The police went over Jackie's room with a fine-toothed
Pete spoke up, obviously angered that they'd upset his wife. "What
could you possibly gain?"
Mulder looked silently at Scully, helpless in the face of the
couple's distress. Sending him a silent look of encouragement, she
gingerly attempted to explain.
"Mr. and Mrs. Stombres, my partner and I are trying to
man who did this to Jackie and the other girls. Agent Mulder is
constructing a profile, a...picture of the killer, so to speak. He looks
at a crime scene through different eyes than a policeman would. He
may find something significant that they missed."
Anne fixed her gaze on Scully, her eyes dead. "To you
it's a crime
scene, Agent Scully. To us, it's a little piece of Jackie that monster
couldn't take away."
Mulder started to speak, but Anne held up a hand to forestall
"Follow me. You can have five minutes."
The phone rang as they moved down a long tile hallway toward
back of the house. "I'll get it," Pete said, giving his wife a small
squeeze and pressing a quick kiss to her forehead.
He moved through a doorway to their right that contained an
area. Anne led them to the left, down another hall to a closed door
at the end. She paused with her hand on the knob for a moment as
if steeling herself for what lay beyond. Then she slowly opened the
door and stepped inside.
Scully fought the lump that formed in her throat as she took
surroundings. Jackie's room was the epitome of all that
exemplified a little girl. The walls were pink, and a large white
canopy bed sported a Minnie Mouse comforter. The bed itself was
a sea of stuffed animals, and a set of shelves was loaded with dolls
and doll paraphernalia. She watched Mulder swallow thickly, then
square his shoulders and begin carefully going over the room,
paying special attention to the window where the killer had entered
and then removed the little girl.
Anne leaned in the open doorway, the fingers of her right hand
pressed tightly to her lips, and her eyes brimming with tears. Those
eyes never left Mulder as he roamed restlessly around the room,
stopping now and then to scrutinize an area more closely. Mulder,
now fully engaged in investigator mode, was unaware of her
regard. After initially canvassing the entire room, he spent most of
his time between the bed and the window, even staring outside for
several long minutes. Finally, he turned back to Scully.
"I'm finished," he said quietly, though he still
Abruptly, Anne Stombres stood straighter, a hard expression
replacing the tears in her eyes. "Can I ask you a question, Agent
Scully recognized the wariness in Mulder's short nod, but only
because she knew him well. His professional mask was fixed
firmly in place, hiding the pain that came from sifting through the
contents of a dead little girl's room.
"You say it's your job to catch the killer, to draw a
picture of him.
But have you ever taken a moment to look on the other side of the
fence? Do you have any idea what it's like to be the victim, to have
someone you loved stolen from you?
Mulder's mask cracked, and Scully felt the sharp cut of the
as if they had penetrated her own flesh. She watched helplessly as
her partner struggled to regain his poise. She expected an evasion,
a deflection of the question to safer ground. His candor shocked
"Yes. Yes, I do. My sister was abducted from our home
was 12. We never found her. That's why I do this."
Anne studied his face for truthfulness, her own crumbling when
she found it. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her lip trembling. "I'm not
sure which I think is worse -- the knowing or the wondering."
"It's the difference between a first degree burn and a
wound," Mulder replied quietly. "Neither one hurts more, just in a
Anne didn't speak again until she'd accompanied them back to
front door. As they started to leave, she laid her hand on Mulder's
arm, and he looked down to see gratitude in her eyes.
"Thank you, Agent Mulder. It may sound crazy, but knowing
the person looking for Jackie's killer really understands what he's
cost us... Well, it means something to me."
Mulder ducked his head in acknowledgement, uncomfortable with
any further display of emotion. He watched as Anne shook Scully's
hand with another murmur of thanks before ushering them outside.
When the door shut firmly behind them he broke out into a cold
sweat, his legs weak.
"You all right?" Scully asked softly as he raised a
to brush the perspiration from his brow.
"Yeah. Just peachy."
She rolled her eyes, then frowned a little. "I remember
that the Stombres were going through a divorce, even fighting over
custody of Jackie. They certainly seemed devoted just now."
Mulder shrugged, but his eyes were sad. "It's a fact of
Scully. It either brings people together or drives them apart."
Scully nodded, knowing without Mulder saying the words what
impact on his family had been. She followed him down the walk,
puzzled when he turned left at the driveway and walked around the
side of the house.
"Mulder? What are you doing?"
"Checking the ground outside Jackie's window," he
called over his
shoulder as she labored to keep up with his long strides. "I thought
I saw something."
"It rained here last night. I don't think you're going to
Might as well be talking to a brick wall. When Mulder was on
scent, everyone and everything else was superfluous. Scully
sighed, muttered a few choice words, and followed.
By the time she caught up he was on his knees beneath the
window, head bowed to study the grass. His hand sifted through
the long green blades and he sat back on his haunches, something
held tenderly between his long fingers. Scully saw they were some
kind of green leaves and frowned, observing that there were no
trees in the vicinity. As she watched, Mulder lifted the leaves to his
nose and sniffed.
"Mulder? Mulder, what is it?" Scully demanded as he
eyes and went very still, the leaves quivering in his grasp.
"Mint. These are mint leaves, Scully," he muttered.
Deja vu again. As if it were yesterday, she heard Roche's
almost gentle voice describe his abduction of Karen Ann Filipante.
*Mint grew outside her window. I stood outside her window atop
sprigs of mint*.
"What's happening, Scully?" Mulder asked, turning
on her face. "How could he have known?"
"Fox, eat," Grey ordered, setting a container of egg
drop soup in
front of his brother.
"Yes, Mom," Mulder replied mockingly, but he picked
up a spoon
and took small bite. "When did you say they'd have word on that
"I talked to Kristen about ten minutes before you two got
promised she'd have the report done in an hour," Grey assured him.
Scully's eyes slid over to consider Grey carefully before
to Mulder, who only took another sip of the soup and studied Anne
Stombres's official statement to the police. Scully rolled her eyes at
his indifference, forking another bite of shrimp fried rice into her
mouth. She, however, had heard something in Grey's voice when
he talked about Agent Harding -- not to mention the fact that he'd
used her first name. Very interesting. She'd have to revisit *that*
subject at a later date.
"Not that I don't already know what it's going to
muttered, slapping the casefile closed and staring into space. "It's
*his* writing. I know it."
"Mulder..." Scully protested. "You aren't
honestly going to tell me
that you believe that John Lee Roche has returned from the dead to
commit these murders, are you?"
"You're only half right, Scully. He's definitely still
dead, I'll grant
you that," Mulder said, his expression stony.
"So, what -- his ghost is committing the crimes? What are
trying to say?" Scully pressed, annoyed by his stubborn persistence
to take the paranormal view. "Mulder, someone flesh and blood
assaulted and strangled those little girls. You're letting your
emotions over this case get the better of you."
Wrong thing to say, she knew it the moment it left her mouth.
"Oh, well then please enlighten me, Dr. Scully,"
his lip curled in disdain. "How do you explain the evidence? The
handwriting? The killer's knowledge of my personal life? The
damn mint leaves under the window? Why don't you give me your
oh-so-rational and scientific explanation for that? I'm all ears!"
"It adds up to nothing, Mulder! There's a perfectly
explanation for those things, we just have to find it," Scully
"Such as the Internet! The killer could have read all
Roche case, it's even conceivable that he could have obtained
samples of Roche's handwriting."
"Oh, that is such bullshit!" Mulder fumed.
The metallic ringing startled them both and their heads
around to discover the source. Grey stood grimly by a small metal
table, a ruler clutched in his hand and a grim expression on his
face. He'd evidently caused the sound by banging the ruler against
the metal tabletop, which still vibrated faintly.
"Okay, that's the end of this round. Now drop your fists
to your neutral corners," he said dryly.
Scully had the good grace to look contrite. Mulder just scowled.
"Look," Grey continued, dropping the ruler and
them. "We're all tired, and we're all frustrated. We also all want the
same thing. Turning on each other is not going to stop the next
child from being murdered."
"He's right," Scully agreed quickly, standing up and
to Mulder. "And I'm sorry. I know you count on me to challenge
your theories, not disparage them."
Mulder reached out to grab her wrist, drawing her gently
"I'm sorry too. I didn't exactly open my mind to your hypothesis
Grey smirked as they kissed, then jumped apart guiltily when
office door opened and Agent Kristen Harding stepped inside,
Skinner on her heels.
"Hello, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully," she greeted.
broadened a little. "Hi, Grey."
Scully raised an eyebrow, her mouth quirking slightly when
noticed and blushed.
*Hmmm. Very, very interesting*.
"You have the results?" Mulder asked, managing to
eager and apprehensive at the same time. He stood up and came
around to lean on the front of his desk.
"Yes, I do. Though I can't say I can explain them,"
admitted, brushing aside a strand of ash blonde hair. Her green
eyes looked momentarily at Grey before flitting over to Mulder.
"It's Roche's handwriting, isn't it?" Mulder pressed.
She frowned and chewed her lip. "It's a complete
affirmed. She looked back at Skinner. "There's no mistake, sir. All
the analysis points to a 98.3 percent probability that the writing on
Agent Mulder's wall was made by John Lee Roche. It's all in my
report." She handed it to Mulder, still frowning. "It makes no
"Thank you, Agent Harding," Skinner said gruffly.
you've done a fine job, as always. And thank you for putting in the
overtime necessary to finish this ASAP."
Harding smiled, revealing two dimples. "Thank you, sir. I
the data could have been less confusing."
She turned to leave the office, but not before Scully saw her
Grey another small smile which he returned, eyes lingering on her
until the door closed and removed her from view.
An uneasy silence settled over the room. Mulder stared
at the wall, pulling absently at his lower lip. Grey, Scully and
Skinner exchanged concerned glances until finally Skinner cleared
"I realize we're all scrambling to try and make sense of
said, jaw clenched in the classic Skinner expression of frustration.
"At this point, I can't begin to guess at an explanation.
Unfortunately, I didn't come down to hear Agent Harding's report."
Mulder's eyes darted to Skinner's face, scrutinizing it
"No," he murmured brokenly.
Skinner met his gaze without flinching, his brown eyes filled
compassion and regret. "I'm afraid so, Mulder. He's taken another
Under other circumstances Scully would have found the seating
arrangements amusing. Skinner had arranged for a bureau
helicopter to fly them to Martha's Vineyard, and a patrol car from
the Chilmark PD awaited them upon their arrival. Skinner, of
course, had commandeered the front seat, leaving Scully, Grey,
and Mulder to cram into the back. She now found herself in a
position uncomfortably reminiscent of her childhood -- sitting on
the hump in the middle so that Mulder and Grey had more room
for their long legs. How many times had she sat similarly squished
between Bill and Melissa? God bless Charlie, who had come along
and forced her father to trade in the sedan for a station wagon.
So sitting here now, knees drawn up, left her feeling more
ill-tempered child than a grown woman. Any humor, however,
died in the face of Mulder's blank, shell-shocked expression as he
gazed out the window. Whoever the killer might be, he was
pushing Mulder's buttons with eerie accuracy. It actually did
remind her of... She shoved the thought away, offended that it had
occurred to her.
Scully bit her lip savagely, wishing she could pull Mulder
arms and comfort him but all too aware of the Chilmark officer
quietly talking with Skinner on the other side of the steel mesh.
She closed her eyes, only to recall vividly the devastated look on
Mulder's face when Skinner informed them that eight-year-old
Callie Westin had been abducted from her home in Chilmark, not
three miles from the house where Samantha Mulder disappeared.
That it had happened while her 13-year-old brother was babysitting
her after school. Since then, Mulder had been operating on
automatic pilot, his body present but his mind on two little girls
inexplicably linked by a madman.
The Westin home shone like a beacon in the darkness, every
ablaze and surrounded by flashes of red and blue. Neighbors stood
out in front of their homes, watching the activity with grim
fascination and talking quietly among themselves. The police car
pulled smoothly to the curb, the sudden cessation of the engine a
harsh reminder that they'd arrived at their destination. Their driver
exited the car quickly, leaving them blinking in the sudden
brilliance of the dome light. Mulder unfolded himself from the
back seat, regaining enough presence of mind to extend a helping
hand to Scully as she crawled out after him.
Skinner regarded them sharply, leaning one muscled arm against
the roof of the car. "Emotions are running high on this case," he
said, keeping his voice low. "I just want to remind you three that
it's imperative you maintain the utmost professionalism. Let's not
make things any harder for these people than we have to."
"I'm not going inside," Grey said, ignoring Scully
stares. "I think there's more than enough people in there already
and I'll just feel underfoot. I'd rather take a look around out here,
see if I spot anything useful."
Mulder reached into the pocket of his trenchcoat and extracted
flashlight. "Here. I was a Boy Scout."
Grey snorted. "In what lifetime?"
Scully could have kissed him when Mulder grinned. Grey
possessed a knack for delivering just the remark to turn his brother
from the darkness. She unobtrusively gave his hand a small
squeeze of gratitude as she moved past him toward the house.
Organized chaos. Though small, the Chilmark police department
had rallied well to handle the Westins' crisis. Forensics was
concentrated in the back of the home, where the kidnapper had
entered to remove Callie from her bedroom. A short, heavy-set
man with an authoritative air questioned a couple sitting on the
living room couch, hands linked tightly together. Both looked to be
in their 40s -- the woman's brown hair peppered lightly with the
beginnings of gray, the man sporting a generous amount of silver
at the temples. For a moment, as Scully studied her face, the
woman seemed familiar. Abruptly she realized it was not Mrs.
Westin's features that struck a responsive chord within her, but the
ravaged expression. The puffy eyes and haunted gaze echoed Ann
Stombres's with frightening accuracy.
Skinner stepped forward to introduce himself to the cop asking
questions, a Captain Eddings. Mulder hung back, nudging Scully
and then ducking his head to speak softly in her ear.
"I'd like you to question them, Scully. I don't think I'm
up for this
one. I'd rather just listen in and check out the crime scene."
Two separate emotions played tug o' war with her heart,
for predominance. Overwhelming relief that Mulder recognized his
fragile sense of control and was acting to preserve it. Deep sadness
that the killer had reduced him to such a state. Scully pasted on a
smile she'd seen in a magazine.
"No problem, partner."
Mulder's answering nod told her he recognized the counterfeit
nature of the smile but wouldn't call her on it. Scully turned her
attention back to Skinner just as he was making introductions to
"...Special Agent Dana Scully and her partner Special
Mulder. They'd like to ask you a few questions of their own, if you
could just bear with us for a little bit longer."
Mulder listened while Scully took the Westins through the
battery of questions, leading them through the events up to and just
after Callie had disappeared. His ears registered the couple's
strained, halting answers while his eyes roved about the room,
learning more about the Westins as people and not just victims.
"Jason always watches Callie for the hour and a half
until I get home from work," Trish Westin recounted tearfully.
"He's been doing it for over a year now, and there's never been any
problems. I never thought anything like this..."
Mulder moved slowly around the sofa to a cherry table against
wall that displayed a myriad of family photos, some candid and
some professional portraits. In one, a grinning boy that could only
be Jason carried a much smaller Callie piggyback, her eyes
sparkling mischievously at the camera as she waved her right hand.
A sharp pain pierced him, and his heart felt as if it literally twisted
in his chest.
*Bad idea, Mulder. You're supposed to be maintaining some
"So Jason heard a sound that caused him to check on
Callie? May I
speak to him directly?" Scully asked gently.
"Our pediatrician was by earlier and gave him something
him sleep," Ted Westin replied, defensiveness creeping into his
voice. "He was pretty shaken up."
"Understandably," Scully murmured. "Can you
tell me exactly
what Jason told you he heard?"
"He said it sounded like Callie gasped," Trish
began. Her eyes
filled with tears and she struggled to contain them before
continuing. "He thought maybe she was just playing at first. Callie
has a very fertile imagination, and she's always making up
adventures, play-acting. He called out to see if she was all right,
but she didn't answer. That's when he went back to her room,
Her voice cracked and she covered her mouth with one hand as
to catch the small sob that broke free. Her husband tightened his
already iron grip on her hand.
"Callie was gone. The screen was off the open window and
was no where in sight," he finished gruffly. "Jason ran outside to
look for her, and when he couldn't find her he called Trish."
"I was mad at her," Trish whispered. "Mad that
I had to leave work
early for what I was sure was a prank to scare Jason. They're
always doing little things like that to tease each other."
Unable to listen any longer, Mulder headed down another
to another little girl's room. Defeat tried to envelop him like a hug
from an old friend but he shrugged it off angrily.
*She's still alive. It's not too late.*
Callie's room was as different from Jackie's as night and day.
Where Jackie's had been soft and feminine from floor to ceiling,
Callie's bore the distinct influence of an older brother. Star Wars
figures resided beside baby dolls, a soccer ball next to ballet
slippers. Helplessly, Mulder's thoughts turned to Sam, the girl who
could hit a baseball but still liked to dress up in his mother's
clothes and have tea parties with her dolls. He blinked rapidly,
weaving among the officers dusting for fingerprints and using
small vacuum cleaners to retrieve hairs and fibers.
A young policewoman looked up from her fingerprint kit, a
grimace of frustration distorting her features. "It's not looking
good. They're saying this is another of the Paper Hearts murders. Is
Mulder turned away, fighting nausea at her words. "Not if
help it," he growled.
He stalked back out of the room, intending to return to Scully
Skinner when his eye caught a flicker of movement from across
the hall. A door, cracked slightly so that a tendril of light shone
through, shut quickly and Mulder heard the sound of retreating
footsteps. He wavered a moment, then stepped over to the door and
The voice was young, scared, and coated in misery. On another
night, in another time, it could have been his own. Mulder closed
his eyes tightly, then knocked again.
"I said, go away. I'm not talking to the police tonight,
they said I
didn't have to."
"I'm not the police, I'm FBI," Mulder said dryly.
Silence at first, then sounds of footstep returning. The door
open and two brown eyes regarded Mulder carefully.
"Honest? Like that guy in those Jose Chung books that
with his partner?"
Mulder winced. "You *read* that stuff?"
The door opened a bit more -- now he could make out sandy
hair and the freckled face of the boy in the photo.
"I read everything. You didn't answer the question.
Mulder grinned and used his index finger to draw an X over his
heart. "Truth," he promised. "My name is Agent Mulder. Can I talk
to you a minute, Jason?"
The boy's reluctance was as obvious as his curiosity. "I
But come in here. They think I'm sleeping, but I threw that pill
they gave me away." He shuddered a little. "I don't want to sleep."
Mulder squeezed into the bedroom, glancing at a life-size
Michael Jordan that adorned one wall before turning his gaze back
to Jason. The boy wandered over to plunk down atop his rumpled
bed and Mulder pulled out the desk chair for himself. Jason eyed
"You probably want to know how I could let someone just
here and take my little sister," he said angrily. "After all I was the
older brother, right? I was supposed to be in charge."
Mulder felt the breath leave his lungs as if he'd been sucker-
punched. He tried to cover his distress by adjusting the angle of his
chair, deliberately taking slow, deep breaths as he did so.
*God, if you're up there like Scully thinks you are, cut me
slack. I don't know how much more of this I can take.*
Jason squinted at him, evidently not fooled by his stunt with
chair. "Why do you look like that?" he demanded.
"Like what?" Mulder said evasively.
"When I said that about being in charge your face got all
you looked like you wanted to cry. Why? She's not *your* sister."
Mulder had to admire the kid's powers of observation, if even
were irritating the heck out of him at the moment. He returned
Jason's calculated stare and decided the boy deserved the truth.
Beneath all his brave words and stoic front, Mulder detected a
crushing grief that only a kindred spirit might recognize. If only
just one person in his life had understood, had stopped to assure
him that Samantha's abduction wasn't his fault...
"My sister was kidnapped when I was twelve. My parents
next door at a neighbor's house and I was babysitting."
Jason's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You're not making
that up to
get me to talk to you, are you? 'Cause that would be pretty cold."
Mulder shrugged. "Believe what you like. What matters is
here to help find your sister. If you saw or heard anything
important, I need to know."
"I didn't think so at first. I mean, when I first came
into her room I
thought she was just playing a joke on me. That she was hiding
under her bed, or had snuck out the window and around to the back
yard." Jason's hard eyes softened into that of a confused little boy.
"But then she didn't come out. And Mom was crying and calling
the police and they started asking me lots of questions and getting
me all confused and..." A single tear trickled down his cheek.
"Now I'm not sure."
"You're doing fine," Mulder assured him, meaning it.
help admiring Jason's fortitude under the circumstances. "Could
you tell me what you thought you heard?"
Jason shook his head, but not as a refusal to speak. "Not
Saw. When I first came into Callie's room and I saw the screen
wasn't on the window, I thought she'd broken it and was hiding so
she wouldn't get in trouble. When I looked out to see if I could find
the screen, I think I saw a car parked out on the street just behind
Mulder tried to contain his excitement. It might turn out to
dead end, but it was the closest thing to an eyewitness they'd had
so far. Recalling Jason's words about a barrage of questions from
the police, he kept his voice deliberately nonchalant.
"Can you describe it for me?"
Jason closed his eyes as if searching an inner screen in his
"It was white," he said slowly. "And long. And I think it had one of
those tops on it -- you know, with the windows in them?"
All the spit left his mouth. "A camper shell,"
Mulder stated, licking
his lips. "Anything else?"
Jason shook his head, still studying Mulder's face as if he
preparing for an exam. If he noticed the discomfort this time, he
didn't question it, moving on to another topic. "Did they blame
you? When your sister disappeared?"
Mulder sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Yeah. Not as
much as I blamed myself, though."
He stood up and moved over to the door, wanting badly to get
of the room, away from the sight of his own eyes in the child's
face. He paused with his hand mid-way through turning the
doorknob. Forcing down the maelstrom of his own fear and
confusion he sought out Jason and captured those eyes with his
"I want you to listen to me now, Jason, and if you only
one thing someone said to you tonight I want this to be it. This.
Was. Not. Your. Fault. You couldn't have stopped Callie from
being taken, no matter what you might have done differently."
Jason didn't nod, only appeared to absorb Mulder's appeal and
it away for later consideration. Mulder opened the door but froze
when Jason suddenly spoke.
"Agent Mulder? You never said what happened to your
you ever find her?"
Dark, humorless laughter threatened to erupt from his lips,
Mulder clamped them tightly together.
*Kid, you have no idea what a loaded question that is.*
"I'm not sure," he admitted aloud.
Jason frowned. "How about Callie? Can you find her?"
Mulder resisted the urge to avoid the boy's probing stare.
going to do everything in my power."
Astonishingly enough, his promise satisfied Jason and he
his head, turning away.
Mulder stepped into the hall and closed the door. The noise,
lights, and commotion seemed overpowering after the quiet
intensity of his sojourn in Jason's room, battering his senses
relentlessly. He pressed both palms flat against the wall and leaned
his forehead against the smooth surface, shutting his eyes.
Disjointed images and snippets of conversation scrambled together
in his sleep-deprived brain.
*Mulder, promise me you'll try to keep your perspective.*
*Do you have any idea what it's like to be the victim, to have
someone you loved stolen from you?*
*You went behind my back to Skinner? How could you do that to
*You're not just getting into his head, Mulder, you've let him
*Did they blame you?*
And she was beside him, as always, when he needed her most. A
soft, cool hand pressed to the back of his neck, ruffling the hair.
Mulder cracked open one eye to find Scully regarding him with
concern and an almost blinding love.
"I need to get out of here," he said hoarsely.
Without hesitation or speaking another word, Scully took his
and led him back through the living room and out the front door.
When they reached the car, Mulder leaned back against the door
and stared up at the star-filled sky. Scully followed suit, ignoring
the fact that her body pressed more tightly along his than protocol
would dictate. She felt him lean into her gratefully, but he
After several minutes Skinner and Grey joined them.
"There's a good sized puddle of oil near the curb where
runs behind those lilac bushes," Grey said, handing Mulder his
flashlight. "Looks like a car was parked there for awhile. Our
friend has a leak. Unfortunately, that doesn't tell us anything about
"A white El Camino," Mulder said woodenly.
"With a camper
Scully pushed off the side of the car and spun to add her
incredulous stare with the others. "Mulder, that's..."
"Roche's car. I know, I dreamed it, remember?"
"Roche? Where did you get that description?" Skinner
sharply, one hand fiddling with something in the pocket of his
"Jason Westin. I spoke with him just now. He saw the car
went in to look for Callie," Mulder explained. "Just the car,
"He wasn't sleeping?" Scully questioned.
"Obviously. He palmed the sedative that the doctor gave
Mulder's lips curved a little. "He's a tough kid. Scared and
confused, but tough."
Scully heard the emotion behind Mulder's words and returned to
his side, slipping her hand into his. He looked down at her and
cocked an eyebrow, imitating her familiar gesture.
"Got an explanation for this one, Scully?"
Scully's brow creased in irritation. "A different one
from yours, I'm
sure," she said dryly. "Though I do admit that it's unnerving..."
"It's worse," Skinner cut in grimly, finally
removing his hand from
his pocket to reveal a piece of paper in a sealed evidence bag.
Mulder sucked his lip between his teeth, eyes riveted on the note.
"They found this in Callie's room, under her
explained tersely. "It had your name on the envelope, Mulder. I'm
not sure what it means, but I have a feeling you will."
Mulder continued to stare at the proffered bag for a moment
reaching for it with a trembling hand. The streetlight illuminated
the neat, almost feminine handwriting, identical to that found on
his apartment wall. Mulder's eyes moved rapidly over the words
and he slid slowly down the side of the car, curling forward to rest
his head on his knees. Scully removed the note from his slack
fingers and read, an involuntary gasp wrenched from her throat.
The message was simple and all too familiar.
*I can't wait to see your face.*
The scream tore Scully from a deep sleep and sent her fumbling
blindly for her weapon, knocking the alarm clock on the floor in
the process. Her initial panic faded as she became more aware of
her surroundings and her ears registered the harsh, jagged
breathing of the man beside her. The pale moonlight reduced
Mulder to little more than an indistinct silhouette, but Scully could
feel the tremors that wracked his body as they vibrated through the
mattress. She reached over to switch on the small bedside lamp, its
illumination muted but enough to chase back the shadows.
Scully observed him carefully for a moment without attempting
touch him. Shortly after the shift in their relationship she'd been
awakened by Mulder in the throes of a particularly intense
nightmare and had rushed to comfort him, winding up with a
bloody nose for her efforts. She'd taken it in stride, even made a
small joke, but Mulder had been horrified. Since then, she'd
learned to use a more cautious approach.
He sat rigidly upright, hands fisted in the bedclothes, knees
up, and eyes staring wildly at the wall. His tee shirt stuck to his
back and a light sheen of perspiration coated his face. Scully saw
that he was in the "in-between" place, no longer asleep but not
really cognizant either. She very gently lay her right hand on the
nape of Mulder's neck, brushing her thumb back and forth over the
short hairs there. It was an action she'd performed many times, and
she knew it calmed him. After a couple minutes he dropped his
forehead onto his knees and relaxed just a bit, though an occasional
shudder still signaled his distress.
"A seven?" she asked quietly, referring to the scale
to rate Mulder's nightmares -- one signifying merely strange and
ten indicating paralyzing terror.
"More like an eight," Mulder replied, the words muffled.
"Want to talk about it?" Scully tried hard to keep
neutral, but it wasn't easy. Truth was, she longed to have Mulder
open up and confide in her, but he remained especially reticent
about his nightmares -- claimed he'd only scare her with his scarred
"It was an old favorite -- Roche kidnapping Samantha
watch," Mulder said, voice deceptively light. He didn't add that in
the dream he'd been an adult, and that Jason Westin had appeared,
pointing his finger accusingly and snarling, "How could you
possibly save *my* sister? You couldn't even save your own!"
Instead Mulder just added, "I'm fine, Scully, no big deal."
Rather than call him a liar, Scully slipped out of bed and
into the bathroom. She filled the tumbler on the sink with cold
water and after taking a sip herself, returned and nudged Mulder,
whose head was still propped on his knees. She lay back down and
watched him drain the rest, noting the way the water sloshed as he
brought it to his lips. Mulder set the glass carefully on the floor by
the bed and finally met her eyes.
She looked at him -- tousled hair, shadowed eyes, tentative
and two thoughts filled her mind. The first:
*This man is extremely high maintenance, and always will be.*
And immediately on the heels of that:
*I love him. There's no place else I'd rather be.*
Mulder looked at her quizzically. "Scully?"
"What were you thinking just now? You had a funny look on
Scully smiled. "That the only good thing about a
having someone hold you afterwards," she said.
The look that spread over his face was a gift, and well worth
thousand sleepless nights. Mulder could be a bastard -- arrogant,
cynical, and insensitive. Life had hardened him in many ways,
caused him to take on layer after layer of protection. She was one
of the very few allowed to view those layers from a different angle.
To see the childlike wonder. The unwavering loyalty. The selfless
love. The world only saw the irritation. Scully saw the pearl.
Scully flicked off the light as Mulder uncurled and snuggled
beside her, his head pillowed on her chest. She pressed a kiss to the
hair on the top of his head and curled her arm around his shoulders.
"You want me to give you something to help you
A slight shake of his head was her answer, and she didn't
She ran her fingertips lightly up and down the skin of his arm,
smiling when he shivered a little, then went boneless.
"I know you don't believe that Roche is the killer,
murmured drowsily. "And I know it sounds crazy. I'm the one who
put the bullet in his head, after all. But the mint leaves, the car, the
note -- how can you explain it?"
Scully sighed. "I don't know, love. I'll admit, when I
saw that note
I was shocked. But there must be a logical explanation. Those
interviews were filmed; maybe the killer managed to get his hands
on the videotapes. As for the car - - well, we can trace that through
the DMV tomorrow. We know it's still out there somewhere."
Mulder didn't respond, but she could tell he was still awake,
his tension return. "How do *you* explain it, Mulder?"
"Remember Luther Lee Boggs? He claimed he could channel
souls of the dead. If I remember correctly, he even had *you*
believing him. What if our killer is somehow channeling Roche?"
Scully grimaced at the memory. "That was a difficult time
Mulder. I was vulnerable, you said so yourself."
Mulder lifted his head to stare into her eyes, mouth curving.
believed him, Scully. You can't deny that."
Scully's mouth moved soundlessly as she desperately attempted
refute him, but Mulder only laid his head back down, still smiling.
"I still think we need to explore a more mundane
she finally insisted.
"Hey, Scully. In our line of work, channeling *is*
Mulder replied smugly. He sucked in a deep gulp of air and
nuzzled his face into the silk of her pajama top. "I have to find her,
Scully. Before it's too late."
The pronoun usage was not lost on Scully. She lifted her hand
wove her fingers into his hair, tugging gently until he raised his
head. "WE, Mulder. I know that Jason got to you tonight, and I
understand why. But you aren't the only one that wants to bring
that little girl home safely. Skinner, Grey, and I are in this, too."
Mulder ducked his head in a silent concession, then smiled.
believe he's spending his vacation time like this," he said, referring
to his brother. "It's not exactly the downtime he'd intended."
Scully pursed her lips, eyes twinkling. "It may have its
Mulder's head popped back up. "What are you talking
do you suddenly look like the cat that ate the canary?"
"Let's just say someone at the bureau finds your brother
very...interesting. And the feeling seems to be mutual."
Mulder's eyebrow arched. "Who?"
"Agent Harding," Scully said, enjoying her chance to be smug.
"I'm serious, Mulder! If you hadn't been so wrapped up in
you might've seen the looks they were giving each other. Did you
notice they were on a first name basis?"
Mulder snorted. "He's on a first name basis with *Walt*
I'm pretty sure that doesn't indicate attraction." He feigned a
shudder. "God, what an image!"
Scully smacked his shoulder but couldn't avoid snickering.
take my word for it then. Just watch the next time they're together."
"I never saw you as the matchmaker type, babe,"
smirking. "Gonna have to start calling you 'yenta,' I guess."
Scully bit back her retort when his hand crept up and he began
casually unbuttoning her pajama top, all the while pressing soft
kisses to the skin that was revealed.
"Mulder? What are you doing?" she asked a little breathlessly.
"Changed my mind," he answered in a husky voice that
shivers up her spine. "I'm taking you up on your offer."
"Offer?" Her fingers tightened in his hair and she
wriggled a little
as he hit a particularly sensitive spot.
"Yeah, you know. To give me something to help me sleep."
Scully closed her eyes and sighed again, this time in
"Never let it be said I reneged on an offer."
Mulder leaned against the car and stared at the small, rundown
bungalow while he waited for Scully to join him. The early
morning sunshine had given way to dark clouds that threatened
rain, and a cool breeze ruffled his tie and provoked a small shiver.
"Definitely a fixer-upper," he remarked dryly,
indicating the roof
shedding shingles and the peeling paint.
"This is the place," Scully confirmed. "Steve
Cole, 1414 Dinah
Avenue. She smiled. "Relax, Mulder. I'm sure he's forgotten all
about the way you helped him detail the car."
"I still find it awfully coincidental that he's living in
area," Mulder mused, ignoring her jibe. "When do the records say
he moved here?"
"Not long after we saw him. He was a kid still living
parents then, Mulder. He's twenty-three now, and a mechanic at a
local car dealership."
Mulder started ambling toward the house. "All right.
what he's got to say."
Steve Cole had matured since the day they'd searched Roche's
El Camino at his home in Hollyville, Delaware. He'd lost the
gangliness of a teenager and become more muscular, now sporting
a mustache in addition to his shoulder-length sandy hair. He
greeted them politely and ushered them into a tiny, cluttered living
room. Scully shot Mulder an amused glance as she moved aside
several tee shirts to sit down on the couch.
"You understand why we're here, don't you Mr. Cole?"
Cole frowned. "Not really. I explained on the phone,
that I no longer have that car. I reported it stolen over three months
ago --you can check the police report."
"We've seen the report, Mr. Cole, but we needed to follow
this personally. We have a witness that placed a car like yours at
the scene of a kidnapping, and it's vital we do everything we can to
track it down," Scully explained patiently.
Cole's annoyance turned to interest. "Really? That car's
else, huh? First owned by a serial killer and now stolen by a
"We'd just like to hear the details surrounding the
spoke up when he saw Scully's lips tighten and her eyes narrow.
"When it happened, how you discovered the car was missing --
that sort of thing."
"Happened two months ago, on July 18. I remember because
exactly two weeks after the fourth," Cole said helpfully. "I'd gone
out with some friends and got back at about 8 that night. Never
would have noticed the car was missing until the morning, 'cept I
needed to fix the towel bar in the bathroom and I keep my toolbox
in the garage. When I got out back I saw the lock had been
jimmied and the car was gone."
"None of your neighbors saw anything suspicious?" Scully asked.
Cole's lip curled in disdain. "There's not exactly a
watch around here. No one would notice if you marched naked
down the middle of the street singing the Star Spangled Banner.
No, no witnesses."
Mulder seemed about to comment on Cole's illustration but
nipped it in the bud with a warning glare. "Anything else you think
we should know? Any ideas who might have taken it?" he asked
Cole shrugged. "Beats me. It wasn't exactly worth much,
I'd fixed it up and it still ran well." He eyed Mulder shrewdly.
"This kidnapping has something to do with those Paper Hearts
murders, doesn't it? Ive seen it on television. You think the guy
sending you those hearts stole my car?"
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Cole," Scully said
up and offering her hand. "I'm sure you can appreciate the fact that
we aren't at liberty to discuss the specifics of an ongoing
If Cole resented her brusqueness he didn't let on, merely saw
to the door without further comment.
"What do you think?" Mulder asked, leaning back into
passenger seat while Scully buckled her seat belt.
"I think he typifies the worst in human nature -- the
fascination with car accidents and other disasters," Scully replied,
pursing her lips in distaste. "Other than that, I'd say he's a dead
end. The police were unable to collect any useful evidence at the
time of the theft, so we have no way of knowing who took the car
or where he is now." She pulled her eyes from the road long
enough to take in Mulder's defeated expression. "Sorry, love. I'd
hoped this would be our break, too."
Mulder closed his eyes. "All I can hear is the ticking of
Scully. Time's running out for Callie Westin."
There was really nothing to say to that, so Scully just drove
silence. Though the drive to the Boston field office took less than
30 minutes, Mulder surprised her by slipping into a deep sleep.
Risking his wrath, she changed course and returned to their hotel,
shaking him gently awake when he didn't rouse on his own. He
mumbled an apology as he sat up, rubbing his eyes and blinking.
When he realized their location he scowled.
"Why are we here, Scully? I thought we were headed back
Scully mustered every ounce of patience she possessed.
you're exhausted. Go grab a nap, there's nothing you can do right
now anyway. Grey's coordinating the lab analysis with the D.C.
bureau and he'll call when the results come in. And Skinner asked
me to accompany him to get an official statement from Jason
Mulder's brow furrowed. "Why you? I'm the one he talked
night. Or did Skinner forget that?" he asked through clenched
"He didn't forget," she replied mildly, curbing her
and the desire to snarl, "Why not me?" "He's worried about you,
Mulder. He sees what this case is doing to you, and he's trying to
spare you any unnecessary stress. This won't be easy for Jason, and
Skinner feels you are too emotionally invested to remain
"I'm touched you all seem to know me so much better than
myself," Mulder sneered. "Tell me, Scully, do you and Skinner
have a regularly-scheduled time when you meet to decide my life
for me? You know, whether to remove me from a case, whether or
not I'm capable of conducting an interview? Is it marked on your
"Stop it!" Scully snapped, flushing with anger.
"You know that's
ridiculous! I already apologized about asking Skinner to take you
off the case. Anyway, this is completely different!"
"Is it? It doesn't feel different."
"I had nothing to do with this! Skinner made the decision."
"But you agree with him, don't you? You were only too
go along with it. Go along with *him*," Mulder said nastily.
Scully's eyes widened. "What exactly are you implying?"
"You figure it out."
"No. You're the one that brought it up. What did you
Scully's voice shook with fury, masking the impending tears.
Mulder looked at her, his face expressionless. "I'm not
Scully. I've seen the way Skinner looks at you. Hell, he made a
deal with Cancerman for you! Who could blame you for getting
tired of my shit and wanting someone lower maintenance?"
Scully could only gape at him in shock as he threw open the
door, her mind stuck on the fact that Mulder had echoed her own
thoughts of the previous night.
"Mulder..." she said helplessly.
He leaned in the open door. "Save it, Scully. I'm too
remember? I need a nap."
He shut the door firmly and didn't look back. Scully leaned
forehead against the slick plastic of the steering wheel and
wondered what exactly had just happened.
Saturday 11:15 a.m.
Remorse hit fifteen minutes later. That was the problem with
remorse, Mulder mused, lying on the bed with his fingers laced
beneath his neck. It always came too late, after the damage was
done. Definitely not a proactive emotion.
So he lay on his back, replaying the argument with Scully over
over in his mind, wincing in all the spots where he'd acted like a
jackass. He found himself wincing a lot.
The little voice in his head, the one that had whispered from
beginning that his relationship with Scully was doomed to failure,
had risen to a shriek. Mulder had few misconceptions about his
character. He loved Scully too much not to admit she deserved
better than he could offer. Maybe after today, she'd come to the
His thoughts meandered from Scully to Jason, and from Jason to
Callie. His bitter disappointment over the lead to Roche's car tasted
like bile in the back of his throat. The first concrete piece of
evidence in three long months, and it had ended in a brick wall.
Mulder's eyes slipped shut and he drifted, neither awake nor
asleep, but somewhere in between. He recalled meeting Steve Cole
for the first time and finding Roche's collection of hearts hidden in
the El Camino's camper shell, tucked between the pages of a copy
of Alice in Wonderland.
Alice in Wonderland. Sam had adored the book, coaxing him to
read it aloud to her countless nights at bedtime. The rumors that
Lewis Carroll had been a pedophile coupled with Roche's twisted
obsession tainted but couldn't completely negate those happy
memories. He remembered Sam dressing as Alice for Halloween
one year, furious when he teased her mercilessly by pointing out
that Alice was a blonde, not a brunette. She'd even used their old
and bad tempered cat as a prop, insisting everyone call the feline
Dinah, like Alice's cat...
Mulder's eyes flew open and he bolted upright so abruptly that
vision momentarily grayed while the blood struggled to catch up
with his head. How could he have forgotten? Alice had a cat
named Dinah. And Steve Cole currently resided on Dinah Avenue.
Coincidence? Not likely.
Mulder carefully searched his memory, analyzing Cole's every
word. Like a slap in the face, it hit him.
*You think the guy sending you those hearts stole my car?*
*No one* knew the killer mailed the hearts personally to
The media had ferreted out the fact of their existence, but only a
handful of agents directly assigned to the case knew he was the
recipient. So how had Cole known?
Unless Steve Cole was the killer.
Mulder stood and began to pace, running his fingers nervously
through his hair. Time to use logic. Scully would be proud. He felt
a splinter of pain at the thought and set it deliberately aside.
Callie's life depended on his full attention.
Fact one: Steve Cole owned Roche's old El Camino, conveniently
reporting it stolen just prior to the first murder.
Fact two: Steve Cole moved to the Boston area, the city Roche
once made his home and where he'd spent his final hours. In
addition, he lived on a street that bore the name of a character from
the book that was the crux of Roche's obsession.
Fact three: Cole knew the killer sent Mulder the cloth hearts,
information that had not been made available to the police, let
alone the general public.
At the very least, Steve Cole merited a closer look. Mulder
over to his suit jacket and fished out his cell phone, dialing the
Boston field office with trembling fingers.
"Yes, I'm trying to locate Detective Grey McKenzie,"
he told the
frighteningly perky receptionist. "He's working on the Westin
kidnapping. This is Special Agent Fox Mulder, could you page him
Mulder waited, pacing restlessly in the small confines of the
Outside, rain pattered on the window in a soft staccato beat broken
occasionally by a low rumble of thunder. He stared at the dark,
low-hanging clouds and thought about Callie Westin, scared and
vulnerable, in the custody of a killer.
"Come on, come on," he muttered under his breath,
clenching and unclenching in an impotent fist.
"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder, but they said he stepped out to
lunch," the receptionist said cheerfully. "Can I take a message or
have him call you?"
"No. I mean, yes! Tell him I said that I think Cole is
our man, and
I'm going to check him out," Mulder said hurriedly. "Tell him to
get Agent Scully and meet me there."
Mulder hung up and flipped the phone book open to the car
section, grimacing when he considered Scully's reaction to what he
was about to do. He'd promised -- no more ditching. But Grey was
unreachable, and if he called Scully she'd insist he wait until she
and Skinner could get back from the interview with Jason. Too
much time wasted, time that Callie didn't have. Jason's solemn face
popped into his mind.
*What about Callie? Can you find her?*
Mulder picked up the phone and dialed.
On route to Brockton
Scully received Grey's frantic call when she and Skinner were
about 30 minutes from the Boston bureau. They'd taken the
helicopter to New Bedford, where Jason and his parents had met
them for the interview, and were nearing Logan Airport when
Scully's phone chirped and all hell broke loose. Skinner broke
several speed records to reach the bureau, where Grey was ready
and waiting to jump into the car.
"Tell me again -- everything," Scully demanded
tersely as they
sped down Highway 24 to Brockton.
"Dana, there's not much to tell," Grey replied, his
evident. "I left to grab some lunch at about 11:30. When I got back
there was a message from Fox saying that he believed Steve Cole
was the killer and he was going to investigate. He said for us to
meet him there."
Scully cursed like the sailor's daughter she was, oblivious to
Skinner and Grey's surprise. "He swore to me that his ditching
days were over!"
"He's not thinking past Callie Westin," Grey
remarked quietly. "I
heard him scream out Samantha's name last night. This case has
crossed the line for Fox, become far too personal."
"I know that!" Scully snapped. She stopped and took
a deep breath,
calming herself. "I'm sorry, Grey, I don't mean to take this out on
you. This is my fault. I never should have left him alone, not
knowing the state he was in." She closed her eyes and rubbed her
temples. "Past experience should have taught me a lesson."
Skinner, who had remained conspicuously silent since Grey's
phone call, glanced sharply at her from his position in the driver's
seat. "I was wrong back then, Scully. I should never have made
you responsible for Mulder, it wasn't your job."
"But it is now," Scully said softly, catching her
lip between her
teeth and gazing out the window at the slackening rain.
"Scully, you were there this morning, you heard the same
Mulder did. Can you think of anything Cole may have said or done
that would have convinced Mulder he was the killer?" Skinner
asked mildly, trying to direct the conversation to more a more
Scully considered the question carefully, frowning. "He
about how the car was stolen," she recalled slowly, then made a
face. "He thought it was 'cool' that first a serial killer and then a
kidnapper would be interested in the car. Creep."
"Then he asked if our interest had anything to do with
Hearts case and..." Scully broke off abruptly, going very still.
Grey leaned over the back seat. "What? What did you remember?"
"He said something about Mulder receiving the hearts. But
confidential, the only way he could know that is if..."
"He's sending them," Skinner cut in grimly, pressing
his foot more
firmly to the gas pedal. "Hang on, we're almost there."
Cole's street lay deserted and silent. A single tan sedan
curb halfway down the block from the bungalow. Skinner parked
behind it and they got out, Scully striding over quickly to peer in
"Looks like a rental," she observed, worry creeping
into her voice.
"Could be Mulder."
Skinner reached the front door first and ignored the doorbell,
pounding on the wood with the side his fist. "Federal agent, open
the door!" he ordered loudly.
Cole didn't come to the door, and they detected no movement
through the half-opened blinds on the picture window. Skinner
repeated his order once more, then stepped back and delivered a
strong kick that splintered the cheap wood and sent the door
rocking back on its hinges.
Seconds after entering, Scully knew the house was deserted.
went through the motions, spreading out from Grey and Skinner to
search the four small rooms thoroughly, but her heart thumped
wildly in growing fear. Her Mulder alarm, engaged the moment
she'd answered her phone to Grey's barely concealed panic, had
risen steadily in volume until it blocked out all other thought. Her
heart already knew Cole was the killer, and that somehow he'd
taken Mulder. It was just a matter of confirmation.
They met up in the kitchen at the back of the house, empty
Skinner, his weapon still gripped in both hands, gestured out the
back door at the ramshackle, single-car garage. Scully and Grey
followed silently as he led the way across the tiny backyard to the
structure. The large wooden door hung partially open, the bottom
suspended two feet above the concrete floor. No one was surprised
when Grey lifted it the rest of the way with an earsplitting squeal
of rusty hinges to reveal a vacant interior.
Scully spied a dark patch on the filthy floor, and walked
over to examine it more closely. Skinner watched as she leaned
down and touched two fingers to the spot, then rubbed the
substance between fingers and thumb and gave it a small sniff.
"Oil," she announced, the word ripe with unspoken
fresh. I'm sure the lab will find that it matches the oil found at
Callie Westin's house."
"He could still be all right, Scully," Skinner said,
moving over to
lay one hand on her shoulder as she rose to her feet. "He could be
following Cole somehow. We don't know that's Mulder's car
outside, and there's nothing so far to indicate he's been
incapacitated or taken against his will."
"There is now."
Grey stood in the open doorway, hair slightly damp and curly
the rain and his face stricken. "I went around the side of the garage
to the window. There are a lot of tracks in the mud and someone
brushed the dirt off the panes so you can see inside. And I found
Grey stretched out his right hand, revealing fingers stained
crimson. Scully slammed her eyes shut against a sudden deluge of
"Mulder," she whispered brokenly.
Shaking off his own inertia, Skinner took charge. Pulling his
phone from the pocket of his black trench coat, he slid into Marine
mode and began issuing orders.
"Grey, check the plate on that rental and see if you can
trace it to
Mulder. You can use the phone in Cole's house. Scully, call the lab
at Quantico and get them to fax a copy of Mulder's blood and DNA
information to the Boston bureau. Also, you'd better grab a sample
while you can, it's a miracle the rain hasn't washed it completely
"There's an overhang," Grey explained, still
subdued. "It's held off
the worst of the moisture." He turned and headed for the street,
shoulders hunched against the drizzle.
"I'll get forensics down here to do a complete sweep and
the local boys what's going on," Skinner continued. "Once we
cover the basics we can begin to figure out where Cole might have
Seeing that Scully had paused with phone in hand while she
regained her composure, he sighed. "Scully . . . Dana. We know
who we're after now, and he doesn't have much of a lead. We
*will* find him. Mulder is a trained agent and a psychologist; he'll
hold Cole off until we can get there."
Skinner was relieved to see Scully's eyes harden and her
square in determination. She sent him a quick nod of
acknowledgement and began punching numbers ferociously into
the phone. Satisfied, Skinner stepped away to make his own calls,
wishing his own confidence matched his words.
At first, his only sensory perception was pain. It engulfed
senses so that not only did Mulder feel, but saw, smelled, tasted,
and heard it as well. He couldn't remember who he was or why he
would be hurting this much, his brain a confused jumble of sounds
and images that wouldn't translate into coherent thought.
Gradually he became aware that he was curled on his side, the
surface beneath him hard and smooth. An annoying sound intruded
on his pain -- a soft, incessant whimpering that abraded his raw
nerve endings until he wanted to scream. He attempted to raise one
hand to explore his head, which seemed to be the source of his
distress, but something cold and metal anchored one hand to the
floor by his cheek and the other arm was pinned beneath his body.
He snaked his tongue out in an effort to soothe dry lips, moaning a
little when even that small action increased the pounding in his
brain. The quiet sobbing rose a notch in volume. Why didn't Scully
make it stop?
Like a magic charm, that one semi-lucid notion caused a
of memories to click into place. He was Fox Mulder. He'd been
hunting a serial killer, a killer that kidnapped little girls...
Mulder's eyes flew open and he tried to sit up, only to learn
previous suffering was just the tip of the iceberg. White-hot agony
sliced through his skull, ripping a hoarse scream from his parched
throat. Before the torment could begin to subside an overpowering
wave of nausea caused him to be violently, unreservedly ill. The
whimpering rose to a wail for several minutes before receding.
Blearily thankful he'd skipped lunch, Mulder dragged himself
away from the mess he'd made. His blurred vision registered the
fact that he was handcuffed to a large pole, and he leaned his
forehead against the cool metal while struggling to remember just
how he'd landed in such a fix.
Searching his memory was like looking through a piece of Swiss
cheese, the continuity broken by irregular holes. He recalled
driving alone to Steve Cole's house, but couldn't remember why
Scully and Grey hadn't been with him. He knew he'd circled
around to the back of the house, covertly peered in several
windows to determine that its owner was not inside, then
cautiously made his way to the garage. But he couldn't recollect
why the garage had seemed so important or what he'd been trying
The rain had picked up a little, he remembered, making him
grateful for the roof's slight overhang that provided some shelter. A
thick layer of dirt and grime had coated the garage's single
window, turning it opaque. Mulder pictured himself brushing aside
the grit with the palm of his right hand and then dusting it off on
his trenchcoat. The glass had felt cool on his cheek as he pressed
close to avoid the glare. Then... Nothing. He had a vague feeling of
triumph, then intense pain. From his current predicament, Mulder
gathered that he'd found whatever he'd been looking for, and Cole
hadn't been pleased.
As his discomfort ebbed to a more manageable level, Mulder was
able once again to note the soft sobbing. He slowly pulled himself
up to where he could brace his back against the pole, fighting
against the urge to vomit again. For the first time he comprehended
that he was sitting on the floor of a bus. Someone had removed
most of the front seats, creating a large open space around the pole
to which he'd been cuffed. Mulder squinted against doubled vision,
tracking the origin of the cries. A small girl with curly brown hair
and tearful blue eyes pressed herself more tightly into the corner
between one of the remaining seats and the wall of the bus,
regarding Mulder with barely restrained terror. Another puzzle
piece snapped into place.
"Callie? Are you Callie Westin?" Mulder asked,
flinching as each
syllable sent a knife through his head.
No words, but the barest nod of the head acknowledged his
question. Struggling to put on his most reassuring smile, Mulder
ruthlessly pushed back his own misery.
"Callie, I'm an FBI agent and I'm here to help you. My
Fox," he said soothingly.
Even as he uttered the words, Mulder realized how ridiculous
must sound. Inexplicably, a scene from Star Wars popped into his
head - Luke and Han breaking into the detention block to rescue
Leia only to become trapped themselves.
*This is some rescue! When you came in here, didn't you have a
plan for getting out?*
He squashed hysterical laughter that threatened to slip out
pulled his wandering attention back to the little girl. Callie's sobs
tapered off to sniffles but she didn't attempt to approach him.
Frustrated, Mulder realized what a frightening picture he must
present. The pain in his head caused him to periodically grimace,
he could feel the stickiness of drying blood down his neck and onto
his collar, and he'd just puked like a drunk after an exceptionally
productive binge. Then inspiration struck.
"Callie, I talked to Jason last night. I promised him I'd
everything I could to find you and bring you home."
Callie's lip trembled and fresh tears spilled down her pale
"I wa...wa...want t..to g..go home!" she moaned.
Mulder silently held out the arm not encumbered by the
and in seconds it was filled with a soft, silky-haired bundle with an
iron grip. For just an instant, the child in his lap eclipsed his own
hurt and fear, and he actually smiled.
"Shhh," he crooned. "It's okay, kiddo. Did he hurt you?"
Callie shook her head, releasing her death grip on his neck
considering him gravely. "But I don't like the way he looks at me.
And he talks...he talks like he's two different people."
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked.
Callie shrugged and scrubbed away her tears with one small
"Sometimes he's nice. He told me I could call him Steve and he
promised he wouldn't do anything bad to me and he'd take me
home soon. But then he changed. His voice sounded different --
scarier. He called me Alice even though I kept telling him my
name is Callie. And he said he's going to take me away from here
to a better place." The corners of her mouth turned down and her
lip stuck out. "I don't want to go to a better place, Fox. I want to go
home. Please, take me home!"
Mulder looked down at himself, sparking another stab of pain.
Cole had stripped off his jacket and both weapons, leaving no way
to contact Scully and no means for defense. He tugged hard on the
cuffed hand, succeeding only in abrading his wrist. The metal pole,
bolted to both floor and ceiling, never quivered. As for his physical
condition - he'd received enough blows on the head to recognize a
concussion like an old friend. Vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision,
and the attention span of a two-year-old all indicated a serious
trauma and seriously compromised his ability to rescue himself, let
alone a small and relatively helpless child.
Recognizing that his thoughts were wandering once again,
turned his gaze back to Callie.
"Listen, kiddo, you're not chained are you? Have you
tried to get
out of here?"
"I tried," Callie replied, chest still hitching
occasionally but calm
again. "He's got it all locked up and the windows won't even open.
He caught me trying to break one when he brought you in and he
was got really mad. Said that if I ever tried it again he'd make me
very, very sorry. Said he'd hurt Jason."
Mulder gritted his teeth against a surge of anger at the
"All right, Callie, I want you to listen closely because we don't
have much time and Steve could be back any minute. I'm going to
be looking for a chance to distract Steve in any way that I can. I'll
grab him, trip him -- something that will give you a chance to get
out of here. I need you to be ready to run when that happens. Don't
worry about me and don't stop, no matter what happens or what
Steve might say. You just head for that door and keep going. Do
Callie nodded, but her blue eyes considered him soberly,
reminding Mulder of Jason's appraising stare. "But what about
*you*, Fox? How will you get away?"
How do you explain to a child that the plan to save her life
most likely cost your own? That the plan itself is little more than a
last ditch effort with a slim chance for success? You don't.
Mulder smiled. "You'll go and get help," he replied
you come back and rescue me."
His answer achieved the desired effect. Callie smiled, pleased
the idea of saving not only herself but her new friend as well.
"What do we do now, Fox?"
Mulder leaned his throbbing head back against the pole and
his eyes. "We rest a little, and wait," he replied, vaguely concerned
when his words slurred lazily but unwilling to focus on the reason.
He struggled against the lethargy that crept over him, making
limbs feel leaden and his thoughts liquid. Scully's voice, sharp with
worry echoed in his mind.
*Mulder, you have a concussion. You have to stay awake.*
"Can't, babe," he mumbled, feeling the impending
him away from the pain and giving himself over to it willingly.
Boston Field Office
Scully raised her head from the conference table and regarded
Grey, brows drawn together. "Stop what? I'm not doing anything!"
"You're giving up on him," Grey replied.
"Resigning yourself to
the fact that we won't find him in time."
"I am not!" Scully snapped, leaning across the table
to glare at him.
"I would never give up on him. *Never*."
"Good. Because we *are* going to find him, Dana. We'll
where he is and haul his ass out of the fire just like every other
Scully raised an eyebrow and his vehemence. "Who are you
to convince? I'm already there."
Grey sighed and slumped forward, burying his face in his
can't believe this is happening." He abruptly smacked both hands,
palms down, on the table with a sharp crack that startled Scully.
"How could he do it, just walk in there like that? Is he out of his
mind? Doesn't he ever stop to think -- at least about everyone else,
if not about himself?"
Scully sat silently through his ranting, caught between the
laugh and to cry. "Grey, you already know the answers to those
questions. You were the one who reminded me how personal this
case is for him. Mulder's problem isn't that he doesn't think about
others. That's all he thinks about."
"I hate feeling this way! He's trapped God knows where
killer and I'm pissed at him. Can you believe it?" Grey ran both
hands through his hair and then dropped them to his sides. "What
is bothering you, Dana? Aside from the obvious, I mean."
Scully stared at the oak tabletop, pressing the tip of her
her cheek. "When I accepted the fact that I loved Mulder, I had to
accept that I could lose him. I'd be a fool not to prepare myself for
the possibility, it's in the very nature of what we do. What I can't
accept..." She broke off, breathing deeply. "What I can't accept,"
she continued softly. "Is that if Mulder dies now, the last words
spoken between us will be words of anger."
Grey studied her face. "You had a fight?"
Scully pursed her lips and shook her head. "Actually he
fought -- I
just listened. But I guess that was part of the problem. He was
being a suspicious, insecure bastard and I was too tired and angry
to invest myself in yet another session of reassuring him. So you
see, I'm worse off than you are, Grey. You just *missed* the clues
-- I saw them and turned the other way."
Grey reached across to take her hand. "Don't be so hard
yourself, Dana. I love him, but Fox does require a rather large
Scully's lips curved but her eyes glistened with tears.
it 'high maintenance.' He said he wouldn't blame me if I wanted
someone that needed less."
Skinner chose that moment to enter the conference room, a
files in his hand. Scully gave Grey's hand a quick squeeze and
"You wouldn't believe it," she murmured wryly.
"You have the
blood type analysis, sir?"
Skinner tossed the folder on the table in front of her.
Scully. The blood type matches Mulder's and they found several of
his prints on the window."
"The car was rented under Fox's name," Grey
his own folder toward Skinner. "He used his badge as muscle to
get it delivered to the hotel as quickly as possible."
"I ran a thorough check on Cole, hoping to come up with
something that might tell us where he's gone," Skinner said, sitting
down on a corner of the table. "I'm afraid I've come up empty.
Both Cole's parents were killed in an auto accident two years ago
and their home was sold shortly after. He has no siblings, and from
what his boss tells me, not many friends. Called him a real loner
that keeps to himself."
"There goes my suggestion," Grey said gloomily.
"I was thinking
he might have gone back to Delaware, where he lived with his
Scully tore her eyes from the relentlessly ticking clock,
head and rubbing the tight muscles at the base of her neck. "We
don't know enough about Cole," she observed, frustration
sharpening her tone. "Mulder would say..." She froze, sitting up
"Mulder would say what?" Skinner prodded.
"We're approaching this from the wrong direction,"
slowly. "Last night, when Mulder and I were discussing the case he
put out this off the wall theory..."
"Nothing unusual there," Grey muttered.
Scully shot him a quelling look and continued. "He
the killer could be channeling the spirit of John Lee Roche, hence
his ability to know all the little details only Roche would know."
"Channeling?" Skinner repeated incredulously.
"Scully, you're not
"No, sir, but it doesn't matter. Whether you subscribe to
theory or not, you must concede that *Cole* believes it to some
degree. He's done everything he can to push Mulder's buttons
"I think I see where you're going with this," Grey
said, catching her
fire. "We shouldn't be wondering where *Cole* would go. We
should figure out where *Roche* would go."
"If you proceed on the assumption that Cole is acting as
you need to include the element of revenge," Skinner mused.
"After all, Mulder prevented Roche from getting what he wanted,
not once but twice. It follows that he'd want his revenge to have
meaning for Mulder."
"That's it!" Scully pushed herself to her feet
around the large table to a map of the Boston area pinned to the far
wall. "He'd go back to where it all ended, where Mulder killed
Roche." She scanned the map quickly, then pointed with a
trembling finger. "Right there. The place where Roche took
Katelyn Holmes. The place where he forced Mulder to chose
between Samantha and an innocent child. Revere."
Two long strides and Grey had the door open, tapping his foot
impatiently. "What are you waiting for? Let's go."
*"Fox! Help me!"*
*An incandescent beam of pure white light envelops his
slight form and lifts her into the air. He watches for an instant, both
horrified and mesmerized, before lurching into action. He tries to
crawl over to the tall chest of drawers where he knows his father
keeps a gun, only to realize that one wrist is handcuffed to a tall
metal pole that grows up from the middle of the floor like a bizarre
sapling. He tugs wildly, noticing now that he's a grown man and
not a boy.*
*"Samantha!" he screams, pulling harder, heedless of
the way the
metal bites into the tender flesh of his wrist until it draws blood.
*"You said you would save her! Why don't you save her?"*
*He spins and looks up into the cold, furious eyes of Jason
who points one accusing finger at the girl's rapidly disappearing
*"Do something! You couldn't save your sister, I should
realized you couldn't save mine!"*
*Confused, his eyes dart back to the little girl and he gasps,
dumfounded. Long dark tresses have been replaced with short
curls, terrified brown eyes with blue.*
*"Fox, I want to go home! Help me!"*
*A shadowy figure wearing a tall hat and an old fashioned
waistcoat, garb of the Mad Hatter, steps out of the light and gathers
the child's body into his arms, effortlessly subduing her struggles.
It turns to reveal the smugly smiling face of John Lee Roche.*
*"I'm taking her away from all this, to a happier
announces, retreating into the light.*
*"Fox! Fox, wake up! He's coming!" Callie screams.*
"You heard her, wake up!"
Something hard connected with Mulder's side, telegraphing a
of pain from his ribs to his head and forcing the air from his lungs.
His eyes flew open and he gasped for breath, groaning and retching
helplessly as he fell onto his side. Bright sparks danced before his
eyes, obscuring his vision for several minutes and the sudden
ringing in his ears blotted out sound. He lay very still, panting
weakly from the pain and the after affects of his dream.
"...time you woke up and joined the party, Agent
was saying cheerfully. "We have so much to discuss. And besides,
you were worrying little Callie."
Mulder carefully hauled himself upright, wincing as now both
and ribs protested loudly. Callie shrank back in her corner,
watching with wide scared eyes. He met her gaze with a wink and
saw her bob her head in understanding.
"You and I obviously have different ideas about what
good party," he told Cole, wishing his voice sounded stronger. "No
music, no beer..."
"Very funny, very funny," Cole replied, waving
Mulder's gun in
his right hand. "You can make all the jokes you want, but I've been
looking forward to this moment for a long time."
Cole's congenial voice and mild expression left Mulder totally
unprepared for the heavy workboot that connected with his already
aching ribs. Mulder screamed.
"That's for the number you did on my upholstery with your
penknife," Cole explained flatly.
"Stop it! Don't hurt Fox!"
Callie crossed to Mulder's side in a flash, small hands
her hips and eyes snapping angrily behind her tears.
Cole laughed -- a cold, humorless sound. "Got a little
She might not be so crazy about you once she figures out you can't
help her. *Fox.*" He turned a stern gaze on the child. "Go sit
Callie hesitated, looking uncertainly at Mulder. He scraped up
somewhat sickly smile and nodded, so she retreated slowly.
Mulder sucked in a deep breath, regretting the action immediately
when his ribs screeched in protest. Working hard to rein in his
wandering attention, he squinted up at Cole.
"What did you mean when you said you'd been waiting for this?"
Cole smiled, leaning casually against the side of the bus and
tapping his chin with the Sig. "I know all about you, Agent
Mulder. After that day you came to search my car I got real
interested. Not just in the previous owner, but in the man who
tracked him down. So I started doing a little investigating of my
own -- dug up every bit of information on you and John Lee Roche
I could find. As I read about you, how you caught Roche and all
those other killers, one thing became very clear to me."
The smile became a shark's grin. "That I could do better.
could do anything those criminals did, and worse, and never get
caught. The more I thought about it, the more I read, and the more
I read, the more ideas I got. Props, Boggs, Mostow, Roche -- I
studied 'em all. But I kept coming back to Roche, to how he eluded
you for so long before you finally caught him."
"So you decided to copy Roche's crimes," Mulder
sarcasm into his voice. "That's called a copycat killer, Cole. It's
nothing special. We get them all the time."
Cole flushed at his dismissal. "So you say. But here *I*
there *you* are. Who outsmarted who? Anyway, there's more to
this than you think. Haven't you wondered how I've done it, Agent
Mulder? How I knew all those things about you -- about Roche --
that I couldn't have known?"
Mulder shifted uneasily but said nothing, willing Cole to come
closer so that he would be within reach. He took a covert peek at
Callie, relieved to see she was paying close attention to the
interaction between Cole and himself.
"Two years ago my parents and I were in a car accident,
hit by a
drunk driver," Cole continued, slouching away from the wall and
pacing across the width of the bus. "All three of us were dead at
the scene. They couldn't revive my folks, but they did manage to
bring me back. Only I didn't come back alone."
Mulder licked his lips, his heart fluttering wildly in his
"What are you talking about?"
Cole stared at him, eyes losing focus and then rolling back in
head to expose the whites. His body twitched once, then shifted.
The shoulders drew back, the spine straightened, and the chin
dipped slightly downward. Cole blinked lazily, then returned his
gaze to Mulder's face, just the barest hint of amusement touching
the corners of his mouth.
"Mulder. Long time no see."
Horror washed over Mulder from head to toe. His entire body
broke out in gooseflesh and the small hairs on the back of his neck
rose. That voice -- Cole's, and yet not. The tone, the inflection was
as different as night from day. He'd hunted liver-eating mutants
and giant flukemen, carnival freaks and tentacled sea monsters, but
nothing had come close to sparking the fear that voice produced.
Roche's eyes looked out of Cole's face and he smiled.
matter, Mulder? Aren't you glad to see me?"
"No," Mulder said, shaking his head in spite of the
movement provoked. "No, it's not possible."
The smile widened until it became gleeful. Roche's smile.
can't you believe this, Mulder? You hunt visitors from outer space,
don't you? Why not visitors from beyond the grave?"
"Don't you remember what you told me? You said a
formed between us, a nexus, because you profiled me. Well, my
buddy Steve here did a little profiling of his own. Guess maybe
that's why we were able to hook up when he almost died. Lucky
for me, right? I promised Id show him just what to do, and he
jumped at the idea."
Mulder swallowed, clenching his trembling fingers into fists.
"Why? What do you want from me, Roche, if that really is you?
What could you possibly expect to gain from all this? You're
Roche's grin faded and his eyes turned hard. "I want what
deserve, Mulder. What you took away from me on that bus. This is
my second chance." He deliberately held Mulder's gaze while
tilting his head in Callie's direction. "And this time, you won't stop
"You son of a bitch!"
A red haze of fury clouded Mulder's vision and sublimated his
as he cursed and pulled savagely at his cuffed wrist. Roche just
watched, smirk firmly back in place. Mulder's physical injuries
finally overcame his anger and he slumped back against the pole,
gasping for breath.
"You really should take it easy, Mulder," Roche said
get a ringside seat for the festivities and it'd be a shame if you
passed out. After all, I'm doing it for you."
"You want revenge? You want payback for what you think I
from you? Then just put the gun to my head," Mulder hissed.
"Leave Callie out of this."
Roche shook his head, picking at some dirt under his
"Mulder, Mulder. That would take away all the fun. Anyway, I
know you. Killing you now would hurt far less than letting you
watch. In fact, I might not kill you at all. Just imagine the
memories I can leave you with for the next thirty or forty years."
Mulder struggled against a wave of nausea and revulsion,
desperately seeking a way to lure Roche closer. "You always were
a coward, Roche. A big man with little girls, but spineless if you
had to deal with anyone your own size. I heard how popular you
were in prison."
Roche's eyes narrowed and he took a step forward. "You're
reaching, Mulder. You're just trying to aggravate me."
*Just a little bit more* Mulder thought.
"Not according to the guards. "'Course, to hear them
tell it, you
didn't really mind..."
"You mean the guard that looked the other way when you
Roche asked, the amusement strained now. He shrugged, taking
another step and leaning down tauntingly. "Some..."
Mulder pounced, putting all of his pent up rage and
behind the movement as he rammed his head into Roche's
midsection and wrapped his free arm around his waist, tackling
him. The impact of his head meeting the solid wall of flesh caused
him to see stars, but he managed to keep his body covering Roche
as the killer squirmed.
"Run!" Mulder screamed and vaguely registered a
blurred figure as
it darted past.
Roche twisted, trying to raise Mulder's gun, which was
pinned to the floor by Mulder's left arm. Mulder strained to
preserve his hold, nearly pulling his right arm from its socket in the
process. He shifted his body to the left, two things occurring in
rapid succession. Roche's arm slid from under his own and tipped
the gun toward Mulder's head just as Mulder became aware that his
knee had come to rest between the killer's two legs. Reacting
without stopping to think, Mulder lunged, bringing the knee up
Roche screamed, his hand jerking upward as his finger
reflexively on the trigger, discharging two rounds in quick
succession before the gun slipped from his hand. Moaning, he
curled into a ball, offering no resistance when Mulder scooped up
the weapon and scrabbled back toward the post, nearly frantic to
ease the tension on his shoulder and wrist.
For several minutes neither man moved, Roche groaning and
cupping the flesh between his legs and Mulder teetering on the
edge of unconsciousness. Roche was the first to regain mobility,
rolling slowly to a sitting position.
Mulder raised the gun clutched in his left hand, but it
badly. "Don't move."
"You're not going to use that, Mulder," Roche said
"You're right handed, aren't you? Anyway, you can barely lift it."
"Shut up and give me the key to the cuffs," Mulder
blinking at the stinging sweat that ran into his eyes.
"Un-uh. I don't think so. That little key is the only
security I've got
left." Roche rose cautiously to his feet. "Why don't we call it a
draw, Mulder? You've spoiled my recreation for the evening, so I'll
just be on my way. I'm sure they'll find you soon."
"Freeze!" Mulder barked, surprised when the word
came out more
like a whisper than a roar. "I'm warning you, Roche. Don't make
me do this again. Now sit down and toss me the key."
Roche stilled, but showed no intention of sitting. "Don't
to know, Mulder?"
Mulder grit his teeth, the gun gaining another pound with
minute Roche stonewalled. "Know what?"
"Your sister. Don't you want to know if she's here?"
Mulder's finger bore down slightly on the trigger. "Shut up!"
"I can tell you. You'll know once and for all if she's
still alive. But
if you shoot me now, you'll go on wondering," Roche persisted, his
voice smooth as honey as he took a small step closer.
Mulder blinked in confusion, the gun dropping imperceptibly as
battled against the pain in his upper body and the roaring in his
ears. "No. No, I..."
This time it was Roche's turn to pounce.
"That's it, right there!" Scully exclaimed.
She shot out of the car the moment Skinner pulled to the curb,
shifting her feet restlessly until Grey and Skinner reached her side.
One at a time they scaled the fence, dropping down to survey the
menagerie of public transportation busses that crouched like giant
beetles, some still operable and some decrepit and rusted with
"Where do we even begin?" Grey asked. "We'll never..."
"Wait! Listen," Scully interrupted, motioning him to be silent.
Over the hum of traffic floated a faint whimper, followed by
sound of fists striking wood. The whimper rose to heartbroken
"This way," Skinner said, heading around the corner.
At the sight of the small figure huddled by the base of the
three broke into a run. The child, a small girl with curly brown hair
and large blue eyes, gasped and cowered back against the boards.
By unspoken agreement, Skinner and Grey dropped back to let
Scully approach the child.
"Callie?" she questioned gently. "Are you
Callie?" When the little
girl nodded Scully gave her a radiant smile. "It's okay, you're safe
now. My name is Dana, and that's Walter and Grey. We're FBI
agents, and we've been looking for you, sweetheart."
To Scully's amazement, at the word FBI Callie leaped to her
and began babbling hysterically, seizing hold of her hand and
"Hurry, hurry! You have to help Fox! I promised I'd bring help!"
Scully's heart leaped with unexpected hope, but she forced
to remain calm. "You've seen Fox? Where is he, Callie, is he all
"Steve hurt him! I'm afraid he'll do something really
mean to him
when he sees that I got away. Hurry!"
Two loud bangs interrupted Scully's reply, echoing off the
and the surrounding busses.
"Show me," Scully said sharply, no longer resisting
Callie unfalteringly led them down three rows of busses and
across four, toward the back of the lot where the older, retired
vehicles were parked. When she pointed to bus 176, Scully stopped
and crouched down so that she could look into the little girl's eyes.
"This is as far as you go, Callie. I want you to go and
there behind that bus. Walter, Grey, and I will take care of Fox."
When the little girl was safely out of range, Scully turned to
Skinner, who had just finished phoning for backup. "I suggest we
split up, sir."
Skinner nodded. "I agree."
"I'll take the back door," Grey volunteered.
"You two take the
front. He knows Scully, but he won't be expecting me."
They separated and moved cautiously into position. Grey
inwardly at the sight of a large padlock affixed to a chain that ran
through the rear door. He waved Skinner and Scully onward and
quickly extracted a small lock pick from his coat. Taking a deep
breath to still his shaking hands, he set to work.
Skinner eased the metal door open, wincing a little when it
a soft creak. He moved up two steps, Scully right behind,
crouching to stay hidden behind the panel that normally would
have divided the front seat from the driver. He peered around the
edge to see Mulder slumped against a metal pole, his right hand
cuffed, the left training a gun on Steve Cole. Mulder's body
prevented Skinner from seeing if Cole was similarly armed.
"Your sister," Skinner heard Cole say to Mulder, his
"Don't you want to know if she's here?"
*What in the hell is he talking about?* Skinner thought,
Mulder's ragged reply even as he tried to see Cole's hands.
"I can tell you. You'll know once and for all if she's
still alive. But
if you shoot me now, you'll go on wondering," Cole persisted.
Mulder's body shifted and in that instant Skinner saw that A:
Mulder was losing his grip on his weapon, and B: Cole was
unarmed but about to make a move.
"Now, Scully!" he said, lunging to his feet.
The next sixty seconds passed in slow motion for Skinner. He
sensed Scully bring up her own gun. He watched Mulder's left
hand seesaw wildly and drop toward his lap. Cole hesitated
momentarily, eyes darting up to assess their proximity before
narrowing as he commenced his lunge toward Mulder. Skinner's
finger tightened on the trigger, but pulled back as a shot rang out.
Cole staggered, then dropped to his knees with a surprised look on
his face, to reveal Grey standing behind him, gun still leveled at his
Skinner climbed quickly up the remaining step and tugged
sprawled body to the side. Grey's bullet had removed a portion of
the killer's skull, and Skinner didn't need to search for a pulse to
determine Cole was dead. Scully, sparing Cole only a perfunctory
glance, knelt down to examine Mulder with gentle hands.
When Grey didn't move, continuing to stare blankly at Cole's
lifeless body, Skinner stood and stepped to the right to block his
Grey dragged his eyes up to meet Skinner's. "Yeah."
"Why don't you go take care of Callie and wait for the
police to get
here. They'll never find us in this maze."
Grey licked his lips and nodded. "Sure. Is Fox all right?"
"He's hanging in there," Scully called over her
looked to Skinner. "Could you get him uncuffed, sir?"
Skinner searched Cole's cooling body, squinting in the rapidly
failing light. When he located the keys in the man's jacket, he
turned and reached for Mulder's wrist.
"My God," he muttered, paralyzed for an instant by
the sight of the
torn, bleeding flesh.
"Careful," Scully warned as he gingerly removed the
bracelet. "I think he's dislocated that shoulder."
Skinner clenched his jaw. If Mulder's wrist and shoulder were
indication, the agent had put up one hell of a fight.
Mulder had not spoken or acknowledged their presence. His
eyes appeared glassy and unfocused and his head lolled drunkenly.
Scully tenderly cupped his chin in her hand, noting the dilated
pupils. "Mulder, it's Scully. Are you with us?"
Mulder responded lethargically. He blinked and his eyes
to Scully's face. Awareness seeped in like water through a sluggish
"Scully?" he murmured, a small line creasing his
attempted to reach for her, only to utter a strangled moan and lose
what little color remained in his face.
"Sir!" Scully said sharply, but Skinner was already
his shoulder behind Mulder to prevent him from listing further to
"Easy, Mulder," he said gruffly.
"Mulder, where does it hurt?" Scully asked. Seeing
his eyes turn
vague again she grasped his left earlobe between her thumb and
index finger and pinched.
"OW!" Mulder yelped, swatting aimlessly with his
left hand. But
his gaze sharpened. "Whadju do that for?"
"Sorry. I need you to stay with me, Mulder. I can see you
blow to the head. Where else are you hurt?"
"Everywhere," Mulder growled. At her look of
sighed. "Ribs. And my arm feels like it's been torn off at the
"That's what you get for pulling it out of the
socket," Scully replied
lightly, using her thumb to stroke his cheek.
Mulder's eyes, which had been drooping, flew open wide.
Where's Roche? Did you get Roche?"
Skinner wrapped an arm around Mulder's chest in an effort to
his frantic struggling. Mystified, he frowned at Scully.
"Roche? What's he talking about?"
Scully shook her head. "Mulder. MULDER, STOP!"
Her harsh command stilled Mulder's thrashing but his eyes
"Callie is *safe*, she's with Grey," Scully
slowly and distinctly.
"What about Roche?" Mulder insisted.
Scully bit her lip. Her initial impression was that none of
injuries were life threatening, but his apparent dementia worried
her. A siren wailed in the distance, moving closer.
"Mulder, you aren't making sense. *Cole* is dead. Grey shot him."
Mulder slumped, his relief at her words evident. "Then
gone too," he muttered, shivering.
Scully caressed his brow and cheek, the skin clammy and cool
under her fingertips. "He's in shock," she said, stripping off her
coat and tucking it around Mulder's body.
Outside, she heard Grey shouting directions and the sound of
running feet. Mulder had zoned out again and this time she let him
go, stepping aside for the EMTs while quickly giving a rundown of
Once she'd relinquished responsibility for his care, she could
stand trembling with her fist pressed tightly to her lips while the
paramedics checked Mulder's vitals and efficiently immobilized
his shoulder. Grey climbed into the bus, dodging bodies and
equipment to reach Scully and Skinner.
"They're taking Callie to the station," he said.
"They'll contact her
parents and arrange for them to come and pick her up. How's
"Living up to his reputation as the human equivalent of a
watch," Scully replied dryly, but her voice shook.
"What was all that about, Scully?" Skinner asked,
voice low so as not to be overheard. "Why was Mulder calling
"He's disoriented from the blow to his head and in a
great deal of
pain, sir. He didn't know what he was saying," Scully answered,
but her face was troubled.
"We're ready to transport, ma'am," spoke up a
who looked about fifteen to Scully's haggard gaze. "We'll be taking
him to Boston General."
"I'm coming with you."
Skinner suppressed a grin at the steel in her tone and the
technician's hasty acceptance. Scully in doctor mode was a force to
be reckoned with.
"Smart kid," Grey muttered, and Skinner lost his hold on the smirk.
The EMTs maneuvered Mulder out the back door of the bus with
Scully on their heels. Skinner walked over to greet the officer in
charge and began the lengthy process of securing the scene, but
found himself unable to banish Mulder's words from his mind.
"Sir! Come in."
Scully stepped aside and ushered Skinner into the living room.
Grey, sprawled in a chair and flipping through a newspaper, stood
and extended his hand.
"Hey, Walt. What brings you to this neck of the woods?"
"Just thought I'd stop in to check on the errant
said, sinking into another chair and loosening his tie. "How is he?"
"Completely zonked and drooling on the pillow, last time
checked," Scully replied, lips twitching.
Skinner's eyebrows soared. "*Mulder*? In the middle of the day?"
"He's on some pretty heavy painkillers for the shoulder
Scully explained. "Keeps him pretty snowed half the time."
"It's been remarkably quiet," Grey agreed, grinning.
"I think we all could use about a week's worth of
said wearily. "We've certainly earned it."
"I thought I'd come in for a while tomorrow. I should
report finished later tonight." Scully said.
"There'll be an inquiry into the shooting, but it's just
Skinner remarked, noticing Grey flinch slightly at his words. "You
*do* realize you had no choice? A few seconds more and Cole
would have had your brother's gun, and maybe his life."
Grey had been staring out the window, nodding his head at
Skinner's reassurances. "I do know that. But the truth is, I'd only
killed a man once before. It wasn't any easier this time."
"The day it becomes easy is the day you should turn in
badge," Skinner returned, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You
did a good job, Grey. I've already sent a letter of commendation to
Grey's lips curved. "Thanks, Walt. I appreciate it."
"I just hope things stay quiet for now," Scully
not going to be released for field work for at least three weeks.
Maybe we can actually get caught up on some paperwork for a
Skinner snorted. "Now *that* would be an X-File." He
"Scully, I've wanted to speak with you about Saturday night.
Specifically, what Mulder said about Roche."
Scully's manner immediately turned from open and receptive to
"Mulder kept calling Cole, Roche. Did you ask him about that?"
Grey muttered something and Scully shot him a look that could
have turned sand to glass. "Shut up, Grey."
"I take it you have broached the subject," Skinner said dryly.
Scully sighed. "Sir, he was suffering from a grade three
concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and three cracked ribs. He can't
be held responsible for what he thinks he saw."
"He thinks Cole was - -what did you call it? channeling?
Lee Roche." It was a statement, not a question.
"He doesn't just think it, he's convinced of the
fact," Grey spoke
up, his face neutral.
"And you think it's all in his head?" Skinner asked.
Grey shrugged. "Frankly, I'm not sure what I think. I
in a person possessing the ability to channel the spirit of a dead
man. But Fox's conviction is...disturbing."
"I've been a little disturbed myself," Skinner
Scully cocked an eyebrow he hastened to explain. "Scully, when
we were hiding on that bus, just before Grey shot Cole, did you
hear what he was saying to Mulder?"
"Only a word here and there," Scully confessed.
"It was hard to
hear behind that partition."
"Well I did. Cole was talking to Mulder about his sister."
Scully looked flustered. "His sister?"
Skinner nodded. "He asked."
"He asked if I wanted to know if she was there."
Mulder's calm voice startled them, prompting an exchange of
uneasy glances. Ignoring their discomfiture, he moved slowly
across the room and lowered himself carefully onto the couch. He
was clad only in a pair of jeans, a large sling immobilizing his right
arm and shoulder. Skinner winced at the deep bruising that colored
this left side in shades of black and blue.
Scully looked at Mulder accusingly. "You didn't mention
Mulder rolled his eyes. "Why waste my breath, Scully? You
believe me about Roche, and this is just more of the same."
"What did he mean 'if she was there?'" Scully asked.
"Out there, the great beyond, among the dead,"
flippantly, but his eyes told a different story. "He said he could tell
me once and for all if Sam was dead or still alive."
Scully moved her hand to weave her fingers with his. "Did
Mulder leaned his head back and closed his eyes. His answer
soft, but firm. "I believe that wherever Sam is, dead or alive, it's
not with a man like John Lee Roche."
No one spoke for several minutes. Finally, Skinner cleared his
throat and reached into his jacket to extract an envelope.
"You might not know that I met with the Westins
told them. "They asked me to express their deepest appreciation to
you three -- especially to you, Mulder. And Callie asked me to give
Mulder accepted the envelope, eyeing it for a moment before
attempting to open it. Scully watched him fumble one-handed, then
reached out and gently pried up the flap and extricated a sheet of
paper. Mulder unfolded it, spreading it gently across his lap.
Skinner and Grey leaned forward for a better view.
It was a crayon drawing of two people standing in a field of
flowers, hand in hand. One was tall and thin with dark brown hair
and a long black coat, the other short and curly haired with a
smiling pink mouth. A bright yellow ball of a sun and three fluffy
white clouds filled the blue sky. Across the bottom in scraggly
letters was printed "I love you Fox" followed by the name "Callie."
"She's quite an artist," Grey observed appreciatively.
"She's quite a kid," Mulder corrected, running one
reverently over the page. "They both are."
Skinner stood up. "I've need to get going," he said
briskly. "I've got
a backlog of paperwork that piled up over the last few days."
"Sure you wouldn't like to stay for dinner, sir?"
Scully asked, also
standing. "You're more than welcome. Mulder's been nagging me
for a pizza and I figured I'd give in."
Mulder clapped his left hand to his chest. "Moi? Nag?
"I'll take a rain check," Skinner said dryly, lips
amusement. "Thanks anyway, Scully."
"Guess it'll be pizza for three, then," Mulder said cheerfully.
"Ummm. I meant to say something about that," Grey
checking his watch. "I won't be joining you guys for dinner
tonight. I, uh, have plans."
Mulder leaned forward like a shark scenting blood.
"Plans? Do tell,
Grey blushed. "I asked Kristen out to dinner tonight. To
for all her help on the case," he added hastily.
"Kristen? As in Agent Harding?" Scully asked,
shooting Mulder a
"That's the one. She's picking me up in five minutes, so
I guess I'll
just walk down with Walt," Grey said, bolting for the door and the
relative safety of the hallway.
"Don't be too late," Mulder called. "You know
how Scully and I
worry when you're not home before midnight."
"Shut up, Fox."
Scully saw her boss and Grey out the door, then returned to
couch. Seeing Mulder squirm a little in search of a comfortable
position, she leaned into the corner and pulled him back against
her, weaving her fingers through his hair where it lay next to her
chin. He sighed contentedly, running his hand up and down the
soft skin of her leg.
"Scully, I've recovered pretty much all of my
memory," he said
Scully smiled, knowing exactly where he was headed.
Mulder was quiet for a few minutes, still absently stroking
"I'm sorry, Scully. I was a jerk, and I had no right to say the things
"Apology accepted," Scully replied softly. She
leaned over to look
him in the eye. "*Skinner*?"
Mulder shrugged, flushing. "He does think the world of
Scully. And you gotta admit, he's built."
Scully shook her head, grinning. "I can't help it,
Mulder. I like my
men tall, dark, and paranoid."
Scully leaned over to press her lips to his cheek. The next
knew, Mulder had hooked his hand around the back of her neck
and pulled her down for a kiss that quickly left her breathless.
"The kids have all gone out for the evening, Ma," he
nibbling his way up the column of her neck. "However shall we
"Down boy," Scully gasped, but tilted her head back
to give him
better access. "You're not exactly in the best condition right now."
"Listen, babe," Mulder said, his voice low and
guarantee all the necessary equipment is in perfect working order."
He waggled his eyebrows.
Scully laughed. "You're incorrigible, Mulder."
"You've got it wrong, Scully. That's encourageable."
Scully snickered, then gasped as he proceeded to show her just
exactly what he meant.
On the television screen an anchorman provided voice-over for
footage on the death of a serial killer and the rescue of his intended
victim. The man studied the videotaped images, his nicotine-
stained fingers working the remote control to reverse, start, and
then freeze the film repeatedly. Hooded eyes scrutinized the figure
preserved in stasis -- a tall man with dark, wavy hair and a vaguely
familiar face. The man blew out a long puff of smoke, shaking his
head in wry amusement.
*I always underestimated you, Bill. Dead all this time, and
still surprise me.*
The hand not occupied with the remote picked up the phone and
punched in a familiar number.
"Alex? We need to talk."