Damaged Goods (2 of 3)
Scully leaned her head back until it thumped against
plaster, watching Mulder pace with slitted eyes. The
rollercoaster ride of the past twenty-four hours had finally
caught up with her and she felt bleary and thickheaded with
exhaustion. She watched her partner make another circuit
of the waiting area and had the sudden impression of a
panther on the prowl -- in black jeans and a black v-neck
sweater Mulder looked just as sleek and dangerous.
"Mulder, sit down. You're scaring the other patients," she
He shot her an annoyed glare but returned to flop onto the
couch beside her, propping an ankle on one knee and
settling back with a discontented grunt. A moment later his
foot was wriggling restlessly until the entire piece of
furniture vibrated from the motion.
Past the point of simple annoyance and headed rapidly for
homicide, Scully opened her eyes and drilled them into the
side of his face. When Mulder remained oblivious she sat
forward, clamped her hand onto the toe of his sneaker, and
"Mulder, I will hurt you if you keep this up. As my godson
would say, take a chill pill."
Amazing the intricacies you learned about someone after
seven years. Order Mulder to do anything, especially with
anger, and you'd get only stubbornness and rebellion for
your trouble. Yet a little humor, injected in just the right
place, seemed to bypass his defenses and achieve results.
He broke into a rueful grin that failed to mask the worry
"You got it, girlfriend," he wisecracked, but the foot did
"Look, Mulder, I know you're anxious for the test results.
But Dr. Palermo said he'd come and get us as soon as he
knew anything, so try not to wear a groove in the
He sighed deeply and let his head fall onto the back of the
couch. "I'm so tired, Scully."
Knocked off balance by the uncharacteristic admission,
Scully tried to read his expression. His closed eyes and
blank features, however, revealed nothing about his state of
"It was a rough night, Mulder, and you're still not 100
percent. It's only natural you'd feel exhausted," she said
He shook his head, eyes still tightly shuttered against her.
"Not that kind of tired, Scully. Tired of the same old, same
old. Of endlessly running the race only to find I'm on the
hamster's wheel, right where I started. They took away my
sister, and they murdered yours. They abducted you and
stole your children; they kidnapped me and took...whatever
the hell they ripped from my brain. They gave you cancer,
and now I sit here waiting to find out what little present
they've seen fit to bestow on me. Why do we do it, Scully?
Why do we play punching bag and keep popping back up
"Mulder. Look at me."
His lids dragged open reluctantly and hazel wearily melded
with blue. Scully reached out to lace her fingers with his.
"We do it for your father and our sisters. We do it for the
millions of innocent families out there that have no
awareness of the darkness that exists just outside their front
doors. We do it because we have the knowledge and ability
to fight these bastards." She smiled a bittersweet smile.
"And most importantly, Mulder, we do it because if we quit
now, they win."
He looked down at their joined hands, spellbound. So very
different --his large and rough, hers tiny and pale -- but
they fit together so perfectly. A bond that neither aliens nor
flukemen, conspiracies nor serial killers had been able to
break. Did she understand just how integral to his life and
his quest she'd become? Without her, his passion would
have burned itself out, consuming him in the process.
He stroked his thumb across the soft skin. "Scully, I want
you to know..."
"Agent Mulder? Dr. Palermo will see you and Dr. Scully in
his office now."
His body reacted to the nurse's cheerful pronouncement by
abruptly turning to ice. Mulder watched Scully rise and
graciously thank the nurse, assuring her that yes, they could
find their way without assistance. She turned, brows lifting
in puzzlement when he failed to join her.
"Mulder, five minutes ago you were so impatient to speak
with Palermo you could barely sit still. Now he's ready to
see us and you're doing a mean impersonation of a rock.
Are you coming or not?" The exasperation in her query was
tempered by the slight curve of her lips and a glint in her
It thawed Mulder enough that he could drag himself to his
feet and follow down the hallway. He guided Scully
through Palermo's doorway with one hand pressed to the
small of her back and waited politely for her to seat herself
before settling into his own chair. They sat in silence, but
for the ticking of the wall clock, until Palermo bustled in a
"Sorry for the wait, but things are a little backed up around
here today," he apologized, laying Mulder's chart on the
blotter and dropping into his chair. "We're shorthanded
thanks to the flu bug that's been making the rounds."
"We understand," Scully replied, while Mulder offered a
Palermo laid his folded hands atop the folder. "I've got
good news and bad news," he said, eyes darting between
their faces before finally coming to rest on Mulder's. "The
good news is that the tests all came back normal."
Mulder licked his lips, frowning. "And the bad news?"
Palermo's smile was rueful. "The bad news is that all the
tests came back normal," he said dryly.
Mulder chewed his lip, considering before speaking. "In
other words, you can tell I'm not dying of a brain tumor but
you don't have a clue what's causing the headaches."
Palermo blew out a long breath of air and shook his head.
"I wish I could tell you differently. The MRI, RN scan, and
EKG were textbook, Mulder. I confess I'm at a loss to
explain how you could be experiencing the level of pain
you were in last night. I'm simply unable to find a
biological basis for it."
The little line between Mulder's brows deepened. "So what
are you telling me? You're going to run more tests?"
Scully shifted uncomfortably beside him, drawing his
attention from Palermo. "No more tests, Mulder. Dr.
Palermo has already used all the appropriate diagnostic
tools at his disposal."
"The brain is an extremely complex organ, Mulder, and
there's so much we still don't understand," Palermo said
solicitously. He hesitated, as if debating whether to
continue, then said, "You've been through an extremely
traumatic set of circumstances, both physically and
emotionally. As a psychologist, I'm sure you're aware that
the repercussions from such events can exhibit themselves
in unusual ways. You might consider talking to someone
about your experience."
Mulder leaned forward, hands clamping reflexively on the
arms of the chair. "You think I need to see a *shrink*, that
this is all in my *mind*?" he growled, white with outrage.
Scully reached over to lay a restraining hand on his arm,
but he shrugged it off. Palermo's voice remained calm and
firm, a fact that only fanned the flames of his anger.
"Don't discount the impact of your ordeal, Mulder. There's
no shame in admitting the possibility that you need help
dealing with it. Post Traumatic Stress..."
"I'm intimately acquainted with PTSD, Dr. Palermo, in
ways you'll never understand," Mulder snapped. "My
headaches are not the manifestation of a repressed
psychological breakdown, and the last thing I need is some
Freudian headshrinker tracing them back to my toilet
training! Now if you'll excuse me, I think I've damn well
heard enough of your insights for one day."
He shoved the chair back with enough force that it nearly
toppled and stalked from the room. Halfway down the
hallway his rage and frustration reached critical mass and
he turned and slammed his fist twice against the wall,
ignoring the startled, apprehensive glance from a passing
Scully found him still standing there a moment later,
cradling bloody knuckles and swearing softly under his
breath. Gentle fingers probed the split skin, an apologetic
wince when he hissed in pain.
"Oh, Mulder," she murmured, peering up into his eyes. "I
can't take you anywhere, can I?" When he didn't respond to
the joke she sighed. "Go sit in the lounge. I'll get something
to clean those up."
She returned with antiseptic pads and some gauze.
Resuming her spot beside him on the couch, she tugged his
hand into her lap and carefully dabbed at the oozing blood.
"Mulder, given his limited knowledge, Palermo's
suggestion was not unreasonable. He can't find a
physiological cause for the headaches and he realizes
they're triggered by your work. He has no understanding of
Spender, the Consortium, or the kind of technology they're
capable of wielding."
"I'm not crazy," he muttered through clenched teeth.
Scully paused, cupping his jaw with her free hand. "I know
that. Why is this bothering you so much, Mulder?"
Mulder kneaded his forehead with the fingers of his free
hand, then dragged the palm down his face. "Scully... I
haven't told you much about my time with VICAP."
"No. You haven't." Scully kept her gaze on the work of her
hands, wrapping gauze around his swollen knuckles. She
could sense the effort that dredging up those days required,
and wanted to give him some emotional space.
"By the time I transferred out, I...I was in pretty raw shape.
I'd been approaching burnout for nearly a year, but the last
six months I began to seriously lose it." He chuckled
bitterly. "Not that my job performance was suffering. I'd
gotten very, very good at crawling into the minds of serial
killers and making myself at home. The problem was, the
easier it became to slip in, the harder it got to drag myself
back out. And even worse, each time I did I felt as if a little
more filth stuck to me and wouldn't brush off." In a
gossamer thin voice he added, "It got so I couldn't find
myself anymore. I was buried alive."
Scully tied off the bandage but retained possession of his
hand. "But you found the strength to dig your way out."
Mulder flashed her a grateful smile, then huffed, "I had no
choice, it was killing me. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat -- I'd
dropped twenty pounds. I had an almost constant headache.
Popped so much aspirin I nearly wound up with an ulcer."
She understood, now, where he was headed, but allowed
him to reach the destination at his own pace.
"I know the difference between physical and psychological,
Scully. I've been there. There was nothing physically
wrong with me back then, I was my body's own worst
enemy. This is different."
Scully lay her hand over his, deliberately making eye
contact. "I believe you, Mulder."
The utter relief that washed over his face was
heartbreaking, and she ruefully shook her head. "Does that
really surprise you?"
To her delight, a glint of mischief lit his face. "Scully, you
gotta admit you have a long history of doubting me."
She cocked an eyebrow, then smiled. "Only your theories,
partner. Never you. Besides, look at the evidence." She
held up his hand, knuckles swathed in gauze. "You lost
your temper back there in Palermo's office. You became so
angry you punched the wall -- have I mentioned how stupid
that was, Mulder? Now, speaking pragmatically, just how
stressed out do you suppose you were at that moment?"
Mulder grinned sheepishly. "Pretty stressed."
Scully snorted. "I'd venture to say your blood pressure was
off the charts. Do you see where I'm headed with this?"
"I didn't get a headache. I'm with you, Doc." He pulled at
his lip, the laughter gone. "Still leaves us back at square
one. How do you treat an illness you can't even find?"
Leave it to Mulder to cut right to the hard question. Scully
pursed her lips and considered.
"I'm not sure what to tell you, Mulder. Palermo was right
when he said that the brain has a lot of uncharted territory."
The chirp of a cell phone aborted her response. After a
moment of fumbling through pockets the culprit was
identified as Scully's. She flipped it open and turned,
pointedly ignoring the disapproving glare of a nearby
Mulder absently picked at his bandage, snapping to
attention when Scully's voice turned sharp and
She propped the phone between cheek and shoulder,
fishing a spiral notepad and pen from her coat.
"Just like the others?" A brief pause and her eyes slipped
shut, then popped open. "Where?"
Mulder watched her scribble madly on the pad,
occasionally nodding and injecting "Yes, sir." After several
minutes more of the one-sided conversation she
disconnected and eyed him grimly.
"There's been another murder," Mulder guessed, scanning
"They found the body about an hour ago. SAC Jeffereys
has been calling both our apartments, trying to reach us.
They'd like me to do the autopsy on this one."
"I want to see the scene."
Dead voice. Flat and uncompromising. Scully's expression
turned thunderous. She lunged to her feet and spun to face
him, hands on hips.
"Are you out of your mind?"
Mulder put on his patented smartass smirk. "I thought we'd
already answered that question."
"Mulder, putting aside the fact that we had an agreement
that you'd stay out of the field, have you actually forgotten
last night? You can't continue to work this case."
"I *can*, Scully. I have to. I'm getting close to catching this
bastard and you know it!"
"Mulder, we have *no idea* what's triggering these
headaches or what the consequences might be! You could
have an aneurysm, stroke out..."
He looked up at her calmly. "You admitted I was in a bad
way last night. Was there any damage?"
He had her, and Scully could feel her own blood pressure
"No. This time. Who's to say what will happen the next?"
Still cool and composed. "I'm willing to take that risk."
"Well, I'm not. I'm recommending to Skinner that you be
removed from this investigation, Mulder."
She turned on her heel and headed for the double doors to
the parking lot, gasping when a hand clamped roughly
around her upper arm, fingers biting into the soft flesh.
Mulder spun her around to face him, and she caught her
breath at the sight of his face.
Raw, untempered fury, yes, but something else. Something
unexpected that pierced her defenses and softened her
"You can't *do* that to me, Scully! Not now, not when I'm
so close I can taste it! This is part of what I do, who I am!"
His voice broke and he abruptly released her, turning his
back. One shaking hand came up to scrub at his eyes, his
voice barely audible. "They've taken everything from me,
Scully. Don't let them take this too."
Scully closed her eyes against the burn of tears, resignation
flooding her body until she could barely stand. Dr.
Lathrop's words unexpectedly echoed through her head.
*So many people see this as a black and white issue, Agent
Scully. Truth is, there's an amazing amount of gray.*
Some days she felt that summed up her entire existence.
Could nothing in her life remain a comforting shade of
black or white? How many times would this man ask her to
compromise what she felt with such certainty?
"All right," she said dully. "I'll take you by the scene.
You've got ten minutes. One minute longer and I *will*
have that talk with Skinner, Mulder. Don't push me on
He didn't turn around, but his head bobbed in
acknowledgement. The hand swiped at his eyes again and
he drew a long, shaky breath of air.
The urge to weep was nearly overwhelming. "Don't thank
me, Mulder. I don't think I've done you a favor. This goes
against my better judgement."
Mulder's voice was soft with gratitude. "I know, Scully.
That's why I said it."
Camera flashes and the babble of hastily shouted questions
assaulted them the moment they exited Scully's car. She
stole a quick glance at her partner, reassured by the cool,
professional mask that had settled over his features. They
flashed their badges at the uniformed cops in charge of
crowd control and ducked under the yellow tape that
cordoned off the opening to a narrow alley. A small dry
cleaning business flanked one side of the passageway, a
second-hand clothing store the other.
Midway down the dingy, litter-strewn street a large metal
dumpster squatted beside the back door to the cleaners,
surrounded by more cops, members of the forensics team,
and several VCS agents. One of the agents, tall with a
neatly trimmed beard and horn-rimmed glasses, looked up
at their approach, brown eyes narrowing and a frown
twisting his thin lips. He detached himself from the group
and met them halfway.
"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully," he greeted cursorily.
Pinning Mulder with the full weight of his stare, he
demanded, "Mulder, what in the hell are you doing here? I
was under the impression you were still barred from the
Mulder's head swiveled toward the man but his gaze,
riveted by the dumpster, took a little longer to arrive. "It's
nice to see you too, sir. No time to chat, though, I'm here to
view the crime scene."
Scully's lips compressed to a thin line as she watched him
amble over to the dumpster. She turned her attention to the
red-faced SAC, acutely aware of her blue jeans and Doc
Martens beside Jeffreys' power suit and feeling vulnerable
as a result.
"Sir, we're well aware of his restricted duty status, and we
won't be here long. Agent Mulder feels he can get a much
better picture of the UNSUB by examining the scene first
hand, rather than through photos. He can absorb the details,
get a feel for the killer's motivations..."
Jeffreys snorted and rolled his eyes. "Patterson's mumbo
jumbo," he said disdainfully, following Mulder's
movements with sharp eyes.
"Yes, Patterson," Scully replied coolly. "Whatever else he
may be, the man is legendary for his groundbreaking
contributions to VICAP. And using just such 'mumbo
jumbo' gave Agent Mulder the highest solve rate of any
profiler to date. If I'm not mistaken, sir, that's why you
wanted him on this case."
Jeffreys' jaw clenched in annoyance. "Just goes to show
how desperate we are," he muttered. He waved a hand
dismissively. "Carry on, Agent Scully. And see that your
partner is out of here ASAP. Skinner will have my ass if
anything happens to him."
Scully bit back any further response and headed over to the
hub of activity. Mulder stood next to another agent, head
bent in deference to the man's shorter stature, immersed in
"...saw anything, just like all the others," the agent was
When Scully joined them Mulder straightened, flashing her
an almost guilty smile. "This is my partner, Agent Scully,"
he said. "Scully, this is Agent Doug Costanza, better known
as Digger around the VCS."
Digger, olive-skinned and dark-haired, huffed at the
introduction. "Thanks to you, Spooky," he replied
sarcastically. He extended his hand, regarding Scully with
black eyes that twinkled good-naturedly despite his words.
"Agent Scully, it's a pleasure to meet you. Anyone who
could survive six years with Mulder here as her partner
must be pretty special."
"Not to mention a candidate for sainthood," Scully said
dryly, offering Mulder a slanted grin.
Predictably, Mulder clutched his chest and adopted a
mournful expression. "Scully, you wound me!"
She ignored his theatrics though her lips quirked just a bit.
"Why do they call you Digger, Agent Costanza?"
"Let's just say I'm...ah...proficient in the art of gathering
information through electronic means," Digger said,
shooting Mulder a quelling glare when he made a choking
Scully raised an eyebrow. "You mean you're a hacker," she
Digger's mouth dropped open, then he shrugged with a
Cheshire cat grin. "I find the term rather crude, but I guess
you could put it that way."
"Don't let him fool you, Scully. Once he gets his teeth into
a case there's no stopping him. He's got moves that would
make the Gunmen weep," Mulder chimed in. "But don't tell
them I said that," he added hastily.
A lightbulb went on in Scully's head and some of the
amusement left her face. "You're the one that passed
Mulder information on this case. *Before* he'd been
cleared to join the team," she added pointedly.
Digger looked properly ashamed. "I felt we were at a
standstill," he admitted sheepishly. "And I've seen Spooky
pull plenty of rabbits out of his hat. I was sure he could
help us." He looked over at Mulder, a line appearing
between his brows. "I didn't realize how sick he'd been,
"*I* approached *him*, Scully," Mulder broke in, a touch
of irritation in his voice. "Digger just gave me what I asked
for. Now, if you two will excuse me, I'd better take a look
at the body so we can get out of here. Jeffreys looks like
he's ready to shit a brick and I'd rather not be here for the
Digger spluttered at Mulder's irreverence, unable to contain
his mirth. He watched Mulder prowl around the dumpster
for a moment before returning his focus to Scully. "He
hasn't changed a bit," he mused, shaking his head. "Still
three steps ahead and pissed off about waiting for the rest
Scully's mouth curved at the insightful assessment. "What
made you think he'd be any different?"
Digger shrugged. "Haven't seen much of him since he took
on the X-Files, but...well, I've heard things now and then."
He shifted uncomfortably under Scully's sharp glare,
squinting up at the cloudless sky. "Mulder's always
generated plenty of talk, Agent Scully. Once I got to know
him I realized that a good ninety-percent of it comes from
people too narrow-minded to understand his genius or too
jealous to acknowledge it."
Scully's eyes softened. "You can call me Dana, Digger."
She grinned. "Any friend of Mulder's, and all that."
Digger's shoulders relaxed and he returned her smile. "All
right, Dana. And I meant what I started to say earlier. I'd
never have let Spooky finagle that information out of me if
I'd realized he was in such rough shape. Are you sure he's
ready for this?"
Scully's eyebrow soared again. "You said you know him,
Digger. Have you ever tried to stop him from doing
something, once he's put his mind to it?"
She could see memories scroll across the man's face.
"Ah...yeah. I see what you mean. Kinda like standing in the
path of a steamroller and trying to direct traffic."
She chuckled. "Good analogy. Now I think I'd better join
him before he mows down any unsuspecting pedestrians."
Scully wove through the milling agents and police, her feet
leaden as she peered over the edge of the trash container. A
pale wash of wheat colored hair fanned around a stark
white face, blue veins prominent under nearly translucent
skin. She was young, no more than twenty-five, at most,
clad in faded maternity jeans and an oversized tee shirt.
The inscription leaped out at Scully, a cruel joke whose
punchline rested in the bloody incision on the woman's
Baby On Board.
Scully squeezed her eyes tightly shut, swallowing thickly.
When she forced them open, mindful of the nearby agents,
the woman's ravaged abdomen drew her gaze like a
*We're alike, you and I. Both of us forever barren, cursed
with an empty womb*
The fingers, curling gently but firmly around her arm just
above the crook of her elbow, startled her from her reverie
with a physical jolt. Mulder's body shielded her from
curious eyes, his breath warm on the shell of her ear.
"Scully? You all right?"
The concern and compassion nearly undid her, putting
spiderweb cracks in her self-control. She forced herself to
stare straight ahead. "I'm fine, Mulder."
His fingers tightened almost imperceptibly, and she could
sense him push down the frustration those two words
provoked. "Scully, after six years together I hope you
would tell me if..."
She spun to face him, tilting her chin upward and fixing
him with a steady gaze. "Mulder, I said I was fine and I
am. Now, are you almost finished here?"
Forehead creased, Mulder opened his mouth as if to argue.
Something in her expression must have stopped him,
however, for he merely sighed and bobbed his head.
"Yeah. Let's go."
Scully walked to the car at a brisk pace, lips thin with
annoyance. She couldn't shake the unmistakable feeling
that she'd hurt him, let him down somehow by not
admitting just how raw this case left her emotions. The
annoyance flared to anger. Yes, their personal relationship
had been undergoing a subtle but steady shift, and yes, part
of that shift included an increased willingness to honestly
express feelings. This was different. This was business,
there was a killer to be caught. It was essential that Mulder
trust her ability to cover his back, she couldn't afford to let
him become mired in concern for her.
To think she was weak.
Just because he was inclined to wear his heart on his sleeve,
to let others watch him bleed over every case that reminded
him of his sister, that didn't mean he should expect the
same from her. She was stronger than that, able to put aside
her own anguish for the good of the investigation.
Scully reached the car and slipped in behind the wheel,
waiting for Mulder to join her. One look at his studiously
blank face and her heart sank, the truth blindsiding her.
Mulder wasn't the only one disappointed.
"Mulder, you need to take a break, maybe eat something."
No response. Scully watched him, well aware that for
Mulder, she'd ceased to exist. He was in the zone, the soft
focus, surreal place where he could crawl inside the mind
of a killer and try it on for size. The heel of his right hand
served as a prop for his forehead, the thumb of his left
engaged in that compulsive movement over the fourth
finger. To all appearances he was studying the yellow pad
resting on the desk beneath his chin. Scully knew better.
His eyelids were still, no flicker of movement from the orbs
It was beginning again.
She could see it in the slight motion of his hand just above
his left eye, in the fine lines that magically reappeared
around his mouth, and in the rigid set to the planes of his
back. A headache, intensity building along with the depth
of his concentration. Scully could feel the relentless
pounding in her own skull, the pain expanding and growing
as he fed it with his own stubborn determination.
Her empathy for his pain spawned fear for his health,
which in turn led to fury with his refusal to back down. She
didn't want him to admit defeat, just call a truce for the rest
of the evening. But Mulder, fueled by a broken, violated
body atop a mound of garbage, simply dug in his heels and
Scully strode to the desk, bent over, and grabbed his chair
in both hands, swiveling it until his face was mere inches
from her own. His reaction, eyes wide and arms flung
out, might have been comical if not for the violence of her
"Scully! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Mulder, you need to take a break. It's time for another
dose of the Dilantin and you need to eat something," she
said, hating the bossy sound to her own voice.
Mulder's scowl deepened. "Couldn't you have just said
something? Why'd you have to sneak up on me like that?"
The term "blowing a gasket" suddenly held a whole new
meaning. Scully spoke through clenched teeth, her words
clipped. "Sneak up on you? Mulder, I called you three
times! What do I need, a P.A. system?"
"Fine, I'll eat something. Just let me get a few thoughts
He swiveled back toward the desk and she could feel him
slipping away from her, back into the hole.
"No, Mulder! Right now," she insisted, snagging the chair
once again so that he couldn't complete the turn.
Mulder's irritation blossomed to anger and he actually
struggled to break her hold. "Scully, leave me alone! I've
got to get a bead on this, it's not adding up."
"Mulder, later! I can see you're..."
"It doesn't make sense. I can't get the pieces to fit together,"
he continued as if she hadn't spoken. The veil had dropped
back over his gaze and she had the uneasy feeling he was
talking to himself. "It seemed reasonable to think that the
genetic counselor -- what's her name? -- could be our killer.
But after viewing the crime scene today, I'm not so sure.
The b...body had obviously been handled indiscriminately,
she was tossed on top of the garbage, no thought taken to
the position, s...simply dumped inside. Yet there's a
precision to the actual w wounds and care in the manner
with which they're inflicted. I don't understand the
The hand was actively rubbing his brow now, fingers
trembling slightly. "Could there b...be more than one
person involved in these m...murders? One kills and the
other disposes of the r...remains? It would explain the
m...mixed messages I'm getting. And could the counselor
be one of the two, this -- what was her name?"
Sharp, commanding, it drew his gaze outward but failed to
derail his train of thought. "What was her n...name, Scully?
Why c...can't I remember her name?"
His face contorted in pain and he curled forward, raising
knees to his chest and burying his face in them. "God, God,
God, it hurts," he chanted. "Why can't I remember? What
did they do to me? What did those bastards do to me?"
Scully rushed to the bathroom to collect Dilantin,
painkiller, and a tumbler of water, tears clogging her throat
and stinging her eyes. She longed to hang onto her anger at
his stubbornness, but compassion and pity were already
swallowing it. Grabbing his arm she maneuvered him,
nearly blind with the excruciating pain, to the couch. She
guided the pills and water to his lips, then tugged him down
so that his head rested on her lap. He submitted to her
ministrations without protest or suggestive remarks, the
agony robbing him of the ability to connect with anything
outside himself. He simply curled into a ball and shivered.
Scully ran her fingers through his hair, gently massaging
his scalp and the flesh at his temple, palm smoothing up
and down the curve of his spine. All the while she kept up a
patter of low, soothing words while one eye watched the
clock. After nearly twenty minutes she felt a subtle
loosening of the muscles across his back and shoulders and
his breathing slowed from harsh pants to a more normal
level of respiration. By the time thirty minutes had ticked
away, his eyes were fluttering, his body slack and heavy
against her as he fought the pull of a drugged sleep.
Immediate crisis past, Scully's ire reasserted itself.
"Mulder, this is ridiculous," she said tersely, though her
hands continued to soothe. "You have to back off, take
things at a slower pace."
He blinked, struggled against an unwieldy tongue. "Can't,
Scully. Don't know how."
Worry and frustration honed her reply to a razor's edge.
"Well, you'd better learn. You can't continue this way, it's
going to kill you."
His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. "I think that's the
"So this is the infamous X-Files division. Nice digs,
Mulder looked up, pleasure replacing irritation at the sight
of Digger lounging in the open doorway. Leaning back in
his chair, he laced his fingers behind his head and grinned.
"Home of the FBI's most unwanted. What brings you to no
man's land, Digger?"
"Brought you a present," he replied, producing a tall cup of
Starbuck's coffee from behind his back.
Mulder sat forward, one hand extended and a look of
unbridled lust on his face. "Forget that crap about Greeks
bearing gifts. Whatever you want, I'll do it," he promised
Digger's smile widened and he stepped inside, chortling
when Mulder snatched the cup from him, downed several
long swallows, and sighed blissfully. "Don't they give you
guys coffeemakers down here?"
Mulder made a face, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to
indicate a machine bearing a nearly full pot. "Yeah.
Trouble is, Scully got sneaky and switched the regular for
decaf -- as if I wouldn't notice. Stuff tastes like the inside of
my running shoes."
Digger quirked an eyebrow. "I'm not even going to ask."
He looked suspiciously at Mulder and frowned. "Wait a
minute -- why did she do that? Are you sure you're allowed
to drink that stuff?"
Mulder waved his hand, chugging more coffee as if fearing
Digger would take it back. "Doc just said I should avoid
caffeine, one cup won't kill me," he said airily.
Digger groaned and dropped into a chair. "Great, just great!
First I slip you the case file and now I'm poisoning you.
Your partner is gonna shoot me!"
For some reason Mulder found his words incredibly funny,
nearly spewing the coffee out of his mouth with barely
contained mirth. "Already been there, Digger," he gasped,
swiping at his eyes with his sleeve. "Don't worry, she's a
doctor, so at least she can patch you back up afterward."
Digger shook his head. "I'll say it again -- I'm not even
going to ask." He extracted a manila folder tucked beneath
his arm and tossed it onto Mulder's desk. "The lowdown on
Traci Pritchard, for what it's worth. There's not much to
distinguish her from the others. Is Dana doing the
"As we speak." Mulder flipped the file open and scanned
the first page. "Someone talk to the husband?"
"Yeah. Gentry is typing up the report now, he'll fax it when
he's done. From what I hear, you won't get much. The guy
was pretty broken up. Evidently they'd been trying to get
pregnant for almost five years. I don't think he'd adjusted to
the idea of losing the baby, and now his wife..."
Mulder gazed up from the folder, one finger tapping his
lower lip. "Did she have fertility treatments?"
Digger straightened. "I don't know. Why? Is it important?"
Mulder shrugged, then sighed. "Probably not. I just
The strident ringing of the phone interrupted his reply. He
scooped it from its cradle while shooting Digger an
"Mulder... Thanks, Jerry, I'll be right up."
"Sounds like my cue to hit the road," Digger observed.
He stood and shoved both hands into his pockets, watching
while Mulder donned his jacket and straightened his tie.
"Got an interview with the woman who handled the genetic
counseling for all the dead women," Mulder explained,
picking up a notepad and heading for the door. "Scully and
Skinner have me grounded, so I arranged for her to come
Digger clucked his tongue disapprovingly, so that Mulder
paused and glanced back. His friend stood beside the desk
with arms folded and a disappointed expression.
Digger slowly shook his head. "Spooky Mulder, greatest
criminal profiler of our time. He can tell you what a killer
ate for breakfast, but he can't pull the wool over the eyes of
his own partner."
Mulder's eyes narrowed. "What in the hell are you talking
Digger picked up the empty Starbuck's cup, strolled over,
and waggled it under Mulder's nose. "Evidence, my friend.
You can't commit the perfect crime if you leave behind
irrefutable proof of your guilt. From what I've seen of your
partner, she doesn't miss much."
Mulder grimaced, accepting the cup. "You have no idea,
Digger. No idea."
Mulder poured Miriam Richardson a cup of coffee,
surreptitiously studying her profile. She was not at all what
he'd envisioned, though he wasn't sure the implications of
that discovery. Somehow the name Miriam had conjured up
an image of a middle-aged woman wearing glasses and a
conservative suit. The reality was younger than he, blonde,
very pretty...and confined to a wheelchair.
"I appreciate you coming all the way over here," he said,
setting the cup by her hand and sinking into a chair directly
across the table. "I'm afraid it was asking a lot, I didn't
"Agent Mulder, I haven't had the use of my legs since the
day I was born. Despite that fact -- because of it, actually --
I have become quite adept at functioning in a world
designed for two-legged people. I was perfectly capable of
coming down for the interview. I'm here, aren't I?"
Mulder blushed a little at the hint of exasperation in her
tone. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. Normally, I
would have come to the hospital to talk with you, but as I
mentioned on the phone, I'm on restricted duty while I
recover from an illness."
Miriam sipped the coffee. "And as I told you, I'm happy to
help any way I can. But frankly, I'm baffled as to how I
could possibly provide information for a murder
"Murders, actually. Six so far." He pushed a small stack of
photos across the table. "Ms. Williams, do you recognize
any of these women?"
Green eyes returned his gaze intently before she bent her
head to consider the photos. Mulder heard the sharp intake
of breath, watched her fingers tremble as she sifted through
the pile one by one. When she lifted her head, the horror
distorting her face appeared genuine.
"I know these women -- all of them! Are they...? These
women were victims of the Pro-Choice murderer? Is that
Mulder kept his expression carefully neutral. "You're
saying you didn't know? I find that hard to believe, Ms.
Williams, this has turned into a highly publicized case."
Miriam bit her lip and shook her head, eyes dropping to the
photos. "I'm not one to watch television, and I don't get a
paper, Agent Mulder. I'd heard about the murders, of
course, but nothing specific. Even if I'd heard a name I'm
not sure I would have made the connection. I see so many
people every day, and I'm not good with names. But
Mulder leaned closer, arms braced on the polished surface
of the tabletop. "So you do know them."
Her fingers moved restlessly, flipping through the smiling
faces again. "Yes. I counseled them, along with their
husbands." Her head snapped up, a line marring the skin of
her brow. "But you already knew that. Am I...? Am I some
kind of suspect, Agent Mulder?"
*You were before you came in here on wheels instead of
feet. But maybe that just means you had help.*
"One of the best tools for solving a crime of this nature is to
establish a common thread between victims, Ms.
Williams," Mulder said smoothly. "So far, you are the only
link to all six women. That makes you a key figure in this
investigation." He gestured to the pictures. "Can you tell
me anything about them? Was there something that stands
out in your memory about your sessions?"
Miriam licked her lips, face pale. "It was all pretty routine.
If I remember correctly, all of them had a positive AFP test
and followed up with an amnio. I gave them an idea of
what to expect if the child was carried to term, and statistics
for reoccurrence in subsequent pregnancies. As you already
know, all six women opted to abort."
Something in her voice caught Mulder's ear. "That simple?
Was it a joint decision, did the couples agree?"
Miriam pursed her lips. "It's a very emotional issue, Agent
Mulder. Of course they were devastated and in some cases
agreement was not reached without some discord." Her
frown deepened and she sorted through the photos yet
again. "There was something a little...odd."
She hesitated. "As I said, this is a decision that is never
reached dispassionately." She made a face. "Believe me,
I've seen it all, right down to a knock down, drag out fight
when one couple couldn't reach a resolution. But in each of
these cases I sensed an additional emotion from the women.
Something I'm not accustomed to seeing, at least not in
Mulder fought the impulse to rub the tense muscles at the
base of his neck, settled for playing with the cap of his pen.
"And that emotion was...?"
Miriam's eyes looked beyond him to memories inspired by
the photos. "Fear, Agent Mulder. Now don't misunderstand,
a certain amount of fear is completely normal and even
expected in these cases. Parents are distraught not only over
the fate of their unborn child, but those yet to be conceived.
But this...this was different. Each of these women
experienced an extremely high level of anxiety at the news
of their child's defect and made a snap decision to abort,
even if their husbands were reticent. In one particular
case..." She rifled through the pictures, pulling one to the
forefront. "This woman. Jane Gran...Gram..."
"Garson. Janet Garson," Mulder filled in.
"Yes. When her husband expressed doubt about going
through with an abortion she became nearly hysterical. I
thought she was going to have a panic attack." Miriam blew
out a long gust of air, pressing two fingers to her lips. "I felt
so sorry for him. They'd had a very difficult time
conceiving and he couldn't understand why she would be so
quick to terminate the pregnancy."
Mulder's fingers froze in the process of dismantling the
pen. "She'd had trouble conceiving?"
If Miriam noticed the edge to his voice, she didn't show it.
"Yes. I think her husband said they'd tried for over three
years before finally having success."
Mulder reached out to tap Janet Garson's face with one
long finger. "You're sure it was this one -- Janet Garson?"
Now Miriam did look puzzled. "Yes, I'm positive. Why?"
Mulder ignored the question, filing this latest revelation
away in a corner of his mind until later when he could
examine it without interruption. "How long have you been
doing this, Ms. Williams? Genetic counseling, I mean."
"Um...nearly seven years now, I guess. I started at the
hospital in '92."
"Must be hard to just provide information without
influencing the decision," Mulder mused, going back to
destroying the pen but watching her from the corner of one
eye. "What's your opinion on abortion, Ms. Williams?"
The query seemed to sandbag her. Miriam's hand jerked,
sending several photos skidding across the table and nearly
spilling her coffee. "What?"
"Your feelings about abortion -- I assume you have them?"
For the first time he saw real anger sweep across her face,
twisting her features into someone he barely recognized.
"What does that have to do with anything? I do my job, my
personal feelings are irrelevant."
"You, and your job, are the one thing six dead women have
in common," Mulder replied coldly. "That makes it
relevant. Please answer the question."
Miriam clasped her hands together until the knuckles were
white, her eyes hard as flint. "*Personally* -- she
emphasized the word I don't condone it. I hold life
sacred, Agent Mulder, whether that be genetically
imperfect babies *or* their parents. I think everyone
deserves a chance. Does that answer your question?"
Mulder nodded as an idea slowly took shape. "You said
you've always been paralyzed. Would you mind telling me
She dropped her gaze, suddenly fascinated with the pattern
of her entwined fingers. "I have Spina Bifida," she
mumbled, the words barely audible.
"In other words, had your mother chosen as these women
did, you wouldn't be here today," Mulder pressed.
Miriam didn't respond, but her nails dug crescent-shaped
gouges into the backs of her hands. "Are we finished here?
I need to get back to work."
"For now." Mulder took out a sheet of paper listing six
dates and handed it to her.
She glanced at it briefly before fixing him with an
impatient stare. "What's this?"
"The dates that each of those six women went missing," he
replied, standing. "I'll need you to provide written
confirmation of where you were in each case. Witnesses
would be helpful. You can email it or fax it -- I've listed the
information at the top."
Miriam pushed herself away from the table and pivoted her
chair to face him as he opened the conference room door.
"You must be kidding! You can't honestly consider me a
suspect in their deaths! I can't even walk, how would I
possibly pull it off?"
Mulder shrugged. "You said it yourself, Ms. Williams.
You've become quite adept at functioning in a world
designed for two-legged people. Just get me that
information, and we'll take it from there."
She wheeled past him angrily, brushing off his attempt to
help her maneuver around a chair. Mulder followed her to
the elevators, trying to ignore a faint throbbing that
materialized just over his right eye.
"I've seen happier faces on a corpse -- but then why am I
telling *you* that?"
Scully left off her contemplation of a whole-wheat bagel
and attempted a smile. It was weak and insubstantial, but
considering her current mood she gave herself an 'A' for
"You really know how to sweet talk a girl, Digger," she
"Part of my charm," he agreed. "Mind some company?"
Actually, a large part of her did. Traci Pritchard's autopsy
left her feeling disgruntled and out of sorts, emotions
rubbed raw and too close to the surface. She couldn't tell
Digger that, so she simply inclined her head and sipped her
"Rough morning?" he asked shrewdly, slipping into a
plastic chair and studying her face.
"A bit," Scully replied evasively. "I was at Quantico by six
to autopsy Traci Pritchard. Figured I'd give myself a jump-
start before going over the results with Mulder. He's not
supposed to have caffeine right now, so we've only got
decaf in the office."
For some reason Digger looked extremely uncomfortable at
that, shifting his gaze to take in a group of four agents at a
nearby table. Figuring he was still feeling guilty over
giving Mulder the casefile, Scully laid a reassuring hand on
"He's doing all right, Digger."
Black eyes leaped back to her face and a frown creased his
brow. "Yeah. He acts like the same old Spooky that drove
all of us in the VCS crazy. But I gotta admit, seeing him the
other day threw me for a loop. He looked like..."
Scully tilted her head. "Like?"
"Like when he was Patterson's golden boy, working 90
hour weeks. Mulder was the Bureau's most valuable natural
resource, and they exploited him every chance they got."
Digger's fingers curled into a fist and he grit his teeth.
"Patterson nearly killed him, shoving one case after another
at him, nonstop. He got out just in time."
Scully traced a coffee stain on the table with her index
finger. "He hasn't said much about those days. He did admit
that by the time he found the X-Files he was close to a
Digger huffed a humorless laugh. "Patterson was a cold,
manipulative son of a bitch," he said tightly. "He knew
once he brought out pictures of the victims Mulder could
never say no. He'd drive himself, not eating, not sleeping,
until he could barely function."
Scully nodded, remembering. "I can imagine. I've seen a
glimpse of it, during certain cases." She hesitated, then
continued. "It seems like you and Mulder were good
friends, Digger. Why did you lose touch?"
Digger shrugged. "Kerri and I had him over for dinner once
or twice after he transferred but it was... awkward. I think
at first he was still healing and then he went through that
hypnotic regression crap and..." he broke off, obviously
"Look, I don't mean to sound harsh, and what he does in his
private life is just that -- private. But afterward, he changed.
It was like he'd found religion or something. Even though
he'd always been driven, intense, at least he'd expressed it
in ways I could understand. But this..." Digger shook his
head ruefully. "Little green men," he muttered.
Scully's smile was less forced. "I understand, Digger. I
must admit that when I was assigned to be Mulder's partner
I wasn't sure what to expect." She chuckled. "A brilliant
crackpot, I guess. It didn't take long for me to realize that
crackpot was the best agent I'd ever worked with. And
though his theories may be unorthodox, I've seen things
during the past seven years that simply can't be explained
by conventional means."
"I'll take your word for that. And I can't deny that the X-
Files, and your partnership, seems to agree with him. I'm
glad to have you both on this case. Maybe we'll finally be
able to put an end to this nightmare."
Digger stood, placing both hands in the small of his back
and stretching until his spine gave a satisfying crack.
"Better get moving. Jeffreys has me running down some
background info on Traci Pritchard."
"Good luck," Scully replied. "Maybe you can find another
thread to tie these women together."
He saluted, grinning impudently. "I'll do my best. And by
the way, you won't find Spooky in the office. Said he was
interviewing someone -- some kind of counselor?"
Scully sat up straighter. "He didn't leave the building, did
Digger chuckled. "Take it easy, Dana. He's behaving
himself. Said you and Skinner have him on a short leash so
he asked the woman to come here."
Scully settled back into her chair looking a little bit
sheepish and a lot relieved. "Trust Mulder to do the
unexpected and follow orders," she muttered.
Digger laughed. "He wasn't kidding when he said nothing
slips past you. I can see he's in good hands. Later, Dana."
She watched him saunter out of the cafeteria, still
snickering to himself, before standing up and collecting her
briefcase. She hadn't been entirely truthful about her
motives for getting coffee. Yes, she'd felt gummy eyed and
in dire need of caffeine, but that was only half the problem.
Mulder was the second half.
Scully tossed her empty cup into the trash and made her
way to the elevator, nodding now and then to a familiar
face. Once inside she slumped against the far wall and
blankly watched the glowing numbers count down to her
destination. The office was blessedly deserted, as Digger
had predicted. She sat at her desk and carefully took out the
Pritchard file, laying it on the blotter and arranging the
contents so that none of the papers protruded. That
accomplished, she laced her fingers together and dropped
her forehead on top of them.
*Get it together, Dana. He sees you like this and he won't
let it go of it*
Autopsying the victim of a violent crime was never an easy
task, but she'd developed a certain professional detachment
over her years as a pathologist. Maintaining that
detachment was as tricky as walking a fence -- too much
and you risked forgetting the humanity of your subject, too
little and their faces haunted your dreams. Traci Pritchard's
autopsy left her listing dangerously toward the latter, in
spite of her best efforts to avoid it.
The total violation of the woman's body could only be
likened to a rape, the brutal taking of something intimate
and private with casual disregard. The fact that Traci
exhibited no signs of struggle, of resistance, only increased
Scully's discomfort. Could she have acquiesced so
completely, so easily? The flesh of her wrists and ankles
was smooth and unblemished, no ligature marks to suggest
she'd been restrained. The preliminary tox screen was
negative but for a mild sedative, no evidence of heavy
narcotics or poison. Nothing that would have caused her to
lose consciousness or left her defenseless. To all
appearances, Traci Pritchard had willingly submitted to her
The office door swung abruptly open and Scully jerked
quickly upright, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and
flipping open the file folder. If he'd noticed her morose
contemplation, Mulder gave no sign. He did a slight double
take, as if surprised by her presence, and slid into his chair.
"Pretty fast slicing and dicing, Scully. Wasn't expecting
you before noon."
Scully winced at his choice of words but chose to say
nothing. "I ran into Digger in the cafeteria. He said you
were interviewing Miriam Richardson. How did it go?"
Mulder snorted. "She was...not what I expected. But before
I get into that, tell me about Traci Pritchard. Find anything
we can use?"
"I wish I could say yes, but I'm afraid my findings won't
differ from any of the others. The tox screen was clear
except for a low level of Valium, and there was no trace
evidence of any kind. From what I could see, she wasn't
even restrained, Mulder. Frankly, I have no explanation for
Mulder rubbed both eyes with the heels of his hands,
reclining in his chair until it wobbled precariously. "You're
sure she wasn't given anything else? Maybe something that
wouldn't show up on your average tox screen?"
"I'm having the lab run a few additional tests," Scully
replied. "But I must admit I'm not hopeful. There were no
needle marks on the body, and that would be the most
efficient means to drug her without a struggle. The Valium
was administered orally, there were traces in her stomach."
She sighed. "Sorry I can't offer more insights."
Mulder dropped his hands and eyed her closely. "You can't
find something that doesn't exist, Scully. I appreciate you
conducting this autopsy, I know it couldn't have been easy
His gentle tone made her inexplicably angry. "It was an
autopsy, Mulder, just like any other. You've never thanked
me before, why start now?"
As she'd hoped, his temper flared. "All victims are not
created equal, Scully, so spare me the Ice Queen act! This
woman had her unborn child ripped from her body, then
was discarded like a candy wrapper! It bothers the hell out
of me, so forgive me if I underestimated the depth of your
ability to distance yourself."
They glared at each other for a moment before Mulder blew
out an exasperated breath of air and turned to pick up his
phone. He stabbed the buttons with his finger, then reached
up to massage his brow.
"Digger? It's Mulder."
Scully glanced away, arms folded defensively across her
chest and lips compressed to a thin line. She was aware that
she'd deliberately picked a fight with Mulder to short
circuit his concern, and was slightly ashamed of the tactic.
Truth was, she could handle the anger -- it pushed back her
own feelings of horror and loss to a manageable level and
sharpened her focus. It was his tenderness and solicitude
that threatened to take her apart, piece by piece.
"...don't care what Jeffreys has you doing, I need you to
drop it and check something out for me."
Scully frowned, turned to face Mulder more completely,
but he'd swiveled in his chair to give her a view of his back.
"You remember what you said about Traci Pritchard? That
she'd had difficulty conceiving? Well, according to Miriam
Richardson, Janet Garson suffered the same difficulty."
Mulder paused, listening intently. "Yeah, the genetics
counselor. I need you to see if any of the other victims..."
Scully was at his side, one hand on his arm. Mulder
glanced back over his shoulder, brows dipping, and held up
a hand to stall her off.
"See if any of the other victims had..."
The urgency in Scully's voice broke through, but he
scowled. "Hang on a minute, Digger." He covered the
mouthpiece with his palm and turned impatiently to face
"Can't it wait a minute? I'm..."
"It took Elizabeth Brentwood years to conceive. Dr.
Lathrop called this her 'miracle baby.'"
Mulder stared at her with narrowed eyes for a long
moment, then removed his hand from the phone. "Digger?
Add Elizabeth Brentwood to that list. Yeah, Scully just told
me. I need you to check the others, see if they fit the
pattern. And find out if they underwent fertility
He paused again as Digger rambled on the other end of the
line and his eyes crinkled with amusement. "Just making
sure you live up to the name, Douggie."
He hung up a moment later and regarded Scully without
"Mulder, there was no way to know that bit of information
would turn out to be significant," she said heatedly. "It was
an offhanded remark by Dr. Lathrop. He was trying to
apologize for flying off the handle with me by explaining
that Elizabeth Brentwood had been a special patient. Under
the circumstances, I didn't feel it merited any further
"Scully, that is such bullshit and you know it! In any
investigation, the most innocuous detail can turn out to be
vitally important. That's why one person doesn't make that
judgement. You had an obligation to include that
information in your report, yet you chose not to. Why?"
Scully fixed him with eyes like blue ice. "I already
Mulder shook his head. "And I'm not buying it. Scully, you
are too good an agent to disregard protocol for no reason."
He softened, chuckling ruefully. "That's *my* job. You
must have had a reason not to tell me." He reached out to
snag her hand. "Despite what you say, I know how close to
home this case hits you, and..."
She jerked her hand out of his grasp, tucking it under the
other arm. "My problem is not this case, Mulder, it's *you*.
I didn't mention Elizabeth's infertility because I knew you'd
react just the way you are now -- treating me with kid
gloves as if I'm going to fall to pieces! Well, I'm not! I'm
perfectly capable of putting aside any personal feelings I
have and I'd appreciate it if you'd do the same."
She braced herself for a sarcastic retort that never came.
Mulder blew out a long breath of air and shook his head, a
bittersweet smile curving his mouth. "Seven years, Scully.
Don't you know by now that to me, everything about you is
She hated it when he did that. Mulder could be an arrogant,
self-centered bastard at times, but he could also speak the
only words she needed to hear. Scully heaved her own sigh
and let her eyes slip shut in resignation, her wrath neatly
"I just want you to trust me, Mulder," she said quietly.
"This case isn't about me. I'm not likely to lose sight of
When Mulder didn't respond, she opened her eyes. He was
staring at her, but through her, an expression on his face
that was both a grimace of pain and a frown of
He made a cutting gesture with one hand, then pressed both
palms against his temples. "You said this case isn't about
you, Scully, but maybe that's not completely true.
"Mulder, don't. Whatever it is, it'll come to you later.
You need to step back..."
"NO! Scully, what if it's more than just a coincidence those
women were infertile? What if the cause of their infertility
links them together?"
His eyes were squeezed tightly shut now, and Scully saw
moisture at the corners as if he were fighting back tears of
pain. She was torn between insisting he stop and helping
him follow the thread he'd uncovered.
"What do you mean?"
"You didn't start out infertile, Scully. They stole your ova
during your abduction." Mulder's voice was low, almost
guttural as he choked out the words.
"I don't see..."
"We need to check MUFON, see if any of the victims are
registered. And we need to find out if they were ever
missing, have absences they couldn't account for," he
pressed on. He was gasping now, face buried in his hands
as he rocked slightly back and forth in a hopeless effort to
Scully crouched down beside him, one hand cupping the
back of his neck, the other resting on his knee. "Mulder, are
you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Abductees, Scully," he gritted out between clenched teeth.
"I think our victims may all have been abductees." His
voice trailed off to a whisper and he shuddered helplessly
against a fresh assault of agony.
Scully drew his head down to her shoulder and ran her
hands over the bunched muscles of his back. Tremors broke
through his body in waves as he rode out the pain. She
comforted him as best she could, but his words swirled
dizzily through her head and inside she felt strangely numb.
Scully pulled her car smoothly to the curb near the front
door of Hegal Place, grateful for the proximity. Mulder sat
rigidly in the seat beside her, one hand wrapped around the
plastic door handle in a white-knuckled grip, the other
curled around his midsection. Though his eyes were hidden
behind a pair of Ray-Bans, the tension in his facial muscles
testified that they were tightly shut against even the filtered
When he didn't move, she got out of the car and circled
around to open his door. The slight sheen of sweat across
his forehead disturbed her, but not as much as his lack of
comment when she unbuckled the seatbelt.
"Come on, partner. Almost there," she urged gently.
She could see him prepare for the additional discomfort
that motion would bring -- shoulders hunched, jaw set. He
swung both feet to the pavement and pushed himself
gingerly upright, biting down hard on his lip and swaying
slightly before her arm around his waist steadied him.
"Take it slow," Scully murmured. "Quick, sudden
movements will only provoke the nausea."
"Yeah. I've noticed," he said tightly.
Somehow she maneuvered him up the steps, into the
elevator, and down the hallway. She could see him walking
with cat feet as if the impact of every step went straight
through his head. He draped himself against the doorjamb,
brow pressed to the wood, as she fumbled for his key and
let them inside.
"Where are they?" she asked shortly as he wobbled over to
Scully found the amber vial on the nightstand, cap still
askew. She collected two capsules and detoured to the
kitchen to fill a tumbler with water. Mulder was slumped
on the couch, jacket off, tie undone, and one arm thrown
across his eyes. When the cushions dipped as she lowered
herself beside him, he extended one hand so that she could
place first pills and then water into it.
Scully leaned back, studying his profile from the corner of
her eye as she bit back the myriad of comments his
suffering precluded her from making. Mulder was the only
person she'd ever known who could inspire her to feel sorry
for him and furious with him at the same time.
His voice startled her from her fuming. She glanced over at
him, but he hadn't moved.
"Go ahead. I know you're pissed off at me, so you might as
well get it out of your system." Weariness and resignation,
but not even a trace of the usual black humor.
"Mulder, I don't think now is the time to..."
"Fine. I'll do it. You should have stopped pushing yourself
when you felt the headache coming on, Mulder. You
should have let me drive you home after the first time you
puked. You should have had the damn pills with you at the
office, not sitting next to your bed. Have I left anything
Scully rolled her tongue around the inside of her cheek.
"No, that about covers it."
No sarcastic comeback. No razor-edged wit. Just silence.
"Mulder, I don't know what you expect me to say that I
haven't already said. You know how I feel about you
continuing to drive yourself over this case." Scully tried to
keep her tone reasonable, to banish the frustration.
"It's easier to think of it that way, isn't it, Scully?" he said,
She frowned. "What does that mean?" When he didn't
answer, she tugged the arm from his eyes. "What did you
Mulder blinked, reflexes already slowing down as the drugs
hit his bloodstream. "Telling yourself that this case is the
source of my headaches and everything will be fine once
it's over. But we both know that's not true, don't we?"
Scully's eyes skittered away from his face. She didn't want
to answer, yet realized her silence was all the reply he
needed. Mulder shifted toward her, grimacing.
"We should have expected something like this, Scully," he
said bitterly. "The note pointing you to the DOD, the card
key, getting me out of there without a hitch. All just a little
too convenient, don't you think?"
"You mean it was a set up. That they intended me to find
you and get you out of there. Do you think Diana knew?"
The pain that flared briefly in his eyes had nothing to do
with the headache. "Doesn't really matter. The point is, they
allowed you to rescue me because they knew something we
didn't. Namely that they were holding all the cards."
Scully sat up straighter, her eyes hard. "Then we'll show
them they're mistaken. They've always underestimated you,
Mulder, and this is no different."
Mulder leaned forward and scrubbed his face with his
hands before raising bleary eyes. "Don't you see, Scully?
They finally found a way to solve the Fox Mulder problem
without drawing unwanted attention. Murder can be so
messy. Better to just return me, broken. That way I'm still
alive, but useless."
"Stop it," Scully said thickly. "That's defeatist talk, Mulder.
You've never backed down from a fight, and now is no
time to start."
A jagged laugh, and he shook his head. "How, Scully? How
do I fight them when they've taken away all the tools? My
memory is shot to hell; I can't seem to access the most
basic information I know I possess. And every time I try to
use inductive reasoning -- logic, intuition, or whatever
blend of both that somehow takes me to where I need to go
on a case like this -- I get a headache. And not just any
headache, but the mother of all migraines. The kind that
makes you want to bang your head on the floor just to make
it stop. How do I fight that, Scully? Where am I supposed
"They did something to you," Scully replied stubbornly. "If
we can understand what that was, we can begin to figure
out how to reverse it."
"Palermo couldn't find it! You admitted he's run every
diagnostic test possible. And what about that blood you
sent to the Bureau? Did they come up with anything?"
Scully caught her lip between her teeth with a slight shake
of her head.
Mulder slumped back into the cushions, eyes slipping shut
to ward off the pity in her gaze. "This job is all I have,
Scully. My only avenue for finding out what happened to
my sister. God knows, my mother has never provided any
answers." He pressed one palm to his forehead. "I have to
be able to work."
Scully took in the slight slur to the words, the loose sprawl
of his posture. "Are the pills working?"
"Yeah. Few more minutes an' I won' be able to tie m' shoe
laces let alone catch a killer. Go back to work, Scully. Be
Scully hesitated, unhappy with the despondency in his
answer but at a loss to combat it. "You should be in bed,"
she said, then mentally kicked herself for providing such an
Mulder was either too drugged or too depressed to follow
through with the requisite innuendo. "'M comfortable here."
He slid to the right and curled onto his side, bringing both
feet up to brush her thighs. "Go see 'f Digger got lucky 'n
Scully huffed, exasperated. "I'll stop back after work to see
how you're doing and give you an update," she said.
When he didn't respond, she collected the water glass and
refilled it, setting it back on the coffee table in case he grew
thirsty. His breathing had already slipped into the deep
rhythm of sleep, so she tugged his blanket up from the foot
of the couch until it covered his shoulders. He didn't twitch
when she donned her coat and left, locking the door
securely behind her.
Settled in her car, keys in ignition, Scully let her head rest
against the cold plastic of the steering wheel. After seven
years of seeing Mulder weather a plethora of life-
threatening illnesses and injuries she'd come to view the
man as practically indestructible. Despite enduring the very
worst that life could throw at a person, he was like the
Energizer Bunny -- he kept going, and going...
But now, in the solitude of the government issue Ford
Taurus, she admitted she was afraid. Her science, her
medicine, had fallen short of this particular hurdle and she
felt helpless to scale it. She could protest all she liked, but
she couldn't deny the truth of Mulder's statement. He
needed the work -- like air, it was what sustained him. If
the Consortium truly had found the means to cripple him,
to take that away...
Maybe quitting now was a moot point. Maybe they'd
Violent Crimes Unit
"Spooky strikes again," Digger said, motioning for Scully
to take a seat next to his desk.
Scully glanced uneasily around her before complying,
bombarded with memories of time in the bullpen. She
could vividly recall Mulder's face the day A.D. Kersh had
assigned her to the case with Peyton Ritter. Bored and
frustrated, his brilliant mind stagnating under a deluge of
mindless, repetitive busywork, she'd seen just how much
supporting her cost him. He'd belonged on that case as
much as she, and in the end, his absence had nearly killed
"Dana? You with me?"
Flushing, Scully pulled herself back to the task at hand.
"Sorry, Digger. What were you saying?"
He scrutinized her face, his own creased with worry.
"Mulder is okay, isn't he? I know you said his going home
was no big deal, but it isn't like Spooky to let a headache
stop him, especially when he's hot on the scent."
She knew his concern was genuine, but hesitated revealing
too much. Mulder could be an intensely private person, and
he despised feeling weak or helpless. She wasn't sure he'd
appreciate Digger knowing the extent of his illness.
"He'll be fine. He took his meds and was sleeping like a
baby when I left him," she said, wishing she felt the
certainty she projected. "Now, what do you have for me?"
Digger turned back to his computer, eyes lighting up like a
chocoholic presented with a double fudge brownie delight.
"Like I said, Mulder was dead on. I found out that
Elizabeth Brentwood, Janet Garson, Traci Pritchard, and
Eve Roberts are all registered with MUFON."
"What about the other two? Corrie Jenkins and Nicole
"Their names weren't on the roster, but Nicole Eddings
subscribes to several magazines and newsletters that deal
with the paranormal in general and focus on UFO sightings.
And I found a police report for the Jenkins woman, from
'89. She disappeared from a high school camping trip and
was missing for 48 hours. They found her wandering in the
woods, unable to remember where she'd been. It was
chalked up to trauma and exposure, and after being checked
out at a local hospital she was sent home. End of story."
Scully pressed her index finger beneath her nose. "Or not,"
she said dryly. "Any police reports on the others?"
"Still checking. Several have moved around quite a bit,
which makes them harder to track. I'll let you know as soon
as I have more." Digger shook his head ruefully. "Leave it
to Spooky to get me involved with little green men."
"Gray," Scully muttered automatically, scanning the
printout Digger had handed her.
She laughed quietly to herself. "Nothing, Digger. You did a
good job. No wonder Mulder gave you your nickname."
Digger shrugged. "Don't thank me. I just dig where I'm
told. You and Mulder are the ones pointing out the location.
How did you come up with this anyway?"
"The fact that the women were all infertile set off some
warning bells," Scully replied. "It defies the odds and
we've...run across something similar in the past."
Digger considered her words. "You think our killer has an
axe to grind against this MUFON group, or people that
believe in that stuff? Maybe someone close to him got
involved and went off the deep end? I mean, you gotta be a
little wacky to belong to a group like that, don't you?"
Penny Northern's pale, pain-ridden face and wasted body
flashed through Scully's mind, tightening her throat and
stealing the breath from her lungs. "You'd be surprised,
Digger," she replied, tucking the printout into her briefcase
to mask the emotion.
The hand on her arm startled her, and she looked up into
Digger's apologetic eyes. "Did Mulder happen to mention
that I frequently need assistance extracting my foot from
She couldn't help smiling at the genuine remorse in his
voice. "It's all right. You develop a pretty thick skin
working in the X-Files division."
"Just the same, I'm sorry. You two have gotten this
investigation back on track, and I have no right to ridicule
your methods or your experience. Now, what's our next
"I'm going to stop by Mulder's to fill him in on what we've
learned," Scully said briskly. "Could you update Jeffreys?"
Digger made a face. "Gonna make me suffer for that
MUFON remark, hmm? Sure, I'll tell him."
"We're going to want to talk to all the families, both about
any instances of missing time and the fertility treatment
issue. I'll need to re-examine Traci Pritchard's body, and the
other women as well."
Digger frowned. "You realize that'll require exhumation
orders. The families won't be happy."
"Can't be helped," Scully returned grimly. "If what Mulder
is thinking pans out, each of those bodies will bear an
unmistakable mark that irrevocably links them together."
Digger lifted both eyebrows. "Which is?"
She shook her head. "When I find it I'll let you know,
Digger. I'd rather not speculate."
He opened his mouth to protest, then sighed. "Spooky.
Scully stood and picked up her briefcase. "Welcome to the
X-Files, Digger," she said wryly. "Nice to have you on
"I don't understand what this has to do with Elizabeth's
The words were uttered sharply, with a tone of accusation.
The subtext was obvious -- *Why are you dragging me in
here to ask stupid questions instead of catching my wife's
Mulder tapped the yellow pad with the eraser end of his
pencil, mentally donning kid gloves. Elizabeth Brentwood
was the second victim, dead nearly ten months now. Steve
Brentwood's frustration, though inconvenient, was
"Mr. Brentwood -- Steve -- I realize some of these
questions may seem totally irrelevant. Please believe me
when I say that I would not have asked you here and
dredged up painful memories if I didn't have good reason."
Brentwood sighed and ran the fingers of one hand through
unruly auburn hair. "Agent Mulder, if I had a dime for
every time..." He shook his head. "What was the question?"
"I asked if, to your knowledge, Elizabeth had ever
experienced any episodes of missing time -- that is, was
absent for a period of time without any explanation or
memory of where she'd been?"
Brentwood swallowed thickly. "I can't believe you're
asking me this. Liz -- she was embarrassed, never wanted
anyone to know." He snorted bitterly, tugging at an
eyebrow. "Guess she won't mind now, huh?"
Mulder waited silently, loath to exacerbate the man's pain.
"The first time was before we were married, before I even
knew her," he continued. "She was attending college at the
time, a freshman at GWU. Her family was from the
Chicago area and she was going home for spring break.
When her parents came to pick her up at the airport, they
discovered she'd never made the flight. Liz showed up back
at her dorm room two days later, dazed and disoriented but
otherwise fine. The cops and her family chalked it up to
excessive post-finals partying."
"And what did Liz think?"
Brentwood pursed his lips. "She went along with the
explanation at the time. I guess it was easier than insisting
that she'd never had more than a couple beers. I met her
during her junior year, and she never mentioned the
incident. Until the second time."
"Go ahead," Mulder encouraged gently.
Brentwood took a sip of coffee, then glared at the cup as if
disappointed with the contents. "We'd only been married a
little over two years. I was out of town on business for a
couple days. Normally when I was away I'd call Liz every
night around 9, it was a routine we'd fallen into. She liked
to take advantage of my absence to go out with friends, do
some shopping, but she always made sure she was home at
9 for my call."
"Only this time you couldn't reach her," Mulder guessed,
studying Brentwood's face.
He nodded savagely. "Yeah. I cut the trip short, rushed
home early certain something terrible had happened. I burst
into the house only to find Liz sitting at the kitchen table,
just staring at nothing. She didn't understand why I was
home, in her mind I'd just left that morning. When I proved
to her that two days had elapsed she nearly became
Mulder chewed on his lip. "It's never happened since? That
was the last time?"
Brentwood grit his teeth. "Wasn't that enough?"
Mulder let that slide, glancing down at his notes. "There's
one more question I have to ask you, Steve. I know this is a
personal and painful subject, but it may be very important
in our search for your wife's killer. I understand that you
and Liz had tried to have a baby for many years before
Brentwood's brows plunged. "How in the hell did you...?
This has gone too far, Agent Mulder. Are you finished?"
He made a move as if to rise but Mulder's vise-like grip on
his arm halted it. "The man who murdered your wife and
baby is still free, Mr. Brentwood, and perfectly capable of
killing again. I'd say we haven't gone nearly far enough,
Brentwood slumped back into the chair, one trembling fist
pressed to his lips. He raised dull eyes to Mulder's face,
then averted them. "Yes," he said woodenly. "We tried for
Mulder released his grip, softening his voice. "Did either
one of you go to a doctor?"
His tongue snaked out to moisten dry lips. "Yeah. They
told us Liz was sterile. That it would be impossible for her
to have a child. Liz was convinced that it had something to
do with those two mysterious disappearances. She had
some crazy ideas about what might have happened to her
during those times."
"She thought she'd been abducted by aliens."
Brentwood flushed, eyes darting back to Mulder's face. "It
was very traumatic for her," he replied defensively. "She
couldn't remember where she'd been, but she'd have these
really strange dreams. Then one day she saw a television
show with people describing similar experiences. At the
end there was a number to call for more information, and
before I knew it she'd joined this off the wall group
"MUFON," Mulder filled in. "I'm actually quite familiar
with them, Mr. Brentwood. It's legitimate."
Brentwood eyed him suspiciously, but continued. "I think
someone in the group gave her the name of the fertility
specialist. I was skeptical, especially considering the
source, but Liz was so excited and hopeful..." He buried his
face in his hands, then dragged them down until they were
steepled beneath his chin. "I was stunned when it actually
worked, when Liz told me she was pregnant. Stunned and
ecstatic. Our dream, the one we'd hardly dared to consider,
was actually coming true."
On very unstable footing now, Mulder proceeded
cautiously. "Then you discovered there was a problem."
Brentwood's eyes squeezed shut and his head moved
slowly from side to side. "When they said Down's
Syndrome, I couldn't believe it," he whispered. "I was sure
it must be a mistake. But the amniocentesis confirmed it."
"So you and Liz went to see Miriam Richardson?"
"She presented our...options. Not that Liz would listen.
>From the moment the first test indicated a possible defect,
she was a bundle of nerves. And when it was confirmed...
Liz freaked. She insisted abortion was our only recourse,
wouldn't even consider anything else."
Mulder ran his thumb along the side of one finger. "Did she
tell you why?"
Brentwood's eyes were steel. "She was afraid. Convinced
that something horrible had been done to her when she was
*abducted* -- he pronounced the word with distaste -- "and
that the baby would turn out to be some kind of monster.
Are we done now, Agent Mulder?"
"Just one more question. Could you tell me the name of the
fertility specialist you and Liz saw?"
"Paxton. Dr. Sean Paxton. His office is in Arlington."
Mulder jotted down the name, pressing the heel of his free
hand to his temple. He took a deep breath, then met
Brentwood's gaze. "Thank you for your patience, Steve. I
have one more request before you get out of here, and it
won't be easy to hear."
Brentwood's fire faded to weary resignation. "What is it?"
"We've made some headway on the case pursuing a new
avenue of investigation. Doing so requires that we examine
your wife's body again. I need you to sign the exhumation
For a brief instant, Mulder thought he was about to be the
recipient of Brentwood's right fist. Lurching to his feet, the
man lunged across the table until his nose was mere
centimeters from Mulder's. Mulder stood his ground,
though the headache ratcheted up a notch. Brentwood's fist
tightened, then opened.
"Give me a pen and the damn form," he growled.
Mulder reached into his jacket for a ballpoint, then slid it
and the form across the table. Brentwood signed with short,
vicious strokes, piercing the paper in one spot. He slapped
the pen down and straightened, stabbing his index finger
toward Mulder's chest.
"You reopened a wound today, Agent Mulder. It had better
be worth it."
A multitude of responses flashed through Mulder's head,
but in the end, he said nothing at all.
Violent Crimes Unit
"Just the two I was looking for," Digger greeted as Mulder
and Scully stepped into the conference room. "Glad you
could make it." When Mulder glanced at the three agents
across the table and took a seat beside him he added
quietly, "I was hoping you weren't planning on leaving me
in the hot seat all by myself."
"I wasn't aware I had a choice," Mulder murmured
sarcastically. Jeffreys' memo included words like
'mandatory' and 'disciplinary action.'"
Digger pouted. "You got a written invitation? Mine just
consisted of him telling me to have my butt in the
conference room at 4 p.m.!"
"You're just jealous cuz Dad likes me best," Mulder
Scully leaned an elbow on the table to peer around Mulder.
"Are you boys finished? Because Jeffreys is going to be
here any minute and it might be beneficial to have our
ducks in a row."
Digger cocked a thumb in her direction. "Have I mentioned
I like her, Spooky?"
"Once or twice," Mulder replied dryly. "What's the word on
Dr. Sean Paxton?"
Digger pulled out a spiral notepad and squinted at what
appeared to be hieroglyphics. "Nothing unusual on the
surface. Grew up with Mom, Dad and one brother in the
teeming metropolis of Crawfordsville, Indiana --did you
know that the guy who wrote Ben Hur was born in
Crawfordsville?" At Mulder's blank stare and Scully's
arched eyebrow he hastened to continue. "He did his
undergrad at IU, then medical school and residency at
University of Illinois, specializing in OB-GYN. Graduated
with flying colors, magna cum laude. Then it gets
"Rather than going into practice like a good little doctor he
gets recruited by a high tech, bio-research facility in New
Jersey by the name of InterGen Labs. Instead of delivering
babies, he's up to his elbows in all kinds of funky genetics
research -- cloning and trying to combine two existing
species to create a new one."
One look at Scully told Mulder there was no need to
vocalize the word reverberating through his head, it fairly
crackled in the air between them.
"Digger, we're going to need you to look closer at InterGen,
Digger held up one hand, a smug grin on his face. "Way
ahead of you, chief. I had a feeling you might say that so I
did a little snooping. There seems to be two distinct faces to
InterGen, one public and easily accessible, and the other
guarded like Fort Knox." He shook his head ruefully. "I
take that back -- Fort Knox would be a piece of cake to
hack into compared to this place."
"We have no doubt as to the extent of your genius," Scully
said. "What did you find?"
Digger flashed her an impudent grin. "Nothing to do with
the research, that was locked up too tight. But I did manage
to glean a little info on the company itself. InterGen is a
subsidiary of a company called VR Scientific that dabbles
in just about everything, from surgical instruments and
complicated medical equipment to research on diseases like
cancer and AIDS. And VR Scientific is owned by an even
larger corporation called..."
"Roush," Scully said quietly. She looked at Mulder with
haunted eyes. "What have we stumbled onto here,
Mulder gave a quick shake of his head, not bothering to
hide his grimace. "I'm not sure, Scully. Not what we set out
Digger's eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Would you two
mind speaking in complete sentences for those of us that
can't read minds?"
Before Mulder or Scully could respond, Jeffreys breezed
into the room with the two remaining team members in
"Everyone's here. How refreshing," he said acidly as he
settled himself at the head of the table. He turned to the
agent sitting immediately to his left. "Gentry, would you
like to update us on your investigation of the most recent
Agent Patrick Gentry was a heavyset man with dark skin
and a mustache as thick as his hair was thin. He cleared his
throat, paging through the contents of a file folder spread
"I wish I could say I had something new to add. My team
canvassed the neighborhood, hoping to come up with an
eyewitness, without luck. According to Agent Scully, time
of death for Ms. Pritchard was around 0100 on Saturday,
roughly ten hours before the discovery of the body. Our
boy musta dropped her off during the wee hours of the
morning, before it got light. She was discovered by Jada
Chin, an employee of the dry cleaners, when she tried to
dispose of some garbage."
"The dump site itself fits the pre-established pattern -- a
rundown, urban neighborhood where everyone makes it a
habit to mind their own business. I'm not saying positively
there were no witnesses, but even if there were, I doubt
they'll come forward. Traci Pritchard was an upper middle
class white woman, not one of their own."
Jeffreys nodded sagely. "Agent Scully? You performed the
autopsy. Any insights to dazzle us?"
Scully lips thinned but her voice remained unperturbed.
"As a matter of fact, Agent Mulder and I have uncovered
information that drastically changes the focus of this
Jeffreys turned chameleon eyes on her. "Do tell."
"During the routine questioning of various witnesses, we
discovered that each of the six victims received genetic
counseling from the same person, a woman by the name of
"Not only a woman, but a woman confined to a wheel chair
-- hardly a credible suspect," Jeffreys sneered.
"I'm not convinced our UNSUB is a single person," Mulder
spoke up calmly, though there was an unmistakable edge to
his voice. "Richardson has definite issues with abortion
compounded by the fact that she herself suffers from Spina
Bifida -- the very condition that prompted some of our
victims to pursue terminating their pregnancies. But there's
When he indicated Scully should continue with a tilt of his
head she turned her attention back to the SAC's thunderous
face. "Our interviews also uncovered the fact that all of the
women had been diagnosed as infertile prior to this
pregnancy. And all received fertility treatment at the same
clinic, from the same physician. Dr. Sean Paxton."
Gentry and Archer murmured excitedly among themselves
but Jeffreys remained unimpressed. "You haven't shared it
all with us, Agent Scully, Agent Mulder." He smirked.
"You haven't gotten to the part about little green men."
Mulder braced both elbows on the table, tipping his
forehead down until it rested in his palms. Scully sent him a
worried glare, but he merely kneaded the flesh with a sigh.
"I thought we were all on the same team here, Jeffreys.
That we all wanted the same thing. Was I wrong?"
"That was when we were looking for a flesh and blood
serial killer, Mulder. But you couldn't leave it at that, could
you? You had to bring in crazy ideas best left in the
basement where they belong."
"You're the one who mentioned aliens, Jeffreys," Mulder
said tightly. "If it makes you feel any better, despite the
MUFON connection, I believe whoever did this was very
much terrestrial in origin." He moved his right hand up to
shade his eyes, masking the involuntary wince. "We have a
connection now. And Agent Scully and I have seen this
Scully watched him from the corner of one eye, disturbed
to see him unobtrusively swipe beads of perspiration from
his upper lip. "Yes, sir," she said quickly, anxious to divert
Jeffreys' focus from her partner. "As Agent Mulder said,
we've established an experiential tie between the women --
all six have at least one episode in their past of an
unexplained absence. All six had difficulty conceiving. We
have an additional connection in the persons of Miriam
Richardson and Dr. Paxton. And once I finish re-
examining the women's bodies we'll have a tangible,
Jeffreys' brow creased in confusion. "What?"
"A microchip. Embedded in the flesh at the base of the
neck. I've already found one in Traci Pritchard. I have little
doubt the rest will have them too."
Gentry shook his head bemusedly. "I dunno. Sounds like
something from a science fiction novel to me."
Jeffreys was less diplomatic. "You spend your time digging
up dead bodies and chasing UFOs if you must, but I want
this investigation focused on Dr. Paxton. Archer can go talk
to him first thing tomorrow, since you're restricted, Mulder,
and Agent Scully will be tied up with the autopsies."
Mulder's vehement protest caught the SAC midway in
rising from his seat. He sank back down, his anger obvious.
"Agent Mulder, you forget yourself. I am the agent in
charge of this department and this investigation. You have
been invited to lend your expertise. I decide the
assignments, and I want you at your desk as specified,
refining your profile."
Mulder surged to his feet, blinking when the room
dissolved into a mass of swirling colors. "If you blunder in
there and start asking questions about the murders Paxton
will disappear without a trace. And all the evidence and any
hope of catching our killer will disappear with him. Didn't
you hear anything Agent Scully said? We've had hard
evidence against these people in our hands, only to wind up
with nothing! I don't intend to get caught with my pants
down this time."
Jeffreys stood. "I've given you an assignment, agent. You're
in my backyard now, and you'll play by my rules."
"Then I'll just have to take my marbles and go home,"
Mulder replied insolently. "Seems to me this case now has
all the earmarks of an X-File. Maybe it's time Scully and I
filed a 302."
He ignored Jeffreys splutter of outrage, regretfully leaving
Scully to fend for herself. The pain behind his right eye felt
as if it pierced straight through the back of his skull, and if
he didn't reach the bathroom soon he was going to be
wearing the ham and Swiss he'd eaten for lunch. He
threaded his way through the desks on wobbly legs,
bursting through the door and staggering to the toilet in
time -- just.
After what seemed an eternity of convulsions that left his
stomach muscles on fire, he spat and dragged himself to his
feet. All he wanted was to rinse the foul taste from his
mouth and splash some cold water on his flushed face.
Unfortunately, he wasn't prepared for the lightheadedness
that washed over him after only a couple steps. He tried to
put out a hand to steady himself, but there was nothing to
grab. His vision blurred, his feet seemed to disappear, and
the tile rushed up suddenly to meet him.
"That could've gone better."
Scully glared at Digger through her fingers but he refused
to look repentant. Tilted back in his chair, twirling a pen
between thumb and index finger, he reminded her so
clearly of Mulder she couldn't help but wonder how she'd
ever missed the similarities. Both blessed with double-
edged wit and insatiable curiosity, both mavericks more
likely to thumb their noses at authority than bow to it.
"Brilliant analysis, Digger. Now I see why they pay you the
He grinned, delighted by her sarcasm, then sobered. "I hate
to say it, Dana, but on some level Spooky is right. Jeffreys
had mixed feelings about you two joining the team from the
very beginning. He wanted the genius, but not the baggage
that comes with it." When she sent him a sharp look he held
up both hands. "Hey, he's my friend, but we both know he
can be high maintenance."
Scully's pursed lips couldn't quite hide her smile. "What do
you mean when you say Mulder was right?"
"Jeffreys' feelings may have been mixed in the beginning,
but after today he'll be dead set against you two. I hate to
say it, but I think you need to invoke Skinner."
Scully groaned and let her head drop onto the back of the
chair until she was staring at a particularly spectacular
cobweb on the ceiling. "I assume that means 'you' in a
general sense that includes Mulder, especially since *I*
was the one left to handle Jeffreys just now," she said
"Speaking of which -- where is Mulder? He wasn't looking
too good when he stomped out of here," Digger said, brow
Scully sat up, glancing at the wall clock. They had been
adjourned for at least five minutes, plenty of time for
Mulder to cool down and return now that Jeffreys was
gone. She recalled his behavior during the meeting, the
now easily identifiable signs of a headache.
"Let's check your office," she suggested. "Maybe he's
waiting for us there."
When Digger's cubicle proved to be empty, Scully picked
up the phone and dialed the basement in hopes that Mulder
had sought out privacy and his medication. After ten rings
she replaced the receiver in its cradle, gnawing nervously
on her lip.
"Digger, see if he's in the bathroom," she said a little
Digger looked as if he was about to ask a question, but her
expression advised against it. He strode briskly across the
bullpen to the washrooms, Scully just a few steps behind.
He hadn't taken more than four steps inside, mouth open for
a smart remark, when he saw Mulder sprawled on the tile,
his face chalk white. Backing up quickly he shoved the
door open and beckoned frantically for Scully.
"Dana, get in here right now!"
Mulder lay on his side, right arm twisted beneath his body
and face pressed to the floor. Intending to roll his friend
onto his back, Digger knelt and carefully grasped his
Scully barreled through the door. "Digger, stop!" When he
jerked his arm back as if burned she circled to the other
side of Mulder and crouched down. "Don't move him just
yet," she explained more gently. "I need to check him over
a bit first."
He watched as she pressed the pads of two fingers to her
partner's throat, then laid the backs against his cheek. She
ran both hands along his neck and down his spine.
Seemingly satisfied, she nodded to Digger and they
carefully maneuvered Mulder onto his back, revealing an
already purpling bruise at his right temple. Mulder made a
sound halfway between a grunt and a moan, eyelids
"Mulder? Can you hear me?" Scully asked, her voice
pitched a bit louder than normal. She loosened his tie and
the first two buttons on his shirt.
"Oh God, I must be in hell," he groaned, licking his lips
and squinting in pain.
"Nah, just the VCU bathroom," Digger said brightly, but
his eyes were troubled.
"That clinches it." Mulder struggled to open his eyes
completely, but the glare of the fluorescent lights
convinced him to settle for halfway.
Scully, however, had other ideas. She leaned over and used
thumb and forefinger to pry open each lid and study the
pupil, ignoring Mulder's colorful protests. "Track my
finger," she directed.
After he'd complied she sat back on her heels and regarded
him solemnly. "What happened?"
"Scully, I'm lying on the floor of a bathroom used by a
bunch of VCU guys. I don't even want to *think* about the
implications there. Can I please get up?"
When he made a move to rise, Digger reached out to assist.
Scully stopped the action with a firm palm to the center of
his chest and a warning glare at Digger.
"Not yet. What happened?"
Mulder rolled his eyes, then sucked in a sharp breath and
turned a bit green. He closed them and concentrated on
breathing slowly through his nose for several seconds
"Headache," he ground out.
"Now? Or then?"
"Both. Came in here and puked. Must have moved too
quickly. Got dizzy."
Scully frowned at his degeneration from complete
sentences to fragments. She wrapped her fingers around his
wrist, then took a closer look at the lump on his head.
"Mulder, you know what I'm going to say."
Green eyes struggled open to fix her with a reproachful
"You have a huge lump on your head that's going an
interesting shade of black and blue, your pulse is rapid, and
your right pupil is slightly dilated," she said firmly, ticking
off each point on her fingers. "You have to go to the
hospital and get checked out. We can have Palermo meet us
at the emergency room."
"Palermo!" Mulder whined, shielding his eyes in the crook
of his arm.
"Mulder these headaches are getting worse. I want another
Mulder was silent a moment. "No ambulance," he said
mulishly, voice muffled by the sleeve of his jacket. "I walk
out. You drive."
"You walk out with help, if necessary, and let Digger get
some ice for that bump. And I drive."
Mulder muttered something under his breath. "Deal."
Even though Scully and Digger helped him upright in small
increments, Mulder was drenched in sweat and trembling
by the time he stood on two feet. Scully left his side long
enough to wet a couple of paper towels with cold water so
that he could bathe his face.
"Thanks," he said tersely, handing them back to her so she
could discard them.
"You ready to roll?" Digger asked.
Mulder's nod turned into a grimace. "Yeah. But I don't want
"No problem," Digger replied. "You and Dana can duck
right around the corner to the elevators and I'll meet you at
the car with the ice. Where are you parked?"
"Section F, not far from the stairs," Scully replied, taking
hold of Mulder's elbow as unobtrusively as possible.
Mulder took several slow steps, swaying slightly, until he'd
reached the door. "You don't think Scully coming out of the
men's room is going to attract attention?" he asked
Digger snorted. "You *have* been away too long, Spooky.
This is Violent Crimes, remember? Most of 'em will be so
preoccupied with what they're working on, they wouldn't
notice if she strolled out naked -- no offense, Dana."
Mulder leaned against the wall for a moment. "Whatcha
say we test that theory?" he panted, wisely foregoing the
"Shut up, Mulder."
Digger's prediction proved accurate. They made their way
to an elevator that was blessedly empty due to the advanced
hour. Mulder propped himself in a corner with his head
pressed against the metal, eyes screwed tightly shut.
"Talk to me, Mulder," Scully said quietly. "How are you
"Hurts. Feel like I'm going to be sick."
Her gaze darted around the interior as the doors slid open.
Of course there was nothing, not even a trashcan in sight.
Mulder opened his eyes, looking almost amused at her
"Don't worry. Nothing left."
Digger ran up just as Scully got him settled in the car, seat
reclined. She accepted the makeshift ice pack with a
grateful smile and laid it gently over the now swollen knot
on Mulder's temple.
"Hold this, Mulder."
He did as she directed, with a slight grunt. Scully fastened
his seatbelt and pulled back to shut the door. Digger peered
inside, brow creased.
"You want me to come?"
Mulder's eyes, which had slipped shut, flew open. "NO!
Gotta stop Jeffreys. Don't let him send Gentry to see
Paxton. Talk to Skinner."
Digger looked at Scully, who reluctantly nodded. "He's
right. Once Paxton figures out we're aware of his
connection to the victims he'll disappear. Skinner will
understand, tell him everything."
Digger hesitated only a moment longer before bobbing his
head. "I'll take care of it, Spooky. You just hang in there."
They made the drive to the hospital in tense silence.
Scully's fingers curled around the steering wheel in a white-
knuckled grip as she pushed the speed limit and winced at
every bump. Mulder's eyes remained shut, his lips
compressed to a thin line and his responses to her
occasional questions limited to monosyllables.
When they staggered through the electric doors into the
emergency room, Mulder leaning heavily on Scully's left
shoulder, Palermo was waiting for them. He took one
assessing look at his patient, eased Mulder into a
wheelchair, and turned to Scully.
"On the phone you said he had an accident -- what
happened?" he asked in a voice pitched for her ears only.
"The headaches have been more frequent and more intense.
According to Mulder, he vomited and became lightheaded
when he stood up. He hit his head on the bathroom floor
and was unconscious when we found him."
"Did he lose consciousness before or after he hit the floor?"
Palermo asked, bending to get a closer look at the lump on
"I don't know. I don't think he does either."
"I'm not brain-damaged, and I'm sitting right here," Mulder
Palermo moved to crouch in front of him. "Sorry," he said
contritely. "I wasn't sure you were up to it. Track my
Mulder pried his eyes open and locked them onto the
indicated digit, following it first to the left, then the right.
"Good. Do you know what...?"
"Tuesday. 1999. Hillary's husband."
Palermo looked up at Scully, who folded her arms and
lifted her shoulders. "Okay, let's get him in an exam room
and check all his vitals. I already alerted radiology that
we'll be bringing him up."
A nurse materialized and within minutes Mulder was
settled on a gurney with a blood pressure cuff around one
arm and a thermometer in his mouth.
"Temperature's normal," she said, making a notation on his
chart after she'd removed both. "BP is a little high. Dr.
Palermo will be back in just a sec."
Mulder settled more deeply into the small pillow, his
eyelids drooping. "Can't let Gentry near Paxton," he
Scully moved closer to the bed. "Digger will take care of it,
Mulder. You just relax."
"Chips are key," he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "'S
why they didn't struggle. Jus' like bridge, Scully. Were
Scully frowned at the slurring that crept into his voice and
his rising somnolence. She watched as he slowly blinked,
then let his eyes slide shut.
"Mulder, c'mon you know the drill," she said sharply,
nudging his arm. "No sleeping with a head injury.
He levered his eyelids up with what appeared to be a
superhuman effort. "'M tired, Scully. Hurts."
When his eyes started to close again she reached over and
forced the right one open. The pupil had grown since her
previous examination, threatening to swallow the green
rim. Scully pulled aside the curtain to provide a view of the
"Get Palermo in here right now, he's losing consciousness!"
she bellowed. Turning back, she pinched Mulder's earlobe
viciously between thumb and forefinger. "Mulder, wake up,
damn it! Mulder!"
His reaction was merely an unintelligible string of vowels
and consonants coupled with a sluggish swat at her hand.
Palermo tore the curtain all the way open and rushed to the
other side of the gurney.
"What in the hell is going on?"
"Difficulty speaking followed by rapidly increasing
lethargy. He's practically nonresponsive and his right pupil
is completely dilated," Scully said curtly.
Two nurses had joined Palermo as he pulled out a penlight
and examined both Mulder's pupils, then checked reflexes.
"He's slipping into a coma, there must be a bleed
somewhere. Get him up to CT right now," he barked.
In seconds the rails to the gurney were lifted and Mulder
was being moved down the hallway. Scully started to
follow but Palermo stopped her with a firm hand on her
"Dana, you can wait for him in chairs on the second floor.
I'll let you know what's happening as soon as I can."
With that he was off and running to catch up with the
gurney, which had just been loaded onto the elevator.
Scully stepped into the hallway just in time to see Palermo
squeeze inside and catch a glimpse of Mulder's still face
before the doors rolled shut.
Scully's head snapped up at the familiar voice and she
started to rise. A large hand on her shoulder interrupted the
"Sit, Scully. You look exhausted."
Skinner took a seat in the chair to her right and she
unconsciously shifted in the opposite direction. He was still
clad in a crisp white shirt and conservative tie, though
somewhere along the line he'd shed his jacket. Leaning
forward with elbows braced on knees and hands clasped, he
turned to regard Scully with compassionate eyes.
"How is he? Agent Costanza said it was just a bump on the
head, but they told me in the ER he'd been sent up for an
emergency CAT scan." His expression darkened. "Does
this have something to do with what Cancerman did to
Scully inhaled deeply and fixed blue eyes on his face. "He's
been experiencing headaches ever since he returned to
work. The frequency and intensity have been gradually
When she paused, intending to gather her thoughts before
continuing, Skinner scowled. "I asked you to inform me if
he couldn't handle this case, Agent Scully. Why didn't
Scully closed her eyes and gave a sharp shake of her head.
"There's more, sir. You need to hear the whole story."
"We discovered two important things about Mulder's
headaches. First, that despite a complete battery of tests,
Dr. Palermo could discover no physical cause. All the
results came back completely normal."
Skinner's brow creased. "The stress from this case..."
Scully held up a hand. "They began that first week, sir,
before Mulder and I took on this case. And they seem to
have a very specific trigger."
She nodded. "Normal tension doesn't affect him, he had
a...confrontation with Dr. Palermo and nothing happened.
When he tries to work, however, to analyze the killer for
his profile or access information from his memory." She
shook her head. "It's almost instantaneous. It's like
biofeedback. Are you familiar with the concept?"
"Vaguely," Skinner admitted. "The premise is that you can
use the mind to positively influence physical responses --
blood pressure, heartrate, pain. It's a cyclical process:
relaxation decreases pain, which in turn increases
Scully nodded again. "What I see happening to Mulder is
like negative biofeedback. His mental process triggers the
pain, which makes him work harder to concentrate and in
turn provokes more pain." She looked at Skinner grimly. "It
cripples him until he can't continue, effectively preventing
him from working. Do you see the implications, sir?"
Realization seeped onto Skinner's face. "You think this was
purposely done to him?"
Scully stood and began pacing. "They operated on his
*brain*, sir. And we don't know how or why. This certainly
achieves their purpose, doesn't it?"
Skinner pushed his glasses up to pinch the bridge of his
nose. "They've shown they'll resort to just about anything if
it furthers their own interests," he muttered. "What
happened today? Costanza told me about the meeting with
Jeffreys and I've already spoken to him. The investigation
will proceed as you and Mulder advised."
The dangerous tone in Skinner's voice stilled Scully's
restless feet. "Thank you," she murmured. "Mulder will be
relieved to hear that."
Skinner shrugged off her gratitude. "Jeffreys is a
pretentious loud mouth with a few friends in high places.
He functions adequately under normal circumstances but
this case is way over his head, and he knows it."
"I think Mulder had a headache before the meeting but
didn't want to take anything that would make him fuzzy,"
Scully went on. "The argument with Jeffreys didn't provoke
it, but I'm sure it didn't help. The pain became so severe he
vomited and became dizzy. He fell and hit his head."
Scully resumed pacing. "He was unconscious when Digger
and I found him but he came around soon after." She
pressed two fingers to her lips. "I never should have let him
talk me into driving here. I should have called 911 -- screw
Jeffreys and the rest of those VCU idiots."
Skinner's eyebrows climbed at her unaccustomed
vocabulary. "Costanza said he just had a bad headache and
seemed a little unsteady. Why did his condition
"He suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage -- that's bleeding
in the brain," Scully explained tightly, sitting back down on
the edge of her chair. "Dr. Palermo found it right away
when he did the CAT scan. What he didn't expect was that
it had nothing to do with the bump on Mulder's head. It
occurred in a completely unrelated area of the brain."
Skinner clenched his jaw and glanced away. "The
"Seems the most likely explanation." Scully's voice
wavered slightly. "The good news is that it was a small
bleed and already appeared to be stopping. With any luck,
they can treat Mulder with drugs and avoid surgery."
A figure in scrubs and a white lab coat rounded the corner
and Scully sprang instantly to her feet.
"Dr. Palermo, how is he?"
Palermo cupped the back of his neck, eyeing Skinner
"This is Assistant Director Skinner, our boss," Scully added
Palermo shook Skinner's hand and exchanged the required
pleasantries while Scully shifted impatiently from foot to
foot. Finally he turned to her with a tired smile.
"We're getting him settled in the ICU, you can go on up as
soon as we've finished talking. The bleeding seems to have
stopped. I'm giving him Mannitol, 1.5 grams as a 20
percent solution over the next hour to reduce the swelling.
We'll monitor him carefully and decide how to proceed
Some of the tension left Scully's rigid shoulders. "Thank
He smiled, brushing his fingers down her arm. "My
pleasure. Try not to worry, we'll have him complaining in
When Palermo left, Skinner turned to Scully, who kept
glancing down the corridor to the elevators. "Go ahead,
Scully. Keep me posted on his condition."
He headed for the stairwell, only to stop and spin around.
She turned back. "Sir?"
Skinner looked at a spot just over her head, uncomfortable
under the force of her gaze. "He can't work like this, Scully.
I'd be negligent in my position as his supervisor if I allowed
him to continue."
Raw emotion flitted briefly across her face before the calm
mask reasserted itself. "I understand, sir."
"If you'd like me to tell him..."
"No. I'll tell him, thank you anyway, sir. And thank you for
handling SAC Jeffreys." Calm, resolute, but she couldn't
disguise the pain in her eyes.
Skinner watched her disappear into the elevator before
continuing toward the stairs. He hadn't attempted to contact
that cigarette smoking bastard in months. Now seemed like
the time to try.
Scully sat close to the bed and played idly with the long
fingers of the limp hand that rested in her own. It was just
one of the few indulgences she allowed herself when he
was asleep or unconscious -- sad, really, that they'd been
here enough times for her to be able to claim that.
She ran the tip of her index finger up and around each digit,
watching his face, smoothed in sleep. The second CAT
scan, performed less than an hour earlier, had already
shown a reduction in swelling and Mulder had been
exhibiting signs of waking for about the last fifteen
minutes. A small sound that could have been distress,
relief, or a combination of both slipped up her throat and
past her lips as she bent over to lay her cheek against his
*Why are you such a coward, Dana? How many times are
you going to come within a breath of losing him without
telling him how you really feel?*
"When this is over, Mulder," she murmured, pressing a kiss
to the pad of flesh beneath his thumb before straightening
up. "We're going to have a long talk."
"Mmm. 'S nice, Scully. 'Bout what?"
Though his eyes were still shut, his head lolled in her
direction and his lips curved. Scully stood and hit the call
button, positioning herself by his head.
"Hey," she said, grinning like an idiot. "Welcome back,
The nurse, Vickie, appeared a bit breathlessly. "Doctor
Scully? Is there a problem?"
Scully managed to regain a little composure. "Yes. He's
awake," she said wryly. "Could you page Dr. Palermo?"
Vickie inched a few steps closer, breaking into a smile
when Mulder wrestled his eyes partially open. "Nice you
could join us, Agent Mulder," she said, winking at Scully.
"I'll get Dr. Palermo right up here."
Mulder swallowed thickly and licked his lips. "Water?" he
Scully poured a small amount into a cup and placed the
straw at his lips. "Not too much, Mulder. You need to go
easy on fluids for a bit."
He blinked, eyes panning slowly around the room. "Uh,
Scully? Where am I?"
Her impulsive hand reached out to smooth back a wisp of
his hair. "ICU. You had an intracerebral hemorrhage,
Mulder. Fortunately it was small, and they were able to
take care of it with medication. What do you remember?"
He frowned, lifting the hand without the I.V. to rub his
eyes. "The ER, I guess. Laying on that gurney and feeling
like my head was going to crack open." He sighed and lay
his hand back across his chest. "Whatever they've got me
on is gooood stuff."
Mulder snickered. "'M not even sure I've got a head."
Scully grinned at that. "Get some sleep. If you continue to
improve they'll be moving you to a regular room first thing
in the morning."
He nodded agreeably and let his eyelids glide shut. Scully
thought he'd dropped off to sleep, but he surprised her by
"Didn't think I hit my head that hard, Scully. Why'd I
Scully sank her teeth into her lip. This was territory she'd
hoped to leave uncharted until the morning. When she
didn't immediately reply, Mulder's eyes popped open.
"Mulder, as far as we can tell, the bleed had nothing to do
with the blow to your head."
She watched as his brows knit in confusion, then lifted in
shocked disbelief. "The headache...?"
Scully sat down on the edge of the mattress and
sandwiched his hand between hers. "It looks that way,
Mulder. It's the most plausible explanation."
His gaze was too intense, boring into her face until her
cheeks flushed and she averted her eyes. "You really need
to rest now, Mulder. We can talk about this..."
"You're going to tell Skinner, aren't you?"
Not even a hint of accusation in the question, only weary
resignation. Scully pulled her gaze back to his, troubled by
the dull acceptance that waited there. She wanted him to be
angry, to rant and rave about betrayal and insist on his
ability to continue working. She wanted Mulder, not this
stranger wearing his face.
"He already knew you were here, Mulder. Digger told him.
He would never have settled for less than the complete
*Nor would I*
"He's taking me off the case." It was a statement, not a
question and Scully's throat closed up at the bleakness.
"Mulder, you can't afford another headache," she said
thickly. "The work triggers the headache, and the headache
caused the bleed. You might not be so lucky next time."
Mulder's eyes slammed shut and she was devastated when a
tear squeezed out the corner and ran down into the pillow.
"Lucky," he choked. "Right. I'll remember that, Scully."
"Hey, I hear you decided to rejoin the land of the living,
Mulder," Dr. Palermo said cheerfully, breezing into the
room with Vickie. "How do you feel?"
Mulder swallowed, and when he opened his eyes they were
blank. "Just great, Doc. After all, I'm alive, right? I've still
got a whole lifetime to look forward to."
Scully dug her nails into her palm, fighting back tears, as
Palermo chuckled and set about examining his patient.
Vickie, however, sensed her distress. While the doctor
checked Mulder's pupils she moved unobtrusively to
"Are you all right, Dr. Scully?" she asked softly. "Can I get
Scully blinked rapidly, her shoulders straightening and her
chin tipping up. "I'm fine, Vickie. But thanks."
Vickie lay a comforting hand on her arm and smiled.
"Sometimes the shock of an ordeal doesn't hit until it's
over. Don't worry, he'll be just fine."
Scully pasted on a smile that was strictly for show.
*I want to believe...*
Concluded in part 3