TITLE: Blood Ties(2/2)
E-MAIL: sunrise83@comcast.net
ARCHIVE: MTA, Xemplary, Gossamer - others are fine, just let me know
SPOILERS: Mild through season 6
RATING: PG-13 for violence and disturbing imagery
CLASSIFICATION: S, A -- with a case file thrown in
KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully UST, M/S/Sk friendship
SUMMARY: Upon the death of his mother, Mulder learns a family secret that will change his life forever.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully, and Skinner belong to Chris Carter and 1013 productions. I only borrow them for entertainment purposes. Grey McKenzie is all mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Undying gratitude to my beta reader, Laurie, and beta reader/collaborator Donna. You guys have a way of offering encouragement just when I need it the most. Thanks for keeping me going. This story is the first in a possible series - you tell me what you think!
FEEDBACK: Is the icing on the cake. I'd love to hear from you!

Blood Ties (2/2)
By Dawn

127 S. Cambridge
Eagle Rock
3:10 p.m.

Mulder leaned against the counter, watching Grey rummage through the refrigerator. He was tired -- not just the pleasant physical fatigue of well-used muscles, but an almost mind-numbing weariness of spirit. They'd walked back from the park in silence, a wall replacing the bridge between them. Mulder was still trying to figure out how he'd managed so quickly to alienate a man he'd begun to like and hoped to respect. The look in his brother's eyes when he spoke of his wife was a look he'd seen in the mirror on numerous occasions. He longed to take back the angry words, but knew it was impossible.


He looked up, startled from his inner ramblings. Grey tossed him two objects in quick succession: the first, a bottle of water, the second a small ice pack.

"Put that on your lip, it'll take down the swelling."

The cold stung initially, then felt soothing. "Thanks." After a moment he added, "Scully's going to kill me."

To his intense relief, Grey grinned. "Bet she can be a real spitfire."

Mulder rolled his eyes. "You have *no* idea."

"Kate was like that." A wistful note crept into Grey's voice, though his smile remained. "The little bit I've seen of Dana reminds me of her. She was the gentlest person I've ever known -- but hell on wheels if you crossed her."

"How long were you married before...?"

"Four years. Sometimes I regret that we never had kids. Most times I think it's for the best." He sighed. "We thought we had plenty of time."

"Scully can't have children." Mulder set down the ice pack and opened his water. "They did something to her when they abducted her."

He seemed to miss the significance of his own remark, but Grey didn't.

"I have to say this once, Fox, and then I'll let it lie. Life is too short to wait for a perfect moment. Tell her."

Mulder looked at him sharply but didn't pretend ignorance. "It's complicated."

Grey chuckled. "*You* make it so. It's actually very simple."

"I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I didn't mean to open an old wound."

Grey shrugged. "It's all right. I'm doing okay."

"I don't see any pictures of her."

A little of the sadness crept back into his brother's eyes. "Not *that* okay." He downed a few swallows of water. "I've got a picture upstairs in the bedroom. I'm not ready to see her everywhere yet."

He deposited his empty bottle in the sink and stripped off his shirt, rolling it into a ball. "I'm taking a shower. Make yourself at home, I'm sure Dana won't be back for a little while yet."

With that he ambled down the hallway and Mulder heard the thud of his feet on the stairs. Still sipping his water, Mulder wandered into the living room, idly taking in the comfortable furniture that was noticeably free of knick-knacks. Something told him that more than just photos had been packed away after Kate's death.

A large coffee table sat in front of the sofa, littered with file folders, their contents spilled out over the surface. Curiosity piqued, he drifted closer, not really surprised to discover that they were case files. Almost without thinking, he sat down and began to read, spreading out crime scene photos and autopsy reports.

A serial killer, with four victims to date. All dead from blood loss caused by deep slashes inflicted to the forearms from elbow to wrist. The bodies were mutilated post-mortem, gutted to remove the heart from the chest cavity. The selection of victims appeared random -- males and females, various ethnic backgrounds and professions, ranging in age from twenty-seven to fifty-eight. The Raleigh P.D. had consulted with the local bureau to obtain a profile of the killer, and a suspect was presently in custody.

Completely immersed, Mulder never heard Grey's footsteps on the stairs.

"Hey, Fox, I can loan you a pair of sweats if you want to shower..."

Grey broke off, freezing in the doorway when he saw how his brother had been occupying his time. A momentary flash of annoyance crossed his features before he walked into the room and plopped down onto the couch.

"I'm not sure how ethical it is for you to be doing that."

"I'm FBI. It's not like I'm some guy off the street," Mulder never lifted his eyes from the report he was skimming.

"Doesn't matter, I suppose. We caught the guy yesterday. I was downtown filling out the paperwork when you first arrived."

"You've got the wrong guy." There was no hesitancy, no uncertainty in Mulder's mind. He continued to flip through the folder that he was holding, oblivious to the thunder in his brother's face.

"The Raleigh Bureau gave us a profile. He fits it perfectly." Grey's voice cooled ten degrees.

"I know. The profile is wrong."

"It's wrong, huh? And you were able to determine that after reading the case file for all of twenty minutes? We've been working this case for *three months*! Maybe you should stick to aliens."

*That* grabbed Mulder's attention. He whipped his head around and fixed Grey with a furious glare, clenching the papers in his hand until they crackled. His brother didn't shrink from the venom in his stare, just folded his arms across his chest.

"I'm not an idiot. I used to be a profiler," Mulder said through clenched teeth.

"And we aren't just a bunch of stupid good ol' boys who don't know how to run an investigation." Grey's accent thickened with his anger. "You aren't profiling any more, Fox, and you're out of your jurisdiction. Leave it alone."

He shoved papers and photos back into the folders, his movements rough. Mulder bit back another retort, breathing deeply in an effort to calm down. When he spoke again, he kept his voice reasonable and detached.

"Grey, listen to me. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds, but the files caught my eye. You have to believe me when I say that I know what I'm talking about here. The man you've arrested did not commit those murders. Your killer is still out there, and he'll kill again."

Grey looked at him, his eyes still narrowed in annoyance, but his own anger in check. "Because the profile is wrong."

Mulder ignored his sarcasm and nodded. "Look, the profile assumes the killer is a middle-aged male, probably thirty-five to forty-five, who didn't finish high school and works a blue collar job. It also supposes that his motivation for the murders stems from a sense of inadequacy. That he picked the victims because they were all well educated and in successful careers -- something he wanted but could never attain."

"I've read the profile."

"So you arrested..." He trailed off picking up a folder and consulting it. "Patrick Booker, thirty nine, an assembly line worker at a local company that makes plastic containers."

"That's right. A company that just happens to be within five miles of where three of the four victims lived and two miles from one of the dump sites," Grey said. "He never graduated high school, and his co-workers say he's always mouthing off about people with college degrees thinking they're better than he is. Plus he knew two of the victims personally. He had Janet Lange's business card in his wallet."

"But the autopsy results show that the victims all had large amounts of Ativan in their bloodstream, most likely injected. Patrick Booker wouldn't have access to that drug or the smarts to use it. His I.Q. is barely above one hundred. In addition, the profile presupposes that the UNSUB murders out of rage. I just don't see that from the presentation of the bodies. The victims were anesthetized before their arms were cut, and the mutilations were performed after death."

And *your* theory is?"

Reining in his temper Mulder continued, his voice becoming more detached and clinical as he distanced himself from the horror of exploring the killer's mind.

"Your killer is younger, probably in his twenties. He was severely abused -- physically? Sexually? I'm not sure, though since none of the victims were violated I'd suspect the former. Whatever the case, the system let this guy down and the abuse was never exposed and stopped. He's out from under it now, but he can't move on. The victims represent the people who should have helped him, but didn't. A teacher. A doctor. A school counselor. And a social worker. All jobs that come with an obligation to report child abuse. His method reflects his state of mind during the years of abuse. Think about it, it's the classic way to commit suicide by slashing your wrists -- vertical cuts so the blood won't clot as easily. It speaks of my sense of despair, hopelessness. I'm trapped and alone, and this is my only way out. Cutting the heart from the body is the ultimate expression of my despondency."

He realized he'd been drifting, caught on the in between plane where only his own mind and the mind of the killer existed. He brought himself sharply back to focus on his brother, to find Grey watching him as if he'd grown a second head. Mulder flushed, mentally kicking himself for letting down his guard. Before either one could speak, the doorbell rang.

Still scrutinizing Mulder as if he were a particularly interesting bug, Grey got up and returned a moment later with Scully. Her relaxed smile faded when she sensed the tension between them, and her eyes narrowed as she took in Mulder's split lip.

"I thought I told you boys to play nice."

Grey had the good grace to flush and duck his head. "Guess it runs in the family after all. Can I get you something to drink, Dana?"

"Grey..." Mulder began, still holding the folder.

"I told you to let it go, Fox." Grey cut him off, scooping papers off the table and plucking the folder from his hand. "We have plenty of support from the Raleigh Bureau. Your input isn't needed or wanted."

Mulder's temper snapped and he stood up. "Why are you being so pig-headed? Why can't you just listen to what I have to say? Are you worried little brother might show you up?"

"I did listen! All I heard was some half-baked idea put together in a few minutes that completely contradicts a profile refined over several months! Stick to your X-Files, Fox, and leave the real police work to me."

The words hung in the air of a room that was suddenly very still. Mulder's eyes shone over-bright in his pale face. Scully reached out to lay a hand on his arm, but he shrugged it off.

"I knew this would never work." He walked out of the house without looking back.

Scully turned on Grey, who squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his hands. "I can't believe I just said that," he groaned, honest regret in his voice.

"I can't either."

Grey dropped his hands and sighed, looking up at the ceiling in a "why me?" gesture. "He can be so...infuriating! It's like he pushes all the wrong buttons, you know what I mean?"

"I've been his partner for six years, Grey. I think I grasp the concept."

"The question is why do you put up with it?"

She didn't have to think through her answer. "Because he needs me. And although he's boneheaded and insensitive at times, he can also amaze you with acts of utter selflessness and compassion. He's a truly good person, Grey, and
I'm better for knowing him. Give it a try."

Grey ran his hand through his hair and started for the door. "I need to apologize."


He turned back, frowning. "Don't?"

"Give him some time to cool down and call him in the morning. You know where we're staying, right?" At his nod she continued. "We planned to fly home tomorrow night, so you've got one more day to fix things. He wants it to work, Grey."

"So do I, Dana. It's just not going to be easy."

She smiled and squeezed his arm as she moved past him. "Well, you know the cliché. Nothing worthwhile ever is."

The door snicked shut behind her and he stood in the middle of his living room, staring at the file in his hand. Mulder's words, spoken in that odd monotone, ran through his head and he shivered. Feeling foolish, he dropped the folder back onto the table and went to make himself a sandwich.

Holiday Inn
6:00 p.m.

"Let me get this straight," Scully said, fishing around in the cardboard container until her chopsticks snagged another shrimp. "You basically told the man that the last three months of his life have been a complete waste of time -- professionally speaking, anyway. You then followed that revelation by enlightening him as to what he ought to have been doing instead. And all after perusing the case file for less than a half-hour." She popped a shrimp into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "Does that about sum it up?"

"Scully!" Mulder groaned from his position draped across the end of the bed. "You make it sound so...so..."

"Insensitive? Inconsiderate? Tactless?" Scully set aside the container and leaned back against the headboard.

"But it's the truth. Everything I told him, Scully. I'm sure of it."

She sighed heavily. "Mulder. A passion for the truth doesn't supercede simple courtesy. You sandbagged him. It's no wonder he closed his mind to anything you had to say."

Mulder growled and flopped onto his back, one arm flung over his eyes. Scully waited, expecting a rebuttal or at the very least a carefully thought out defense. The response she got caused her mouth to drop open slightly in surprise.

"I hate it when you're right."

Scully smiled, allowing affection to color her voice. "He'll call you tomorrow, Mulder. You can work this out. As for the case, Grey was right. You need to let it go and trust that they know what they're doing. Your relationship with him may hinge on it."

The shrill ring of a cell phone aborted Mulder's reply and they both fumbled to answer. He watched in amusement as Scully's relaxed posture snapped to attention. The caller must be Skinner. The conversation was brief and one-sided, with their boss doing most of the talking. The overall point of the conversation was clear -- Skinner wanted them in D.C. on the next available flight.

"He needs us back." Mulder scanned her face as she closed the phone.

"Not us, me. There's an autopsy he wants me to handle. He was sketchy on the details, but he's faxing the report so that I can read through it on the plane. Kim booked me on a seven-thirty flight." She climbed off the bed and began packing her suitcase.

Mulder sat up and swung his legs over the edge. "I'll just get a seat on the same flight, Scully. We can fly back together."

She stopped her flurry of activity and stared at him intently. "Don't, Mulder. You have to make things right with Grey. If you get on the plane tonight, you won't come back. We both know that."

Mulder met her gaze silently for several moments before expelling a large puff of air. "You're on a roll tonight, Scully. Finish packing and I'll go check on that fax."

An hour later they stood outside the gate, waiting for the call to board. Scully finished running down her mental checklist, reassured she'd forgotten nothing, when she realized Mulder was staring blankly at the plane. She knew that look.


He blinked and looked down at her. "Hmm?"

"Where were you just now?"

His eyes slid away from hers, a sure sign that he was hiding something. "I was right here, Scully. I just got distracted for a moment."

"You were thinking about that case."

She hid her amusement as he shuffled his feet, looking like a small boy caught snitching cookies.


"I heard what you said, Scully. It's just hard to turn it off."

She considered the words, touched by his candor. A memory of her partner during the Mostow case surfaced -- gaunt from skipping meals, eyes shadowed from lack of sleep but burning with determination that had crossed the line into obsession. "Hard to turn off" was an understatement.

The boarding call interrupted her thoughts, and she reached for his hand, giving it a squeeze. "Good luck with Grey. I'll pick you up at Dulles tomorrow night."

To her surprise, he used their linked hands to draw her into a hug, tucking her head under his chin. She stiffened momentarily, then relaxed into the embrace, his tee shirt soft against her cheek, his steady heartbeat soothing.

"Thanks, Scully. I don't know what I would've done without you this week. You've been my anchor."

Flustered by his uncharacteristic profession of gratitude, she fell back on the easy response. "That's what partners are for, Mulder."

He surprised her yet again by pulling away to gaze into her face. Slowly, he shook his head. "Grey was right. This was above and beyond the call of duty. And I want you to know, Scully, that it means everything to me that you were with me through this."

Scully swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. "It was my pleasure."

He raised a skeptical eyebrow, but before he could remark the flight attendant repeated the boarding call. This time Mulder was the one startled when Scully cradled his face in her palm and brushed her lips against his cheek. She let her hand linger a moment longer, then scooped up her laptop and headed for the line of passengers.

Scully had disappeared from sight before Mulder realized he was still standing in the lounge area, an idiotic grin plastered on his face. He hastily removed it, fighting the impulse to look around and see if anyone had noticed.

With Scully gone there was little to occupy his thoughts on the walk back to the car, and they inevitably returned to Grey's case. Mulder's conviction that the wrong man was in custody had only strengthened with time, as did his foreboding that the killer would strike again. Who would be the next victim? A parent? A policeman? A vivid image of Grey lying in a pool of his own blood, his heart torn from his chest, caused him to freeze, his key poised in the ignition. He shook his head to banish the thought and started the car. He knew what he had to do.

Raleigh Police Department
7:45 p.m.

The cop behind the front desk was reading the paper, his feet propped up on a chair. He hauled himself upright when he noticed Mulder.

"Can I help you?"

The slight growl to his voice made it plain that he'd rather not. Mulder feigned ignorance, pulling out his I.D. and holding it up for inspection.

"Special Agent Fox Mulder from the Bureau in D.C. I'd like to see any information you have on one of your current cases -- a serial murder."

"You mean the San Francisco Slasher?" At Mulder's quizzical look, he shrugged. "Hey, I didn't make it up. Some of the homicide guys started it. Because of the way the guy cuts out the hearts."

When Mulder still didn't get it, he added, "You know, like that old Tony Bennett song. "I Left My Heart..."

"In San Francisco. Very funny. Could you get me those files, Officer..." He squinted at the man's nametag. "Gardner?"

Gardner's eyes narrowed. "I don't get it. They have a suspect in custody. What's the Washington Bureau's interest?"

Mulder fought his impatience. "Suspect. That's the key word. I just want to review everything, make sure we're on the right track." He deliberately stressed the word "we," insinuating that he was just another member of the team. When Gardner still seemed reluctant, he added, "Look, I've already talked to Grey McKenzie about this."

They guilt he felt at the half-truth was assuaged by Gardner's quick capitulation to his request. With a "Why didn't you say so in the first place?" he was set up in an empty interrogation room, the pertinent folders spread before him.

The more he read, the more Mulder became convinced that Booker was not the killer. The man had displayed none of the classic triad of traits common to most serial killers. His childhood, while poverty-stricken, lacked anything that could be termed abuse. His contact with the victims was suspicious, but circumstantial.

Mulder worked his way meticulously through the autopsies, crime scene photos, and witness testimonies, making notes on a yellow legal pad that Officer Gardner had supplied. He chewed on his lip, a frown of concentration darkening his features. Soon his focus narrowed to a pinpoint that encompassed only the files and his own notes. The rest of the world ceased to exist; the only sound in the tiny room was the scratching of lead on paper.

As he checked and cross-checked information, one name continued to pop up. Jackson Ross. An EMT, he was at the scene when the first victim was discovered. He occasionally worked with Karen Abbot, the doctor and third victim. Intrigued, Mulder pulled out his cell phone and dialed for help.

"It's Mulder. Turn off the tape."

"Mulder! We were beginning to think you'd dropped off the face of the earth." Frohike hesitated a moment. "Sorry about your mom."

"Thanks. I need you to run a background check on someone, and I need the results ASAP."

"No problemo. Who is it?"

"Jackson Ross. An EMT who lives in Raleigh."

"Raleigh? Where are you? I thought you were in Greenwich."

"Never mind, just get me anything you can on this guy. You can reach me on my cell," Mulder said, his mind already returning to the casefiles."

"Will do."

By the time the phone rang, Mulder had absorbed all the available information and constructed his own profile. He was shaking out a cramp in his hand and wishing for his laptop when the shrill buzz from his pocket startled him into dropping his pencil. Cursing under his breath, he flipped the phone open while continuing to flex his fingers.


He listened intently, the pain in his hand forgotten as it flew over the paper, recording Frohike's findings. The crease between his eyes deepened and his mouth straightened into a grim line. When Frohike had finished, he let his eyes slip shut, feelings of validation and revulsion warring within him.

"Thanks Hickey. I owe you."

Frohike must have heard something in his voice. "You okay, Mulder? Is Scully with you?"

"I'm fine. And believe it or not, Scully and I actually can be sold separately." The sarcasm was uncalled for after everything his friend had done, but he was too weary to care.

Luckily, Frohike let it slide. "Take it easy, man. Let us know if we can do anything else."

Ashamed, Mulder injected gratitude into his voice. "I will."

He slipped the phone back into his pocket and ran a hand over his face. His eyes felt sticky, he had a crick in his neck, and a percussion ensemble was playing in his head. But the information on the pad superceded petty physical discomforts. Jackson Ross was the San Francisco Slasher. He was certain of it.

Mulder dropped his head onto his folded arms, longing for a cup of coffee and one of Scully's back rubs. His satisfaction at identifying the killer was tempered by knowing what came next. It was going to be like swimming upstream -- a very cold stream with lots of sharp rocks. He doubted he'd emerge unscathed.

The door to the room flew open so hard that it rebounded off the wall with a sound like a gunshot. Mulder jerked his head up and turned to face the intruder, wincing when the pain between his eyes doubled. Grey stood in the doorway, his face twisted with anger and his hands clenched into fists.

"What the *hell* do you think you're doing?"

Raleigh Police Department
7:00 a.m.

Mulder found he'd acquired a rare condition -- he was speechless. His brother stalked into the room and slammed the door shut, then simply glared. He walked slowly over to where Mulder sat, his eyes wandering over the files and the notepad with deliberate care. Mulder forced himself not to fidget, tamping down his feelings of guilt.


The single word sounded as if Grey were biting through steel. Mulder flinched in spite of himself, then his own irritation emerged. *It isn't as if I'm doing this for kicks. If they don't arrest the right man, someone else is going to die*.

Which didn't negate the fact that he'd gone around Grey, against his brother's wishes. It was a form of betrayal, and all the best intentions in the world didn't change that.

"Grey, I'm sorry. I know you didn't want me to pursue this, but I had no choice." The contrition in his voice was real, but his brother remained unimpressed.

"You aren't sorry. You'd do it again. Admit it."

How could he answer that? It was true. And the hell of it was, he wasn't sorry for his actions, only their impact on his brother.

"I couldn't stand by and let someone else die," he said, hating the pleading note that crept into his voice. "I had to do something about it."

Grey looked at him as if he was an exceptionally slow child. "We have the killer in custody. No one is going to die."

"Please, just listen to me. I know who the killer is, and it isn't Booker. Give me five minutes, and I can prove I'm right."

"I won't give you five minutes, I'm not even giving you five seconds! Do you really think I want to hear anything you have to say after finding out you've been sneaking around behind my back?"

Mulder's temper sparked. "I wasn't *sneaking*! I have the right to access these files if I decide it's necessary. Or have you forgotten that the Bureau outranks the local P.D.?"

He could hear Scully groan as soon as the words left his mouth. *The truth doesn't supercede simple courtesy, Mulder.*

If it was possible, Grey became angrier. Rather than increasing in volume, his voice became quiet and controlled, eerily reminding Mulder of his father.

"Get out. If you plan on exercising your authority here you'd better get your A.D. to call me. For now, I want you out of this station and out of my life."

Mulder stared dumbly at his brother. Grey's eyes were frigid, and he gritted his teeth as if to prevent himself from saying more.


"You said it yourself, Fox. This isn't going to work. We've existed without each other this long, we'll be just fine. Leave the files on the table, I'll get someone to take care of them."

He left the room before Mulder's paralyzed brain could formulate a reply. Mulder stared at the door with his stomach churning, a depression settling over him that was so deep and thick he could barely breathe. In that moment he was granted an epiphany -- he hadn't just *wanted* things with Grey to work. A part of him, the part that had ached for his sister every day over the last twenty-six years -- had desperately *needed* it to work.

He dragged himself to his feet, muscles that had stiffened during his stint in the wooden chair screaming in protest. He looked at the wall clock, stunned to realize he'd passed the entire night hunched over the files. The lost time gave him an uneasy feeling, but the urgency of his findings wouldn't allow him to grant it more than a passing thought. He'd alienated his brother, but a killer was still on the loose. The drive to prevent another death blotted out his own grief, banishing it to the back of his mind.

He picked up his profile and strode purposefully out of the room, ignoring the inquisitive stares he felt following his every move. If Grey wouldn't listen, he'd see this through alone.

1616 Merton Avenue
10:00 a.m.

Mulder got out of the car and stared up at the house, wishing for the professional armor of his suit. After he left the Raleigh P.D., he'd gone back to the motel to shower and shave, but the clothing items he'd brought on this trip were exclusively casual. He felt oddly vulnerable in his jeans and navy V-neck sweater, his weapon concealed by his leather jacket.

The house was absurdly normal in a neighborhood like any one of thousands across the country. The fact didn't surprise Mulder. He'd learned long ago that a monster could hide under the most innocuous façade. He recalled a case from his days with Violent Crimes -- a nine-year-old who had removed her baby brother from his crib while he was napping, strangled him and hid the body in the woods behind her home. He shuddered, recalling the complete lack of remorse in her cherub face when the body was discovered buried under some leaves. She'd actually had them searching for a kidnapper she claimed had entered through an open patio door, until they'd discovered prints from her fingers around the infant's neck and traces of his skin under her fingernails. It turned out the girl had been severely abused by a disappointed father who'd wanted a son, not a daughter.

A line from a Stephen King novel flitted through Mulder's head: "This inhuman place makes human monsters." According to his information from Frohike, that was precisely what had occurred at 1616 Merton Avenue.

He walked slowly up to the front door, noting that the house was set well back from the street and there were no neighboring homes within an acre in either direction. The seclusion, coupled with older construction that tended to be more solid and soundproof, made it entirely possible that the murders could have taken place on the premises without detection. Mentally preparing himself for anything, he pressed the doorbell.

A young woman in her early twenties answered the door, a wary expression on her pretty face. Her blonde hair was cut short, her eyes a deep green. They flicked quickly up and down Mulder's form, then rested on his face.


Mulder showed her his I.D. and tried to make his voice as reassuring as possible. "I'm Special Fox Mulder from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I'm investigating a series of murders, and I was hoping to speak to Jackson Ross."

The wariness was replaced by uncertainty. "That's my brother. Is he in some sort of trouble?"

"I just need to ask him a few questions. Is he home?"

She shook her head. "He's still at work. He's normally home by now when he has the graveyard shift, but sometimes there's a really bad trauma and he gets held up."

"Would you mind if I waited a few minutes? It's very important."

Her eyes danced over him again, still cautious, but then she smiled. "I guess not. My name is Sara, by the way. Come on in."

She led him into a large living room and gestured for him to sit down on a couch definitely made for show and not comfort. He watched her as she perched gingerly on the edge of a chair, noticing that although she was not particularly tall, her arms and legs were well muscled.

"You caught me during my workout," Sara said, as if reading his thoughts. "Jackson has some body building equipment in the basement and I borrow it now and then."

"Jackson must be pretty strong."

"Well, he needs to be. Some of the calls are pretty grueling. You mentioned you're investigating some murders?"

Mulder nodded. "Jackson's unit was first on the scene after one of the bodies was found. He also worked with another of the victims -- a Dr. Karen Abbott."

Sara bit her lip, eyes downcast. "I remember. Jackson felt really bad about that. He liked Dr. Abbott. She never made him feel inferior, you know? Some of the doctors can do that. Jackson was already questioned though, so why are you here?"

Mulder held out his hands, palms up. "I can't really discuss it with you, Sara. It's confidential. You can understand that, can't you?"

For an instant he thought he saw irritation flash across her face, but then she was smiling and nodding and he was convinced he'd been mistaken. He was running on very little sleep, even by his standards, and it shouldn't surprise him if his perceptions were a bit off.

"Can I offer you some coffee, Agent Mulder?"

He hesitated only a moment before nodding. Maybe some caffeine would help restore his edge. "Thanks, Sara. That sounds great."

She left the room and he glanced around, taking in the stiffly formal furnishings and the large fireplace. The marble mantle held a small collection of photos and he got up to take a closer look.

One picture was obviously current, Sara looking much the same with her arm around a young man whose long straw-colored hair was drawn back into a ponytail. His eyes were hard, untouched by the smile on his lips. Jackson's arms were thick and muscular, certainly capable of hefting the weight of a dead body.

Another picture was a family portrait, and Sara looked to be no more than three. She was perched on what he assumed was her father's shoulders, grinning impishly down at him. Jackson stood in front of his mother, her arms draped loosely around him and his expression solemn.

"That's the only picture we have of my father," Sara said, startling him with her silent return. "He died when I was three."

Mulder returned to his place on the sofa and accepted the mug she placed in his hands. The coffee was strong and a little sweet, but he sipped it gratefully.

"I'm sorry, I added some sugar before I could stop myself," Sara explained. "I'm just so used to making Jackson's that way that I guess I was operating on autopilot."

"As long as it's caffinated, I'm not complaining." Mulder took another swallow and saw that she had relaxed, the apprehension fading from her face.

"You look tired, Agent Mulder--if you don't mind me saying so. Tough case?"

He forced a smile. "I don't mind. Tough enough, I suppose."

"I've always really admired the police. The way you help people."

He turned the mug between his palms, a bit uncomfortable with the intensity of her gaze. "What do you do, Sara?"

"Nothing as exciting as tracking down murderers, I'm afraid. I didn't do very well in school--never made it past the twelfth grade. I do some telemarketing out of the house. The money isn't great, but I can set my own hours. Have you been an FBI agent for very long?"

Mulder smothered the yawn that tried to break free and took another swig of the coffee, willing it to combat the fogginess that he felt. "About twelve years now. Have you and Jackson always lived in this house?"

"Yes, this is the house we grew up in. Jackson talks about moving, but so far I've convinced him to stay. There's a lot of memories in this old house, some good and some bad." Her forehead wrinkled at some unspoken recollection. "A lot of them bad, I guess. But all the good times with our father were in this house. I can't help feeling that if I leave the house I'll be leaving him, you know?"

Mulder blinked, feeling strangely disconnected from his body. While Sara had been speaking he had the sensation she was moving farther and farther away from him, down a long dark tunnel. The fogginess had turned into an overwhelming lethargy that left his limbs heavy and his tongue thick and clumsy. His eyes slipped shut and with enormous effort he forced them back open, but the empty mug tumbled out of his slack grip.

"Whajudotome?" he slurred, losing the battle with his eyelids.

Sara leaned over him, her face distorted. "You came looking for the wrong Ross, Agent Mulder." Her words faded in and out as if someone were playing with a knob that controlled the volume around him. "But you found the right one."

Comprehension pierced the thick blanket smothering him just before everything went dark.

Dulles International Airport
7:00 p.m.

Scully watched the last passenger exit the plane, torn between feeling concerned or pissed off. She'd driven to the airport, weary after a long stretch on her feet in the autopsy bay, only to find that Mulder wasn't on the flight. Concern won out, and she pulled her cell phone from the pocket of her jacket.

After placing two calls, her concern was upgraded to worry. His cell phone wasn't responding and there was no answer at the hotel room. In addition, he'd never checked out as planned.

Back in her car, Scully rummaged through her wallet until she found the slip of paper where she'd jotted down Grey's number. She punched it in, trying to ignore the gnawing sensation that something was terribly wrong. Grey answered on the first ring.


"Hi, Grey, it's Dana Scully."

"Hey, Dana. What's up?"

Scully frowned, hearing something in Grey's voice that she couldn't identify but knew didn't belong. She sensed a wall go up, a reticence he'd never displayed with her.

"It's about Mulder..."

"Look, Dana, no offense but I think it's best that you just stay out of this. What happened this morning was between me and Fox, and I'd prefer that it stay that way."

She fumbled for some reply while her mind raced frantically to make sense of Grey's words. Something had happened between her partner and his brother, and Grey obviously thought that she knew about it. The defensive quality to his voice suggested it wasn't good.

"Grey, I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about. I'm calling because Mulder never made his flight home. I was hoping you'd know where he is."

Silence, and she realized she'd just put *him* into the position of scrambling for a response.

"Dana, I haven't seen Fox since about seven this morning."

The warning bell in her head, the one activated whenever Mulder got into trouble, was clanging loudly. He would tease her mercilessly if he knew about the sixth sense she'd developed over the years, but it was never wrong.

"I think you'd better tell me everything," she said quietly.

It didn't really surprise her that Mulder had gone straight to the police station from the airport. She'd seen how deeply the case was affecting him. The fact that he'd spent the night pouring over the files and constructing a profile fueled her worry. Just like with Mostow, this case was consuming him, eclipsing all other needs except that of catching the killer. While she understood Grey's anger, she was certain that his reaction had only made Mulder more determined. She knew without a doubt what he had done.

"He's gone after the killer. You wouldn't listen, so he went alone."

"I wouldn't listen because we already have the killer," Grey replied sharply.

"Grey, I need you to hear me, because your brother's life may depend on it. I don't know who you have in custody, but if Mulder said you've got the wrong man, then I'd sure as hell take a second look." Scully took a deep breath, holding onto her temper. "No matter what you may think of his beliefs, his ability to profile a killer is unparalleled. I happen to know that the violent crimes unit at the Bureau would take him back anytime, no questions asked." Skinner had told her as much after Mulder had grudgingly assisted on a profile.

"You really think he could be in trouble?" Grey sounded shaken. "My God, Dana, if he was right and I..."

"I'm catching the next flight out," Scully cut in, grateful once again for the overnight bag she kept in her trunk. "I'll phone you with the arrival time so you can pick me up. In the meantime, I want you to go to Mulder's hotel room and find his notes. He didn't have his laptop, so he
probably wrote them longhand. Look for a legal pad."

"He did. I saw it this morning."

"Gather up anything you can find on the case. Mulder will jot down his thoughts on whatever's handy. You wouldn't believe some of the things I've found case notes on."

When Grey didn't answer, she made her voice deliberately authoritative. "*Don't*, Grey. You can beat yourself up when this is all over if it'll make you feel better. Right now I need you with me."

She could almost see him square his shoulders. "Yeah. I'm on it. See you soon."

Scully pocketed her phone and swung her duffel bag onto her shoulder before heading back into the terminal. A nagging voice in her head accused that she shared responsibility with Grey, that she knew Mulder too well not to have seen this coming. Her admonishment to put guilt aside was well founded. Now, if she could only take her own advice.

1616 Merton Avenue
9:07 p.m.

Mulder awoke slowly to a body that felt coated in molten lead. He lay semi-reclined on something cushioned but firm, and for a moment he muzzily thought he'd fallen asleep on his couch. He tried to stretch and found the cushions had somehow become fused to his body. In a split second, reality flooded his mind with a flurry of sharp images -- his night at the police station, Grey's furious reaction, driving to Jackson Ross's house, Sara offering him coffee... Sara.

Mulder snapped his eyes open. When he attempted to sit up, he realized he was on a gurney in full restraints. His sweater, socks and shoes had been removed, leaving him clad only in his tee shirt and jeans. Still muddled from the residue of drug in his system, he panicked, fighting against the unyielding straps and yelling for help at the top of his lungs. After several minutes he managed to regain control, raw wrists and a hoarse voice the only result of his struggle. He worked to slow his pounding heart and rapid gasps for air, recognizing from the tingling in his extremities that he'd begun to hyperventilate.

He swept his eyes slowly around the room, evaluating his surroundings. He was in a basement, dank with moisture and devoid of windows. The only illumination came from a single bulb in the ceiling, its light pale and cheerless. The walls were gray cinderblock, and he saw two doors, one across the room from where he lay and another that he could barely see by craning his head as far to the left as possible. When he turned his head to the right, however, all thought was driven from his mind and it took every ounce of his will to avoid a second panic attack.

A wooden table stood not more than four feet from his right hand, a collection of items neatly laid out on its surface. He could see a Swiss army knife, several vials and syringes, towels, and a hacksaw. Something smooth and shiny caught his eye, and he looked down at plastic drop cloths covering the floor beneath the gurney. He shut his eyes and concentrated on breathing, unable to dispel images from the crime scene photos.

The knob on the door rattled, and a moment later Sara stepped into the room. She walked slowly over and stood beside him, scanning the length of his body, her gaze lingering on each set of restraints. Once reassured that he remained incapacitated, she looked into his face. Mulder was amazed at the transformation. No longer the meek, slightly nervous girl he'd met, she carried herself with calm assurance and met his gaze without flinching.

"You're finally awake. I guess I must have misjudged the amount of Ativan necessary. The others were only out for about six hours."

Rattled by the revelation that he'd been unconscious for so long, Mulder refrained from asking the time. He needed to do the unpredictable, to throw her off balance and interrupt her established patterns, or he was a dead man.

"I have to admit, it never crossed my mind that you were the killer. Most serial murderers are male, you know, so I naturally suspected your brother. The fact that he'd had contact with more than one victim *and* access to drugs and equipment... Well, I guess you can see how I made my mistake." By some miracle he managed to keep his voice light and conversational.

Sara's lip curled in a sneer. "Jackson would never have the guts. He chooses to pretend things don't exist rather than face them head on."

"Like your childhood? The happy times ended when your father died, didn't they, Sara." He phrased it as a statement, not a question, studying her reaction.

Sara sucked in a sharp breath, then her eyes narrowed. "I should have guessed you'd know. You cops can access all of a person's records, right? Can find out anything about them. You just don't *act* on that knowledge."

"I know why you're doing this, Sara." *Keep using her name to establish rapport. Make her see you as a person, not an object.* "I know what he did to you and to Jackson, and I know that the ones who should have stopped him let you down. You're hurting, and you're angry, and you want to make them pay for abandoning you."

"You know nothing! Have you ever been forced to wear long sleeves on a hot day so that no one sees the cigarette burns on your arms? Did your daddy ever shove you down the stairs and break your leg? Or lock you in a closet for two days, refusing to let you have food or water or even to use the bathroom? The son of a bitch made me clean up after myself after he finally let me out! You know all about that, Mr. *Bigshot* FBI Agent?" She spat the words, her green eyes wild and unfocused.

"No, I can't claim to know what it was like to be brutalized day after day, unable to defend yourself. But I do know that brutalizing others won't make the pain go away," Mulder pitched his voice deliberately low in contrast to hers.

Sara's lips curved into a smile that never reached her eyes. "I wondered when you were going to get around to saving your own skin. None of the others wanted to talk, they just screamed for help and begged me not to hurt them." She said it clinically -- an observation lacking emotion. "Not that it mattered. Did you know that when this house was built a lot of basements were made to function as bomb shelters, Agent Mulder? You can bust a gut screaming and no one will hear."

"Maybe not an outsider, but Jackson..." Mulder trailed off when he saw her lip curl in contempt. He'd hoped that it might be possible to alert Sara's brother to his presence, but the look on her face planted a horrible suspicion in his mind.

"Jackson is *gone*, Agent Mulder, and he won't be coming back. I lied to you when I said I was expecting him home."

Mulder's mouth went dry. "Where is he, Sara?"

For the first time, her composure faltered and something flickered briefly in her eyes -- guilt and possibly remorse. She shook it off quickly and glared at him. "Jackson was worthless back when we were kids, and he was just as worthless grown up! He refused to talk about what that bastard did to us, he just wanted to forget. 'Get past it, Sara. It's over,'" she mimicked. "That's what he kept telling me!"

Mulder tried to lick his lips but he didn't have enough moisture in his mouth. Sara curled her hands into claws and bared her teeth. She looked more like a wild animal than a human being, dangerous and unpredictable.

"Where is he, Sara?"

"It wasn't my fault! He figured out what I was doing and he was going to turn me in. He would have betrayed his own sister -- can you believe it? Did he actually think I'd just stand by and let him?"

Mulder closed his eyes against the despair that washed over him. "Did you kill Jackson? Is that what you're telling me, Sara?"

"I had no choice." In the blink of an eye Sara became eerily calm, her face taking on a serene expression. "I'm through being a victim. I won't let anyone make me feel that way ever again."

A strident buzzing interrupted his reply. Sara looked startled, but remained calm. "That's the doorbell. My mother had a buzzer installed down here so that she'd know if someone came by while she was doing laundry."

As she spoke, she walked to the table and picked up one of the syringes. "Our unfinished business will have to wait. Time you took another nap."

"You don't need that, Sara. I won't make any noise, and besides, you said this room was practically soundproof. Don't do it, please, I promise I'll be good. Just don't drug me."

He realized he was babbling but couldn't seem to stop. Sara was completely unaffected by his pleas, as if she didn't even hear him. She simply pushed up the sleeve of his shirt and sank the needle into his arm, efficiently depressing the plunger. The drug hit his system like a truck. His head dropped back onto the mattress and his eyes slid shut before she'd even reached the door.

"Don't worry, Agent Mulder," he heard her say from the edge of the chasm that swallowed him, "I'll be back."

1616 Merton Avenue
10 p.m.

Grey turned off the ignition and gazed up at the house speculatively, pursing his lips. He could detect no movement within, but lights shone from several of the windows on the first floor. He looked to his right in time to see Scully remove her weapon and check the clip, then replace it. She kept her expression carefully neutral, but he knew it was all for show. Her hands had roamed restlessly during the drive from the airport -- shuffling Mulder's notes, tucking a strand of hair behind an ear, placing a call to her boss. She had been a constant blur of motion that revealed her anxiety more clearly than words.

"You ready?" When she nodded he continued, "We can't make him let us in, you know. If we're going to get a warrant, we have to have more to go on, even if what you say is true and Fox *is* a legend in his own time."

She tried to smile at his attempt to ease the tension, but failed. She reached for her door, pausing to lay a hand on his arm. "I know you still have your doubts, Grey. Thank you for trusting me on this."

There wasn't much he could say to that so he simply got out of the car and followed her up the long driveway. Scully rang the doorbell and turned, looking first to the left and then the right. Lights from the adjoining houses were visible, but just barely.

"Remote," Grey murmured as if reading her thoughts. "There's enough trees on this lot to shield the house from view of the neighbors."

Scully bit her lip and turned back to face the door, tapping her foot. Another minute passed, and she was about to punch the bell again when the door opened a crack, revealing blonde hair and green eyes set in a decidedly feminine face.


"I'm Agent Scully with the FBI and this is Detective McKenzie from the Raleigh Police Department. We apologize for bothering you this late, but it's urgent that we speak with Jackson Ross."

The crack widened enough for the girl to view their identification, then the door swung open. Scully did a quick assessment, hiding it behind a friendly smile. The girl looked to be in her early to mid-twenties, average height and sturdy of build. She seemed both intrigued and intimidated by their badges, and Scully felt a pang of sadness that she would be caught up in what could turn into a very bad situation.

"I'm Sara Ross. Jackson is my older brother, but he isn't home right now. Is something wrong?"

Grey shifted uncomfortably and shot Scully a questioning glance.

"We're looking for my partner, Agent Mulder. He planned on coming to see Jackson today to ask him some questions regarding an investigation. We're hoping your brother will be able to tell us if he saw Agent Mulder, and if Agent Mulder indicated where he was headed next."

Sara's face screwed up into a puzzled frown. "Would you like to step inside for a moment? It's a little chilly out there tonight."

She moved back and allowed them to enter, her arms wrapped tightly around her middle. "I've been home all day -- I do telemarketing out of the house -- and I never saw your Agent Mulder. I would know if he'd stopped by."

It wasn't what Scully wanted to hear. Grey saw her look probingly at Sara before quickly glancing away, her lips pressed together. Sara's eyes darted from Scully's face to his own, giving the impression she was afraid she'd given the wrong answer.

"You said Jackson isn't home. Could you tell us when he will be? Where is he?" He smiled reassuringly.

"He's on call tonight at the station. He's a paramedic. Did you know that? Anyway, I called him earlier this evening, and he said he was working a double shift for someone who's sick. He won't be home until the morning, but you could come back then."

Grey caught Scully's eye and inclined his head slightly toward the door. She nodded reluctantly, casting one last look around the interior before turning to Sara.

"Thanks for your help, Sara." She pulled a card from her pocket. "If Jackson gets home early, or you think of anything else, you can reach me at this number."

The girl took the card as if it were a rare jewel, scrutinizing it carefully before slipping it into her pocket. "I sure will, Agent Scully. And I hope you find Agent Mulder real soon."

Back in the car, Scully began pulling out papers and file folders, holding them up to the dome light. Grey watched her for a moment, noting the slight tremor in her hands and the set expression on her face.

"What are you doing, Dana?"

"I'm looking for the address of the fire station where Jackson works. We need to make that our next stop."

Grey took a deep breath, then let it out very slowly. "Dana, it's nearly ten-thirty at night. He could be out on a call, or even asleep. We can come back in the morning."

She rounded on him, furious. "It could be too late by the morning! If Jackson has Mulder..."

"I don't think Jackson does have Fox. Dana, you're proceeding on instinct alone. There's nothing to indicate that Fox came here other than some scribbled notes. Sara didn't know what we were talking about. And for that matter, do you really think the man is dissecting people in that house with his sister living right there with him? How could he possibly hide something like that? You have to acknowledge the possibility that Fox was just plain wrong."

Scully gritted her teeth. "Then. Where. Is. He?" She annunciated each word so that it was sharp as a dagger.

Grey winced at her anger, but plowed on. "We had a falling out; he was upset. Maybe he's somewhere trying to sort it all out. Hasn't he ever gone off somewhere without telling you?"

He'd obviously struck a nerve, because she spun away from him. He stared at her back for several minutes, not sure whether to speak.

Scully stared out the window, seeing nothing. She knew in her heart that Mulder hadn't ditched her and was in serious trouble. She could feel it in every cell, every molecule of her body. But Grey was right, she was operating on intuition without proof. Mulder's face appeared clearly in her mind, his eyes glinting with amusement. She could almost hear the teasing note to his voice. "Is that the most *plausible* explanation, Agent Scully?"

*Is this what it's like for you, Mulder? So certain of the truth, yet unable to prove it?*


Grey's voice pulled her back and she turned to face him, seeing honest regret in his eyes. Knowing what she had to say next, she could only hope he'd come around.

"Grey, I hear what you're saying, and I know it makes sense. But I also know Mulder. If he believed he knew the identity of your serial killer, nothing would have prevented him from pursuing that knowledge -- not even you. I need you to trust me on this. I would prefer you came to the station with me, but I will go alone if that's what it takes."

To her relief, Grey didn't become angry. Instead he shook his head. "You use the word trust a lot, did you know that, Dana? You don't ask that I believe you, just that I trust you."

"Sometimes that's the only way to middle ground."

Grey sighed heavily and started the car. "Let's go. I was sick the day my fourth grade class visited the fire station. Guess it's about time I got the tour."

Cary Fire Department
11:38 p.m.

Grey's concerns proved to be unfounded. Things at the fire station were in full swing. Some of the men were watching television, while others played cards. The man who answered the door, Tim Reed, looked puzzled by Scully's request to speak to Jackson Ross.

"Jackson isn't on tonight," he said, his eyes lingering on Scully before he glanced over his shoulder. "Greg and Connie are handling this shift."

At the sound of their names, two paramedics lifted their heads.

"Jackson wasn't supposed to work tonight, was he?" Tim called.

The woman shook her head. "I haven't even seen Jackson in more than a week."

"His sister said he was here tonight," Grey said. "Are you sure he hasn't been in?"

Tim indicated the room with a sweep of his hand. "This is everyone. It's not like he'd be hiding."

Scully looked at Grey, a suspicion beginning to take root in her mind. She turned the intensity of her gaze onto Tim. "Can we speak to whomever's in charge of this shift? I think we have a problem."

"Captain's in his office. Follow me."

Captain Jim Bradshaw had hair the color of steel and bright blue eyes that studied them carefully as he shook hands. Tim loitered in the doorway until a stern glare from Bradshaw sent him packing.

"Have a seat." He shut the door before reclaiming his own chair. "Now what's this about Jackson Ross? Is he in some kind of trouble?"

"We need to speak with him about an ongoing investigation," Grey explained.

"Must be *some* investigation to bring you out at midnight on a Sunday," Bradshaw observed shrewdly, tapping his pen on the desk blotter.

"There's more," Scully admitted, seeing the man would not be content with half of the truth. "We believe my partner went to visit Jackson this morning. He hasn't been seen or heard from since."

Bradshaw sensed her worry and frustration. His brow smoothed and his eyes softened. "Jackson hasn't reported for work in more than eight days. We've tried calling his home but all we get is the answering machine. If I don't hear from him soon he won't have a job to return to." He paused as if thinking. "What made you so sure he'd be here?"

"His sister told us he was here, working an extra shift for someone out sick," Grey said.

Bradshaw ran a hand along his jaw, choosing his next words carefully. "Sara Ross is...different. She's been around the station quite a bit since Jackson came on board. She's a hard one to figure out -- sweet and friendly one day, sullen and withdrawn the next. I'd take whatever she's told you with a grain of salt. I don't think she's a particularly stable young lady." He sighed. "I'm sorry I can't be of more help."

Scully stood and offered her hand, thoughts already racing in another direction. "Thank you, sir. You've actually been very helpful."

Bradshaw raised an eyebrow at that, but merely escorted them to the door. Scully kept silent until they'd reached the car.

"I know what you're thinking," he said. "I'm just having a hard time believing it."

"It makes perfect sense, Grey. Mulder went there thinking that Jackson was the killer and found only Sara. He let his guard down, and she took advantage of it. All the elements that made Mulder suspect Jackson apply to Sara -- the access to drugs and medical supplies, the history of abuse. He just didn't expect the killer to be a woman. Who can blame him? Most serial killers are male."

"Then I guess we'd better move quickly." Grey tossed her the keys. "You drive while I call for a search warrant." He grimaced. "No one's going to be happy about being rousted out of bed at this hour."

Scully slipped behind the wheel, her face set. "Tell them they'd better move quickly or I'm going in without it. If my suspicions are correct, Sara's made herself an only child. I don't think we have much time."

1616 Merton Lane
2:30 a.m.

Mulder was submerged in a cold, black lake, struggling to break the surface. A part of him became gradually cognizant of the restraints, the musty odor of mildew, the chill, damp air. That awareness screamed that he should feel terror and fight to free himself. But the drug in his bloodstream made it difficult to care about anything, urging him to drift passively in those dark waters. Trying to concentrate on any one thought took an extraordinary amount of effort.

He'd already begun to sink back down toward sleep when he heard her voice, as clearly as if she were speaking in his ear.

*Mulder, I'm coming. You've got to keep fighting.*


His own voice sounded alien, her name so thick and slurred by his clumsy tongue that it was barely recognizable. He dragged open heavy eyelids, half expecting to see a flash of copper hair or the bright smile reserved for occasions when he narrowly cheated death. Instead he was met with the dull, dreary walls of his prison and an itch on his nose that he couldn't scratch.

Mulder felt the sudden prickling sensation of being watched, and jerked his head sharply to the right. Sara stood beside the table, blank green eyes fixed on his face and the knife held in her hand. She ran her thumb back and forth over the blade like a caress, oblivious to the fact that she was drawing her own blood in the process. With a chill, Mulder realized that her gaze reminded him of the times he'd asked his father a question while he was working. His gaze would be trained on his son, but his focus was elsewhere.

"What are you doing, Sara?" he asked quietly.

"Almost over now." Her voice was as detached as her gaze. "They'll be back, and they'll want to take me away, lock me up. I have to finish before they come."

Mulder's heart surged with hope. "Who? Who'll be back, Sara?"

Her eyes lost some of their blankness, and she seemed to really see him for the first time. "Your partner and that police detective. They were here, looking for Jackson just like you were. I managed to fool them, but they'll be back by morning. I have to finish before then."

*Scully and Grey*

"There's another way, Sara. There are people who can help, who can stop you from hurting all the time. You don't have to do this." He struggled to keep the panic from his voice, to sound reassuring and soothing.

Sara shook her head, switching the knife to her left hand and wiping her right absently on the leg of her jeans. Mulder tried not to look at the rust colored streaks she left behind. Sara's face scrunched in irritation and she passed the knife back to her right hand and pointed it at him

"You don't care about *me*. You just don't want to die. You don't know anything about what I feel. I can tell just by looking at you -- good looks and a fancy job. Even a pretty partner to worry about you and come looking for you. No one has ever made you feel worthless and alone, like they wished you'd just disappear."

The flood of buried feelings that her words released took him completely by surprise. The emotion must have shown on his face, since she stepped closer.

"What is it? What are you remembering?" Her eyes pierced his.

Mulder forced himself not to turn away from the intensity of her gaze. "No one's life is perfect, Sara. We all wind up with some baggage we can't seem to put down."

She closed her eyes briefly, and when she opened them he saw a glimpse of the real Sara, the soul at the core, beneath all the layers of pain and abuse. Her eyes glistened with tears and her voice was very soft.

"I've become that baggage, Agent Mulder. I can't separate myself from it anymore."

Mulder felt a kernel of hope at her confession, and pressed forward cautiously. "Then let me help. I can see that you find someone to talk to, who'll understand. You don't have to let what your stepfather did..."

Sara's response to the word was swift and violent. Her features contorted with rage and she lunged forward, pressing the knife to his throat until he felt the warm trickle of blood on his neck.

"Don't *ever* use that word to describe him! That piece of garbage was *not* my father -- my father was good and kind and he loved me. That... that *thing* my mother married was not even human!"

"Sara, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

"SHUT UP! No talking! I'm not listening to you anymore!"

She turned her back on him and set the knife down, fumbling with shaking hands to fill a syringe. The panic he'd been carefully holding at bay broke loose and Mulder pulled impotently at the cloth straps holding him down. This time the injection didn't cause him to lose consciousness, but stripped him of what little ability he had to move. His head sank back onto the mattress and he watched with glazed eyes as she used the knife to make three deep cuts on each of his forearms from elbow to wrist. The pain was intense, but came from a great distance, and he watched stupidly as his own blood soaked into the sheet and then pattered down onto the drop cloth. Sara backed away and watched the flow, a curious expression on her face.

In minutes, Mulder began to feel lightheaded and nauseous, and he shivered uncontrollably with a chill that permeated every cell in his body. He could feel himself slipping into a deep lethargy that had nothing to do with the drug, and he tried to form words to keep it from swallowing him.

"Sara...'s not too late. Stop...now."

The harsh sound of the buzzer interrupted his plea, and Sara jumped as if jolted with a current of electricity. Her eyes wild, she muttered under her breath, conversing with herself.

"Too soon. They're back too soon. No time to finish. Can't let them stop me now or I'll never be free. Not going to be a victim. Never. Never again."

The litany continued as she left the room without giving Mulder a second glance. He battled against eyelids weighted with lead, sure that it must be Scully and Grey at the door. Once again, he heard his partner's voice, urging him on.

*I'm almost there, Mulder. If you give up now I'll be really pissed.*

"Hurry," he whispered through numb lips, teeth chattering. "Hurry."

Outside the house
2:45 a.m.

Scully forced herself to walk calmly up to the door and ring the bell, her heart hammering wildly in a chest that felt too constricted to breathe. Grey had secured a search warrant in record time, but it had still taken too long for her own comfort. Grey punched the doorbell a second time, and she could see from the grim expression on his face that he was as impatient as she.

When no one answered, Grey motioned her aside and shot through the lock, pushing the door open. A dog began barking frantically in the distance and Scully raised an eyebrow while directing a pointed look at Grey's gun.

"You know how sturdy they made front doors when this house was built?" he said. "This thing is solid oak! I'm no fool."

She almost chuckled at that, but the drive to find her partner reasserted itself and she stepped cautiously into the hallway, weapon held ready. Grey tilted his head to the left and she nodded, moving off to the right. She found herself in an empty living room filled with furniture that looked at least twenty-five years old. Two pictures perched on the mantle, and she gave them a cursory glance before moving on through the room. She'd almost decided to continue through the doorway into the kitchen when something on one of the chairs caught her eye.

She edged carefully over, continuing to sweep the room with her eyes. When she realized exactly what she was seeing, however, she holstered her gun and sorted through the items, tears blurring her vision. A hand grasped her shoulder and she spun around, clamping down on the gasp that rose in her throat. Grey stepped back, holding up both hands.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you like that. What did you find?"

"A pile of clothing -- a leather jacket, sweater, socks, and boots. They're Mulder's."

Grey nodded, chewing on his lower lip. "This floor is deserted. There's a door in the kitchen that must lead to a basement. Do we go up or down?"

"Down," Scully said immediately. She tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace. "Don't you watch crime shows? The murderer is always in the basement."

Grey snorted and followed her through the kitchen. Her gun in hand once again, Scully nudged the door open and flicked on the light switch. She descended the wooden steps slowly, Grey's bulk a comforting presence at her back. The basement was cluttered with old cartons and pieces of furniture, the smell of mold and mildew heavy in the air. She wove her way through the catacomb of boxes, nerves jangling, ears attuned to the slightest sound that would indicate Sara's presence. She was just beginning to think the basement was empty, her heart plummeting with disappointment, when Grey called out sharply.

"Dana! Get over here right now!"

She flew across the basement, honing in on the desperation in his voice. In her haste she bumped into a stack of boxes, sending them toppling to the floor with a tinkling crash that sounded like broken glass.

Grey's voice came from a doorway that led into a separate room. She darted in, vigilance thrown to the wind, only to freeze at the sight that awaited her. Mulder was lying on a gurney in full restraints, his face as white as the sheet beneath his head. There was blood everywhere - both arms were slick with it, the sheet they rested on soaked through with crimson that had spilled over to pool on the floor. Grey had grabbed a couple of towels and was in the process of trying to wrap them around the slashes on Mulder's arms.

Scully shook off the shock that held her immobile and pulled her cell phone from her pocket, pressing it into Grey's hand and inserting herself between him and his brother.

"Call 911. Tell them they're going to need O negative blood -- a lot of it."

She winced at the slippery feeling beneath her feet but resolutely continued where Grey had left off. It was a moment before she lifted her eyes from the torn flesh to Mulder's face, and she was shocked to find him still semi-conscious. His eyes were unfocused and only half open, but she saw that he was aware of her presence and attempting to speak.

"Shhh." Her throat constricted with emotion. "Don't try to talk, Mulder. Everything's going to be okay, the paramedics are on the way."

A shudder wracked Mulder's frame and his lips moved in spite of her advice. "Cold."

It was barely spoken, weak and colorless. She bit her lip fiercely, calling to Grey over her shoulder while stripping off her coat.

"Grey, we need some blankets right away. He's in shock."

Grey didn't waste time replying, just dashed out the door and pounded up the stairs two at a time. Scully turned back to her partner and spread her coat over his upper body. She was alarmed to see his eyes slowly slipping shut.

"Mulder! Stay with me." She rubbed her knuckles gently against his cheek.

His eyes fluttered for a moment before returning to half-mast, his tongue slipping out to moisten lips so pale they appeared bloodless. He struggled to speak again, and she leaned over so that her ear could catch the breathy whisper.


Her throat too tight to speak, she pressed her lips to his forehead, pulling back when Grey burst into the room.

"Here's two blankets, the EMTs are on their way in," he said brusquely, moving around her to place one blanket over his brother's feet.

He'd barely uttered the words before she heard more footsteps on the stairs and the two paramedics entered the room. Mulder's eyes had closed once more, and though it tore at her heart she stepped back to allow them access. She watched them move efficiently through their tasks, only half comprehending their terse directions to one another.

"Get that I.V. in stat!"

"I'm trying. His veins are collapsed."

"Then do a cut down. Just get that blood going or he's going to code on us."

"B.P. is almost nonexistent already. He needs blood replacement product as well."

"Let's move him on the count of three. One, two..."

Grey pulled his eyes from the scene, turning to Scully. She was staring at Mulder's face, her fingers pressed tightly to trembling lips. After only a brief hesitation he wrapped his arms around her. She folded into the embrace.

"It'll be all right, Dana. No one that stubborn is going to give up now."

He could feel the moment she regained her composure, and released her willingly as she backed away. She was so strong as well as beautiful, he envied his brother just a little.

"He told me he knew I'd come. I can't help feeling I let him down, that I didn't get here soon enough."

"You're the reason he's still alive, the reason those people are helping him right now. You believed in him when I wouldn't."

Scully frowned, swiping at her eyes with the sleeve of her blouse. "e;We have to find Sara, she..."

Grey put a restraining hand on her arm and shook his head. "You don't have to worry about Sara, Dana. I found her when I was upstairs looking for blankets. I guess when she realized we were coming she turned the knife on herself. She's dead. Some of the local cops are up there with her now."

Scully digested his words, too numb to do more than nod. The EMTs had Mulder on their gurney and were moving him toward the doorway. "We're taking him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital," one called over his shoulder. "You can meet us there."

"I'm coming with you. I'm a medical doctor," Scully replied, already in motion.

She flashed Grey an apologetic look, but he waved her on.

"Miss, it would be best if you..."

"I'm coming."

Despite the horror of the last half-hour and his own worry, Grey managed a small smile. "I wouldn't try to stop her if I were you, boys. It could be hazardous to your health."

Scully gave him an irritated glare, but he just followed her up the stairs.

Northwestern Memorial ICU
10:08 a.m.

"At six months, the incidence of CMV disease was 45 percent among seronegative recipients of placebo and..."

Scully sighed heavily and closed the journal, setting it aside and removing her glasses. She admitted to herself that although the idea of catching up on her journal reading worked in theory, her mind was occupied with other concerns.

The focus of those concerns lay motionless in the hospital bed beside her, heart monitor beeping and two I.V.s -- one containing blood and another with fluids and antibiotics -- emptying into his arm. His skin was so pale it appeared almost translucent, bruised looking shadows beneath his eyes. Scully shook her head ruefully. The amazing thing was that he looked a hundred percent better than he had when they'd arrived at the hospital six hours ago.

Her mind slipped back to the terrifying ambulance ride, the EMT working feverishly to redo the tourniquet on Mulder's left arm while she held the I.V. bag, squeezing it to deliver the maximum amount of fluids as quickly as possible. Mulder had coded just as they reached the hospital, and Scully was certain her own heart had stopped as well. The trauma team had been incredible, working efficiently to pull him back from the edge so that his damaged arteries could be repaired and his arms stitched up.

Both arms were now swathed in gauze from his wrists to just above his elbows -- she'd lacked the courage to ask just how many stitches had been required to close the long, deep gashes. Mulder had yet to fully regain consciousness, though he'd surfaced briefly twice, drifting back to sleep once his eyes found her face. Scully winced at the thought of the pain he'd be in when he finally did awaken. The doctor was uneasy about the residual Ativan in Mulder's system and had elected to hold off on morphine until he was completely conscious and coherent.

A nurse entered the room, and Scully carefully schooled her expression to hide the grimace she felt. Most of the ICU nurses had been great, offering her a place to shower and some clean scrubs, bringing her a recliner to replace the uncomfortable straight-backed chair. There was only one exception -- Nurse Attila the Hun, who now cleared her throat and eyed Scully impatiently.

The woman's name was Helen Eggerton and Scully had seen many like her during her med school days. Probably in her sixties, gray hair and a perpetually sour expression, nurses like Helen had lost the joy of the profession and were now merely holding out for retirement. Helen alone had been vocal about suspension of the rule that would normally limit Scully's visiting time to five minutes per hour. She'd eventually given in, her venomous look warning Scully that she'd best watch her step.

"Hello, Helen,"

"Agent Scully." Helen was also the only nurse that used Scully's FBI title rather than referring to her as a doctor. "I need to check Agent Mulder's vitals and redress the wounds. It would be best if you went for a cup of coffee or waited down in the lounge. I'll be done in about fifteen minutes."

Scully gritted her teeth, mentally counting to ten. "I'd rather stay, if you don't mind. If he wakes up..."

"Actually, I *do* mind, Agent Scully. I know you've managed to secure some special privileges around here, but I'm the one handling this procedure and I'd prefer you waited outside." Helen's voice was cool, her gaze challenging.

For just a moment, Scully was tempted to throw down the gauntlet, but she was exhausted mentally and physically and really did need some coffee. Grey had left an hour earlier to check on things at the crime scene, so if she wanted some caffeine she'd need to fetch it herself.

"Sure, fine, whatever," she muttered under her breath, getting stiffly to her feet. Refusing to be rushed by Helen's impatient sigh, she leaned over and kissed Mulder's cheek. "I'll be right back, Partner. Helen will take good care of you." She raised her eyes to meet the nurse's as she spoke the words, narrowing them slightly in warning.

Helen huffed her irritation, but said nothing. Scully lingered in the doorway for only a moment before heading down the hall to the elevators.

Fifteen minutes later she was walking back to the room, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, when the screams began. There was no question who it was, and she flew down the hallway, slamming the Styrofoam cup onto the counter at the nurses' station before running into his room. Helen and a nurse named Amber were struggling to hold a thrashing Mulder steady so that Helen could inject the contents of a syringe into his I.V. Scully bulldozed her way between Helen and her partner, heedless of the furious glance she received in response.

Mulder's eyes were wide and blank with terror as he struggled to sit up, and his hair was damp with sweat. Scully immediately located the source of his panic -- both wrists were secured at his sides by cloth restraints.

"No! Don't do this, please. Scully! Scully!"

"Don't!" she said sharply as Helen reached for the I.V. port. "Both of you back off and give me a minute with him."

"He'll rip open those stitches. This agitation could throw him into cardiac arrest." The hand with the syringe hovered at Helen's side.

Scully turned her back on the woman and leaned over so that her face was just inches from Mulder's, forcing him to see her. She threaded the fingers of one hand soothingly through his damp hair and slipped her other hand over his clenched fist.

"Mulder, it's Scully. You're all right. You're safe. Sara's gone -- do you hear me, Mulder? She's dead, she can't hurt you anymore. I'm here. You're safe now."

She murmured the same words over and over, keeping up a constant patter of reassurances coupled with physical touches. His eyes eventually focused on her face and he stopped yelling, though he still panted with fear and pain. Scully wriggled her fingers into his clenched fist until his fingers clamped tightly around hers.

"Mulder, I'm going to take off the restraints now. You have to lie still or you'll pull out the stitches, okay? Can you do that for me?"

His head bobbed slightly, the pupils of his eyes still dilated with barely contained terror. Scully loosened first one wrist then the other, gently massaging the flesh. She continued her gentle stroking and calming words, and his breathing grew less and less ragged as his muscles relaxed.

"You going to be all right?" Scully asked, aware of Helen and Amber still hovering in the background.

Mulder licked his lips and nodded, the gesture stronger this time. She could see him concentrating on slowing his breathing and she flashed him a smile of encouragement.

"Mulder, I need to talk to the nurses for just a minute. I'll be right outside, okay?"

This time she was rewarded with speech. "Yeah."

Giving his hand a squeeze, Scully turned toward Helen and Amber, the smile vanishing as her brow furrowed with anger. "Can I see you both outside, please?"

Once in the hallway she rounded on them, unleashing all of the fury she'd carefully hidden from Mulder. "Who put those restraints on him? I left instructions specifically stating that under *no* circumstances was he to be restrained, that I should be called if there was a problem."

Amber, young and soft-spoken, looked flustered by Scully's anger. "I just ran in when I heard him start to scream, Dr. Scully. They were already on when I got there."

"I put them on." Helen said. "He'd become more and more restless and it was obvious he was waking up. I was concerned he'd pull the stitches, thrashing around like that. As for your instructions, Agent Scully, you are not his doctor and..."

"Would you excuse us, Amber?" Scully waited for the girl to return to the desk before turning to the older woman. "Do you have any idea what you just put that man through? Agent Mulder received those injuries from a serial murderer who tried to take his life. She placed him on a gurney, not so different from that bed in there, in full restraints. Then she sedated him -- not enough to knock him out, that would have taken away all the fun. She gave him just enough that he couldn't fight back, and then she took a knife and made those cuts you just bandaged. He lay there, unable to move or struggle, watching himself bleed. How do you suppose he felt just now, waking up confused and disoriented, finding himself on *that* bed in restraints. Do you think maybe you can grasp why the hell I left that order?"

Helen had turned very pale, the righteous indignation draining from her face. "I...I didn't think."

"No, you didn't. And I'd appreciate it if you allowed one of the other nurses to handle Agent Mulder's care from now on. I'd hate to have to report this incident." Scully's tone was icy, her eyes unyielding.

Helen swallowed and nodded, for once speechless. Not wishing to hear an apology she would find insincere at best, Scully returned to Mulder's room.

His eyes were fixed on the doorway, waiting for her to reappear. The weak smile that took over his face formed a lump in her throat and drove the last vestiges of anger away. She sank into the chair and slipped her fingers around his, rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand while carefully avoiding the I.V.

"Sorry." His voice was still raspy from his screams. "Guess I kind of lost it for a minute."

"It's okay. It won't happen again."

Mulder grinned weakly. "I'll bet."

He shifted position a little, grimacing. Scully pretended not to notice, knowing how vulnerable he must be feeling. Instead she fell back on the standard script they used when one of them woke from an injury.

"How do you feel?"

The slight twinkle in his eyes told her he understood. "A few quarts short."

"We're filling you back up." She indicated the bag of blood with a tilt of her head. "We'll have you topped off in no time."

"Thanks." The humor disappeared from his voice and he looked at her probingly. "You came through for me, Scully. Just like I knew you would."

Scully blinked, her emotions still raw. "It should have been sooner, Mulder. I wish I'd been there to stop her."

"You *were* there." At her raised eyebrow, he continued, "I could hear you, in my head, whenever I felt things were hopeless. It was like you were with me, refusing to let me give up. You kept me going, Scully."

"Sara's dead," she replied, trying to move the conversation to safer ground. "She killed herself -- put the knife right through her heart."

To her surprise, Mulder looked sad. "She was a victim too," he said. "She told me she'd become the abuse she'd suffered; she couldn't separate herself from it the way Jackson had. I'm pretty sure we'll find his body buried somewhere close to the house."

"We already did."

The deep voice startled them both, and they looked up to see Skinner in the doorway. He moved cautiously into the room, his eyes scanning the various pieces of equipment and then his agent's pale face.

"Scully called me once you were out of the woods," he explained. "I drove down to make sure the case was wrapped up and to see for myself that they were treating you right. " His mouth curved slightly. "Not that Scully would allow anything less."

"I'm fine, sir." Mulder caught both Scully and Skinner rolling their eyes. "Well, I will be."e;

He stifled a yawn that tried to sneak out, and Skinner noted that his eyes were drooping with fatigue. Scully must have noticed too, since she began running the hand not linked with her partner's up and down his upper arm in a calming fashion. Skinner hid a smile, wondering if
Mulder had figured out Scully's methods for lulling him to sleep.

"I have to head over to the crime scene," he said aloud. "I want to be sure that forensics is thorough. They seem very competent, but their resources are limited. I'll stop by later to see how you're coming along."

Mulder didn't answer, already slipping back under, but Scully nodded. Her eyes clearly expressed her gratitude for his support and concern.

Skinner stepped out into the hallway and strode briskly toward the elevators. As he passed the small lounge on his left, his eye landed on a figure that looked very familiar, and yet not. He stopped, moving over to get a better view of the individual who was pacing aimlessly with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. Sensing his presence, the man looked up. Skinner nearly gasped in surprise. Seeing the man's face left no doubt as to his identity.

"You must be Grey McKenzie," he said, walking closer.

Grey frowned, evidently wondering how and why a stranger knew his name. "Yes. I'm sorry, do I know you?"

"We've never met, but I've heard about you." Skinner extended his hand. "I'm Walter Skinner, Assistant Director at the D.C. Bureau. Your brother and Agent Scully report to me."

Grey pumped his hand, grinning a little. "Ahh. You're the voice on the other end of the phone that makes Dana snap to attention."

Skinner allowed a small smile. "Good to know it's working."

"I take it you just saw Fox. How's he doing?"

"He looks like hell, but I've seen worse. Scully said with the transfusions and plenty of rest he should be better in no time."

"He lost over two-thirds of his blood volume, did she tell you that?" Grey leaned against the wall and studied the floor tiles with great interest. "Over four pints. He was in hypovolemic shock by the time we found him."

Skinner absorbed his words, watching the way Grey avoided his eyes. "You know Mulder was awake just now, but he won't last long. You might want to head on down there if you plan to catch him."

Grey nodded, looking less than enthusiastic. "Yeah. I should do that."

Skinner looked at him shrewdly. He was pretty sure he knew what was bothering Grey. Scully had kept in touch throughout the ordeal -- had explained Mulder's belief that the Raleigh Police had the wrong man, his persistence in writing a new profile, and Grey's rejection of it. He'd been in a similar position once, and recognized guilt when he saw it.

"He won't hold it against you." He kept his expression bland. "I ought to know. You aren't the only one who doubted him only to learn he was right all along."

Grey raised his eyebrows. "You?"

Skinner nodded, remembering how he pinned a struggling Mulder against a table, turning a deaf ear to his protests that Pinkus was a killer. "I'll spare you the details, but I actually had him committed. Thought he was spouting craziness, that he'd finally gone 'round the bend. Later I discovered everything he'd claimed was true -- but not before he was almost killed in the process."

Grey ran a hand over his face and sighed heavily. "You wouldn't be making that up just so I'll feel better, would you?"

Skinner snorted and turned back toward the elevators. "Me? I'm the hardass who makes them snap to attention, remember? Do I seem the type to do that?" The doors opened and he stepped inside, facing forward in time to see Grey shake his head in amusement. "Go see him. You won't be sorry."

The doors shut, removing the need for Grey to reply.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport
11:15 a.m.

"We've still got over a half-hour until they start boarding," Scully said, watching Mulder settle gingerly into one of the hard plastic seats. Seeing that he looked tired but relatively free from pain, she continued, "I'm going to go pick up a couple of magazines and some coffee. I'll see if they have seeds."

"Scully, you *know* what I like." Mulder waggled his eyebrows.

Scully rolled her eyes and looked at Grey. "Watch him. I can't think of any trouble he could get into, but he'll always surprise you. Mulder, just keep those arms elevated."

"I'd salute, but my doctor warned me against any strenuous movements."

Grey watched her disappear into the crowd and then looked at his brother, shaking his head. "I still don't get it. I've never seen two people test the water so many times and still avoid getting wet."

"I told you. It's complicated." Mulder tugged at one sleeve. Flannel shirts with the cuffs unbuttoned were all he could manage to put on over the bandages at this point.

"Yeah, I remember. I still think you should jump in. Knowing Dana, I'd say you'll find the water's just fine."

Mulder didn't answer, so Grey sat in the chair beside him. He took a deep breath, knowing that it was past time to air the unpleasantness between them. Over the past two days he and Fox had begun to rebuild their relationship, but his angry words still lay between them like a poorly placed piece of furniture on which you keep bumping your shin. He was certain that Dana's trip for coffee was a deliberate ploy to leave them alone so they would talk.

"Fox, I'm sorry." He wished the words came easier. "You were right, and I wouldn't listen. Because of my stubbornness, you almost died."

Mulder looked out the large glass windows at the fueling plane. "It wasn't all your fault. I pushed all the wrong buttons. I have a way of doing that."

Grey squinted at him, incredulous. "I can't believe you want to take any of the blame. Fox, I ignored the educated opinion of a colleague because I couldn't see past the fact that he happened to be my little brother." He paused a moment, then added, "I guess part of me is still that jealous kid that listened to Bill brag about his son. Hearing you so convinced you had all the answers brought it all back."

Mulder shook his head. "It was all just an illusion, Grey. You were the one with the *real* family. Ours was just for show, like a T.V. sitcom. Once the cameras stopped rolling and the audience was gone, the façade crumbled and it all fell apart. If anyone should be jealous, it's me."

Grey considered his words for a moment, then grinned. "So I guess we'll just have to *trust* each other and accept that neither of us had an idyllic childhood."

Mulder raised an eyebrow at his emphasis on the word "trust."

"Dana told me that's how you two find a middle ground," Grey said.

Mulder looked up and saw Scully weaving her way through the crowd, a cup of coffee in one hand and a bag in the other. When she caught his eye and smiled, his own lips curved in response.

"Yeah. I guess you could say that."

Grey traced the smile to its source, then leaned over to murmur conspiratorially. "You know, getting wet can be a lot of fun."

Mulder grinned. "I'll keep that in mind."

The call to board their flight sounded over the loudspeaker, and Grey grabbed his upper arm to help him stand. Scully surprised them both by pulling Grey into a hug and kissing his cheek.

"Thank you. For everything."

Grey had a goofy grin on his face when he stepped back, and Mulder squashed a small surge of jealousy. Any irritation he felt disappeared when his brother glanced his way and winked knowingly.

Scully ran her hand down Mulder's arm and tilted her head toward the gate. "I'll be in line."

Once she was gone, an awkward silence descended between them. Mulder shuffled his feet. "That goes for me, too. Thanks for coming after me."

Grey looked as if he might protest, but he smiled. "Anytime. You know, I haven't been to D.C. since I was a little kid. Maybe I could come up for a visit sometime soon."

"I'd like that," Mulder said, smiling. He sobered, a little of the animation leaving his face. "It's a risk, though, Grey. *They're* bound to find out eventually, and it could put you in danger."

He still wasn't sure whether Grey believed much of what he'd been told concerning the Consortium, but his brother's chin jutted out stubbornly. "Screw 'em. If what you say is true, those men deprived me of my biological parents forty-three years ago. I'm not letting them take away my brother too -- not when we've come this far."

A little overwhelmed, Mulder nodded and stuck out his hand. Grey looked at it, shook his head, and pulled him into a hug. At first frozen with surprise, Mulder slowly lifted his arms and returned the embrace.

"Take care of yourself," Grey said quietly when he'd released him. "I'll be in touch."

Scully had already boarded and was sitting next to the window, leaving Mulder the coveted aisle seat. She watched him settle in, ignoring his long-suffering look when she helped him with his seat belt. He could feel her studying him, curious as to the status of his relationship with Grey, yet unwilling to press him for information. He kept his face carefully neutral, inwardly grinning at the knowledge that he was driving her crazy. He saw her purse her lips, and knew she could stand it no longer.

"How are you feeling, partner?" In that one simple question he heard all the affection and concern left unspoken.

He leaned back into the seat and smiled. "Like I'm not alone."

Scully smiled and tangled her fingers with his. There was really nothing more that needed to be said.

The End.