The idea for this story was born December 2002 when I was doing some reading about rape. The reading had to do more with the biological aspects of the crime, specifically that it was a successful reproduction strategy and as such was likely to remain part of our collective culture. I also read some opinions about how rape affects men and women differently – not all of which I believed – but it got me thinking.

One of the things I considered was how most fanfic in which Scully is raped focuses almost entirely on her recovery. Mulder hurts for her -- as I believe he would -- but his role is often limited to trying to comfort her. I started wondering what feelings of his own Mulder might have about such an incident, and scenes started taking shape in my mind. So, although Scully bears the brunt of the trauma in StL, I wrote it almost more for Mulder. Her arc – sadness, fear, anger, acceptance, recovery – is almost predetermined. Mulder’s path is a bit more wobbly.

So I did a little more reading and a little more thinking. I knew this story would be a departure for me. It’s a drama, not a case file. Eek, uncharted territory!  I also knew the subject matter is controversial, so I decided NOT to post it as a WIP. This allowed me to be confident that I had accomplished what I set out to do before it went public, and also limited the time for angry hate mail. Win-win!

I started it February 23, 2003.  I know this because I turned on my computer to work that morning and everyone was wishing Scully a happy birthday. I figure beginning this fic on Scully's birthday means I am going to fanfic hell for sure. *g*

The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem:

Split the Lark--and you'll find the Music--

Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled--

Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning

Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old.

 

Loose the Flood--you shall find it patent--

Gush after Gush, reserved for you--

Now do you doubt your Bird was true?

 

XxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter One

XxXxXxXxXxX

 

 

This time, she left her gun at home.  Mulder had called after

three days away testifying at a retrial in Oregon -- an old

monster threatening to escape the box again -- and said he

was back and she should come over.  Phone curled to her ear,

she'd heard the sound of his bag hitting the floor, barely

home.  She imagined him like the last reel of a John Wayne

movie, where the dusty but victorious hero bursts through the

saloon doors, lit like the blazes from behind, and sweeps his

beloved into his arms.  Or, in Mulder's case, his cell phone. 

 

"Come over," he'd said, his voice rich with invitation.

 

"You're not tired?"

 

"Not yet," he'd said, and she'd shivered.

 

He didn't mention files or folders or bogeymen, so Scully

left them at home too.  She left the gun in its holster on

her dresser, next to her badge. She bypassed the line of

black suits in her closet in favor of a long wrap-around

skirt that she hadn't worn since college.  It still fit, she

realized with a pleased smile as she ran her hands over the

soft cotton that hugged her hips, like it had been waiting

for her all these years.

 

The question of where to start this story was one I struggled with for a while. One possibility was to back it up even farther before the rape. Alternatively, I could have not shown the rape at all and begun the fic with Scully calling Mulder from the ER.

Ultimately, it starts here for a number of reasons: 1) They say "start where you want to end up." Part of my goal was to show how M & S got back to reasonable harmony after the rape, so I included a bit of preamble to show what I was stripping away from them. 2) Not showing the rape at all seemed to diminish the power of the story, and also I thought it was important to show how fast and unbelievable it was to Scully. 3) The opening phone call establishes the M & S relationship.

 

She pinned her hair off her neck and slipped on some sandals

and left with nothing more than her wallet, her keys, and a

tingle of anticipation.  The night heat wilted her shower-

fresh skin, leaving Scully to perform emergency resuscitation

with a blast of AC in the car.  She checked her progress in

the rearview mirror at a red light.  Eyes bright and cheeks

pink, she blew out a long breath and gave up.  Mulder would

take one look at her and know she was hot. 

 

A car honked behind her. 

 

It was silly to be nervous, she thought.  She'd come over

before.  She had brought her trench coat and her files, and

he had ordered the pizza.  But somehow "Let me help you off

with that coat, Scully" had melted into "Let me help you off

with that bra, Scully," while the files and pizza grew cold

together on the table.  Then, just the week before, he'd

asked her to come over and help him with his crashed

computer, so she'd brought her manuals to tackle the problem. 

Together they'd managed some manual relief, but as far as she

knew, Mulder's computer still remained broken.

 

His low voice from the phone echoed in her head and warmed

her ears anew.  Come over, he'd said, without pretext this

time.  No books.  No files.  Just come. 

 

She got as far as Duke Street before she lost her nerve and

stopped for Chinese.  Mulder would be hungry, she told

herself.  And if she showed up with an armful of takeout

boxes, she might not look so... expectant.  Decision made,

Scully drove to Ming's Delight, their favorite hole-in-the-

wall Chinese joint from Mulder's end of town.

 

Ming's shared a block of brick buildings with other small

shops, so street parking was often a problem.  Scully eyed

the line of cars out front and turned down the narrow alley

to the tiny parking lot in back.  No neat white lines and

smooth tar for Ming's -- their lot featured crumbling

pavement, a large dumpster and a chain-link fence.  The only

light came from the open back door at Ming's, which poured

out steamy air and a long string of loud Chinese.  At the

back, an urban jungle had sprung up from neglect, as saplings

took root and brambly bushes spilled out onto the gravel. 

Scully stuck the nose of her car in the leafy thicket and

went in search of food.

 

Jun, the young man at the counter, recognized her and his

eyes crinkled up in welcome.  Scully ordered their usual

black pepper beef and Kung Pao chicken.  "And some of the

ginger pork noodles," she added.  "Oh, and an order of spring

rolls."

 

Jun's eyebrows lifted.  "You are hungry tonight!"

 

Scully felt her cheeks flush.  "I guess so."

 

He boxed the food and tossed in double their allotted fortune

cookies.  "For luck," he told her with a wink.  Scully

thanked him and returned to her car.  Awkwardly, she tried to

balance the food between her hip and the car door as she

fumbled with her keys.  Then her phone rang.  She set the

keys on the roof to answer it.

 

"Scully."

 

"You're not here."

 

His impatience made her smile.  The good thing about Chinese

food was that it reheated well.  "I'm five blocks away."

 

"Ming's?"

 

"The very same."

 

"Fantastic.  I could use something to supplement my plane

peanuts."

 

"I figured as much."  The heat from the food burned through

her skirt.  "I'll be right there."

 

"Scully?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"You aren't going to make me dress up for dinner, are you?"

 

"Why, Mulder?  What are you wearing?"  As soon as the words

left her mouth, she realized she'd been set up. 

 

"Right now?  Nothing."

 

Scully shook her head a bit, letting him enjoy his moment. 

"Well, then," she answered, voice pitched low as she hefted

the food, "I guess my fortune cookie came true."

 

She hung up at his delightedly shocked silence.  Groping for

the keys with her two free fingers, she missed and the keys

slid from the roof.  "Dammit."  She cradled the bag to her

side and crouched down in the dark.  A breeze ruffled the

leaves.  She managed to hook the key ring with her pinky and

stood up again, face to face with a man in a stocking mask.

 

He knocked the keys and the phone from her hand with a sharp

blow.  Scully sucked in a breath as he advanced.  "My wallet

is on the roof," she said. 

 

"Shut up."  His mouth curled beneath the pantyhose.  She saw

now that he clutched a knife.  "Lose the food."

 

Scully set the bag on the ground.  "Take whatever you want,"

she told him.  He grabbed her bare upper arm and yanked her

further into the darkness.  The knife grazed her neck. 

Behind her, she felt him fumbling, and he thrust a small roll

of black tape into her hand.  "Tear it off," he breathed near

her ear, "and cover your mouth.  Do it now."

 

Cold fear dripped down her spine.  "Please, no--"

 

The knifepoint bit into her neck.  "Now."

 

Scully complied with shaking fingers.  When she was done, he

turned her roughly around.  She stared at his mashed features

-- the blunt nose, the slitted eyes, and his wet, open mouth. 

Her knees threatened to give way.

 

"Down on the ground," he ordered.  He followed her down,

knife coming to rest at her jugular.  Her skirt gaped open

and he pried her legs apart.  "That's it," he said.  "You're

a hot little bitch."

 

The rape is deliberately short, both to illustrate how quickly it can happen and to minimize the sensationalism. Some readers were upset with me that Scully didn’t make more of an effort to fight. I think that would have been a valid way to write this scene, too. It’s not that I think she would not fight, ever. But it’s hard to know in advance how you will react in this situation, and she was not armed. So I think this is a viable story-telling alternative and not necessarily "out of character."

 

Scully closed her eyes and turned her head away.  He smelled

like beer and sweat.  Silent tears streamed down her face

into the dirt as he yanked off her underwear and unzipped his

pants.  She tensed but he pushed himself inside her anyway.

 

"You like this, huh?"

 

Scully struggled for breath, panting through her nose.  She

heard the cheerful shouts from Ming's kitchen, smelled the

feast she'd bought for Mulder.  Her attacker grunted. 

Abruptly, she felt the heat of his body leave her.  Sweat

glued her T-shirt to her chest.  She burned between her legs. 

He rustled around not far away and she made herself look.  He

was cleaning up, tucking in his shirt. 

 

"You tell anyone, you're dead."  He pointed the knife at her.

 

She watched as he thrashed his way back into the bushes.  Her

heart thudded in her throat but she lay perfectly still,

listening.  His noises faded away. 

 

With a small, choked sound, Scully rose to her hands and

knees.  Her muscles were stiff and uncooperative.  She

crawled out from behind her car and located her phone.  Her

hair had come undone, falling in her eyes, sticking to her

teary face.  She pushed it aside and ripped off the tape. 

After several shuddering breaths, she leaned back against the

rear tire of her car and opened her phone.  Her hand shook so

hard she could barely hit the buttons. 

 

"Nine-one-one.  What is your emergency?"

 

"I--I've been assaulted in a parking lot.  I need help."  She

gave the requisite information and curled up to listen for

the sirens.  With every twitch of a leaf, she was sure he was

coming through the bushes again.

 

Dirt clung to her hair.  Her underwear was gone.  Scully

shivered in the muggy night air.  She wanted to go home and

stand in the hot shower until she felt clean again, but she

did not move. 

 

She was an investigator, and this was her crime scene.

 

This line, the idea of Scully immediately taking charge of her own crime scene, was something I had in mind before I started writing. She wants to run it from inside the lines; Mulder, who shows up shortly, has other ideas.

XxX

 

 

Scully sat alone, her back to the car, with her cell phone

cradled to her breast.  She swiped at her cheeks with one

hand as the first black-and-white appeared on the scene.  The

ambulance followed, squeezing through the narrow alley, red

lights spinning circles in the trees.  She heard radios

squawk when the heavy car doors opened and the officers

approached.  The clump of their boots on the pavement made

her nervous.  She should stand up, organize the facts, but

she couldn't seem to move.

 

"Ma'am?"  The larger man peered down at her.  "We're from the

Alexandria Police Department.  Are you the one who called?"

 

"Yes."  She looked behind him at the darkened bushes.  "Yes,

I called."

 

They asked her name and she told them.  The smaller man

crouched down next to her, eyes dark behind his round

glasses.  "Can you tell us what happened?"

 

She could remember every second but not in any order.  The

bits zoomed in and out of focus in her mind:  his breath on

her cheek, the blade at her neck, the food getting cold as he

ground her into the dirt.   Her hand went to her throat.  "He

came from there," she said, indicating the bushes.  "A man,

about six feet tall, twenty-five to thirty-five years old. 

He wore jeans and he had a -- a stocking over his face.  No

gloves."

 

"Race?"

 

She pictured him and her throat seized up.  She shook her

head.  "Too dark."

 

Scully gave the details as though she were recording autopsy

data; how he had knocked her keys and phone away, had cut her

throat, had forced her down and raped her.  Two of the

officers, armed with guns and flashlights, set out into the

trees after him.  A third, the gentle giant who'd first found

her huddled against the car, stayed with her while the EMTs

began treating her wounds.

 

"Officer Lou Paulson, Ma'am," he said, his knees cracking as

he bent.  "You say he knocked your phone out of your hands?"

 

Scully still had it clutched close.  "Yes."

 

"We should have it checked for prints."  He turned without

getting up.  "Carlos?" he yelled at the other man back near

the car.  "Can you bring me a bag?"

 

Scully's heart bumped against her ribs.  "I don't think he

touched it," she said tightly.  "He hit my wrist, not the

phone."

 

"Can't be too sure."  He held out a gloved hand, his

expression softening at her hesitation.  "We'll have it back

to you real soon, I promise."

 

Wordlessly, Scully stretched out the phone for him.  If he

noticed her tremor, he didn't comment.  The phone rang inside

the paper bag, and Paulson peered in like schoolboy at

lunchtime.  Scully already knew what name glowed inside.

 

"Fox Mulder," Paulson read off. 

 

Scully nodded, hugging herself.  "He's expecting me for

dinner."

 

Paulson's thick brows knit together, and he reached for his

back pocket.  "Here," he said, handing her his cell.  "You

can call him if you like."

 

The foreign phone felt like lead in her hands.  She licked

dried lips and stared at the buttons.  "Thanks," she replied,

but made no move to dial.  Mulder.  Tears threatened to

overwhelm her again.  She didn't want to have to call.  She

wanted him to appear magically without having to say the

words.

 

The loss of the phone strips Scully of another layer of control and comfort. It also symbolizes Mulder. (Duh *g*)

 

One of the EMTs appeared with a stretcher.  "We should get

her to the hospital now," he told Paulson.  Paulson stood as

the two other officers returned from their mission in the

trees.

 

"No sign of the guy," said one.  Brubrek, she thought his

name was.  "We found your keys but not your wallet," he told

Scully.  She rose on shaky legs.  Her driver's license, her

business cards -- he had everything.

 

"He'll know where I live," she said, "where I work."

 

"Give us your address," the Brubrek said.  "We'll make sure

he's not headed over there.  Where do you work?"

 

Scully faltered.  She knew what was coming.  "The FBI."

 

This is the first of many times Scully’s job comes into play, along with the notion that somehow her training should have prevented this from happening to her.

 

"You're a Fed?"  He looked up from his notes for her nod. 

She could feel the other men resisting the urge to look too. 

He raked her once from head to toe and returned his eyes to

his pad.  "Don't think you'll have to worry about this guy

bothering you on the job then."

 

"Dana?" said the closet EMT.  "We should go get you checked

out now."

 

Scully nodded, numb.  She moved stiffly to climb onto the

stretcher, but Brubrek had one last question.  "Did he take

anything else?" he asked.  "Any jewelry?"

 

Scully swallowed.  "My underwear."

 

The EMT covered her with a blanket and avoided her eyes. 

Officer Paulson occupied himself with the trees, and Brubrek

cleared his throat.  "Okay, that's it for now.  We'll talk to

you again at the hospital, okay?"

 

Scully realized she still had Paulson's phone.

 

"You keep it," he told her.  "Call your friend.  I'll get it

back at the hospital."

 

As they wheeled her to the back of the ambulance, Scully saw

that the Ming family had filed out from the kitchen to watch

the commotion.  They stood in silent, sad formation -- Jun

the tallest, with his tiny father and two teenage sisters at

his side -- all still wearing their neat white aprons.

 

Scully looked away.  She knew she would never come back there

again.

 

XxX

 

Mulder used two fingers to scissor an opening in his blinds

and peered down at the street for the fourth time.  Still, no

Scully.  He chewed his lip and hit her number on his speed

dial, but again, her voice mail answered.  It should not take

her over half an hour to travel five blocks.  He fished his

keys from the desk and started for the front door, when the

phone rang in his hand.

 

"Scully," he said with relief.  "Where are you?"

 

There was silence on the other end, and he noticed for the

first time that the caller ID read "Paulson" not "Scully."

 

"Hello?" he tried again.

 

"Mulder?"  She sounded small and far away. 

 

"Scully," he said, exhaling once more as he sank onto his

sofa.  "What's going on?  Where are you?"  He heard muffled

voices in the background.

 

"I'm okay," she said, and his blood went cold.  He lurched

forward on the couch.

 

"Scully?"

 

"There was a man in the parking lot," she said, "at Ming's. 

He--he...  He held me up and took my wallet.  He got away,

but the police came and now I'm on my way to the hospital. 

Can you meet me there?"

 

"Of course," he said, already moving.  His heart stuck like

peanut butter to the back of his throat.  "Are you okay,

Scully?"  He stopped at the door, silent for her answer.

 

"I'm fine, Mulder."

 

Her flat affect did not make him feel better.  "'kay," he

said.  "I'm on my way out the door now."

 

"Okay."  He listened to her breathe for a moment.  "Mulder?"

 

"Yeah?

 

"Please hurry."

 

Mulder got the name of the hospital and tripped over his feet

getting to the car.  He slammed through the city at high

speed, and it hit back with a fiery summer temper, red sirens

and crowds of restless people slowing him down at every

corner.  He cursed and banged the steering wheel.  "Come

*on*," he hollered at the lumbering cars in front of him. 

His tires squealed as Mulder passed a Buick on the right -- a

make-believe lane between the side mirror and the sidewalk.

 

She's okay, he told himself.  You know she is.  She's all

right.

 

He parked and yanked the key out of the ignition, jogging

towards the emergency room.  The glass doors slid open to

chaos -- bandaged people lined three deep, children crying,

and two admitting nurses trying to keep a lid on it all. 

Mulder sifted through the wounded, moving them bodily if he

had to, but found no sign of Scully.  He cut to the front of

the line.

 

"Dana Scully?" he asked. 

 

For once, they were too distracted to give him any flack. 

"Room three.  Through those doors and on the left."

 

A round-bodied sentry caught him on the other side.  "May I

help you?" she asked, planting herself between him and Room

3.

 

"I'm looking for Room 3.  Dana Scully."

 

At Scully's name, the set of her jaw relaxed.  "Ah," she

replied softly.  "Let me show you the way then.  It's right

down here."

 

Mulder's heart hammered as he followed her down the hall. 

The instant access made him more nervous than the refusals he

usually got.

 

"Is she okay?"

 

"This way," she said over her shoulder.  "Just let me knock

once, all right?  The doctor is with her now."

 

Mulder hovered behind her as she stuck her head in the door. 

He tried but he couldn't see Scully.  The woman emerged again

and the door widened to disgorge a second woman, this one

with longer hair and thinner hips.  "Anne Lehne," she said to

Mulder as she shook his hand.  "I'm taking care of Dana."

 

"She's okay?"

 

"She's doing just fine, considering what she's been through."

 

A thousand terrible images filled his head.  "Can I see her?"

 

"Of course. She's been waiting to talk to you, so you can go

right in.  I'll just be back in a few minutes."

 

Mulder nodded, barely listening.  His heart sped up as he

pushed the door open with the flat of his hand.  "Scully?"

 

She came into view and Mulder's pulse relaxed.  Fine.  She

looked just fine.  No mugger had beaten her to a pulp.  There

were no tubes coming out of her or machines to help her

breathe.  She sat on the exam table in a pink cotton gown,

looking perfectly whole.  He could see a small bandage on the

side of her neck and that was about it.

 

This is the first of another recurring idea, that rape is something wounds mostly on the inside. Mulder’s momentary relief here also touches on the idea that just because you look fine doesn’t mean you are fine.

 

"Hey," he said.  "How are you doing?" 

 

"You're here," she said, and her chin trembled.  She reached

for him.

 

"I'm here."  He stroked her hair as she pressed herself into

his squishy middle parts.  She held him with a fierce grip.

He rubbed her shoulders gently but she did not let go. 

"Scully?"

 

"There was a man in the parking lot," she said into his

shirt, not looking at him.  The hairs on the back of his neck

rose.  He knew.  All of a sudden he knew. 

 

"Don't," he blurted, but she kept talking.

 

"He had a knife, Mulder.  I was on the phone with you and he

came out from the trees before I knew what was happening.  He

forced me down on the ground..." She touched the bandage at

her neck.  "He said he would kill me.  I--I had no choice."

 

"God, Scully."  His hands roamed over her back.  "I'm so

sorry."

 

"I had no choice," she repeated, angry.

 

"Of course not.  Of course you didn't."

 

"He was going to kill me."

 

Mulder reeled.  He had never imagined this.  "You're safe

now," he said, his voice hollow in the empty room.  "You're

okay."

 

She snuffled and he felt her hot breath through his tee

shirt.  "I don't know how this happened.  I had the food, I

was leaving, and then suddenly he was there.  He held the

knife to my throat and forced me down.  Everything was so

fast.  I can't think--I can't think how it happened."

 

He rocked her, helpless.  He couldn't think either.  "I'm so

sorry, Scully."  He kissed the warm crown of her head over

and over and tried to fold her into him.  "Are you hurt

anywhere?  Did he hurt you?"

 

"No."  She quivered, sounding uncertain.

 

There was a knock at the door and Scully jerked in his arms. 

She pulled away a bit, sniffing hard in quick succession as

Dr. Lehne reentered the room.  Mulder left one hand resting

awkwardly on Scully's knee, gnawed his lip and watched her

out of the corner of his eye as she answered the doctor's

questions.  She sat stone still.  Her blue eyes were wet,

lashes glued with tears, and her new smattering of summer

freckles stood out against her stark white skin.  The gown

was too big, yawning open at the neck and sleeves and

revealing the fine slope and bones of her.  So much violence,

and yet there was barely a mark to show it.  Scully had

absorbed it all inside.

 

"We need to complete the exam now," Dr. Lehne was saying. 

"Kristi here is going to help me check you out and collect

any evidence that might be useful for later prosecution. 

Agent Mulder can stay here if you like, or we can have him

come back in when we're done."

 

Mulder took his hand from her knee, preparing to go.  Scully

conducted all her medical treatments behind closed doors,

like a feral cat licking her wounds in private.  "I'll just

be outside."

 

She grabbed his arm.  "Mulder?"

 

"What?"  He stopped and looked at her.  "You want me to

stay?"

 

"Is that all right?"

 

"Of course." 

 

So he sat in a squeaky, rolling chair by Scully's head while

Dr. Lehne did the exam.  Scully mashed his fingers in her

hand but did not move, barely breathing, and so he made

himself hold still too, until his muscles ached from the

effort.  The peach walls blurred around him as he tried not

to watch what they were doing to her.  He noticed a tray with

shiny silver tools on it that reminded him of the dentist,

and he held Scully's hand a little tighter.

 

This is the first of another running theme, which is Mulder feeling like an alien in this strange new world. As an investigator and psychologist, he would know a lot about the subject of rape, but watching someone dear to you submit to the rape exam is something different. Scully’s got knowledge now that he can’t have.

 

Scully stared straight up at the ceiling.  She answered all

their questions in a calm, unwavering voice, but every so

often, he saw a tear slide from the corner of her eye into

her hair.

 

He knew the doctor wasn't hurting her, but he wanted to knock

the woman out of the way and run out the door with Scully and

never look back.

 

"Okay?" he asked Scully unsteadily. 

 

She didn't look at him. "Yes."

 

Dr. Lehne glanced up.  "You're doing great, Dana.  We're

almost done."

 

"Almost done," Mulder repeated to Scully, and she nodded at

the ceiling.  He lapsed into silence, a little desperate and

totally tongue-tied, the only man in a room full of women.  

 

I'm five blocks away, she'd said.  They had been around the

world together but five blocks turned out to be the only

distance that mattered.  He couldn't think what he'd been

doing when the man came out of the bushes.  Did that even

happen anymore?  The man with the knife in the bushes -- that

man was a punch line, a spook story, like the guy with the

hook for an arm and the albino alligators in the sewer. 

Wheel of Fortune.  That's what he'd been doing.   I'd like to

solve the puzzle, Pat.

 

HANS CHRISTEN ANDERSEN

 

Ming's restaurant, he'd been there dozens of times, had asked

Scully to stop there for food on her way over more than he

could remember.  God, if he'd known... 

 

His empty stomach flipped and growled.  Mulder clenched his

gut to try to shut it up. 

 

Scully turned her head and looked at him.  She'd heard.  She

knew.  They were supposed to be eating dinner.  "Sorry," he

tried to say, but she turned her head back before he got the

words out.

 

Dr. Lehne sat back in her chair.  "We're all done," she said,

and Scully let out a long, controlled breath.  "You can sit

up now, Dana.  You did fine.  Kristi will get you some

clothes, okay?  And then we can talk for a bit.  I'll answer

any questions that you have, and I want to write you a couple

of prescriptions before you leave."

 

Mulder got to stay while Scully changed, but she kicked him

out for the final talk.  Escaping into the hallway, he leaned

his back against the cool white wall and covered his face

with his hands to stop them from shaking.  His heart felt

like a baker had pounded it, swollen and bruised inside his

chest.

 

"Agent Mulder?"

 

He jerked his hands down and looked in the direction of the

voice.  Detective Ruben Savioshy was walking towards him down

the hall with another suited man following behind.  Mulder

straightened and prepared for the onslaught he knew was

coming.

 

Amanda, who watched this fic come down line by line on IM, always insisted on calling Savioshy "Smith" because it was easier to spell.  I am lucky I didn't slip up and call him Smith in the fic somewhere. *g*

 

"Agent Mulder, tell me I got this information wrong."

 

"Detective."  He couldn't say it was nice to see him again,

so he left it at that.  The last time they'd met, Philip

Padget had been dead in Mulder's basement and Scully'd been

drenched in her own blood.   Mulder took a deep breath.  "I

wish I could tell you it was wrong."

 

Detective Savioshy nodded heavily.  "Okay, then.  Tell me

what happened."

 

"I don't really know any of the details.  I--I wasn't there. 

She was at Ming's restaurant, in the parking lot, and a man

attacked her.  That's all I know."

 

Savioshy gestured at the door with his pen.  "She's in

there?"

 

Mulder looked at the smooth gray door, at the light shining

from under it.  "Yeah.  She's talking to the doctor."

 

Savioshy turned and said something in a low voice to his

companion, who nodded.  "This is Chris Clark with the DA's

office," Savioshy said.  Mulder's handshake was harder than

he intended.

 

"You have someone in custody?"

 

"No," Clark said, easing his hand away.  He looked at

Savioshy, who looked at the floor.  It was clear they'd been

through this routine before.  "No, I'm sorry.  We're trying,

believe me.  We're doing everything we can.  That's really

why I'm here, to make sure we don't miss anything that could

be useful down the road at prosecution."

 

A layperson might have been confused, or grateful, that a

clean-cut, broad-shouldered man from the DA's office was

looking after the case personally, but Mulder had spent too

many years in law enforcement not to know what Clark's

presence really signaled.  "There are others," he said. 

"He's done this before."

 

"Yes."  Savioshy cleared his throat.  "We don't know for sure

yet until we talk to Agent Scully, but the case as the

earmarks--"

 

"How many?"

 

"Nine, that we know of."  He paused.  "Now maybe ten."

 

"Ten?"

 

"The attacks cover a broad area through three counties.  It

took us a while to realize we were all looking for one man."

 

The door opened and Dr. Lehne appeared.  She and Detective

Savioshy spoke in low voices about sample collection, and

Mulder felt his legs stabilize beneath him.  This part he

knew.  The law -- the investigation -- he could handle that.

 

This starts the crux of the tension between Mulder and Scully. He wants to help in the best way he knows how, by using all his skills as an investigator. This part he knows. He feels certain about. He doesn’t feel certain about much else.

For Scully, it’s a role she is not willing to cede to him. She’s just had part of herself wrested away by force, and she’s not going to let Mulder take anything else. She doesn’t see it as helping. She reacts as though he’s trying to control her.

 

Then Scully came out, wearing foreign sweats and an oversized

white T-shirt that made her seem even paler.  Her hair was

down flat and tucked behind her ears, and she'd scrubbed her

face clean of makeup.  Her toes curled in her sandals as she

hung back against the doorjamb.  It wasn't a version of

herself she let many people see, usually not even him, and

Mulder felt a sharp stab of protectiveness.

 

"Scully?" he asked, and she jerked her attention from

Savioshy to him.  "You okay?"

 

Savioshy joined them before she could answer him, approaching

Scully the same careful way that he had when she'd been

soaked in blood.  "Agent Scully, hello.  Sorry to hear about

what you've been through tonight.  Are you up to answering a

few questions?"

 

"Of course," she answered, drawing herself up.  She handed

Mulder several slips of white paper.  "Mulder, could you take

these to the pharmacy and wait there for me?  I'll be along

in a few minutes."

 

He looked down at the prescriptions and then at her.  "Um,

sure, Scully.  Whatever you want."

 

"Thank you."

 

He waited a beat but she didn't say anything further, both

she and Savioshy clearly waiting for him to leave before they

got on with their business, so he started a slow amble down

the hall.  He peeked back once and saw Clark nodding at

something Scully was saying.  Savioshy had his notepad out. 

Mulder hit the button for the elevator and looked away.  Here

-- discussion of how to get the sick bastard -- here was

where he could be of some use.  Fuck all Savioshy seemed to

be doing about the problem anyway.  Mulder had worked rape

cases before, some with Scully.  She knew what he could do. 

You profile one sick sonofabitch, you'd profiled them all. 

 

The elevator dinged and Mulder took a last glance down the

hall before he stepped inside.  In line at the pharmacy, he

flipped through the prescriptions, which told Scully's horror

in an entirely different language: amoxicillin, alprazolam,

D-norgestrel, and Tylenol 3.  The sharp slips of paper sliced

up his heart and he found himself trying not to cry in a room

full of people.  He handed the rape victims' cocktail to the

man behind the counter, who took one look at the list and

nodded.  He could read between the lines.  "It'll be about

twenty minutes," he said gently.  "If you'll just have a seat

over there."

 

Mulder sat in the hard, narrow chair and rested a magazine in

his lap without looking at it.  Scully appeared about fifteen

minutes later.  He stood at the sight of her, only to sit

back down as she took the chair next to him.  She sat like an

old woman, slow and careful, and he pretended not to know

why.  "Everything go okay with Savioshy?" he asked.

 

"Yes.  I guess I'm glad it was him, all things considered."

 

"He's very professional," Mulder offered lamely, and Scully

nodded.  She didn't comment further so he didn't press.

 

"Dana Scully?" the man at the pharmacy window called.

 

Scully stiffened.  "I don't have any money.  He took my

wallet."

 

Again, the small indignities seem much larger now.

 

"It's okay.  I've got it," Mulder said, reaching for his

wallet, but Scully looked near tears again.  "Scully?"  He

cupped the back of her head and slid his thumb behind her ear

in a tender caress.  "It's no big deal, okay?"

 

She squared her shoulders, nodding again.  "I'll pay you

back," she said and moved from under his touch.  He got up

and fished for his car keys while she picked up the

prescriptions.  For the second time that night, Scully left

with a large bag of take-out food, this kind in capsule form. 

She cradled her parcels to her side and regarded him with

tired eyes.

 

"Home?" he asked.

 

"Please."

 

She hunched down in the shadows of his car.  He drove with

extra care, as one might with a new baby on board.  The car

glided to a halt outside her apartment, but Scully made no

move to get out.  He took the key from the ignition and

waited.

 

"Mulder?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

She looked at him, small face bathed in the half-light from

outside.  "I'm sorry about dinner."

 

"Oh, Scully."  He reached over and pulled her to him until

their heads rested together.  "Me too.  Me too."  He kissed

her cheek, her eye.  She was so tense he thought she might

snap in two.  "It's okay now.  It's going to be okay."

 

"Yes," she said, sounding like she was trying to believe it. 

He rewarded her with more kisses.  She squeezed his leg and

pulled away.

 

"Do you want me to come in?" he asked as she opened her door. 

She halted and peered back over her shoulder.

 

"Do you want to?"  Before he could say anything, she

continued in a rush, "I have things for sandwiches, if you

want.  Maybe a bag of chips.  It's not much."

 

He smiled. "Sandwiches it is."

 

Inside, she stopped and stared at her living room like she's

walked into the wrong apartment.  Mulder stood behind her,

looking down at the top of her head.  "Scully?"

 

She turned, nearly bumping into him.  "Can you find you way

around the kitchen?" she asked  "I--I'd like to take a

shower."  This last confession she made quietly to his shoes,

as if he might think her too cliche.

 

He pressed a kiss to the part in her hair.  "Go," he said. 

"I'll make food."

 

"Make what you want.  I'm not hungry."

 

He let her go without argument, and base though he felt, he

went and inhaled two roast beef sandwiches.  The last thing

he needed was his belly grumbling in bed with Scully tonight. 

Bed, he thought, and stopped chewing with a lump of bread

stuck in his throat.  Did she want him there?  Maybe he

should offer to stay on the couch.  He had never slept in

Scully's bed with her in it, and he wasn't sure she'd welcome

him tonight.  It was still her space.

 

He finished his food and cleaned up the plates, but Scully

had still not come out of the bathroom.  Pacing the soft

carpet in front of the door, he listened but heard only the

sound of rushing water.  Steam curled out from the cracks. 

Mulder stroked the smooth wood instead of the woman inside.

 

The pipes groaned as the water stopped.  Mulder backed a few

steps away so she wouldn't think he was hovering.  She

emerged a few minutes later, wrapped in a fluffy white robe,

her skin pinked up from all the hot water.  He noticed her

eyes were red too.  "Hi," he said softly.  She shuddered.

 

"Did you get something to eat?"

 

"I'm fine.  Don't worry about me.  How are you?  Any better?"

 

She opened her mouth but couldn't seem to get any words out. 

He held out his arm to her.  "Come here."  She went willingly

and he tucked her wet head under his chin, crooning her name

near her ear.  Her fingernails pricked his back as her

shoulders hitched under his hands.  "Anything you need,

Scully, okay?  Anything."

 

She nodded, mute, and clutched him tighter.  "Thank you for

coming to get me."

 

"Always."  He kissed the line of her hair, shower water sweet

on his lips.  "Are you hungry?  Do you want anything?"

 

"No."  She pulled back a bit. "I think I'm just going to go

to bed."

 

"Okay."  He let his arms fall away, but Scully didn't move. 

She stood with her head tipped forward, eyes focused on the

floor, until a heavy lock of hair slipped down over her face. 

He felt like he should say something further, but he hadn't

the slightest idea what.  Even his breathing sounded huge,

magnified off her silence.  "Scully?"

 

Her head snapped up.

 

"Do you want me to go?"

 

"You're going?"

 

"Not if you don't want."

 

"What I want," she repeated to herself strangely.  "Yes."

 

He tucked the hair back behind her ear, and she closed her

eyes, leaning into his hand.  "How about I stay?" he

whispered.  "All right?"

 

She nodded and led the way to her bedroom.  Scully's sleeping

quarters were so different from his, full of mirrors and

giant wooden furniture.  He spotted the loaned hospital

clothes folded neatly on a delicate chair.  She left him to

go blow dry her hair, and he sat on the high, firm mattress. 

The light bedspread was white with tiny indigo flowers

embroidered on it.  Mulder stroked one with his thumb as he

listened to the roar from the bathroom.  He had no things

here, no toothbrush or sleeping clothes. 

 

Scully returned, all business as she prepared for bed, and

Mulder turned away.  He bit his lip and looked down at his

jeans.  After a moment's indecision, he decided to strip to

his boxers and leave the T-shirt on.  It seemed more

respectful.  When he turned again he saw the expanse of

Scully's naked back flash before she huddled beneath the

covers.  Naked.  Okay.  Mild shock dulled his brain, and he

stood rooted to the carpet with the top sheet bunched in his

hand.

 

This was another choice that some readers questioned. Some folks were not convinced that Scully would be as physical with Mulder after the rape, that she wouldn’t want him hugging or touching her, and that she surely wouldn’t be going to bed naked. All totally possible. I don’t think there is any one way to play a rape aftermath. I picked this route because I don’t think Scully would be at all afraid of Mulder. They’ve known each other for many years at this point, and she trusts him totally. If anything, she fears his reaction to what has happened to her. Instead of hiding under a bunch of bulky layers, she strips down to nothing, in part to illustrate how she feels (totally exposed) and in part to test his reaction.

But I understand readers who were wigged. So was Mulder. <G>

 

"Are you coming?" she asked, and he reached over his head and

yanked off his shirt in one smooth motion.  He kept the

boxers on.

 

The bedside lamp on her side blazed away, and Scully made no

move to turn it off.  Mulder refrained from comment.  She lay

on her stomach but facing him, so he rolled until he matched

her position.  One wide blue eye stared at him from the

pillow.  "Think you can sleep?" he asked.

 

"I'm so tired."

 

"Yeah."  He reached over and stroked her from the top of her

head down to the small of her back.  Her eye slipped closed

so he repeated the slow caress.  She didn't move and he

thought she had fallen asleep.  His hand rested near her hip. 

She grabbed it suddenly and tucked it under her, between her

breasts, and he startled at the feel of her heart beating

like a trapped bird.  He looked closer and saw that her eyes

were screwed shut.

 

"Scully, what...?" 

 

She cut him off with a choked sob, curling into herself under

the covers.  Horror flooded through him and he shifted

closer.  He drew her against him, her elbows to his ribs, and

pressed his face down into her neck.  Hot tears leaked onto

his chest as she shook in his arms.  His throat ached.  He

rubbed her, rocked her, but there was nothing he could do to

get at the pain inside her. 

 

"It's okay, it's okay," he repeated as she cried.

 

He wanted to say she was beautiful.  He wanted to say he

loved her.  But they didn't say these things, and he feared

if he said them now she would hate him forever.  He gave her

his hands, his lips, his tears.  He laid her on his chest and

let her listen to his broken heart as it said her name over

and over until they slept.

 

XxXxXxXxX

 

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Two

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Fear made her open her eyes like a jungle cat sensing a

predator.  She clawed the edge of the mattress and did not

breathe.  Her heart thundered wildly as the room came into

focus, full of gray light and the sound of rain slapping

against the windows.  Her room.  It was okay.  She relaxed

one centimeter at a time, squeezing her eyes closed again. 

Her body hurt in places she didn't want to name, and her head

was heavy with an odd combination of terror and drug-induced

fuzz, an iron spike wrapped in cotton.  She didn't remember

falling asleep.

 

She turned with a jerk and found Mulder dead to the world on

the other side of the bed, his jaw slack and his porcupine

hair spread out on her pillow.  The noise inside her hadn't

woken him. She gave him a sad half-smile and reached out to

touch the hard slope of his cheekbone and the scratchy

Braille covering his chin.  He rubbed his face against her

fingers but did not awake.  Scully withdrew and slipped out

of bed into her robe.

 

The bright bathroom light flickered on and Scully stared at

her wan reflection in the mirror.  Her hair had flattened

overnight, making her face seem pale and puffy.  She drew her

hair back into a tight ponytail at the base of her neck. 

Turning, she fingered the bandage on her throat.  One quick

yank revealed pink skin and an angry scab shaped like a

knifepoint.  Scully made herself look.  Next she tugged open

her robe and regarded the wide bruise darkening on her

ribcage where his left elbow had pinned her down.

 

Inch by inch, she catalogued her new body.  Prognosis: she

would live.  She sighed and swallowed her pills one by one

before hiding the bottles in the medicine cabinet again.

 

The metal shower rings clattered along the rod as she drew

back the curtain.  She turned the water on to heat and let

her robe fall to the ground.  Her sore muscles protested as

she climbed into the high tub.  A bath would have been better

to ease them, but she wanted the feel of rushing water on her

skin.  She stood under the bracing hot spray, steam rising,

and scrubbed the exfoliating cloth over her arms, her

breasts, her belly.  She turned slowly, rinsing the soap

clean, and watched the layers of herself swirl away down the

drain.

 

When she emerged many minutes later, Mulder wasn't in bed. 

She heard the TV going in the living room.  Hand on the door,

she hesitated about whether to go greet him, but decided she

wasn't ready to face him just yet.  She sealed herself inside

her room and began a careful dressing procedure that featured

soft knit pants and long sleeves that hid the finger marks on

her arm.  Her hand shook when she tried to put on mascara so

she left that step out.  She rubbed her palms over her hips

and contemplated the door again.

 

It's just Mulder, she told herself.

 

With a deep breath, she turned the knob and went down the

hall to find him.  The earthy smell of strong coffee tickled

her nose before she reached the kitchen, where Mulder stood -

-completely dressed save for his shoes -- leaning against her

counter.  She stopped in the doorway.

 

Mulder had a sheaf of papers in his hand that he shoved aside

at her entrance, as though she'd caught him sneaking treats

from the cookie jar.  She recognized the pamphlet on top as

the one that Dr. Lehne had given her.  "It's okay," she told

him, moving into the room.  "You can look.  It's not anything

you haven't seen before, I'm sure."

 

"Actually," he said, and cleared his throat, "actually, I've

never read one all the way through before."

 

She nodded.  "I guess you wouldn't have had reason to."

 

"I didn't mean to pry."

 

"You weren't."

 

 They held themselves away from each other, stiff like

strangers.  "I made some coffee," he said, "if you want."

 

She let him pour her a mug, which she wrapped in her cold

fingers instead of drinking.  He sipped his coffee and

studied a crayon drawing from Matthew that she had taped to

her fridge.  "A cow?" he asked eventually.

 

"A Dalmatian.  Matthew saw the movie last month, and he says

if he doesn't get a dog right away, he will die."

 

He nodded sagely. "Death by lack of canine ú it's a silent

but vicious killer.  That's how I lost my best friend Kenny

in third grade."

 

"Mulder," she said.  But she shook her head, amused, and he

smiled, really looking at her for the first time since she'd

entered the room.  He held out an arm in invitation, and she

pressed against his side, cheek resting on his soft T-shirt. 

Mulder squeezed her lightly around the shoulders.

 

"Feeling any better?" he asked.

 

She closed her eyes and took inventory.  The truth was she

didn't feel much of anything.  Maybe it was the drugs.  "I'm

all right."

 

They lapsed into silence, Mulder drinking his coffee over her

head and Scully listening to it slide down inside him. A TV

commercial sang in the other room.

 

"I was thinking," he said, just as the TV switched back to

news.  "Maybe I could--"

 

She didn't hear what he could do because the morning anchor

started recapping last night's big stories in a loud, clear

voice:

 

"Police are continuing their search for a serial rapist after

another woman was attacked last night in Alexandria. This is

the fourth attack in the city inside of three months, and

police are saying they believe they are looking for one man.

WRC reporter Sabrina Kimbrough is live in Alexandria with the

story."

 

Scully pulled away, drawn to the sound.  Mulder caught her

hand.  "Scully..."

 

She kept walking until footage of Ming's parking lot stopped

her dead in her tracks.  A woman in a dark raincoat and red

umbrella stood not three feet from where Scully had been

forced down into the dirt.

 

This part kicks off another aspect of the story, which is how the media affects both the case and the victims’ recovery. Given Scully’s FBI background, this scrutiny would be extra hard on her. She feels rebuked because she didn’t stop the guy. Mulder, on the other hand, sees it as a call to action. Nothing is being done to get the rapist.

 

"...believed to be at least the fourth in a series of related

attacks that have occurred in the area over the last few

months.  All of the attacks have followed the same basic

pattern, a pattern that repeated itself here last night.  The

woman had just been to order takeout from Ming's Chinese

Restaurant and was returning to her car when a man came out

from these bushes."  The camera zoomed in on the thick, wet

leaves.

 

"He held a knife to her throat and forcibly raped her while

dozens of people were just a few yards away.  So far, no

witnesses have come forward."

 

The story cut to a tape of Jun's mournful face.  "I talk to

her, yes.  She come in before many times, very nice.  I

didn't see or hear anything after she leave."

 

Sabrina, still in the parking lot, continued the tale.  "As

in the other attacks, the man wore a stocking mask that has

made it difficult to get a physical description.  This

morning I spoke to Detective Savioshy about what is being

done to stop these brutal crimes."

 

On tape, Savioshy looked gray and wan.  "We're still

exploring a number of angles right now.  Each new attack,

terrible as it is, brings new evidence and new possible

witnesses.  We've got men and women working round the clock,

and we will find this guy.  In the meantime, the Chief has

stepped up patrol to try to minimize the chances of this

happening again."

 

"Four women in two months," Sabrina's voice said from off

camera, "and you still have no suspects."

 

"No lead suspects," Savioshy said.  "As I mentioned, we're

interviewing a number of people who might have information

pertinent to this case."

 

"WRC news has learned that you have linked attacks from last

year to this same man.  Can you comment on that, Detective?"

 

"We have looked at older open cases, yes.  That's all that I

am prepared to say at this time."

 

"What would you say to the women out there?  How can they

protect themselves?"

 

"Avoid walking alone in isolated areas when you can,

especially at night.  Be vigilant.  If you see or hear anyone

behaving in a suspicious manner, call the police right away."

 

It wasn't meant as a slap, but Scully flinched.  She had

failed to protect herself.  She stood frozen two feet from

the TV, devastated.  And Sabrina wasn't done.

 

"I carry mace and pepper spray," said one woman she

interviewed. 

A second woman looked defiantly at the camera.  "I've got a

gun and I know how to use it.  He tries anything with me, and

I'll shoot his <bleeping bleep> off."

 

Sabrina closed from Ming's parking lot: "Indeed, the rapist

may have caught a fortunate break last night.  A source close

to the investigation informs me that the latest victim is a

trained FBI agent, a fact the rapist probably wasn't aware of

when he attacked her.  The source says, and I quote, 'Too bad

she wasn't carrying last night, or it could have all been

over right here.'"

 

The news switched over to a possible bacteria outbreak in a

YMCA swimming pool, but Scully remained transfixed, awash in

flickering light.  Tears smeared the images in front of her. 

When she still hadn't moved as the breakfast commercial

blared into song, Mulder touched her shoulder.  She shook him

off.

 

"Scully, please."

 

"Don't."  She swiped at her eyes and hurried out of the room. 

Behind her, his footsteps fell hard on her bare floor.  She

kept going until she could put a door between them.  Mulder

knocked as she made up the bed with quick, furious movements. 

"I don't want to talk about it," she yelled through the door.

 

His voice came back hollow and muffled.  "I won't make you. 

I just... I just want to make sure you're okay."

 

Her face crumpled again, pillow hanging from one limp arm as

she tried to hold in the sobs so he wouldn't hear.  "I'm

okay," she called when she could get her breath again.  The

watery words sounded completely unconvincing.

"Scully?"

 

She dragged the pillow with her to the door.  Sniffing hard,

she opened it and looked him the eyes.  He looked scared and

sad, the way he always did when she cried, no matter how many

doors she tried to put between them.  "I'm okay," she

repeated.

 

She went back to work on the bed, and Mulder followed her

into the room, hands shoved deep in his pockets.  He watched

her go back and forth from her side to his side until the

bedspread was smooth again.  He was waiting, she knew, for

her to give him some further cues, but perversely she

withheld any.  A basket of laundry sat by the chair, from

before, so she set about putting it away while Mulder started

a slow patrol of her bedroom.

 

"I can stay as long as you like," he said at last, "but I

need to get some things."

 

She poked her head out from the closet.  "That won't be

necessary."

 

He stumbled over his words, surprised; she'd made a hit. 

"Not to move in, not permanently.  I was just thinking a

couple of days, the weekend at least, Scully--"

 

She returned to her closet, snatching hangers along the rail.

 

Mulder kept talking.  "All right.  All right, if that's what

you want I won't argue with you.  I just thought after last

night--"

 

Scully froze.  Her face flushed hot remembering how she'd

washed him in tears.  How long before she could look at him

again not remember?  Outside, she heard him heave a sigh.

 

"Okay.  Should I just go now, then?  Would that be better?"

He didn't sound angry, just resigned, as if he'd been waiting

for this eventuality.  The weight of his disappointment bowed

her head, but she didn't come out of the closet.

 

"I have to leave soon anyway," she said.  "I have to go down

to the station and make a formal statement.  They also want

me to look at some pictures."

 

He appeared behind her, blocking out the light.  "They have a

suspect?"

 

"No."  She glanced over her shoulder.  "I got the feeling

this is just procedure, covering the bases.  It will be the

usual lineup of local sex-offenders, and I won't recognize

any of them because it was dark and the guy had a stocking

over his head, but I have to go look anyway so that Savioshy

can tell the reporters that he is doing everything he can." 

She emphasized her last words with a jerk of the hanger.

 

Mulder went still.  "You have other channels available to

you," he said, low and serious.  "If you want."

 

She turned so fast the hangers clattered.  "What's that

supposed to mean?"

 

"The FBI has resources Savioshy only dreams about, Scully.

Maybe the others have to rely on him for information, but you

don't."

 

Her skin tingled with possibility.  In the slanted light, the

narrow alley of her closet, he was one of their shadow men

offering a way around the law.  "Mulder... no."  She sounded

horrified and breathless and tempted.

 

"Scully," he protested, and she shook her head.

 

"No."  She pushed past him into the open air, glad it was

over, relieved he'd been the one to say the words.  What

Mulder argued, she argued the opposite.  She could say "no"

now with a clear conscience.

 

"No one would have to know," Mulder said as she sat on the

bed to put on her shoes.

 

"I'd know."  She looked up at him. "And you'd know, and if we

did what you're suggesting, maybe we'd catch the guy, Mulder. 

Maybe we would.  But maybe we wouldn't.  And either way, it

would always be between us."

 

Mulder turned his head away.  "Savioshy is out of his

league."

 

"Maybe," she conceded.  "But it's not our call."  When he

didn't say anything, she reached out and grabbed his hand. 

"Mulder... promise me you'll leave this alone."

 

He sighed.

 

"Promise me."

 

"Of course I promise."  She looked at him, skeptical, and he

sighed again as he squeezed her hand.  "I think you're wrong,

Scully -- it is your call.  But you've made it, and I respect

that."

 

Will you, she wondered?  She imagined him in front of the

camera with Sabrina: "It's too bad Scully wouldn't

investigate this guy, or it could have all been over right

here." 

 

There was safety in numbers.  She was one of many, the burden

somehow lessened.  You're not like the others, Mulder had

said, but it wasn't true.  He was ready to crusade with the

weight of her and nine other women on his back; she could

barely stand on her own two feet.

 

This bit gets at the idea that Scully both is and isn’t your typical rape victim. She is a rape victim in that she was raped. She would feel many of the same emotions as other women. But her job and her strange history with the abduction give her an edge that most women would not have. Scully is perhaps better equipped intellectually and less equipped emotionally than most to deal with a rape.

 

"I have to go," she said, pulling her hand from his.

 

He went for his shoes.  "I'll give you a lift."

 

"Mulder--" 

 

"Scully, you're going two blocks from my apartment, which

coincidentally happens to be my destination.  Besides," he

said, and broke off.

 

"What?"

 

"Your car.  It's, um, still there."

 

Scully closed her eyes.  She'd forgotten that her car was

still parked in Ming's lot.

 

"I'll pick it up if you want," he offered, "while you're

talking to Savioshy."

 

"No." She set her jaw and stood up.  "Just drop me off there

and I'll drive it over."

 

They set out in the rain, fat tears streaking down the

windows of Mulder's car as he drove the same streets that she

had the night before.  She watched the passing familiar

landmarks -- old buildings and tall trees, the river bouncing

raindrops, the long stretch of bridge that took her to the

other side.

 

The memory began in her stomach, and viciously she shoved it

back down.  Mulder fiddled with the radio -- no news this

time -- while she forced herself to look at the shops

outside.  He drove slowly, to ease the way, but the steady,

inexorable progress was somehow worse.  She knew what was

waiting at the end. 

 

Mulder kept glancing at her.  She couldn't look back. 

 

"Okay?" he asked.

 

"Yes."  They had reached the street where it happened.

 

The vibrations from the car engine threatened to make her

sick.  Her fingers bit into the edge of the plush seat as

Mulder made the hard right into the claustrophobic parking

lot.  Her car, beaded in rain, was the only one in sight.

 

Mulder pulled up close next to the driver's side.  She would

only have to hop out one door and into another.  "So," he

said as they idled with the windshield wipers still running. 

They were parked right on top of where it happened.

 

She looked at her lap.  Even so, she could see the dark maw

of the bushes waiting outside.  "So," she said.  "Thanks for

the ride, Mulder.  And everything else.  You've been a big

help."

 

He said nothing for a moment, and then reached over and

rested one hand on the top of her head.  "You did everything

right, Scully.  You lived.  Anyone can come back here with a

camera crew and make up a story about what should have

happened."

 

She nodded and his thumb slid behind her ear.  "Yeah."

 

"I'll be home watching the Yankees make the Twins squeal like

schoolgirls," he said, "if you need anything.  Call, okay?"

 

She looked up and out at the bushes.  "I should go.  I'll

call you later."  His hand fell away as she opened the car

door into the windy rain.  Two steps later she was safe in

her own car.  She gripped the wheel, breathing hard.  The

heavy, waving branches reached out and slapped her hood. 

Scully swallowed and started her engine.  Mulder watched,

blurry through two panes of rain-mottled glass, waiting to

see that she was all right.

XxXxX

 

Even after all her years on the job, some part of Scully

always registered the fact that walking into a law-

enforcement building meant walking into a room full of men. 

She was used to the approach.  She slipped around them in

hallways -- small spaces they couldn't occupy -- and

surprised them with her serious presence over and over until

they stopped being surprised and grudgingly accepted that she

was there to stay.  So she took her badge and gun and entered

the Alexandria Police Department to see what she could do to

help Savioshy with his case.

 

They had the AC off and the old windows open, muggy summer

air mixing with the close scent of human bodies that had just

come in from the rain.  Scully shook the water from her

umbrella and eyed the desk sergeant, whom she thankfully did

not recognize.  He pointed her to the back, where Savioshy

was working rape cases from a battered desk piled high with

his children's photographs. His glasses had worn deep red

marks on the sides of his nose, and he had paper cups stained

with coffee lined up in front of him.  At Scully's

appearance, he smoothed his tie over his paunch and pulled a

stack of files off the nearest chair.

 

"Agent Scully, thanks for coming in," he said as she sat. 

"Sorry about this god-awful mess."

 

She took in the faxes, the folders, and the mess of memos he

had taped to every viable surface.  The one stuck on his desk

lamp was from the Mayor and marked "urgent."

 

"I saw you on the news this morning," she said. Savioshy

stopped shuffling papers.  They stared at one another for a

moment, and then he shook his head.

 

"You want my advice?  Don't watch that crap.  I wouldn't

watch it myself except that the brass hauls me in for regular

quizzes so I have to know every word they're saying."

 

"They said this man has been attacking women for over a year

now.  Is that true?"

 

Savioshy's chair creaked as he leaned back.  "Yeah.  I hate

to say it, but yeah.   It took us a while to pick up on the

pattern because we're talking at least three different

counties involved now.  There's a detective in Metro and

another one in Fairfax with a desk that looks just like

mine."

 

"But no leads," Scully said.  The top folder on his pile had

a fresh tab with her name on it.  She assumed the stack under

her represented all the others.  Nine, she counted.  Hers was

the skinniest.

 

Savioshy caught her looking and cleared his throat.  "Tell

you what," he said.  "Come with me.  You want anything?  A

coffee or a soda?" 

 

Caffeine sounded perfect, but with the humid air, coffee was

out.  "A soda would be great, thanks."  He stopped and pulled

a Coke out of the fridge.  Scully popped the top and followed

him down a hall into a windowless room, which featured a

large map of the city and surrounding area tacked on the

wall. Nearby, a dry-erase board listed the dates and

locations of the attack, which were marked on the map with

orange pushpins.  To Scully, the pattern formed a snake

through the cities.  She was the belly.

 

"I have a theory," Savioshy said as they stood next to the

map.  The soda can sweat in Scully's palms.  "See the dates

of the attacks?"

 

Scully looked.  The first one was just over a year ago, near

the end of May, and the second took place five weeks after

that.  They occurred more frequently as the summer progressed

-- two more in July, three in August -- but in September,

they stopped cold for eight months, only to start again in

May.

 

"I think he's in college," Savioshy said, "and not in the

area or he would have kept at it during the school year."

 

The way the series and fanfic is constructed, with Mulder and Scully as the principal players, local law enforcement is often made out to be a bunch of idiots. They are ineffective at best and criminally negligent at worst. Your average city detective is not a moron, so I like to make them right about stuff when I can. Here, Savioshy get to make an astute call.

 

DC had a lot of college-age kids walking the streets. 

Occasionally she would pass an intern in the Hoover building

and wonder if she had ever looked that young. "No prints?"

she asked.

 

"Actually, yes.  In the third case, he got sloppy and put his

hand down on the woman's car.  But when we ran the prints, we

came up with nothing.  That's another reason I think this

guy's got to be young: no adult record."  

 

The stocking face flashed in her memory, features half-human

under the nylon, and her heartbeat doubled.  Her attacker was

just a kid.  Scully sipped her soda to give her time to

think.  She knew very well that none of the others had been

allowed to see the facts spelled out like this.  Savioshy

wanted her informed, professional opinion.  Any hint of panic

and he would have her back out front, looking through mug

shots while a uniformed cop patted her hand.  "You could

contact schools," she said at last.  "Find out which ones

have a schedule that matches the timeline of the attacks. 

See if they have had any trouble with sexual assaults on

campus."

 

Savioshy nodded.  "We're doing that, but it's a slow process. 

There are thousands of colleges to cover, and we don't have

any way of narrowing the search at this point."

 

She looked at the board again, the names written in messy

block letters next to the dates: CHAMIAN, DESANTO, WEBER, and

so on, until the very bottom, where it said "SCULLY."  With

no one else to pin it on, the victims got to own the cases. 

"Does he--does he follow a particular strike pattern?" Scully

asked.

 

"He's hit every day but Sunday.  Who knows?  Maybe he's too

busy confessing his sins that day to go out and commit any

new ones."

 

Tomorrow was Sunday.  She had not planned to go to church. 

Scully drew a long breath and swirled the last of the soda in

her can.

 

"There's your search factor then."  Off his look, she

explained, "Start with the religious universities."

 

XxX

 

Mulder sat with his recycling in front of the TV.  Sure

enough, when he looked for it, it was there in black and

white:  two articles within the last week about the search

for the rapist.  He could have known, if he'd bothered to

look past the front page and the sports section.  In Mulder's

world, the important news always came to him.  There were

coded emails and files under the door, meetings in darkened

cars and anonymous faxes in the night.  When aliens were

hatching in the Antarctic, the local police blotter seemed

like a bunch of kindergarten cops.

 

He fanned the large sheets like cloth and gathered what few

facts he could.  Head in hands, he bent over the news.  No

one told me, he thought, that it could happen like this.

 

It was nearing two hours since he'd dropped Scully off at the

station.  He paced often to his thin, rattling windows, to

see if her car might be pulling up.  The streets and the gray

sky looked suddenly threatening, danger lurking on the naked

sidewalks.  He checked his phone to make sure it was working

and kept his cell in one hand. 

 

But Scully didn't call.

 

XxX

 

The flat, unsmiling faces in the mug books stared up at her -

- class pictures from the school of hard knocks -- and Scully

made herself look at each one for any glimmer of recognition. 

She braced anew at every page but no one seemed familiar. 

Her neck ached, her eyes dried around the rims, and her

nerves grew increasingly jittery.  Each menacing eye seemed

equally familiar, equally possible.  None of the men was her

rapist, but they all could have been.

 

Just as Scully declared defeat and closed the last book,

there was a knock at the door and Christopher Clark poked his

head in the room.  "Hey," he greeted her with a smile.  He

was dressed in jeans and a faded T-shirt that read, "1998

Boston Marathon."  His dark hair was curled over his

forehead, either from a shower or the rain, and Scully

blinked at the casual attire for a moment before she

remembered it was Saturday.  Her rape was less than twenty-

four hours old.  "Savioshy told me you were back here," Clark

said.  "How goes the search?"

 

She shook her head and pushed the books away.  "I didn't see

his face well enough to make an ID."

 

"Yeah."  Clark took the seat next to her, flipping it around

so he could rest his arms across the back like a little kid. 

"That's par for the course at this point, but thanks for

trying.  Every little bit of information we can get on this

guy helps."

 

"I wish I could be of more help."

 

"You can be.  That's part of why I'm here."  He rapped his

knuckles lightly on the table in front of her.  "Listen, have

you eaten?  Because there is a great little bakery about two

blocks from here that makes the best chicken salad sandwich

you will ever eat."

 

He was good, Scully realized as her frustration ebbed under

his relaxed posture and conversational tone.  He had

guileless gray eyes she was sure played well with a jury. She

had seen that look somewhere before...

 

"I know you," she said suddenly.  "That airline pilot who

murdered his wife -- Aaron Henderson -- that was your case."

 

"Guilty."  He flashed her a grin.  "And so was he.  So what

do you say?  Can I buy you lunch?"

 

"Why?"

 

He patted his middle.  "Because it's half past two and my

stomach is threatening to secede from the union?"

 

"You don't need me to eat."  She was tired.  She was hungry

too, but this man was a stranger and she wasn't sure she

could keep her game face on for another hour while he talked

about chicken salad sandwiches.

 

"No."  He sobered.  "But I will need you in court."  She

hesitated, and he nodded at the door.  "Just hear me out,

Agent Scully.  Any time you want to leave, it's okay by me."

 

Her stomach, empty since before the attack, gave a feeble

growl as though it didn't expect her to listen.  "One

sandwich," she said finally.  "I guess that would be all

right."

 

She spoke to Savioshy before leaving and set out with

Christopher Clark towards the bakery.  The rain had shifted

to mist, which floated under her umbrella and curled her

hair.  Clark walked beside her, heedless of the elements. 

"So, Mr. Clark," she asked, "do you always invest this much

time in cases you're not even trying?"

 

He laughed.  "Not trying *yet*.  And call me Chris."

 

"Chris," she said, "I think I picked the wrong career if you

guys in the DA's office really have this much free time."

 

He chuckled again and pulled a large wet leaf from a nearby

tree.  "My daddy was a southern trial lawyer, the kind that

comes straight out of the pages of a Harper Lee novel.  It

didn't make any difference to him that we lived in New York. 

He learned his law in old time Alabama, and he preached it

with a passion I didn't see anywhere else but church on

Sunday.  Mama let him thunder on at her while she did her

cooking, but what he really wanted was someone to argue back. 

She gave him me, and her kitchen finally saw some peace. 

Daddy was the defense, and I--" He stopped and spread his

arms.  "I became the prosecution."

 

"I see," she said.  Scully understood about fathers who were

larger than life.

 

"So I don't really know any other way."  He shrugged and

tossed his leaf into the rain-soaked gutter.  "Work is what I

sleep, what I breathe, what I eat."

 

"Except," Scully said as they reached the bakery door, "for

the chicken salad sandwiches."

 

"These sandwiches are always an exception."

 

They ate at a small table near the window, plates piled high

with thick sandwiches and crispy chips.  Once Scully started

eating she realized how starved she'd been, and she did her

best not to wolf down the meal in front of ADA Clark.  As her

blood sugar rose, she felt almost human again.  For five

straight minutes she was just another patron in a sandwich

shop and not the woman who had been shoved down in the dirt

and raped.  That changed as soon as Clark opened his mouth.

 

"How are you holding up so far?"

 

Scully put her sandwich down and looked at her plate.  "Fine"

would sound absurd.  Anything else was too personal to share.

 

"I'm sorry," he said, reading her silence.  "I don't mean to

make you uncomfortable.  Forget I said anything."

 

She took a deep breath.  "No, it's okay.  I'm managing."

 

"I'm really glad to hear that."  After an awkward pause, he

continued, "Agent Scully, I know you must have seen these

kinds of cases before, so I figure I can just be straight

with you:  the trial, if there is one, will be hard."

 

"I realize that."

 

"I'd love to tell you that we're all enlightened here in the

twenty-first century, but the dirty truth is, when it comes

to rape trials, we're not much better than my father's day. 

Blaming it on the victim might be not be PC, but it works

often enough that some defense attorneys will still try it."

 

Scully swallowed and looked out at the wet streets.  Having

her life ripped open for everyone to see was a kind of hell

she didn't want to contemplate.  She believes in aliens,

they'd say.  Perhaps little green men came down and probed

her.  She likes trouble; just look at her record.  She's had

sex with a married man.  Maybe they could even get Ed

released long enough to testify:  "She certainly liked it

rough with me!"  If she'd fuck a psychotic killer, what else

might she do?

 

I wasn’t sure how much of the trial I would put in at this point. I remembered being surprised not too long ago that defense attorneys still put the victim on trial as much as they could when it came to rape cases. It makes sense, when you think about it, but it still shocked me. I got to thinking how Scully’s past would play with a jury. I think people would have a hard time empathizing with her. We love Scully for her pricklyness and her sometimes-exaggerated formality, but a jury would probably see her as a standoffish snob. She’s not going to weep on the witness stand and let everyone see her pain. And then there’s all that weird alien crap...

 

"Agent Scully?"

 

She turned her head back and looked him in the eyes.  "He

held a knife to my throat, forced me down in the parking lot,

and he raped me.  Nothing I've done, ever, gives him the

right to do that."

 

"No, and given the chance, I will say that loud and often. I

just want you to know what we're up against."

 

"But there are others," Scully protested.  "Surely that would

work in our favor.  One woman can be dismissed, but ten are

harder to overlook."

 

"That's assuming he stands trial for ten counts at once, and

that all ten agree to testify.  I can tell you right now that

isn't looking too likely."

 

"They won't testify?"

 

"Well, things could change.  We haven't even nailed the

bastard yet, so any trial would be months off."

 

"How many?"

 

"How many?"

 

Her hands clenched.  "How many would testify?"

 

"Right now?"  He sighed.  "You and one other.  But I'm

working on a third woman, and I think she'll come around. 

Others could change their minds when we have the guy in

custody, and with forensics, I may be able to proceed in some

cases without the victim's testimony."

 

Scully stared at her half-eaten lunch.  Suddenly it was clear

why her participation was so necessary.

 

"Hey," Clark said softly, and she jerked her attention back

to him.  "Savioshy finds this asshole, and I will nail him to

the wall.  You have my word.  I just need to know that you're

with me."

 

Her phone chirped, and it took her a moment to recognize the

foreign ring.  She fished out her old cellular, now bulky and

heavy in her hand.  Mulder's number glowed at her from the

tiny screen.  Irritation flashed through her; she'd told him

she would call later.

 

"Hey, Scully," he said when she answered.  "Are you still at

the station?"

 

"No, I'm having lunch.  What do you need?"

 

"Lunch? It's like three o'clock, Scully."

 

"Mulder--"

 

"I just wondered how you were doing."

 

"I'm fine."  Scully looked across the table at Clark. 

"Mulder, now's not really a good time.  Can I call you back

later?"  Just then, the girl behind the counter dropped a

china plate, startling everyone.  Clark's knees bumped their

small table and Scully reached out a hand to steady it.

 

"You're not at home?" Mulder asked at all the noise.

 

"No, I'm with ADA Clark."

 

"Oh, okay."  Mulder sounded the way he did whenever she got

called into Kersh's office without him.  "I'll let you go.  I

just wanted to say..."

 

She half-turned, distracted by the scrape of broken china on

the ceramic floor.  A trio of laughing women walked past on

their way out the door.  "What?" she demanded, when Mulder

didn't get to the point.

 

"I thought, if you want, since you're still in the area, if

you're not too tired or anything, that maybe you would want

to get pizza and a video tonight.  Something with no

redeeming social value."

 

Scully froze, suddenly choked, and the bakery noises faded to

a dull buzz.  She blinked furiously to keep the tears away. 

She wanted to find Mulder and wrap herself around him.  Every

so often, he said the exact right thing.

 

"Scully?"

 

"Yeah," she said, ducking her head so her face hid behind a

curtain of hair.  "That sounds good."

 

"Yeah?" he repeated, brightening.  "Just come over when

you're done there.  I've got to run out for a bit, so just

let yourself in, okay?  I'll be back in an hour."

 

Scully hung up with Mulder and tucked her hair back behind

her ear as she faced Clark again.  "I'm sorry for the

interruption," she said.  "The answer is yes.  Whatever I

need to do, I'll do it."

 

He nodded, and his gaze slid to her phone, which she had

placed next to her plate.  "I met Agent Mulder last night,

and Savioshy says good things about him.  How long have you

two been together?"

 

"We've been partners for over six years."  She tucked the

phone away.

 

"And the other?"

 

Scully narrowed her eyes at him and reached for her water. 

"Does it matter?"

 

"Not to me."  He leaned across the table.  "But what I am

saying, Dana, is the questions only get tougher from here on

out."

 

XxX

 

Mulder's shadowed apartment was draped in thistledown quiet,

the windows shut tight from the swishing cars outside.  It

smelled like dust and clean laundry.  Scully slipped her off

her shoes by the door and crossed the room without turning on

the light.  On the coffee table, she could just make out a

note in Mulder's scrawl:  Back soon -- M.

 

Sore and tired, she took her gun out of its holster and sank

into the sofa.  The well-worn leather cradled her bones and

she felt some of the day's tension ebb away.   As an

afterthought, she pulled the old Indian blanket around her,

closing her eyes and inhaling deeply.  His fish tank burbled

a gentle song near her head.  Scully slept.

 

XxX

 

He crept in the door before knowing she was asleep, walking

soft the way one did in the wake of tragedy, and squinted in

the direction of his couch.  Scully lay half-hidden by a

cliff of blankets.  The plastic bags rustled as he stepped

closer, so he hushed them up in the kitchen before returning

to where she slept.  Her mouth slightly parted, one arm flung

free of the blanket, Scully looked like she'd passed out

hard.  He stroked her hip and she snuggled deeper into his

sofa.

 

Mulder sat down in the nearest chair, feet on the table, and

that's when he noticed the gun.  He turned on a lamp.  The

revolver lay with its butt facing Scully, mere inches from

her hand, close enough to dream it.  He stretched for it

slowly, stomach muscles clenching as he reached over his

toes.  The barrel glinted at his fingertips.

 

Scully sat bolt upright, eyes wide with horror.  Mulder

froze.  "Scully?"

 

"They're coming again," she told him.

 

"Who's coming?"  In answer, she clawed the whole blanket into

lap.  He moved to the couch.  "Scully?  Who's coming?"

 

She looked confused.  He could see the pulse thrumming at her

neck.  "Mulder?"

 

"It's me."  He stroked the back of her head.  "What happened? 

You okay?"

 

"I don't remember," she said.  "It was a dream."

 

She was shaking so he drew her against him, smoothing his

hand over the sharp planes of her back.  "It's all right now,

Scully."

 

Her voice quivered into his neck.  "It must have been a

dream."

 

XxXxXxX

 

The dream is meant to link her abduction to what’s just happened to her, and also to foreshadow the bit of mytharc stuff that’s on the horizon.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Three

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

There’s a TV cooking guru who has a rule: never buy a tool for the kitchen that has only one use. I have a similar philosophy when it comes to writing. If I can, I try to make it so each scene advances the story or characterization in more than one way. In the following scene, we see that Mulder is not keeping his promise to Scully to leave things alone. That adds tension, but it’s not really what the scene is about. It’s main point is to show how easily Mulder can identify with the rapist and how uncomfortable that makes him. It’s also to highlight the fact that Scully has essentially claimed the experience for herself and has not allowed Mulder to air feelings on the subject. In a sense, she is forcing him to deal with the rape behind her back.

The scene also lays the groundwork for later insights Mulder will have into the case.

 

Just after sunset on the third day, right about the time it

happened, Mulder went back to the parking lot.  He already

felt a little guilty, slinking down the narrow alley to the

back, but no one was there to witness his transgression. 

Even the back door to Ming©ˆs kitchen was shut up tight. 

Mulder stood at the mouth of the alley and surveyed the

lonely yellow street lamp, the rusted dumpster, and the

cracked, weed-infested pavement.  The smell of wet dirt

wafted from the dense thicket of trees and bushes.  He

imagined her car back where it had been, glinting in the

shadows, and prickles broke out across his skin.

 

The dark trees waved from across the lot, beckoning him, and

Mulder pushed into their leafy fold.  Branches snapped and

rebounded, slapping his arms and face.  Mulder switched on

his flashlight and the beam quivered across the roof of

leaves.  He turned, breathing hard, and peered out through a

break in the vegetation.  It was a perfect view of Scully©ˆs

spot.

 

Mulder shone the light at the soft ground; had he stood here? 

She would have been only five feet away, lit well, talking on

the phone while she juggled the food.  Mulder could call up

the picture easily.  He had seen her this way a million times

-- knew how her voice would sound bouncing off the far brick

walls, heard the low jangle of her keys, felt the hot surge

of lust when she bent over in front of him. 

 

Bile roiled up from his stomach, and Mulder staggered back,

swallowing convulsively.  He had not been sick at a crime

scene since he was twenty-five years old; she would never

forgive him if he did it here.  Gulping in air, he steadied

himself against a tree.  He cast the light around as he

calmed.  Crumpled Dunkin©ˆ Donuts cups mixed with dead leaves

and other random garbage.  He found a rusted bike wheel and a

wet sock.  Cigarette butts littered the makeshift path

between the weeds.  Mulder followed the trail out, his heart

still pounding.  This was the way he had gone after it

happened.

 

Mulder stumbled along over roots and saplings until he

reached the back of the thicket, where a sagging chain-link

fence separated it from yet another parking lot.  A jagged

hole provided a way through to the other side.  Mulder

emerged as if from the jungle, wild and sweaty, his

flashlight clutched like a weapon.  He looked left and right,

chasing a phantom, and slowly made his way between the parked

cars.  Loose bits of gravel crunched under his sneakers.  He

could hear the street traffic on the other side of the

buildings, but there was not a soul in sight.

 

Mulder tapped the hood of the nearest car.  He would have

parked here, he thought, and began looking around.  The lot

was similar to the one behind Ming©ˆs, with only one narrow

entrance/exit.  Mulder followed it out to the bright street

and whizzing cars.  He saw no sign to indicate the

availability of parking in the rear, suggesting that the

rapist must either be familiar with the area or have scoped

it out ahead of time.  How easy it would have been to just

disappear into the crowd.

 

A group of college-aged kids jostled past him, pushing each

other around and laughing.  One bumped Mulder, and Mulder

reflexively grabbed the kid©ˆs arm.  They stared at each

other, while the friends©ˆ laughter died away.

 

Were you here?  Mulder wanted to ask.  Did you see him?

 

 

The boy grinned at Mulder and shrugged free.  "Sorry, man. 

Didn©ˆt see you standing there.  Sorry."

 

Mulder stood, shell-shocked, as they drifted down the street. 

Cars rushed past and vibrated the sidewalk beneath him. 

Nearby, a shaggy black dog that had been tied to a lamppost

lifted his huge head from the ground and looked up at Mulder

with wet eyes.  Mulder sighed, glanced around one last time,

and walked back down the alley to the crumbling lot.

 

Back in the trees, it was quiet enough that he heard his own

breathing.  He shrugged one shoulder to wipe the trickle of

sweat that slid down his neck.  The jittery beam from his

flashlight gave an otherworldly, underwater feeling to the

dark tunnel.

 

He stopped again where the man had stood and peered through

the leaves.  His phone rang.  Startled, Mulder thrashed in

the bushes and dropped his flashlight.  "Shit!"  He left it

lying there as he fumbled for his phone.  Scully's name

appeared on the screen.

 

"It's me," she said.

 

"Hey, Scully," he answered, sounding too cheery by half.  He

winced at himself and dialed it back down.  "I was, um, just

thinking about you." He began carefully working his way

through the bramble to retrieve his flashlight.

 

"Where are you, Mulder?  I tried your apartment and you

weren't there."

 

Mulder halted in an awkward half-bent position.  "Uh, no.  I

went out for..."  A branch caught him across the cheek.  "I

went out for a run.  Just cooling down now.  Is everything

okay?"

 

"Fine.  I just wanted to let you know that I won't be at work

tomorrow morning until after eleven.  I have a doctor's

appointment."

 

He stood up.  "You're working tomorrow?"

 

"Is there some reason I shouldn't?"

 

"I, uh, I just wasn't sure if you were, that's all."

 

"I'll be in before lunch."  Her tone had the ring of finality

to it.  "See you then, okay?"

 

"Scully--"

 

"What?"

 

He sighed.  "Take as much time as you need."

 

"Before lunch," she repeated.  "I'll bring sandwiches."  She

paused.  "Good night, Mulder."

 

"Night."  He punched the "end" button and fetched his

flashlight, switching it off as he climbed out of the bushes. 

Just as he emerged from the trees, the back door to Ming's

opened and Jun ran out with a bag of garbage.  He gasped when

he saw Mulder move in the shadows.

 

"It's okay," Mulder called across the lot.  "It's just me."

 

But Jun said nothing.  He threw the sack into the dumpster

and hurried back inside, shutting the door tight behind him.

 

Jun’s fear also has two meanings: to reinforce the Mulder/rapist connection, and to show the rippling aftermath of such a violent crime. Scully’s not the only one who’s had her safety shattered.

 

XxXxX

 

The story did not get easier with repeated telling, so Scully

kept the details of her attack to a minimum when she went to

her regular doctor for the follow-up exam.  "Healing nicely,"

was the pronouncement, but Dr. Putney also urged her to talk

to a woman named Evelyn Wheeler in mental health services who

specialized in rape trauma.  "I called over there," Dr.

Putney said, "and she's free right now if you'd like to meet

her.  No commitment necessary."

 

Scully took an internal inventory.  The tears had left her

withered.  She felt coiled and tense, her body ready for an

attack that had already happened, and a heavy sadness had

lodged in her ribs like oatmeal. 

 

Can't hurt to go one time, Scully reasoned, since she had

gotten all of her other parts examined by experts.  Now she

could check the box marked "not crazy" and get on with her

life.

 

"Okay," she said.  "I'll meet her."

 

Dr. Wheeler's office was in the building across the street,

in a suite she apparently shared with other mental health

professionals.  Scully could hear but not see the

receptionist, who was hidden behind closed mottled glass. 

She looked around at the other people in the room -- two

women and one elderly man -- but no one would make eye

contact.  Scully finally noticed a row of names with buzzers

next to them, and she hit the one marked "Evelyn Wheeler."

 

Scully waited there in the too-cold lavender room with its

silk plants and unpadded chairs, listening to the sound of

the others flipping through their magazines.  Strains of

piped-in classical music wafted from the ceiling.  Scully

checked her watch three times in two minutes.  In between,

she wondered about the other patients.  They didn't look

particularly troubled.

 

They're probably worried that I'm the crazy one, she thought. 

 

She stood up, prepared to leave, and they all looked at her. 

Scully grabbed her purse.

 

Just then, the door to the inner offices opened and a woman

with smooth white hair and a long purple skirt came out. 

"Dana Scully?"

 

The other patients were still watching.  "Yes," Scully

admitted.

 

"I'm Evelyn Wheeler.  Won't you come in?"  She had smooth

skin for someone with such white hair, and thin black

eyebrows.  Scully gripped her purse with both hands and

walked across the room.

 

Dr. Wheeler led her down the hall to an office lined with

mahogany bookshelves.  Green Venetian blinds barely held back

the strong summer sun, and a large Oriental rug covered the

floor.  There were two loveseats, an armchair and a beanbag. 

Scully noted that, like herself, Dr. Wheeler did not seem to

own a proper desk. 

 

"Sit where you like," Dr. Wheeler said as she selected the

armchair.   Scully picked the loveseat that allowed her to

face the door.  Dr. Wheeler reached for a mug and sipped from

it.  "So," she said.  "Welcome.  Linda Putney mentioned that

she'd told you a little about me, but I'm happy to answer any

questions you might have."

 

Dr. Wheeler is less of a character and more of a plot device, which I sort of regret. At the same time, I didn’t want the story to be Scully Goes to Therapy. It’s not that I don’t believe therapy is helpful, but it was never meant to be the focus of the story. StL was intended as a tale about the M/S partnership (on both levels) and what happened to it after the rape. Still, Dr. Wheeler puts out some information I very much wanted to have in the story, namely that every person reacts differently to trauma.

 

When the woman paused and waited, Scully cleared her throat

and tried to think of something.  "I don't know.  I don't

know that I even need to be here."

 

"What made you decide to come?"

 

"Dr. Putney recommended you.  She said you'd helped a lot of

women, and I thought maybe I should just come and see..."

 

"See what?"

 

Scully hesitated.  "Well, I thought it was usual to speak to

a counselor afterward."

 

"Many women do, but not all."

 

Scully's head snapped up.  "And they're all right?"

 

Dr. Wheeler smiled gently.  "Contrary to what the Lifetime

network would like you to believe, yes.  There is no

predetermined recipe for healing.  How are you holding up,

generally?"

 

"Okay, I think."  Scully took a deep breath.  "I mean, I'll

live.  I'm going back to work today."

 

"Dr. Putney said you're an FBI agent?"

 

Scully nodded even as the sting of the news broadcast came

back to her.  She looked at her lap.  "The cops think I

should have been able to stop him."

 

"What do you think?"

 

Scully thought a long time, trying to imagine anything she

could have done differently.  "He had a knife to my throat. 

I wasn't armed.  I think--I think if I had resisted he truly

would have killed me."

 

"But still you feel guilty?"

 

"I feel..."  Scully searched for the words.  "I feel like I

let everyone down.  Even myself."

 

"I see."  Dr. Wheeler ducked her head, trying to meet

Scully's eyes.  "Would it surprise you to learn that's

normal?"

 

"No.  I've worked rape cases.  Everyone always thinks they

should have been able to stop it from happening.  It doesn't

make the reality any easier to accept."

 

"I think it may go deeper than that."  Dr. Wheeler set her

mug aside.  "Let me ask you something:  did you know about

rape in high school?"

 

"Of course."

 

"Junior high?  Elementary school?"

 

"Yes.  I had an older cousin who was raped when I was eight. 

I can still remember my mother and my aunt talking about it

on the phone."

 

"Do you remember what your mother said?"

 

Scully thought.  "That Allison would never be the same

again."  The power of the words hit her as she said them

aloud.

 

"And how is Allison doing today?"

 

"She's married with three kids.  Happy, as far as I know."

 

Dr. Wheeler nodded and sat forward in her chair.  "Rape is

such a horrible thing, and such a horribly common thing, that

we start warning our girls early:  'Watch out at night! 

Check the back seat of your car!  Don't go anywhere alone!' 

It's not bad advice as it goes.  Certainly one should always

take precautions.  But I've found that it also has the

peculiar effect of creating a generation of women who feel

like part of their mission in life is not to get raped.  If

it does happen, they feel like they've failed.  All that

training was for nothing!  And then, like your mom said,

there is the sense that life will never be the same."

 

"Won't it?"  Scully's voice was rough with tears.

 

"Maybe not.  But maybe it will be.  And it will certainly be

good again."

 

They talked for a while longer, and Scully decided that, at

the moment, she did not need regular meetings, but she took

Dr. Wheeler's card in case she wanted an appointment in the

future.  As Dr. Wheeler walked her back down the hall she

said, "I also facilitate a group discussion on Wednesday

nights at eight.  You're welcome to join us any time."

 

Scully had a flash of the MUFON women and their haunted eyes. 

"No," she said quickly.  "Thank you all the same."

 

XxX

 

Monday morning the basement was so quiet that the dust

particles sat suspended motionless in the air, visible to

Mulder only because of the piercing sunbeam that split the

office in two.  He looked beyond the light to Scully©ˆs

shadowed corner, to her silent table and the fat textbooks

with brains on the cover that lined the shelf above.  The

wall clock read after eleven; she was fifteen minutes late. 

Mulder shifted, chair squeaking, and forced his attention

back to the folders on his desk.  The clock ticked as the

words blurred in front of him.

 

When the phone rang, he jumped on it.  "Mulder," he said, and

held his breath for her voice on the other end.  Instead,

there was a strange pause, followed by Skinner:

 

"Agent Mulder, I©ˆd like to see you in my office."

 

"Sir?"

 

"At your convenience."

 

Mulder sent the chair rolling backward as he lurched to his

feet.  Skinner never wanted to see him at his convenience.  

In the elevator, he tried to imagine the possible reasons for

his summons, but kept coming up blank.  The last time Skinner

had sounded that strangled on the phone, Mulder had

accidentally exploded a water main in downtown Philadelphia. 

But that conversation had not been at his convenience and had

definitely involved a lot more expletives.

 

"Come," Skinner called when he knocked. Mulder entered and

found Skinner not at his desk, but squinting out the window. 

He glanced once at Mulder and then returned his attention to

the outside.  Mulder caressed the brass tacks at the edge of

his usual chair but did not sit down.  Skinner sighed.  "I've

been debating for an hour whether to even have this

conversation with you."

 

"Oh, a debate.  I'm afraid I left my rebuttal notes at home."

 

Skinner did not turn around from the window.  "Agent Scully

didn't come in this morning."

 

"That's right.  I believe she had an appointment.  If you

want to talk to her, I can--"

 

"You read the newspaper, Agent Mulder?  Watch the news?"

 

Mulder stopped fidgeting with the chair, suddenly afraid

where this was leading. "Sure," he said at length, "I follow

the news." 

 

Skinner nodded as if to himself.  "There's a serial rapist

loose in the area.  He hit again this weekend."

 

"I, uh, I'd heard that, yes."

 

"Sources say it was an FBI agent who was attacked.  I was

down in the bullpen earlier, and they were speculating who it

might have been."

 

Mulder's heart broke a little more.  He could keep her in the

basement with him today, he thought, and maybe by tomorrow

everyone would have forgotten.  "I wouldn't think that it's

anyone's business who it was," he said stiffly.

 

"And I agree."  Skinner turned around at last, his forehead

creased.  "I didn't think too much of it myself until I saw

this."  He reached over and pulled the newspaper from his

desk.  "Ming's restaurant.  It's where the woman... where she

was attacked."

 

Mulder felt Skinner watching him as he took the newspaper. 

He had memorized the story that morning, of course, but he

made a show of looking it over again.  "So?"  He tossed the

paper back on Skinner's desk.

 

"Isn't that down in your neighborhood, Agent Mulder?"

 

"What, you think I'm a suspect?"

 

Skinner scowled.  "For Chrissake, Mulder."

 

Mulder tapped his fingers lightly on the smooth wood of

Skinner's desk and looked at the floor.  "I wasn't there," he

said quietly.  He risked looking up at Skinner again, and the

AD narrowed his eyes behind his glasses, searching Mulder for

the truth.  When he got it, Skinner blew out a long breath

and scratched the back of his head.

 

"Well, then," he said gruffly, "if you weren't there, you

couldn't know anything, could you?"  He tossed the newspaper

in the garbage can by Mulder's leg.

 

"No, sir."

 

Skinner took his seat and began shuffling papers.  "That will

be all, Agent." Mulder started toward the door, when Skinner

stopped him. "Mulder?"

 

Mulder turned.

 

"Is she in yet?"

 

The clock said Scully was now half an hour past due.  Mulder

bit his lip.  "No, Sir.  Not yet."

 

"When she gets here, tell her--"

 

"Tell her what?"

 

Skinner dropped his chin.  "Her report on the Speigelmen

case:  it was a good job.  The Director was extremely

pleased."

 

Mulder's hand tightened on the door handle.  "I'll tell her." 

He left then, past the secretary and down the hall, and in

the elevator, he remembered, finally, to breathe.

This scene I also put in for a bunch of reasons, though I am not sure how successful they all were. The scene is from Mulder’s POV, and he’s getting a chance to feel some of *his* privacy ripped away, if only by proxy. It’s also another chance to show a couple of good, honest men who are still completely tongue-tied on the subject. And, even though Scully is not there, you can almost imagine her humiliation if she knew such a conversation were taking place. It also advances the plot: Scully’s secret is not going to be safe for long.

XxXxX

 

When he got back to the basement, Mulder found Scully seated

at her table, chewing thoughtfully on a tuna sandwich as she

read some journal article spread out in front of her. 

"You're back," he blurted, and she looked up.

 

"Hi," she said, in that easy open way she did when it was

just the two of them in the basement. "I got you roast beef. 

I hope that's okay."

 

He didn't make a move toward the sandwich on his desk.  "I

thought you were supposed to be here ages ago."

 

"It took longer than I thought."

 

This bit of information derailed him a moment. 

"Everything..."  The shiny dentist tools came back to him and

he stopped.  He didn't have the vocabulary for this

conversation.  "Everything okay?"

 

"Fine."  Scully resumed reading and chewing.  He looked at

her, with her pressed suit and her perfect, smooth hair, and

felt stupid for having worried.  His cheeks flushed hot.

 

"You could have called," he told her as he went to his desk. 

She blinked at him, not answering.  "When you were late," he

clarified.

 

"I wasn't that late."

 

He shrugged and didn't look at her.  Self-righteous anger was

the first familiar emotion he'd had in three days, and he

wasn't about to let it go that easily.

 

"Mulder," she said, sounding annoyed, "I was a half-hour

late."

 

"Forty-five minutes."  Which, as he recalled, was more than

late enough.  He tore open the paper around his sandwich. 

Scully let him rustle for a minute before saying anything.

 

"You were just upstairs?" she asked.

 

"With Skinner."  Go ahead, he thought, ask me why.

 

"What did he want?"

 

Her tight little words punctured the balloon in his chest. 

Mulder leaned back in his seat, swiveling until he faced her. 

"He said..."  Mulder stopped, searched for words, and then

shook his head.  "It was nothing.  Just paperwork."

 

She held his gaze for a minute longer.  "Glad I missed it

then," she said at last.  She went back to reading, her head

bowed, while Mulder chewed the lie in his mouth and swallowed

it down with a side of roast beef.

 

XxX

 

One of the curious things about the Hoover building was its

placement of women's restrooms.   It had been constructed

during a time when no one could fathom females running around

with guns, and the amount of space allocated for women's

bathrooms reflected this fact.  They had been added later, an

afterthought, and thus tended to appear not with their male

counterparts but around odd corners or down long halls.  The

basement did not have a women's restroom at all.  Once, out

of desperation, she had ducked into the tiny room Mulder used

and found a lone urinal and a stall with no paper in it. 

Never again.

 

The idea for this scene was again to highlight the male/female disparity on intimate things such as bathrooms. Also to poke at Scully some more about not catching the guy, as well as foreshadow the eventual release of her name as victim number 10.

 

The main floor's facilities were large and bright, with a

high ceiling.  Someone had ordered them new porcelain sinks

just a few months before.  Women's voices bounced hard and

echoed hollow off the walls.  Scully couldn't help but hear.

 

"Do you think it was really an *agent*, though?  Probably it

was just someone from accounting and they blew it up on the

news."

 

"Guess we'll find out if they catch the guy.  They try to

keep the names secret at a rape trial, but you know it will

come out eventually ú especially in this joint."

 

Scully leaned her forehead on the cold door.  Her neighbor

flushed the toilet and shouted over the noise.  "The woman

who got attacked week before last was shopping at the grocery

near me.  My sister won't go there anymore."

 

"I don't blame her.  Ten women and they don't even have a

suspect."

 

"I'm not worried.  I've got this baby right here.  Any guy

tries to get the drop on me, and he'll be eating the end of

my gun."

 

"God, Lena.  You're so butch."

 

"Laugh if you want.  Women know he's coming now.  One of

these days he's going to pick the wrong one."

 

They left, door sliding shut into blessed silence.  Scully

shuddered and pressed clammy palms to her face.  Her stomach

quivered.  You're okay, she told herself over and over. 

You're okay.

 

Then she turned around and threw up.

 

XxXxX

 

That first night back, he asked her if he could walk her to

her car, and she said no.  He did not ask again.  Mulder

found himself locking doors he hadn't before, eyeing every

moving shadow.  Once, when he had come home late at night,

something had rattled the bushes near his door, and Mrs.

Korloff's tabby "Mittens" had ended up staring down the

business end of Mulder's SIG.  Mittens had calmly licked her

paw while he lowered his shaking arms.

 

XxXxX

 

This bit, Mulder’s fantasy, was one of the reasons I wrote the novel. Non-consensual sex or angry sex is a common fantasy, and everyone knows fantasies are harmless. But what must it feel like to have those thoughts about someone who was just brutalized? I tried to use this bit to illustrate Mulder’s confusion. It comes out of nowhere on purpose, to try to make the reader as discombobulated as he is. Some readers thought it went too far.

 

In his fantasy, Scully always wore the navy skirt with the

side slit and her blouse unbuttoned halfway down to her

waist.  She was round and young, the way she'd looked when

the fantasy was first born, with pinky white skin and full

lips that loved to tell him he was wrong.  That was how it

started, too -- in the basement, arguing.  "God, Mulder,"

she'd say, and it would sound so sexual despite the haughty

look on her face.  "God, Mulder, that's ridiculous!"

 

Anger made him hot.  Hot to grab her, shake her.  "You know

I'm right."  The details were never important.  It could have

been a hundred different cases or none of them at all.  All

that mattered was that he was right and she was wrong and for

once he wanted to hear her say it.  He pushed closer,

crowding her up against the wall.  "Say it, Scully.  Admit

it."

 

"No."  Her nostrils flared, breasts swelling with each shaky

breath; her arms came up between them in self-defense.  

 

"I want to hear it.  'You were right, Mulder.'"

 

"Stop it!"  She struggled and his chair crashed to the

ground.  No one was around to hear.  Sometimes, she tried to

slap him, and he'd grab her wrist, feel her pulse pounding. 

She was angry too.  He felt her anger like a current, a force

warring with his own, and he battled her back against the

wall.  His erection poked at the front of his pants as he

pinned her arms above her head.

 

"I'll make you," he breathed in her face.

 

"No."

 

The word fired him, sizzling nerve endings, and he put his

hot mouth on her neck.  She hissed in his ear as her body

went rigid.  Twisting, panting, she tried to break free but

he held her tight to the wall.  His knee wriggled between her

legs.  He kissed her mouth and felt her sharp little teeth. 

Her tongue tried to push his away, sliding wetly, and her

deep moan vibrated his ears.  He opened her blouse and

fondled her breasts while they kissed.  Scully pulled away,

gasping, her neck arched and her eyes narrowed to dangerous

slits.

 

"Had enough?" he said as his hand found her naked knee.  Her

leg jerked into his touch but she did not reply.  He kept her

pinned as he raised her skirt, letting the fabric scrape

against the tender skin on her thighs as he pulled it to her

waist.  Mulder lowered his face down to hers, smelled her

breath and her powdered skin.  "I think," he said against her

swollen mouth, "you want it."

 

"No," she whispered, but her eyes glittered.  She gripped his

thigh with her leg.  He felt the heat of her through their

clothes.  Rocking her against him, he took her mouth again

and set up a matching rhythm with his tongue until she was

shaking with raw need.  His leg came away wet, her eyes

clenched shut as his hands tugged her underwear off.  He

stroked the dark, humid place between her thighs.  She bit

her lip and held her breath when he carefully pushed one

finger inside.  He thrust it slowly in and out as Scully

turned her head away, lashes swept down across her cheeks as

she fought what he was doing to her.

 

Proper, buttoned-up Scully, with her skirt up around her

waist and her legs spread for him right in the office, but

still he wanted to push her further.   He wanted to push her

all the way.  With fumbling fingers, he yanked down his

zipper and took out his cock.  It trailed along her thigh,

and Scully dragged open her eyes to look at him, challenge

still glinting in her gaze.  He let down her arms and lifted

her from under her ass instead.  His penis slipped between

her thighs, teasing them both as Scully nails pricked him

through his dress shirt.

 

They stared at one other, breathing hard.   Do it, he willed

her silently.  She glared at him. 

 

Do it.

 

At last, her hand slipped down between them and put him

inside.  Mulder bared his teeth as his cock pushed in slow

and deep.  "Now," he told her. "You'll come."

 

She snorted as if he was telling her about lights in the sky,

and he answered with a forceful thrust that made her gasp.  

Her eyes slid closed as he began moving inside her.  She

panted but would not look at him.  C'mon, he thought.  Come.  

If nothing else, he could convince her of this.  Mulder

fucked her slow and steady until she leaned her head back on

the wall.  Her mouth parted and he could feel the tension

coiling in her.  "Yeah," he told her, speeding up, and she

shook her head.

 

Sweat trickled between his shoulder blades.  His muscles

bulged and burned.  All the while, she milked his cock with

steady clenches.  He was going to make her come.

 

"C'mon, Scully," he yelled at her, thrusting roughly.  She

answered with a protesting wail and he redoubled his efforts. 

Her legs locked.  Her hands clawed in his hair. 

 

"No no no..."

 

"Yes!"

 

She cried out again, going rigid in his arms.  The back of

her head clonked against the wall and he felt the ripples on

his cock.  Victorious, he put his teeth to her collarbone and

screwed his eyes shut against the impending wave.  He jerked

inside her again and again and again, spent.

 

It was just a fantasy.  He had others.

 

But even now, after everything, it still made him hard.

 

XxX

 

By Thursday, Scully had caught up on her backlog of email,

read and photocopied six journal articles, and reviewed her

notes on the Spiegelman case in the event that she had to

testify in court.  Mulder was writing an article on Donnie

Pfaster for Criminal Psychology, though he was careful to

keep the photographs hidden on his desk.

 

"Hey, Scully," he said, turning his chair to look at her.  He

had his glasses on and his shirtsleeves rolled up.  "How do

you spell 'conscience' again?"

 

She smiled fondly.  The man with the most overdeveloped

superego in the world still couldn't spell its name. 

Somehow, she restrained herself from going over and ruffling

his hair.  "C-O-N-S-C-I-E-N-C-E," she told him.

 

We all have those words we can never remember how to spell. For me, it’s permanent, assistance, etc. But Mulder’s word here also echoes the last scene.

 

"Thanks."  He turned around again, and she sat back and

contemplated his hunched shoulders. 

 

"Mulder," she asked eventually, "are we ever going to leave

the office again?"

 

"Hmm?  Oh, sure.  It's just been a busy week for paperwork." 

He couldn't quite look her in the eye as he spoke.  Scully

sighed, got up from her chair, and went to lean against his

desk.

 

"It's okay, you know."  She tried to catch his eyes.  "I'm

ready to work.  I want to work."

 

"Of course, Scully."  He smiled at her.  "I never thought

otherwise.  I just haven't found the right case is all."

 

Oh, god.  It was the Mulder-Scully version of the "It's not

you, it's me" speech.  She picked up a stack of folders

marked "X."  "What about this one?" she said, pulling off the

top folder.  He grabbed it from her.

 

"Witness recanted," he said.  "The sea nymph turned out to be

a frolicking golden retriever named Sven."

 

"I see."  Scully pulled out the next file and flipped it

open.  "A troop of boy scouts disappears into a giant

sinkhole in Acadia national park?"

 

"In 1943," Mulder said, taking the file away.  "It hardly

seems pressing."

 

"Okay, then," Scully said as she tried the next folder in the

pile.  "A pet psychic in Baltimore?  Mulder--"

 

"She interviews animals that witnessed crimes, Scully.  I

talked to a guy at the Baltimore PD who said they busted a

guy for murder after this woman got a parakeet to give them

the killer's description."

 

"Fine."  She held her tongue and handed him back the folder. 

"It's an X-file, it's local, and it's not sixty years old.  I

say we check it out."

 

Mulder sat up straight.  "Scully, I have this manuscript to

write and--"  He was cut off by his phone ringing.  "Mulder,"

he said.  Scully watched him openly for signs of a juicy

case.  "Yeah, this is he.  Uh-huh.  Yeah.  When did this

happen?"  He sat up and began jotting down some notes.  "You

say you talked to the police already?  Uh-huh.  Okay.  Yes, I

have an idea of where to start."

 

Scully folded her arms and waited for him to hang up the

phone.  "Well?" she asked as he rocked back in his chair.

 

"That was Chet Appleby from Beabout, Texas.  He says his

sister was abducted by a UFO cult and the local cops won't do

anything about it."

 

Scully's internal organs did "The Wave" but she managed not

to show it.  "MUFON?"

 

"Maybe.  Seems a little radical for them."

 

"We should check it out."

 

He tilted his head, studying her.  She held his gaze.  At

last, he snapped forward and put his feet on the floor. 

"I'll book the tickets," he said, excitement creeping into

his voice.

 

Scully went back to her desk and picked up a journal, already

mentally packing as she listened to him plan their future.

 

XxXxXxX

 

End chapter three.

 

XxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Four

XxXxXxXxXxX

 

Asleep against the side of the plane, Scully had been

shifting like sand since take-off, so it took him longer than

usual to notice her distress.  She yelped, twitching under

the blanket, and Mulder lowered the journal he'd been

reading.  It did not occur to him right away to wake her.  He

stared at the fine tremor of her hand, the wrinkle of her

brow.  The painful, private vision held him captive.  She'd

been pulled away again, back to that awful place, and this

was as close as he was ever going to get.  The magazine pages

crinkled in his grip.

 

Scully let out a small, choked sob, and the sound jolted him

from his stasis.  He reached out and stroked her cheek with

his fingers, surprised to find her skin damp.  "Scully," he

murmured, leaning towards her.  "Wake up."

 

She shot bolt upright, gulping in air, one hand stretched

outward as if to steady herself.  The blanket slipped to the

floor.

 

"Easy," he told her as she twisted in her seat, looking

wildly around the plane.  "You're okay."

 

She let out a long breath.  "What time is it?"

 

"Uh, almost five.  We'll be landing soon."

 

She groped for her blanket, ducking away from him, and he

leaned back to watch her struggle in the narrow space between

the seats.  When she surfaced with pinkened cheeks and hair

askew, he detected a faint quiver as she placed the cover

primly across her knees and settled back in her chair. 

 

"Stop looking at me like that."  She smoothed her hair behind

her ears with both hands.

 

He didn't turn his head away.  "Like what?"

 

"I'm fine, Mulder."  When he didn't say anything, she looked

at him, defiant.  "I am.  It's just a dream."

 

The strong sun coming in the windows showed the tear stains

on her cheeks.  He reached out and traced one trail.  "I just

want to know that you're okay."

 

"I said I was."

 

"Okay," he said gently, agreeing with her.  This only seemed

to make her more upset.

 

"I don't know what you want me to say, Mulder.  You've

already decided that I'm not okay, and I don't know how to

prove otherwise.  I know you think it's horrible.  I know

that.  But women--" She stopped and started over.  "It

happens every day all over the world, and women just go on. 

I think it's all you can do."

 

He looked at her for a long moment.  "You don't have to prove

anything to me, Scully."

 

"Quit waiting for me to fall apart." 

 

"I'm not."

 

She glared at him, and then jerked a magazine free from the

pouch in front of her and flipped it open.  Dismissed, Mulder

turned away and sighed.  He wondered if he had any Tylenol in

his carryon.  Scully angrily turned pages to his right. 

Mulder closed his eyes.

 

"It happened," she said after some time.  "But it doesn't

have to mean everything."

 

He still didn't look at her.  "No.  But it doesn't mean

nothing, either."

 

Scully did not reply.  She went back to reading, turning her

pages quietly now giving him his answer louder than words

ever could.

 

A storm brewing over Houston rocked their plane as it made

its descent into the clouds.  Harried flight attendants took

their seats early, and the passengers gripped their armrests

as the plane bumped and pitched.  At last, the pilot brought

them down safely, to scattered applause, and Mulder watched

Scully release her breath.  They fetched their bags with

everyone else, picked up their rental car, and drove off

under the dark, rolling sky.

 

Beabout, Texas, was a three-hour drive from the city, but

Mulder and Scully stopped for dinner after two.  Their

choices right off the exit consisted of fast food, the dining

room of the Palmer Inn, and a Bar & Grill with three

motorcycles parked out front.

 

"Inn?" Mulder asked, and jerked his thumb at the drive-thru

burger joint.  "Or out?"

 

Scully squinted out the windshield at the Bar & Grill.  "I

could really use a beer," she said, and so she and Mulder

joined the motorcycle brigade.

 

Inside, the place was dark but not as smoky as he had

expected.  The low-ceilinged room was divided between a

dining room filled with black-lacquered furniture and a bar

with a dozen or so stools, most of which were occupied. 

Baseball played on the TV, and Mulder answered its siren call

while Scully saw about a table.

 

"Mulder, come on," she called.

 

"Yeah, just a sec."  He watched as The Big Unit struck out

the batter swinging.  Ambling back across, he paused at the

refrigerator-sized jukebox.  There was some room for dancing,

but no one was on the floor.  Mulder rattled the change in

his pocket but did not make a selection.  Scully already had

her menu and water glass in front of her.  He took his seat

and scanned the beer list. 

 

Their waiter let them sit there for a good five minutes

before he showed up, scratchpad in hand.  "You know what you

want?"

 

Mulder did a double take.  Bald head.  Wire-rimmed glasses. 

The man was in his mid-forties and could have been Skinner's

long-lost brother. 

 

"Mulder?" Scully prompted him. 

 

He ordered a burger and a pint of Guinness.  "Scully...

Scully..."  He leaned across the table as the Skinner wannabe

walked away.  Scully was busy rummaging though her purse and

did not look up.  "Scully!"

 

"What?"

 

"Does our waiter remind you of anyone?"

 

She stopped rummaging and looked in the direction the waiter

had gone.  "No.  Why?"

 

"C'mon.  When he asked what I was having, I wanted to say 'a

stack of 302s, medium rare.'"

 

She pulled out a tissue and used it to wipe her fork. "What

are you talking about, Mulder?"

 

He leaned back in his seat, exasperated.  "Just look closer

when he comes back. You'll see."

 

The man returned with the beer.  "Here you go," he said, low

and gruff.  Mulder looked meaningfully at Scully, who looked

confused.  Then her eyes widened.

 

"Mulder!" she said as the waiter walked away.

 

"See?  Skinner in an apron!"

 

She laughed and sneaked another look across the room.  "God,

Mulder.  I feel... I feel..."

 

"Yes?" he asked, deepening his voice.

 

"Like I've been caught out past curfew by my father."

 

Mulder did his best Skinner impression.  "Agent Scully, could

I please see you in my kitchen?  I have some questions about

the Speigelman barbecue report."

 

"Stop," she said, but she was still smiling.  "Behave." He

grinned and nudged her under the table.

 

"The victim was a small ground fowl weighing about six

pounds.  Head and feet were removed, possibly to avoid

identification--"

 

"Mulder!"

 

When the man returned with their food, Scully wouldn't look

at him or Mulder.  She kept her eyes focused in front of her

as the waiter put her burger down.  "Medium?" he asked, and

Scully answered with a tiny nod.   Her mouth twitched but she

did not break.

 

"Yes, thank you," she managed.  Mulder could practically hear

her swallow "Sir."  He grinned and she kicked him under the

table.  The waiter did not crack a smile.

 

"Well done," he said as he set Mulder's food down.  He pulled

a ketchup bottle out of his apron pocket, put it on the table

between them, and went on his way.  Scully began silent,

mirthful convulsions as soon as the waiter's back was turned. 

Mulder leaned across the table and egged her on in a barely-

controlled whisper.

 

"Well done," he said.  "Words I never thought I would hear

from that mouth."

 

Scully leaned forward.  "Mulder, you're terrible."

 

"Ah," he said, "now *that* would be more typical."

 

She shook her head as she tapped the end of the ketchup

bottle.  "Skinner must like you more than you think if he

authorized this trip."

 

Mulder sobered, remembering his conversation with Skinner

about their latest 302.  Skinner had spent much longer

looking at the file than the scant information required while

Mulder stood in front of him awaiting judgment.  "Texas,"

he'd said at last.  "That's pretty far away."

 

"Maybe that's a good thing," Mulder had answered, and Skinner

had signed off without another word.

 

"We've pursued cases on less," he told Scully now. 

 

"Yes, and that is why -- to borrow your analogy -- in

Skinner's eyes, we will always be 'medium rare.'"

 

"I prefer just 'rare,'" he said, and that earned him another

smile.

 

As they ate, the volume went up on the jukebox.  The Stones

wailed about the Devil, and a few people gathered around to

study other selections.  Dire Straits did the "Walk of Life';

Fleetwood Mac would never break the chain.  The lights dimmed

and some more people got up to dance, including one youngster

in a cowboy hat who just made circles around the floor. 

Couples paired off, heat rising in the room from the sudden

increase in bodies.  Mulder felt the tingle of beer in his

veins. He eyed Scully across the table, but she was watching

the shadowed twist of dancers.

 

"It's a marvelous night for a moon dance," Van Morrison sang,

vibrating the air with invitation.  Mulder looked at Scully

again.

 

"Scully?"

 

"Hmm?"  She turned her attention to him.  He wiped his palms

on his pants.

 

"You, um, want to?" he asked as he jerked his head towards

the makeshift dance floor.

 

"Oh!"  She blinked and then looked back at the dancers.

"Mulder, we can't."

 

He wiggled in his seat.  "Speak for yourself, G-woman."

 

Scully gave him a wistful look and shook her head.  "Mulder,

no.  Who knows if we might end up having to question one of

those people tomorrow?"

 

His pulse slackened, losing the beat, and he leaned back in

his chair.  "Yeah," he said eventually, "Yeah, I guess you're

right."

 

"It's a marvelous night to make romance," Van Morrison

crooned.

 

Scully set her napkin on her plate, the sign that she was

ready to go.  "It's your turn to pay," she said.  "Make sure

to get the receipt this time."

 

Mulder dug out his credit card.  Just remember, he thought,

that I asked.

 

XxX

 

The road to rural Beabout was a straight shot through the

middle of absolutely nothing.  Electricity gathered in the

air, quivering the trees as they flashed by in the glare of

the Taurus's headlights. If either had believed in the power

of omens, they might have turned back:  thunder cracked open

the sky, releasing a torrential downpour, just as Mulder

drove over a nail in the road and shot out their rear right

tire.  He cursed as the car wobbled to the side of the road. 

Scully already had the dome light on and was digging in the

glove compartment.

 

"There might be a number in here to call for assistance."

 

"Yeah, I'm sure they're going to hurry out to help us in this

mess."  Rain beat down against the roof.  "We'll be out here

all night.  I'll just change the damn thing and be done with

it."

 

"Mulder, it's pitch black and pouring."

 

"So come hold the umbrella and the flashlight."

 

This was how they ended up stopped along a muddy shoulder,

crouched by their grimy car as rain blew sideways under

Scully's umbrella.  Mulder changed the tire in less than

fifteen minutes, but it was long enough for their clothes to

stick like second skin.  Despite his experiences wrestling in

bile and being digested by a giant fungus, walking around in

wet underwear still ranked in Mulder's top five most

uncomfortable sensations.  Bow-legged, he trooped back to the

car and ignored the water that oozed from his shoe as he

stepped on the accelerator again.  Scully blotted

ineffectually at her neck with a Dairy Queen napkin.

 

At the motel, they both stumbled into the room on the first

floor.  Ownership could be decided later.  First, there were

towels.  Scully tossed him two large ones and disappeared

with her bag into the bathroom.  Mulder stripped off his wet

clothes, rubbed the terry cloth over his clammy skin, and put

on some dry sweats.  Behind the closed door, Scully's hair

dryer whirred to life.  Mulder sat on the hard mattress and

began toweling off his naked feet.

 

Scully emerged a few minutes later dressed in white pajamas,

the damp ends of her red hair tickling her shoulders.  Behind

her, he could see pantyhose dangling from the shower bar and

figured this meant Scully had staked out her territory.  She

fixed him with her serious Dr. Scully look.  "Mulder, you're

still wet."

 

It was true.  Water trickled down behind his ear.  "I'm dry

where it counts," he replied, and picked up the towel to rub

his head.

 

"Here," she said, and fetched her blow dryer from the

bathroom.  She plugged it in the wall and stretched the

curly-Q cord across the room.  Standing between his legs, she

switched the dryer on and went to work on his hair. 

 

The shock of hot air tightened his scalp and warmed the tips

of his ears.  Scully's lips parted as she concentrated.  When

she assessed her progress by running small, strong fingers

through his hair, it was all he could do not to squirm with

pleasure.  She leaned forward, and he could see down her

pajama top to the feathered shadow between her breasts.  She

smelled like satin and powder and rain.

 

At last, she switched off the dryer.  "Better," she

pronounced as the roar still rang in his ears.  She rested

her hand on his head and smiled a little.

 

"Better," he agreed.  "Thank you."  She didn't move away, so

he tentatively stroked her hip through her pajamas.  Her

fingers toyed in his hair as they stared at one another. 

Scully's eyes darkened, the color of his fantasy, but his

arousal mixed with fear.  It can't be, he thought.  Not this

soon.

 

"Scully-"

 

"Shhh."  Her hand slid down so that her fingers stilled his

lips.  She caressed his cheek with her thumb, and his protest

died away.  Scully leaned down so their mouths brushed, their

first real kiss since it happened, and Mulder had to grab her

waist to keep from trembling.  He was a Japanese lantern, lit

up and warm inside but fragile at the skin.  She kissed him

lingeringly, her full mouth persuading his into a gentle

dance.  The wet ends of her hair tickled his face and he was

lost.

 

Mulder held her with both hands, stroking her back as she

pressed even closer.  Her tongue was in his mouth and her

hand did a slow rub across his shoulder.

 

Just a little more, he thought through the haze.  I can still

stop.

 

He touched his tongue to hers and was rewarded with a muffled

snort against his cheek.  She tasted the same, like warm

mint.  He felt a corresponding flare of heat in his pants. 

Scully wiggled closer, bumping the bed as she tried to feel

him, but Mulder kept her away from his erection.  He didn't

want her to feel obligated in any way.

 

Scully broke the kiss, breathless.  "Mulder," she said

against his hairline.  "I have to tell you something."

 

His hands roamed her back.  "It's okay, Scully."  He could

stop with kissing.  He could.

 

"We... we have to use a condom."

 

Mulder tensed.  "What?"

 

She had stiffened too, but she gripped him tight.  "Just to

be safe.  The first tests came back clean, but I have to

repeat the one for HIV at least one more time to be sure.  I

know it's not ideal, but until I know that everything's okay,

I don't want to put you at any risk."

 

His mind was still absorbing this new information, but his

first instinct was to soothe her.  "Shh, Scully," he said,

hugging her.  "It's all right.  It's not a big deal.  We can

pick some up later."

 

She kissed his head.  "I have.  I mean I did."

 

"Already?"

 

She pulled back and searched his face.  "Is that okay?"

 

Truthfully, he was a little unnerved.  In between the bouts

of tears and the nightmares, she had been shopping for

condoms?  "Um, of course.  Of course it's okay."  He kissed

her collarbone and felt her heart pounding.

 

"Good."  She relaxed some in his arms.  Her hands stroked his

ribs and her lips found his again.  Mulder held her close and

kissed her with all the reassurance he could muster.  I love

you, Scully.  I'm so sorry this happened to you, Scully.

 

But Scully didn't want comfort.  She wanted him on his back

on the bed.  Mulder ignored his anxiety and went along,

allowing her to push him down and crawl up next to him.  She

sighed into his mouth, pointed little tongue making it hard

for him to think.  One silky leg slipped between his.

 

"Scully," he said when he could talk, "are you sure?"  He

stroked the hair off her face.  "It's not too soon?"

 

She frowned.  "I'm fine, Mulder."

 

His skin rippled from head to toe as she rubbed her thigh on

his leg.  Okay, he thought, if she is fine then it must be

all right.  He kissed her forehead, her eye, her nose, but

Scully took his head between her hands and guided him back to

her mouth.  While they kissed, she stroked his ears until he

was humming into her mouth.

 

His heart thudded erratically, excited the way it sometimes

was just before he threw up, but his erection strained

against his cotton sweatpants.  He felt dizzy, out of

control.  Scully was grinding her lower body against him.

 

"Mulder, please," she whispered.

 

He bore down on her, tried to give her what she wanted. 

Scully tugged his shirt over his head, and he cooperated. 

The sudden cool air made goose bumps break out across his

back.  Touch her, his brain commanded, and somehow he worked

his hand beneath her top to her breasts.  Soft, familiar and

new at the same time, Mulder's tension eased a bit as he

caressed one swollen peak.  She was hot, hard; she wanted

this.  He could give it to her. 

 

He focused on the tender nipple between his fingers.  Scully

panted, squirming beneath him.  She reached into his pants

and he jerked his hips back as if burned. 

 

"Mulder?"

 

He kissed her again, slow and deep.  Her legs wrapped around

him.  When she pulled her mouth from his and looked up at

him, her face was flushed, lips parted and red.  Her eyes had

gone from blue to black.  He had her pinned with his full

weight.

 

*I can make you.*

 

"Mulder," she said again, pleading this time.  He couldn't

breathe.  He saw her trapped with her legs spread, eyes dark

with fear.  Gasping, he rolled off her and scrambled from the

bed.  Scully sat up.

 

"Mulder, what's wrong?"

 

"I can't," he said shaking his head.  Her expression went

from puzzled to bruised.

 

"Oh."  She hugged herself.

 

"No, it's not like that.  It's not."

 

"You don't have to explain, Mulder."  She got up from the bed

and headed for the bathroom.  Horror and panic chased each

other around in his head.

 

"It's not you, Scully.  Wait, listen."

 

"Mulder, I said it was fine," she said over her shoulder.  He

watched her gather up her wet clothes.

 

"I just think about what happened to you, and even though I

know this is different, I just--"

 

He broke off as she pushed by him with her clothes still

dripping on the carpet.

 

"Where are you going?"

 

"To my room."  Her voice was tight and controlled.

 

"This is your room."  He walked to her, touched her arms from

behind, but she shrugged him off and continued packing

viciously.

 

"No, this is your room," she told him.

 

"Please don't go.  Not like this.  I--I... We can try again."

 

She shot him a look that chilled his spine.  Her suitcase

refastened, she grabbed the other room key and walked to the

door.  Mulder felt like a toad.  He'd hurt her, and now she

was going out in the dark, rainy night wearing just her

pajamas.

 

"Scully," he said, his voice thick as he blocked her exit. 

"Please let me explain."

 

She looked at the floor.  "You have.  You're not ready.  It's

fine, Mulder.  Really.  Just let me go."

 

He slumped.  "At least let me be the one to go.  You can stay

here."

 

"I don't want to stay another minute in this room," she

whispered.  Mulder stepped aside.  What could he say to that? 

Rain swept in when she opened the door.  He stood at the

threshold, getting wet all over again as he watched her march

down the path to the stairs.  He stood there even after he

heard the upstairs door slam.  When at last he shut himself

again inside the dull, quiet room, there was no one there to

dry his tears.

 

As horrible as this must have been for Scully, my sympathies are with Mulder in this scene.  She's totally not reading him but he gamely presses on, doing his best to suppress his own feelings in deference to hers.  Then he gets slapped for it, and feels terrible to boot.  Poor Mulder!

 

XxXxXxXxX

 

 

XxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Five

XxXxXxXxXxX

 

She was too mortified even to cry.  Scully spent the night

curled in a ball under the starched motel sheet, blinking in

the darkness.  She hugged the pillow and tried to squeeze

away the sound of Mulder's rejection.  Of course he would be

disgusted.  Another man had forced her down on the ground and

shoved his way inside her.  She was disgusted when she

thought about it. 

 

So she didn't.  Think about it.

 

But Mulder would never be able to follow suit; he thought

about everything, all the time, perseverated on injustices

great and small.  And now, when he looked at her, he only

thought about one thing.  As long as he remembered, so would

she.

 

Scully hid in her bed while the dawn crept up to her window,

brightening the cracks.  By six she could no longer deny the

sun.  She dragged her stiff body from beneath the sheets and

dressed tiredly with just the light from the bathroom.  A

quick look at her cell phone told her she'd received three

new messages during the night.  She left the room without

listening to a single one.

 

Outside, muggy morning air promised a scorcher of a day. 

Already the rain puddles were evaporating back into the sky.

It was still quiet, road traffic infrequent and birds

flitting in the trees. Scully squinted as she walked down the

stairs to the lower level.  At the bottom, the sight of

Mulder's door stopped her in her tracks.  She would have to

pass in front of it to get to the lobby, where coffee

awaited.  Her anxious heart buried itself between her ribs,

but her head throbbed for caffeine.  Caffeine won out. 

Scully held her breath, kept her head down, and marched past

room 134 without a backward glance.

 

Their motel fee included a continental breakfast, which was

self-served in the alcove next to the check-in desk, right

between the pay phone and a rack of tourist pamphlets. 

Scully skipped the lackluster pastries and poured herself a

Styrofoam cup's worth of black coffee.  She got approximately

five minutes of silence before a round, bland-faced couple

and their three young children entered to raid the donuts.

 

Scully shifted to stand near the front desk, where the young

woman with a ponytail gave her a wide, friendly smile. 

"Hello," she said.  "Is the coffee all right for you this

morning?"

 

Scully raised her eyebrows as she sipped.  "Yes, it's fine. 

Thank you."

 

"Y'all down for the Garden Grove square dance competition?"

 

Scully managed to swallow the coffee without choking.  "Uh,

no."

 

"Oh."  The smile didn't fade.  "Folks come from all over this

time of year, and I just assumed when the two of you checked

in last night together that's what you were here for. 

Leastways, that's true for most of our couples."

 

"No, we're here to see--"  Scully searched her memory for the

man supposedly in charge of the UFO cult. "Jared Rentham.  Do

you know him?"

 

The smile faltered and then reappeared.  "Jared?  Sure,

everyone around here knows him.  He runs that group out at

the old army compound.  I see him every now and then at the

farmer's market buying corn.  My mom said that he moved here

from New Orleans, that he used to be a fortune teller there." 

She lowered her voice and leaned toward Scully.  "His wife

was murdered.  That's why he came out here."

 

"Do you know how she died?"

 

The girl looked to make sure the vacationing family wasn't

listening.  "I heard she burned to death."

 

"What about Tina Appleby?  Do you know her?"

 

"Never met her. Saw her in the papers, though, when she

joined up with Jared's group.  Her family wasn't too happy

about it, on account of Tina had two little kids."

 

"Why did Tina join?"

 

The girl again cast a look over at the family before

answering.  "Jared, he believes in UFOs.  He says that the

aliens come and take people for experiments, and that the

government knows about it but doesn't protect people. 

Supposedly..."  She stopped and fiddled with the cord coming

out of the computer keyboard.

 

"Supposedly what?"

 

The girl sighed.  "I don't know if I believe it, but some

folks say he can tell by looking at you whether you've been

tested by the aliens."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

She pointed at the sky.  "You know, probed...or whatever."

 

The hairs stood up on the back of Scully's neck, right about

where she'd been probed, and the coffee sloshed in her cup. 

"And Tina, uh, she'd been tested?"

 

"That's what the paper said."  The girl shrugged.  "But it

also said she's failed out of AA three times, so who can know

for sure if it's true?  Jared looks harmless enough to me,

but I don't go out of my way to talk to him, if you know what

I mean.  My boyfriend Jimmy's a cop, and he told me Jared

checked out okay, but then he said to stay away from him just

the same.  So I do.  Maybe Jared's not dangerous or anything,

but he sure is crazy."

 

"What makes you say that?"

 

The girl rolled her eyes.  "He believes in aliens, doesn't

he?"

 

As if on cue, the front bell tinkled and Mulder came through

the door.  He stopped, feet still on the mat, and all heads

except Scully's turned to stare.  She looked at her cup. 

 

"Good morning," the girl behind the counter said.  "Help

yourself to coffee and pastries right over there."

 

"Yeah, thanks," Mulder said.  Scully could feel him looking

at her, felt herself shrinking inside.  She watched his

shadow move towards her across the floor until it disappeared

into her own.  Mulder breathed down on her.  "Morning," he

murmured, and she nodded to her coffee.  She wasn't sure how

this was going to work if she could never look him in the

eyes again.  "I called you last night," he told her, his

voice still low.

 

"Did you?"

 

"I left you messages."

 

"I haven't checked."  She took a deep breath and met his

gaze.  There were dark smudges under his eyes, and she could

see a nick on his jaw where he had cut himself shaving. 

Mulder studied her a minute before nodding sadly. 

 

"Okay.  Scully, I just wanted to say--"  The vacationing

family trooped out behind him, forcing Mulder to crowd closer

to Scully.  He bumped her and she jerked back against the

counter.  "Sorry," he said, reaching out a hand to steady

her.

 

"Mulder, please."  She squeezed from between him and the

counter.  "I can't do this now."

 

"Of course not," he said quickly, and she felt her cheeks

warm.  The girl behind the counter listened in with the

deliberate casualness of a seasoned gossip. 

 

Scully cleared her throat.  "Mulder, this is..."  She stopped

when she realized she didn't know the girl's name.

 

"Sharon Loeing," the girl filled in for her. 

 

"Ms. Loeing was telling me what she knew about Jared

Rentham," Scully explained.

 

It took Mulder a minute to focus enough to respond. 

"Rentham," he said, turning to the girl at last.  "Right. 

You know him?"

 

"Oh, not really.  Just passing on what all I've heard."

 

"It seems that Mr. Rentham is running a retreat of sorts for

alien abductees," Scully said.  "This was the reason for Tina

Appleby's involvement."

 

"She was abducted?  Her brother didn't mention that part."

 

"Maybe because it didn't really happen," Scully countered. 

"From what I've heard, it's Jared Rentham who determines

whether someone had been abducted or not.  Tina Appleby was a

single mother with two kids and a history of alcohol abuse. 

It wouldn't surprise me to find that Jared Rentham takes

advantage of people who are down on their luck and sways them

into joining his... organization."

 

"Wait, you're saying he picks the women and not the other way

around?"

 

"Supposedly," Scully said, "he can tell by looking at you if

you were abducted." 

 

"Oh."  Mulder stared hard at Scully.  She refused to blink. 

So far, she hadn't heard any evidence that Jared Rentham was

anything other than a charlatan who preyed on vulnerable

people.

 

"I suppose the only way to know is to find Tina and ask her,"

Mulder said.

 

Sharon Loeing's eyes widened.  "Y'all are going out to the

compound?"

 

"You know of a reason why we shouldn't?" Scully asked.

 

"Well, it's just they don't welcome many visitors.  There's

barbed wire around the whole property."

 

Mulder looked speculatively at Scully.  "Somehow, I think

he'll let us in."

 

 

I wasn't sure what to do as far as a case in this story.  I toyed with the idea of setting it firmly within a season and pretending this happened behind the scenes on various episodes, but decided that wouldn't work.  I didn't want a huge investigation, but I wanted to give them something to do.  Fourteen chapters of weeping and arguing just isn't very interesting. *g* So I opted for mytharc, which I thought would complement the Scully violation storyline.  As it turned out, I got to use it more for Mulder.

Who knew???

 

XxXxXxX

 

They stopped at Chet Appleby's first.

 

In the car on the way, Scully looked out the window the whole

time so Mulder would not be tempted to start up a

conversation.  The landscape mirrored her feelings -- flat

and empty -- and Mulder wisely kept his mouth shut.  She

heard him working over a seed between his teeth, a sure sign

that his brain was marking double time.  Scully clutched the

file folders on her lap and studied the passing bramble.

 

"Worried he'll recognize you?" Mulder asked at length.

 

"Appleby?"

 

"No, Rentham."

 

She turned in her seat.  "Mulder, don't tell me you believe

that story."

 

"I don't know.  I'm wondering if you believe it."

 

"I can't believe you even have to ask."

 

"Right.  It would be a neat trick, though, don't you think? 

If it's true."  He paused.  "Of course, you might not be the

best person to test his apparent ability."

 

"What does that mean?"

 

He shrugged.  "I've known you for seven years, Scully, and I

still can't tell one thing just by looking at you."

 

"I see.  So if you don't find what you're hoping for in Jared

Rentham, it's my fault."

 

"I didn't say that."

 

"What, then?"

 

He glanced at her.  "Scully, you're not always the easiest

person to read," he answered mildly.  "This can't come as a

surprise."

 

It did.  Hurt burst inside her like a balloon.  She blinked

back hot tears and returned to staring out the window.  I

don't get you, he might have said, the one person she'd

thought had understood.

 

"I don't know what to tell you," she managed at last.

 

"I know," said Mulder sadly.  "I think that's the problem."

 

He turned the car off the main road into Chet Appleby's

neighborhood, where the grass went from dry and unkempt to

green and manicured.   Evenly spaced white houses lined the

wide street, while the sun beat down on the treeless ground. 

Appleby's house turned out to be the one with the bluebird

mailbox and a tricycle parked in the drive.

 

Mulder and Scully did not speak to each other upon approach. 

Scully lifted the brass knocker as Mulder peeked in the

column of windows that framed the front door.  Appleby

answered promptly and ushered them into a spotless living

room that still bore vacuum tracks on the beige carpet.  He

was a nebbish of a man, with too-short hair and a white,

short-sleeved button down shirt.  He moved a floppy stuffed

dog off the armchair before he sat down.

 

"I never wanted kids," he said.  "Myra didn't either.  But it

was either take in Tina's daughters or have them put into

foster care, and we couldn't abide that.  We kept thinking

that Tina would come to her senses and want them back.  As

you might have guessed from our phone call earlier, it hasn't

turned out that way."

 

Please welcome Chet "Mr. Exposition" Appleby to today's game!

Not the prettiest way to get information out, alas.  But sometimes you have to grin and bear it.

 

"How long has Tina been gone?" Mulder asked from his seat on

the floral sofa.

 

"Eight months now.  Tina met Rentham at the grocery and she

moved out to the compound that night.  She dropped her kids

off here and that was that.  I've talked to the Sheriff's

office almost every week since Tina took up with that

horrible man, but they keep telling me there is nothing they

can do.  She's not being held against her will.  Brainwashed,

maybe, but they don't use force to get her to stay."

 

"Have you talked to Tina at all since she joined the group?"

Scully asked.

 

"She sends letters, sometimes with a few dollars to help out

with the children.  I can barely bring myself to read them

because they are all full of UFO crap."

 

"I'd like to see them, if you have them," Mulder said.

 

"Of course."  He rose and went to the desk in the corner,

where he retrieved a small bundle of envelopes.  Mulder

started reading while Scully asked more questions.

 

"Did Tina tell you why she decided to join Jared Rentham's

group?"

 

He pursed thin lips and brushed invisible lint from his

pants.  "Tina's had a problem with alcohol off and on for ten

years now, but about six years ago was the lowest point. 

This was before she had the kids and before Dan died.  I give

that man credit for turning her around when none of us could. 

If he was alive today, Tina would never have fallen into

Rentham's hands.  Anyway, around that time, it wasn't unusual

for us to go weeks without hearing from Tina.  When she did

show up, usually it was asking for money."

 

"Says here that Tina remembers being abducted from a local

farm," Mulder said, looking at the letters.

 

Appleby nodded wearily.  "That's what Rentham told her.  More

likely she just blacked out for a day."

 

Scully looked at Mulder, but his attention had returned to

Tina's letters.  "Mr. Appleby," she said, "I'm not sure what

you hope to get out of our involvement.  The Sheriff is

absolutely correct that we can't forcibly remove Tina from

Rentham's compound.  If he hasn't broken any laws, if she is

there peaceably, then our hands are tied."

 

"Talk to him," pleaded Appleby.  "See for yourself what kind

of monster he is.  If Tina were thinking clearly, she would

want to be home, with her daughters.  She was just getting

her life back and that man came and took it from her again."

 

"But--"

 

"If you can prove he's a fraud, she might listen to you. 

Please."

 

Mulder stood up.  "We'll talk to him.  Agent Scully's right,

though:  we can't make you any promises about your sister."

 

Appleby bit his lip.  "If she just knew how much the girls

needed her..."

 

"We'll see what we can do," Mulder assured him.  Scully had a

hard time looking the desperate man in the eye, knowing that

they were probably not going to be able to give him what he

wanted.

 

"You're going now?" Appleby asked.  "Let me go with you."

 

"I don't think that's such a good idea," Mulder said. 

 

"Please.  The compound is difficult to find, but I know how

to get there.  I'll wait in the car if you like."

 

Mulder sighed and relented.  "You do exactly what we say."

 

"Oh, thank you.  Let me just get my things and telephone Myra

to tell her where I'll be."

 

He left the room and Scully nodded at the letters still in

Mulder's hand.  "Well?" she asked.

 

"She says Rentham has seen the aliens, that they killed his

wife.  He says they're coming back."

 

"Terrific.  Does he give a date and location?"

 

"No, but Tina does.  The date she was abducted:  August 9,

1994."

 

Two days after Duane Barry and Skyland mountain.  Scully felt

like she was back playing tug-of-war with Bill and his big

friends, heels sliding into the mud pit even as she held on

for dear life.  She swallowed with effort.  "And you think

this means we were riding around in a spaceship together?"

she asked Mulder, more sharply than she intended.

 

He looked down at her with compassionate eyes.  "I don't know

what it means, Scully, but here may be one chance to find

out."

 

Nononono.  She screwed her eyes shut and gripped the back of

Appleby's armchair. 

 

"Scully?  Are you okay?"

 

"I'm ready," Appleby announced as he returned to the room.

 

Scully sucked in a breath and released the chair.  "Then

let's go."

 

XxX

 

Appleby sat in the back, twisting his wedding band around his

finger and giving directions to Mulder.  As promised, finding

the compound involved a number of tricky turns down unmarked

roads. Thirty minutes later, Mulder rolled the car to a stop

in front of a high fence topped with barbed wire.  "That sure

as hell isn't to keep any aliens out," Mulder muttered.

 

"Rentham says it's to keep out the nonbelievers," Appleby

replied.  "So we can't distract the others from their

'work.'"

 

All three got out of the car, and when Mulder saw Appleby was

following them, he stopped.  "I thought you were going to

wait in the car."

 

Appleby's small face took on a look of determination.  "If

Rentham doesn't want me there, I will.  Otherwise, I feel I

have the right to be present."

 

Mulder looked at Scully, who shrugged.  "We do the talking,"

he warned Appleby.

 

"Absolutely."

 

They walked up the dirt road to the gate, where a camera

tracked their arrival.  Mulder hit the buzzer on the

intercom.  "FBI," he said when asked.  "We're here to talk to

Jared Rentham."

 

"Mr. Rentham is not available," came the crackling reply.

 

"He's there," hissed Appleby over Mulder's shoulder.  "I know

he is."

 

"We've come a long way," Mulder said into the speaker.  "If

we could just talk to Mr. Rentham for a few minutes."

 

"I'm sorry, but Mr. Rentham--"  The voice broke off, and they

heard nothing for several long seconds.  When the speaker

came back on, the voice had changed to a deep, mellow tone. 

 

"Welcome to Sanctuary House, agents.  Do come in."  The door

gave a long buzz, and Mulder pushed it open.  Inside was a

small courtyard with the same dusty dirt floor, but it

contained several small trees whose delicate branches

suggested they might have originated in Asia.  There was a

stone birdbath, and two long benches that faced one another. 

Everything was quiet.  They walked up the flagstone path to

the main building -- a short, wide structure built with aging

concrete.

 

Scully almost expected to be met by a bald man in a flowing

robe.  She was half right.  Jared Rentham emerged from a door

at the end of the entry hall wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt

with a Celtic clan symbol on the front.  He had a long face

with a long, thin nose to match, and when he got closer,

Scully saw he wasn't quite bald -- there was a ring of pale,

fine hair circling his head just above his ears.  Scully hung

back a bit as he approached.  "Agents," he said.  "Welcome

again.  I am Jared Rentham, and I'll be happy to answer any

questions you might have."

 

"What have you done with my sister?" Appleby demanded. 

Mulder elbowed him.

 

"I'm Fox Mulder, and this is my partner, Dana Scully.  You

may already know Chet Appleby."

 

"By reputation only," Rentham demurred.   He offered his hand

to Appleby, who refused it, and then shook Mulder and

Scully's hands in turn.  When Scully tried to pull away,

Rentham held on.  "I noticed you outside," he said, fingers

tracing lightly over the skin of her wrist.  "Have we met

before?"

 

"No, I don't think so."

 

"I could swear it."  His eyes crinkled at the corners as he

tried to place her.  "Oh!" he said suddenly, and Scully felt

a spark against her hand.  She jerked free.  Rentham smiled

at her.  "You've been among them," he said.  "You will

understand how important our work is."

 

"What the hell is he talking about?" Appleby asked

suspiciously.  Mulder moved himself between Rentham and

Scully.

 

"Just what sort of 'work' do you do here, Mr. Rentham?"

 

"Information gathering, mainly," he said, his eyes still on

Scully.  Her breathing grew shallow, sweat breaking out

across the back of her neck.  She let Mulder take the lead.

 

"Information about what?"

 

"Them."  He nodded at Scully.  "If you need explanation, your

partner can fill you in."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about," Scully whispered.

 

Rentham made a tsk-tsk sound at the back of his throat. 

"Denying it won't stop them.  You have to understand what

happened to you in order to fight."

 

"What is this?"  Appleby began backing away.  "What the hell

is he talking about, she's one of them?"

 

"Calm down, Mr. Appleby," Mulder said.  "We're asking the

questions, okay?"

 

"No, it's not okay!  I want to see my sister, and I want to

see her now."  He was shaking from head to toe.  Mulder gave

the high sign to Scully, and she agreed:  time to get Appleby

off the premises.

 

"Why don't we go outside for a minute," she suggested,

touching his arm.  Appleby shook her off.

 

"Get away from me!  I don't know what your connection is to

this place, but just stay the hell away.  Bring me my

sister," he hollered at Rentham.  "I want to see her NOW!"

 

"I'm afraid that's not possible," Rentham said.

 

"I say it is."  Appleby pulled out a gun and aimed it at

Rentham.   "Take me to Tina."

 

Scully's pulse tripped over itself.  Mulder's jaw tensed, his

eyes gone black.  "Hold on a second, Chet," he said.  "Let's

work this out."

 

"I want to see Tina.  I want her to come home with me."  The

gun wavered in the air, three feet from Scully.  Rentham was

the only one who did not look worried.

 

"I can take you to her," he said, "but she won't leave.  I

have explained before that everyone who is here stays here

willingly.  I exert no force.  We have no weapons."  He eyed

Appleby's trembling gun.  "Your sister is happy here.  I

believe she's told you before that she does not wish to

leave."

 

"You did this to her!" Appleby sobbed. "It was you!"

 

"I did nothing to Tina," Rentham answered calmly.  "It was

Them."

 

The shot split Scully's head open; at least that's how it

felt.  Her ears hurt and the terrible noise reverberated in

her skull.  When she opened her eyes, she saw Rentham lying

dead on the ground.  She didn't even need to take his pulse. 

Appleby's shot had gone through Rentham's left eye and blown

apart his brain.   Her mouth hung open in horror so long the

back of her throat dried out.  When at last the noise

cleared, she became aware of wracking sobs from behind her. 

She turned and saw Mulder restraining Appleby.

 

"She's free now," he said over and over.  "She can go home."

 

XxXxX

 

At the Sheriff's station, they were alone in a room with the

woman who had caused more heartache than Helen of Troy.  Tina

Appleby was small like her brother but rounder and less edgy. 

Where Chet had vibrated with anger, Tina wept quietly at the

interrogation table, dabbing her eyes with a wrinkled

Kleenex.  "What will we do now?" she asked of Mulder and

Scully.  "Jared was the one who brought us together.  He was

the one who knew what was happening.  He said if we didn't

prepare for Them to return, we would end up a slave race. 

Chet didn't understand.  He didn't see that I was doing this

for my children and for their children's children."

 

"When did you first meet Jared Rentham?" Mulder asked.

 

Scully, still rattled, leaned against the wall near the

corner.  She looked at this woman with her bad dye job and

chewed-off fingernails.  This is not me, she thought.

 

"He was really friendly-like," Tina was saying.  "Asked me

about my baby, Charlene, and told me I seemed real familiar. 

I had seen him before.  Everyone said he was kind of a freak,

but when you talked to him, it was like... like talking to

God.  He could see right inside me.  He knew right away that

I'd been through a tough time, what with Dan getting sick and

passing on, but when he mentioned the lights from the Hartman

farm, I just felt a chill go through me.  I'd never told

anyone about that night before."

 

"Which night?" Mulder asked.  Scully folded her arms.

 

"About six years ago, before I knew Dan or anything like

that.  I--I was drinking a lot back then.  Me and Rudy

Hartman were down at Jimmy Z's bar until around closing,

hitting the Jack and Cokes pretty good.  When Jimmy kicked us

out, Rudy said he had a six-pack back at his place, if I

wanted to go back with him.  I said sure.  We drank and

fooled around a bit, you know.  I don't remember much after

that, except I think I went outside to get some air.  I

remember looking up at the stars and thinking they were

brighter than I'd ever seen before, like when the sun glints

off the water.  Then the lights started moving.  I felt

myself being lifted in the air.  The next thing I know--" 

she broke off and looked at her lap.

 

"The next thing you know, what?"  Mulder prodded.

 

"I know this sounds stupid.  But I was on a train."  Scully

felt a chill go through her. She backed further into the

wall. "I don't know how I knew this.  Maybe someone told me. 

Maybe I heard the whistle, I don't know.  But I was on this

table, under a sheet, and I didn't have any clothes on.  The

whole room kind of glowed with this eerie blue light.  I

wasn't tied down but I couldn't move my arms or legs.  Men in

masks, like surgeons, came in and out.  Sometimes they would

talk to me but usually not.  I was so cold that I couldn't

feel my toes."

 

"What did these men want with you?" Mulder asked.

 

"I don't know.  They hooked me up to machines and poked me

with cold metal instruments.   I couldn't speak to ask what

was going on, but I don't remember being very afraid at the

time."

 

"How long were you on this train?"

 

She sniffled.  "I couldn't say.  It felt like forever but

also not long at all.  I can't describe it.  But I remember

this one man, an Asian man, who came in near the end.  He was

gentler than the others.  He stroked my cheek and he talked

to me."

 

"What did he say?" Mulder asked, leaning forward.

 

"It makes no sense," Tina replied.  "It was like a saying or

something."

 

"What?"

 

She took a deep breath.  "He said, 'Even the smallest ant--"

 

"--can destroy the dam," Scully finished with her in a

murmur.  Only when Mulder turned did she realize she'd spoken

aloud. 

 

"Yeah, that's right," Tina agreed.

 

"Scully?" Mulder asked, looking at her with concern.

 

She felt the floor shift under her, the room suddenly

airless.  "I'll be back," she said, heading for the door. 

She barreled through it to the cool, dark corridor on the

other side.  Gulping air, she went to the rest room and

washed cold water over her enflamed skin.  Her hands still

trembled when she held them out in front of her, so she paced

the length of the room slowly, talking herself down.

 

You're okay.  It's all right.  Just get control and go back

in there.

 

Her phone made her jump when it rang.  "Scully," she said

crisply, hiding her weak limbs with a sharp voice.

"Dana, this is Chris Clark with the DA's office."

 

She let out a long breath.  "Mr. Clark, of course.  What can

I do for you?"

 

"I have some potentially good news.  Detective Savioshy

arrested a suspect this evening.  He's in custody as we

speak."

 

XxXxX

 

 

 

Keywords:  None.

 

XxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Six

XxXxXxXxXxX

 

When Scully fled the interrogation room, Mulder did not

follow.  Tina Appleby was there, still talking, and on the

other side of the one-way mirror Sheriff Seaver watched her

and Mulder equally, waiting for a satisfactory explanation as

to why Jared Rentham had ended up decorating Sanctuary House

with his brains on Mulder's watch.  "This is not how we do

things around here, son," had been Seaver's words on the

topic.  "What the hell did you bring Chet on up there for,

anyway?"

 

Mulder forced his attention back to Tina's narrative. "Damned

if I know," she was saying.  "I could have been gone two

weeks or two hours.  Rudy said he woke up and I was just

gone."

 

Mulder glanced at the door and made a humming noise in his

throat.  Scully didn't reappear.

 

Tina continued, "I came to in the park across the street from

my apartment.  My legs were all wobbly, like when you've been

on a boat drinking, and I couldn't remember much at first."

 

Mulder turned his attention back to her, really seeing her

for the first time since they had brought her down to the

station.  Her nails were down to the quick but still she

chewed at them.  She wore baggy pants and an over-sized T-

shirt that hid most of her body.  No makeup.  Tears streaked

her round, smooth face, and she hunched in her chair as

though she were the guilty criminal.  Wet, haunted eyes

looked around the room, everywhere at once.

 

Fuck, Mulder thought.

 

He raised his fist as though to slam it on the table, but

caught the fear in Tina's eyes and brought it down gently

instead.  "Excuse me," he said.

 

He threaded his way through the narrow hall, dodging

officers, feeling sweaty and cold at the same time. 

Adrenaline was wearing off.  He could find her in the ladies'

bathroom, he knew, but he stopped outside without knocking. 

Leaning his head on the door, he closed his eyes and let his

ragged breath steam the peeling paint. 

 

Scully was more like him than most people knew.  She, too,

carried her pain forward, refusing to diminish it by letting

go.  But whereas he waved his around like a red flag in front

of the bull, Scully scrunched hers into a silent, heavy mass.

He ran head-forward while she ran straight away, but really,

they were chasing the same thing.  Mulder found this thought

both unsettling and oddly comforting.

 

The door jerked open and he righted himself, blinking as

Scully appeared in front of him.  Like Tina, her face had

been wiped clean, but her hair was combed and her eyes were

clear.  "Mulder," she said with a frown.  "What's going on? 

Where's Tina Appleby?"

 

"Still in interrogation."  He noticed she had her cellular

phone in her hand.  "Everything okay?"

 

"I have to go back to D.C.  Savioshy needs me for a lineup."

 

He leaned in, pulse spiking again.  "They got the guy?"

 

"Apparently red-handed."  She looked at his chest as she

spoke.  "They arrested him in a parking lot with a knife."

 

"That's great, Scully," he said, and then realized how that

had sounded.  "I mean, I'm glad they got him."

 

"Yeah."  She hesitated, smoothing her jacket with her palms. 

"Anyway, I have to get back as soon as possible.  They want

to do the lineup before he's arraigned."

 

"You're leaving now?"

 

"My flight's in four hours."

 

"What about Tina Appleby?"

 

"What about her, Mulder?  We came out here to investigate her

brother's claim that she had been abducted by Jared Rentham. 

Clearly, there was no abduction; she was with him of her own

volition.  As for any cult that Rentham may or may not have

been involved in, well, it seems rather moot now, doesn't

it?"

 

"Because he's dead."  It came out as an accusation, against

whom he wasn't sure.

 

"And that's..."  Scully stumbled.  "Unfortunate.  But it

doesn't change the fact that our involvement in this case is

finished.  Rentham's dead.  Chet Appleby is in jail, and Tina

Appleby is a free woman.  What more do you hope to accomplish

here?"

 

"Her story, Scully, didn't it sound familiar?"

 

"Actually, it sounded fragmented and incoherent.  I'll grant

you that there were elements in her narrative that we've

heard before."

 

"And that doesn't mean anything to you?"

 

"What do you want it to mean, Mulder?  Suppose you're right. 

Let's just agree for the sake of argument that everything

Tina Appleby said was true:  that she was abducted by

extraterrestrials, experimented on by men on a train, and

returned some uncertain amount of time later.  How does this

help us?  What have we learned?"

 

"You're saying you believe her."

 

"I'm saying it doesn't make a difference whether I believe

her."

 

He shook his head.  "How can you think that?" he asked

softly, searching her face.

 

Scully looked at the floor for a long minute before

answering.  "She's a victim, Mulder.  She's confused; she's

scared.  Tina Appleby has no more insight into what happened

to her or who is behind it than the cows in the field from

which she vanished."

 

"But you agreed," he said, "that we've heard this story

before."

 

"Yes.  And where has it gotten us?"  When he didn't answer,

she sighed.  "Take her statement, Mulder.  Tell her we'll try

our best.  Then tell her--"

 

"What?"

 

"Tell her to get on with her life."  She walked away, heels

clicking briskly, not waiting for him to follow.

 

This bit is one of the Mulder/Scully exchanges I think came out exactly the way I intended.  They are talking about Tina, of course, but also about Scully.  Every step Mulder takes toward action, Scully shuts him down.

 

 

XxXxX

 

 

Even at two in the morning, Scully's plane faced delays. 

They sat at the gate endlessly while the airport cleared an

obstruction from the runway.  Scully pinched the bridge of

her nose between her fingers and was glad for the stillness. 

She hunkered down in the shadows at the rear of the cabin,

away from the others.  Her clothes smelled of cigarette

smoke, of desperation and dead things. The explosive gunshot

still echoed in her head, but when she closed her eyes it was

Tina Appleby's pale face she saw.

 

Too tired to read, too wired to sleep, Scully dug out her

cell phone, intending to switch it off for the duration of

the flight.  Mulder's unread messages glowed back at her from

the tiny screen.  Scully selected the button to play them and

hesitantly put the phone to her ear.  The first message was

brief:

 

"Hey, Scully, it's me.  I know it's late, but call me if you

get this, okay?"

 

He sounded more tired by the second one.  "I guess your phone

must be off.  I feel terrible about what happened, Scully. 

Please call me."

 

Scully's eyes welled from the day's unrelenting tension.  She

covered her mouth with her hand as Mulder's final message

played.  "I know you're not answering.  I just wanted to

say..."  Silence stretched for several seconds.  "I thought I

could handle it, but I guess it's obvious by now that I

couldn't. I kept thinking about what happened, what you must

have been through."

 

She flashed on parking lot, the hard ground, the man shoving

himself inside her.  It took her breath away. 

 

"I'm sorry about everything," Mulder finished hoarsely. 

"It's my fault, and I'm so sorry."

 

Scully gulped in air as she snapped the phone shut.  Fuck

you, she thought, tears escaping the corner of her eyes. What

the fuck have you got to be sorry about?

 

The captain told them to turn off all electronic devices as

the plane started rolling toward the runway.  Soon the roar

of the engines obliterated everything, Scully thrown back

against the seat under their power as she was lifted away,

away, the world disappearing beneath the clouds.

 

XxXxX

 

Scully had consumed two cups of coffee, stared the print off

the newspaper, and dissected out the rims of the Styrofoam

cups using just her thumbnail when at last Detective Savioshy

came through the door again.  "Sorry to keep you waiting so

long," he said as he wedged himself into the small,

windowless room.  "The kid's family hired an expensive lawyer

who's been busting our chops all afternoon.  We should be set

to go in just a few minutes."

 

"That's what ADA Clark said two hours ago."

 

The conference table wobbled as Savioshy lowered himself onto

one corner.  "Bellamy -- that's the lawyer -- has been

questioning every step of the lineup, from the lighting to

the people who get to be in the observation room.  But the

delay is really for your benefit."

 

"How do you mean?"

 

"They want you to get nervous while you wait, maybe even

change your mind. It's happened before.  Witnesses get a

little too much time to think about things, and they get

spooked."

 

"I don't spook that easily," Scully told him.

 

"No, ma'am, I don't imagine you do."  He smiled and shoved

off from the table.  Scully took a deep breath.

 

"But I didn't see much," she said.  "It was dark and he had

the stocking over his face.  I don't know how much help I can

be."

 

"You're here," he said.  "That counts for a lot.  Just go in,

take a look, and tell us if anyone stands out."

 

"But you have enough to hold him without me, right?"

 

"Caught the sonofabitch red-handed," Savioshy said.  "He

ain't going nowhere. Just sit tight for another few minutes,

okay?"

 

He left, closing the door behind him, and a few minutes

later, Christopher Clark stuck his head in the room.  "Dana,

thanks for waiting.  We're ready for you now."

 

Scully stood and wiped her hands on her hips.  She hadn't,

until that very moment, considered the fact that the man from

the parking lot was in the same building with her. Barely a

man.  A kid.  He had a family, Savioshy had said.  Parents

who had probably kissed his little cheeks and bought him

footy pajamas, and who now disbelieved their son could hide

with a knife in the bushes or rape ten unsuspecting women.

 

Outside the door to the viewing room, Scully halted.  Clark

touched his hand to the small of her back.  "You okay?"

 

She nodded, determined.  "Let's do it."

 

Clark opened the door for her, and Scully stepped inside a

small, tense room filled with grim people.  Savioshy stood

near the one-way mirror.  He had one of his younger officers

with him as well.  Lining the back wall were two women and

one man, all dressed in suits.

 

"Agent Scully, this is Armand Davis from the King County DA's

office," Clark said of the first man.  "He's just here to

observe in case they end up trying some of the cases up

there." 

 

Scully could have guessed his role from the grateful look in

his eyes.  "Pleased to meet you, Agent Scully," he said. 

"Thank you for coming."  She wondered if any of the King's

County victims had decided to testify.

 

"And this," Clark continued, "is Nora Bellamy."

 

The rapist's lawyer stepped forward on high heels that

rivaled Scully's own.  She was older, with papery skin and a

mess of hair that was somewhere between blonde and gray.  It

had been pinned on top her head but was threatening to break

free.  She had the look of someone who had been around the

block and then moved in:  this was her turf and she knew it. 

 

"Ms. Scully," she said, her voice pitched low and Southern,

"it's lovely to meet you.  Thank you for your patience this

afternoon."  She gave Scully's hand a quick, firm shake. 

"This is my associate, Fiona Hamill."

 

Nora knows Scully's title but doesn't use it.  The intimidation has begun!

 

"If you'll just come over here to the window," Clark said,

"we'll bring them in."

 

Scully allowed him to lead her over to where Savioshy stood

with his hand already poised at the intercom.  The room on

the other side of the glass was well lit and empty.  "Send

'em in," Savioshy said into the speaker.

 

Scully braced herself on the hard wooden ledge as the door

opened and a line of young men paraded in front of her.  Her

heart beat high in her throat.  The men stopped on their

marks, facing forward, and seemed to stare right through the

glass.  All white and dark-haired, they wore jeans and T-

shirts and harmless, blank expressions.

 

"Take your time," Savioshy said gently. 

 

Scully nodded without looking at him.  Her eyes were glued to

the five men on the other side of the window, seeing all of

them and none of them at the same time.  She couldn't focus. 

A dark eye here; a big shoulder there.  Her gaze raced up and

down the men like fingers over piano keys.  Which one?  Which

one?  She felt the pressure of the room bearing down on her.

 

"Can they turn?" she whispered, buying time.

 

"Face right," Savioshy said through the speaker.  The sound

of heavy feet on the floor echoed back as they complied.

 

Four's chin seemed too pointed.  Five wasn't tall enough?  Or

maybe her memory was wrong. 

 

Put stockings on their heads, she wanted to say.  Then I'd

know for sure.

 

The mashed angry features from her dreams were not visible in

the light of day.  If her rapist was one of the men in the

other room, she could have passed him on the street and never

known.

 

"I think we've got our answer," Nora Bellamy said shortly.

 

"Give her time," Savioshy shot back.

 

"No," Scully replied, shaking her head.  She shuddered with

her drawn breath.  "I can't tell.  I'm sorry."

 

"Thank you for your time, Ms. Scully.  Clark, I'll be in

touch."  Bellamy flashed a smile and disappeared with her

associate out the door.

 

"That's it," Savioshy said wearily into the speaker.  The men

filed through the exit and the lights went out on the other

side. 

 

"I'm sorry," Scully repeated, and Savioshy waved her off.

 

"You tried.  That's all that counts.  We knew going in it was

a long shot.  If you'll excuse me, I have to make sure his

ass goes back to jail and not out the front door."

 

"He won't be freed?" Scully asked Clark.

 

"Not yet.  But I am sure Bellamy will ask for bail on

Monday."

 

"But he was arrested with the knife and mask," Scully said. 

"Surely that counts for something."

 

"It does.  But he wasn't arrested in the process of

committing a crime.  We have no witnesses.  Bellamy will

argue that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong

time."

 

"And that will work?"

 

"I'll do everything I can to see that it doesn't."  He

touched her arm.  "You okay for a minute?  I want to catch

her before she leaves."

 

"Sure, sure." 

 

She jerked at the hard slap of the door, left alone in the

shadowed room.  Darkness yawned where the men had stood, and

she began to feel him watching her from the black void, felt

a  creeping sense of danger she had missed at the time.  She

stared at the window, saw her own pale features reflected

there, and backed up slowly until she hit the far wall.  He'd

been inside her and she didn't even know his face.  Shaking,

she held her hands out in front of her, palms up, and began

sinking down to the floor.  It was real.  It happened.  It

could never be undone.

 

"Dana?"  Clark reappeared, and instantly he was at her side. 

"My God, are you okay?"

 

"Yes," she said, struggling to her feet.  He took her arm and

helped her up.  "I'm sorry."

 

"It's okay.  Take it easy.  I'm the one who's sorry.  We

shouldn't have left you alone like that."

 

"No."  She swiped at her watery eyes.  "I've done lineups

before.  It's all right."

 

He fumbled a wadded up tissue at her.  "Do you want some

water?  Maybe some place to sit?"

 

"No, no.  I'm fine.  It's just been a long day."  She

sniffed, hiding herself behind the tissue.

 

"Yeah," he said softly.  She saw him look at the door. 

"You're sure there's nothing I can get for you?  No one I can

call?"

 

"Really, no."

 

"What about Mulder?"

 

She folded the tissue in half and in half again before

answering.  "Mulder's still in Texas."

 

"Oh, right.  Your case."  She felt him studying her.  "Would

I be correct in assuming it's a rough one?"

 

"You could say that."  Less than twenty-four hours ago, she'd

been wearing Jared Rentham's blood spatter in her hair. 

Mulder hadn't called all day.  She had no idea when he

planned to return.

 

"We owe you a greater debt, then," Clark said, "for leaving

your work to come help us with this."

 

"I wasn't any help." 

 

"You were.  You showed up.  That's more than some of the

other women have done."

 

Scully looked up.  "Did any of them ID him?"

 

"Not yet.  But we are just beginning to mount our case. 

Savioshy pulled his computer, his date book - they even took

his car down to the CS labs."

 

Scully asked the one question she had wanted to ask since his

call yesterday evening:  "How did you catch him?"

 

"Savioshy's taskforce has been running with the idea that

this guy was a college student at a university with religious

affiliation, most probably a Christian college.  They've been

contacting these schools and asking them about their recently

reported sexual assaults.  Saint Joseph's University in

Philadelphia kicked out the name Gregory Watts.  Watts had a

complaint filed against him for rape by a fellow student, but

she later withdrew the allegation.  Turned out this guy Watts

lives down here during the summer months.  His parents have a

house in Fairfax.  A little more digging, and we found out

that the Philly PD has a couple of unsolved rape cases from

this past fall that bear an uncanny resemblance to the

attacks in the DC area.  Savioshy went to find Watts, saw him

leave the house, and followed him."

 

"To a parking lot," Scully said.  That much she knew already.

 

"That's right.  When he saw Watts put the stocking cap on, he

busted his ass right then."

 

Scully nodded, letting it sink in.  "So he's definitely the

guy."

 

"Oh, he's the guy, all right.  And we will put him away for a

long, long time.  I promise you."

 

She chuffed and he looked at her curiously.  "I've made that

promise myself over the years," Scully told him.  "The victim

looks to you for assurance.  They want to believe in

justice."

 

"You don't?"

 

"Does that shock you?" she asked, meeting his eyes.  He

stared at her unblinking.

 

"Nothing shocks me.  But I don't believe you."

 

"You don't know me," she countered.

 

"I know that you're here," he said.  "That has to mean

something."

 

She smiled a bit.  "Yes, well, I do believe in prisons," she

said, and he smiled with her.

 

"Fair enough."

 

They stood there awkwardly for a moment until Scully tried to

walk past him toward the door.  "I should get going," she

said.

 

"Oh, of course."  He shifted at the same time she did and

ended up blocking her path again.  "Sorry," he said, but he

didn't move further.  She looked up at him, expectant.  "Have

dinner with me."

 

Scully had not thought of food all day.  Her fridge probably

held a carton of expired low-fat milk and a few limp

vegetables.  And now he was asking her out?  "Oh, no.  I

couldn't."

 

"Not like that," he cut her off swiftly.  "I mean, you've

been here all afternoon.  You must be starving.  You said

Mulder wasn't around, so I just figured..."

 

"You figured what?"  Her guard was still up.

 

"Maybe you would like some company." 

 

"I'm fine."

 

"Of course you are."  She hugged her arms close to her chest,

and he said nothing for a moment.  "Okay, it's me. I hate

eating in restaurants alone."  She gave him a look of

disbelief.  "It's true.  The waitresses, they come over and

want to talk."

 

"Oh, I'm sure that must be so painful for you," she said, but

she was beginning to smile again.

 

"I end up with three bread baskets."  He patted his middle. 

"Please, you'd be doing my waistline a favor."

 

It was either this or go home to her silent apartment. 

Still, she hesitated.  "I don't know..."

 

"We don't have to talk about the case," he said gently.

 

"What will we talk about?"

 

He considered.  "Our misspent youth tipping cows in Farmer

Mcgillicuddy's pasture."

 

"I don't believe I've ever tipped a single cow."

 

"Oh."  He heaved a dramatic sigh as he pulled the door open

for her.  "Looks like I'll have to start the conversation

then."

 

Chris Clark took a lot of grief for his attention to Scully, but at this point he's not trying to woo her.  He's a man buried in his work and probably lonelier than he'd like to admit.  Also, he's grateful to Scully for her help, and he feels sorry for what happened to her.  But he figures she's taken.

 

 

XxXxX

 

Mulder came of age skulking in the basement with a

flashlight, so the bunker-style rooms beneath Sanctuary House

felt instantly familiar.  He hadn't realized, however, how

accustomed he'd grown to the second lance of light that

usually played along side his.  It seemed too dark without

her.

 

Dust and lack of sleep had dried his eyes.  He walked alone

down the hall until he reached the record room, where earlier

he had spread Jared Rentham's files across the floor. 

Computer printouts from an old dot-matrix printer told each

person's story.  Where possible, Rentham had photographed the

site of the abduction.   Mulder had spent the afternoon

staring at cornfields, duck ponds, stretches of empty

highway, and, in the case of one Emmett Lincoln, a Wal-Mart

parking lot.

 

He remembered Skyland Mountain, with its clean pine air and

sharp white stars, the way the wind had stolen breath from

his body and whisked it into the night.  This is the way the

world ends, they'd told him: one small redhead at a time.

 

Rentham had included photographs of the abductees as well -

black and white close-ups of unsmiling faces, young and old. 

They reminded Mulder of growing up in Massachusetts

surrounded by images of Revolutionary War soldiers, who had

fought the enemy with nothing more than grim determination

and a musket from the basement.  We've seen you now, their

eyes seemed to say.  Just try to take us again.

 

This was his biggest worry for her, that all the denial

equaled unpreparedness, that she would never see them coming.

 

Mulder leaned back against the hard wall, his spine scraping

the concrete as he rubbed his tired eyes.  Until then he

would keep looking for the both of them.

 

XxXxX

 

They ended up sharing a bottle of Chianti and a giant thin-

crust pizza topped with proscuitto, capers, olives and fresh

mozzarella.  The candle was fake but the food was delicious. 

"I begin to understand why the city is in a budget crisis,"

Scully said, "if you take all your witnesses out to dinner."

 

"Yes, thanks to the tax cuts, the Tiramisu is out.  The best

I can offer is one of those mints at the door."

 

She smiled and shook her head.  "I'll remember this at

election time."

 

"Actually," he said, "I confess my motives were not entirely

pure."

 

Scully felt her stomach lurch.  "Oh?" she managed.

 

"Savioshy told me a little bit about the kind of work you do. 

Now, the man can spin a fish story like you wouldn't believe,

but he swore up and down this was the God's honest truth: 

you investigate aliens?"

 

Scully put down her wine glass.  "Reports of extraterrestrial

activity, yes.  Among other things.  The X-Files division

handles a wide variety of cases."

 

"Division?  How many agents are assigned to this kind of

work?"

 

"Just--just two."

 

"Oh," he said, and Scully squirmed inwardly at the

implication.  She knew it was a cliche to most people, male

and female partners falling into bed together, but it was the

most unconventional relationship of her life.  She wasn't

about to justify it to this man.  "So these reports," he

asked, "is there anything to them?  Are we truly not alone?"

 

You've been among them, Rentham had said.  She could still

feel the slide of his cold fingers over her skin.

 

"I've seen things I can't explain any other way," she said,

watching for Chris's reaction.  If there were a trial, he

would hear all the gory details.  He stopped with his fork

halfway to his mouth.

 

"Really?"  She nodded.  "Huh," he said, and put the fork

down.

 

"That's it?"

 

"Well, you know how I was telling you about Farmer

Mcgillicuddy's field?  One night I was out there with some

friends of mine, back in high school this was, and we were

just hanging and drinking beer when all of a sudden this

light flew over us.  It was bright blue, not white like the

stars, and it disappeared down behind the mountains.  As it

passed over us, all our hair stood up on end."

 

She raised her eyebrows.  "And you think it was a UFO?"

 

"Like you said, I can't explain it any other way."  He

smiled.  "I don't usually tell that story to most of my

dinner dates."

 

"What do you tell them?" she asked, grasping for a change of

subject.

 

"Oh, um."  He looked chagrined.  "The word 'usually' implies

a certain amount of frequency, doesn't it?  Well, let's see. 

The last time I was out with a woman I spent the entire

evening regaling her with my lawyerly prowess.  She was

polite enough to listen the whole time, but when I called her

for a second date she declined, saying she thought perhaps I

had too much of myself invested in my work right now."

 

"Ouch," Scully said.

 

"Yeah, but she was right."  He finished off his wine. 

 

"I guess that's good for me, then."

 

"Yes." He smiled at her again.  "Unlike that poor woman,

you're stuck with me for a while."

 

"How soon until trial, do you think?"

 

"Months."  He leaned back in his seat with a sigh.  "Bellamy

does not move quickly, but a lot will depend on whether she

fights us on our decision to try the cases jointly."

 

"Is that likely?"

 

He took his time in answering.  "I would make a motion to

sever, if I were her.  We don't have the same level of

evidence against Watts in every case."

 

"I see."

 

"Hey, don't worry about it, okay?"  He scooted in his chair

until his knees bumped her under the table.  "That's my

problem, if and when it happens."

 

Instead of one rape, he'd gotten ten by proxy.  She wondered

how many he had already lived through.  "So you still

believe, then," she said, "in justice."

 

He drummed his fingers on the tablecloth and looked at her. 

"Have you got a bit more time?"

 

"Why?"

 

"I want to show you something."

 

He took her out of the city, over dark hills and vales, where

a pregnant moon hung low in the sky.  Thick summer trees

waved in the wind, and the air from the open windows grew

cool and sweet.  He turned off the main road into blackness

and rolled the car to a stop on some grass.  "Here we are,"

he announced.  The slam of their car door broke the perfect

silence.

 

"And where is that, exactly?"  Scully squinted at her murky

surroundings.  They were in the middle of nowhere, as far as

she could tell.  Her heart sped up, and she held her bag with

the gun in it a little bit closer.

 

You're fine, she told herself, but she jerked a bit when

Clark spoke.

 

"This way.  Watch your step."  He led her down a path through

the trees to a clearing with some sort of building on it. 

His keys jangled in the darkness.  "I only rent half of it,"

he said as she followed him closer.  "The rest belongs to the

guy whose farm it's on." 

 

He unlocked the door and hit the lights.  Scully blinked as

her eyes adjusted.  "It's a greenhouse."

 

"Yeah, come on inside."  He rubbed his hands together and

moved aside so she could enter.

 

The concrete floor was wet beneath her feet. Cautiously, she

ducked a seven-foot plant with great hanging leaves.  Exotic

tangles of greenery stretched from floor to ceiling; beds of

riotous color spread over the tables, flowers split open like

the sun.  Beautiful, yes, but Scully felt a little like a bug

before the Venus Flytrap.  She stood hunched in, careful not

to touch anything.  Chris sucked in a deep breath and smiled

at her.

 

"All the oxygen concentrated in here," he said.  "Gives me a

rush."

 

Scully breathed a bit deeper, taking in the primal scent of

dirt and water and life.  She forced a smile even though she

hadn't the slightest clue what she was doing there.  "It's--

quite something."

 

"Let me give you the tour."  He disappeared behind a sweep of

fern and she hurried to keep up.  "This one here," he said,

"is an Apache Plume."  The bush-like plant had long stems

with pink, feathered ends.  "It's actually a member of the

rose family, if you can believe it, but the name comes from

the fact that the plumes look like old Apache war bonnets. 

Go ahead -- touch."

 

"I have a black thumb," she warned him, and he smiled.

 

"Really, it's okay.  You won't hurt it, see?"  Tentatively,

Scully reached out and stroked the downy tufts.  They tickled

like a laugh through her fingers.

 

"These are a kind of salvia," he told her as they moved down

the narrow aisle.  Scully stooped to admire the delicate

indigo flowers.

 

"They look sort of like wind chimes."

 

"Oh, check this one out," he said, waving a new stem at her

from farther down the row.  It was long and sleek, with a

giant teardrop-shaped bud at the end.  She could see from the

buds that had bloomed already that it would become a medusa-

like flower -- a cloud of green snakes with tiny purple

heads.  "This one always reminds me of 'Aliens'" Chris said

as he twisted the fat bud around so she could see the other

side.  Sure enough, it had split at the stomach and the

snakes were starting to pop out.   Scully smiled and shook

her head.

 

Bugs, on one visit, got dragged to the nursery so I could bone up on plants. *g* I think it was she who remarked about the resemblance to aliens.

 

"You are very strange, you know that?"

 

He shrugged and let the flower bounce back into position. 

"You know how I told you about my dad, how we argued law all

the time?"  She nodded.  "Well, we made a lot of noise.  Mom

let us raise the roof because she spent all her time out in

the yard taking care of her garden."

 

"Ahh," Scully said.  She fingered the pouched blossom on a

pocket book plant.  "So that's where you get it from."

 

"In a way."  He leaned against the table, folding his arms so

his dress shirt stretched across his chest.  "Mom got sick

when I was in high school.  Cancer.  She was too sick during

treatment to keep up with the garden.  Dad was spending sixty

hours a week at work, and it fell on me to help her out."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"Yeah," he said softly.  "I miss her, but she sure taught me

well."  He smiled.  "Some of these plants belonged to her."

 

"Really?"  Scully looked at the surrounding jungle with new

eyes.

 

"Yeah.  The small Japanese Maple over there in the corner is

one.  Oh, and this too."  He showed her a bucket full of

branches with strange red flowers drooping from them. 

"Feel," he suggested.

 

"Oh."  Scully marveled as she rubbed the velvety flower

between her finger and thumb.  "What is that?"

 

"Like it?  It's called Kangaroo Paw."

 

"It's fabulous."  She gave him her first genuine smile in

days.  "Thank you for showing me all this."

 

"Happy to."  He bopped her on the arm with a lily.

 

"But I don't understand what it has to do with justice," she

said.

 

"Nothing.  Sometimes it just helps to dig around in the

dirt." He waggled his eyebrows at her until she laughed. 

"C'mere.  I need some help transferring these seedlings." 

Chris was already rolling up his sleeves, expecting her to

follow.

 

"I can't," she protested.  "I'm, um, I'm not good with living

things."

 

He grinned and handed her a clump of dirt with a tiny, tender

green sprout.  "Here," he said.  "Start small."

 

XxXxXxX

 

In his black motel room, the clock glowed nine fifty-two --

nearly eleven back in DC.  Mulder lay on the bed with his arm

across his eyes and the phone to his ear.  Two thousand miles

away in Scully's apartment, hers rang on and on, unanswered.

 

XxXxX

 

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Seven

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

A pair of sedatives got her through the night, but Scully

awoke on Monday morning with her hair mashed to her cheek and

eyes that wouldn't quite open.  She made coffee by motor

memory alone and stumbled to the front door to pick up her

paper.  She brought it to the kitchen table, where she sat

with her cup and her uneaten bagel, hoping she could find the

energy to put on some clothes.  Hot tails of steam rose from

her coffee as she focused bleary eyes on the headlines. 

President in China.  Bombing in Israel.  Rapist Arraigned

Today.

 

The story was beneath the fold, a single column running

alongside the teasers for the stories in other sections. 

Scully flattened it with her palm and squinted at the tiny

print.  She was not wearing her glasses.

 

"St. Joseph's University student Gregory Alan Watts will be

arraigned in Arlington County Court today on charges of rape

and assault.  Police are now saying they believe Watts is

responsible for a vicious series of rapes committed over the

past year throughout three counties in the greater D.C. area. 

Watts, 20, is thought to be responsible for at least ten

attacks, including one assault against an agent in the

Federal Bureau of Investigation."

 

It continued recapping the crimes.  Savioshy was quoted as

saying, "Our investigation of Gregory Watts is ongoing."  And

later:  "We got the guy, all right."

 

On page sixteen there was a photo, maybe taken on his college

campus.  Gregory Watts smiled big for the camera.  Scully

stared at him until a lump rose in her throat.  Number two,

she thought.  He had been number two in the lineup.

 

Near the end of the article, there was a quote from Chris

Clark.  "I think the detectives on this case have done a

marvelous job.  Watts has been caught.  He will be tried, and

he will be found guilty. The women of the city can finally

feel safe again."

 

In her bathrobe, with her cold hands around a coffee cup,

Scully considered his words.  She supposed for other women it

might be true.

 

XxXxX

 

Mulder arrived at the office extra early, wearing his

favorite suit.  A fine layer of dust had settled over

everything in just the few days they had been gone. Cracking

the door was like breaking into a mummy's tomb.  Back with

his files, sitting in his chair, Mulder waited to feel

comfortable again.  He ran his fingers over the printouts

from Texas like a blind man reading Braille.  Every few

seconds he glanced up, hummed a little anxious sound, and

expected her to come through the door.

 

He would say nothing first, he decided.  He would wait to see

how she played it, and he would just follow her lead.  Maybe

the Scully power of denial could work to his advantage and it

would be like Nothing Ever Happened.

 

He jerked upright when her heels sounded in the hallway.  It

wasn't until he felt the flood of relief that he realized he

had been worried that she might not show at all.  She stopped

just inside the door, holding her briefcase in one hand and a

small, feathery potted plant in the other.  He leaned way

back in his chair.

 

"Good morning," he blurted.  "Nice plant."

 

"It's an asparagus fern," she replied, moving into the room. 

"I'm hoping not to kill it."

 

"And you brought it here?" he asked with a smile.  "Where

even the bugs crawl down to die?"

 

She stood on tiptoe to set the fern on top of a tall file

cabinet near the windows. "I thought it might add a little

color."  Task finished, she dusted off her hands and cocked

her head at him.  "When did you get back?"

 

The plants are a running thread through the story from here on out.  You could take Chris's overture of a tiny new plant as a budding *cough* relationship (whatever kind it may be), but here you can see Chris is dead in the water: Scully brings the plant straight to Mulder. *g*

 

"Late last night."

 

"I see.  You brought Rentham's files with you?"  Her voice

was steady but she was still standing ten feet away.

 

"Yes."  He shifted some around on his desk to illustrate. 

"Most of the data are straightforward, but Rentham kept his

own handwritten notes in the personnel files.  He used some

sort of initial code that I can't decipher yet.  I think

maybe he was trying to find a pattern among the abductions. 

This woman here has a M23SCC-NK next to her name, and the

numbers 32.3 and 90.2.  This other woman has the same NK, but

the other letters are different."

 

Scully inched closer, eyeing the files.  "Do either of them

have children?"

 

"Um."  He pawed through to find the appropriate notes.  "No."

 

"Could stand for 'no kids.'  Like DINKs -- double income, no

kids."

 

"Huh."  Mulder shuffled some more papers until he found the

records Rentham kept on Tina Appleby.  "You may be onto

something, Scully.  Tina Appleby's code doesn't have the NK

included."

 

"What does it say?"

 

She was close enough now that he could feel her breathing.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, they stood over the mess of papers

blanketing his desk.  Mulder moved slowly, as if he might

frighten her away.  "Uh, Rentham wrote F3C, and the numbers

29.9 and 95.6."

 

"We should enter all of them into a computer," she said, not

looking at him.  "Easier to see a pattern that way."

 

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking."

 

She touched the photograph of Tina Appleby.  "How is she

doing?"

 

"She'll live."  Mulder looked down at the top of her head,

where her slightly crooked part was the only sign that

anything was amiss.  "How are you doing?"

 

Scully nodded to herself.  "I'll live."

 

Neither of them spoke for a long minute.  "I wasn't sure

you'd come back," he said at last.

 

"I wasn't sure either," she answered baldly, and his heart

stopped.  She met his gaze and held it.

 

"But--but you did," he pointed out.  She nodded.  Don't ask,

he thought, but couldn't stop himself.  Mulder always asked

questions he didn't really want the answers to.  "Why?"

 

Her shoulders rose and fell with a long breath.  "It turns

out," she said with some disgust, "that I still believe in

justice." She scooped up a sheaf of papers, handed them to

him, and switched on the computer.  "You dictate," she said. 

"I'll enter."

 

XxXxX

 

Now that she had his face, the memory changed.  Under the

mask, she saw his dark, bushy eyebrows, prominent cheekbones,

and flared nostrils.  She felt his hot breath on her face,

felt his fingers bite into her skin as he ripped off her

underwear.  She could see him now, see him doing these

things, this boy with big hands and charming smile. 

 

Scully peeled herself from the back of the elevator and began

walking briskly through the parking garage of the Hoover

building.  Just as inside, they had stuck her and Mulder as

far away from everyone else as possible. The strange gray-

green light of the parking lot never changed; like a casino,

it was always removed from time, neither day nor night. 

Mulder was gone.  So were most people.   Scully picked up her

pace.

 

Her car chirped, a sharp, electronic echo that rattled her

nerves even as she welcomed the familiar sound.  She reached

the door and yanked it open with trembling fingers.  Tossing

her briefcase in haphazardly, Scully scrambled in after it

and yanked the door behind her.  She leaned back and closed

her eyes as her breathing returned to normal.

 

The phone rang.  Scully started her car even as she dug out

the phone to answer it.  She wasn't hanging around in the

empty lot any longer than necessary.  "Scully," she said. 

Her headlights lit up the grimy wall in front of her.

 

"Dana, it's Chris."  He sounded more subdued than usual.  "I

hope I haven't caught you at a bad time."

 

"I was just heading home."

 

He sighed.  "I'm sure you know we were in court this

afternoon with Gregory Watts.  I'm afraid it didn't go as

expected."

 

"What?"  Scully halted the car on the exit ramp.  Chris did

not say anything for a few seconds.  "What happened?"

 

"Watts made bail, Dana.  The judge let him go."

 

XxXxXxX

 

Mulder threw open all his windows, blinds rattling as the

restless air swirled inside.  A front was coming through, not

rain but wind, whipping up the trees and charging the air

with electricity.  Dressed in black, Mulder paced his living

room like the famed panther.  He felt the wind moving in him,

urging him out onto the dark streets below.  He wanted to get

out, away, to take his anger and run it into the sea.

 

Mulder grabbed his keys from the end table and yanked open

his door.  Scully stood in the hall, hugging herself. 

"Scully?  What's going on?"  He reached for her and she

backed away.  "How long have you been standing here?"

 

"They let him go, Mulder."

 

"What?"  All the energy rushed out of him.

 

"Watts.  He made bail."

 

"Come in," he said, holding the door for her.  "Tell me."

 

She brushed past him and went to stand in the middle of his

breezy living room.  "He knows where I live.  He took my

wallet with my license and my address, and now he's back on

the streets."

 

"You can stay here," he said immediately.  The door slammed

shut in the wind.

 

"I don't want to stay here!  I am not the prisoner!  I want

him gone, in jail, where I don't have to look at him or think

about him.  God, I am so tired of thinking about him."

 

Mulder had seen the picture too.  He tried not to think about

it because when he did, it made him want to hit his fist

against a wall until it was a bloody pulp.

 

Scully's voice became rough with emotion.  "It's like he's in

me, like I can't get away even when I'm asleep.  He has my

thoughts, my feelings, my whole body tied up inside and it's

like I can't even breathe."

 

"Scully..."  He stretched out a hand to her, but she inhaled

sharply before he could touch her.

 

"You ever just fuck someone, Mulder?"

 

"What?"  His heart hurt.

 

"You know, a one night stand.  You meet someone at a party,

or a bar, and you just fuck them.  Just sex, no

consequences."  She stared at him hard, but he could see her

trying to contain her trembling.

 

"Um, I guess I found there are always consequences."

 

"But you've done it," she said steadily.  He answered with a

short nod.  "And it's just sex. A person doesn't own you just

because you have sex with them.  It doesn't change your life

forever."  Her words grew increasingly desperate.

 

"Scully, he didn't have sex with you.  He raped you."

 

"I know that!" she cried, covering her face with her hands.  

"Don't you think I know that?  I just... I don't understand

why it has to be this hard."

 

He laid a hand on her shoulder, and this time she did not

pull away.  Hunched and tense, she let him pull her against

him, her hands still over her face.  He tucked her into his

empty places. "I'm sorry," he murmured, his chin atop her

head.

 

"How could this happen?" she whispered brokenly, and he

tightened his arms around her.

 

"Why the hell did they let him go?"

 

"They never found the items he took:  the jewelry, the

wallets, the clothes.  Savioshy searched his parents' home

and they searched his dorm at the university as well. 

Nothing."

 

"He's got them stashed somewhere.  They just have to keep

looking."

 

She nodded, relaxing a little.  She laid her cheek against

his heart.  "Maybe--maybe now that he's been released, he'll

lead them to it."

 

"Sure."  Mulder tried to sound encouraging as he rubbed her

back.  The wind slapped his blinds against the windows and

Scully shuddered.  "Cold?"

 

She shook her head.  "I'm just so tired."

 

"You should lie down," he said.  "Get some rest."

 

Her voice quavered moist and hot against his shirt.  "I need

to go home."

 

"But not tonight." She leaned back to look at him and he

nodded to show he meant it.  His apartment felt chilled

clean, renewed, ready to offer peace.  The night air tickled

them both as Scully smoothed her fingers over his breastbone. 

 

"One night," she whispered, and he tucked a lock of hair

behind her ear.  "Since I'm already here."

 

He took her to his bedroom, where he did not even turn on the

lights.  They undressed by the light of the street lamp

slanting through his blinds, turning Scully into a

beautifully curved zebra before his eyes.  She plucked his T-

shirt from the floor where he discarded it and pulled it over

her head.  He watched in admiration as she slid her bra out

through one armhole.

 

She visited the bathroom while he shook out the sheets,

lifting them high into the cool summer air.  He climbed in

and listened to the sounds of Scully moving around in his

apartment.  The floor creaked a different song for her; the

tap ran a steady stream rather than the full blast he always

used. He opened his eyes again when he felt the mattress

shift under her weight.

 

Mulder rolled to his side to look at her in black and white. 

"Find everything you need?"

 

The pillow scratched with her nod.  "Thank you," she said,

reaching over for his hand.

 

"For what it's worth," he told her softly, "I didn't think it

would be this hard either."

 

Her eyes slid shut as she held his hand between her breasts.

"One day," she murmured, "it'll be over."

 

"Yes."  He felt the steady beat of her heart and the tide of

her breathing against his hand.  Her jaw slackened, mouth

parting slightly as she found sleep.  He gave her a few tiny

fingertip caresses before extricating his hand to adjust the

sheets up over her waist. 

 

Mulder lay down again so his position mirrored hers.  He

pretty much dwarfed her, legs stretching far beyond her toes,

large hairy arm heavy and awkward next to her fine, delicate

bones.  She nearly disappeared in the hulking shadow of his

shoulder.

 

In his whole life, he had never felt so small.

 

XxX

 

He woke to shadow puppets around his room, as the wind had

picked up again, Mother Nature putting on a show across his

bare walls.  Scully had hunkered down against him, submerged

completely under the blankets with his arm trapped over her

head.  It was she who'd awoken him, he realized as she

twitched again.  Her knee jerked against his crotch.

 

Mulder sucked in a painful breath and pulled away.  She

clawed his chest.  "Scully," he said, searching for her under

the covers.  "Wake up."  She fought him tooth and nail,

panting like a trapped animal and crying out as he pinned her

down.  "Wake up!" he said, and her eyes shot open.  He had

her legs immobilized with his knees and both arms trapped

above her head.

 

"Help," she said, her eyes wild.

 

"It's okay," he told her.  "It's just a dream."

 

"Mulder?"  She went limp in his grasp and he let her up

immediately.

 

"It's okay now," he said.  "It's all right."  Her whole body

started to shake, from cold or fright he did not know. 

Mulder gathered her against him again and tucked the covers

around them.  Her teeth chattered but she was not crying.

 

"Sorry," she said as she slipped cold arms around his chest. 

He kissed the sweat from her brow.

 

"Scully," he murmured near her ear. "What do you dream?"

She had never told him everything that had happened that

night.  What few details he knew he'd gleaned from news

reports.

 

"He's on top of me," she said, voice small against his chest,

"and I can't get up."  Mulder stiffened and clutched her

tighter.  Details were bad.  He didn't need details.

 

"Shhh," he said, stroking her back as much to soothe himself

as to calm her.  "You're safe now.  You okay?  You want some

water?"

 

"I'm all right.  I didn't mean to hurt you."  She touched her

lips to the scratch across his chest.

 

"It's nothing," he told her as he lifted the damp hair from

her neck.  "You forget I've been mauled by a beast woman."

 

She laughed gently into his neck and hugged him close. 

Mulder nuzzled her, extending her smile.  He felt connected

to her again, as though they had a shared experience among

all her private pain.  He wanted to taste her, feel her,

bring her inside all his senses so they would never be

separate again.

 

Scully seemed to want the same thing.  She tucked her leg

between his, cuddling closer.  "Scully," he murmured, filled

with love.

 

"Mmm?"

 

He kissed her forehead and then her check.  She answered with

a soft sigh that tickled his face.  Her hand crept up and

combed through his hair over the back of his neck until he

tingled from head to toe.  He touched his lips to hers

tentatively, almost an apology for the last time they had

lain together like this.  She froze for an instant, gripping

his hair, and he gentled her with kisses until she relaxed

into the pillow again.  "It's okay," he breathed against her

mouth. 

 

"Mulder," she whispered back, stroking the side of his face. 

"You don't have to--"

 

He kissed her again, mouth soft and persuasive as he reached

back to run his hand along her naked thigh.  Her leg came up

and over his, holding him in place.  He hummed to her,

letting her know it was all right, caressing her with splayed

fingers until her skin quivered under his hand.

 

He felt himself expanding, hardening in the cradle of her

thighs as they kissed.  Scully drew her fingers over the

bumps of his spine and pulled her mouth from his.  "We

can't," she said in a tight whisper, even as her hips pressed

for closer contact.  He stroked her from breast to hip and

kissed her nose.

 

"Nothing you don't want."

 

"No, it's not that.  I--I don't have protection."

 

"Oh." He settled more fully against her and her lips parted

at the pressure.  "It's okay, I've got it covered."

 

Surprise colored her features, and she sounded uncertain.

"You do?"

 

"Yes, after you said we needed it.  I thought just in case--" 

He broke off as she hugged him fiercely.  "What?"

 

"I'm so glad."

 

He held her tightly and pressed his face into her clean-

smelling hair.  "I want you," he told her.  "Always."  She

nodded but continued to burrow into him, as if she couldn't

quite speak.  He rubbed her head messily and placed

occasional kisses on her shoulder, her arm, her temple.  At

last she squeezed him one final time and brought her face

back to his.  They kissed lingeringly, limbs and tongues

sliding together in tandem.  Mulder's toes curled as she

stroked his ears.

 

Gently, he worked his hand between their bodies, brushing the

tender skin of her inner thighs.  She pushed her hips against

his fingers, sending his hand higher between her legs. 

Mulder watched her face as he touched her, but her expression

gave nothing away; she had her head thrown back deep in the

pillow, eyes closed, her breath coming in shallow pants. 

Mulder caressed her softly through her underwear for a minute

or two before she wriggled away.  She yanked down the

offending garment and tossed it over the edge of the bed.

 

Scully lay back down, still dressed in his T-shirt, with her

legs spread slightly and her fingers digging into the

mattress, as though she were bracing herself for some

unpleasant task.  Mulder hesitated, and when he didn't

immediately climb back on top of her, Scully tensed visibly. 

"You're stopping?"

 

"No," he told her.  "No."  He reached up and touched the

smooth curve of her cheek.  "Not if you don't want."

 

She shook her head against his hand, and Mulder took a deep

breath.  The mattress bounced a bit as he moved up the bed

and stretched his hand to the bedside drawer.  Scully lay

still as stone beneath him.  He fumbled to get the box open

one-handed, and the foil packet felt unfamiliar between his

fingers.

 

*You can do this* he coached himself even as his erection

began to fade. 

 

He peeked down at Scully, who was looking back at him with

wide, apprehensive eyes.  She hadn't made a move to remove

his boxers, and he knew it was because she was afraid of what

she might find if she tried.

 

"Is it okay?" she asked in a small voice, her gaze skittering

away from his.  Mulder sagged back down on the bed, palming

the condom as he rolled to face her.  Scully stared at the

ceiling.

 

"Come here," he said, urging her back against him.  She was

stiff but not resistant, like a life-sized action figure

fresh from the box.  "Like this," he whispered against her

face as he ran his fingers through her hair.  Facing her, on

their sides, he didn't feel so oppressive.  He stroked her

and kissed her until her arms wound around him again.  Her

knee rested on his leg, and he welcomed it with slow caresses

down the back of her thigh.

 

Scully stroked her fingers along the hollows of his ribs and

lifted her face for his kiss.  The space between them grew

warm and close.  His brain fuzzed out again as his dick came

back on line.  He rubbed against her, felt her sharp intake

of breath against his face.  "Mulder, now," she whispered to

his chin.  He kissed her swiftly and pulled away.

 

His erection bobbed as his underwear joined hers on the

floor.  Mulder's hands shook, Scully watching while he tried

to open the slim packet.  He felt about sixteen years old. 

"It's so dark.  I can't see where I'm supposed to tear."

 

"Let me try."

 

He heard it rip neatly, her trim little nails getting the job

done in nothing flat.  Mulder lay facing her again and bit

his lip.  Scully fingered the opened packet as she stared as

his penis.  For a moment he thought she might finish the task

herself.  Wordlessly, she handed him the condom.  She curled

into a ball and watched him sheathe his cock.

 

"Okay," he said, trying to sound confident.  He scooted

closer to her and she put her arms around him, hugging him

convulsively.  He kissed her neck.  "All right?"  She nodded

and raised her leg over his hips so he could slip his penis

between her thighs.  They both jerked at the initial contact. 

"Tell me if this is okay."

 

"It's okay." 

 

They held their breath as he eased his way inside her.  Ah,

Mulder thought, relaxing.  There.  He smiled into her hair

and nuzzled her affectionately.  Scully started to shake.

 

"Scully?"  He tried to pull back but she clutched him tight. 

"Scully, what is it?"

 

She answered with a high, keening sob, and horror flooded

through him.

 

This whole scene is from Mulder's POV pretty much because of this one moment when Scully starts to sob.  If you're in her head, you have some idea that it's coming.  This way the reader gets to experience some of Mulder's complete confusion and helplessness.  It's not his fault; he's done everything right, but it's still not enough. 

 

"Scully, talk to me.  What is it?"  He brushed sticky hair

off from her face but she would not let go.  She held him

inside her with all her strength.

 

"Don't leave," she choked out between awful sobs.  "Please

don't leave me."

 

"No, I'm right here."  He rocked her back and forth, holding

her as tightly as he could while she seized and shuddered in

his arms.

 

"Please," she said again.  Mulder was helpless against the

tide, reassuring her with lips and hands that he was real and

solid and not going anywhere.  His erection softened and

started to slip out of her, setting off a fresh round of

wracking tears.

 

"I'm here, I'm here, Scully."  He repeated the words until he

was hoarse, until he was crying himself from the sheer force

of her anguish.  "I'm right here."

 

But Scully cried on, wrapped around every inch of him, and

yet somehow unable to hear.

 

XxXxXxX

 

 

 

Keywords:  None.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Eight

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Pain, Scully remembered the minute she opened her eyes, was

the one sensation you couldn't sleep through, the reason cuts

and bruises in dreams never hurt.  The sharp twinges in her

lower belly woke her just as the sky was lightening outside

Mulder's window.  Mulder lay on his back next to her, one arm

flung over his head, still deeply asleep.  She eased from the

covers without waking him and shivered her way into the

living room, where she retrieved her purse.

 

Her pupils contracted in the bright bathroom light.  She set

the purse on the sink and frowned into the mirror. Shadows

smudged the tired skin under her eyes; her hair was matted on

one side and stuck up on the other, and she had wrinkled

Mulder's T-shirt with her tossing and turning overnight. 

Scully examined this other woman with a clinical, detached

eye: she looked small and terrorized, a victim.  That woman

had been raped.  It would never be untrue.

 

Scully tore her attention from the mirror and fumbled with

her purse.  The tampon lay at the bottom.  She took it out,

put it in, cleaned herself up and washed down a pair of

ibuprofen with Mulder's metallic-tasting water.  She thought

about how easy it was now to swallow pills and make

everything go away.

 

The cold porcelain sink touched her belly.  Scully looked

down at the hard edge, moved closer to it, watched it press

deeper and deeper into her flesh until the pain made her gasp

-- a shocked, breathy sound that flooded the tiny bathroom. 

 

No VD.  No pregnancy.  That left AIDS still spinning on the

Russian roulette wheel.  Even as the attack receded into the

distance, her life was still not her own. 

 

She splashed water on her face, letting the cold drops

trickle into her dry eyes.  She combed her hair with short,

angry strokes.  Mulder's towels hung uneven behind her; his

razor, his crumpled toothpaste tube, and his toothbrush -- a

giant spray of bent bristles -- lay on the plastic shelf

above the sink.  Scully put her own toiletries back in her

purse.

 

On her way out, she straightened the towels and turned off

the lights behind her.

 

XxXxX

 

Mulder awoke on a long inhale, eyes popping open, breath held

in, as he froze and listened to his shadowed apartment.  He

didn't have to call her name to know she was gone.  His time

with Scully was defined as much by her absence as her

presence, certain stillness that settled within him each time

she disappeared.

 

He released, let go, fingers flexing on the cool sheets.  The

pillow held the shape of her head.  He remembered watching

her wake up the morning after they had first made love, tense

and waiting for her to bolt, only to have her smile and

stroke his cheek.  Then she had hidden her face in the pillow

and giggled while he'd pinned her down and nibbled at her

ear. 

 

This morning he was left with only gray walls and the echo of

her tears.

 

Mulder put bare feet to the floor and leaned his head into

his hands.  He felt cheated, robbed; he wanted to howl like

an animal.  Scully cried and he wanted to scream, to tear

down buildings, to show the world what a terrible thing had

happened.  Aren't you angry?  He wanted to yell at her. 

Don't you want him dead?  Mulder's fingers curled with

impotent rage. 

 

Trial was too good for men like Watts, too civilized an

answer to such a savage crime.  Jungle warfare.  Mulder

wanted blood.  He wanted to hide in the bushes and watch his

prey sweat in the summer heat.  Watts would never see it

coming.  He would turn around and Mulder would be on him with

a gun, with a knife, with his bare hands ready to rip him

limb from limb.  This is how it felt, you son of a bitch,

Mulder would say.  He heard the shot, felt the bones crack in

his hands, saw the blood running on the ground.

 

Justice, merciful and swift.

 

Mulder's rightfully angry here, and he's still looking for a way to fix things.  He wants revenge, but he also wants Scully back to normal.  He doesn't hurt in the same way she does.  Intellectually he knows it will take time for her to recover, but emotionally he can't help feeling there's a way to hurry the process along.

 

Plus, he feels somewhat like a gauntlet has been thrown down.  The rapist is out there, and Mulder has the skills to put him away for good.  Instead he's left feeling useless.

 

XxX

 

He looked up the address not intending to do anything with

it.  He just wanted to know.  Watts had a name now, and a

face, but Mulder wasn't satisfied.  He wanted to know where

he lived, how to get to him.  Just as an insurance policy. 

 

Eleven Plumtree Lane, the computer spit out; a sweet

fairytale place with big, white houses and monsters hiding

inside.  Watts would be there, eating toast and eggs in his

mother's kitchen like nothing had ever happened.

 

SUSPECTED RAPIST FREED, Mulder's paper said, though it was

not front-page news.  They had called his victims to tell

them.  Who would tell all the other women in the city?

 

Mulder left the house late with his hair still wet and his

tie in his hand.  When the car engine roared to life with an

angry snarl, Mulder jerked the shift into gear.  He cruised

the streets and watched the cars and people and trees flow

by; they seemed curiously unreal, computer generated, like he

could hit a button and make them all snap to black.  His car

became part of this videogame world, on a track he had to

follow, where the end was predetermined.  All Mulder could do

was grip the wheel and hold on tight.

 

XxXxX

 

Arriving late herself, Scully paused and frowned at the

locked office door.  In seven years of basement-level

investigation, she'd had to use her X-Files key perhaps four

times.  Mulder was always there first.

 

She pushed open the door, flicked on the lights, and stood

alone at the center of the quiet room.  She looked at the

disarray on his desk, as she had looked on the tangle of

bedcovers of his bed earlier that morning.  Heat colored her

cheeks as she remembered her breakdown and the things she had

said to him.  Not even when she had been dying had she ever

begged him like that.  Scully hugged herself.  Surely he must

fear she was losing her mind.

 

She sniffed twice and took a deep breath.  Mulder wasn't

here, but the work always was.  She could handle that.  She

could hold Rentham's files in her hands and enter the cold,

hard facts of their lives without giving anything more away. 

She could sit in Mulder's chair and wait for him to come wary

through the door, show him she could hold up her end.

 

Scully would zig.  Mulder would zag.  He said occult; she

said occlusion.  This was how it ever was, how it ever shall

be, world without end.

 

Because, deep down, they always feared the same thing.

 

I think Mulder and Scully are fundamentally more alike than they are different.  Neither one is especially good at saying what they feel.  They both value truth and loyalty above all things, and they tend to shut the other one out when they are hurting.

 

Amen.

 

XxXxX

 

Eleven Plumtree Lane was a corner lot, slate gray two-story

colonial with white shutters and two chimneys.  Mulder parked

across the street, absently worrying a seed between his teeth

as he studied his subject.  The house revealed no secrets: 

windows shut, curtains drawn.  Thick green grass coated the

front yard, probably reborn every spring by someone named

Pedro, and cheery pink and white petunias lined the front

path.  The driveway had been redone recently in fresh black

asphalt.  Either no one was home or the cars were all put

away in the garage.

 

The backyard showed a deck with a barbecue.  No swing set, no

toys; little Greggy was a big boy now.  But Mulder saw the

remnants of his childhood hidden among the branches of the

towering old oak:  a tree house, barely visible behind a

waterfall of thick leaves, perfect for a young voyeur who

loved to hide and watch.

 

Mulder stared, almost trance-like, chewing and waiting.  He

imagined driving his car right through the front door.  He'd

come for noise, for release; the house just sat in stone

silence, mocking him.

 

A sharp rap on his passenger-side window jolted Mulder from

his stupor.  He turned to see Detective Savioshy peering in

with an unfriendly frown.  "Agent Mulder," he said as he

opened the door.  "Mind if I join you?"

 

Mulder sighed and tossed away a seed.  "I was just leaving."

 

"That's not what my boys tell me."  The leather seats of the

Taurus creaked as Savioshy settled his considerable weight

into a chair used to holding Scully.

 

"Your boys?"

 

"They're on mower detail today."  Savioshy pointed two houses

down where a lawn crew worked in the morning sun.  Upon

closer inspection, Mulder could see that a couple of the men

were more interested in the Watts residence than in the house

in front of them.  "Meyer gave me a call a little bit ago and

said you looked like you'd settled in for good."

 

"Meyer should worry about his own job."

 

"That's good advice," Savioshy agreed readily, and Mulder

glared at him.

 

"Meaning?"

 

"Meaning your office is quite a ways away from here."

 

Mulder shrugged. "So I took the scenic route in."

 

"There's nothing for you to see here."  Mulder squinted out

at the house again, and Savioshy sighed.  "Go home, Agent

Mulder.  We're handling this, I promise you."

 

"Are you?" Mulder turned around in his seat again.

 

"I caught the guy."

 

"Yeah, and now look where he is."

 

"I'm not any happier about that than you are," Savioshy shot

back.  "But it's out of our hands."

 

Mulder's hands, wrapped around the wheel, felt more than

capable.  "They let him go," he said slowly, "because the

prima fascia evidence was not sufficient to support remand. 

The DA makes his case with your evidence, Detective."

 

"And that's why I'm here," Savioshy replied steadily.  "Why

are you here?  This is still my case, Mulder.  It's still an

open investigation, and we will nail this bastard's balls to

the wall.  I hate like hell that he's out.  As a man, as a

father, it makes me sick.  But as a detective, I know it

gives me another shot at him.  He led me to the goods once,

and just maybe he'll do it again."

 

"You mean his--"  Mulder choked on the word.  "His trophies."

 

Savioshy gave a short, grim nod. "The nail in his coffin."

 

Mulder clenched his hands and looked down at the steering

wheel.  "Could work," he admitted after a minute.

 

"Not with your ass parked out front watching the joint, it

won't."

 

"Okay, okay.  You've made your point."

 

The leather groaned and released as Savioshy got out.  He

leaned back inside the car, half draped over the door.  "Give

my regards to Agent Scully."

 

"I don't think it's your regards she's after."

 

Savioshy's puffy cheeks tightened with a grimace.  He nodded. 

"Just the same, you stay out of this.  The last thing this

case needs is the two of you deciding to administer a little

back alley justice."

 

"Scully doesn't even know I'm here!"

 

"Yeah.  That's what I'm afraid of."  Savioshy patted Mulder's

doorframe a few times.  "Good-bye, Agent Mulder.  You have a

good day at work, okay?"  The car shook when he slammed the

door shut, shuddering around Mulder. 

 

He started the engine and idled a moment longer, one last

look at the house.  The curtain in the top window closed

quickly, winking at him, and Mulder revved the engine to a

threatening roar.

 

You can't hide forever, you sonofabitch, he thought, and the

tires peeled away.

 

XxXxX

 

Scully was so certain it was Mulder on the other end that she

answered her cell phone without glancing at the caller ID. 

"Mulder, where are you?"

 

"Dana?"

 

"Oh, Chris."  Scully deflated a bit in her chair.  She

pinched the beginnings of a headache between her eyes.  "What

can I do for you?"

 

"I'm sorry to bother you at work like this, but we just got a

court date for the preliminary hearing, and I need to go over

your statement with you ASAP."

 

"Now?"  Scully glanced at the wall clock again and wondered

one more time where the hell Mulder had gone.

 

"Later today would be fine.  You could drop by after work?"

 

Scully eyed the precarious stacks of folders on Mulder's

desk.  She did not really have a time called "after work."

"Okay," she said.  "I'll be there."

 

Just as she snapped off her phone, Mulder strolled through

the door, chewing gum, with his jacket slung over one

shoulder.  "Hey," he offered.

 

"Mulder, it's almost noon."

 

"Is it?"

 

"Where have you been?"

 

"The dentist."

 

No one left the dentist's office chewing gum.  Scully leaned

back in Mulder's chair and folded her arms.  "Mulder?"

 

"Hmm?"  He stopped chewing and looked right at her, eyes wide

and guileless.  Clearly he did not expect her to call him on

it.  She opened her mouth and shut it again.  "What?" he

asked.

 

"I, uh..."  Her pulse went liquid as she accepted the lie; it

was easier not to know.  She sat forward.  "I finished

entering the data from Rentham's files."

 

I think if she admitted it to herself, Scully would know exactly where Mulder had been.  Part of her wants him to do it so she won't have to.

 

"Great."  He came around the desk and leaned one arm on the

chair behind her.  The hair stood up on the back of her neck. 

"Anything jump out at you?"

 

Scully cleared her throat and tried to focus.  "Not from the

numbers.  But looking through all these files, Mulder, you've

got to think Rentham had help gathering the data.  He's got

over a thousand folders here, and we found only twenty-seven

people living inside the compound.  Where did he get all this

other information?"

 

"We know there are underground networks and sources for

people who have experienced alien abduction."

 

"Exactly.  And at this point, I'd say we know them all.  How

come we'd never heard of this guy before?"

 

The phone rang and Mulder held up one finger at her. 

"Mulder," he said after he'd palmed the receiver.  "Hi,

Sheriff.  Yeah, I was just talking about the case with Agent

Scully now.  Uh-huh.  What?  When?"  He stood up from the

corner of the desk, and Scully swiveled her chair around so

she could see his face.  He shook his head at her questioning

look.  "Yeah, I got that.  What do you mean 'gone'?  Uh-huh. 

What about Tina Appleby -- did you talk to her?  Okay, how

about the others?"  He listened for a minute and then ran a

hand through his hair.  "No, I don't know.  Yes.  Yes.  Yeah,

you do that."  He hung up the phone with a slam.

 

"What?" Scully asked.

 

"Jared Rentham's body disappeared from the morgue sometime

over the weekend.  The ME was backed up, and when he went to

do the full autopsy this morning he found Rentham was gone."

 

"Gone," Scully repeated, and Mulder made a disappearing

"poof" gesture with his hands.

 

"Just like that.  The Sheriff says Tina Appleby is missing,

too.  All the members of Rentham's compound have apparently

vanished into thin air."

 

"Mulder, that's -- What is the Sheriff thinking, that the

members of Rentham's group somehow absconded with the body?"

 

"Don't know.  Security cameras were no help, but the Sheriff

is going to send us a copy anyway.  In the meantime, no one

saw anything; no one knows anything."

 

Scully flipped open the closest file and let it fall shut

again.  "So it's back to Texas?"

 

"Maybe."  He did not sound any more enthused about the

prospect.  "I get the feeling the Sheriff won't be making

this case his top priority.  As far as they're concerned, the

investigation is over.  The cult has disbanded, Rentham is

dead, and his killer is locked away in jail."

 

"Without a body, Chet Appleby's trial might be more

difficult."

 

"Sheriff isn't too worried," Mulder informed her darkly. 

"Apparently they've got two federal agents as witnesses to

the murder."

 

Scully lifted her eyebrows in answer and tossed her pen onto

the desk.  "Mulder," she said, staring at the reams of files

in front of her.  "*Have* we ever run across Rentham before?"

 

"In person?  No way."

 

"Maybe just a photo?"

 

Mulder looked thoughtful.  "I don't think so.  Bony head,

large eyes -- I think would have remembered this guy,

wouldn't you?"

 

"I guess."

 

"What, you know him?"  She had his full attention now.  He

locked eyes with her as she searched her memory one more

time.  Rentham's thin nose.  Rentham's cool hand on hers. 

His calm, deadened voice.

 

"No," she said abruptly.  "Of course not."

 

"You know," Mulder said as he moved some files aside so he

could sit near her on the desk.  "I think you might be onto

something, Scully.  Rentham is the place to start, not Texas. 

Why take the body?  It doesn't help Chet."

 

Scully sighed.  "Maybe the members of Sanctuary House got

tired of waiting to bury him."

 

"Maybe.  Or maybe someone didn't want that autopsy done."

 

"Why?" Scully spread her hands.  "Like you said, Mulder,

there isn't any dispute about the cause of death in this

case."

 

"It isn't Rentham's death I'm interested in," he said,

getting to his feet again.  "It's his life."

 

Scully protested as he pushed between her and the computer. 

"Jared Rentham was a failed fortune teller from New Orleans."

 

"And what else?  That's the question."  Mulder started

typing, hunting and pecking around his tie as he leaned down

over the keyboard.  A minute later, he tilted the screen so

she could see it.  "Check it out, Scully: Jared Rentham was

seventy-one years old."

 

"So he's Dick Clark."  Scully rubbed her temples again.  "So

what?"

 

Mulder hit some more keys.  "Make that Dr. Rentham," he said. 

"He graduated from Harvard medical school in 1956."

 

"License?" Scully asked, putting her hands down.

 

"None.  Doesn't look like he practiced anywhere."

 

"So what did he do for almost fifty years?  Shuffle Tarot

cards?"

 

"I don't know," Mulder said as he straightened again.  "But I

think we should head to New Orleans and check it out."  He

reached for the phone.  "Skinner will sign off, no question -

- we can be down there before sunset."

 

"Mulder, wait."  He halted in mid-dial. "I can't."

 

"Scully, I know we haven't agreed on certain aspects of this

case, but--"

 

"Preliminary hearings start next week.  Chris needs me to go

over my statement."

 

"Chris?"

 

"ADA Clark.

 

"Oh."  The phone hung limp in his hand.  "Of course you can't

go, then."  Sitting behind stacks and stacks of possible

victims, Scully felt guilt hiss out of her like air from a

punctured tire.

 

"Maybe I can reschedule."

 

"No, Scully.  No."  The tenderness in his voice clawed at

her.  For seven years, Mulder had marched them all over the

globe with never a backward glance to make sure she was

following.  Melissa had died.  Her father.  Scully had not

missed a moment of work.  To put herself first now, after

everything, and for Mulder to let that happen... "We'll both

go tomorrow," he said, putting the phone aside.  "That's soon

enough.  Today we can just chase it down from here."

 

"Mulder, no."  She stood up.  "You go now and I'll just catch

a later flight.  It's not a problem."

 

He shrugged and started sorting through the folders again. 

"So we both go later.  There's plenty of work to do here."

 

"And I'll do it.  You go on ahead."

 

He looked up, meeting her gaze for a second.  "Scully," he

said softly, shaking his head.  "I can't."

 

It was the same aching tone he had used the night before,

when she had clung to him, choking on her own life, when she

had cried and crumbled and... begged him not to leave her. 

The lump in her throat sprung up again as her fingers curled

around the back of the chair.  "Mulder," she began.

 

"It's one night," he said to the floor.

 

"And then one night becomes two, becomes ten.  Where does it

stop?"

 

"He's out there, Scully.  You said it yourself."

 

"Yes, and that's exactly where I want to leave him.  Out

there, away from me.  If I let him in here, let him affect my

work, let him affect *your* work -- then, Mulder -- he's

never going away."

 

Mulder's mouth twitched downward.  "What if he walks, have

you thought about that?"

 

"What if he does?" she parroted back.

 

"You're saying you wouldn't care?"

 

"Of course I'd care!  But that's not the issue."

 

"I think it is.  I think until they get this animal off the

streets, in a cage where he belongs, you can't be too

careful."

 

"Mulder--"

 

"You know what he's thinking now, Scully?  Because I do."  He

slapped the folders down viciously.  "I've lived inside a

dozen others like him, and let me tell you, the view from in

there is one you don't forget.  Watts isn't sorry for you. 

He *hates* you."

 

"I--I know that," she whispered.

 

"No."  Mulder shook his head resolutely.  "You don't know. He

hates you, Scully, hates you and all the others for bringing

the law down on him and tearing apart his perfect little

life.  He's thinking maybe if he'd killed you, things would

be better for him right now.  And he's restless.  He hasn't

been able to prowl the way he likes, hasn't found release. 

He's stuck in his momma's house with the white lace curtains

and no new victims and he's been reliving his old conquests."

 

"Mulder, please."

 

"No!"  He hit the desk with his fist, making her jump.  "You

need to hear this, Scully.  You need to know so you can

protect yourself."  But he wouldn't look at her.

 

"I can protect myself!"

 

"No, apparently you can't!" 

 

She stiffened as if struck, and so did he, horror spreading

over his features as they stared at one another.  His mouth

opened and closed several times.  "Scully, I didn't mean--"

he started, but she held up both hands.

 

"Don't."

 

"I didn't mean it."

 

He'd ripped the band-aid off her giant wound. "Yes, you did,"

she replied, smarting over every inch of her skin. 

 

"No, not like that.  I'm sorry.  I--I just don't want

anything to happen to you."

 

"Well, it's too late for that, now, isn't it."  He had no

good answer to that one, and so he remained silent.  She

shuddered, defeated.  "Go to New Orleans, Mulder.  Please,

just go."

 

He nodded slowly, gathering his jacket and things like a

shell-shocked solider.  Scully did not move a muscle as he

walked with heavy steps towards the door.  He halted at the

frame, half-turning over his shoulder.  "I'm sorry," he said. 

"I can't stop hating him for this."

 

Scully said nothing, letting him go even as her eyes grew hot

and liquid.  She looked up at the ceiling, vision blurred,

and listened to the sound of his footsteps fade down the

hall.

 

This scene was a lot harder to write.  It still feels a bit uneven to me, but the gist of it is right.

 

XxXxX

 

At five, Scully arrived at Chris's office just as the

secretary was leaving for the day.  "Have a seat," the woman

told her with a kind smile.  "He's just finishing up another

meeting right now, but he should be right with you."

 

The waiting area boasted a coffee machine, a bright sunny

window, a green leather couch and two wingback chairs with a

table of magazines between them.  Scully selected one of the

chairs and a three-week old issue of Time, which she set on

her lap but did not read.  She left smudgy fingerprints all

along the shiny blue cover as the minutes ticked past in

total silence.  At last, she heard a door open down the hall

and Chris Clark's baritone echoed off the walls.

 

"My nephew did the same thing when he was four," he was

saying.  "My sister didn't find the frog until she went to do

the laundry."

 

A woman's laugh answered, and a moment later both she and

Chris entered the waiting area.  "Dana, hi," Chris said. 

"Thank you for coming down."

 

Scully nodded in reply.  She hung back, waiting for the woman

to leave, but Chris jerked his head to indicate she should

join them.  Scully smoothed her skirt and crossed the room.

 

"Dana Scully, this is Gloria Raymond."

 

Scully hesitated.  There was only one reason to introduce

them.  She forced herself to look at this other woman, who

smiled and extended her hand.  She gave Scully's hand a hard

shake.  "Hi," she said.  "Call me Glory."

 

"Glory," Scully repeated.  "It's nice to meet you."  Maybe it

was Chris's gardening influence, but the name Glory made

Scully think of morning glories.  The woman vaguely resembled

a flower, too, with wisps of teased blond hair flowing out

from around her face and bright cherry lips in the center.

 

"Chris said it's just us two so far," Glory remarked. 

"Everyone else is still scared.  Me, I did a dance in my

kitchen when I heard they caught him.  I say bring it on, and

let's fry the bastard."

 

"Not likely," Chris cautioned.  "Think prison -- for a good

long time."

 

Glory shrugged.  "That works.  I've heard what they do to

guys in prison, and it couldn't happen to a nicer fella." She

looked Scully from head to toe.  "Killer shoes," she said. 

"'Course they would do me in but good, seeing as how I stand

on my feet eight hours at a time.  You work in the city?"

 

"Uh, yes.  I do."

 

"Me too!  Willoughby's restaurant on Sixth Street.  If you're

ever in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi.  Dinner's on

the house."

 

"Thank you," Scully managed.  "I'll keep that in mind."

 

"I mean it."  Glory grabbed her hand again and squeezed. 

Scully tensed at the unexpected touch, pasting on a smile. 

"We've got to stick together through this, right?"

 

"Right."  Glory searched her face, as if trying to determine

whether Scully truly felt the solidarity, and her expression

softened.

 

"We'll be okay," Glory said firmly, backing it up with a

short nod.  "You'll see."

 

Speechless, Scully nodded with her.  Chris put an arm to

Glory's back.  "Thanks for your help today.  I really

appreciate it."

 

"No problem.  I'd best be picking up the kids now.  Call me

if anything changes, okay?"

 

"You know I will."

 

"Good luck," Glory told Scully.  "I'm sure I'll see you again

soon."  She grinned and waved as she left.  Scully lifted her

eyebrows and waved back.

 

"Wow," she said when the other woman had gone.  "She's, um,

quite something."

 

"I call her 'Hurricane Gloria'," Chris said.  "She's been

just absolutely terrific about everything since day one."

 

"Have you known her long?" Scully asked as they walked the

hall to his office.  Chris understood the real question

immediately.

 

"Glory was attacked last summer," he said.  "She's been

waiting a long time for this day to get here."  He opened his

office door and let her enter first.  "Welcome to the den of

entropy."

 

His office held a large desk with a computer monitor on it,

which was decorated with a dozen post-it notes.  Stacks of

papers spread across the rest of the surface.  Behind, there

were floor-to-ceiling bookcases, with books flopping over

every which way.  There were two low-back metal armchairs in

front of the desk, and a small couch in the corner.  Chris

steered her towards the couch.

 

"I expected more greenery in here," Scully said as she sank

into the leather.

 

"I wish.  This room gets so little light that only my rubber

plant has thrived." Chris nodded at the five-foot potted

plant with the large shiny leaves.  "He's straight out of a

Steven Segal movie."

 

Scully gave him a questioning look.

 

"Hard to kill."

 

"Ah."  Another time, she might have smiled at the joke. 

Instead she just leaned back against the cushions and rubbed

her eyes.

 

"Hard day?" Chris asked as he sat next to her.

 

"You could say that." 

 

"I have just the cure," he said, and she rolled her head to

look at him.

 

"I'm not really up for more gardening."

 

His knees cracked as he rose.  "I'm thinking malt, not

mulch."  He went to a cabinet near the desk and withdrew a

bottle of scotch.  "Clock says it's officially after hours,"

he said.  "What do you say?"

 

She nodded and he poured them each a glass.  He returned with

the liquor in hand and a yellow legal pad tucked under his

arm.  Scully sipped as he repositioned himself next to her on

the couch.  "It's good," she said, letting the warm fire

trickle down her throat.

 

"Dad gave me the bottle when I graduated law school."

 

"Mmm."  Scully leaned her head back again, cradling the drink

on her thigh.  "That's nice.  For graduation, my father gave

me the cold shoulder."

 

"You went to law school?" he asked, curious, and she snorted.

 

"Med school."

 

"You're kidding.  And he wasn't over the moon?"

 

"Oh, no.  The doctor part was just fine; it was the FBI he

couldn't stand."  She stared at the particleboard ceiling. 

"Some days I can't stand it either."

 

"What was his beef with the FBI?"

 

Scully gave a short, dark laugh.  "Too dangerous.  I might

get hurt!"  She glanced at Chris to see if he was

appreciating the irony, but he just looked uncomfortable. 

Scully took a liberal swallow of the expensive booze before

sitting up.  "Listen," she said, "I've got an eleven p.m.

flight to New Orleans, so let's just do what we have to do

and get out of here, okay?"

 

Chris set the pad down and folded his hands.  "I'm sorry

you've had such a tough day.  We can do this tomorrow or

Thursday if that would be easier."

 

She shook her head and drank some more.  "I'm here," she

said.  "What do you need?"

 

He produced a folder very similar to the ones she had been

sifting through all day on Mulder's desk.  This one had her

name typed neatly on the label.  "I have a copy of your

statement to the police.  I'd like to go over it with you now

and make sure there isn't anything you left out, or anything

you might have remembered in the meantime."

 

"Fine," she said wearily, and Chris picked up the pen.  For

nearly an hour they went over the details of what she had

said, and he explained to her the next few steps.

 

"The earliest we'd be at trial would be August, but Bellamy

will probably delay as much as possible.  September or

October is more likely."

 

Heavy with alcohol, Scully took a minute to process.  Months

away, she concluded with a sigh.  She stretched out and put

the glass on the coffee table.  "Will I have to testify?"

 

"I'd say it's likely.  We are proceeding on all counts right

now, even without the victims' testimony, but the case is

definitely stronger with your input."

 

"My input," Scully repeated dully.  "Right."

 

Chris leaned back next to her, shifting the weight of the

sofa so that their shoulders touched.  "I know it's hard," he

said gently.  "You're doing great so far."

 

She nodded without looking at him.  "Mulder thinks," she

said, taking a deep breath, "that it will all be over when

Watts goes to prison."

 

"What do you think?"

 

She shrugged.  "For him, maybe it will be." 

 

Chris's voice was soft near her ear.  "What about for you?"

 

Her shoulder rose and fell again, and she focused on her

hands.  "For me, it is over.  It happened.  It's done. 

Everything else is just...details."

 

He appeared to think about this for a minute.  "I can see

that, I guess, if I squint real hard.  I spend my life on

those details."

 

"Well, that's the difference between you and me," she told

him as she sat up.  "I refuse to spend my life there."

 

XxXxXxX

 

The scotch wore off before she even reached Reagan National,

so Scully had another drink in the dark airport bar.  She

wore her work suit buttoned and her leave-me-the-fuck-alone

expression, and the rogue businessmen kept right on moving. 

When her phone rang, she fished it out and stared at the

glowing little screen.

 

Mulder.

 

She snapped it on just before the voicemail would have kicked

in.  "What?" she demanded.

 

"Forget New Orleans, Scully," he told her, sounding as hollow

as she felt.  "The Sheriff just called from Texas.  Tina

Appleby is dead."

 

XxXxXxXxX

 

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Chapter Nine

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

 

They stationed a uniformed cop outside the autopsy bay while

Scully examined Tina Appleby's body.  "Sorry, Ma'am," the

young man said when Scully told him that his presence was not

required.  "But it's after hours and they had a body go

missing earlier this week.  I've got to keep an eye on

things."

 

Yes, Scully thought, because I am likely to smuggle out a

corpse for recreational use.

 

She slipped on some scrubs, tied her hair back, and went to

work.  Face up and nude on the exam table, Tina Appleby

appeared denser, flatter, with tangled hair and colorless

lips.  Scully noted stretch marks on Tina's belly as she

snapped the first pictures, and a jagged scar across her left

knee.  Under "cause of death," the local corner had written:

drowning.  Tina had been found in the creek behind Rudy

Hartman's farm, just a hundred yards away from the spot she

claimed the aliens had first found her.

 

Scully documented some bruising on Tina's shins and her right

cheek.  Her fingernails had been eaten down to the quick, but

Tina May Appleby wore glittery red nail polish on each of her

ten toes.  Scully remembered twelve year-old Melissa shutting

their bedroom door and triumphantly revealing a bottle of

nail color their father would have called, "Hooker Red." 

"He'll kill us," she'd told Melissa breathlessly, even as her

sister twisted the cap off with glee.

 

"We'll do our feet, silly.  Dad will never know."

 

They had huddled in the closet to do the application, Melissa

shaky but Dana's hand steady under pressure even then.  All

week at school, Melissa had traded her shoes for sandals once

they'd cleared the house, but Scully had kept her illicit

feet hidden under thick socks and tennis shoes, wiggling her

toes in secret while Mrs. Teleman droned on about fractions.

 

Scully stared at Tina's naked feet, camera still in her limp

grasp, and felt a tinge of sympathy she had not managed for

the woman in life.  She finished the photographs and began

careful external study of the body.  "Probable proximal cause

of death," the corner had noted, "alcohol."

 

He had smelled it, and so did Scully.  Blood tests would no

doubt confirm that Tina Appleby had consumed an unhealthy

amount of alcohol before she'd died.  Thus far, Scully saw

nothing to indicate Tina's death was anything other than an

unfortunate accident.  She rolled the woman over on her side

to get a good look at her back.  No abrasions, no broken

skin.

 

Scully was about to roll her over again when something made

her stop. *Even the smallest ant can destroy the dam.*

 

Scully left Tina slumped on her side and moved so that she

could get at the woman's neck.  Her own breathing echoed in

her ears as she lifted Tina's heavy mess of hair aside and

exposed the tiny scar at Tina's nape.

 

Biting her lip, Scully prodded at the wound with one gloved

finger.  The chip was still there, just under the skin. 

Maybe Tina hadn't known of its existence?  But Jared Rentham,

psychic from the stars, he would have known.  Wouldn't he?

 

XxXxX

 

This conversation wasn't planned initially, but Mulder's relationship to the case turned out to be more compelling than Scully's this time around.

 

Mulder had creek mud caking his shoes and mosquito bites the

size of walnuts on his arms.  He was still wearing

yesterday's suit when he went to visit Chet Appleby in

prison.  Appleby had shrunk a size in just one week, all the

fight drained out of him, and he picked up the phone slowly

to speak with Mulder on the other side of the glass.

 

"Why have you come here?"

 

"They told you about Tina?" Mulder asked.  Chet closed his

eyes.

 

"I gave up my life and it still wasn't enough.  That...animal

had to come out from the grave and snatch Tina just one more

time."  He shook his head sadly.  "I should have done it

months ago.  Maybe then she'd still be alive."

 

"What makes you think Jared Rentham had anything to do with

Tina's death?" Mulder asked, and Chet leveled him with a flat

look.

 

"They told me where they found her, back of the old Hartman

place.  Tina'd given up on that cock-and-bull story about the

abduction until Rentham got ahold of her.  He dragged her

back to that farm sure enough as if he'd put a gun to her

head."

 

"Rentham wasn't the one with the gun," Mulder couldn't resist

pointing out, still angry at being used.  "You were."

 

Mulder's angry, yes, but he's also testing out the revenge logic. It makes a certain kind of sense to him now but he can't quite admit it.

 

"If it were your sister, you'd have done the same thing."

Appleby pushed his glasses up on his nose.

 

Mulder heard the shot again, saw Rentham crumpled on the

ground.  He shook off the image and stared at the pale face

on the other side of the barrier.  "Someone stole the body,"

Mulder said into his phone.  "Did you hear?"

 

"Figures," Appleby replied with disgust.  He squinted at

Mulder. "Any suspects?"

 

"I came to ask you about that."

 

"Hell if I know.  Ask those cult members of his."

 

"No one can find them.  It seems they all left town."  Mulder

watched Appleby's reaction, but the other man didn't blink.

 

"Or maybe they're all dead, like Tina."

 

"Can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt Tina?"

 

"Besides the man who ruined her life?  No."

 

"Well, I think you pretty much crossed Rentham off the

suspect list," Mulder said, and Appleby gave a tense shrug. 

Something about the way his gaze dropped made Mulder ask,

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"They haven't got a body now, have they?"

 

Mulder sat forward.  "You think he's alive?"

 

Appleby leaned forward too.  "Mr. Mulder," he said very

seriously, "you can't shoot the devil and expect him just to

disappear."

 

XxXxXxX

 

The muggy night air clung like thick perfume.  Mulder wiped

the sweat from his collarbone with a handkerchief as he

checked in at the fleabag motel.  "Room thirteen," the man

told him.  "Right next to the lady agent."

 

Mulder accepted the big plastic key chain with a weary nod

and trudged out into the damp heat again.  With the bugs and

the humidity and the dead bodies, Hell had come to Earth and

parked its trailer square on Texas.  Mulder calculated the

sole advantage:  they were over one thousand miles away from

Washington D.C. and Gregory Watts.

 

He halted, key dangling in his hand, and stared at the row of

doors.  Was Scully in room twelve or fourteen?  The light in

twelve was on so he decided to take a chance.

 

Scully answered without a word.  He hadn't seen her since

their blowup in the office, and he wasn't quite sure what to

say to her now.  Sorry would just be a lie. 

 

She stared up at him, unsmiling, and then went back and laid

on the bed.  Her air conditioner was going full-blast. 

Mulder took the fact that she did not slam the door in his

face as a sign to come in, and shut the door behind him.

 

"Don't get too comfortable," Scully said, eyes closed, and

Mulder halted with his ass hovering just above the armchair. 

"We're not staying."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

She sighed and opened her eyes to look at him.  "Tina Appleby

drowned, Mulder.  Natural causes.  There is nothing more to

investigate here."

 

Mulder sat.  "I talked to Chet Appleby tonight."

 

"And?"

 

"He seems to think Jared Rentham might be alive."

 

Scully raised herself up to glare at him.  "Don't tell me

you're actually entertaining this fantasy."  Mulder said

nothing.  "Mulder, Rentham is dead.  You and I both saw him

take a bullet to the head, and I ended up wearing his brains

all over my shirt."

 

"That's right," Mulder said, becoming more animated.  "You

did."

 

Scully looked wary at his excitement.  "What?"

 

"Done your dry cleaning yet, Scully?"

 

"Mulder--"

 

"The body disappeared before anyone ran tests."

 

"Body," Scully said, swinging her legs over the bed.  "So we

both agree what we're dealing with here, right?"

 

Mulder rubbed his eyes.  "I don't know what we're dealing

with.  That's why I want to run the tests.  Something has

been off about this case from the beginning.  I think when we

figure out what Jared Rentham was really doing at Sanctuary

House, we might have a chance at understanding what the hell

is going on here."

 

"Did you find out anything in New Orleans?"

 

"Yeah," Mulder said into his hands.  He slouched backwards

with a sigh.  "Jared Rentham was a lousy fortune teller.  He

could barely make his rent."